FEDERALiDEA | July 2008 »

June 29, 2008

All three communities must put heads together

Interview with Rajavarothayam Sampanthan, Tamil National Alliance

By Shanika Sriyananda

Q: You have met the high level Indian delegation which came to Colombo last week. What was the outcome of the meeting?

A: We basically exchanged views about the present situation in Sri Lanka.


R. Sampanthan

They emphasized a political solution to the conflict instead of a military one. They said they want to contribute their best efforts to a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Q: You were advocating an Indian intervention to solve the national problem throughout but at the end of this meeting with them, according to the Tamilnet, you have said that “Tamils believed all these days that they were the natural allies of India but it is not so today”. What do you really mean by this?

A: I do not know whether I was quoted correctly. I did emphasize the fact that the Tamil people in Sri Lanka were natural allies of India. We have strong cultural and linguistic affiliations but the Tamils were somewhat disappointed as to what the India had been able to achieve in the past was done away with. As a representative of my people I had to convey the true feelings of the Tamils to the Indian official representatives. I only performed my duty.

Q: Do you think that India has a vital role to play in resolving the conflict?

A: I think that India is a country which by virtue of its proximity, its status as a regional power and its friendship with all people Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims in Sri Lanka, India it is probably the best equipped to solve the problem. But it also depends on how the three communities are prepared to resolve the problem. Because, this is essentially a problem of ours and not a problem of theirs’.

The role of international players can only be able to do to a certain extent. They cannot do anything and everything. We have to contribute to solve our own problem.


Q: The government is confident that peace can be brought through the 13th Amendment. Those who represented the TULF in early discussions to formulate this Amendment have later strongly opposed it. Do you still hold the same view?

A: When the government came into power they accepted a political solution agreed by all the communities in Sri Lanka which need to be brought to resolve this problem. The government took certain steps by appointing the APRC and the Experts Committee.

They made their own reports and all were far beyond the 13th Amendment, including the report of the APRC’s chairman. So I must tell very frankly the government itself realized the limitations and initiated a process to get the views of all the political parties. However, the government is now trying to implement it as a solution. I think the government is not honest.

I strongly believe that the 13th Amendment is not a solution and never be a solution to the conflict because this was rejected by us in 1988, which is inadequate to address the grievances of the Tamils.

Q: You emphasized the fact that a solution should be found beyond the 13th amendment. So what are the solutions that you are suggesting?

A: Since the Sinhalese are the absolute majority, they constitute over 75 percent of the population. So there is nothing that they have to be feared about.

Ultimately the Sinhalese will rule this country because they are the majority, but there are certain parts of the country, especially the North and East where the Tamils have historically lived. That is why even under the 1972 and 1978 Constitutions Tamils have been given a special place, Tamil language has been given special place in the North and East because the Tamil speaking people have predominantly lived in the North and Eastern parts of this country.

We have been all along demanding from the time of Chelvanayakam that there must be a Tamil linguistic region. And if that is achievable we all want a united country. We do not want the country to be divided.

The Sinhalese and Tamils are not the same though we have a lot in common. But we have our differences. We want to preserve our cultural and linguistic identities within a framework of a united Sri Lanka. And Sinhalese can give this to us, because they are the majority. And, if it is given to Tamils, we will help to develop the whole country.

Q: You were a senior lawyer and politician respected by all the communities. Why do you want to promote a ‘mono ethnic separate state’ for Tamils, which is the dream of the LTTE?

A: No, I will not say that it was the dream of the LTTE. After Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa became the President in November 2005 in his first speech that Prabhakaran made, he said ‘’You are supposed to be a pragmatic person”.

Please come up with a set of proposals that will satisfy the aspirations of the Tamil people’’. Where is that set of proposals? If there is any I can catch Prabhakaran by the ear and tell him that ‘if there are some we can accept, talk about and work on it’. The President Rajapaksa appointed the APRC and started to formulate.

Then he suspended the whole thing and went back to the 13th Amendment which was 20 years old. Why? Because the JHU, MEP and a section of the JVP put pressure on it.

What had happened to P-TOMS? The LTTE was prepared to work on the P-TOMS.

There was the ISGA agreement. Then we could bring the LTTE into the political mainstream. Without coming up with a set of proposals, which even Sampanthan can accept, how can you come to a conclusion that the LTTE is for a mono-ethnic state?

Q: Do you believe that having a separate state for Tamils would solve their problems?

A: We have always been opposed to separation. In the 1970 Parliamentary Elections the Federal Party in its manifesto asked the Tamil people to oppose any one who contested on a separatist platform. Because there was no acceptable political solution. We do not think a separate state is an imperative demand. The question of separate state comes to the fore only in the context that there is no acceptable alternative. This is our position.

Q: A large number of your contemporaries in Tamil politics such as Amirthalingam, Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam and Yogeswaran were brutally assassinated by the LTTE. For some time you were in the forefront to condemn the LTTE. How come you have changed your mind and remain a so-called proxy of the LTTE?

A: Killing of Amirthalingam, Yogeswaran and Tiruchelvam cannot ever be justified. They were wrong and they should have never been killed. That is my view that day and that is my view even today. That will always be my view. There is no question about it. But I cannot be looking at the past. I have to look at the future. If I live in the past the problem will never be solved.

The past is past. Because of lapses on the part of the successive governments the LTTE has intensified its struggle.

I have not changed and I am still the same and I am only doing what the time demands.

Q: All the senior Tamil politicians, including you, Mr. Anandasangaree and Minister Devananda are in different camps today. How genuine are you in solving the grievances of your own people and do you agree that all these actors are misleading the ordinary masses?

A: Minister Devananda is already in the Government. He has been with the UNF, SLFP Government. As far as we are concerned today out of 23 MPs from the North East 22 are from our Party. Out of the 16 MPs from the North 15 are from the TNA. The only Tamil who represents the EPDP is Minister Devananda. Some people are saying that there was violence at the election and I am not saying that it was totally violence free. It was a much better election compared to the last Eastern PC election.

Tamil people are very sensible people. What they want is their children’s education, to save little money, look after their properties and mainly they want peace. If there is peace in this country it will flourish.

Q: But still you did not answer my question. Are these political actors misleading the Tamils?

A: No. I do not say that. Anandasangaree is totally anti LTTE. But in all other matters he was with us. He got federalism, he got a merged North East. There is no difference. I only tell him that the LTTE may longing for many matters but we need to solve this problem. So we cannot throw them out.

Q: You said you are for non-violence. But by helping the LTTE your are eating your own words.

A: Remember this is not helping the LTTE. This whole struggle is to bring about a peaceful solution to end the sufferings of Tamils.

Q: Though you support non-violence, you will unwillingly represent the views of the LTTE when you approve their ways to win the demands by terror?

A: I do not agree with their violence and I cannot accept their bombing of buses and railways killing innocent people. When the government bombed their areas in Wanni and people were killed and the LTTE will come and do some damage here.

Q: Do you want to justify the LTTE way of taking revenge?

A: No. I am against violence by both sides. But politically if the government want to solve this problem the LTTE must also be on board.

Q: But the interest for negotiation should come from the LTTE. They were given a chance for table their views but they used them tactically to come up.

A: Don’t say that they are not prepared. Their position still is that the government has not come up with anything. The simple position of the LTTE is that the Sri Lankan government had never come up with anything and will never come up with anything. So until then they have to fight.

Q: People claim that the TNA is the mouth piece of the LTTE. Is it correct?

A: No. I don’t say that we are the mouth piece of the LTTE. I am a democratic politician who belongs to the old political era, the Federal Party and the TULF. And I have not changed a bit. I am the same. I totally oppose all forms of violence. I am for a negotiated settlement for the Tamil question.

I want peace in Sri Lanka and I want all the people in Sri Lanka to be happy citizens of this country. The armed struggle would have never started and the LTTE would never come into existence if this problem was settled during Chelvanayakam’s or Amirthalingam’s time. Without implementing the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact or the Dudley-Chelva Pact you are saying Sampanthan is the mouth piece of the LTTE.

No point in saying that. The persons who must accept responsibility for situation prevailing in this country today are the persons who have opposed and who are even now opposing an acceptable peaceful resolution to the conflict. They are the persons who should take the responsibility and not anybody else.

That is why I have always been advocating that the two main parties - SLFP and the UNP should come together and work together to find a solution to the national question. We are still for a peaceful solution.

Q: How do you define this conflict - is it an ethnic conflict or a conflict to defeat terrorism?

A: I say this is an ethnic conflict which came up due to ethnic discrimination, ethnic exclusion and ethnic inequality. The Tamil people were excluded from governance, employment opportunities and resources in their own territories. In 1950s, 1960s and 1980s only the Tamil people became the victims of violence. They were denied their rights. They were discriminated.

Q: But just now you have said that ‘Past is past’. Can you say that there was no ethnic conflict in that era. Can you point out a single occasion that a Sinhalese went against Tamils or an event that they were discriminated because of their being Tamils today. So how can you claim that still it is the ethnic conflict?

A: Yes, of course it is still the ethnic conflict. As long as the causes of ethnic conflict remains unaddressed and when there is no acceptable solution by political means the conflict continues.

When violence takes place in a another dimension, the ethnic conflict remains basically a conflict.Why am I in politics? Not because I want to support the violence of the LTTE but the grievances of the Tamils have not yet been solved. The LTTE tells me “that your method wont bring anything to Tamils. You have been trying it for the past so many years but you have failed. The Sri lankan government will never solve it. So we must follow our methods”.

Q: But the Tamil militancy have failed to addresse the grievances of the Tamils so far and even the international community has rejected it.

Therefore how do you alien with the views of the LTTE, which hardly shown any interest in a negotiated settlement?

A: It is not a question of agreeing with the LTTE. It’s a question of working out for something honour and reasonable basis which is an acceptable solution to all the people in this country and to the international community. And also a solution that bring the LTTE into the peace process.

The LTTE thinks that such a process would never emerge.

When they read this interview they will say that Sampanthan is mad. I am scolding them telling that if the government tabled something reasonable that they should give up arms. They asked me “ Sir do you think that we like to remain in jungles. No. we like to live like others in town. But do you think that the government will do so, Sir?”.

Q: All along the LTTE claimed that they are the sole representatives of the Tamils. But this has become a myth as Pillaiyan taking the Eastern power. How do you see the newly established provincial Council administration?

A: I do not recognize a separate Eastern province. Separate eastern province is a violation of the Indo-Lanka agreement. It is a violation of the international treaties. It is the duty of the incumbent government to rectify the merger and bring about a proper merger.

So I do not recognize a separate Eastern province. Eventually the representatives who have chosen by the people.

Q: So you do not believe that the LTTE is the sole representative of the Tamils?

A: Anybody can say anything. When there is a final acceptable solution, the people have to chose their representatives.

Q: Is that true that some of the TNA MPs are to join the TMVP?

A: No, not that to my knowledge. I do not think TNA MPs will move to the TMVP.

What you can do by becoming Provincial Councillors. Even Chandrika Kumaratunga said when she was the Chief Minister of the Western Province, that she does not have power more than a peon.

Q: You are constantly in touch with Wanni. How do you see the present situation, where people are suffering under the clutches of the LTTE?

A: I won’t say I am constantly in touch with Wanni. People are suffering, especially due to bombing. People do not have employment. Basically you have to ask them whether they are happy. But people are carrying on. Their only hope is that the war will come to an end and they will get a peaceful solution to this question. They do not believe in war.

Q: The Military is attacking Wanni successfully and do you think that the LTTE can hold ground in future?

A: I am not a military person to comment on this. So I do not know whether army or the LTTE will win. But what I can say is ultimately in a war nobody will win. All sides are losers.

Q: The military is accused for carrying out offensives and don’t you think that the continuous violence of the LTTE has led the government to adopt a military approach to defeat terrorism?

A: As I said before the LTTE’s manifestation is for an acceptable political solution and if such evolved I think there will be no justification for the existence of the LTTE. Without such on table trying to marginalise the LTTE through military means in my view is not helpful at all. That will only cause immense sufferings to Tamil civilians.

Q: But as long as the LTTE continue their terror, the military offensives will continue and people from both sides will compel to suffer.

A: As along as the government delay a political solution and resort to a military action on the account of its failure to adopt to a properly acceptable political solution people will suffer.

Q: There is a general impression that the TNA is only listening to Prabhakaran and not in a position to make him to listen to them. So do you believe that there is no democracy in the political approach of the LTTE.

A: I do not accept this statement that the TNA only listens to Prabhakaran. We are prepared to think independently and we think independently. But if the government or any one else expects us to influence the LTTE, first there must be an acceptable political solution on the table. It should be reasonable to the government. Until then expecting us to influence the LTTE is absurd.

Q: Do you think that we need foreign mediation like Norwegians in the peace process?

A: On one hand they are welcome but first of all we should have the feel the need and we should be genuine. We are the people of this country and we should be together. There is no necessity for Norwegians to tell us how to solve the problem. Why they had to intervene because we failed to solve our own problem. If we could handle there is no need for Norwegian intervention.

Q: The LTTE was asked to lay down arms and come for peace talks. What is your comment?

A: If you ask them to lay down arms before offering anything for them they won’t do that. Even in Northern Ireland they started laying down arms only after the Good Friday Agreement. Even in Ache they laid down arms after the agreement.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which had a meeting with the high profile Indian delegation in Colombo, last week, said the Tamils were disappointed with India as it had done away with all what they had done for Sri Lankan Tamils in the past.

While tagging India as just a spectator, the TNA Leader R. Sampanthan told the ‘Sunday Observer’ that the Indian bureaucrats whom he met had shown their willingness to continue with their best efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict.

Sampanthan, declining to say whether the LTTE is the sole representative of the Tamils or not, said that it should be decided by the Tamil people themselves. “Anybody can say anything but people have to decide”, he said.

The TNA leader who strongly believes in more on a locally-drawn solution but has no faith in Norwegian facilitation, says that the two main political players - the SLFP and UNP - can resolve the national problem better if they fall in line.

“That is why I always advocate the fact that they should work together”, reiterating that government should table some proposals beyond the 13th Amendment to put an end to the sufferings of Tamils. [Sunday Observer.lk]

June 26, 2008

Putting Indian Delegation's Visit in Perspect

by Col R Hariharan (Retd.) 

The unpublicised two-day visit of a high power Indian delegation  consisting of the  National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan, Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, and  the Defence Secretary Vijaya Singh to Colombo a few days back has touched off a wide range of speculations among Sri Lankan politicians and media.

  

The local establishment initially tried to play down the visit as a routine one, mainly to discuss issues connected with the forthcoming 15th SAARC summit meeting to be held in Colombo. But the composition of the delegation led by the National Security Advisor with the top bureaucrats of external affairs and defence as members clearly showed that the visit was far from a routine one.

As expected the delegation had discussions with President Mahinda  Rajapaksa, Defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse, the service chiefs, and senior members of bureaucracy. But more significantly the delegation also met Tamil political leaders across the spectrum that included Minister Douglas Devananda who also heads the Northern Advisory Council, the Ceylon Workers Congress leader Arumuga Thondaman, and the leader of the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance grouping R. Sampanthan.   

Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardane later clarified that the Indian delegation did not instruct the government on conducting the war as alleged by the opposition Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). But he added, ""India did discuss the issues of restarting peace talks but India has always requested us to go back to peace talks. The President stated very clearly on Tuesday (June 24) that the LTTE should lay down arms before sitting down for peace talks. If they will do that the government is ready to approach them for a political solution." He further added that the Indian delegation wanted to discuss the ethnic conflict in view of the general elections to be held soon in India, as the Tamil conflict was an issue of Indian concern. It is a bit difficult to accept the minister's oversimplified reasoning that the whole Indian exercise was carried out as a political window dressing.  

Three issues have been hardy perennials of India-Sri Lanka relations. These issues that invariably figure in any high level contact between the two countries are: strategic defence concerns, issues of international relations, and the problems of Sri Lanka Tamil minorities. Almost all other issues are in some way related to these three main strands. Nowadays issues like Indian assistance for development projects in Sri Lanka and furthering trade and commerce between the two nations have also gained prominence. But these issues are prioritized based upon the current developments in the regional and global environments.   

Strategic issues of current interest include progress of Sri Lanka's war against the LTTE and its fall out, Sri Lanka's procurement of military armament from China and Pakistan, sourcing and transporting of LTTE supplies from Tamil Nadu, and problems of Indian fishermen fishing in Palk Straits.

The war in Sri Lanka is clearly going in favour of the security forces. As the war progresses further, it is going to be more difficult for the LTTE to regain its original status of 2002, the minimum requirement to retain its "credibility" as the sole spokesman of Sri Lanka Tamils. And that might not take place at all. This is clear from the strong statements emanating from Colombo which repeatedly speak of the LTTE laying down arms as the precondition for talking peace with them. And the LTTE does not appear to have come to terms with the reality of its rapidly declining military fortunes. Its political head Nadesan is still talking of "the balance of power and the parity of status" as very crucial for any meaningful peace negotiations. In any case, Sri Lanka is right now not very keen to talk, parity or no parity. And probably that was what they told the Indian delegation.  

In these circumstances, if past experience is any guide, Tamil expatriates would probably look to India to bale the LTTE out one more time. And the LTTE despite all its posturing would not be averse to the idea. But it is unlikely India would be as 'benevolent' as in the past to get the LTTE out of the logjam for two reasons.  The LTTE stand on Indian intervention is not clear if its recent statements are anything to go by. KV Balakumaran, political advisor to the LTTE chief Prabhakaran does not expect India to make "any healthy, fruitful contribution" to resolving Sri Lanka's conflict until it changes its mind on the LTTE struggle for the creation of an independent Tamil state. This a tall order for any nation, let alone India; in any case it goes against the very basis of India's Sri Lanka policy. 

Apparently this issue was probably mooted when R Sampanthan met the Indian delegation.   From his negative comments after the meeting, it can be safely surmised that the Indian response to him had shown no deviation from the earlier stand on the subject.   This is evident from the bland Indian statement which was a replay of sentiments vocalized many times earlier: ending the war, and starting negotiations to devolve powers to Tamil minority. There was not one word on the need to restore a feeling of security and trust among the Tamil population or about the mounting civilian casualties of war. On the flip side there was not one word of condemnation of the LTTE's mindless violence against civilians either.  Indian delegation also probably indicated India's desire for status quo on Sri Lanka to the Sri Lankan hosts also.   Given this setting Indian policy would probably continue as before, unless there was an effort for a secret breakthrough of sorts. There was no such indication. So much for Indian "interference" in the war alleged by the JVP and elements of Sinhala right!

However, Indians are reported to have invited the TNA leader to Delhi for a visit and that could give a glimmer of hope to the TNA constituency.  A visit could provide a fig leaf for the waning credibility of TNA as an effective parliamentary body. An op-ed column in the pro-LTTE TamilNet titled "Time for Tamil Nadu to Act" does not sound hopeful on India's interest in the Tamil issue.  The LTTE probably does not have any expectations of progress in its favour as long as the Congress led coalition was in power. After lamenting "the repeated demonstration of the present Indian establishment of its inability or unwillingness to go beyond shadowy bureaucratic levels in dealing with the Sri Lankan crisis," the article appealed to the Tamil Nadu political parties to use the next elections to get a mandate from the people on what foreign policy should be pursued by India regarding the Tamil question in Sri Lanka. Such expectations are beyond the realms of possibility at present.  

The delegation would have definitely taken up the question of Sri Lanka's arms procurement from China and Pakistan. This is a major issue that would probably figure in every meeting to underline India's concern lest India's silence is taken as consent by Sri Lanka. However, Sri Lanka has to have other options when India finds it politically and morally unable to comply with Sri Lanka's demands for arms supply. In the context of Sri Lanka war, India has two ways to satisfy the Sri Lankans: to supply non-lethal weapons (do they exist?) to Sri Lanka on attractive terms, and to reassure them about the measures taken to crack down on supplies for the LTTE smuggled from Indian shores. (This has already been gingered up.) Probably both these aspects were discussed by the Indian team. Sri Lankans would have definitely taken up their growing concern over the huge number of Indian fishing boats crossing the Sri Lankan waters, entering the war zone where even Sri Lankan boats are not allowed. Unless, both countries decide to resolve this vexing question  once and for all by constituting a joint Palk Bay fishing authority to control and authorize fishing, the problem would be taken advantage of by the LTTE and smugglers much to the despair of genuine fishermen.  

As regards the question of devolution of powers, Sri Lanka is on a stronger wicket with India than ever before after conducting the Eastern Provincial Council elections and installing Chandirakanthan alias Pillaiyan as the chief minister. The much delayed Sri Lankan action as visualized in the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord 1987 (despite the splitting of the northeast province into two) would be incomplete unless the EPC is empowered at least in terms of 13th amendment. This question would have definitely come up during the Indian delegation's meetings. It is significant that the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) is said to be thinking of forwarding its proposals for police, land, educational and financial powers for the provinces to the All Party Representatives' Committee (APRC).  

As the Indian Prime Minister will be visiting Colombo for the SAARC meeting there could be political expectations in Tamil Nadu for some policy initiatives on Sri Lanka that would help the Tamil Nadu coalition partners in the forthcoming parliamentary elections. The support he enjoys in Tamil Nadu is crucial now as the coalition government passing through difficult times thanks to the differences over the Indo-US nuclear deal.  The Prime Minister would like to probably tread carefully on the Sri Lanka Tamil issue lest it affects his support in Tamil Nadu. The visit of the delegation could be to get a real feel of the situation in Colombo before drawing up any such proposal for the Prime Minister. The delegation could also have sounded the Sri Lanka government on some of the vexing issues that could crop up while drafting such a proposal.  

Of course, there are other issues of international relations. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is to attend the 15th SAARC conference in Colombo and some issues that come up could be exasperating for India.   Satisfactory progress has not been made within SAARC on some of the useful initiatives because of India – Pakistan differences (i.e., South Asian Free Trade Area). Then there are issues of energy security with the price of petroleum galloping beyond $ 130 per barrel. India is meeting a large part of Sri Lanka's energy requirements. Recently, when the Indian oil giant, Lanka Indian Oil Corporation (LIOC), hiked up retail prices of diesel to Rs 130 per litre as against the price of  Rs 110 by  the state-owned Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) it caused a lot of  heartburn to the Sri Lanka government. This would have required some reassurances from both sides to take the heat off the issue.   

Considering the whole gamut of complex bilateral and multilateral issues involved, Indian government could not have done better than to send a delegation of seasoned Sri Lanka hands of Indian bureaucracy. But bureaucrats can only advise, actions require political will and that had been the bane of India's policy. If there is any fresh initiative from India, it should be out in the coming weeks as the SAARC foreign ministers meet bits the headlines. We will have to wait it out till then.

(Col. R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-90. E-mail: colhari@yahoo.com)

June 21, 2008

Rise in the need for liberation in Sri Lanka

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

The specific meaning of the term ‘liberation’ depends on the causes that led to its need and the prevailing conditions that make the victim/victims feel there is no early redemption. However, it has an imprecise and insincere meaning when it is used merely as a handy tool in politics. Even recognized political parties are playing the ‘liberation’ card in the same way as ‘democracy’ while indulging in actions that undermine its values. The subversion of democracy in Sri Lanka is also one reason for the present disorder. The principle of democracy being the government of the people, for the people and by the people is now just a text book concept, which has no relevance to the actual ways corrupt governments function. It is the greed for power that is at the center of the many ills afflicting the nation and the powerless people. The few benefitting from the weak system are not in need of the liberation sought by the suffering people in independent Sri Lanka. The former British colony became a sovereign state in 1948.

A distinction between individual and group is also relevant in analysing the need for liberation. Humans at some stage in their lives face problems that compel them to seek ways to surmount or escape from their woes. These are caused by others in their families or society. For example the husband or wife after prolonged or profound discord may be forced to seek liberation through divorce. This decision depends on several factors depending on their personality, family circumstances and the prospects for better life after separation. The poorer they are lesser the chance for separation because the sufferer thinks there is no choice. From a spiritual angle, the suffering may be attributed to karma. In the male dominated society, it is usually the ill-fated wife who finds her dependence on the husband inescapable. When conditions become extremely unbearable, she seeks liberation by committing suicide. Abject poverty has driven some to this point. Mental depression that induces one to take his or her life is due to variety of reasons. The intentional slaying of civilians as in Sri Lanka cannot be attributed to this illness. Tens of thousands have died in the communal riots and later in the secessionist war that intensified after the July 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom. No definite estimate of total casualties is available. The unofficial estimate of 70, 000 deaths in the ongoing conflict has remained static for a long time, despite the continued killings during recent months!

Plight of children and the aged

The victims include children, women and the elderly. Age plays a key role in the ways human beings react to their miseries. Children are not old enough to understand the real reasons for the sufferings of their families. They are also not in any position to liberate their families from the hardships. ‘Child labour’ and ‘child soldiers’ do not prevail because of the own decisions of the children. The elderly too find themselves in a similar position. However, some seek solace through religious or social activities. Those who live with their grandchildren find some satisfaction in caring and watching them grow.

The protracted ethnic conflict that turned into a bloody war 25 years ago has fragmented many Tamil families. In some cases, even the husband and wife live in different districts in Sri Lanka, while the children reside abroad in different countries. Some hapless seniors have reconciled themselves to the fact that liberation will come soon with their demise. Their wish is it should be free from prolonged suffering. The plight of those left alone in the troubled areas is terrible. They suffer from not only loneliness but also without basic facilities and adequate food. Recently, the night curfew in Jaffna was extended by one hour.

Liberators’ aims and claims

The East is said to be liberated after driving out the Liberation Tigers. Do the people feel liberated from fear and the hardships endured before and after the ‘liberation’? Do they feel they have gained the freedom and peace denied since the emergence of the ethnic conflict? Although the newly elected council met and the Chief Minister delivered his policy statement, the situation there is far from normal. Two policemen were shot dead in Kattankudy on June 15. Besides civilians, seven policemen were killed in Batticaloa in five separate incidents after the May 10 Provincial Council elections. Now the focus is on the North, where the people in the Kilinochchi, Mannar and Mullaithivu districts need to be ‘liberated’ likewise.

In a recent interview (Daily Mirror 13 June 2008) Balasingham Nadesan, the head of the political wing of the LTTE said: “We are a liberation movement and our main objective is to liberate the Tamil people from the brutal oppression of the Sri Lankan regime. As a liberation movement we care about the oppressed people all over the world and that includes the Sinhala people. The Sri Lankan regime is presently oppressing all dissenting voices in this island that include Sinhala journalists and the political opposition.” To another question he replied: “The people in the areas under our administration give full support to our armed struggle. These Tamils live without any fear or intimidation. Our goal is to free the Tamil people caught up in the brutal oppression of the Sri Lankan regime like that in Jaffna and other parts of the Tamil homeland occupied by the Sri Lankan Government”. He also said: “We do not target individuals or innocent civilians. Our struggle is about freedom, security, peace and development of our Tamil nation. Our armed resistance and political objectives are based on these core principles.” The government was accused of abrogating unilaterally the ceasefire agreement (CFA), starting the war and to be intransigent. It is amazing the aggressive ‘liberators’ of the Tamil people in the North and South (headed by the President) are accusing each other of the same charges and also claim the same objectives – “freedom, security, peace and development”.

There are similarities not only in the twists and untruths in the statements of the ‘liberators’ but also in their ways to achieve their objectives. The targeting of newspaper editors and journalists in their violent campaign did not help the LTTE in winning wide support for their cause. Now the government is being accused of suppressing media freedom which it denies vigorously. The actions of both sides in the ‘liberation’ war have escalated ethnic tensions which according to some observers can flare up with dire consequences. Ironically, the way of counteracting terrorism has elements of terrorism. In many cases their behaviour is irresponsible with no consideration for human rights and social well-being. The recent events in the East show the rise in the ethnic tension between the Tamils and Muslims. The campaigns of the two factions within the government coalition competing for the Chief Minister’s post sowed the seeds of tension between the two communities. It started with the promises given by the government before the election that there would be a Muslim or Tamil Chief Minister depending on the performances of each (ethnic) party in the coalition. Now the Muslim civil society leaders are saying Rajapaksa administration is responsible for igniting the animosity.

A key strategy of the separatists has been to exacerbate further the ethnic division that resulted from official policies and actions to justify the case for secession. The main difference between the two ‘liberators’ is in the emphasis given to democracy. The government keeps on reiterating its commitment to this system (though many decisions and actions are undemocratic), while the LTTE leaders never mentions this word in their statements and talks. In contrast, the liberation sought by the people is sincere without any hidden motive. Their motto is ‘live and let live’ with dignity and equality.

Another sort of liberation

It is interesting that the leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) - literally ‘People’s Liberation Front’- ignoring totally the political problems, particularly those afflicting the ethnic minorities is advocating a different kind of national liberation for pulling the country out of the present mess. The party has come to the conclusion that a mere change of government will not liberate the people from their economic hardships. The General Secretary of the JVP, Tilvin Silva at a public lecture held at the Maharagama Youth Centre on June 12 announced that only a broad socialist alliance of all socialist and nationalist forces capable of introducing a socialist economy and social reform where all would have equal opportunities can liberate the people from the miseries they are enduring under the open economy. As expected, the capitalist class has no place in the socialist alliance being formed for liberating the people. “Building such a broad alliance is our challenge and we have already embarked on it and will surely succeed,” he is reported to have told the applauding crowd. He also accused the present government of working according to an agenda of external forces. This would make it to be a main opponent of this new socialist movement. Since he also blamed the UNP for the current economic crisis because of the open economy it introduced in 1977, the UNP too has no place in the JVP’s ‘broad’ alliance. Isn’t this another idealistic approach to liberation? Why blame only the Tamil Tigers?

