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

30/05/2011

Sinhalisation of Jaffna and Colombo

Dushy Ranetunge reports on continued Sinhalisation of Jaffna and Colombo. The article was originally published in the Sunday Leader and has been republished in full below.

I went to sleep last week living down Havelock Road and woke up in the brand spanking spruced up renamed SSJ Mawatha. The first thing that came to my mind was as to how long it would take to type in Sri Sambuddhathwa Jayanthi Mawatha into a vehicle’s satellite navigation system. I suppose by the time you got round to it, you might be in Panadura.

The bright sparks who come up with street name changes are perhaps unaware of the costs involved as a result of their foolish actions. But then, they may not be aware of satellite navigation and perhaps don’t care, as long as their ethno-religious madness is satisfied. They prefer to keep the population in the dark ages.

The Sinhalese are a minority within the city limits of Colombo. Those who are Buddhists among them are even a smaller minority. No one had consulted the residents of Havelock road about the change of name of their road. They had no voice.
Within the last few months we had witnessed Dickman’s Road becoming Lester James Pieris Mawatha, Guildford Crescent becoming Premasiri Kemadasa Mawatha etc. The residents of these roads also had no choice on the matter. It was imposed from above.

Under the present regime, ‘Sinhalisation’ continues, not only in Jaffna, but also in Colombo.
The masses, climbed into an array of vehicles, some parents had kids sitting in the boot of cars as they toured the country viewing the many Vesak spectacles and queuing up outside the generous dansala’s. It took me six hours to drive from Kandy to Colombo while negotiating ‘dansala’ traffic.

As I observed the thousands of children, grannies and entire families taking their lives into their hands by travelling at the back of tractors, half trucks, etc., the police looked the other way. The law is an ass, they say. But here in Sri Lanka, not only the law, the entire law enforcement system, seem to be braying asses.

What amazed me was the sight of adults, presumably parents, sitting inside a car, while their children were sitting inside an open boot with their legs hanging out. They were travelling on the crowded Colombo-Negombo Road.
Sri Lankans seemed unaware or unwilling to recognise the dangers to themselves and to others. For this great majority, Havelock Road becoming SSJ Mawatha was a cause for celebration. They saw nothing wrong in not consulting the residents of the street, where their majoritarian ‘identity’ was being ‘imposed’ without consultation.

It is the same in Jaffna. When so many Hindu Temples lie in ruin as a result of the war, the majority does not seem concerned about the building of new Buddhist shrines in the North and the East. For the Sinhala Buddhist majority, it is their right, and a cause for celebration. They are not tuned to the sensitivities of others. Almost all of these temples are built with state patronage with the security forces playng a major part. It was the same in Colombo where at the top of the new SSJ Mawatha, is the brand new SSJ centre for Buddhism. State involvement in the whole project was obvious.

Political and religious patronage of the dominant tribe by those in power is so that they can precipitate their rule over the masses. So you will see these politicians from world cup cricket to Buddhism.

To the outsider, it is blatantly clear that in Sri Lanka, the dominant tribe has seized control of the state apparatus, and state functions to precipitate the hegemony of their tribe. The minorities in Jaffna, Trincomalee, Batticaloa or Colombo are drowned in the majoritarian sea, where their identity is being crushed.

The Portuguese, Dutch, British and South Indian colonisation of Sri Lanka is a part of our heritage as much as the colonisation by the Sinhalese, which is as foreign as the others. Buddhism is as foreign to Sri Lanka as Christianity or Hinduism. In fact some will argue that Sri Lankan’s were Hindus before the arrival of Buddhism, during the reign of that Devanampiya Tissa, whose ‘high’ IQ was tested with that mango tree riddle.

Drive around Sri Lanka and you will see, statues of British leaders in Sri Lanka removed, place names changed, race courses nationalised, Hindu places of worship taken over, Sinhala only imposed, new Buddhist temples in predominantly Tamil neighbourhoods.

