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

26/07/2012

Stay safe on-line in Sri Lanka

Over recent years, frequent  actions taken by the government  of Sri Lanka have curtailed the dissemination of ideas and information online.

By imposing registration fees, blocking certain websites, and raids on offices and arrests and detention of staff at the the government have sought to tightly control Sri Lankans' access to the web.

The posters and the videos introduced bellow have been produced by the Centre of Policy Alternatives to be distributed amongst Sri Lankans to protest against the increase of the censorship on-line by the Sri Lankan Government and to inform everyone, from human rights activists or journalist to ordinary user, how to use the web in Sri Lanka in a way that is safer and freer.

They produced a number of posters and videos in English, Tamil and Sinhalese. We have been encouraged to disseminate them and would like you to do so too. Here they are.




Click here to find the pictures in Tamil and Sinhala


Click here for the video in Tamil
Click here for the video in Sinhala


Click here for the video in Tamil
Click here for the video in Sinhala


Click here for the video in Tamil
Click here for the video in Sinhala

24/07/2012

Behind the scenes of Kalpitiya's paradise

The Kalpitiya peninsula is a region of Sri Lanka located 150 km north of the capital, Colombo. Described as one of the most beautiful area of the Sri Lankan western coast, Kalpitiya is an incredible marine sanctuary and home to a large number of fishermen.

Kalpitiya 2012 - Marie & Guilhem
As part of a tourism development project in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan authorities have chosen 14 islands in Kalpitiya as the site for the Kalpitiya Dutch Bay Resort Development project. This development project includes 15 tourism zones designated by the government to attract local and multinational investment and to raise the number of visitors across the whole Sri Lanka to 2.5million per annum.

For almost two years now, the fishermen and inhabitants of the different islands have been protesting against this mega tourism project. It risks seriously damaging the ecosystem and the survival local community. It may well end up resulting in the eviction of more than 10 000 sri Lankan people; the Government has no concrete intention of rehousing or compensating affected people. Nor were they consulted when designing the project.

The Food Sovereignty Network South Asia, a network of the civil society activists in South Asia, sent a Fact Finding Mission to write a report – “Tourist’ Dream or Fisherfolk’s Nightmare!”. The report determined that the project has already caused many evictions, and placed severe restrictions on people’s access to sea. Tourism concern also ran a campaign on the issue which we were happy to support, as was Herman Kumara of NAFSO who we wrote about previously.

Fishermen Jude Dayalan, Antony Regan and Rexi Manoj told Charles Haviland of South Asian BBC news that "Earlier we could go anywhere to fish. Now they've restricted us by starting to build hotels everywhere".

A local woman, Saleema, told the Asian News that she noticed “the workers of Neil de Silva [of Dutch Bay resorts]  had invaded my property, they were building a huge hotel. I explained to them that those lands belong to me, but de Silva told me that he bought the area from another person”.

Thankfully, Saleema had her ownership recognized in front of court, but only after months of legal battles and at a cost of hundreds of thousands of rupees. Unfortunately, unlike Saleema, most of the people that have been living here generation after generation are unable to prove their ownership, title deeds and paper records are not commonly held, and will probably lose all their rights to their property.

Kalpitiya 2012 - Marie & Guilhem
The entire process suffers from an incredible lack of regard for the right of the communities to be informed as to what is happening to their land. The whole project has been built without transparency, thus obstructing the opportunity for the people effected to have their say,.

But if you ask the Government, these negative points are only of minor importance compare to the benefits for the community. The Coast Conservation Department (CCD) denied all the possible negative effects, saying that none apparent so far has been found, “Not every change is harmful” says an official of this authority.

However, the Government seems really nervous about the Kalpitiya issues and work hard to discourage those who would come too close to the truth.

As an example, Marie and Guilhem, a Belgian couple, were deported after three months of filming a documentary on the Kalpitiya tourism project. They will tell us more about what happened in the following interview:

Can you please introduce briefly who you are, what you do and what brought you to make a documentary about the Kalpitiya issue?