On the other hand, the breakaway faction Jathika Nidahas Peramuna (JNP) – literally ‘National Freedom Front’ - led by Wimal Weerawansa, former JVP propaganda secretary and Parliamentary group leader has placed greater emphasis on nationalism than socialism to achieve its goal of ‘true’ national freedom. Both factions are strident defenders of the unitary system that for all intents and purposes is synonymous with Sinhala majority rule. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike the founder of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party resigned from the UNP in 1951 to work specially for the uplift of the Sinhalese peasants and other underprivileged groups. A Buddhist monk assassinated him in 1959.

Liberation methods of JVP and LTTE

The similarities and the differences between the liberation methods of JVP and LTTE can be seen to some extent in Prof. G. H. Peiris’s article on ‘Youth Unrest and Inter-group Conflict’ in the Sri Lanka Guardian – 10 June 2008. According to him the Sinhalese youths who joined the JVP uprising in 1971 were overwhelmingly from the age group of 15 to 34 years. In the case of the Tamil youth uprising in the North-East (the rebels were then called the ‘boys’), the conscription of Tamil children intensified when the demand for warriors increased and the mobilization of youth became increasingly difficult for social and demographic reasons. Sri Lankan Tamils constituted 12.6 per cent as against 74 per cent Sinhalese and many were residing outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Hence the recruitment was from a limited pool in the North-East and that too from the low class families whose children were unable to migrate to foreign countries or move to ethnically mixed areas in the South – Colombo and its suburbs.

“The origin of insurrectionary politics among both communities took place in the late 1960s, when several small groups espousing ‘liberation’ through armed confrontation of the existing political order came to be formed. The significance of this temporal correspondence should be appreciated in the context of the aggravating economic problems of that time, which affected all ethnic groups – notably soaring unemployment among the youth entering the job market, the large majority among them having had their formal education in the medium of their mother-tongue – Sinhala or Thamil – and possessing no communication skills in English. In both communities, moreover, the formation of militant groups at this point of time also represented the earliest manifestations of rejection of the English-educated first generation of the post-independence political leadership that had been drawn overwhelmingly from the land-owning and professional classes. The pioneers of militant politics at the nascent stages of their liberation campaigns, and the majority of their rank-and-file during subsequent growth, consisted of young men and women from the lower-middle social strata in rural areas, and, typically, from what could be referred to as ‘subordinate’ caste groups, and not from the ‘dominant’ castes of the two communities (Sinhala and Tamil) – the Goigama and the Vellala – that are believed to constitute more than 60 per cent of their respective totals”. The Tamil youth suffered not only because of the general economic problems but also because of the media-wise standardization of marks for admission to universities and discrimination in the recruitment of employees to the public sector.

Prof. Peiris has also said: “The secessionist insurrection which began in earnest in the mid-1980s did represent the culmination of a long drawn out process of estrangement of relations between two of the main ethnic groups – Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Tamils. The process was characterised perpetually by confrontational politics at the leadership levels of the two communities, and sporadically by outbursts of communal clashes in areas of mixed ethnicity when, more often than not, Tamils became the target of violence perpetrated by rampaging Sinhalese mobs”. JVP’s attachment to ‘Marxist-Leninist ideology’ and the appeal socialism had with some Tamil militant leaders did not help to forge a link because “the insurrections have been multi-dimensional in their causes and effects.” However, as in national politics here too the trust needed for a joint effort was lacking.

Sadly, the Professor has failed to mention that the ethnic division heightened mainly because of state policies and its exploitation by political leaders in their contest for power. It is the confrontational politics of the two main parties the UNP and the SLFP that obstructed the early resolution of the ethnic problem. This does not deny the confrontational politics of the Tamil parties that emerged and intensified after 1956. Divisive policies and actions, ignoring the long-term consequences to the country and the people exacerbated the distrust and the divide. One could confidently say that it is this political culture that obstructed every crucial move the sovereign country needed for unity, peace, progress and prosperity. Even in the limited development that occurred, parochial considerations influenced the utilization of the country’s resources and the intended beneficiaries. This is how the country failed to develop nationally using all available resources and skills optimally. The need for liberation also arose from this bias in economic development.

The liberation struggle of Tamil youth, which initially had wide sympathy not only in India but also in many other countries and the support of many Tamils took a different turn when the LTTE began the violent campaign to be the sole liberator and ‘sole representative’ of the Tamil people. The killing of Tamil leaders considered to be impediments to their cause was considered essential to the success of the liberation struggle. For the same reason some Sinhalese leaders were also eliminated. The killing of former Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi was another colossal blunder. In the case of the JVP they too killed many civilians but later opted to seek liberation via the democratic process. Their violent struggle proved too costly and futile. The Sinhala people also detested their violent methods.

Liberation via devolution?

President Rajapaksa during his visit to London for a Commonwealth meeting told ‘The Times’ (June 13, 2008) that “he would not resume peace talks with the Tamil Tigers until the organization agreed to disarm”. At the present time, no foreign government pressing for early settlement of the conflict through devolution and power sharing arrangement is asking for disarmament as a precondition. The international community is aware of the history of broken promises and pledges given to Tamil leaders and the non-implementation of various Acts approved by Parliament. The IRA was compelled to surrender arms as there was confidence no party would backtrack after decommissioning.

The Daily Mirror editorial June 16 stated. “The LTTE and those supporting it, of course, submit various reasons for the Tigers to cling on to their weapons. The main reason they give is the unreliability of the government’s sincerity in reaching a just and reasonable solution to the national problem. They fear that they would be left in the lurch in the event of the government going back on its policy of power devolution”. There are numerous instances since independence for the Tamils to be hesitant about promises and even constitutional amendments and approved legislations. This does not justify the killing of civilians and other ruthless acts which have resulted in labeling the ‘liberation’ Tigers as terrorists. Real liberation can never be achieved through this kind of violence committed in the name of ‘liberation’ by both sides. The present situation is a real dilemma for all peace seekers.

The rebels' political head, B. Nadesan in an email interview with Reuters June 17 said - laying down arms could weaken the rebels' bargaining power during any talks. He said: "The balance of power and the parity of status are very crucial for any meaningful negotiations." One plausible reason for this stance is the lack of trust in the Sinhala polity. Because if its importance to conflict resolution, it is discussed in some detail here. One can even say the intransigence of the LTTE leader is due to the lack of trust.

There are many reasons to doubt whether the promised devolution will be the definite way forward towards the liberation sought by the Tamil people. The government’s recent decision to dissolve prematurely the North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Councils has been cited as another instance of giving the wrong message by Kingsley Rodrigo the head of the independent Peoples Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) He said: “If the Provincial Councils could be so easily dissolved mid-term according to the whims of the ruling party instead of providing minority groups a wider participation in governance by devolving power to the PCs formed as a solution to the ethnic conflict, the projected message will not be all that positive.” The legality of the dissolution without the relevant motion approved by the councils has also been challenged. Despite repeated calls for more than two years, the 17th Amendment still remains dormant as the leadership has no interest in setting up the independent commissions that will thwart political interference in public administration; law and order; and the holding of free and fair elections.

Back to the root

Lal Wijenayake has gone back to the time of the Donoughmore Reforms and the introduction of universal franchise to pinpoint the root of the problem that grew over decades of neglect of the causes for the outbreak of the war for a separate state (The Island 12 June 2008 - The 13th amendment ‘farce’). The question arose then regarding the mechanism for protecting the rights of the minority communities. The risk of the majority community ruling the country disregarding the rights of the minority communities was of great concern to the Tamil leaders. The same question arose again when the Soulbury Commission was considering a constitution for the island that was to become an independent State. Lal Wijenayake has recalled the promises given then that led to the acceptance of the unitary system by all ethnic communities. “At the discussions D. S. Senanayake as the leader of the Sinhala community agreed to a ratio of two to one representation for the majority and minority communities in the proposed Parliament modelled on the British parliamentary system, with the guarantee of equal rights for all citizens with a firm assurance of non-discrimination. It is significant that the Tamil leadership and not even the radical Tamil groups which were Left-inclined and politically powerful in Jaffna, did not advocate a federal system or even some form of devolution of power”. How the assurances given then were shattered by subsequent events and the escalation of mistrust are now history. Nevertheless, no concerted effort has been made since then to build trust. The passing of legislations like the one for granting equal language rights to the Tamil speaking people has been of no practical value. There is also no sign yet that the full implementation of the 13th Amendment introduced following the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accor will proceed in earnest.

The apprehension of Tamils is not baseless as seen from the firm determination of Sinhala nationalists to ensure that the ‘Sinhala majority rule’ prevails throughout the island. This is the reason for them to steadfastly insist on retaining the unitary structure and rejecting any modification that tends to undermine the notion that Sri Lanka is one indivisible Sinhala majority State. Recently the powerful Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa also openly stressed the significance of the ‘Sinhala majority’ factor.

Some other factors that led to the clamour for liberation from Sinhala hegemony have also been mentioned by the open-minded analyst. “The defeat of S J. V. Chelvanayakam, the leader of the Federal Party, at the parliamentary elections in 1952 and the fact that the Federal Party was able to win only three seats (out of possible 12 seats), showed that even at that point of time the Tamil community was not demanding a federal system and that the demand was for equal treatment and nondiscrimination. The emergence of Sinhala nationalism based on the demand for more opportunities for the Sinhala community in the field of education, employment and distribution of state land and the demand for special status for the Sinhala language, Sinhala culture and Buddhism in this period based on the notion that the Sinhala community (specially Sinhala Buddhists) was discriminated against under colonial rule, and the need to correct this historical injustice brought out the Federal Party and the demand for federalism to the forefront of Tamil politics, as revealed at the parliamentary elections in 1956, where the Federal Party won all but three seat in the Tamil dominated areas in the North and East. The Sinhala leadership was insensitive towards the fears of the minority communities and this polarized the society on an ethnic basis. Further the unimaginative and irresponsible manner in which the Southern leadership reacted by physically and verbally attacking the Tamil people living in the South and the use of the armed forces to suppress protest movements of the Tamil people in the North and East led by Tamil leaders, led to the emergence of a radical movement fighting for a Tamil identity”.

Distrust and deception have been the hallmarks of national politics since independence. This is clear from the fact that “the Soulbury report and the 1947 constitution (Soulbury constitution) was no doubt a let down for the minority communities. The constitution did not contain adequate provisions for safeguarding the rights of the minorities. There was no provision for weighted representation for minority communities in Parliament. What was envisaged was the protection of minority rights through Section 29 of the constitution which later turned out to be misconceived”. Wijenayake’s enlightening analysis has also drawn attention to the indifference of the architects of the present (1978) and the previous (1972) Republican constitutions to the concerns and aspirations of Tamils.

Conclusion

The future of the island nation lies crucially on ending the usual power contest, where the winner takes all (the system is fashioned to help the power holder) and making a concerted effort to build mutual trust and unite the divided communities by resolving satisfactorily the overdue national problem. There are many challenges to overcome for preventing further deterioration in the living conditions of the people. The global food and energy crises have hit even the people in the affluent countries. This is not the time to indulge in deceptive politics that is utterly useless for the welfare of the country and the people. The Sinhalese leaders, if they are really concerned about the people and the future of the country must accept the fact that Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic with two different languages, multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-regional country with diverse demographic features. The notion that the dominance of the ethnic Sinhala majority must hold sway in the entire island is in conflict with this reality. Without the needed attitudinal change, there is little hope of liberating the nation from pervasive poverty and internal conflicts. No sensible person can expect stability and peace in this scenario.

[The writer is Former Additional Deputy Secretary to the Treasury, Sri Lanka and UN Advisor, Development Economics/Planning]

June 19, 2008

Objections to the Assistance and Protection to Victims of Crime and Witnesses Bill

by Dulani Kulasinghe

Sri Lanka’s criminal justice system suffers from a dearth of successful prosecutions. One reason often cited for this is the failure of witnesses to come forward to give evidence, in particular when the State has been implicated in the crime. Also cited is witnesses’ withdrawal from the legal process after commencement of trial due to threats and intimidation coupled with interminably delayed trial processes.

Failure to testify and withdrawal from trial processes are motivated specifically by well documented harassment and killings of victims and witnesses who have been brave enough to risk their lives to seek justice. Gerard Perera is only the best known of a long tragic list of such witnesses who have paid severe penalties for taking such risks, which in this particular instance, involved the loss of the very life of the witness. An effective and strong witness protection scheme has thus been a long standing need in Sri Lanka.

The need for such a scheme has been acknowledged by a former Attorney General himself, namely Mr KC Kamalasabayson who made the following observation in an address of 2 December 2003:

Another important feature that requires consideration is the need for an efficient witness protection scheme that would ensure that witnesses are not intimidated and threatened. No doubt this would involve heavy expenses for the State and amendments to the law. I will only pose a simple question. Is it more important in a civilized society to build roads to match with international standards spending literally millions of dollars rather than to have a peaceful and law abiding society where the rule of law prevails?

The imperative need for a good witness protection mechanism has been repeatedly made by international human rights monitors, as in 2003 when the United Nations Human Rights Committee, examining Sri Lanka’s combined fourth and fifth periodic report, stated:

The authorities should diligently enquire into all cases of suspected intimidation of witnesses and establish a witness protection program in order to put an end to the climate of fear that plagues the investigation and prosecution of such cases.

Though the need for a witness protection scheme has been evident for many decades, no concrete steps had been taken to fill this lacuna in our law. The draft Bill affording Assistance and Protection to Victims of Crime and Witnesses manifest an attempt to fill the gap. Though the Trust welcomes the Bill in principle, it expresses serious concerns regarding some of its provisions, which appear to fatally undermine its stated purpose of protecting victims of crime and witnesses, especially in regard to crimes implicating State actors.

Key concerns:

1. “Good faith” and “following orders” get-out clauses (sections 7(5), 7(8), 10(1))

Sections 7(5) and 7(8) sanction the leaking of information regarding a protected person, with the exception of someone who was acting in “good faith” or “in accordance with or in compliance with” orders.

Thus, in the event of a violation by a person with direct responsibility for protecting a witness or victim, such a person may plead that he was only “following orders” and therefore be excused for his crime. In the absence of legislation enabling command responsibility, the twice-over victim is robbed of recourse, though his life is endangered by this act of “good faith”. It is also not clear how this “good faith” is to be proved, or to what standard.

Of further concern is the fact that even where an alleged perpetrator may be prosecuted, the Attorney General is given discretion as to suspending the institution of criminal proceedings (section 10(1)), having regarding to both the interests of the person who has suffered injury and the interests of the State. It seems illogical that the interests of the State should weigh at all in this equation, particularly where a State actor may be implicated. If such interests must be taken into account, counterweight must be provided by someone other than the State’s own counsel.

2. Control of Board of newly created National Authority for Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses by Government, judiciary and police (section 12(1))

The nine-person Board created by the Bill does include four persons who are not explicitly members of any branch of government, however they are outnumbered by ex officio members – either the Secretary or Additional Secretary – from the Ministries of Justice and Human Rights, as well as the Ministry in charge of the Police Department (currently the Ministry of Defence), and nominees of the AG and IGP. The Board will set policy and provide guidelines for the actions of the Authority, as well as appoint a Director General.

