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

28/02/2011

The oxymoron of our time: Independent but suppressed

Below is an email from a Sri Lankan uncle to his mixed race Sri Lankan nephew living outside Sri Lanka. It is a highly relevant blog post that demonstrates in actual fact how far Sri Lanka is from true independence as granted in 1948 by the British. For those of you who wish to read up in more detail about the themes and events discussed in the email, given below are some in-depth articles.

Date: 10th February 2011

Dear Ananda,

I am encouraged to hear from your mother that you are looking at plans to return to Sri Lanka. You must be feeling the pressure from many of your friends here telling you to return home and help to re-build the country? They are right; if this country has any hope of progressing, it needs the diaspora to return to make a difference at a grassroots level if not at a political level. But I understand that you have doubts too especially when considering the events of the last few days!

I am sure you have read that that the vigil by the UNP outside the Welikada Prison on the 4th February turned into a nightmare with thugs beating up peaceful protesters and party officials and vehicles with iron rods whilst the police passively watched on? You must ask yourself why you would want to bring up your children in a country where there is no protection even from the Police who in this case seemed to have been deployed to obstruct the vigil in the first instance? Appealing to the Police in any circumstance other than if you are with the ruling party in Sri Lanka is now a joke. People who value their lives no longer look to the Police for protection; in fact they have nowhere to look and there is no sense of public security.

Yes the law no longer offers protection for citizens of Sri Lanka as the upholders of the law are simply a masquerading goon squad. And the Courts can’t protect you either, not unless the President orders them to! The treatment of General Fonseka is a prime example of how the courts are powerless and how actions to pervert the course of justice seem to succeed. If people like the General are not protected by the Law then you might ask what hope for you and me and the minorities in Sri Lanka? The minorities of this nation have become more overlooked and more neglected than ever before.

I hear you: minority or not, civil liberties all round have been suppressed like never before! You would have heard about the latest blow to the freedom of expression in Colombo?

Only a few days before the Independence Day celebrations, the Lanka eNews offices were attacked causing millions of rupees in damages. This was just physical damage and is nothing compared to the numerous lives that have been threatened and in some cases lost because people have dared to voice their opinions which have not been favourable to the ruling party. I know it will be a tremendous challenge for an educated, principled individual with sound morals to live in such a lawless society and suffer the suppression we experience everyday.

Citizens have no ultimate authority to turn to for protection and the courts do not have the power to intervene if the actions of the state violate the civil liberties of individuals. You ask how can there can be independence without protection and freedom for citizens? Every democratic institution in this country has been undermined by the actions of the state.And if this is not enough to discourage you, you just need to consider the poor quality of education, the collapse of the health system and the rising poverty and unemployment and arguments the ruling party has made numerous claims about increasing per capita income and rapid development and growth of the economy, but of course none of us see the evidence of this. You know for a fact that most of the wealth generated today is controlled by the ruling party and unless you are willing to join their party, literally and metaphorically, you will have no share of it.

And yet we witnessed the pomp and pageantry of an Independence Day celebrations! I can understand that you have doubts about being connected to this farce! You can see what opposition to this farce can lead to – physical attacks, being thrown behind bars, disappearing, being marginalised, and the list goes on. And you are right to be cynical about the fact that Colombo could experience a Cairo-like uprising and hail the return of democracy! As long as complacency, ingrained prejudice and ignorance dominate the psyche of the Sri Lankan, such a thing will never be a possibility. And even with a change in mindset, what about the fear for one’s life? And as long as individuals like yourself stay away from Sri Lanka, those that remain will be too weak and easily overcome by the far reaching powers of a dictatorship.

Ananda, I am not trying to place guilt upon you for choosing to live in a country that is democratically governed granting you the freedom of expression and a free media that ensures democracy stays alive! You are not wrong to choose fundamental human rights and civil liberties over a cess pit that only appears to be a paradise! But I know you love this country and that it saddens you to see what is happening. I know that you are torn for the moment but that you will return someday. But the good news dear Ananda is that till then, you can make a difference even from afar.

