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

31/12/2010

Media access denied to cover selected hearings of the LLRC at a detention camp

NfR Sri Lanka Press release 31 December 2010

Information reaching NfR from Sri Lanka shows that the reason behind the last minute blocking of access to media at the hearings of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) took place at the infamous Boosa detention camp on 30th December 2010, was to prevent the media access to the hearings of selected witnesses who were to give evidence on that day. NfR re-iterates its concern that censorship in any form will discredit the proceedings of the LLRC and negate the achievement of its objectives.

This again shows that the government does not wish to provide unrestricted media accesses to any reconciliation and accountability process. That is vital in order to bring out the voices heard and unheard by such initiatives and monitor the responses. The people have been denied the right to information on what transpired during the proceedings of the LLRC in Boosa.

Unspecified number of Tamil detainees are kept in the Boosa detention camp. There has been a number of allegations of torture and inhuman treatments of detainees in this camp. NfR feels strongly that all those detainees who wanted to give evidence at the LLRC should have been given a chance to place their grievances before it. Media has a right to monitor and report on the evidence they place unless the persons concerned had preferred to give evidence in camera.

According to Centre for Human Rights, a human rights organization in Colombo, journalists from the BBC, LAKBIMANEWS, Thinakural, Veerakesari, Reuters and Tamil Mirror had arrived at Boosa Detention Centre that morning having obtained permission from the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS). After waiting for nearly three hours these journalists had been told that they need approval from the Defence Ministry to cover the proceeding. Consequently they had return to Colombo disappointed.

The LLRC blocked international media from covering their proceedings in two previous occasions and on both those occasions hearings took place in the war affected Northern Province. On both those occasions it appears that evidence had immerged on abductions and killings of unarmed Tamils. On an another occasion a para-military group working with the government had threatened journalists who had gone to cover the proceedings.

Genuine reconciliation needs an open and transparent process. Closing the door to Media and denying opportunities to persons who want to be heard, will only exacerbate the situation making reconciliation and peaceful co-existence of the various communities in Sri Lanka more and more difficult.

Steering Committee

NfR Sri Lanka

29/12/2010

Sinhala only anthem implemented through mafia style actions

NfR Press release/ 28 December 2010

Sri Lanka: Director Education in Jaffna shot dead for speaking out

NfR is shocked to learn that the Deputy Director of Education of the Valikamam zone of the Jaffna District who refused to direct the students of the schools in his zone to recite the National Anthem only in Sinhala, was shot dead in Jaffna on the same day when the controversial government sponsored Tsunami Commemoration Day Ceremony was held in Jaffna. He was shot dead at point blank range on 26.10.2010 by unknown persons who had arrived at his residence in a van that evening.

Legitimate criticism of any action of the government or its policy is a right any citizen should have in a true democracy. Criticizing the policy of the Government to recite the National Anthem only in Sinhala, is a right of any Sri Lankan. Killing a person for expressing his disapproval of such a policy is not only a violation of his freedom of expression but also of his right to life.

According to information received from NfR sources in Jaffna, 52-year-old Markandu Sivalingam, the Deputy Director of Education is reported to have openly criticized this decision of the government which had issued a circular directing that the National Anthem should be sung only in Sinhala at the ceremony and had disapproved the call for the participation of school children at the ceremony. This information has been confirmed by a news item in the website of the Global Tamil News of 28th December, 2010.

Armed men had arrived in a van that evening and shot him dead in his house in front of his daughter. When the armed men entered the house they had asked his daughter for her jewelry. She had screamed calling for her father. When the father rushed in they had shot him ignoring her pleas not to shoot him and offering them all her jewelry. Eventually the killers had taken away only one earring after Sivalingam had fallen dead.

Earlier on 15th December, 2010 Nithiyananda Sharma, the Chief Priest of Chankaanai Murukamoorthy temple in the Jaffna District, was killed on 15th December 2010. NfR is of the opinion that this killing too had a political motive. Both the killings were committed in such a manner as to make them look like killings while attempting to rob. Incidents of this nature happening in an area which is under tight security leaves for speculations on who the killers could be.

NfR condemns both these killings in the strongest of terms and demands that the government of Sri Lanka should initiate independent and impartial inquires into these incidents to bring the culprits to book. Failing in its responsibility to do so, will only confirm the widely held belief that State sponsored death squads are behind these incidents. Until those responsible for these killings are bought to book the government will stand guilty in the eyes of the public. Besides such inaction will motivate rogue elements among the security forces to take the law into their hands with impunity and the Government's claim of bringing about national reconciliation would remain only a dream.

Issued by:
Steering Committee, NfR Sri Lanka

C/O, 19447, Victory Blvd,#2, Reseda,CA 91335, USA
NfR.SriLanka@gmail.com

28/12/2010

Patriotism

The Sri Lanka Guardian published the following poem 'Patriotism' by Basil Fernando, Chair of the Asian Human Rights Commission and Member of the Sri Lanka Campaign Advisory Council. We reproduce the poem below:

In cold blooded calculation
A bird sings a song of gratitude
To the land that produces
Such delicious worms
So do politicians celebrate the land
That produces such fools
Who let them hold onto power

25/12/2010

UN convention against enforced disappearances enters into force: Sri Lanka amongst laggard countries

An important United Nations convention against enforced disappearance now has the force of law. The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance was opened for signature in on December 20, 2005, and, five years later, it has now entered into force for the 21 countries that have, so far, taken the next step to ratify or accede to the Convention (and thereby become ‘parties’ to the treaty). The following are the states party to the Convention and, as such, legally required to abide by its terms and to submit themselves to the supervisory mechanisms established by the treaty: Albania, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil (as of December 29), Burkina Faso, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, France, Germany, Honduras, Iraq, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mali, Mexico, Nigeria, Paraguay, Senegal, Spain and Uruguay.

The treaty is one of the international human rights treaties that operates simultaneously as an international criminal law treaty (as is also, for example, the UN Convention against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment). It establishes a comprehensive regime to ensure extensive duties to criminalize enforced disappearances and to establish broad grounds for a state’s jurisdiction to investigate, prosecute, or extradite a person to another treaty party. It is a telling sign of the ‘bite’ of this treaty that more than half the member states of the United Nations have not even signed it yet, let alone become party. It thus comes as no surprise that Sri Lanka is one such laggard. It is also hardly a surprise that the United States has also not even signed, given its ‘war on terror’ practices of secret detention and other sub-practices that count as enforced disappearance. But, shamefully, countries like the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia are also amongst those who have not even deigned to sign the treaty.

It is not unlikely that one reason for their reluctance is the existence of provisions on superior responsibility (including military command responsibility) and the likelihood that both state and individual responsibility will apply to conduct that contributes to disappearances in other countries and not only within states’ own territories. Even while most, if not all, the basic norms in the treaty also exist under customary international law (and, as such, bind all states whether or not they have become party to the treaty), the procedural mechanisms created by the treaty are important for institutionalized accountability.

As long as states like the US, UK, Canada and Australia stay outside the regime, they will be morally disentitled to advocate that Sri Lanka become party and the basis for them to push Sri Lanka on disappearances will rest on the less detailed norms of customary international law. Who can put pressure on countries like Sri Lanka to become parties to the Convention? On the list of parties to the Convention who can be counted as the founder states (in the sense of having been the first 20 states to ratify, which number is required by the treaty for the treaty to enter into force), there appear several states whose populations experienced in earlier times the horrors of authoritarian and militarized regimes that regularly abused human rights, including states in Latin America where the systemic use of enforced disappearances led to the coining of the term “to disappear” as a verb -- notably, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil. Founding Latin American parties also include countries that experienced less well-known waves of disappearances in the 1980s, such as Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Honduras (the latter state now suffering a return to some of the repressive practices of the 1980s, since the military coup against President Zelaya in June 2009). In Europe, Spain, France and Germany make up an influential European cluster of states whose societies all have reason to make ‘never again’ the rule when it comes to enforced disappearances and allied practices, from torture to extrajudicial execution. Japan, Nigeria, and Mexico each represent a major state from Asia, Africa and North America, respectively. Thus, the ‘founding members’ core of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance includes some influential countries. They should treat themselves as a ‘like-minded group’ that coordinates the efforts of the group’s members both to make the regime effective and to advocate that signatories become parties by ratification and non-signatories become parties by accession.

Without both pressure of this sort and the momentum of states like the UK, Canada, and Australia joining the treaty regime, there appears little prospect Sri Lanka will ratify the treaty with ‘white vans’ abductions and like activities not having ended with the end of the war against the LTTE last year. The Sri Lankan Commission of Inquiry into Disappearances, appointed in 1995, recommended that causing the disappearance of persons be made a specific offence under the Penal Code of Sri Lanka. That recommendation has not been implemented. That said, existing Penal Code provisions are almost certainly adequate to cover many aspects of the phenomenon of enforced disappearances, but action against those perpetrators identified by this Commission is still pending. Not even disciplinary action against police and security forces personnel has been taken.