Given the provisions already outlined and the established history of problems in cases where the State is implicated in a crime, the composition of the Board is of concern.

3. Location of Protection Division within Police Department (section 18(1))

There is no explicit provision that police officers assigned to the Protection Division of the Authority will have no other duties, nor be involved in inquiry / investigation or other police activities, and have no communication with other police officers acting in those capacities. The risks of lack of clear separation of duties and the absence of a dedicated and non-transferable category of police officers in this regard are self evident.

This is also a matter of concern under the Emergency Regulations now in force, as the Police Department is currently under the authority of the Ministry of Defence.

4. Requirement that the Authority and Commission may not accept foreign governments’ assistance appears to attempt to make illegal past actions of the current Presidential Commission of Inquiry to investigate and inquire into serious violations of human rights (section 22(3)

It appears that this provision was drafted with specific reference to the current Commission of Inquiry in an attempt to render its ground-breaking use of video conferencing in April 2008 illegal in retrospect and prevent further such use of video.  The second round of video-conferencing which, like the first round, was funded and facilitated by foreign governments with the full knowledge and therefore presumed consent of the AG and Foreign Ministry, was to have begun on 2 June 2008 and continued for two weeks.  However this second round was stopped due to the refusal of the Presidential Secretariat to release funds for the use of video facilities at SLIDA.  The reason given for the refusal of funds was reportedly the dubious status of the law relating to evidence received via video.  The letter is then said to state that the Commission should await passage of the Bill and act in accordance with it thereafter, to ensure the legality of its proceedings.

However, under current relevant law – the 1948 Commission of Inquiry Act, the Evidence Ordinance and the internal Rules of Procedure of the Commission itself – there is no bar to obtaining evidence via video conferencing.  The timing of this letter, read together with the provision in question, provides a valid basis for suspicion that the provision was drafted with the primary intention of preventing further video conferencing by this Commission.

5. Requirement that a public officer be present in location where witness is testifying whether in Sri Lanka or outside undermines the fundamental need to protect whereabouts of threatened and vulnerable persons, especially in crimes implicating State actors (sections 29(a) and (b)) While it is accepted that it must be possible to safeguard and ensure the credibility of witnesses who are not giving evidence in Court, the presence of a public officer where a witness within Sri Lanka (s29(a)) seeks to give evidence gravely undermines the safety of that witness where a State actor may have been involved in the offence in question.

Section 29(b), relating to witnesses who have been forced to give evidence from outside Sri Lanka, is even more problematic, as it requires the presence of a “competent person” recommended by both the AG and the Foreign Ministry in the location where a witness is testifying.  However, consider the case of the families of the students killed in Trincomalee:

where the witness has fled Sri Lanka due to a well founded fear of persecution by State actors and there is no sufficiency of protection in-country for that person due to the inability or unwillingness of the Government to ensure it – as in the case of these families who sought and were granted refugee status in the respective countries where they now live – there can be no argument made in favour of the presence of an official of that very Government from which they have fled.

6. Process by which the Bill has been rushed through Parliament with no opportunity for public consultation It might be easier to believe in the good faith of the Government in drafting this Bill if the process by which it had been tabled was more transparent.  The declaration of this Bill as an urgent Bill eliminated any possibility of a fundamental rights challenge once it was tabled on 6 June – which it most definitely would have attracted.  The wall of silence around the Committee stage of the Bill has also prevented any input from the public, or more importantly, affected persons, into this landmark legislation.  Finally, the fact that it has been brought for second reading today, with no announcement and therefore no final opportunity for public consideration, suggests that any suspicions one may have had about the drafting of the Bill – in particular that it was drafted with an eye to ensuring that State actors are protected, even at the expense of victims of crime and witnesses – are not merely justified, but correct.

The Trust emphasizes, as it has done on past occasions, the need for thorough public consultations in advance of draft legislation of this nature that have a direct bearing on the rights of Sri Lankan citizens.

Dulani Kulasinghe is a Researcher, Human Rights in Conflict Programme, at Law & Society Trust, Colombo, Sri Lanka

The 13th amendment ‘farce’

by Lal Wijenayake

The All Parties Representative Committee (ARPC) recommendation regarding the full implementation of the Provincial Council system, that was introduced through the 13th amendment to the constitution in 1987 as the solution to the ethnic problem has to be considered in depth. Otherwise all studies done and efforts made after 1987 to find a solution to the ethnic problem and advances made towards that will be of no avail and we will be pushed back to square one.

It is necessary to consider whether the APRC proposal, that was submitted to the President as directed by the President, when implemented, can bring an end to the civil war, or in other words, whether this proposal will be the political solution to the ethnic problem.

In this context it is of importance to trace the root of the problem that has caused the Tamil community to fight for a separate state.

With the advent of the Donoughmore Reforms and the introduction of universal franchise, the question arose regarding the mechanism for protecting the rights of the minority communities under the system with the Sinhala community forming 2/3rd of the population and with a comparative voting strength. The danger existed of the majority community ruling the country disregarding the rights of the minority communities. The Tamil leaders suggested the balancing of representation in the legislature between the majority and the minority communities as a way of protecting the rights of minorities. The demand for fifty/fifty was an outcome of this perception. The formation of the all- Sinhala Cabinet after the State Council elections of 1936, further confirmed the fears of the minorities. Although the situation was corrected subsequently the dangers inherent in the political system for minority communities continued to dominate the political thinking of the minorities.

The arrival of the Soulbury Commission and the discussion that followed between the leaders of the two communities centred on the question of safeguarding the rights of minority communities through a system of weighted representation for the minority communities in the legislature. It is believed that at the discussions D. S. Senanayake as the leader of the Sinhala community agreed to a ratio of two to one representation for the majority and minority communities in the proposed Parliament modelled on the British parliamentary system, with the guarantee of equal rights for all citizens with a firm assurance of non- discrimination. It is significant that the Tamil leadership and not even the radical Tamil groups which were Left-inclined and politically powerful in Jaffna, did not advocate a federal system or even some form of devolution of power.

The Soulbury report and the 1947 constitution (Soulbury constitution) was no doubt a let down for the minority communities. The constitution did not contain adequate provisions for safeguarding the rights of the minorities. There was no provision for weighted representation for minority communities in Parliament. What was envisaged was the protection of minority rights through Section 29 of the constitution which later turned out to be misconceived.

Within two years after independence it became clear that the Sinhala leadership had not kept to its promise made before independence. The enactment of the Citizenship Act No. 18 of 1948 and the Parliamentary Elections Act No. 48 of 1949 deprived the plantation Tamil community of their citizenship rights and their franchise.

The Privy Council in the case of Kodakam Pillai V. Mudanayake ,where those enactments were challenged, held that those two enactments do not offend against Section 29 of the constitution. The contention that Section 29 of the Soulbury constitution was adequate to protect the rights of the minority communities proved to be a fallacy. This was further confirmed by the decision of the Supreme Court in the Kodeswaran case where a public servant who was subject to discrimination, in the implementation of the Official Language Act No. 33 of 1956, declaring Sinhala language as the only official language of the country, challenged a discriminatory circular.

The realization of the futility of Section 29 of the constitution led to the formation of the Federal Party in 1949. The defeat of S J. V. Chelvanayagam, the leader of the Federal Party ,at the parliamentary elections in 1952 and the fact that the Federal Party was able to win only three seats (out of possible 12 seats), shows that even at that point of time the Tamil community was not demanding even a federal system and that the demand was for equal treatment and nondiscrimination.

The emergence of Sinhala nationalism based on the demand for more opportunities for the Sinhala community in the field of education, employment and distribution of state land and the demand for special status for the Sinhala language, Sinhala culture and Buddhism in this period based on the notion that the Sinhala community (specially Sinhala Buddhists) was discriminated against under colonial rule, and the need to correct this historical injustice brought out the Federal Party and the demand for federalism to the forefront of Tamil politics, as revealed at the parliamentary elections in 1956, where the Federal Party won all but three seat in the Tamil dominated areas in the North and East. The Sinhala leadership was insensitive towards the fears of the minority communities and this polarised society on an ethnic basis. Further the unimaginative and irresponsible manner in which the Southern leadership reacted by physically and verbally attacking the Tamil people living in the South and the use of the armed forces to suppress protest movements of the Tamil people in the North and East led by Tamil leaders, led to the emergence of a radical movement fighting for a Tamil identity.

The promulgation of the 1st Republican Constitution in 1972 through the process of a Constituent Assembly and the failure of the Constituent Assembly to address the demands of the Tamil community, and its failure to at least consider some form of devolution further aggravated the situation.

The Constituent Assembly, was insensitive to the aspirations of the Tamil community and declared Sri Lanka to be a unitary state with all power centralised in the legislature (National State Assembly) and to make matters worse did away with Section 29 of the constitution which was perceived by the minorities as the provision which even to a limited extent protected the rights of the minorities, without an alternative provision for the protection of minority rights.

The introduction of language-based standardisation for admissions to universities during the same period changed the complexion of the struggle of the Tamil community from a struggle for equal rights and accommodation to one of a struggle for a federal state with autonomy in the traditional Tamil areas. This in turn caused the emergence of a Tamil radical militant movement fighting for a Tamil identity.

The failure of the Constituent Assembly to even consider the aspirations of the Tamil community and its over enthusiastic response to the aspirations of the Sinhala Buddhists turned out to be tragic.

The creation of a presidential system of government with executive power vested with an all powerful Executive President in 1977 and the constitutional meddling that was seen during this period, such as the enactment of the 6th amendment to the constitution, by which all Tamil members of Parliament representing the Tamils of the North and Eastern Provinces, were evicted from Parliament, use of state power to suppress the struggle of the Tamil people for autonomy and the pogrom in 1983, have fractured the Sri Lankan state.

The Sri Lankan state exists, if at all as a unit, due to the presence of the armed forces in the North & East of Sri Lanka. This is the reality that has to be accepted it we are to think of a viable political solution to the problem.

Therefore, what is needed today if the restructuring of the Sri Lankan state incorporating the aspirations of the Tamil community. Nothing short of this can be a viable solution.

The Provincial Councils established under the 13th amendment have functioned for 20 years. Experience has shown that legally Provincial Councils created within a unitary state are sub-units with limited devolved powers. Provincial Councils are entirely dependent on the central government for their existence as there is no meaningful financial devolution. The Provincial Councils exist at the mercy of the central government due to the financial control that the central government has over the Provincial Councils. The Provincial Councils, in practice, have turned out to be the implementation arm of the government with a minimum decision- making powers.

Provisions of the 13th amendment and the Provincial Council system cannot be thought as a solution to the ethnic problem.

Further it is seen that during the last 20 years we have moved far beyond the 13th amendment in search of a solution to the ethnic problem.

At the Thimpu discussions between the Sri Lankan government and five Tamil militant groups, via the proposals now known as the Thimpu proposals for the restructuring of the Sri Lankan state, the aspirations of the Tamils emerged. At the Oslo round of peace negotiations during the Ranil Wickramasinghe government, it was proposed by the LTTE that the parties explore the possibility of finding a solution based on a federal system with internal self determination and autonomy in the areas traditionally inhibited by the Tamil-speaking people.

In the draft constitution of 2000 presented to Parliament by the Chandrika Kumaratunga government, what was proposed was something close to a federal system with wide powers devolved to the units and power sharing at the centre

.Therefore it is seen that having gone so far in search of a solution, any suggestion that we seek a solution to the ethnic problem within the 13th amendment through the Provincial Council system is a farce, to say the least. [island.lk]

June 17, 2008

Preserve the Core and Stimulate Progress

by Arvalan

“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity.
The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty”  - Winston Churchill

In the book titled Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, James Collins and Jerry Porras have examined eighteen exceptional and long lasting companies and compared each with one of its closest, but less successful competitors, in order to discover just what has given the edge over its rivals. The comparison includes Hewlett-Packard vs. Texas Instruments, Boeing vs. McDonnell Douglas, Ford vs. GM and 3M vs. Norton.

The book offers some invaluable insights into the current impasse in the negotiations between the Tamil and the Sinhalese Nations.  These insights, if used effectively, may drive the parties concerned to an amicable settlement to bring prosperity to the people of the island.

Throughout the book, the authors use the yin/yang symbol from the Chinese dualistic philosophy.  Preserve the Core and Stimulate Progress is the theme which runs throughout the book to distinguish visionary companies from their competitors. Collins and Porras assert that “We’ve consciously selected the yin/yang symbol to represent a key aspect of highly visionary companies: They do not oppress themselves with what we call the 'Tyranny of the OR' – a rational view that cannot easily accept paradox that cannot live with two seemingly contradictory forces at the same time."

The “Tyranny of the OR”, the authors state, pushes people to believe that things must be either A OR B, but cannot be both.  It makes such proclamations as “You have change OR stability”. Instead of being oppressed by the “Tyranny of the OR,” highly visionary companies liberate themselves with the “Genius of the AND”- the ability to embrace both extremes of a number of dimensions at the same time.  Instead of choosing between A OR B, they figure out a way to have both A AND B.

The above logic and thinking pattern offers the Sinhalese and the Tamil Nations alike a platform to offer an innovative solution to the long running ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka.

Tamil Nation’s Core Ideology

Tamil Nations has articulated its core ideology clearly in more than one occasion and it has been endorsed by the people of Tamil nation many elections in the last 30 years.  The ideology is based on the three principles of Self-determination, Tamil Homeland and Tamil Nationality.

LTTE’s supremo, Velupiillai Prabakaran, articulates the core ideology of the liberation struggle in his 2002 Heroes day message.  He says, “Tamils constitute themselves as a people, or rather as a national formation, since they possess a distinct language, culture and history with a clearly defined homeland and a consciousness of their ethnic identity. As a distinct people, they are entitled to the right to self-determination.”

Tamil Nation’s ideology has transcended time and individuals. These principles called the Thimpu Principles formed the basis of negotiations by all Tamil Liberation movements in 1986, including the LTTE.  The Thimpu Principles are as follows:

That the Sri Lankan Tamils be recognised as a distinct nationality;

That an identified Tamil homeland and the guarantee of its territorial integrity be recognised;

That the right of the Sri Lankan Tamils to self-determination be acknowledged.

Prabakaran’s definitions fit well with that of the experts in the field. A Nation is a group of people with a strong cultural and political identity that is both self-defined and acknowledged by others. Nations are defined as those groups who have exercised political control over their destinies at some point in the past and still see such control as a possible future strategy (J N Clay: 1989).

LTTE has stuck to its positions right throughout the peace negotiations at Thimpu, the Indo-Lanka Accord, talks with Premadasa, Chandrika, Ranil and Mahinda governments.  Tamil Nation’s clear consciousness about its core ideology provides it with adequate advantage to make compromises and make progress in negotiations.  This is contrary to the view many people hold, who believes that the LTTE is not flexible.