We are a couple from Belgium. Marie is 26 and graduated as a psychologist. Guilhem is 34 years old and was trained as an anthropologist. We have always been interested in what happens in other parts of the world and, last year, we decided to take six months off from our daily Brussels' lives in order to travel together. However, it seemed important to us not just to 'consume' touristic areas. We wanted to understand how tourism is influencing local communities and what is at stake behind the attractive infrastructures and the smiley faces. In order to document our findings, took a video camera with us.

In the mean time we were reading Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine. In one chapter she writes about Sri Lanka and how tourism projects have influenced the post tsunami reconstruction. It made us want to investigate more about tourism in Sri Lanka. While looking up we found out more about the IFFM report and NAFSO and decided to fly to Sri Lanka and make a documentary film about the Kalpitiya tourism development project.

Kalpitiya 2012 - Marie & Guilhem
The Government seems to describe the controversy about the Kalpitiya project as a marginal fact. Why, in your opinion, is the Government denying the controversy, instead of trying to find an effective solution?

Depending on the hierarchical level of the people we talked to, they gave to us different kinds of response.
According to the information we got from Dr Nalaka Godahewa, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, controversies regarding tourism projects in Sri Lanka in the past years, are “absolutely negligible”.

When asked about the situation of the local communities, Rangana Fernando, the Divisional Secretary (local government representative) in Kalpitiya, admitted that the people were afraid of the changes which might be brought about in their lives by a project of the scale of the one planned in the area. He also acknowledged that some people might have to be displaced, but he assured that the government has a plan to relocate people if necessary.

Bandiwewe Diyasena, Bouddhist monk and head of Samudrassana Viharaya reported to us that the the Minister of Fisheries came to the islands a few months ago and talked to the fishermen. He promised them that if they had to be displaced, the government will build new houses for them.

According to some other informants, the DS and the Chairman of SLTDA said no one would have to be relocated. So it is very difficult, in this context to know exactly what is going on. The local communities have a complete lack of information regarding the project.

Did or do they have some kind of open dialogue or try to involve the local communities? Was it effective or successful?


We heard about a few meetings where representatives of local communities met with government officials in order to discuss the project. But as far as we were able to understand, these meetings were more about explaining the government's plans rather than consulting the communities on the effect on their livelihoods, let alone about obtaining their consent.

Kalpitiya 2012 - Marie & Guilhem
While realizing your documentary you had the chance to talk directly to local communities and fishermen, can you describe how they feel? Do some of them see a possible solution to this issue?

It has been very difficult for us to meet the local communities and when we did, we felt they were afraid to talk openly because they didn't know who we were. When we were with NAFSO representatives, however, people talked more easily. What arose most of the time was their indignation about the lack of information and the lack of consultation.

In some cases we really could feel people’s fear about what will happen to them and their families and their resignation while realising they couldn’t do anything to stop the project.
In other cases, people explained they have been openly threatened by government agents for opposing the project. We talked to many people who described how they had to face on a daily basis the critical political situation, the fear of the repression, the discrimination and so on.

You were clearly targeted by the Government once they realized you were filming about the Kalpitiya issue. What happened next?

We actually started to seriously realize the issues when we understood that the activists from NAFSO we were collaborating with were under constant government surveillance and that we were being watched as well. We also realized that some of the journalists we talked to were taking serious personal risks by addressing issues such as the Kalpitiya project.

Things became rather serious when Herman Kumara, National Convener of NAFSO was nearly abducted a couple of weeks before the end of our stay in Sri Lanka.

Then it was our turn to be arrested, interrogated by the CID and left for days without knowing what was going to happen. In these stressful situations beliefs start to crumble and at times we were wondering if the CID was right: was our project not some criminal attempt to tarnish the image of the country?

Kalpitiya 2012 - Marie & Guilhem
What did they officially blame you for?

Officially we were not accused. We were not even arrested, we were simply 'under investigation'. During the interrogation, the officers said we were in touch with the wrong people and that these people were working against the government of Sri Lanka. They also kept saying that we were trying tarnish the image of Sri Lanka with our documentary.