The ‘ancient’ Nagadipa Vihara for instance is a recent ‘innovation’ less than 100 years old. Now there is an even more recent one, the place where Sangamitta landed. Both places have no archaeological value, as they are not ancient sites. These are as authentic as you putting a stick on the beach and claiming it to be the spot where Vijaya landed.
Half a century after Sinhala Only, the Sri Lankan state has still failed to facilitate the practical use of Tamil language in police stations in Sri Lanka.

Mr. Sajith Premadasa states that he wants the population to be conversant in both Sinhala and Tamil and that a Tamil must be able to go to Cinnamon Gardens police station and make a police entry in Tamil and receive correspondence in Tamil.
I asked him if he speaks Tamil. He said “unfortunately, no”. I asked him if the President speaks Tamil. He says, “No, the President makes Tamil speeches with the help of a teleprompter.”
As a result of this ‘ethno-religious’ madness, hundreds of thousands of burghers were driven out of the country. Over a million Tamils have also been driven out of the country.

The “Diaspora” are not enemies. They are citizens of Sri Lanka whom the Sri Lankan state has failed to represent. The governments of the European Union, United States, Canada, Australia and the Republic of India, now represent them.
I inquired from Mr. Sajith Premadasa about his statement that no war crimes were committed in Sri Lanka. He puts his Mill Hill School education in North London, into good use in telling me that Sri Lanka committed “excesses” not “war crimes”. I asked him what was the difference between “war crimes” and “excesses”?
He said that he will use the word “excesses” and that I can use the word “war crimes”.
Sinhalisation Continues…

So, lets use Sajith Premadasa’s word, “excesses”. Sri Lankans point to the US and the UK to justify “excesses” when those governments request Sri Lanka to put its house in order. A million Americans and British citizens are not living in Sri Lanka because of the “excesses” of their governments.
But over a million Sri Lankans are living in Australia, the European Union, North America and India, because of Sri Lankan “excesses”. Those governments now represent Sri Lankan minority communities in those countries, whom the Sri Lankan state has failed to represent.

They have every right to tell Sri Lanka to put its house in order. If after over 60 years of independence, the Sri Lankan state continues to fail its citizens who have a minority culture, it has no option, but to devolve power. Since the opposition in Sri Lanka is so inept, thank god some states and bodies outside Sri Lanka are opposing the hegemony of the majority. Since 2005, the Sri Lankan electorate seems to have moved to the right and this suits those in power, to ensure their continuity in office. I suggested that a petition be raised about the change of the street name without consultation. I was told that the citizens are today more scared than during Premadasa’s regime and that no one will dare protest.

That’s democracy for you and on Vesak day they were blaring from loudspeakers about “Budhu Guna”.

27/05/2011

Militarisation of Sri Lanka is almost complete 

The 18th Amendment to the Constitution conferred enough power to the President of Sri Lanka to enable him to take control of the key institutions of the State. That includes the Judiciary, the Police Force, the Attorney General, the Auditor General and even the members of the permanent Commissions such as the National Human Rights Commission, the Police Commission, the Bribery Commission, the Elections Commission etc.  In other words, the 18th Amendment  virtually conferred dictatorial powers  to the  President of Sri Lanka.  

Even those who refuse to acknowledge the dictatorial powers held by the President, might find it difficult to ignore the how the Defence Secretary is gradually taking various measures to  militarize the administration of the Country. The frequent military interference in the civil administration works of the North and East is a prime example of how military powers are impinging on civil authorities. The Government Agents in these Northern and Eastern districts have virtually become assistants to the military commanders of their respective districts.   

Many retired military officers have been given top positions in the Foreign Service of the country while others have been posted to government departments and corporations.  Now we have the news of compulsory military training for those seeking admissions to Sri Lanka's Universities (1). The security provided to state institutions are to be handled exclusively by a security services organization which has the Defence Secretary as its Director. To top it all the Defence Secretary has decided to establish 90 military camps and 54 special task force camps in all parts of the country in addition to those in the North and East (2). 
These camps will be set up for political surveillance in an attempt to prevent any future protests. Each military camp is to hold at least 1,000 personnel, whilst special task force camps are to hold 150 police officers and they are to be assigned armored vehicles as well.  