During the 3rd round of Peace talks in Oslo in November 2005, the Government and the LTTE agreed to “explore” a federal model within the unitary framework of Sri Lanka as a final solution to the ethnic problem.  The decision was described as a major breakthrough in the negotiations. The global media portrayed this as a major concession made by the LTTE, which have been fighting for a separate country. The Sri Lankan government was able to gloat about this decision, which was welcomed by the US, the UK, Japan and Norway, all but India. However, they failed to take note that the LTTE was able to “Stimulate Progress” AND “Preserve the Core” at the same time.  Other examples of LTTE’s attempts to stimulate progress include the SIHRN proposals and P-TOMS agreements both of which were later declared null and void by the Sinhalese nation.

Another important feature of this core ideology is that the Tamil people have endorsed this ideology in three elections in the last 26 years.  The 1977 General election victory of the TULF is the endorsement for a separate Tamil Eelam.  The two recent election victories of the TNA, whose election manifesto explicitly stated that they endorse the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil Nation, is also a public endorsement of this core ideology.

It is tragic that the International community, which is so vociferous about warning and demanding the LTTE renounce violence and join mainstream democratic politics has conveniently, ignored these three election mandates delivered by the people of North-East.

It is therefore evident that the LTTE has adopted the “Genius of the AND” approach to negotiations in Stimulating Progress at the negotiations, whilst Preserving its Core ideologies.  This is a demonstration of the organisation’s commitment to the peace negotiations and its willingness to find a solution by non-violent means.

Sinhalese Nation and Ideology

The Sinhalese Nation never had an ideological movement with a core ideology, in the sense of a unified framework which is offered as a solution to the National Question.  The election manifestos of the two parties which have ruled Sri Lanka in the past 56 years is not the best place to find the core ideology as they have failed to transcend time and people. Therefore, I have sought asylum in the proposals offered by the Sinhalese nation to the consideration of the Tamil Nation over the last 50 years to find whether there was any traces of a core ideology.

1957 Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact for Regional Councils

In July 1957, the Bandaranaike - Chelvanayakam Pact made provision for direct election to Regional Councils and also provided that the subjects covered by Regional Councils shall include agriculture, cooperatives, lands and land development, colonization and education. The Pact however did not survive the opposition of sections of the Sinhalese community led by Buddhist priests and which included the opposition Sinhalese United National Party led by J.R.Jayawardene

1965 Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Agreement for District Councils

Following upon the 1965 Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Agreement, the UNP government declared that it would give 'earnest consideration' to the establishment of District Councils. In 1968, a Draft Bill approved by the Dudley Senanayake Cabinet was presented as a White Paper and this Bill provided for the establishment of District Councils. This time round, the opposition to the Bill was spearheaded by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party which professed to follow the policies of the late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who himself had in 1940, 1947 and again in 1957, supported the establishment of Provincial/Regional Councils. Because of strong opposition, the Dudley Senanayake government withdrew the District Councils Bill in July 1968 and the Federal Party then withdrew from the government

1979 Presidential Commission for District Development Councils

In August 1979, Sri Lanka President J.R.Jayawardene appointed a Presidential Commission to inquire and report on the creation of District Development Councils. The Commission included Mr.Neelan Thiruchelvam and Professor Alfred Jeyaratnam Wilson who both had the support of the Tamil United Liberation Front. However, though the Presidential Commission had been touted as a body which would address the issues arising from the ethnic conflict, in the event the Commission concluded that the scheme that they had envisaged "would be applicable to all of the 24 districts in the Island irrespective of their ethnic composition" and was "not intended to provide a different political or administrative structure for any particular part of the country." The proposals were not implemented.

1983 Annexure C Proposals

The Jayewardene Government presented proposals in the form of a draft 10th Amendment to the Constitution and a draft District and Provincial Councils Development Bill. The Sri Lanka proposals merely extended the scheme of decentralization at District level to the Provincial level with limited co-ordination. The TULF rejected these proposals and the All Party Conference collapsed.

1985 Thimpu Talks

At the Thimpu Talks, the Sri Lankan Government presented proposals, which were in substance, a repetition of the proposals by the Government to the aborted All Party Conference in Colombo in December 1984. These proposals had been rejected by the TULF and the action of the Sri Lankan government in placing similar proposals once again at the Thimpu talks called in question the good faith of the Government and its commitment to seek a just solution at these talks. The intent of the proposals that were presented by Sri Lanka at Thimpu was clear.

1987 Indo Sri Lanka Peace Agreement

In August 1987, the Sri Lankan Parliament passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and the ancillary Provincial Councils Act and claimed that the enactment of these laws fulfilled the promises made in the 1987 Indo Sri Lanka Accord, to 'devolve power' on the Tamil people.

One of the key provisions of these proposals was the merger of the North and East provinces. This provision has been reneged by the current Rajapakse regime last year.

1995 Devolution Package

On 3 August 1995, Sri Lanka President Kumaratunga released a 'Devolution' package with the stated objective of ending the ethnic conflict in the island. At the same time, she reaffirmed her intention to wage war against the LTTE and launched a genocide attack on the Tamil homeland in the north of the island of Sri Lanka. The 'Devolution Package' appeared to be no more than a peace mask to Sri Lanka's war face.

The 'new' proposals once again, refused to recognize the existence of the Tamil homeland, rejected an asymmetric approach, continued to treat all the provinces in the same way and insisted on a unitary state

2005 P-TOMS Agreement

Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure (P-TOMS) agreement signed between the government and the LTTE suffered the same fate as the above agreements.

A 'golden thread' runs through every single set of proposals from the 1957 Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Agreement to the 2005 P-TOMS agreements. It is the Sinhalese Nation’s rejection of an asymmetric approach and the insistence that whatever 'devolution' or 'decentralization' that was on offer was equally available to the Sinhalese provinces (which had never struggled or demanded 'devolution' or 'decentralization') and to the Tamil areas in the North and East of the island.

The record of broken pacts, dishonoured agreements and evasive proposals reveals the Sinhalese Nation’s consistent refusal to recognize the existence of the Tamil people as a "people" with an historic homeland and the right to freely determine their political status - the right to freely determine the terms on which the Sinhalese people and the Tamil people may associate with each other in equality and in freedom.

Successive Sinhalese governments have sought to divide the Tamil people into smaller units and so eventually assimilate and 'integrate' them into a homogeneous Sinhalese nation - an assimilating path which had led to confrontation and which had culminated in the armed struggle of the Tamil people against that which they rightly regarded as genocide. This is evidenced by the recent provincial elections in the East and the appointment of Pillayan as the Chief Minister of the province.

This leads me to conclude, in the absence of any published documents, which specifically state the Core Ideology of the Sinhalese Nation, that following is the Core Ideology of the Sinhalese Nation

Refusal to recognize the existence of the Tamil people as a “people” with an historic homeland,

Refusal to recognize the right for Self Determination for the Tamil people, and a symmetrical approach to the devolution of power, which encapsulates the whole nation and

A commitment to divide the Tamil people into smaller units and integrate them into a homogenous Sinhalese Nation.

It is these Core Ideologies of the Sinhalese Nation which is causing major roadblocks to peace and prosperity.  The Sinhalese Nation is struck with the ‘Tyranny of the OR”.  The Sinhalese Nation’s thinking is in the line of “The whole Island is Our Homeland OR the Tamil Peoples'” and “If you give them the North and east, they will then capture the South as well”. They have been bogged down with over cautiousness to Preserve their Core Ideology resulting in less room to be flexible and make concessions at the negotiations.

The Sinhalese nation and its government have oppressed themselves by their addiction to their Core Ideology.  This addiction has denied them an opportunity to take a rational view of the ground situation and the legitimate concerns of the Tamil people.

Stimulate Progress: Onus on the International Community

Therefore, it is clear that the Core Ideologies of both the Tamil Nation and the Singhalese Nation are at loggerheads.  However, it is only the Tamil Nation, which has made it Core Ideology public and is endeavouring to adhere to it.  The Singhalese nation has an implied Core Ideology, which is negative in outlook and is not acceptable in today’s civilized world.

The International Community had made it a habit to pressurize the LTTE to be flexible. Jayadeva Uyangoda, one of the negotiators in the 1995 Peace Talks, in his recent analysis called “Sri Lanka's peace process: from crisis to paradigm shift?” recalls the three concessions or acts of flexibility offered by the LTTE in the most recent negotiations with the Sri Lankan government.

Firstly, they signed a ceasefire agreement at a time when the Government had no resources to fund the war, due to economic bankruptcy. Secondly, they unilaterally announced, at the second round of negotiations, that they were seeking a settlement on the principle of internal self-determination. Thirdly, they entered into the 'Oslo Consensus' with the UNF Government committing them to explore a federalist framework within which to find a political settlement.

If the International Community is serious about solving the ethnic problem, they need to pressurize the Sinhalese nation to abandon their negative thinking; destructive Core Ideology and positively embrace the Tamil Nation’s Core Ideology.  The result will be rapid progress both at the negotiation table and at the ground level as well. That will also pave the way for an innovative interim administrative structure for the North East and a final solution within reach in the near future.

The International NGO’s need to conduct Peace workshops not in Jaffna and Batticola, but in Hambantota and Kandy to change the attitude of the Sinhalese Nation’s grassroots to adopt a positive looking core ideology in the following lines; which will then enable a progressive political party in the next general election to gain a two third majority (of course with the help of the Tamil and Muslim parties) and change the current constitution for prosperity

1.       Tamil People are “a people’ with a distinct language, culture and history with a clearly defined homeland

2.       Tamil People’s right to Self-determination is acknowledged.

3.       The North East Provinces of the country is acknowledged as the Traditional homeland of the Tamil People.

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dwell in the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment” – Lord Buddha

June 14, 2008

Sri Lanka strives to strengthen Human Rights whilst dealing with Terrorism

Final Statement of the Sri Lankan delegation on the occasion of the adoption of the Universal Periodic Review of Sri Lanka by the United Nations Human Rights Council June 13th 2008 (adapted from delivery) 

This had been preceded first by the statement of the Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights, read by the Secretary, introducing the Report of the UPR Process. Then followed statements by nine countries, many of which commended Sri Lanka for its efforts to safeguard all human rights despite the difficulties posed by terrorist threats.

Unfortunately there was no time for other countries, including those from the SAARC Region, which had put themselves down to speak. Three countries, whilst appreciating progress, and Sri Lankan responses to the UPR process, suggested other areas in which further improvements could be made, while one country expressed disappointment about responses to recommendations, in particular the rejection about acceptance of a UN Monitoring Mission. 

 


Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha

Secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights

making the statement at the UPR on Sri Lanka on 13th June 2008


  

Seven statements by Non-Governmental Organizations followed, many of them expressing disappointment about the rejection of this particular recommendation, whilst raising other issues such as the rights of women and children which they felt had not been adequately addressed by member states during the UPR process. 

  

Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, stated in the Sri Lankan response  

  

Mr President, as you noted, this is not supposed to be an interactive dialogue, so we will not respond to individual comments. We are grateful, as we said before during the review, to all the countries that raised issues, not only those that recognized progress made on various fronts but also those that made constructive criticisms to help improve matters. We are pleased that all but one of the countries that spoke today were so positive, and we respect the queries raised by a couple of them and will do our best to address them. However, we will use this time to raise some general issues in order to clarify matters whilst taking the general purpose of this process further. Let me then first ask my colleague Mr Mohan Pieris to address some of the topics raised

 

 

Mr. Mohan Peiris, P.C (President's Counsel) Legal Advisor to the Ministry of Defence

 

I will deal first with some of the salient critiques made by distinguished delegates on the questions of torture and extrajudicial executions. Whilst appreciating recommendations in this respect, the Government states categorically that it does not condone torture and extrajudicial executions under any circumstances, and refutes any implicit suggestions that it has been complicit in torture or extrajudicial executions. I would ask the honourable delegates to appreciate that there is an absolute constitutional guarantee against torture in article 11 of the constitution of the Republic. It constitutes a criminal offense, with a seven year minimum term of imprisonment. The Supreme Court is empowered to make determinations regarding allegations of torture and about compensation. All complaints of torture are impartially and comprehensively investigated and perpetrators prosecuted in our courts. The civil legal system enables victims to obtain damages additionally. It also follows that disciplinary action may be taken against public officials if found guilty of those offenses of perpetrated torture.  


Mr. Mohan Peiris, P.CLegal Advisor to the Ministry of Defence making the statement at the UPR on Sri Lanka

on 13th June 2008


On the question of extrajudicial killing, I would want delegates to appreciate that extrajudicial killings are also criminalized without any exception. Comprehensive legal processes are available against those responsible for such criminal activity. Sri Lanka will continue, as it does at present, to implement and further develop safeguards against occurrence of such criminal activity. 

  

May I also take this opportunity of dealing with some other matters raised by honourable delegates, such as the question of impunity? Mr. President, let me assure them that every effort is being made to bring to book perpetrators of offenses or violators of human rights. It is not the case that the Government has no will, and I refute the allegation that there is no will to deal with these issues. We have set up the structures necessary and, as we have persistently asked from the Council, we need technical assistance in capacity building to deal with matters being raised in this august assembly from time to time. It might be well to remember that we have a long history of a highly developed legal system. We have a common law which is Roman-Dutch and we have also a very strong influence of the English law. And between these two legal systems we have developed, we have in place a very complex system of laws and I don't think we need any assistance in terms of any legal input to deal with the matters of human rights. In that respect it is our fervent plea that this assembly appreciates the difficulties that we have and why we seek assistance for capacity building. 

  

In our search for improving the situation, and bearing in mind the impact of terrorism on human rights, may I bring another point to your attention regarding funding? This deeply concerns us. I would respectfully and graciously plead with delegates here that every effort be made on your part to stop the funding of terrorism, particularly in Sri Lanka. I am sad to say that we find large money flows from other jurisdictions to Sri Lanka in the funding of terrorism. And it is our fervent belief that if the funding is curtailed, this fight against terrorism could be far more successful and all conflicts could be brought to a peaceful end.

 

May I also deal with some of the matters raised by some other organizations, when they raised the question of the sexual violence against women in Akkaraipattu, and the critique made with regard to threats to journalists by the Secretary of Defense? We have mechanisms both in our criminal law and our civil law to deal with questions of sexual violence on women be it in Akkaraipattu or in any other part of Sri Lanka. It is not something that is new, it has been an issue that has been dealt with from time immemorial. The structures are in place and the perpetrators of such offenses are brought to book on a routine base. Indictments are sent out by the Attorney General's office, whereby offenders are brought to book, convicted, dealt with and punished in due course.


Sri Lanka Delegation at the UPR Session (Left to Right)
Mr. Mohan Peiris, P.C, Legal Advisor, Ministry of Defence, Ms. Shirani Goonatilleke. Director Legal – Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha Secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights ,

Mr. Yasantha Kodagoda , Deputy Solicitor-General , Attorney General's Department .


   

On the question of the threat to journalists, the Government is conscious of the constitutional guarantee with regard to the freedom of expression. We have written it down in our constitution and we respect that. Now we are only asking that we be understood when we critique the press openly with regard to some matters concerning national security. We cannot compromise on national security whilst assuring the freedom of press which we cherish and would like to protect. All we say is that the press must be conscious of the requirements of national security in the context of the crisis that the country faces. Let me assure you that the Government is committed to the protection of a free press, and this freedom will be assured to every journalist to get about their work because it is the position of the Government that a free press is of great assistance to the country in its process of governance.