In a general though did you feel in a democratic and free country at that time?

It is possible to travel for weeks in Sri Lanka without realizing that individual freedom and civil rights are an issue. Most tourists we have met during our stay were not at all conscious of the human rights situation people are dealing with. But, after gaining the local people’s trust, we started hearing a different side of the story. We talked to many people who described the critical political situation, the overt repression and the discrimination they were facing on a daily basis.

We were reading The Cage from Gordon Weiss, at the time, which is an eye opening reading about the iron grip of the Rajapaksa regime on politics and economics and about the way the current government ‘pacified’ the country at the end of the armed conflict in 2009. It is also edifying about the difficult situation journalists, human rights activists, NGO workers, and so on, are facing in the course of their work to expose injustice and defend the rights of the local communities.
We hope no one will ever have to experience our last few days in Sri Lanka and what some Sri Lankans experience on a daily basis. We definitely felt very far away from anything close to a democratic society.

Marie and Guilhem's documentary will be out next winter - watch this space!

Ramadan mubarak from the Sri Lanka Campaign: how you can help

Ramadan wishes to all our followers, Muslim and non Muslim. As we know many of our Muslim supporters choose this time of year to give money to charity, we would like to share the following message:

The holy month of Ramadan has begun, and many Muslim men and women choose this time to give charitably to help those in need. If you are a Muslim, or have any Muslim friends or family, this is your chance to help alleviate the pains of the people of Sri Lanka, by making a donation to our campaign. And we would of course still welcome your donation if you are not Muslim.

Please click here to donate

The situation in Sri Lanka is dire; Sri Lankans of all ethnicities are suffering under an increasingly brutal government. The long lasting civil war between the government and the LTTE has appeared to cost over 40,000 lives. After the war ended up to 300,000 Tamil civilians were detained inside military camps, and many are still homeless or living in temporary shelter

Moreover, a relatively recent attack on a Muslim Mosque has sparked new fears that there is a growing animosity towards religious freedom within the country. Both the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE had previously victimised Muslim Sri Lankans but the lack of respect for human rights, and the prevailing culture of impunity is causing a significant amount of concern to Sri Lanka’s Muslims. (1)

Throughout Ramadan you can make a vital contribution to our work. We are a non partisan, multi ethnic campaign that aims to draw attention to these problems and demand action from the international community: to bring human rights and the rule of law back to Sri Lanka, and to hold those responsible to account.

Please either make a donation or help us by telling others about the campaign.

Muslims believe Ramadan is here to enlighten us of the more pressing needs in the world, this is your perfect chance to address one of those needs.



1 - Protesters disrupted the Muslim Friday afternoon prayer, despite police presence, by breaking in to the mosque and causing damage to the property, which included damage to copies of the Quran and other religious texts. Subsequently the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka has ordered the removal of the mosque from the area, claiming that the mosque is situated within a Buddhist religious area.

17/07/2012

Sri Lanka Defence Minister in swearing and threatening rant at journalist

Sri Lanka’s Defence Minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa- and brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa- has launched into an expletive ridden tirade against a Sri Lankan journalist over the publication of  story and threatened her with violence.

The journalist in question was Frederica Jansz, the editor of The Sunday Leader. Jansz rang Rajapaksa to ask for comment on a story. Rumours had been circulating that the state-run Sri Lankan Airlines were changing an aircraft on a scheduled flight to accommodate the Defence Secretary’s request to fly a puppy from Switzerland to Sri Lanka for his wife.

Over two telephone conversations, Rajapaksa abuses Jansz with foul language and threats.  The full transcript can be read here.

Rajapaksa ends the first conversation with abuse and a threat to sue the paper:

“…Janz: I called you to get your side of the story and to clarify this issue.

GR: You write one bloody word and I will sue you!!! I will sue the writer and your f…..g paper again!!

FJ: Mr. Rajapaksa are you threatening me?

GR: Yes! I am threatening you! Write every single word I have told you if you want – you write a bloody f…..g word and we will see…

FJ: Mr. Rajapaksa I called you as a journalist to inform you of what was happening and get your version but all you have done is abuse me in raw filth…
Rajapakse hangs up.”