The evidence that the Government of Sri Lanka is rapidly militarizing Sri Lanka is undeniable. Civil Authorities are being made weaker and weaker and the military continues to encroach upon every aspect of society. As the UN Panel of Experts report critically observed, the transfer of the government's NGO Secretariat to the Ministry of Defence is a blatant act of repressive control and another indicator of the deepened militarization. There is no argument to support those who still speak of a democracy in this context. The question is how long will the patriots fool themselves and how long will the international community ignore the signs? 
 

(1) Restore Civil Administration In All Aspects To Ensure Democracy 
 
See media release below

(2) Gotabhaya to cover the country with a military net
http://www.globalpeacesupport.com/globalpeacesupport.com/post/2011/05/24/Gotabhaya-to-cover-the-country-with-a-military-net.aspx 
 


National Peace Council
Media Release 25.05.11

RESTORE CIVIL ADMINISTRATION IN ALL ASPECTS TO ENSURE DEMOCRACY

The three week leadership training for incoming batches of university students in army camps that is currently being implemented at short notice is being debated nationally and is building up into a major political issue.  The government has justified this measure as a progressive one that will institute discipline and social etiquette in the students.  In the past universities have been hotbeds of student agitation and even violence. On the other hand, opposition political parties, student organizations and parents have expressed their opposition to this measure and questioned the need for this orientation to be given by the army and to take place within army camps.  They have also argued that the orientation course if deemed necessary could well be done outside the military camps.

The National Peace Council is concerned about the growing reliance of the government on the military to take up tasks that are essentially civilian in nature.  In the Northern and Eastern provinces the military continues to play an important role in governance, despite the end of the war, and former military commanders have been appointed as governors with overriding powers over the civil administration.  In the Vanni, the day to day matters which should to be dealt with by the civilian authorities often have to receive the final approval of the Civil Affairs Office of the military.  The people who have been resettled could feel they are under military rule.  In addition military officials are increasingly getting involved in livelihood and development activities bringing an additional layer that constrains the work of professional NGOs specializing in these areas of work.

In the South too there are also examples of creeping militarisation.  These include the use of military personnel to supervise the demolition of low income housing in Colombo and for more benign purposes such as to decorate streets with Vesak pandals and sell vegetables to bring down the cost of living. Retired military officers are being appointed to diplomatic positions in preference to career diplomats.  The military may be deployed in development work and to represent the country to justify the expenditure on them but other countries like Pakistan and Indonesia realized late that involving the military in civilian affairs would tempt the military to a desire for power which should be in the hands of the elected politicians.   It is ironic that the government has justified the imprisonment and ongoing trial of the former Army Comander Sarath Fonseka in part on this basis.

While Sri Lankans have every reason to be grateful to the military for winning the war and ending terrorism, it is unwise to mix the military with governance if we wish to progress as a democratic society.  What makes the military tick and what makes a society democratic and creative are quite different.  The strict subordination of the military to civilian authority in democratic countries, and the separation of military and civilian roles is an outcome of a long and painful process of historical evolution.  Failure to ensure this could ultimately lead to unwanted military rule nursed by a democratically elected government.  NPC calls for the restoration of civilian authority in all aspects of governance and for the separation of civil and military roles in society so that democracy may be ensured.

Governing Council

The National Peace Council is an independent and non partisan organisation that works towards a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It has a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka in which the freedom, human rights and democratic rights of all the communities are respected. The policy of the National Peace Council is determined by its Governing Council of 20 members who are drawn from diverse walks of life and belong to all the main ethnic and religious communities in the country.

26/05/2011

Cricket and Politics

A senior political analyst based in Colombo writes about corruption charges within the Sri Lankan cricket administration. The original article can be accessed here and has been reproduced in full below.

When former Sri Lankan test captain Hashan Tillekeratne recently claimed that there has been match-fixing in Sri Lankan cricket over the years – for well over a decade – the Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage, without batting an eyelid, rejected the allegations and asked him to prove it.