Now to deal with another aspect of the matter, with regard to the IIGEP. The IIGEP is still in existence in Sri Lanka, and the comment that the IIGEP does not exist any more was an overstatement. The former members of the IIGEP decided not to function as the members of the IIGEP any more, but it is not the intention of Sri Lanka to derogate from that position but it would invite member states to assist, in whatever way possible, to enhancing the effectiveness of the Commission which is investigating incidents such as the ACF incident and the incident in Trincomalee. Thank you.  

Prof  Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights 

  

Mr President, in concluding I should point out that the comments made about Sri Lanka fall into different areas which have to be addressed in different ways. Several people raised questions about alleged impunity and disappearances and extra-judicial killings and torture. Let me assure you that we are as concerned as everyone about these, and believe they have to be dealt with. That is why we are cooperating actively with the Special Rapporteur on torture, as we do with the excellent Special Rapporteur on IDPs, though there are fewer problems there as has clearly now been understood. We would have liked to cooperate too with Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Killings, but he has failed to answer our letters. I wrote to him earlier this year telling him what we are trying to do and asking for his help in certain particulars but there was no response. When we met, I asked why, and he said he didn't have the time. While we appreciate the job is unpaid, as he said, frankly I think you should not take on a job if you don't answer letters. Those of you who have read his initial report in 2006 would have realized what a very helpful report it was, because he drew attention to a lot of problems, and suggested mechanisms of improving them.

  

I think both he, Sri Lanka, the Office of the High Commissioner, and its Senior Advisor in Colombo were lax in not pursuing those recommendations immediately. But we are determined to do so now at least. For instance he had a lot of comments about the Police, and we did have a so-called international police support group, but I'm afraid it did nothing much except – and we are really extremely grateful to the Government of Sweden for this – for a Project on Scene of Crime Investigation. We have written now to Sweden, and to the United Kingdom which also provided some assistance, and crucially to Japan, which had not participated but which I know is very willing to assist us through the Task Force on Police Training.

  

We also had a lot of criticism with regard to the National Human Rights Commission. And I would like to place on record here our request that you and this Council investigate why the UNDP Stocktaking Report on our National Human Rights Commission, prepared in April 2007 was suppressed for so long. It was not given to the Head of Capacity Building in Geneva, the new UNDP Head in Colombo had not seen it last year. Now he is working on its recommendations, as we have done in suggesting an MoU between our Ministry and the Commission, but the question is why this has taken so long. We hope very much that assistance that was earlier pledged, and then it seems reneged on, is restored, and that we can ensure the development of Regional Centres, using UN Volunteers, for whom indeed at least one friendly country contributed funding that lay unused. 

  

There are other issues that seem to us less serious. Thankfully we no longer hear allegations that our security forces, in their struggle against terror, indiscriminately target civilians. That is a canard that has been disposed of. Not so the allegations about child soldiers that seek also to incriminate the Sri Lankan forces, in a vain attempt to draw attention away from the continuing malpractices of the LTTE. With regard to general allegations about others accused of child recruitment, I refer you to the report I presented to the Human Rights Committee of Liberal International, and which was distributed to all countries that raised the question during the UPR. I fear it has not been read, but this canard too will soon die down. Meanwhile I should note that the last time I responded to the International Educational Development Inc., it was to condemn their pitiful attempt to justify the LTTE use of children over 15, on the to us utterly spurious grounds that international law permitted this. 

 

The consequences of that type of indulgence can be seen in the tragic story of the 17 year old girl rescued in combat last week from the LTTE by Sri Lankan forces. Note that perhaps even more culpable than partisan NGOs in perpetuating such horrors was the carelessness of particular UN officials in Sri Lanka who argued that the LTTE needed to amend legislation to stop using children between 17 and 18. I am thankful that the UN Special Rapporteur, a Sri Lankan herself, and the current head of UNICEF in Sri Lanka, have made it clear that this is intolerable.

  

Finally we come to the question of a UN Monitoring Mission, which was raised in 12 of the recommendations we rejected, 11 of them from Europe. Mr President, last week we had very fruitful discussions with the European Commission, which reasserted its very friendly attitude to Sri Lanka. We believe this, but with insistent recommendations such as this, we are reminded rather of the affection of an elder sister. I have an elder sister, Mr President, as I am sure many people here do, and one tends to get tired of relentless finger wagging, done with love doubtless but nevertheless irritating. We have explained why we will not accept a UN Monitoring Mission, which is why we found upsetting the claim of the Danish Ambassador that, because we did not accept this recommendation, the whole UPR process seemed nugatory.

  

However, we believe our Human Rights situation can improve, and we welcome assistance from the Office of the High Commissioner for this purpose. The website of the OHCRC talks about technical support, but this is not forthcoming, and in particular with building up our national institutions. That, Mr President, is what we must do, and we will welcome criticism of current shortcomings, but not on the assumption that we need to be nannied for ever. 

  

But we make all these efforts, Mr President, in the midst of combating terrorism, and in that respect, as my colleague mentioned, we are disappointed at the reaction of some European countries to our pleas to stop terrorist funding. When I mentioned this to Commissioner Fratini last year, he noted that there were inconsistencies. We do not think this is deliberate but, while we are most grateful to the efforts made by for instance France, we would hope others would be the same. I was told by his office that funds were limited, and that funding tended to be used against what was seen as Islamic terrorism. But, just as no man is an island, terrorism is not an isolated phenomenon, and we must all work together to stop it.

  

We understand there can be legal delays, we understand that tragedies such as the events of yesterday in Pakistan, can occur, but we expect understanding for our progress not being as fast as required, just as we extend understanding for deficiencies in others. But, confident in the understanding and support of our friends and those unequivocally opposed to terrorism, we will continue with our struggle, Mr President, and not be daunted.

  

Finally, may I take this opportunity, as you give up this august office, to present you with a book we have issued, entitled 'Pursuing Peace, Fighting Falsehood'. Strengthening Human Rights, Eliminating Terrorism, Pursuing  Peace and Fighting Falsehoods that distract us are all essential in our determination to restore pluralistic democracy throughout our country.

  

Just as all member states have shown their willingness during this Review to help us in the first of these, we hope we will have your support for the other three too.

June 12, 2008

Interview with LTTE Political Head B. Nadesan: "We do care about the oppressed including the Sinhala"

By Jamila Najmuddin

Q: The LTTE has been blamed for the recent bomb attacks in the south which have seen a high civilian death toll.

We are a liberation movement and our main objective is to liberate the Tamil people from the brutal oppression of the Sri Lankan regime. As a liberation movement we care about the oppressed people all over the world and that includes the Sinhala people.  The Sri Lankan regime is presently oppressing all dissenting voices in this island that include Sinhala journalists and the political opposition. As a result the Sinhala people themselves are staging strong protests against the Sri Lankan regime. The LTTE armed forces were not involved in these attacks. The Sri Lankan regime should take the responsibility for these incidents.

Q: Since the abrogation of the CFA, the war between the LTTE and security forces has intensified with civilians now being the main target. Over 200 civilians have been killed this year alone, which has raised concern among the United Nations and other international human rights activists.

 The painful reality is that since the abrogation of the CFA, over 3000 civilians were killed by death squad killings, aerial bombings, mortar and artillery attacks and claymore attacks. A number of parliamentarians and civil society leaders, including NESOHR’s Chairperson, Father Karunaratnam, who was a respected human rights voice from the north and east, are in this list of victims. Several hundreds of civilians have disappeared, were tortured, and detained.

The IDPs are in a miserable situation. The international community and UN agencies have expressed serious concern on this situation. Leading international human rights organizations, and international statesmen like former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have campaigned for the exclusion of Sri Lanka from the UN Human Rights Council. We appreciate these international initiatives and urge the international community to introduce effective economic and military sanctions against Sri Lanka to prevent further human catastrophe.

The CFA was achieved on the basis of balance of power and parity of status between Sri Lanka and the LTTE. However, it had been weakened and later abrogated by the Sri Lankan state to pursue a war against the Tamil people.  Certain international actions such as black listing one party to the peace process/CFA, the LTTE; encouraged the Sinhala intransigent state to act against the CFA and the peace process. This led to the full scale war and resulted in the current serious humanitarian and human rights crisis.

Q:In a vow to continue with the war until the LTTE is defeated, President Mahinda Rajapaksa recently told the LTTE to “catch him personally” rather than continuing to target innocent civilians.

We do not target individuals or innocent civilians. Our struggle is about freedom, security, peace and development of our Tamil nation. Our armed resistance and political objectives are based on these core principals.

Q: In a previous interview with the Daily Mirror, the LTTE Peace Secretariat Head, Mr. Pulidevan said that the LTTE would not agree to peace talks with the government without Norwegian facilitation. However the government maintains that facilitators would not be granted access into Kilinochchi due to security constraints. With the war only intensifying, and international pressure building on both the government and the LTTE to return back to the peace table, can the country expect to see a compromise between the LTTE and the government and see peace negotiations which would cease this war, anytime soon?

We are for the Norway facilitated peace process. Norwegian envoys also expressed their wish to visit Kilinochchi for further discussions. It is the Sri Lankan government that is denying access to Norwegian facilitators citing the lame excuse of security concerns. It should be noted that UN representatives and heads of other international humanitarian agencies continue to visit Kilinochchi making a lie of the security claim made by the Sri Lankan Government. To carry out their war agenda the Sri Lankan Government is blocking the Norwegian facilitators.

Q:The government had recently said that it is looking for a negotiated end to this conflict but stressed that it was the LTTE who was not showing interest to enter into such a constructive dialogue. The government had also said that if the LTTE returns back to the negotiating table, it would have to leave aside its weaponry.

As I have mentioned above, the latest peace process based on the CFA came about on the basis of balance of power and parity of status. Any future constructive dialogue which would lead to a permanent solution must also maintain this balance of power and the parity of status.

Q: What are your views about India playing the role of facilitator? Would the LTTE support this?

The latest peace process facilitated by the Norwegians had one hundred percent international backing. From the beginning, India too was consistent in giving its support to this Norwegian facilitated peace process.

Q: Has the LTTE been in dialogue with India after the abrogation of the CFA?

No Comments.

Q: On humanitarian grounds, would the LTTE consider opening a passage for civilians in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu to go to government controlled areas if the hostilities intensify towards those areas?

A: The people in the areas under our administration give full support to our armed struggle. These Tamils live without any fear or intimidation. Our goal is to free the Tamil people caught up in the brutal oppression of the Sri Lankan regime like that in Jaffna and other parts of the Tamil homeland occupied by the Sri Lankan Government.

Q: Would the LTTE allow UN monitors to LTTE controlled areas to monitor and report any human rights abuses?

A: We are ready to engage with the UN and we will welcome them to come and have a dialogue with us. The protection and promotion of human rights is part of our freedom struggle and therefore we are always ready to engage with the UN and other leading human rights organizations.

Q: There are allegations of the LTTE still recruiting Child Soldiers. Do you agree with these claims?

Tamil Eelam law prohibits underage recruitment. LTTE policy and efforts to end underage recruitment has been acknowledged by the UN and many countries.

The allegations against us are either politically motivated or due to lack of knowledge of the ground level positive developments in this regard. [courtesy: Daily Mirror.lk]


June 11, 2008

EU puts Sri Lanka aid package on the line

The European Commission has serious concerns about Sri Lanka's human rights record and will withhold a 70 million-euro aid package unless it opens up, a top EU official said on Wednesday.

The commission said the package was dependent on Sri Lanka removing barriers to humanitarian assistance, including resolving visa issues for Red Cross and U.N. workers in the country.

"We expressed our serious concerns with the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, as indicated by a range of sources including reports from United Nations rapporteurs," Deputy Director General for External Relations of the European Commission Joao Machado said in a statement.

"We emphasised -- there are increasing problems in delivering this aid in Sri Lanka that need to be resolved," said Machado after meeting with Sri Lankan government officials.

The government said the human rights situation had improved, but admitted there had been concerns about rights violations in the past.

"If you look at 2007, the situation of disappearances and other incidences are better than 2006," said Rajiva Wijesinghe, an official at the ministry of human rights.

Rights watchdogs have reported hundreds of abductions, disappearances and killings blamed on government security forces and Tamil Tiger separatists since a bloody civil war, in which 70,000 people have died since 1983, resumed in 2006.

(Reporting by Shihar Aneez and Ajith Jayasinghe; Edting by Jeremy Laurence)

[courtesy: Reuters Foundation]

June 07, 2008

Engineering ethics, Sampoor power and civilian trauma

by Rajan Hoole

When we passed out as engineers in the early 1970s, it had been impressed upon us that an engineer was not only a decision maker, but also fully responsible to the community at large for his actions. Those of us at Peradeniya were confident that our faculty gave us the best possible training in the world and we would do her proud in anywhere we served. At the Engineering Students’ Union we were able to discuss communally divisive issues, like language-wise standardisation, amicably. I remember many of my Sinhalese colleagues while agreeing that this was wrong, held that genuine social handicaps should be redressed. We had good reason to be proud as a group.

Bombed and shelled out

On installing a coal power plant on land from which the people of Sampoor were bombed and shelled out in August 2006, your journal quotes a CEB official evading the humanitarian issue by treating it a fait accompli - the Government declaring it a High Security Zone with the people’s access barred. This is a shoddy means of exonerating CEB engineers from complicity in a crime against humanity. A range of international covenants, statutes and advisories make this clear. Article 4 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights says ‘deportation or forcible transfer of population without grounds permitted under international law, in the form of forced displacement by expulsion or other coercive means from the area in which the persons concerned are lawfully present, constitutes a crime against humanity’.

Codes of ethics for engineers make their duty clear. The code of L’Ordre des ing‚nieurs du Qu‚bec (OIQ) puts it succinctly: “In all aspects of his work, the engineer must respect his obligations towards man and take into account the consequences of the performance of his work on the environment and on the life, health and property of every person.” The CEB’s discovery that that Sampoor is the most feasible spot for coal power was not based on any objective evaluation. Less than a month after capturing Sampoor, the Power and Energy Ministry simply announced that at the request of the Army and Navy commanders, the location of the power plant has been switched from China Bay, a predominantly Sinhalese area, to Sampoor (Daily Mirror 3 Oct.2006).

Illegal pretext

Under the cover of war, the HSZ is being used as an illegal pretext to tamper with the area flouting accepted procedures that include parliamentary approval, environmental impact assessment, proper alienation of land and compensation. The Defence Ministry is far exceeding its authority and competence in shoving people around and making permanent changes to their lives and environment. A plan drawn up in 2004 designated the area for eco tourism, now arbitrarily thrown out by military fiat.

In the case of the Norochcholai coal power plant, after the first feasibility study in 1997, the CEB had to go through a long phase of negotiation with the people concerned. In letters to the two presidential candidates on the eve of the 2005 presidential election, the CEB Engineers Union argued that the land had low fertility, only 73 families would be displaced and no more than 258 acres are required.