The Red Cross’ press release announcing the entry into force of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance can be found at: http://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/news-release/2010/missing-news-2010-12-23.htm. We also reproduce the text of the press release below:


ICRC welcomes entry into force of convention against enforced disappearance

23-12-2010 News Release 10/235

Geneva (ICRC) - The entry into force of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance is a milestone event in the fight to prevent and eradicate disappearances, said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) today.

"It is an important achievement in the struggle against a cause of indescribable fear and sorrow for hundreds of thousands of people worldwide," said Olivier Dubois, deputy head of the Central Tracing Agency and Protection Division of the ICRC.
"This convention will certainly contribute to greater protection against enforced disappearance. States that are party to it must implement it into national law. They must put it into practice and make enforced disappearance an offence under their national criminal law."

Enforced disappearance is a crime under international human rights law and - when it occurs in war - under international humanitarian law. The convention contains a series of measures to prevent forced disappearances. For example, it requires that any person deprived of liberty must be registered by the detaining authority. It also enshrines the right of any victim to know the truth about the circumstances of an enforced disappearance and the fate of the disappeared person. The convention also requires suitable criminal sanctions to be taken against persons who commit enforced disappearances. As of today, the provisions of the treaty are legally binding on the first 20 States [* see list at end] that have ratified or acceded to it.

Iraq, which acceded to the treaty 30 days ago, triggered the entry into force. Tens of thousands of people in Iraq are still hoping to receive news of their relatives who have gone missing in the country since the 1980s.
In every situation of armed conflict or internal violence, people disappear. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, to mention just one other example, the fate of more than 10,000 people who went missing during the conflict in the early 1990s remains unknown.

The ICRC works all over the world to prevent people from going missing, to help clarify what happened to those who do disappear and to support the families of missing persons. The ICRC has also actively supported the process of drafting the convention and is committed to achieving its widespread ratification and implementation.

For further information, please contact:
Nicole Engelbrecht, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 2271 or +41 79 217 3217
or visit our website: http://www.icrc.org

* Albania, Argentina, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, France, Germany, Honduras, Iraq, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mali, Mexico, Nigeria, Paraguay, Senegal, Spain and Uruguay. It will also be binding on Brazil as of 29 December 2010.

For a list of signatories and of the current 21 parties (those who have gone beyond signature to ratify the convention), see: http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-16&chapter=4&lang=en The UN updates the status of parties on a regular basis.

For the text of the Convention discussed below, see:
http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/disappearance-convention.htm

For background, see
http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/disappear/index.htm

24/12/2010

Perhaps Rajapsaksa should have been stripped and slapped too? Then he would understand how freedom of expression is controlled in Sri Lanka!

The following article was published in Newsfirst. It has been republished below.

December 19, 2010: We assaulted the protesting students at the Dehiwala Higher Technical Institute and chased them away leaving them only with their underwear and in Peradeniya, we stripped the fasting students naked and chased them away, said a beaming S. B. Dissanayake, Minister of Higher Education yesterday.

The minister made this statement attending a workshop held in Colombo yesterday on the theme 'Preparing for a strategic plan to develop skills', taking place for all institutions affiliated to the Ministry of Higher Education.

He said that the violent behaviour of students at universities could not be prevented when such an environment was prevalent.

“Students turn violent because they know they could afford to do so. The students of the Dehiwala Higher Technical Institute chased away its director and occupied his official quarters.

“Venerable monks, it took me only four minutes to slap two or three on their ears and chase them away. It took only four minutes. They ran along the streets in their underwear around 8pm. Now there's no hum.

“In Peradeniya, they had put up a hut and was conducting a big fast. We went around 3am. We wanted to embarrass them a little. We stripped them naked and chased them away,” said the Higher Education Minister S. B. Dissanayake.

22/12/2010

Why the UN Panel has been allowed to visit Sri Lanka now

The following article was posted by Kusal Perera on Groundviews and can be viewed here:
http://groundviews.org/2010/12/19/a-tragi-comedy-the-un-advisory-panel-and-war-crimes-in-sri-lanka/

There is nothing to scratch heads for, to find the reason why Moon at the UN and Mahinda in Colombo agreed to have the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Panel on Sri Lanka, make a sudden visit to Colombo and meet SL President’s “Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Commission” (LLRC). Its simple logic. They both could wash their hands off mounting international pressure for an independent investigation on war crimes and crimes against humanity accusations, international organisations now seem to feel, have enough evidence piling up for investigations.

“WikiLeaks” with its dump of US diplomatic cables in the public domain has added substantial supplementary documentation for a renewed stronger call to investigate war crimes in Sri Lanka, with the British Channel 4 airing more video clips on gory killing of suspect, unarmed LTTE cadres, though not authenticated. There is also the case of a murdered woman seen in the clips, claimed by some as the TV announcer Isaipriya, a civilian who worked for the Tiger TV station.

Both UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and SL President Mahinda Rajapaksa, were never for investigations, when international human rights organisations called for independent investigations of the last phase of the war. Under pressure, they both appointed their own, consciously malfunctioning “panels” and “commissions” as total eye wash, much later. There was no serious intention of investigating military excesses and violations of international human rights law, or to find answers and reconciliation in a morbidly divided society by either of the two leaders.

Rajapaksa has his own personal crisis in allowing or accepting an international investigation on supposed war crimes, apart from his claim that it was a “humanitarian operation” to liberate Tamil people from crimes committed on them by the LTTE. He has his brother Gota standing on the firing lines of any international investigation on war crimes. With the latest Wiki’s cablegate leaks, all 03 Rajapaksa brothers are dragged to the witness box and its undoubtedly a “family affair” now.

Ban Ki-moon was also pressured to avoid any real time investigation with his Chief of Staff Vijey Nambiar being implicated directly with the now commonly termed “White Flag” surrender issue. In any international commission of inquiry, Vijey Nambiar would have to come forward and testify on what he is quoted by Marie Colvin, in her article in Sunday Times (London) on 24 May, 2009 under a sympathetic caption, “Tigers begged me to broker surrender”. (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article6350563.ece )

Vijey Nambiar’s complicity is not just vague or minor, being a top UN diplomat and then implicating President Rajapaksa as well, going by the following.

“Once more, the UN 24-hour control centre in New York patched me through to Nambiar in Colombo, where it was 5.30am on Monday. I woke him up.

I told him the Tigers had laid down their arms. He said he had been assured by Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan president, that Nadesan and Puleedevan would be safe in surrendering. All they had to do was “hoist a white flag high”, he said.

I asked Nambiar if he should not go north to witness the surrender. He said no, that would not be necessary: the president’s assurances were enough.”

Vijey Nambiar is yet to deny or disclaim such dialogue with Ms. Colvin and Ban Ki-moon had to comply with international calls for investigations. He therefore did so with a panel that is very personal, in nature of its mandate. This advisory panel has no future validity, apart from advising the SG on the Sri Lankan war. There is also no binding on Moon to have any of the advise given by the panel to be made public. What could instead be announced with many nuances as the UN SG’s media spokesmen/women often do, is what he intends doing after the panel winds up on 31 December. And that could be, doing nothing.

So is Mahinda’s LLRC. Its Interim Report that was handed over to the President is still under wraps. That had been the fate with all reports handed over to the President so far, including his much hyped APRC final report. One should not expect anything different with the LLRC “findings” too. That report may perhaps conclude the 2002 CFA under Ranil was all at fault and responsible for all the war atrocities committed, thereafter.

So the two finally initiated working on a mutually beneficial compromise to get out of all these calls for war crimes investigations, during the pow-wow they had as a customary UN meeting, during the last General Assembly sessions. What Moon and Mahinda discussed was never in the open. What came to the open was the controversial statement released by the SL President’s media, which the UN SG’s staff did not mind. Obviously, Moon had told them not to.

They have eventually decided to freeze all calls for independent investigations on war crimes, with a joint effort, before more complications set in. That not only explains the SG’s sudden decision to extend the life of his advisory panel by another 02 weeks till 31 December, but also the Rajapaksas deciding to accept a visit to SL by this once detested, “conspiratorial” panel.

Moon’s men would most certainly sit with Mahinda’s men in the LLRC to discuss, what they decide they should discuss and the outcome, as in any Bollywood blockbuster film, could be guessed before the curtains go up. Why then should WW throw hiccups on UN SG’s advisory panel members visiting SL ? How else could this drama in which he plays the comedian be scripted, to look genuine and tragic, instead of being seen as fake and a comedy ? Director Mahinda and Producer Moon know their audiences well enough, I believe. So lets wait for 2011 for the ceremonial screening.