It was symptomatic of what one could call the “Sri Lankan disease” where government or opposition politicians deny any allegation against them or the party they represent irrespective whether it has been inquired into or whether those denying have a clue as to what is going on. This is on any issue.

For example, when Tillekeratne, a member of Sri Lanka’s World Cup winning team in 1996, made the claim last week – days after Sri Lanka lost to India in the final of this year’s edition of cricket’s ultimate challenge – he referred to match-fixing in Sri Lankan cricket at an international level since 1992. Now the Sports Minister was not even around as a part of any establishment at that time. Furthermore he has been in this job as Sports Minister for just a few months after his predecessor, C.B. Ratnayake made strong allegations against administrators at Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) – the official body responsible for cricket –, saying they were corrupt (subsequently to claim he was misquoted), and was then removed and given another appointment.

Tillekeratne said earlier this month that match-fixing has been rampant over the years and subsequently in a statement to substantiate his claim, made a statement at a local council, where he is an opposition councilor, saying he will provide the International Cricket Council (ICC) with information at the appropriate time. The 43-year-old said since his allegations, he has been getting nuisance calls and death threats, but would reveal the claims at the right time.

His wife also told reporters that owing to threats to the life of her husband, they were seeking legal advice on these issues.
Arjuna Ranatunga, Sri Lanka’s World Cup winning captain in 1996 who like former Pakistan cricket idol Imran Khan has taken to active politics, also joined the debate saying he too wanted to expose the cricket administration for the corruption that has taken place over the years.

Ranatunga, once a parliamentary member from President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ruling alliance, is now an opposition legislator backing former army commander and failed presidential election candidate, retired General Sarath Fonseka who has been jailed for two years for misuse of power during his tenure in the army. The government has dismissed the claims by the former cricketers saying these have been politically motivated. Tillekeratne is also related to Fonseka’s family.

Apart from the match-fixing allegations which have shocked Sri Lankans, claims of corruption against current and previous cricket administrations have been swirling around for many years with both Ranatunga and Tillekeratne raising these issues in 2008.

Tillekeratne’s allegations are even more alarming because he says match-fixing took place as far back as the early 1990s, much before former South African captain Hansie Cronje admitted to taking money to lose a match in claims that shocked the world. Cronje, a broken man, died in a plane crash.

For many years, cricket has been led by an interim committee appointed by the Sri Lankan President, often favorites of the administration with a few competent people. Elections to SLC have been suspended for many years owing to in-fighting – helped by politicians from all sides - between cricket clubs who help to fund the administration through subscription fees.
In the current controversy, the ICC declined to comment saying this was a matter for its Anti-Corruption unit while a former President of the Council, Ehsan Mani was appalled that the ICC had failed to respond saying, according to media reports, that it was duty bound to do so with so much corruption and match-fixing taking place. Several international players including Cronje, India’s Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja, and Pakistan’s Salim Malik have been convicted of match-fixing and served bans in the past decade. Bans on Jadeja and Malik were later lifted. Recently Pakistani players Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir were banned for five years or more on corruption charges by the ICC.

Twenty20 cricket is the latest edition of the game that is being tainted by allegations of match-fixing but no cricketer has been probed so far. The IPL series in India is drawing such attention with Indian authorities at pains to explain that all measures against corruption are being enforced.

As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, the biggest problem – apart from the corruption claims – is the politicization of cricket and any sport for that matter. It is more prominent in cricket because the sport draws millions of TV viewers and millions more in revenue, commissions, etc.

When Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa attended the recent World Cup final in Mumbai between Sri Lanka and India he was apparently disappointed that his host was the Indian President and not the Indian Prime Minister who had played host to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari when the latter visited India for the match between traditional rivals India and Pakistan.
Then newspaper reports claimed that government politicians, angered with Sri Lanka losing the World Cup final, had “persuaded” Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara to step down which he did. But he explained to the media that his decision was taken before the World Cup itself so that the authorities could groom a younger player to take charge of the side leading up to the next World Cup tournament.

Given the sensitivity and threats to self and family, it is most unlikely that Tillekeratne will reveal details to substantiate claims of match-fixing.