A compensation package was also discussed. Had instead the Government declared an HSZ in Norochcholai, would the CEB have regarded its obligation to the people and environment annulled?
In Sampoor 16 000 people were shelled out from a very fertile area, killing 350 persons, to grab 700 acres for a power plant. It was so simple. They were Tamils!

The authorities kept changing their story even as the people were chased by shelling. Soon after the capture of Sampoor in early September 2006, military spokesman Brigadier Samarasinghe indicating the people could return, said: ‘the threat posed by the LTTE to the Trincomalee harbour and the adjoining naval base was no more following the successful operation involving the three forces.’ The President affirmed that the Government took Sampoor ‘purely for the benefit of the people’. The present military spokesman Brigadier Nanayakkara now ascertains the civilians cannot be allowed back because the LTTE would infiltrate and threaten high security installations like Trincomalee Harbour and Prima Flour Mills!

Here we have in a nutshell the cyclic rationale for the development of Trincomalee: Plant some installation, push the Tamils out for security reasons, use the space for more installations, push remaining Tamils further for the same reason and so on. There are really no plans to defeat the LTTE, when it is so handy a pretext for decimating the Tamils and pushing them around for bogus security reasons. Bogus, because until 1996 the Army was in Sampoor and under Colonel Udayakumara, relations with civilians were good and the Army helped them to farm. The place was considered so unimportant that the Army vacated it.

Such were ‘development’ plans from the early 1980s, to implement which hundreds of Tamils were killed by the Army and scores of Tamil villages in Trincomalee laid waste. Engineers in the Mahaveli Authority became part of the scheme. Mahaveli System L was planted in ‘Weli Oya’ on murder and expulsion. This was also the time the LTTE began massacring Sinhalese civilians. Far from development, what resulted was a war that has lasted a generation and this Government cannot survive without it.

Human and engineering disaster

The Accelerated Mahaveli Project was a human and engineering disaster. The project billed for rupees 55 billion in the early 1980s, enflamed a war costing annually rupees 200 billion. Development of Trincomalee is a must, but not under the bloody legacy of today’s Unitary Sinhalese State. It should be done after a federal political settlement where the people affected are adequately consulted.

Engineers have a irrevocable obligation to the ‘public good’, which the Institution of Civil Engineers UK stipulates “encompasses care and respect for the environment, and for humanity’s cultural, historical and archaeological heritage, as well as the primary responsibility members have to protect the health and well being of present and future generations.” What is going on is a plan to obliterate the heritage of Tamils in and around Trincomalee. Engineers should not bring their profession into disrepute through complicity with, what at the core, amounts to creeping genocide.

(Rajan Hoole is a Martin Ennals award winning rights activist)

Statement on IDP situation in Mannar by Pax Romana

8th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Intervention by Rev. Fr. Jeyabalan Croos, on behalf of Pax Romana, during the interactive dialogue with Representative of the Secretary General on Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons and the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial,

Summary or Arbitrary executions

2nd June 2008

Mr. President,

I’m a Catholic Priest, of the Diocese of Mannar, in Northern Sri Lanka , where war continues to rage today, as it had for almost three decades now, with civilians caught in the crossfire between the Government Forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Today, I speak on behalf of the people of Mannar. For decades, our daily reality has been the destruction of our property, curbs on vital fishing and farming, arbitrary arrests, torture, forced conscription, killings, disappearances, with practically no one called to account for these atrocities. Almost everyone in Mannar has been displaced at least once, and some as many as seventeen times! One-fourth of the population of Mannar is internally displaced today.

I highlight four situations:

1. Hundreds of people fleeing the territory controlled by the LTTE, as well as refugees returning from India , are being confined to a snake-infested “open prison” in Kalimoddai by the Sri Lankan military since March 2008, against their wishes. [1]

2. Nine months ago, the Sri Lankan military took control of Musali Division, forcibly displacing more than 4000 people. The government still refuses to allow anyone to return home, despite initial promises to do so within a few days. Last month, government forces asked people who had undergone training by the LTTE to report to their camps, and then beat and threatened them. More than 200 people fled to India in fear after this. Some people in camps also face restrictions of movement, with their national identity cards confiscated.[2]

3. Humanitarian workers in Mannar also face attacks, travel restrictions, arbitrary detention and threats. Three aid workers in the district, including a Catholic Priest, rendering assistance to the displaced have been killed in 2007 and no one has been held accountable.[3]

4. Churches have been the traditional places where people seek refuge, but even in these, security is not guaranteed to the displaced. Madhu Shrine, a sacred Catholic place of worship, had offered refuge to thousands of displaced through decades of war. Although the Army has now taken control of the Madhu Shrine, the Government is yet to declare it as a “zone of peace” in writing, despite repeated requests by the Catholic Church and others[4].

Almost two years after the attack on the Church of Pesalai , where displaced persons were taking refuge, and one person was killed and many injured, no one has been prosecuted or convicted.

I seek the views of the Representative and the Special Rapporteur on how to address these issues in line with international standards.

I urge the Council to make these pleas its own and further, address the urgent needs of the displaced in Mannar, especially to guarantee their freedom to choose where they seek refuge and to move about freely and ensure the safety of humanitarian workers and places of refuge.

Thank you

[1] 100 people being held in the camp had signed a petition asking to be allowed to live with their friends and relatives, on 10th April 2008. According to UNHCR reports, the number of IDPs arriving in Mannar by sea from LTTE-held areas is increasing, with 20 individuals (11 families) arriving between 1st – 8th May 2008. According to government statistics, as of 11th May 2008, 116 families and 259 persons are confined to the Kalimoddai camp. In May 2008, refugees returning from South India have also been confined to this camp, against their will. The camp is a totally unsuitable place to live: snake-infested, without electricity in common areas. Yet people are virtually detained there, including pregnant women, elderly, children and university students, whose education has abruptly halted. So desperate are people to leave the camp that they initially refused to accept assistance for fear this may prolong their enforced stay. Most are not even allowed to go out of the camp: 30 out of 250 residents may do so, and they must return within the day, issued with a temporary ‘pass’.

[2] The security forces had publicly urged members of the LTTE to surrender, including those who had undergone training. People in areas controlled by the LTTE are often forced to undergo training. The call to surrender terrified them; those who did so were taken to a military camp; many were beaten or threatened that, should soldiers die in battle, they would be killed too.

[3] On 24th March 2007, Muthuraja Aruleswaran of Tamil Rehabilitation Organization was killed, on 26th Sept. 2007, Rev. Fr. N. Pakiaranjith, Catholic Priest and Coordinator of Jesuit Refugee Service was killed and on 10th Nov., Mr. Gouthu Jalaltheen of the Rural Development Foundation was killed. No one has been prosecuted or convicted for any of these killings. The ban on taking vehicles from Northern Provinces south of Medawachchiya, the gateway to the rest of Sri Lanka , as well as arbitrary restrictions, such as the one imposed on those entering Mannar in the week middle of April have also reduced the space for humanitarian workers and restricted supplies.

[4] As the Sri Lankan army advanced to take control of Madhu Shrine, all the displaced people, priests and staff of the Shrine, fled the Shrine with the sacred statue. Many individuals and groups, including the Catholic Bishop of Mannar (the legitimate administrator of the Shrine), the Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka, priests and Catholics in Mannar as well as rest of Sri Lanka and overseas have been requesting the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka to recognize the Madhu Shrine as a Zone of Peace, and for the Government to formally declare it as such through a Special Gazette notification.

Don't visit Colombo, Ganeson tells Tamils of NorthEast

Mano Ganeson, leader of Western People’s Front (WPF) and the Convener of Civil Monitoring Commission (CMC) said in a media release Saturday, has appealed to the Tamil civilians travelling from NorthEast to stay away from Colombo and the South as both areas are "unsafe and insecure for Tamil civilians."

Full text of the media release follows:

Capitol Colombo and south in general are unsafe and insecure for Tamil civilians traveling from north and eastern provinces. The recent bomb blasts have triggered hate and doubts on all those Tamils coming to Colombo from northeast.

The state media is orchestrating this hate campaign on an hourly basis. Rational behavior cannot be assured within the security establishment authorized to maintain law and order.

We are not in a position to assure safety to Tamils coming to Colombo from north and east. Therefore I call upon the Tamils to refrain from coming to Colombo until further notice. Nobody other than me, the Colombo district’s elected Tamil parliamentarian has more legitimacy to make this announcement said Mano Ganesan in a statement.

Member of Parliament for Colombo district Ganesan who is the Leader of Western Peoples Front and Convener of Civil Monitoring Commission said further in his statement, Numbers of persons have been reported arrested and gone missing immediately after the bomb blasts. We have come to a situation where it is difficult to differentiate between the acts of Abductions and Arrests.

The family members of the victims are pleading for relief at our offices and crowding at police stations. The plights of the elderly parents are awful. On the other hand the expressions of grief of the family members of the bus bomb victims in Moratuwa and Kandy are heart breaking. The cries of the civilians are haunting me. All these people are suffering due to the sins of power hungry politicians of both sides. These are chain actions to the bombings in Colombo and in Wanni. We have absolutely no controls over these activities.

Neither the government nor the LTTE have any control over blasts going on in the respective territories under their own control. So is the inactive parliamentary opposition. All civil society voices have drawn in the war drum beats. There are only empty rhetoric statements but the sufferings of the people are ascending from bad to worse.

Both the government and the LTTE are at war. The illogic and irrational pundits in the government and LTTE have stopped listening to the international community. Their actions have triggered acts of revenge over the innocent civilians of both sides.

We go to their assistance when people are at trouble. We make noises and take up the issue when civilians go missing due to extra judicial activities of the state. We are running campaigns on sharing political power as solutions for the national question. We are doing this in the name of peace in this country. We are committed to the just cause. We are risking our own personal lives yet we do not want to go down in the history as cowards. We are not running with the hares and hunting with the hounds. We face the pressure and the burden hence we have to inform the reality. Our limits have extended to the limits now. We are unable to cope up with the situation.

I therefore call upon the Tamil people of the north and east to refrain from coming to Colombo until further notice. This is the only way available for me to support the maintenance of some order in Colombo.

Democracy, Human Rights and Peace

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

Last month (May 2008) was momentous as the happenings indicated clearly the political nature of the crisis in Sri Lanka that has its roots in the unscrupulous opportunistic politics of rival political parties since the mid 1950s, when the contest for power became the main feature of the democratic process. Their main concern while in government focused on consolidating the power gained and when in opposition weakening the opponent regardless of the consequences to the unity, peace and future of the State. Sensitive matters that raise the concerns of the ethnic majority Sinhalese who are mostly Buddhists were made major issues for political expediency. Declared policies and their implementation were largely influenced by short-term political interests. Now, a new method has been found to consolidate power at considerable public expense. This is to lure members of the opposition to join the government by offering new cabinet posts bestowed with attractive pays, perks and privileges. They also get extra special security arrangement at great cost to the Treasury. Sri Lanka with a population of around 21 million has over 100 ministers, which has no relevance to the democratic process. Furthermore, the President has appointed more than 150 ‘useful’ persons as advisors, who are also paid generously from the same kitty.

In Sri Lanka, the public sector is politicized and overstaffed. The overstaffing is mainly because of using the public sector as a means of rewarding the supporters of powerful politicians. It also served to some extent to contain the unemployment rate among the educated youth when the pressure was great. Now there is one public servant for every 17 citizens. More than half the annual tax revenue goes to pay the salaries and pensions of public servants. Corruption is endemic and is one facet of the multifaceted national problem. Very recently the sky-high food and fuel prices have made life extremely difficult for millions who were already struggling to make ends meet. However, life goes on normally for the political masters. They try to divert the attention of the people from the economic to political issues or resort to rhetoric to conceal the real causes.

In democracy no one is above the law and Ministers and other executives are accountable to some body. The parliamentary select committee system failed to perform this role because of political interference, which was possible because of the inherent weaknesses in the governing system. This was evident from the ineffectiveness of the two important parliamentary committees, the PAC and the COPE. Without proper arrangement for ensuring accountability, democracy loses one of its supporting pillars.

When the conditions for the effective functioning of democracy do not exist, the system could easily be manipulated to become authoritarian and the opposition has no effective role in the decision-making process. In a functioning democracy the opposition party or parties have a useful role in serving the people and safeguarding the future wellbeing of the nation. Persistent confrontational politics is not expected from a responsible opposition in a democratic system. In Sri Lanka, the main opposition party has invariably failed to function as an alternative government.

The very concept of ‘One Nation’ has been undermined by the divisive politics pursued as a means to gain political power. Unless there are inbuilt safeguards to prevent the abuse of power which in a democracy originates from the people, it can be manipulated to serve self-interest or some narrow political interest. While in government the main political parties have considered their interests to be the national interest. In the power struggle, they also found it useful to regard the interest of the ethnic majority Sinhalese same as national interest. Any political ideology that ignores the pluralism of the Sri Lankan society cannot promote unity in diversity, which is essential for ensuring lasting peace. Unity in diversity can only come from the principle of equality of all citizens regardless of their ethnic, regional and religious background. Thus the system failed to promote national integration, as the emphasis was on the division between ethnic Sinhala majority and other minority communities. The Sinhala nationalists used this to assert the supremacy of their community throughout the island.

Post election East

The Eastern Provincial Council election was held hurriedly after the government forces ‘liberated’ the part that was under LTTE control. Not all the displaced families have been resettled in their habitats. Having lost their livelihood, many who have been resettled still need relief. The election was meant to serve the government’s political objective. The LTTE had to be weakened politically, while the forces were fighting in the North to destroy them militarily. Normalising the de-merger of the North-East Province following the Supreme Court ruling was also an imperative to weaken the claim for a separate state for the Tamils.

Reawakening the East by restoring democracy and developing the economy was the government’s key message to the world. This was intended to demonstrate its commitment to ‘democracy’ and development to the international community that had been pressing for a balanced political settlement acceptable to all ethnic communities. The political solution contemplated by them centers on reasonable devolution of powers and power-sharing arrangement making democracy meaningful to all ethnic communities in the provinces.

The US Deputy Chief of Mission Jim Moore addressing the National Conference on Strengthening the Provincial Council Process May 28 at BMICH, Colombo remarked: “By articulating and implementing a vision of how power can be truly shared among Sri Lanka’s communities, Sri Lanka has an opportunity to demonstrate to the Tamil, Muslim and other minority communities that they have a place of lasting respect in this island. Sri Lanka’s minorities need to know that they can have a role in a united Sri Lanka where they can control many of their own affairs in local regions where they predominate”.

He also said: “Devolution of power to the provinces has long been talked about as a potential solution to the long-standing conflict. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution has been on the books for over twenty years. This Amendment, along with the system of provincial councils that it set up, represents an important first step toward achieving a truly pluralistic democracy throughout the island. However, the 13th Amendment has never really been put to the test. It needs to be activated in a way that serves the people in the provinces. It needs to be enacted in such a way that it grants meaningful power and resources to those living in and governing the provinces”. The key question is whether the government has the political will to implement the 13th Amendment as suggested by Jim Moore. There is no sign so far to believe the government is serious about implementing it fully which was declared in January following the recommendation of the APRC. This move was as instructed by President Rajapaksa to the APRC chairman.