When Jansz rings again, Rajapakse ratchets things up by talking about imprisoning and killing her:

GR: Yes I threatened you. Your type of journalist are pigs who eat shit! Pigs who eat shit! Shit, Shit Shit journalists!!! Ninety percent of the people in this country hate you! They hate you!!! You come for a function where I am and I will tell people this is the Editor of The Sunday Leader and ninety percent there will show that they hate you.

FJ: I don’t think so.

GR:  You don’t? That is your ego!! You are a shit, shit journalist. A f…..g shit. A pig who eats shit! I will go to courts!!! I will not withdraw the case on the MIG deal – this is how you wrote…

FJ: I had nothing to do with that story so I cannot comment.

GR: But I will put you in jail! You shit journalist trying to split this country – trying to show otherwise from true Sinhala Buddhists!! You are helped by the US Ambassador, NGOs and Paikiasothy – they pay you!!!

FJ: I wish.

GR: You pig that eats shit!!! You shit shit dirty f…..g journalist!!!

FJ: I hope you can hear yourself Mr. Rajapaksa.

GR: People will kill you!!!  People hate you!!! They will kill you!!!

FJ: On your directive?

GR: What?? No. Not mine. But they will kill you – you dirty f…..g shit journalist.’

Its language that would make even fictional, sweary spin doctor Malcom Tucker from ‘The Thick of It’ blush. Yet this is no blackly comic satire- but the dire reality of life for Sri Lankan journalists today. The tirade is a frightening and very public indictment of the Sri Lankan government’s combative attitude to a free press. It’s important to note the reason the Sunday Leader was calling was to give Rajapaksa a right of reply over a story about himself. Yet this is something the Sri Lanka government have continually denied their opponents, silencing critics through intimidation and violence.

The threats are all the more chilling given the recent history of The Sunday Leader. The paper’s previous editor, Lasantha Wikramatunga, was gunned down in 2009 in broad daylight. His murderers remain at large, with government links to his assassination left uninvestigated.

And of course, in 2006, Lasantha himself received a similar phone call from a member of the ruling family:
 "F**k your mother, you son of a bloody wh**e! I will finish you! I treated you well all this while. Now I will destroy you. You don't know who Mahinda Rajapakse is. You watch what I will do to you!"
Since The Sunday Leader published the transcripts of the conversations, media rights groups Article 19 and the Committee to Protect Journalists have expressed concern for Jansz’s safety:
"The threat against journalist Frederica Jansz is the latest demonstration of the Sri Lankan government’s systematic attacks against independent and opposition-supporting journalists and media houses. They have showered scorn on journalists and shown a complete inability or unwillingness to prosecute perpetrators of violence toward and the killing of journalists” 
 Dr Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19 executive director. 

Economist blog coverage : 
http://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2012/07/press-freedom-sri-lanka




16/07/2012

A fond farewell

Craig Scott was one of the founders of the Sri Lanka Campaign and a very significant part of all we did. On the 19th of March this year he was elected as a Member of Canada's Parliament for Toronto Danforth - in a by election caused by the tragic death of NDP leader Jack Layton. Always a stickler for propriety, he felt that it would be inappropriate for him to continue as an adviser now that he is an MP and so he left the council with immediate effect.

However Craig was a major part of our campaign, and it seemed wrong to allow him to slip away without in some way marking his departure. And so, belatedly, we have written this tribute to thank him for his contribution.

Craig was one of the founders of the campaign. He was only indirectly known to the other founders but he joined up as soon as he heard about our objectives. As a prominent academic in the field of human tights, with experience in Honduras, South Africa and Afghanistan, he slotted in perfectly as an adviser - but he soon distinguished himself with his energy and commitment: from the very beginning he took responsibility for the accuracy and legal consequences of our content, and for setting the message and tone of the campaign through his diligent editing of our blog, and indeed all of our output.