19/12/2010

Not a rebuff on Sri Lanka; a rebuff to the Rajapaksa regime

Rajapaksa's private trip to the UK highlights the regime's inability to recognize the abhorrence with which it is widely viewed.

Scheduled to speak to the Oxford Union on December 2nd, the event was pulled at the last minute. Much speculation ensued about the reasons behind this decision. The official line was the inadequate security to cope with the large British Tamil community and critics of the Sri Lankan government. But could it be that the cancellation was linked to the mounting evidence of war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan regime from Wikileaks [1] and the new video footage released by Channel 4 [2] ?

Or perhaps the British Union of Students' guideline: “no platform for fascists” kicked in? (Although the UK society upholds democratic principles including freedom of speech thankfully it also pays due regard to ethical boundaries).

In response, Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris said, "[President Rajapaksa] has been prevented from expressing his point of view," [3]. He then went on to say that the Union cancelled the event because of intimidation and "brute force".

The cruel irony is that this hyperbolic accusation comes from a government that was at the same time was using brute force in its own parliament in Sri Lanka [4]. Government MPs publicly assaulted senior Opposition (UNP) MP Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena in Parliament accusing him of instigating the protests in London! A local human right activist commented on this pathetic state of affairs, saying, “You can see the 'culture' we have. If MPs can assault another MP in parliament during sessions, what won't government thugs and paramilitary gangs do to poor human rights defenders, intellectual dissidents and grass roots activists?”

In an article using the President's own words for its title, The Times pointedly remarked on Rajapakasa's claims regarding civilian deaths during the last stages of the war. The article detailing the interview with the President was titled, “Sri Lanka never killed any civilians as such: Rajapaksa” [5]. “As such” is indeed a deliberately deceptive phrase with which to describe what has been estimated by the International Crisis Group as 30,000 (with an upper limit of 75,000) people unaccounted for.

The Times article describes the interview: ”The most telling moment in the Times interview with President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka came after it was over. For almost an hour, in a suite in the Dorchester, Mr Rajapaksa had painted a picture of his Government and country that was as white and spotless as his traditional garb: any atrocities at the culmination of Sri Lanka's brutal war with Tamil separatists were the work of the terrorists; videos allegedly showing army troops killing civilians were fakes; war crime allegations were groundless; the arrest and trial of his foremost political opponent was a matter for the judiciary and nothing to do with him.”

The Times then goes on to say that as they were leaving the hotel lobby they were called back: “Mr Rajapaksa, looking both angry and crestfallen, met us in the corridor, to declare that the president of the Oxford Union no longer wanted him to give a speech today -- his official reason for coming to Britain. Protests were planned by Tamil activists and the union leader had said that he could not guarantee Mr Rajapaksa's safety. “' think he has been threatened by these fellows,' snapped Mr Rajapaksa -- a man, one suspects, not used to being disinvited” [5].

So how will this turn of events be reflected in the country?

“We also expect a propaganda barrage in Sinhala about imperialist power humiliating 'sovereignty of nation' which will further harden Sinhala ultra nationalism at least at the rural peasant level,” said a local human rights activist who wishes to remain anonymous.

Continuing, he said, “It will take more international humiliations before the populace realises that it is NOT an attack on 'Sri Lanka' as such but is an attack on a political faction that is misbehaving to the degree that that faction is bringing on shame to our country. This kind of difficult logic needs many hard knocks before it is driven home.”

Britain has once again called for an independent inquiry into alleged human rights violations during the war between the security forces and the LTTE. A Foreign Office spokeswoman issued the call at a media briefing in London on December 2 [7].

Oh well, the trip was probably not entirely wasted.. The entourage would have had a cosy time at the Dorchester, with Christmas lights and shopping opportunities just around the corner. After all, the shopping in London has got to be better than in Tehran or Beijing.

1. WikiLeaks renews accusations over Sri Lanka war crimes

http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6B13F120101202

2. Sri Lanka execution video; new war crimes claims

http://www.channel4.com/news/sri-lanka-execution-video-new-war-crimes-claims

3. Sri Lanka complains president silenced on UK trip

http://in.reuters.com/ article/idINLDE6B12BV20101202

4. Ministers try to assault Jayalath for allegedly insulting the President

http://www.lankanewsweb.com/news/EN_2010_12_03_002.html

5. “Sri Lanka never killed any civilians as such: Rajapaksa” http://

www.lankanewsweb.com/news/EN_2010_12_02_012.html

6. War crimes in Sri Lanka - Asia report 191, 17 May 2010

http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/asia/south-asia/sri-lanka/191%20War%20Crimes%20in%20Sri%20Lanka.ashx

7. Britain again calls for independent probe

http://www.srilankamirror.com/english/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=535:britain-again-calls-for-independent-probe&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=18

18/12/2010

Liam Fox insists on visiting Sri Lanka’s Rajapaksa: What exactly is the UK Defence Secretary defending?

Professor Craig Scott is a Professor of Law at Osgoode Hall Law School of York University in Toronto, and Director of the Nathanson Centre on Transnational Human Rights, Crime and Security. He is also a member of the Steering Committee of the Advisory Council of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice. He contributed the following comment.

It was widely noted (with, at minimum, raised eyebrows) that UK Defence Secretary Liam Fox met with President Mahinder Rajapaksa during Rajapaksa’s recent ill-fated visit to the UK, in what Fox dared to classify as a private meeting. Now, two reports this week in the Guardian Online – on Wednesday and then Thursday, December 15 and 16 – bring into sharper focus the seriousness, and serious problem, of the Defence Secretary’s seeming insistence on lending legitimacy to the Rajapaksa regime in Sri Lanka.

The headline of Wednesday’s report by The Guardian’s Owen Bowcott and Nicholas Watt on Wednesday speaks for itself: “Liam Fox's Sri Lanka trip makes Foreign Office furious”. The focus of attention following this Guardian report tended to be on the internal governmental politics in the UK, notably whether Foreign Secretary Hague would appeal to Prime Minister Cameron and whether Cameron would forbid Fox’s trip. Indeed, the next day, another Guardian article – Nicholas Watt, Mark Tran, and Jason Burke, “Liam Fox cancels Sri Lanka trip amid claim in cables of Colombo's war crimes complicity” (Thursday, December 16, 2010)
– reported that Defence Secretary Fox decided to postpone the trip after talks with Foreign Secretary Hague. It is not said whether or not Prime Minister Cameron weighed in.

In its Thursday report, The Guardian also notes that the decision not to travel to Sri Lanka coincided with both the release of US Embassy Wikileaks cables that deepen the already clear evidence of war crimes committed by members of the Sri Lankan government and a warning from the British Tamils Forum that Fox’s visit “would send mixed messages to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is facing strong international pressure for an investigation into allegations that Sri Lanka forces committed war crimes.” Yet, Fox seems undisposed to address the substance of the concerns about his trip let alone acknowledge those concerns as the reason for not going ahead with the trip. In what has to rank right up there in the pantheon of the most transparently disingenuous explanations given by politicians for a change of course, a spokesperson for Fox claimed the postponement was a simple scheduling problem. Said the Ministry of Defence spokesperson, "’Dr Fox has postponed his private visit to Sri Lanka due to an extension to his scheduled official visit to the Gulf.’”And, then, the very next sentence from the spokesperson makes clear that Fox does not acknowledge any reason of substance why he should not travel to give further succor to the Rajapaksa regime: “’[Defence Secretary Fox] intends to carry out an official visit to Sri Lanka next year, during which he proposes to fulfil the speaking engagement that he had planned.i"

This ‘explanation’ of the trip’s postponement shows how important it is for journalists to continue to investigate exactly how Defence Secretary Fox walks the line between his own views and those of the government of which he forms a part, including whether Fox’s personal connections are undermining UK foreign policy with respect to Sri Lanka.

In this respect, the final lines of the original Guardian report from Wednesday suggest some lines of future inquiry for journalists, and indeed the Prime Minister, to follow:

“According to the latest register of members' interests, Fox has declared that he has been paid for two recent flights and stays to Sri Lanka.

The first was for a trip between 14 and 19 November 2009, recorded to have been worth £3,000. The donor was recorded as the Sri Lanka Development Trust, with an address in Edinburgh.

The purpose of the visit was said to be ‘to attend the Sri Lanka Freedom Party national convention and for meetings with the president of Sri Lanka and the foreign minister’.”

Probing questions directed to Defence Secretary Fox in the House of Commons Question Period about the significance of this information would also be most appropriate.