For years, while corruption had set in, in the administrative part of the game, the Sri Lanka team has stayed independent of these issues and the politics that surround the game, and played without these issues clouding their performance. However what worries most Sri Lankans is that for the first time, politics has crept into the selection process, impacting on the performance of the players. How this scenario will play out in coming months will be keenly watched by all sides of the spectrum.

18/05/2011

Mullivaikal Remembrance Day 2011 - Today @ Trafalgar Square

Today is the 2nd anniversary of the end of the war in Sri Lanka, and also of one of its greatest tragedies: the shelling by the Sri Lankan army of Mullivaikal hospital which killed at least 49 patients. We will be meeting in Trafalgar Square in London (nearest tube Charing Cross) between 6 and 8:30 pm to remember the victims of this tragedy and to call upon the world to ensure a lasting peace in Sri Lanka built on a foundation of truth and respect for Human Rights.

If any of you are able to get to London tomorrow please do join us. We need your support to make sure the Governments of the world pay attention. As our Chair, Edward Mortimer, said, "On the second anniversary of the end of the war, we do of course rejoice that the war is over. But what happened in the final weeks is a tragedy of the present as well as the past. Only a full investigation and acknowledgement of the truth can make reconciliation possible."

16/05/2011

Become schooled in the Sri Lankan model…insurgency advice on offer to other governments

The FT reports that Sri Lanka has invited officials, from countries including the US and China, to a seminar in Colombo – to ‘showcase how the country’s strategy to defeat the Tamil Tigers offers a new model for defeating insurgencies.’

This disturbing event is due to be held at the end of May, particularly insensitive timing given the second anniversary of the bloody conclusion of the war in May 2009. The event crystalises fears of a ‘Sri Lanka’ model being adopted by other authoritative regimes, as described by Sri Lanka Campaign Chairman Edward Mortimer last month. This public teaching exercise shows that other countries are taking lessons from the Sri Lankan government.

Some of the countries reported to have confirmed attendance at the seminar are India, Pakistan and China. Britain, USA and some European countries are apparently considering attending. Quite why so many countries that have expressed concern at the situation in Sri Lanka are even considering attending this event is beyond belief.

The timing of the seminar is also unbelievable given the UN report just published. This report indicated the need for a war crimes investigation into, essentially, the same ‘strategies’ that will be showcased at this event. The brazenness of this timing is indicative of the arrogance the Sri Lanka government has displayed since the report was published, sweeping the report’s damning conclusions aside. A spokesperson for the Sri Lankan defence ministry even explicitly stated that the regime, in holding this event, ‘want to set the record clear that we have not committed any war crimes.’ The images and ‘advice’ in these seminars should be seen and heard by a war crimes tribunal, not in a seminar room in Colombo.

Read the full story here:
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/388d523a-7cc2-11e0-994d-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1MGoZEwpt

10/05/2011

ANC statement on the UN panel of experts recommendations on Sri Lanka

The following statement from the ANC is important not only because of South Africa's profile in world affairs but also because of the leadership role of South Africa in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) that had been supporting Sri Lanka's pushback against Secretary-General Ban when Ban was creating the Panel of Experts. In general, South Africa (along with Brazil and other major Southern powers) has been willing to acquiesce in, if not support, Sri Lankan diplomatic strategies seeking to obfuscate the way the war ended in 2009 and the developments since then. Against that background, This statement would seem to represent an important 'defection' of a Global South heavyweight from Sri Lanka support ranks. The statement is published in full below.

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

The United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, had appointed a Panel of Experts to advise him on accountability in the Sri Lankan conflict. Amongst those who served on the panel is Yasmin Sooka, a prominent South African jurist. The Panel of Experts concluded that there were serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law committed by both the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers Tamil Eelam (LTTE), some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The African National Congress has consistently condemned any act of violation of human rights in all conflict areas. We therefore urge all conflicting parties to resolve problems through peaceful dialogue and negotiation. We have noted, with regret, that breakdown of the ceasefire and the negotiations between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE led to a military solution of resolving the problems.

The ANC supports the recommendations of the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s Panel of Experts that called for the establishment of an independent body to investigate all violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws committed in the conflict.

