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

30/12/2012

Sri Lanka's Killing Fields Tourism

"The Sri Lankan military is advertising a newly constructed hotel in the heart of the killing fields in the north of the island, where tens of thousands of minority Tamils were killed in 2009. The holiday resort, called Lagoon's Edge, caters for Sinhala war tourists who want to see the last bastion of the defeated Tamil Tiger rebels."
Frances Harrison takes up the story in the Huffington Post. For more on Ethical Tourism in Sri Lanka, and which military run attractions to avoid, check out our "Think Again" campaign.

The original advertisement

12/12/2012

Alarming stories from Kilinochchi

You may have read the statement from the Women’s Action Network (WAN) we released over the weekend. It told the story of how, in order to show the international community that the Sri Lankan Army was no longer entirely Sinhalese, they were forcibly recruiting Tamil women. They did this using a mixture of deception (telling them the jobs were civilian when they were in fact military), preying on the vulnerable (young widows and women who had to provide for seriously ill relatives), and by refusing to allow the women they had conned into signing up from leaving.

It is very concerning. But more concerning still is a story we received from a trusted source this morning. The BBC Tamil service ran the story in Tamil and we are placing the information we received below:

Recent Female Army Recruits Admitted to Kilinochchi Hospital Late Last Night 
  • Of the women recently recruited to the 6th Brigade of the Sri Lankan Army (SLA), 20 were admitted to the Kilinochchi district hospital on December 11, 2012 between 11.00 pm and 12.30 am. 
  • They had recently been trained in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts 
  • They were brought from Navam Arivu Koodam located in a village called Krishnapuram. Killinochi West 
  • Upon arrival at the hospital, some of the women were unconscious. 
  • They were immediately isolated from the other patients and subsequently detained in a small room in the hospital’s northern section. 
  • The northern section of the hospital is not accessible to the public; it is used exclusively by army personnel. 
  • Shortly after the group of women was admitted, a large group of army personnel (male and female) gathered at the hospital. 
  • Only SLA doctors and nurses are looking after these female patients. 
  • Some of those who have been admitted remain unconscious. 
  • It has been reported that those admitted are all Tamil. However, since some of the women are conversant in Sinhala, people suspect that some of the admitted patients are Sinhalese. 
  • Dr. Karthikayan, the regional director of health services and district medical superintendent, has allowed only one Tamil attendant to enter the room where the patients are being kept. Other people have not been permitted to enter. 
  • Dr. Karthikayan has earned a reputation as an ardent supporter of the Sri Lankan government. Perhaps out of fear, hospital staff members have refused to give out any information. 
  • Since people still do not know who has been admitted, the relatives of those who were recently recruited have been left wondering. As a result, many have congregated near the hospital. 
  • As of the writing of this report, no family members have been allowed to visit those who have been hospitalized. 
  • Due to the large number of army personnel situated near the hospital, the atmosphere remains tense. 
  • TNA Parliamentarian Sritharan visited the hospital on our request and he was not allowed to see the women. In addition, the mother of a young woman has gone to the hospital and was not allowed to see her daughter. Subsequently, she was taken by the official of the military (higher official) and the outcome is not known.

11/12/2012

Herman Kumara writes about the Think Again campaign

Herman Kumara is an old friend of the Sri Lanka Campaign. He recently wrote for Groundviews in support of our "Think Again" tourism campaign.

You can read the full article here, and you can see our tourism campaign here. Here's an abridged version:

Whose beaches in Sri Lanka?

Tourism will bring millions to Sri Lanka but will we see any of it?<

According to the government, concerns about development in the name of tourism are part of an NGO conspiracy intent on limiting Sri Lanka’s progress. However, what desperately needs highlighting is the real picture for people who are about to lose their land, water and natural environment, and eventually their livelihoods.

In response to growing concerns about the detrimental impact an unchecked expansion of Sri Lanka’s tourism industry will likely have, the Sri Lanka Campaign has launched its ‘Think Again’ campaign with a view to help visitors to the country make informed choices about where and how they plan to holiday. The campaign aims to encourage tourism that will help in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Sri Lanka, rather than line the pockets of the few. Campaigns such as this one can go a long way towards identifying the realities in the face of such negligent ‘development’.

The following are extracts from statements made by members of fisher communities around the country:
“When they [Authorities] enforced the coastal buffer zone just after the tsunami, we lost our small hut at the beach. Now we have lost the place where we kept our fishing equipments. But in the same place the tourist hotels are being built and no any law enforcements are made against them. Those regulations are applicable only for small fisher people like us.” 
says Piyasena Mathangaweera of Uhapitagoda, Hambantota.