17/12/2010

‘Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows’

Shakespeare’s quotation from The Tempest suggests that troubled times can make for odd partnerships. This seems to be the case at the moment, with the unlikely pairing of Ken Livingstone and David Cameron both speaking out in the last few months regarding alleged human rights abuses during the 2009 conflict in Sri Lanka. The misery of human rights abuses, which continue to occur in Sri Lanka, appear to have united these two wildly differing politicians.

Cameron is an interesting case, given the attitude of his defence secretary Liam Fox. Fox met with the Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa when he was in London in early December. Fox has taken a number of trips to Sri Lanka and stated he was meeting Rajapaksa in London ‘in a personal capacity.’ Cameron has taken a less friendly stance to the Sri Lankan regime. In October, Cameron called for an independent investigation into the allegations of human rights abuses. These allegations are strongly denied by the Sri Lankan government.

Livingstone has been taken a long-standing interest in Sri Lanka and spoke at an event in November 2010. The event was also attended by Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh. Livingstone stated:

‘The government of Sri Lanka is a disgrace to the international community, with its disregard for human rights, and the transformation of what was once a democracy into effectively a dictatorship.’

The Sri Lankan government has gone to great lengths to win over British politicians and public figures, even hiring PR firm Bell Pottinger to improve the country’s post war image and smooth over reports of human rights abuses. This effort is said to be costing millions of pounds a year. ISo it is thus heartening that two politicians such as Cameron and Livingston - from polar opposite ends of the political spectrum - have united to counter such propaganda. Their calls should be heeded, and a independent investigations into human rights abuses (not simply into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity during the recent armed conflict) initiated.

16/12/2010

Sri Lanka Scraps Tamil Version of National Anthem

According to BBC reports, the Sri Lanka government has decreed that the Tamil version of Sri Lanka’s national anthem cannot be used on official occasions anymore.

The BBC reports says: ‘Now the national anthem, Sri Lanka matha, can only be sung in the majority Sinhala language at official functions... . [The Tamil version] was an exact translation of the Sinhala version, sung to the same tune, and had been in use since Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948.’ The BBC further notes, ‘ The decision to scrap the Tamil version was taken at a cabinet meeting headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.’

(The full story can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-11980434)

This is a further example of attempts by the government to alienate Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority. For many, it will bring back memories of the Official Language Act of 1956. This act made Sinhala the only official language of Sri Lanka and became one of the major symbols of Tamil oppression. To make such a provocative decision, at this point in time, calls into question the current government’s commitment to peace building and bridging the divides between Sri Lanka’s different communities. Rajapaksa has justified his decision by saying that no other country has a national anthem in multiple languages. This is incorrect and examples can be found from New Zealand (in Maori and English) to Canada (French and English). South Africa’s anthem uses five of its eleven official languages. However, these languages are official languages of the countries discussed. A
real gesture of unity would be if the Sri Lankan government madeTamil an official language and kept the Tamil translation of the anthem. This issue may seem trivial compared to the huge problems Sri Lanka is facing. But in its small way, it is highly symbolic, this is and another symptom, of the current government’s attitude towards reconciliation.

14/12/2010

Just a statistic: tortured and forced to orphan her children and now fighting for asylum

The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture (MF) is a registered charity which for the last 25 years has helped over 50,000 torture survivors through the five treatment centres it has in the UK.
Read more at http:// www.torturecare.org.uk/index.php

Today Sri Lanka is the second highest country of referral to the MF with 199 new referrals in 2009, placing it above
Afghanistan and below Iran as indicated in its Annual Review which can be accessed here http://www.torturecare.org.uk/files/MF_Annual_Review.pdf

Medical Foundation doctors noted that the severity of torture methods and scarring seen last year had increased. Over half of the Sri Lankan clients suffered burns, nearly half had been raped and almost 80% had been whipped or beaten. The Medical Foundation is uniquely equipped to deal with the many issues presented by this client group, through clinicians from
a range of disciplines working together. Last year saw the reintroduction of a Tamil-speaking therapy group.

Given below is a brief case study of one of MF's Sri Lankan referrals; she is currently undergoing therapy which will hopefully help rebuild some semblance of a life after the harrowing experience she has endured.

Beaten, burned and raped - hot chilli rubbed in her eyes, Anandi* finally confessed to a series of charges after several weeks of torture. The final straw was being beaten with a piece of rubber which was studded with nails. This, Anandi told the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, was unbearable, and made her confess. The charge sheet was written in Sinhalese. As a Sri Lankan Tamil, Anandi couldn’t even read what she had confessed to; she only knew she had to make the pain stop.

Despite later escaping and making her way to the UK, her troubles were far from over. Anandi must now fight for her right not to be returned to a country where she believes she would be instantly arrested, persecuted, tortured
or even killed. She has already had her asylum claim refused and is in the process of appealing against that decision.

More painful still is not being able to contact her children. Anandi doesn’t know what happened to them when she escaped from her Sri Lankan prison two years ago. She has not been able to speak to her daughter or her two sons since she fled.

Anandi had been staying with her Aunt when she was picked up and questioned by three men from the Criminal Investigation Department, (CID) because, they said, they had ‘suspicions about her.’ She was then held captive and tortured every day for six weeks. She believes this was solely because of her Tamil ethnicity.

Anandi has received one to one counselling at the Medical Foundation and is now receiving group therapy to help her begin to rebuild her life.

11/12/2010

What Sri Lankans can learn from Rajapaksa's debacle in London

The following blog on President Rajapaksa’s visit to the UK is authored by MCM Iqbal . He retired from 40 years of civil service in Sri Lanka during which time, among other positions, he was Secretary to four Presidential Commissions of Inquiry, two of which on disappearances of persons. He was then Consultant to the National Human Rights Commission and later Consultant to the Law & Society Trust and The Asian Foundation in Sri Lanka. Most recently he was appointed by the UNDP as one of the Advisers to the Group of International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), which supervised the work of a Commission of Inquiry into Serious Human Rights Violations in Sri Lanka during the few years prior to 2007. Having received repeated threats to stop working for the IIGEP, Iqbal eventually left Sri Lanka in 2007 and currently lives in the Netherlands. Later, the IIGEP itself resigned in protest at heavy-handed interference from the government of Sri Lanka, after having lodged a series of objections that went unheeded by the government.

Sri Lanka has been very much in the news during the past few days. To us in the Diaspora, nothing was more interesting during the past week than the UK visit of President Rajapaksa in response to an invitation to address the Oxford Union. We all know now that this invitation was part of a series of lectures organized by the Union and prompted by a small group of current Sri Lankan students at the University. Although advised against making the trip at this time by the Sri Lankan High Commission, the President arrived to face tumultuous protests and what eventually transpired has led to the total humiliation of the Rajapaksa regime and its apologists for all the world to see.

However, this visit provided the opportunity for the Diaspora to show their strength which one hopes will not be disregarded. For those Rajapaksa apologists the easiest rebuttal is to brand those willing to speak up as LTTE supporters. That is far from the truth. It is hoped that this misinterpretation will not result in the supporters of Mahinda back home in Sri Lanka taking revenge on the innocent Tamils who have already paid the price (in terms of loss of lives, possessions and homeland) for having lived in the Wanni during the conflict for absence of a better alternative.

It is encouraging to see the comments in many online journals by our Sinhalese compatriots speaking about the senselessness of some of the recent activities of the President. Before long many others, especially the rural folk, will begin to realize this. It is the prolonged repression of the freedom of expression in Sri Lanka that is delaying the realization of the truth by the people. Hopefully, in the course of time the people of Lanka will understand how they have been taken for a ride by unscrupulous politicians in power whose actions totally disregarding the principles of democracy, justice and fair play for all people have paved the way for putting the communities asunder even after the war was concluded almost two years ago.

The persistence with which the Diaspora continued to demonstrate against the President’s visit to London should make him realize how powerful they can be, if united. There is now a need for the government to interact with the Diaspora and prevent them being radicalized. There cannot be peace and development in Sri Lanka unless all the people live as members of one community. Merely mouthing such intentions do not suffice. One should be able to see and feel that meaningful steps are being taken in that direction.

The slogan shouting that was heard in Sri Lanka after the return of the President to the country was aimed at the Western Nations. The persistent stance taken by the government against those countries that called for an international independent body to inquire into allegations of human rights violations and war crimes, of an anti-NGO stand, and of the complete suppression of media freedom has prompted these Western states to press for justice and fair play. It is hoped the government will eventually make amends and prevent the country from moving towards becoming an outcast in the international community. The sooner the people realize that the international community is not against the people of Sri Lanka but against the repressive and undemocratic actions of the State, the better it is for everyone concerned.