We also call on the government of Sri Lanka to take immediate steps to address the core grievances of the Tamil population and engage in a genuine reconciliation process.

Issued by:
Head of International Relations
Dr Ebrahim Ebrahim
African National Congress

Enquiries:
Moloto Mothapo 082 370 6930

09/05/2011

500 DAYS LATER AND STILL NO NEWS OF PRAGEETH

PEN are urging their supporters to campaign on behalf of Prageeth Ekneligoda. We are joining with them to demand news of his whereabouts. We hope you will too. Please see their callout below.

Next Monday, 9 May, Sri Lankan journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda will have been missing for 500 days. Prageeth was abducted on 24 January 2010 and has not been heard from since. There is still no news of his whereabouts or fate and his abductors are still at large.

As yet, no thorough and credible investigation into Prageeth’s case has been made. His wife Sandhya has received almost no response to her repeated requests for information about her husband's fate, including her incredibly moving letter to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. (To read the letter, please click here). Sandhya also attended the Galle Literary Festival earlier this year to make a personal plea to the numerous international writers that were there, but with little impact.

Background:

According to our information, political analyst, journalist and visual designer for the Lanka eNews, Prageeth Ekneligoda, was last seen leaving his office on the evening of 24 January 2010. There are fears that he has been targeted by pro-government forces for his open support of the opposition during Sri Lanka's 2010 presidential elections, although government sources have denied the allegation. Prageeth Ekneligoda is a leading columnist, and reportedly published articles in support of the defeated opposition candidate General Sarath Fonseka ahead of the Sri Lankan presidential elections that took place on 26 January 2010. The Lanka eNews website was reportedly blocked during the elections, and its offices were searched by unidentified individuals on 28 January 2010. Previously, on 27 August 2009, Prageeth Ekneligoda had been abducted and held blindfolded overnight, and was released after being told that he was not the correct target. Family and colleagues have expressed increasing concern that the authorities have done very little to investigate Prageeth Ekneligoda’s disappearance, and there are considerable fears for his safety.

English PEN expresses renewed concerns that journalists and writers in Sri Lanka continue to be targeted with apparent impunity for their dissenting views. We respectfully urge the authorities to take immediate action to ensure all crimes against journalists, including Prageeth Ekneligoda, are vigorously investigated and that those responsible are brought to justice. We also call upon the Sri Lankan authorities to abide by their obligations to the international treaties protecting free expression, in particular Article 19 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sri Lanka is a state party.

For more information, please see http://print.dailymirror.lk/news/news/42879.html

To read a very moving short story by Dr Minoli Salgado written in response to his wife Sandhya’s presence at this year's Galle Literary Festival, please click here: http://www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/wipcnews/afeastofwordsbyminolisalgado/

TAKE ACTION

In order to mark 500 days since Prageeth’s disappearance, we are urging all members and friends of PEN to take a couple of minutes out of your day to take one or more of the following actions to show your concern for him and his family:

- Send appeal letters to the authorities in Sri Lanka;
- Send a message of support to Prageeth’s wife Sandhya (via cat@englishpen.org)
- Write a piece for your local or national newspaper highlighting his case;
- Blog or tweet about his case;
- Change your profile picture (on Facebook, Twitter etc) to the ‘Where is Prageeth?’ photo attached.


Please send appeals:

• Expressing dismay that 500 days after the abduction of journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda his whereabouts remain unknown and that there has been no credible investigation into his case;
• Expressing renewed concern for the safety of journalists and writers in Sri Lanka, and calling on the authorities to take all necessary measures to protect those who are being targeted with apparent impunity solely for their critical writings, in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sri Lanka is a state party.