Who then are the beneficiaries of the coastal zone regulations? The fisher people cannot even put up a small hut on the beach, while the same beaches are now becoming jam-packed with tourism projects, hotels and other leisure facilities. The coastal buffer zone regulations were introduced just after the 2004 tsunami, in the name of security for the local population. Is there no such need to guarantee the security of those tourists visiting Sri Lanka’s beaches?

Important questions are raised. Sadly, most of the people in the country are in a numbing situation and do not open their mouths to protest at all. This is because people are terrified of criticising the government, a fear stimulated by continued threats, intimidations and harassments. This situation rings true in many parts of Sri Lanka.
“The laws and regulations enacted by the government are violated by them. We lost our house due to 100 meter coastal buffer zone regulations. But the same land has been sold to the foreigners and we have lost our land now.” 
This is not a NGO, nor a conspiracy. This is Mr. Manoj Ambesuriya, a genuine fisherman’s voice from the Southern fishing village of Kalamatiya at Hambantota, where the President Mahinda Rajapakse comes from. What is the response from the ministers? Can they deny these facts? Are those not the real life stories of the coastal communities?

It is only the politicians, bureaucrats and investors who see the land and sea grabbing in coastal areas as being ‘development’ promoting the wonders of Asia. Bringing 4 million tourists to the country and seeing an $8 billion boost to Sri Lanka’s economy by 2016 is the dream and the route towards prosperity.

When Kalpitiya’s island communities approached the minister of fisheries for a solution to the threat of their eviction from the peninsular following government plans to lease out fourteen islands, they received the following response from the minister concerned:
“Can you see the prosperity of fishermen in Negombo? Also fisher communities at Unawatuna and Hikkaduwa? All those people who were fishermen those days are millionaires now. Don’t you want to become millionaires as those people are? You have been misled by some NGOs. Tourism will bring prosperity to the fisher communities.” 
So, it is clear that fishers are seen by the government to be of no importance. As are farmers. As are all small food producers who provide rice and fish to the people of Sri Lanka, who feed the nation with their sweat and tears.

The government of Sri Lanka should endorse acts and policies which will ensure the customary rights and preferential access to resources of the coastal communities. In such policies, it should be clearly mentioned that the right to land is a basic right of the people they govern, and that they too have a right to sustain themselves for future generations.

The right tone for a positive vision of the country’s future is heard in the hopes and aspirations of Dinesh Suranjan, a small-scale fisherman, social activist and trade union leader from Kalpitiya islands:
“My parents were living on this island, Uchchimune. And today, I am living there. We are collecting water from a spoon and we are safe living under a coconut tree after our daily fishing activities and other daily routines. So, we have very simple life. We do not have big dreams. But, we need not to be disturbed with our lives. My mother and I want to die in this land. My bones should be mixed with this soil and fertilise the land for future generations. I urge not to disturb our simple way of life through tourism.”
Dinesh echoes the concerns of most fishermen in the country, whether inhabiting coastal or inland water bodies. How do we make sure their voices are heard by those policy makers and bureaucrats who dream only of the financial prospects of Asia’s wonders? This is a real challenge for the citizens of this country. It is not a conspiracy. It is not the act of traitors. There is real patriotism and dreams for Asia in Sri Lankan society today, but no media to expose common views and no effective civil society or dominant political party to support action on such sensitive issues.

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08/12/2012

The rule of law

Last week, Sri Lanka’s Chief Justice (who holds the highest position in the judicial system and heads the Supreme Court), attended the first day of a hearing to impeach her. On Thursday she walked out as it became increasingly clear she would not get a fair hearing.

She is accused of 14 charges of financial impropriety and misusing power. The 11 member parliamentary committee is made up of seven government and four opposition lawmakers.

This is the latest event in a series demonstrating the Rajapaksa regime`s attempts to subordinate the judiciary of Asia`s oldest democracy. The underlying theme appears to be the Divi Neguma Bill. This aims to combine three governmental bodies which focus on development (the Samurdhi Authority of Sri Lanka, the Udarata Development Authority and the Southern Authority), to form one called the Department of Divi Neguma Development.

The department would function under the Ministry of Economic Development - headed by Basil Rajapaksa. Overall, the Bill is considered to give him and his department power over the development of the entire Island – by removing some authority already devolved to the provinces and thus diluting the 13th (devolution) amendment of the constitution. Thus the Supreme Court stopped the Divi Neguma Bill passing – stating that its passage required the sanction of every provincial council and that the Northern Council could not give this sanction until fresh elections have been held.