10/12/2010

SRI LANKA: The state of human rights in 2010

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission on the occasion of the Human Rights Day 2010
Report available here: http://www.humanrights.asia/resources/hrreport/2010/AHRC-SPR-010-2010.pdf

Constitutionally entrenched impunity

In Sri Lanka, the possibility of realizing human rights continues to become bleaker as the power and authority of the courts are continuously reduced due to the expansion of the power of the executive president. The country's constitution itself has entrenched impunity by way of virtually displacing the separation of powers principle with the absolute power principle in favor of the executive. The actual possibilities of judicial protection of the individual against the state has been reduced to an extent that today, the power of the judiciary is marginal. Judges who dare to act with independence to uphold the writ jurisdiction for the purpose of safeguarding individual citizens seriously risk their own judicial careers.

The ever diminishing authority of the courts has made its adverse influence felt in all public institutions. The policing system in Sri Lanka has lost its capacity to uphold the rule of law. Lawlessness has spread into all areas of life as the police remain incapable of dealing with crime and upholding law and order. The Inspector General of Police and the high-ranking police officers no longer have the capacity to ensure discipline within the police as the policing system is controlled from the outside by the executive president and the politicians of the ruling regime. This process is known as the politicization of the police force. The Sri Lankan police has a reputation of the widespread use of torture at all police stations. Hundreds of cases have been recorded in 2010 relating to use of torture and extrajudicial killings that have taken place throughout the country. However, there is no machinery to investigate such allegations. A few years ago, Special Inquiry Units of the CID were assigned to investigate allegations of torture and extrajudicial killings. In many of the investigations, SIU teams found that the allegations were credible and many indictments were filed against the police for violating the country's law against torture, Act no.22 of 1994. However, this practice of assigning SIUs to investigate such allegations has been abandoned. So-called internal inquiries, conducted by high-ranking police officers themselves, have no credibility at all. When allegations of abuse of police authority are made to the Inspector General of Police, he promptly sends a reply promising investigations. However, nothing credible ever happens. As a result, the practice of torture and extrajudicial killings continues at police stations. In most instances, the victims are innocent and belong to the poorer sections of society. The intended purpose of torture is often to find a substitute 'criminal' to be made the accused in crimes that the police have f ailed to resolve. Such widespread torture by the police is quite well-known. However, the government is unwilling and incapable of dealing with this issue.

The country's court system is beset with extraordinary delays and inefficiencies to the extent that it is incapable of ensuring fair trial. Very often, a trial in a criminal case goes on for several years. Often, four or five judges preside over a trial due to transfers that take place during the period of the trial. As a result of this process, the judges do not have the opportunity to see and hear all witnesses. In many cases, decisions are made on evidence recorded by their predecessors. This situation leads to great abuses. Often, defense counsels make false representations of what has taken place previously at the trial and there are instances where judgments have been made on the basis of such falsified submissions which contradict the evidence on record. Fair trial also suffers due to absence of a witness protection law and program. There have been instances when the witnesses have been killed in order to prevent them from giving evidence in court. Due to threats or in centives, many witnesses also go back on their evidence. The conviction rates are very low due to such changes of position by the witnesses.

At the heart of the failure of justice in Sri Lanka are several factors: Inadequate budgeting for justice allows for extraordinary delays and inefficiencies within the system. Besides this, the overall politicization of the public intuitions has also penetrated into the area of administration of justice. The public trust in the process has been seriously eroded over a long period of time. The single, most important, factor that undermines judicial incapability in Sri Lanka is the expansion of the power of the Executive President and his ability to stand above the law. Until this constitutional position is changed it is not possible to change this situation for the better.

The chapter on Sri Lanka in the annual report for the Asian Human Rights Commission for 2010 examines at length the political system that has undermined the legal system and threatens the rule of law in Sri Lanka.

As a consequence of this situation, the entirety of the population is affected and, naturally, the minorities are affected the worst. The report states that people in the north and east remain outside the protection of the law. There does not appear to be any serious attempt to improve the legal protection for people who have been affected by the prolonged conflict in the north and the east. The lack of credible opportunities for people with grievances to communicate them to public authorities, the possibility of dealing with past violations and violence, has been obstructed. A process of truth-telling is essential for dealing with human rights abuse and violence in any society. This has been denied in Sri Lanka. The government holds the view that a serious truth telling exercise would damage fragile relationships. In fact, the government seems to fear that truth telling may lead to the discovery of evidence which may in turn lead to support for the call for inquiries into wa r crimes. The government appointed Lessons learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) lacks the mandate and the capacity to deal with the allegations of war crimes and serious abuses of human rights.

The result is the continuous occurrence of serious abuses such as forced disappearances. The cases of Prageeth Ekanaliyagoda and Dhirimadura Upali Mendis, who was a businessman in Galle, points to the fact that disappearances are now being used to silence political opponents and also for gaining advantage over rivals in business. It is common to hear threats of disappearances. The possibility of such occurrences has created a climate of fear in every part of the country.

This climate of intimidation has virtually paralysed the country's freedom of expression and publication. The quality of the media has degenerate greatly due to a self-censorship arising out of fear of consequences of daring to reveal truth. Many journalists have left the country and many of the crimes reported relating to journalists previously have never been resolved. Virtually there is not even an expectation that there will be any serious investigation into any allegations of abuse towards journalists.

Political opponents are being serious harassed and subjected to fabricated cases, as demonstrated in many cases filed against the former opposition candidate in the presidential election, Sarath Fonseka. The only way out of fabricated charges for such political opponents is the find a way to compromise and to abandon their political opposition. The serious pursuit of destroying the multi-party democracy has been a pursuit of all political regimes since 1978. The present regime has mastered this art and thus multi-party democracy in Sri Lanka is under serious threat.

The State of Human Rights in Sri Lanka 2010 report: http://www.humanrights.asia/resources/hrreport/2010/AHRC-SPR-010-2010.pdf


# # #

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.


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

Asian Human Rights Commission
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URL: humanrights.asia
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08/12/2010

The Nobel Peace Prize furor: Sri Lanka sides with China against “criminals” and “clowns”

Professor Craig Scott is a Professor of Law at Osgoode Hall Law School
of York University in Toronto, and Director of the Nathanson Centre on
Transnational Human Rights, Crime and Security. He is also a member
of the Steering Committee of the Advisory Council of the Sri Lanka
Campaign for Peace and Justice. He contributed the following comment.



On Friday, December 10, imprisoned pacifist dissident and Chinese
citizen, Liu Xiaobo, will receive in absentia the 2009 Nobel Peace
Prize. China has either detained or blocked the travel from China of
many dozens of people who might receive the prize on his behalf, and
it appears the Nobel Peace Prize Committee has decided to conduct
Friday’s ceremony with Liu’s photograph on an empty chair on the
stage.[1] The Committee has itself noted that the only other time in
the history of the Peace Prize that no one has physically received the
award was in the 1930s when another pacifist dissident, Carl von
Ossietzky, was not allowed to leave his country to receive the award.
That country was Nazi-ruled Germany.[2]

With its blustering and bordering-on-belligerent ‘diplomatic’ response
to the awarding of the prize to Liu, China has succeeded mostly in
deepening worries in the world about what kind of global citizen it
will be as its economic (and parallel military) power continues to
grow. An intemperate (dare we say, almost out of control) Foreign
Affairs spokesperson, Jiang Yu, lashes out and engages in the kind of
name calling we normally associate with the overblown rhetoric of the
governments of countries like Iran. Apparently, the Nobel Peace Prize
Committee consists of “’clowns’” who are “’orchestrating an anti-China
farce’.” [3] China’s rhetoric will undoubtedly appear even more out of
touch with reality when contrasted to what we can expect to be the
poignancy and dignified nature of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony that
will take place in Oslo on Friday.