Even if the political situation in Sri Lanka remains dire, a stronger diaspora acting together can have a huge impact on a grassroots level.Raising awareness and keeping Sri Lanka on the agenda of foreign actors – governments, INGOs, media..giving support to local advocacy and human rights groups and minorities that are fragmented or too weak to have a voice, supporting international lobbying efforts and simply uniting diaspora groups and focusing energies together can make a big difference. Your actions and those of like minded individuals even from afar can make a difference to those of us too fearful to speak up at times. Don’t simply watch from the UK, devote your love for this country and your talents to make a difference. This will bring you home sooner my son.

All my love,
Uncle J

Further reading on this topic:
AHRC article
-http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2011/02/independence-without-civil-liberties-is.html

Srilankaguardian
-http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2011/02/is-our-country-really-independent.html

Lankanewsweb incidents this year on Independence day http://www.lankanewsweb.com/news/EN_2011_02_07_003.html

21/02/2011

English PEN Student group event- Exploring the role of media in conflict situations

Representing Sri Lanka in the Face of Conflict
6pm, Wednesday 23 February 2011
Venue: Edmond J Safra Lecture Theatre, King’s College London, The Strand, London, WC2R 2LS

Tickets - £2 PEN Members / Students, £3 For others

Sri Lanka has been home to one of the longest civil wars in recent history, yet this conflict has gone relatively unreported and attacks upon journalists are widespread. In this special event exploring the long and complex history behind the conflict, Priyath Liyanage, head of the BBC Singala Service, will show an extract from his film August Sun and discuss his experiences of representing Sri Lanka in both the media and on film. He'll be joined by Dr. Minoli Salgado, Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Sussex and author of Writing Sri Lanka: Literature, Resistance and the Politics of Place and members of the Sri Lanka Peace and Justice Campaign.

This event is being organised and hosted by the inaugural English PEN student group, based at King's College, London.

19/02/2011

Moving towards a war crimes investigation

The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights released the following statement after their submission to the UN panel of experts on Sri Lanka.

ECCHR provided witness statements to the UN panel of experts that is going to advise UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon on alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka in January 2011. These testimonies confirm claims of large scale attacks against the civilian population in 2009 that have also been reported in several other published reports. The statements underline the necessity of independent international investigations into the incidents. ECCHR also published an overview of options for initiating war crime investigations within the UN system.

Read more here

18/02/2011

Marking the second death anniversary of Lasantha Wickrematunge

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” ~ Martin Luther King Jr, (15 January 1929 ~ 4 April 1968), (Activist, Clergyman, and prominent leader in African ~ American Civil rights movement). Read the rest of the article on Groundviews.

13/02/2011

Bishop appeals over media attacks in Sri Lanka

Ekklesia published the following article on the appeal by a senior Bishop over media attacks in Sri Lanka . We reproduce the article in full below:

http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/14119

A senior Anglican bishop in Sri Lanka has condemned the "continuing attacks on media and the connected activities", including nonviolent protest.

The appeal for "those in authority to ensure democratic freedom of the people" comes following an attack on the office of Lanka e News.

The Rt Rev Kumara Ilangasinghe, Bishop Emeritus of Kurunagala, has previously been involved with peace and justice initiatives alongside the Roman Catholic Bishops of Jaffna, Mannar and Anuradhapura and the Anglican Bishop of Colombo, the Rt Rev Duleep de Chikera.

The full statement reads as follows:

It is with much regret and distress that we have noted the continuing attacks on media and the connected activities. We vehemently condemn the attack on the office of Lanka e News which has caused a tremendous damage costing over fifteen million. The attack on the non-violent protest that was held in Colombo to create awareness among general public on continuing threats to media freedom too is a clear indication of the absence of opportunity for dissemination of information in our country today. All these have happened around the time that we as a nation was commemorating the sixty third Independence of the country. That is why many of us feel that it is certainly and can only be a commemoration and not a celebration. A commemoration should ideally give us an opportunity to reflect on the reality and move forward.

Also it is regretting to note that one year has passed without any information on the abduction of the Lanka e news journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda and many other media personnel. Many of them are living outside this country for fear of their lives. There is intense pressure on the media and those who are concerned about protecting the people’s right to information. This reality speaks volumes for those who are responsible for these attacks, who are frightened of this information and the revelations. Investigative journalism has suffered immensely in our country over the years. This affects our international reputation and is a continuing threat to the democratic values and institutions that have sustained our beloved society. We once again emphasise that this situation does not indicate any signs of a nation that is striving towards authentic development or a civilised society after a prolonged conflict.