Appeals to:

His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa
Presidential Secretariat
Colombo 1
Sri Lanka
Fax: 94 11 2446657
Email: secretary@presidentsoffice.lk
Salutation: Your Excellency

Mr. Mohan Peiris
Attorney General
Attorney General's Department,
Colombo 12,
SRI LANKA
Fax: 94 11 2 436421

H. M. G. S. Palihakkara
Ambassador
Permanent Mission of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to the United Nations
#630, 3rd Avenue (20th Floor)
New York 10017
United States America
mail@slmission.com
Fax 1 (212) 986-1838

Please also send copies of your appeal letters to the diplomatic representative for Sri Lanka in your country:

His Excellency Justice Nihal Jayasinghe
High Commission of Sri Lanka
No.13, Hyde Park Gardens
London
W2 2LU
Fax: 020 7262 7970
Email: mail@slhc-london.co.uk

03/05/2011

The Sri Lankan Government's arrogance over the UN Panel's Report

The following article by Kishali Pinto Jayawardene was first published in The Sunday Times and is republished in full below

A government’s arrogance and a country’s plight

It appears to have gone unnoticed that the annexures to the report of the Advisory Panel to the United Nations Secretary General (UNSG) show that the engagement of the Sri Lanka Government with the Panel had gone far beyond the surreptitious visit of toplevel government officials to New York.

As must be recalled, this visit was first disclosed in this newspaper and denied until it was conceded much later by the Minister of External Affairs. Possibly this concession may have been prompted by the realization that this fact would have anyway come to light through the publication of the Panel report which could not have been prevented by threat, inducement or promise.

Unbelievable arrogance of government officials

But quite apart from this secretive visit, the annexures to the Panel report disclose lengthy submissions annexed under the covering letter of the Minister of External Affairs setting out the Government position. This is the same Panel which the Minister now condemns as being ‘legally, morally and substantially flawed’. If (hypothetically) the Panel had absolved the Government of all wrong doing, would the Minister have welcomed the report as being legally, morally and substantially correct? The answer to this hypothetical question is all too obvious.

So the truth is that the Government assumed that the UNSG, (quite possibly the most indecisive and faltering head of the United Nations that we have had in history), even if he had been bludgeoned into appointing the Panel, would not go so far as to publicly release the Panel report. It also assumed in an unbelievably arrogant manner, that the Panel itself would uncritically accept the Government’s ‘reconciliation’ and ‘restorative’ process.

But the Government thought wrong, got caught proverbially flatfooted and is now seriously embarrassed. This explains the literally bristling anger with which the Panel report was received by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and downwards. Inability on the part of his advisors to comprehend the manner in which the Panel was being lobbied by the pro-LTTE diaspora and to have refuted these efforts by far more than briefing notes and one secretive visit to New York is virtually incomprehensible.

Direct engagement or credible internal investigations

The other option would have been, as suggested in certain quarters, to have rejected the Panel outright and not to have participated in the process at all. Even this approach may have been possible if Sri Lanka had, like Israel, engaged in a credible internal investigation and pulled itself together in respect of its criminal justice processes and important liberty remedies such as habeas corpus. Mere reliance on a Commission of Inquiry exercise does not suffice. Such investigations by Israel were what provoked South African jurist Richard Goldstone to retract at least partially from the findings in his report on Israel’s complicity in war crimes though the other members have kept firm to the original contents.

But even Israel, with all the backing of the United States, was not so brazen as to announce that it went into the Gaza with the gun in one hand and the United Nations Charter in the other.

To maintain, as Sri Lanka has done that, we do not need anybody else to teach us lessons on how to protect our civilians and then do precisely nothing to address the issue of legal accountability, is to court trouble even if not disaster. And to be quite clear, legal accountability does not necessarily mean dragging individual soldiers or a Head of State before courts of law for penal offences committed during the last stages of the conflict.
The other option would have been, as suggested in certain quarters, to have rejected the Panel outright and not to have participated in the process at all. Even this approach may have been possible if Sri Lanka had, like Israel, engaged in a credible internal investigation and pulled itself together in respect of its criminal justice processes and important liberty remedies such as habeas corpus

For example, if it had been less arrogant, Sri Lanka may have shown its commitment far earlier in thoroughly investigating and prosecuting the killers of the five youths senselessly gunned down in Trincomalee in January 2006 or the seventeen aid workers shot at point blank range in Mutur in August 2006. These were incidents that the Udalagama Commission (2005) was investigating but its report was never published.