But China is not content to engage in its own tirade. Since the
announcement that Liu had won the Peace Prize, China has conducted a
campaign to let states around the world know, including through formal
letters sent by China to these states’ foreign ministries, that there
will be “consequences” in their bilateral relations with China if they
show support for the award of the Peace Prize to Liu. [4] More
specifically, China wants obedient ‘friends’ to support it by
boycotting the Peace Prize award ceremony. According to the The Globe
and Mail, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu claims that
“more than 100 countries and organizations would stay away from
Friday’s events in Oslo.” China does not elaborate on which countries
have decided to stand by its side or which “organizations” it is
thinking of – let alone how the total plausibly comes to 100 entities
who presumably have received invitations to attend the ceremony but
will now have declined those invitations.[5]

The closest we currently have to a measure of the success of China’s
boycott campaign is the attendance list at the Oslo award ceremony.
According to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee as of yesterday (December
7), there are 65 countries with embassies in Norway who thus annually
receive invitations to attend the ceremony awarding the Nobel Peace
Prize. Something like 20 of those countries have declined this year’s
invitation, and thus can be viewed as having either joined China in
solidarity or succumbed to Chinese pressure to boycott the ceremony.
The Nobel Peace Prize Committee announced 44 countries were coming to
the ceremony, including major democracies in the Global South such as
Brazil, India, South Africa and Indonesia. On the other hand, 19
(including China) had replied to say they would not attend, while two
had stayed silent to that point. Sri Lanka, along with Algeria, is one
of the two that had not yet replied. [6]

Today, it appears Sri Lanka has now gotten around to replying, at
least according to one online report of a radio interview with Sri
Lanka’s ambassador to Norway, Rodney Perera, who indicates that Sri
Lanka has told the Nobel Peace Prize Committee that it also will not
be attending.[7] The Wall Street Journal also reports today (December
8):

One diplomat from Sri Lanka initially told The Wall Street Journal
that its embassy in Oslo was sure to send someone "if nobody had a
cold," but later said that no one would attend, saying: "We are a
small country and China is now our friend."

China provided crucial economic aid, arms and diplomatic support to
Sri Lanka during the final stages of the war against the Tamil Tiger
rebel movement in 2009.[8]


The list of boycotting countries from Oslo’s embassy row (or, if they
are not boycotting, countries that risk being understood to be
boycotting unless they issue a statement saying they have some other
reason for not attending) now stands at: China, Sri Lanka,
Afghanistan, Colombia, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Morocco,
Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sudan,
Tunisia, Ukraine, Venezuela and Vietnam.

For reasons of pure power politics – massive Chinese investment,
geopolitical support (e.g. China’s wartime support mentioned by The
Wall Street Journal as well as China continuing to stand ready with
its veto in the UN Security Council should any measure be attempted to
create an accountability process for the war crimes and crimes against
humanity that occurred during the just-ended war in Sri Lanka), and
Sri Lanka’s own use of its ties with China as a way to tell the West
not to push Sri Lanka too hard – it can hardly come as a surprise that
Sri Lanka would, in the end, side with China. But, it is hard to
avoid the conclusion that the support ultimately is more deeply
grounded and goes to the very substance of China’s problem with
awarding the Peace Prize to a dissident. It is hardly a surprise that
Sri Lanka lines up behind China given that Sri Lanka has become a
country that, while formally an electoral democracy, is, in many
material respects, slipping quickly into de facto dictatorial and
nepotistic rule by President Rajapaksa.[9] More broadly, there is
much by way of a meeting of minds between the governments of China and
Sri Lanka when it comes to the way dissent and opposition, no matter
how peaceful, are viewed and handled – as entry after entry in the Sri
Lanka Campaign’s blog will attest and report after report from
reputable organizations will confirm.

Consider the following passages as reported today (December 8) by The
Globe and Mail newspaper:

[China’s Foreign Ministry] [s]pokeswoman Jiang reiterated that the
Nobel Committee’s awarding of the prize to “a criminal” like Mr. Liu
was an affront to China’s “legal sovereignty”.

“All policies in China are for the interests of the majority of the
Chinese people,” she said.

“We will not change because of some wind blowing the grass and because
of the interference of some clowns who are anti-China.” [10]


Anyone following Sri Lankan government rhetoric in recent times will
find echoes in the surreal hyperbole from China just quoted.
Discourses of dissidents as criminals (or, terrorists), of legality,
of sovereignty, of the will or support of ‘the people’, of foreign
interference, and so on, all these are part of the verbal arsenal of
the present regime in Colombo as well.

Beyond rhetorical kinship, there is also a kinship of ‘diplomatic’
style. Ian Buruma, in a trenchant column in early November in The
Guardian, analyses the various recent examples of what he calls
China’s “thuggish approach to foreign relations.” China’s muscle
diplomacy around the Nobel Peace Prize is just the most current
manifestation. He canvasses two possible reasons for the thuggery, as
follows:

So why is China being so severe? One possible explanation is that
China is a little drunk on its new great-power status. For the first
time in almost 200 years, China can really throw its weight around,
and it will do what it wants, regardless of what other countries may
think. A few decades ago, it was Japan that thought it was going to be
No1, and its businessmen, politicians, and bureaucrats were not shy
about letting the rest of the world know. Call China's recent actions
revenge for a century of humiliation by stronger powers.

But this may not be the best explanation for China's behaviour. In
fact, the reason may be just the opposite: a sense among China's
rulers of weakness at home. At least since 1989, the legitimacy of the
Chinese Communist party's monopoly on power has been fragile.
Communist ideology is a spent force. Using the People's Liberation
Army to murder civilian protesters, not only in Beijing but all over
China in June 1989, further undermined the one-party system's
legitimacy.

The way to regain the support of the burgeoning Chinese middle class
was to promise a quick leap to greater prosperity through high-speed
economic growth. The ideological vacuum left by the death of Marxist
orthodoxy was filled with nationalism. And nationalism in China,
promoted through schools, mass media, and "patriotic" monuments and
museums, means one thing: only the firm rule of the CCP will prevent
foreigners, especially westerners and the Japanese, from humiliating
Chinese ever again.

This is why anyone, even a relatively unknown intellectual like Liu
Xiaobo, who challenges the legitimacy of Communist party rule by
demanding multi-party elections, must be crushed….. [11]


As with the earlier-quoted rhetoric about “criminals” and “legal
sovereignty”, the analogues between China’s conduct and that of Sri
Lanka are palpable. Hyper-nationalism and peddling of economic growth
(packaged as “development” for all) intersect with repression at home
and belligerent interaction with the world. Sri Lanka and China are
more and more becoming doppelgangers in their approaches to both
governance and diplomacy. Their approach to the awarding of the Nobel
Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo is just the latest evidence that each regime
needs to seriously ask itself in what ways authoritarian rule within
their countries coupled with petulance, anger and juvenile acting-out
in the international realm does justice to the dignity and welfare of
the peoples that each government claims to represent.

NOTES:
[1] Jeremy Page, “Nobel Ceremony Turns Into Global Showdown”, December
8, 2010, The Wall Street Journal, at:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704447604576007301198796060.html

Tania Branigan, “Chinese artist Ai Weiwei prevented from leaving
country”, The Guardian, December 2, 2010, at
http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2010/dec/02/china-artist-weiwei-prevented-leaving-country?INTCMP=SRCH

[2] Alan Cowell, “19 Countries to Skip Nobel Ceremony, While China
Offers Its Own Prize”, The New York Times, December 7, 2010, at
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/08/world/08nobel.html?_r=1&ref=world

[3] Cowell, The New York Times, above note 2.

[4] Agencias, “Seis países boicotearán la ceremonia del Nobel de la
Paz”, El Pais, November 19, 2010, at
http://www.elpais.com/articulo/internacional/paises/boicotearan/ceremo
nia/Nobel/Paz/elpepiint/20101119elpepiint_10/Tes


[5] Sui-Lee Wee and Ben Blanchard, “China claims broad support for
Nobel ceremony boycott”, December 7, 2010, The Globe and Mail, at:
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/asia-pacific/china-claims-br
oad-support-for-nobel-ceremony-boycott/article1827707/


[6] Cowell, The New York Times, above note 2.

[7] ColomboPage News Desk, “Sri Lanka to boycott Nobel Peace Prize
Awarding ceremony”. December 8, 2010, ColomboPage, at
http://www.colombopage.com/archive_10C/Dec08_1291818692KA.php

[8] Page, The Wall Street Journal, above note 1.

[9] See e.g. James Yap and Craig Scott, “The Breakdown of the Rule of
Law in Sri Lanka: An Overview” (September 22, 2010). Available at
SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1682133.

[10] Wee and Blanchard, The Globe and Mail, above note 5.

[11] Ian Buruma, “What is driving China's thuggish approach to foreign
relations? China was deft in its diplomacy for decades, but its recent
heavy-handed behaviour is changing Asian opinions”, November 7, 2010,
The Guardian, at:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/nov/07/china-foreign-relations-diplomacy?INTCMP=SRCH

Sri Lanka is snubbed once, twice, thrice, but will such subtle diplomacy have any positive impact on the Rajapaksa regime?

A recent article by Tisaranee Gunasekara published posted online by in the Asian Tribune, entitled ‘The Oxford fiasco and beyond’, brings to light how the recent efforts of the Rajapaksa regime to win -over the interstate community western powers have failed miserably, with the Oxford Union speech being the most recent event. Citing the Indian International Film Awards (IIFA) episode earlier this year in Sri Lanka and the flopped reception held by Sri Lanka in New York at the time of UN General Assembly in September as other snubs, the article is encouraging in that it highlights that Western powers, along with India are still wary of their democratic norms being questioned by close association with the Rajapaksas whilst generally seeming to be acting with implied acquiescence to the human rights and humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka.