He also wrote extensively on Sri Lanka: to this day our homepage carries the paper he wrote with his colleague James Yap for the Social Science Research Network, on the break down of the rule of law. He also wrote a paper for them on Sri Lanka and Honduras, pieces for Open Democracy, pieces for Global Brief, and many others - a good many of them available on our blog. At a time when the situation in Sri Lanka was changing by the day, his reasoned, thorough, and durable analysis firmly rooted the campaign and gave us, and our analysis, a more long-lasting quality.

In addition he provided us with valuable strategic guidance, positioning the campaign firmly within the struggle for global human rights, and making the campaign about much more than just Sri Lanka. As our only Canadan adviser, one of his lasting legacies will be the fact that the Sri Lanka Campaign is more strongly established in Canada than almost anywhere else.

Everybody I spoke to when preparing this article commented on how incredibly helpful he was. Despite a phenomenally busy schedule he always had time for the Sri Lanka Campaign and would be our first port of call in any crisis. He was also incredibly collegiate, often helping other like-minded organisations with legal advice and research.

Craig will be much missed by the campaign, but our loss is very much Canada's gain.

11/07/2012

Homeless for five years: NAFSO investigate the plight of the villagers of Mullikulam.

More than 400 internally displaced Catholic Tamil families in Mannar province are claiming the right to return to their land, for the second time in twenty years, after the Navy blocked the area: labelling it as a high-security-zone.

Mullikulam village, in Mannar province (northern Sri Lanka), is located on the small strip of land which nearly connects Sri Lanka to India (and used to via a ferry service). It therefore remains a strategic area for the Sri Lankan army.

In 1992 people were forced to flee when they heard the army was arriving from the sea as part of an operation launched in Kalpitiya. Most of them left immediately, with their clothes on their back as their only possessions. Thanks to an agreement, mediated by Norway, between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Government the families were however allowed to return in 2002. A few years back the well-known journalist, J.S. Tissainayagam, wrote a fantastic article in the Tamil Canadian, about the poor conditions people had to return to.

But in 2007, once again, as the final stage of the war between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan army began, the Mullikulam’s villagers were told to evacuate by the army with no notice.  

As an anonymous source told Asian News:
"[The Army] told us to leave all our stuff and not take anything with us. It was only supposed to be for three days, and then we would return to our homes. Five years have passed."
In theory, these people would be among the first groups of Internally Displaced People (IDP) to benefit from the resettlement programs promoted by the government. In practice, the Government failed to help these people improve their life conditions and most of them remain IDPs: without homes, jobs and thus struggling to survive every day.

The Government never gave to them any kind of explanation for the evacuation; there is a rumour of a project to build a naval base on the site of their village, but no formal announcement has been made.

The Government Agent for Mannar said
"Mullikkulam people can go and resettle near Mullikkulam"
In other words forcing the families to relocate to other villages, where they have no homes, no fishing rights, and are not welcome. Many of these unfortunate people now live in the jungle, often on the groundwithout a roof over their head, surrounded by mosquitos, elephants, snakes and other dangerous wildlife. In a totally mean spirited action, the Navy controlling the area finally allowed them to return to the sea and start fishing again; but after this turmoil none of them are able to pay for the necessary basic equipment to begin with.

Sri Lankan civil society has been clamouring for action for some time and many different organizations have denounced the incredibly difficult situation these people have now faced for many years. The National Fisheries Solidarity Movement recently wrote a piece exploring the issue in greater depth.

You can read the full report of NAFSO's fact-finding mission here.

09/07/2012

Tales from the front line

“Every journalist has heard of Srebrenica. How many have heard of Mullivaikkal where just as many perished?”

This is the sobering question that Frances Harrison, former BBC correspondent asks in her upcoming book “Still Counting the Dead”.

In it the veteran journalist, who has worked in Bangladesh, Malaysia and Iran, recounts the stories of survivors from the end of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009, capturing the agony of civilians caught in the crossfire between the Sri Lankan army and the Tamil Tigers.Estimates of the number of people killed during this period vary drastically depending on who is giving the estimate, but the most reliable figures suggest 40,000 people died in the closing stages of the war.