On the 7th October, Manjula Tillekaratne, the secretary of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) was admitted to hospital, following an attack by unidentified persons. Following the stalling of the Divi Neguma Bill, President Mahinda Rajapaksa had, allegedly, requested a meeting with the Chief Justice and other members of the JSC. The meeting had been denied, citing the independence of the judiciary.

There followed a state-controlled print and electronic media campaign against the Chief Justice and other members of the JSC - who are also sitting Supreme Court Justices.

The JSC themselves issued a statement condemning the attacks them and suggested that they had been subject to intimidation. There were further protests by judges and lawyers in late September.

Other opponents of the Devi Neguma Bill have also found themselves under attack. On the 15th October posters appear in Colombo in Singhalese with the following translation
“Let us save the pro-people Divineguma Act that builds the lives of fifteen lakhs of low income families from the Paikiasothy gang that aids and abets the separation of the country.”
The reference to the Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Aternatives (CPA) (a think tank in Colombo), Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, is to be understood in the context of the CPA’s challenge to the constitutionality of the bill on a number of substantive and procedural grounds. The very same day the CPA were also subject to an unusual visit from the military, who had apparently been informed that the CPA’s address was related to the Election Department, which they were investigating. The CPA were themselves unable to understand why the military would be involved in such an enquiry.

The breakdown of the rule of law in Sri Lanka is certainly neither new, nor isolated to the above. Indeed, the threatened impeachment, attacks upon the judiciary and the poster campaign against Dr Paikiasothy, are merely indicative of a pre-existing but growing malaise. The executive’s role in the above and inertia in addressing them suggests a worsening intolerance towards restraints on its ambitions and critics - even if those are the law, its upholders and therefore, democracy itself.

The consequences are likely to be devastating and against the interests of all Sri Lankan citizens – except the ones to profit financially. With erosion of the rule of law, perpetrators will be free to continue committing crimes, victims will be unable to receive justice. Even the methodology of the flawed Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report depends on an impartial judiciary for peace and stability.

The international community and the United Nations have been repeatedly criticised for failing to intervene in Sri Lanka’s troubled affairs. Even the Commonwealth secretary-general has made a public statement regarding the impeachment. A recent report was made on the future the Commonwealth by a Foreign Affairs Committee stated that:
“Continuing evidence of serious human rights abuses in Sri Lanka shows that the Commonwealth's decision to hold the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo was wrong”.
This seems to be their chance to right that wrong.

07/12/2012

Christmas shopping? Why not help raise money for our campaign at no cost to you

This winter, we have once again teamed up with Amazon to allow you to do your Christmas shopping – or any other shopping for that matter.

Whilst ordering from your computer screen you can also raise money for a very good cause – the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice.

Under Amazon's "affiliates" scheme, when you shop using Amazon on our recommendation, we get at least 5% of everything you spend, at no extra cost to you - It's Amazon's way of thanking us for encouraging you to use their site.

Just click this link to give us 5% of the cost of your Christmas shopping!

As the situation in Sri Lanka deteriorates, we nonetheless continue to run successful campaigns. We contribute to the pressure that is ramped up by the international community that will help bring change to Sri Lanka - drawing attention to shocking developments such as the impeachment of the chief justice, or the arrest of the Jaffna Student Union leader.

But times are hard and we really need your support if we are to hold both the sides in the recent civil war to account, and to take on the Government over its persistent rights abuses. We need your help if we are to build on our success, so please do use our link when you come to shop.

Click this link and then use the Amazon website as you normally would.

Want to give the gift of peace in Sri Lanka? Click here to make a donation in someone's name.

Want to find a gift for someone with a Sri Lankan obsession? At our Amazon store you will find books and DVDs written about the state of Sri Lanka as well as books and DVDs by Sri Lanka Campaign advisers. And we will get 5%+ on everything. We especially encourage you to look at Frances Harrison's ground breaking book about the brutal civil war in Sri Lanka.

Looking to buy shoes or handbags? Amazon's partner site Javari are even more generous - giving us 15%! Just click here.

Not in the UK? The links above and below will take you to the UK site. You can then go to your home site but we will no longer earn any money if you do so. Not to worry! For your benefit we have now signed up for a number of schemes around the world:

Click here if you live in Canada
Click here if you live in the USA or Australia (or any other country which isn't listed separately)
Click here if you live in Germany
Click here if you live in France
Click here if you live in Spain
Click here if you live in Italy

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