The May 10 Provincial Council election served to demonstrate the commitment in principle to the democratic method of choosing the representatives of the people. Even this was flawed as there were irregularities such as intimidation, impersonation, vote rigging and ballot box stuffing. These irregularities undermining democracy are nothing new; their scale has varied over the years particularly after the UNP led by J. R. Jeyawardene won the 1977 general election gaining five-sixth majority in the Parliament.

The main Tamil Party, Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP) contested the election in partnership with the ruling coalition UPFA (not all the constituent parties were involved) while its cadres remained armed, despite the repeated calls of the opposition parties and civil society groups for the TMVP to disarm. During campaigning, the TMVP took care to keep its arms hidden in its camps. Violent clashes occurred after the election between the supporters of the two contenders for the Chief Minister’s post in the UPFA-TMVP coalition. These necessitated the declaration of curfew in Eravur and the intervention of civil society and religious leaders to reduce tension in the troubled areas. Unlike the earlier scenarios, this time the post election clashes have been between the Tamil and Muslim activists. Abduction and extra-judicial killing that became salient features of the gun culture that emerged with the rise of state and non-state terror showed their ugly faces again in the ‘liberated’ East.

The government coalition (UPFA-TMVP) won 20 (18 + 2 bonus) out of the total 37 seats. Out of the 3 districts in the East, only in Trincomalee the UNP-SLMC coalition won more seats than other parties. Apparently, both the Tamil and Muslim leaders in the UPFA-TMVP coalition had been promised this post, if the government coalition secured the majority. Victory was absolutely important to the Rajapaksa regime for demonstrating its ‘popularity’. The TMVP leader Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan claimed the CM post on the grounds he secured the highest number of the preferential votes. But the Muslim leader, Mohamed Lebbe Alim Mohammed Hisbullah claimed it since more Muslims got elected in the new UPFA coalition. President Rajapaksa himself said that the choice of Pillaiyan was influenced by the ongoing military campaign against the LTTE in the North. This is not surprising, since a Muslim as Chief Minister would have been counterproductive from the standpoint of government’s political objective.

IRIN reported on June 3 that communal clashes and ethnic tension between Tamils and Muslims have been disrupting humanitarian work of UN and other relief workers in the Batticaloa District since 22 May. Relief officials had told IRIN they were reluctant to send staff into the field for fear of getting caught up in the violence. Daily Mirror June 6 reported that fresh clashes erupted in Kattankudi on June 5 after a Muslim youth was hacked to death in Arampidy, forcing police to clamp down a curfew. Two policemen were shot dead the same day in Kallady The SLMC Leader Rauff Hakeem accused groups within the government of provoking violence with its knowledge. At a news conference on June 5 he said the TMVP too was harassing the Muslims in the area.
Ranjith Jayasundera in his analysis (Morning Leader June 4) has said that there are still LTTE pistol gangs operating in the East. “If the assurances given by TMVP Head and Eastern Chief Minister Pillaiyan to M.L.A.M. Hisbullah that he would bring his cadres into check and stop them from picking on Muslims were not bad enough, the killing of two of Pillaiyan’s cadres — allegedly by LTTE pistol gang agents — laid to rest any whims about ‘democracy’ and ‘liberation’ of the East”.

The first session of the Eastern Provincial Council was held in Trincomalee on June 4. The elected members of the UNP-SLMC alliance boycotted the inaugural session protesting the outcome of the May 10 fraudulent election. The same day the UNP-SLMC alliance filed an election petition seeking a declaration from the Court of Appeal that the Eastern Provincial Council election for Amparai district is void.

The crafty conduct that undermined democracy for decades was also visible in the recent moves to bring the East back into the ‘democratic’ mainstream through Pillaiyan’s TMVP. Given the present muddled state, it is too early to say how long the forced Pillaiyan-Hisbullah partnership will last and more importantly what useful powers will be devolved to the Eastern PC for it to function usefully in meeting the needs of the people.

Human Rights debate

Following the failure to get re-elected to the 47-member Human Rights Council at the UN General Assembly vote on May 21, the spokespersons of the Sri Lankan government went all out to play down its significance. Their stance is similar to the fallen man who got up and proclaimed there was no sand on his moustache! Various reasons were given for not receiving the anticipated 126 votes (got only 101). No one can deny the fact that the Sri Lankan government canvassed intensely for the votes of many countries, while the INGOs and prominent foreign leaders committed to human rights the world over challenged Sri Lanka’s claim to continue as a member of the Council given the country’s recent track record of human rights violations. The culture of impunity that grew blatantly from the time the State resorted to brutal methods to put down the JVP’s uprisings in the South contributed to the unrestrained violations Since then the rule of law has been breached in varying degrees and the induced offenders knew they would not be prosecuted or any disciplinary action taken by the authorities. Had the UN vote on May 21 gone in favour of Sri Lanka, the government would have asserted that the international community had approved its overall conduct in the military campaign to destroy the LTTE. The fact that the victims of human rights violations are mostly innocent civilians, media personnel and human rights defenders who have no link at all with the ‘terrorists’ would have also lost its significance.

Emphasizing the ‘war on terror’ which is at the top of its political agenda, the government paid no attention to the abductions, assaults, involuntary disappearances, extra-judicial killings and the well-known ‘White Van’ emergence and the whisking away civilians forcibly in broad daylight in areas under its control. These were part of the politico-military strategy of the government at the cost of encouraging lawlessness. The war against LTTE terrorism has been likened to the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In both countries the war is against the US and allied foreign and local forces there, though many victims as in Sri Lanka are innocent civilians. LTTE’s track record of human rights violations is well known. The rights violations by the Tamil Tigers since the time of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in North-East Sri Lanka along with those committed by others have been methodically reported by the UTHR(J) – University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna). These do not justify the democratically elected government obliged to uphold the rule of law and obey international laws and covenants indulging in the same horrid practices.

United Nations Under-secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes after the UN vote condemned the targeting of civilians by both the LTTE and the government forces in the ongoing conflict in Sri Lanka and said this “despicable behaviour” must end. Several foreign and local commentators have written on the shameful human rights situation in Sri Lanka. Farah Mihlar in the UK Guardian daily (May 27) has said that the UN vote on May 21 was “a small step” taken to stop human rights violations in Sri Lanka. “Thousands are displaced by fighting and in some areas people have limited access to essential food and medicine. Killings, disappearances and abductions are occurring virtually on a daily basis; those targeted are mostly Tamil human rights activists, journalists or aid workers. Para-military groups working with the Sri Lankan government have been responsible for many of the incidents and together they have also been accused of abducting children to fight in the war. The Tamil Tigers are also notorious human rights abusers: they continue recruiting child soldiers and have recently been involved in a spate of suicide bombings killing several innocent civilians. The Sri Lankan government's response to all of this has been to hide behind the rhetoric of a "war on terror" and create a climate of impunity while accusing human rights groups and the UN of exaggerating the story. They have gone as far as to accuse senior UN officials of being terrorists and have made a mockery of UN systems by sitting in the Human Rights Council and covering up their appalling record”.

Some have found comfort in the reduction of criminal incidents, particularly in Colombo, although terrible ones like the abduction of Keith Noyahr, the Associate Editor and Defence Columnist of the weekly - ‘The Nation’ and the merciless assault for his critical comments on the war-related matters occurred now and then. It is significant Keith Noyahr was abducted in Colombo suburb on May 22, the very next day after the UN vote on UNHRC membership. He escaped death because of his colleagues, who promptly took up the matter with the authorities. The condemnation by the media and the various journalist associations was also strong all round. Nevertheless, on May 28 Paranirupasingam Devakumar, a television reporter was hacked to death in Navanthurai (a Jaffna suburb), as he was returning to his home in Vaddukoddai. His friend 24-year-old computer technician Mahendran Varadan, who accompanied him died later in hospital from the injuries sustained in the attack.

Outraged by this ghastly killing Reporters Without Borders issued a statement on May 29 which, inter alia, said: “…,the security forces should explain how this attack took place in an area of the peninsula that is supposed to be under close military control. The government is exposing both its inability and its lack of political will to protect journalists.” The Sri Lankan Free Media Movement in its statement said that Devakumar’s murder was just the latest in a series of killings of journalists in the troubled Jaffna region. Condemnations and promises of investigations had no meaning “without the political will” to complete the investigations. It also said: “The repugnant impunity that aids and abets violence against journalists and media personnel must come to an end”. The consequences of the growing culture of impunity to the society are extensively damaging and it will not be easy for future governments to get rid of this menace easily. Freedom of expression is intrinsic to democracy. It is denied only in military regime or in one-party authoritarian states.

The defence ministry headed by President Rajapaksa’s brother has declared war on journalists critical of any alleged act of the security forces. It warned "all necessary measures to stop this journalistic treachery against the country" would be taken. An article in its official defence.lk website stated: "Those who commit such treachery should identify themselves with the LTTE rather than showing themselves as crusaders of media freedom." AFP reported on June 5: “The defence ministry presents reporters with a stark choice of being either pro-government or pro-terrorist -- sparking renewed alarm among media rights activists about freedom of the press in Sri Lanka”. The unity seen in challenging the defense ministry doctrine on the rights of journalists is unprecedented. If only this unity had prevailed earlier, Sri Lanka would have been one integrated, peaceful and thriving democratic nation. Truly patriotic citizens can be proud of the courageous stand taken jointly by the media fraternity in Sri Lanka.

Erica Barks-Ruggles, US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour visited Colombo during May 22-24. The US embassy in Colombo in a statement issued at the end of her visit quoted her as saying: “Sri Lanka has the necessary institutional framework in place, but it needs to empower its institutions to carry out their work effectively. Human Rights protection needs to be applied in fact, not just in law.” Again it is the lack of political will that is averting the empowerment. Also, the Sri Lankan leaders have preferred a system with ample room for political maneuvering. Amnesty International (AI) in its annual report (2007) said . “Impunity for serious human rights violators was the main characteristic of Sri Lanka’s rights record”. The AI also criticised Sri Lanka authorities of failing to introduce a witness protections mechanism, an impediment to credibly probe rights violations. The AI charged Sri Lanka’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) losing credibility ‘due to the political appointment’ of Commissioners. Besides this practice, authorized ‘independent’ inquiries lose momentum because of bureaucratic obstacles, delays and poor co-operation from other relevant government agencies. These shortcomings are useful to the authorities to buy time and defuse the pressure.

‘A Reality check’

Tisaranee Gunasehara a regular forthright columnist in her comments published in the Sunday Island June 1 – ‘A Reality check’ – has highlighted the gulf between reality and perception or rather the ‘reality’ professed by some ‘patriots’. Undoubtedly, the latter is influenced by blind nationalism and in some cases by the politics of power. She has observed: “There was indeed an international campaign against Sri Lanka; but that campaign was succoured primarily by our stark failure to make any real improvements in our human rights record and our lamentable recourse to the ‘Chandi Malli’ doctrine in international relations. Our own misdeeds and follies, our own ravings and obduracy facilitated the creation of a broad coalition against Sri Lanka, extending far beyond the usual NGO and pro-Tiger suspect…. If we did not mishandle the IIGEP so badly, if we did not antagonise every visiting UN dignitary, we would have had a better chance in New York”.

The present government from the myopic and impulsive ways it approached to deal with awkward cases such as those referred to the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) and confidently inviting International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) tried to calm down the terribly shaken international community, particularly the traditional donor countries. This served the immediate purpose but at a cost to the country in the long run. This is nothing new as this type of thinking has prevailed earlier also; otherwise Sri Lanka will not be in the present mess. Democratic politics as the art of deceiving the people seem to have gone too far.

Tisaranee has pointedly given the advice to all who need it at this critical juncture. “This (deceptive} attitude will impede us from understanding the actually existing reality and making the necessary course corrections. What we need is a serious analysis of what went wrong, why the world refused to accept our own version of events, why we seem to be losing credibility, internationally. For instance we need to ask ourselves why three reputed Nobel Peace Laureates (South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former American President Jimmy Carter and Argentinian Adolfo Perez Esquivel) spoke against Sri Lanka just before the UNHRC vote. These are men who cannot be bought or conned. Without such introspection we cannot regain our lost international reputation”.

On May 29 AFP reported that Sri Lanka's Minister of international trade G.L. Peiris said in Washington D.C. where he had discussions with State Department officials that imposing any sanctions for alleged human rights violations “could worsen the island’s long-running ethnic conflict” He told the AFP: "It is really necessary to have sympathy for and understanding of the problems of a developing country that is grappling with terrorism. ..And to cut off resources, to threaten to withdraw trade benefits, GSP+ (General System of Preference) and so on -- all of that is unhelpful because that will only mean the dissemination of poverty, deprivation and adversity." This is a weak argument. If not only this government but the entire Sinhala polity has been concerned about poverty, deprivation and adversity a political offensive should have been launched decades ago to end the nationally damaging conflict. Now the Rajapaksa regime finds it easier to launch a military offensive than take the bold step to change the lopsided structure of the State. Countries fighting terrorism elsewhere such as the USA have repeatedly told that there is no military solution to Sri Lanka’s national problem and the government should focus on seeking a permanent political settlement.

Conclusion

Democracy must be a unifying and not divisive and disruptive process endangering the future of the country. Unfortunately, the island’s political culture has evolved without the full and real meaning of democracy, although some brag about the adult franchise exercised by the natives since 1931 when the first general election was held. Election is only one aspect of the democratic process. Even some dictators claim they have been elected by the people. Their elections are state managed and there is no real choice for the voters. The success of a political system based on real democracy depends on the ways the state institutions are set up and function as well as on the mechanisms for ensuring human rights, rule of law, good governance, accountability, independence of the judiciary and prevention of misuse of the power of the people. Devolution of power makes democracy more germane to the people in different regions and of different mores. The aspirations and concerns of the ethnic minorities are not always the same as those of the majority in the plural society. Freedom of expression is fundamental to democracy and is one crucial factor that makes it different from authoritarianism.

Democracy was subverted by the architects of the 1978 constitution because they were mainly concerned about matter relating to the ways of securing and exercising power. Indeed, democracy in Sri Lanka has virtually come to mean the process of electing candidates to the Parliament and the Executive Presidency. Even this is not perfect as it should be in a real democratic country because of not only the erosion of ‘free and fair’ election but also the special provisions that even allow candidates rejected by the voters to be appointed as members of the House. The abolition of by-election has also undermined the democratic process. The present electoral system does not link the voters and the elected representatives as there are several for each electoral district.

From the above analysis, it is clear that the national ailment cannot be cured by some cosmetic treatment. Restructuring the state to make democracy meaningful to all sections of the society is needed. Real peace cannot be achieved by continuing to dodge the much needed treatment. The people have suffered immensely by avoiding the remedy, which now is not as simple as it was at the initial stage because of utter neglect by the leaders.

[The writer is Former Additional Deputy Secretary to the Treasury, Sri Lanka and UN Advisor, Development Economics/Planning]