However, the sad fact is that their subtle diplomatic tactics in the form of snubs have not yet succeeded in changing the tactics or the behaviour of this increasingly dictatorial regime. On the one hand, the Rajapaksa regime seems incapable of understanding the abhorrence with which it is widely viewed; in this respect, the Asian Tribune article does an excellent job in showing the culture of deceit and self-deception that characterizes the thinking and conduct of President Rajapaksa and his wide circle of advisors who cannot see clearly enough to act appropriately in the world. On the other hand, the unwillingness of key countries (whether various states in the West, India, Japan, Brazil, South Africa or other powers) to engage in public diplomacy that corresponds to these occasional snubs has its own form of legitimating effect on the Rajapaksa regime – making it possible for the regime to pretend that it is accepted in good standing in the international community. The rest of the world must start combining principled positions with taking a public stand based on those positions.

Given below are some extracts from the Gunasekera article, which was posted on 5th December 2010 by Tisaranee Gunasekara. The full article can be accessed at http://www.asiantribune.com/news/2010/12/05/oxford-fiasco-and-beyond

"Call it a result of hubris, blinding, stupefying hubris. The Oxford fiasco need not have happened, if President Rajapaksa did not have an insatiable appetite for such inane encomiums as ‘The Leader who Conquered the World’; or if his ministers, officials and other hangers-on were a little less inclined to lie, cheat and exaggerate in order to please their Lord and Master. Unfortunately the President needs regular ego-boosters and to fulfill this need, his acolytes are willing to go to any lengths (including into the realm of pure fantasy): The Oxford/British rebuff was the outcome.

President Rajapaksa and his administration are not popular outside of Beijing, Islamabad and Male. Several recent incidents point to this less than palatable truth. For instance, when President Rajapaksa held a lavish reception at the Waldorf Astoria this September for world leaders attending the UN General Assembly, the hall was filled with members of his jumbo delegation, Sri Lankan-Americans and only a handful of foreign dignitaries.

It was a massive and spontaneous snub, from which the correct conclusion should have been drawn. Either make yourself more acceptable to that part of the international community interested in Sri Lanka; or stop trying to play a role on the world or even the regional stage (and be content with shuttling among China, Iran, Pakistan and the Maldives, with occasional visits to India, to relieve the tedium).
One cannot scream invectives at the West, literally from rooftops, organise unruly demonstration outside Western embassies and act like a tin-pot dictator in a fit of temper or sulks and still expect to be treated as a welcome visitor in Washington, London, Paris or Berlin.

…….The Sinhala South may be willing to suspend basic commonsense and accept an obvious lie – that the Eelam War was won in a ‘humanitarian operation’ which caused ‘zero-civilian casualties’; or that our soldiers went to war with a gun in one hand and the UN Charter on Human Rights in the other, as the President once claimed.
But the rest of the world will not believe, and cannot be expected to believe, such obvious and inane untruths. Such tall tales cannot be rendered credible by even the best of propagandists – or by one of the most expensive lobbying firms in the world!
The other extravagant claims that the President insists on making about Sri Lanka, his administration and himself are equally unconvincing. The President’s personal style does not help either, such as his propensity for self-aggrandisement, his lust for praise and his ostentatious mode of living and travelling.

………The Oxford debacle was avoidable, and could have been avoided, if the Rajapaksa administration learnt from the IIFA debacle. The Indian International Film Awards was held in Sri Lanka with the intention of attracting the crème de la crème of the Indian film industry.

…..Due to pressure from Tamil Nadu in general and its powerful film industry in particular, most of the Bollywood stars (including the actor-organisers of the show) decided to stay away. Even the actors who did turn up avoided the official function organised by the President, on the flimsiest of excuses. The entire effort backfired, because the regime underestimated the cultural influence of the Tamil Nadu film industry.

…..Last month Sri Lanka was snubbed by Nepal when Kathmandu denied Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris’ boast in Parliament about Nepali leaders requesting President Rajapaksa to help them sort out their political problems. A few days later, American media exposed the claim made by a Lankan Consul about meeting and briefing President Obama to be a lie. If this is the way we interact with the world, ere long, we will become a global laughing stock.

……The only way the Rajapaksas can win-over the West and silence the Diaspora is by making a serious effort to improve the human rights climate in Sri Lanka and to find a political solution to the ethnic problem. And as the Oxford fiasco demonstrated, the President, for all his angry rhetoric, wants to be accepted by the West, to visit Western capitals, to hobnob with Western leaders and other public notables.

…..The Ruling Coalition engineered a huge reception for President Rajapaksa at the Katunayake Air Port as a salve for his bruised ego. In the meantime, the regime has accused Dr. Jayalath Jayawardene of being involved in the anti-Rajapaksa protests (despite his denials Dr. Jayawardene was manhandled in Parliament by several ministers, eager to show their fealty to the President) and wants to expel him from parliament for violating the 6th Amendment.

If this proposal is implemented, it will set a deadly precedent. That way the regime will have one more powerful weapon to be used to silence and incapacitate the opposition whenever it shows any sign of life."

06/12/2010

Wikileaks - Why the US hasn't acted on Sri Lanka

Foreign Policy in Focus explores the lastest Wikileak - US inaction towards alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka. The full article is republished below.

WikiLeaks XI: Release of Sri Lankan Cables Timed to Shine Light on Government and Tamil Tigers Savagery

By Michael Busch, December 3, 2010

We're honored to have Michael Busch dissecting the latest WikiLeaks document dump for Focal Points. This is the eleventh in the series.

The beginning of 2009 brought an end to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelaam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka. Government forces crushed the rebel movement in a final push that imperiled the lives of nearly 200,000 civilians, and ultimately left thousands dead. In January, the Sri Lankan military seized the LTTE stronghold of Killonichi, trapping untold numbers of innocent civilians between the Sri Lankan military and the rebel Tiger fighters facing their last stand. Neither side, according to humanitarian groups, exercised much regard for the safety of locals in their fighting, a situation that grew so alarming that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights accused both sides of committing war crimes. By May of that year, the Sri Lankan government had claimed victory, but at no small cost. Human rights groups and Tamil activists abroad, who had raised the alarm during the worst of the fighting, began demanding a public investigation into claims that the Sri Lankan military had committed war crimes en route to defeating the LTTE.

And yet, nothing much happened.

A new cable released by WikiLeaks suggests a very good reason why there’s been so little movement on the investigation. Writing in January of this year, US Ambassador Patricia Butenis writes that

There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power.

But in Sri Lanka

this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country's senior civilian and military leadership, including President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General Fonseka.

Not only that, it’s not clear that surviving Tamils are eager to reopen a door to the past. In the first place, it stands to reason that they wouldn’t want to draw too much attention to the fact that the Tigers were themselves guilty of some heinous crimes against humanity in the final months of battle. But Butenis also points out some other, less obvious reasons for Tamil reticence on the matter.

While Tamils have told us they would like to see some form of accountability, they have been pragmatic in what they can expect and have focused instead on securing greater rights and freedoms, resolving the IDP question, and improving economic prospects in the war-ravaged and former LTTE-occupied areas.

In addition,

while they wanted to keep the issue alive for possible future action, Tamil leaders with whom we spoke in Colombo, Jaffna, and elsewhere said now was not time and that pushing hard on the issue would make them "vulnerable."

The question that remains, then, is when the time will ever be ripe for investigation. On this, Butenis is clear.

Accountability is clearly an issue of importance for the ultimate political and moral health of Sri Lankan society… A few have suggested to us that while they cannot address the issue, they would like to see the international community push it. Such an approach, however, would seem to play into the super-heated campaign rhetoric of Rajapaksa and his allies that there is an international conspiracy against Sri Lanka and its "war heroes."

This may be, but any investigation into the first months of fighting in 2009 would also shine light on American—indeed, international—inaction despite full awareness of events on the ground. It bears reminding that the United States did little more than express “disappointment” during the crisis, and only began taking more serious action when the fighting had more or less concluded. At the same time, the issue was never raised at the UN Security Council and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon shamefully never demanded that it be placed on the council’s agenda.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the timing of this cable suggests some clever marketing strategy. The Sri Lankan president arrived in England on Monday and had been scheduled to speak at a high-profile Oxford gathering today. The appearance has been cancelled on the grounds that security concerns threaten Rajapaksa’s safety.