It can be difficult to visualise or comprehend the meaning of such stark statistics, but by presenting individual stories and the faces behind the numbers, Harrison gives the conflict a human side and displays her skills as a journalist and as an excellent storyteller.“A medic saw a baby born with a bullet lodged in his tiny leg, shot while still in the womb. In the makeshift hospitals dying mothers screamed for their babies to give them one last feed – knowing the breast milk would be their last gift of life.”In addition to reliving the trauma of individuals caught in the war,

Harrison admonishes the reaction of the international community and media both at the time of the violence and subsequently; they claim the conflict was “a war without witness”, which prevents them from punishing the perpetrators or properly investigating what happened.

Harrison refutes this ‘war without witness’ label, saying that despite the Sri Lankan government’s attempts to bar journalists from entering the war zone, there were many people who witnessed the escalating conflict, including 60 Catholic priests and nuns, 240 local NGO workers and Tamil civil servants. Then there are the survivors of the war, who have been left traumatised, having lost loved ones and their possessions and currently living in a country which continues to persecute and suppress them.

They are still alive and their testimonies serve as the best, and most honest, evidence of the brutality perpetrated by both sides in the conflict. Harrison recounts civilians’ living in fear during the closing stages of the war; fear of being fired upon by indiscriminate government rockets and the fear that Tami Tiger soldiers would steal their children to make them fight against the army.

Harrison’s rebuke of the international community and United Nations is strong. She says the UN “failed utterly in its duty of care” but her most stinging criticism is reserved for those in her profession.

She says that journalists failed to scratch the surface of a supposedly impenetrable war. Unlike in Syria, where journalists were willing to smuggle into the country to report on the situation, there was no one to do the same in the north of Sri Lanka, despite there being an erratic bus service to the frontline. International media missed vital testimonies and ignored the war, focusing on other news stories such Gaza, where 1,500 people died at a time when a human catastrophe, killing up to 40,000 people, was unfolding in Sri Lanka.

Well-researched and with an eye for detail, Harrison’s book is essential reading for those wanting to know the human stories and faces behind the war. When we published eight survivors stories this may they were among the most read articles we ever published but Frances' stories are different, in fact most of them have never been heard before. They may have been neglected by the international community and media but their powerful memories live on.

Frances Harrison’s book “Still Counting the Dead” will be released in October, and is available to pre-order through Amazon. By using the link below, 5% of proceeds go to the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice. There will a Tamil translation, and an English Rupee edition coming out later in the Autumn. We will be making a Sinhalese translation freely available on this website as soon as the book is out.

If you are in the UK you can order the book here

If you are in Canada you can order the book here

04/07/2012

No news? Make some up!

British MPs to visit Jaffna” roared a headline in the Daily Mirror, one of Sri Lanka’s most widely read English dailies. They cited as their source “Presidential Advisor Arun Tambimuttu” the former Battacola region campaign organiser for the Rajapaksa regime. 
The report suggested ten MPs (all Conservatives) - David Amess, Guto Bebb, Nick de Bois, Alun Cairns, Alan Duncan, Liam Fox, Sheryll Murray, Richard Ottaway, Andrew Turner and James Wharton – were to visit Sri Lanka to examine the militarisation of the north of the island, following a meeting in London with Tambimuttu and Government of Sri Lanka apologist-in-chief Rajiva Wijesinha. 
This seemed plausible; several of the MPs in question had previously shown an interest in Sri Lanka: Liam Fox’s involvement has a matter of much controversy, Nick du Bois and James Wharton also contributed to a recent parliamentary debate on Sri Lanka. 
We were keen that these MPs see as full a picture of Sri Lanka as possible, and so we approached contacts in Parliament offering to brief the MPs, either before or after their trip. However when we contacted one office, this was their reply:
"I have spoken to various organisations in and around Parliament and no one is aware of this supposed trip. I have also spoken to the offices of the MPs mentioned in the reports and none of them have any plans to visit Sri Lanka." 
In other words either Tambimuttu or the Daily Mirror flat out made the story up. If only that were surprising.