How sad and foolish are those who inflict harm of this nature, who also appear to be affected and intent on suppression of the revelations and the investigations of the journalists, believe that opinion can be silenced by such brutality. They ought to remember that freedom is breath of life, not just of any person but also of a nation. We applaud the many in our community who are willing and committed to make any sacrifices to preserve that ‘breath of life’.

It remains the responsibility of all concerned and especially those in authority to ensure democratic freedom of the people, if Sri Lanka is to be taken seriously as a Democratic Socialist Republic. We call upon the government and especially the Ministry of Media, and all other political parties together with other civil society organisations, to ensure the freedom of journalism and access to information by providing sufficient security to journalists and media institutions and there by to ensure the right of expression and the right to information in our country.

11/02/2011

Independence without civil liberties is a farce

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

http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2011/02/independence-without-civil-liberties-is.html

Sri Lanka will be celebrating its independence from the British Empire on February 4, 2011. The lamentation that independence has not meant a great deal to the people of Sri Lanka is commonly heard. However, the causes that created this situation have often not been examined.

The very meaning of independence for citizens of any country is the respect achieved for the liberties of the individuals that constitute the nation. Overcoming the suppression caused to the liberty of the individuals by a foreign power is at the heart of independence. However, the mere absence of the foreign power does not mean that the citizens have gained a victory over the suppression of their civil liberties. A closer examination would show that the extent of the enjoyment of civil liberties as individuals, by Sri Lankan now is much less than those they enjoyed under the British. Terrtorial independence has been achieved. However, civil liberties have been reduced particularly since the adoption of 1978 constitution.

It is easy to illustrate this. Take the case of habeas corpus. This is the most basic legal protection that is available to an individual against the arbitrary power of the state. Under the British Empire this legal protection was available even during the situation of a war. This was illustrated by famous Bracegirdle case- The Bracegirdle judgment was based on the principles of the Magna Carta. As stated by Abraham CJ,

“There can be no doubt that in British territory there is the fundamental principle of law enshrined in Magna Carta that no person can be deprived of his liberty except by judicial process. The following passage from The Government of the British Empire by Professor Berriedale Keith, is illuminating and instructive. In Chapter VII of Part I., he discusses ‘The Rule of Law and the Rights of the Subject’ p. 234. He says: -

‘Throughout the Empire the system of Government is distinguished by the predominance of the rule of law. The most obvious side of this conception is afforded by the principles that no man can be made to suffer in person or property save through the action of the ordinary Courts after a public trial by established legal rules, and that there is a definite body of well known legal principles, excluding arbitrary executive action. The value of the principles was made obvious enough during the war when vast powers were necessarily conferred on the executive by statute, under which rights of individual liberty were severely curtailed both in the United Kingdom and in the oversea territories. Persons both British and alien were deprived legally but more or less arbitrarily of liberty on grounds of suspicion of enemy connections or inclinations, and the movements of aliens were severely-restricted and supervised; the courts of the Empire recognized the validity of such powers under war conditions, but it is clear that a complete change would be effected in the security of personal rights if executive officers in time of peace were permitted the discretion they exercised during the war, and which in foreign countries they often exercise even in time of peace.’”

This is not the case in Sri Lanka anymore. The capacity of legal protection under habeas corpus lies with power of the court to intervene against the decisions of the executive. This power today is much less available than it was under the British Empire. In the Bracegirdle case an Australian citizen who acquired sympathy for the independence struggle of the Sri Lankan people was disliked by the colonial administration and the governor issued an order for his immediate deportation. This was challenged in the courts. The courts not only vacated the governor general's order and nullified it but also stated the obligation of the courts to intervene when the liberties of the individual are curtailed as a right of the courts which is not limited even during the conditions of war.

However that power that the court had to nullify an order of the governor general representing the British crown is not available today to nullify an order of the executive president of Sri Lanka. The executive president of Sri Lanka enjoys a power which is very much more than a power enjoyed by a governor general representing the British crown in the suppression of the liberties of the individual. The courts are powerless when the president acts. Under the constitution the president represents the executive power of the state.