04/12/2010

Japan's leadership test in Sri Lanka

Dr Craig Martin is a legal scholar who specializes in international law and the use of armed force, and comparative law with an emphasis on Japanese law. He is also a graduate of Osaka University in Japan. The Sri Lanka Campaign asked him to take an independent look at Japan's role. Here is his conclusion, published in the Japan Times. Asked to summarise what he had found out, he said he was 'disappointed at how apparently reluctant Japan was to exercise its significant influence on the government of Sri Lanka - Japan has a unique experience to draw on, and is in a position to exercise some real leadership in this situation, such that it could make a meaningful difference on the ground in Sri Lanka.'

The article can be viewed here and is also republished in full below.

BALTIMORE — U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement last month that the U.S. would support an Indian bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council may reinvigorate the process of Security Council reform. Japan too has made permanent membership in the Security Council a high priority in its foreign policy. As such, it might consider how its handling of the Sri Lanka file reflects upon its leadership potential.

Since the end of the Cold War, and particularly in the wake of the diplomatic crisis created by the Persian Gulf war, Japan has been struggling to develop a meaningful role for itself in international politics. Constitutionally constrained from participating in collective security operations that involve the use of force, and unfairly scorned during the gulf war for its "checkbook diplomacy," Japan has sought to cast itself as a "power for peace." It is a means of making a different kind of contribution to the world's peace and security.

But in its handling of the crisis in Sri Lanka, Japan seems to be losing its way. Sri Lanka has in fact played a central role in Japan's efforts to re-define itself as a "power for peace." In 2003 Japan hosted the Tokyo Conference on Reconstruction and Development in Sri Lanka, and it played an important function in the Norway-led peace talks that followed. Japan's foreign aid to Sri Lanka has been part of the peace and reconciliation efforts, and Japan has given far more foreign aid in the last 10 years than any other country. 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 the postwar peace process in Sri Lanka.

Nonetheless, 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 with respect to grave humanitarian and human rights issues. These include the need to reintegrate tens of thousands of internally displaced persons into their home areas, end the indefinite and unmonitored detention of thousands of suspected Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) insurgents, conduct an independent investigation into war crimes allegations, take meaningful steps to restore the rule of law, and generally move to ensure that Tamil grievances are addressed. There is widespread consensus that a failure by the government to take these steps will likely result in a resurgence of violence down the road.

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. Back in 2008 when the ceasefire broke down, Japan suggested it "might review" its aid policy, but since then it has been conspicuously reluctant to criticize Sri Lanka government policy and conduct.

In the closing months of the conflict last summer, 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 commitment to provide humanitarian assistance.

Japan's inaction prompted prominent international human rights organizations and other NGOs to publicly address letters to the Japanese government in the summer of 2009 claiming that Japan had a responsibility to do more. Japan did little in response. Indeed, it has often sent mixed messages, providing one message to local audiences on issues such as the proposed international investigation into alleged war crimes, and quite another to the wider international press.

Japan can and should do more in pressing the government of Sri Lanka to address the ongoing humanitarian, human rights and rule of law issues in the postconflict 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 source of historical lessons and moral authority in advising the government of Sri Lanka. For while the analogies are quite imperfect, 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 warmth of that bilateral relationship speaks to the possibilities for peace between former enemies when the defeated are treated with magnanimity and respect. The manner in which Japan evolved from a militarist regime into a pacifist liberal democracy with a hugely successful economy points to the possibilities for peaceful change in the aftermath of devastating conflict. Even the extent to which the Tokyo war crimes trials served an important role in restoring the legitimacy of the postwar regime and accelerating the return of Japanese sovereignty is not without its relevance to how Colombo might want to think about the war crimes issues in Sri Lanka.

Instead of exercising leadership in some of these ways, however, Japan not only looks ineffective but 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" role that it aspires to develop, and the peace process in Sri Lanka itself. This is because Japan's studied refusal to add to the international pressure on the Sri Lankan government, while it continues to pour money into infrastructure development, could be construed as not simply more ineffectual checkbook diplomacy, but in fact a cynical investment in the regime — no matter what — for the purposes of securing Japan's sea lanes to energy sources in the Middle East, and precluding China from interfering in Japan's perceived sphere of influence.

The failure of Sri Lanka's most significant development assistance partner to lend weight to the widespread international pressure upon the Sri Lankan government to address the many significant humanitarian and human rights issues, and respond meaningfully to Tamil grievances, provides the Sri Lankan government with the necessary space to withstand the pressure. This not only raises the risk of perpetuating the human tragedy that continues to unfold in Sri Lanka, but in the longer run it contributes to the possibility of the conflict resuming 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.

Craig Martin is a visiting assistant professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, and a graduate of and frequent visiting lecturer at Osaka University Graduate School of Law and Politics. He specializes in international law and comparative constitutional law.

01/12/2010

Rajapaksa at the Oxford Union

Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has been invited to speak at the Oxford Union on Thursday 2nd December. The Union has not been shy to invite morally dubious speakers in the past, including infamously last year the BNP’s Nick Griffin. During the uproar over Griffin’s invitation, the Union used a freedom of speech defence to support their actions. This defence echoes ironically in the case of Rajapaksa, given Sri Lanka’s terrible record of censorship and lack of free speech that extends to assassination, disappearances, exile, and general intimidation of journalists.

It is unclear from the Union’s website whether this is a public event, but sources have suggested that the guest list for the event is not open to the public and that the audience will be a closely selected one. If the event is to serve any useful purpose, the audience should be opened up in order to allow Rajapaksa to be confronted in full public view about the many areas of huge concern in his country. For example, Rajapaksa has refused to allow an independent investigation into deaths during the 2009 conflict, despite UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague stating recently that such an investigation needs to take place.

This is the second time Rajapaksa will address the Union, the first being in 2008. This invitation, coming after the horrors of the 2009 conflict and the deepening breakdown of the rule of law and respect for human rights in the aftermath of the conflict,(1) only serves as legitimation for Rajapaksa’s regime and helps his attempt to rehabilitate himself on the world stage.

The UK government and UK NGOs made some strong efforts during the conflict and post-conflict to bring attention to the wrongs committed by Rajapaksa’s government.
The Oxford Union, by issuing this invitation, places itself in opposition to all that good work and does the people of Sri Lanka a great disservice. The issue is not freedom of speech – the Union is free to host speakers who specialize in dissembling and deceit – but rather the ethical judgment involved in deciding in the first place to hand to this particular speaker a propaganda platform.

To take action, email the Oxford Union: enquiries@oxford-union.org

(1)Social Science Research Network, report on the "Breakdown of the rule of law" in Sri Lanka http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1682133

Sri Lankan Foreign ministry statement exposed by Wikileaks London cable

The recent release by Wikileaks of a US Embassy cable from London has provided evidence of the Commonwealth's view that concerns about the human rights situation in Sri Lanka precipitated denying Sri Lanka the privilege of hosting the next CHOGM in 2011 (1).

Sri Lanka
4. (C) Banerji said that the human rights situation in Sri Lanka during and after the recent military offensive had been raised “informally and off the record” by the UK during the last CMAG meeting, forcing a difficult conversation with the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, as Sri Lanka is currently a member of CMAG. Banerji said the Commonwealth continues to watch the situation in Sri Lanka and noted that Sri Lanka’s offer to host the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) had been turned down over concerns about lending international credibility to the Government’s actions."


This starkly contrasts with the statement by the Sri Lankan Foreign ministry at the time.

Sri Lanka claimed, "The endorsement of Sri Lanka [to host the post-2011 CHOGM in 2013] by the entire membership of the Commonwealth singularly demonstrates the recognition of Sri Lanka’s adherence to the Commonwealth values and principles with the country being one of the most vibrant democracies." (2). This is nothing short of a lie. The claim by Sri Lanka was widely understood at the time as being a deceit but now the direct contrast with the truth can be seen from the Wikileaks cable content.

The Commonwealth's concerns about "lending international credibility" to events and the climate of human rights violations in Sri Lanka at the time is at least as much an imperative now with a degradation of democratic processes and the breakdown of the rule of law since that time. (3)

Having denied Sri Lanka the 2011 CHOGM, the Commonwealth must now revisit the compromise decision that Sri Lanka should be permitted to host the 2013 CHOGM. The entire Commonwealth's credibility will be at stake if Sri Lanka is provided this platform to generate more propaganda.


(1) http://cablegate.wikileaks.org/cable/2009/06/09LONDON1385.html
(2) http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2009/11/30/britain-proposes-sri-lanka-to-host-chogm-2013/
(3) Social Science Research Network report on the "Breakdown of the Rule of Law" report.http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1682133

Far more is expected to come out in the Wikileaks than this first snippet... Stay tuned for more revelations!