So when some proclaim that there was little possibility for incidents such as the Krishanthi Kumaraswamy case, (where a schoolgirl was brutally raped and killed by soldiers who also killed her mother, brother and neighbour in 1996), to have occurred within the life of this political administration, nothing could be farther than from the truth.

At least the administration of Chandrika Kumaratunge, whatever may have been its unforgivable part in irreversibly politicizing Sri Lanka’s judiciary, showed political will in prosecuting the Krishanthi case.

Urging a more reasoned approach

And it must be said that the quite inconceivably highhanded tone adopted from the start by the Government in relation to the last stages of the conflict was deplorable. Could even a child accept the statement of the President that the Sri Lankan armed forces, in fighting a foe as conscienceless as the LTTE, had incurred zero civilian casualties?

Could not a more reasoned approach have been adopted? The world surely needs not to have been convinced of the brutality of the LTTE? Such a reasoned approach together with actual changes in Sri Lanka’s democratic systems post May 2009 and commitment to a political solution addressing the grievances of the Tamil people may have gone a long way to establish our case. But what did we have in actual fact?

How can we explain the manifest lack of political will in correcting a flawed legal and constitutional status quo or the stonewalling in arriving at a just political solution for still festering ethnic grievances? Could the 18th Amendment be explained away on any other basis than the unacceptable enthronement of the President? What about the jailing of the former Army Commander? Does the Government really believe that all of this can be swept under the carpet in the name of accelerated development while one family maintains an iron grip on political power?

We need to face the truth. Referring to the Panel at this stage as illegitimate when the result has been against the Government and in the face of strong evidence of direct engagement with it by government officials is of little use. Abusing the members of the Advisory Panel is also counter productive. It will certainly not embarrass the Panel members who are now ensconced in their respective academic and professional corners having completed their tasks.

They would, in all probability, be wholly unaware of these rude tirades. In any event, as one editorialist overseas put it well this week, they are established well enough in their own fields to shrug away accusations of having been bribed and worse.

The taking of corrective measures

Some profess concern for the Tamil people in this country and take the view that the Panel report was entirely mistimed in the ‘reconciliation’ process. But merely parading rehabilitation processes of former LTTE cadre and relaxing a few emergency regulations will not do. At one level, minority concerns must be substantively addressed, never mind the hypocrisy of Tamil parties such as the TNA which welcomed the UN Panel Report insofar as it castigated the Government but disregarded its condemnation of the LTTE (see reference by the Panel to the LTTE being ‘renowned for its brutality’ in paragraph 1 of the Introduction).

At another level, significant Rule of Law concerns must be redressed. These well documented concerns are evident in regard to the constitutional balance of power, our legal systems and most importantly in reference to Sri Lanka’s judiciary and the Department of the Attorney General.

This must be done not because the United Nations calls for it or an Advisory Panel attempts to prove its case for an international investigation by pointing to those very flaws. On the contrary, it must be done because this country deserves it for its own good. We also deserve far better than to court being cast beyond the pale of the community of nations due to the arrogance of a government or the self serving cowardice of its advisors.

02/05/2011

NDP releases statement on Sri Lanka in mid-election campaign

Apart from the issue of the costing of fighter jets, there has been virtually no discussion of foreign policy issues in the present federal election campaign in Canada. An important exception was the release of a statement by the New Democratic Party, which is poised to become, for the first time, the official opposition in Canada's next Parliament or could well even to form the government soon after the election. The NDP and its leader Jack Layton have put out a press release on the just-released UN Panel of Experts report on Sri Lanka. The New Democrats support the Panel's call for the creation of an international institutional mechanism for investigation of war crimes and crimes against humanity regarding Sri Lanka. With all eyes focused on the polling numbers and the governing Conservatives' record in office in Canada, it is heartening to see a party making Sri Lanka such a priority in the final days of an intense election campaign. For the entire NDP statement, please see: http://www.ndp.ca/press/ndp-statement-on-un-panel-report-on-accountability-for-war-crimes-in-sri-lanka