Today in actual fact all the major actions of the executive is done under the name and direct involvement of the president. This is also true of the execution of all issues relating to public security. If those actions violate the civil liberties of the individual there is nothing that the courts can do about it.

Independence means little when the power of the courts is reduced. If the courts do not have the power to protect the liberty of the individuals there is no other component of the government that is capable of doing that task. Therefore the citizens of Sri Lanka today do not have the protection of the courts to safeguard their civil liberties and by that token they have no ultimate authority to turn to for protection.

Can the citizens who have less protection under the law be referred to as citizens of an independent country? The protection of the individuals that constitute a country is the very essence of the meaning of independence. The absence of that protection virtually takes away the meaning and notion of independence.

Even under the colonial empire the administration recognised the rights of the labour unions to organise themselves and to function freely. In fact, the independence trade union movement grew within Sri Lanka during the time of the colonial powers. With independence have come far greater restrictions on the capacities of the labour movements to organise themselves. With the enactment of the 1978 Constitution a structure was created within which any action could be taken to crush the legitimate struggles of the working people. The way in which the 1980 general strike was crushed and the manner in which 40,000 workers were deprived of their employment due to their participation in the strike symbolises the deprivation of the liberty that has become a hallmark of the way a citizen is treated in this independent nation.

The same can be said for the rights of peasants, farmers, students and all marginalised sections of society. And this of course, includes sections of the minorities. Today's minorities are without any kind of protection before the law. They also do not have the protection that goes with the powers that should be provided to their local representatives. The weakening of the minorities has become a boast of the political party in power.

Can the weakened citizens claim that they are enjoying the benefits of an independent nation? Of course, this is not the case. The 1978 Constitution has created the situation where the liberties achieved where the freedoms created by the independence from the British Empire have been taken away by a new kind of tyranny born within the nation itself. Today, all the basic rights that the citizens gained against the colonial power have been taken away and this includes the right of franchise. With draconian limitations imposed on the capacity of Sri Lanka to have to have free and fair elections the very meaning of the election of representatives by the franchise of the people has lost much of its meaning. Voting in elections remains a façade. The substance of free and fair elections does not exist.

In short, genuine independence for the Sri Lankan is not possible as long as the 1978 Constitution remains in operation. Sometime back there was a loud claim that the crushing of the LTTE had marked the genuine independence of Sri Lanka. However, experience now shows that this is not the case. The tyranny that was created by the 1978 Constitution has even increased with the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. The tyrannical system has increased its power and the citizens have lost their civil liberties.

Liberties of personal freedoms and even property rights can today be attacked with impunity. The removal of people from their property by force is a symbol of the extent to which all protection is lost .

The struggle for independence is unfinished. The challenge remains to defeat the forces that uphold the 1978 Constitution and remove this constitution altogether and replace with a constitution that recognises the basic civil liberties of all the individuals that constitute the nation. In such a nation courts must have the power to protect the indivual from arbitrary actions of all, including the head of the state.

Until that happens all celebrations of independence will be a farce.

The day of independence is one that reminds us of the cynical manner in which a small group of people are having the last laugh when the majority of the citizens are deprived of their rights.

08/02/2011

UN intervention required in Sri Lanka

Yet another vicious attack on a media office has prompted The Committee to Protect Journalists to call upon the UN to intervene in Sri Lanka.

http://cpj.org/2011/01/united-nations-must-intervene-to-protect-sri-lanka.php

02/02/2011

Taking Tea with Torturers: Craig Scott challenges Hillary Clinton in OpenDemocracy article

OpenDemocracy.net published an article yesterday by SLC Adviser, Professor Craig Scott that analyzes the consequences of both the US' and Hillary Clinton's cosy relationships with Egypt's Mubarak and Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister Peiris. Referencing Lady Thatcher's friendship with Pinochet, the piece is called 'Taking Tea with Torturers' and can be read here on OpenDemocracy.net.

For an earlier challenge by Professor Scott to UK Minister of Defence Liam Fox's closeness to Sri Lankan President Mahinder Rajapaksa, see also the Sri Lanka Campaign blog posting: Liam Fox insists on visiting Sri Lanka’s Rajapaksa: What exactly is the UK Defence Secretary defending?