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August 29, 2008

Victory in PC Elections, a Vote for War or Yearning for Peace?

By Col.

As the results of the North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council elections streamed in, it was clear that Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa has turned his continued success in war to pay political dividends. The ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) scored resounding success capturing 20 of the 33 seats (securing 56.37% of votes) in Sabaragamuwa Province, and 25 of the 44 seats (securing 65.53% votes) in North Central Province.

The immediate reaction to the results would be to call it a vote for war, as Western Province Governor Alavi Mowlana had done. He said the people of the two provinces gave their verdict “for the Government and the Security Forces to continue military operations against the LTTE to liberate the people living in the grip of LTTE tyranny and to usher peace.” Probably this statement marked only his exultation at his party’s victory rather than on its implications. Because it would also imply that over 40% of the people who voted against the UPFA were against the war and for peace. Both the conclusions would be narrow, because contrary to what some leaders of UPFA declared before the election this was no referendum for war.

The voting was not solely based on war and peace issues but also on many other grievances of the common man particularly the shooting cost of fuel, and other essential day to day needs.

President Rajapaksa saw the election victory in a broader perspective as “the new people’s mandate given to the Mahinda Chinthana.” Undoubtedly, the election victory though flawed by violence during the campaign period, was a clear signal of majority support for the President’s way of doing things despite its weaknesses and shortcomings. It equally reflected the inability of the opposition to throw up a leader who could rally the masses to challenge President Rajapaksa.

The Morning Leader, Colombo had some interesting poll analysis. It pointed out that despite its apparently unimpressive performance the opposition United National Party (UNP) has not done badly in comparison with the 2004 PC elections. The comparative performance of the UPFA and the UNP in both the 2004 and current elections were as under:

1. Sabaragamuwa Province. UPFA UNP

Votes gained in 2008 elections: 74000 111000
Seats gained in 2008 elections: (-) 3 (+) 2

2. North Central Province. UPFA UNP

Votes gained in 2008 elections: 22000 62000
Seats gained in 2008 elections: (-) 2 (+) 2

This would indicate that the UNP’s voters are in tact despite its inability to make dramatic improvement in its political performance. At the same time the voters have indicated their wish to continue with the UPFA agenda.

Some of the other useful pointers of the election results are -

• This is a green signal for the President to carry forward the military operations in the present fashion, as the peace constituency is yet to stage a 2002-style comeback.
• Though the election victories indicate a favourable environment for the UPFA to call for a general election, they also indicate there is no urgency for the President to do so. He can do this at a time of his choosing perhaps when he reduces the LTTE strength to make it a marginal player sometime next year.
• The rallying of Sinhala voters behind the President at the cost of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) represents the cutting down to size of the JVP. It had been eating into the traditional Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) pastures during the last few years. The election results also reduce the JVP’s ability to pressurize the ruling coalition to toe its line. (This is remarkably similar to the sidelining of the Indian Leftists’ influence in the Centre ever since they lost their showdown with Manmohan Singh government in the Indian parliament over the India-US nuclear deal).
• Similarly the election results show the declining fortunes of the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), and the Upcountry Peoples Front (UPF) among the Plantation Tamils, who have a strong presence in two constituencies of Sabaragamuwa Province. The success of the Western Peoples Front (WPF) contesting in alliance with the UNP could result in further erosion of influence of CWC within the ruling coalition.

Peace rather than war beckons

With a clear mandate in his favour, and freed of the shackles of JVP conditional support, the President has a unique opportunity to not only progress the war to its natural conclusion but also to bring lasting peace. This involves speeding up the process of the devolution of powers to the provincial councils as prescribed in the 13th amendment as a part of larger vision for ushering in peace that has to be beyond capturing Kilinochchi.

The development of the Eastern Province stands as a mute testimony to averments of the President’s in the Mahinda Chintana not yet translated into action. Its promise of equitable treatment of all people regardless of their class, creed or language is still tangled in loops of politicking, vote bank politics and negative influences. The chief minister in the east is yet to gain many of the powers promised in the 13th amendment.

The huge number of civilians fleeing the northern battlefields is now estimated at 175,000. And they are converging on Kilinochchi. They are the visible indicator of the unmapped agenda that is building up for an action plan after the guns go silent. For lasting peace, it has to go well beyond short term measures that would provide only a face lift for the government and not the affected people. Is the government ready with such a plan? Only time will tell.

Already, there are indications that the LTTE is slowly but surely staging a comeback in the east. The ruling Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) has spoken about increasing LTTE intelligence operations in the Kanjikudichcharu area. Other sources have also confirmed the growing presence of LTTE elements there. It would be no different in the north after the LTTE is driven out from Kilinochchi to the bush at great human cost.

This only underlines that winning the war against the insurgents is well beyond battle field victories and capture of territories. Though these are essential for defeating the LTTE, unless its ability to capture the minds of the population is rooted out, the victories would not be lasting. That could come only through a peace architecture that would make the LTTE’s armed conflict irrelevant. The Army Commander, a veteran of the conflict, knows this home truth as much as the President, the master strategist, does.

Overall, the electoral mandate given to the President is as much to usher in permanent peace as pursue the war. We can only hope they build a peace agenda with the same vigour they did for the war.

August 27, 2008

A call to protect civilians in Wanni

A Statement by the Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo

People of conscience are perturbed that the current war in the LTTE occupied Vanni places the majority of civilians at tremendous risk. Unarmed and trapped in this war zone, large numbers of civilians including children are caught in the intense cross-fire of a deadly armed confrontation. Thousands are already displaced and can flee only to places of temporary safety.

mother & children IDPs jul 08
[Portraits of Displacement]

The situation faced by these civilians is even more desperate since they cannot act independently. They are under conflicting pressure from both sides to support their respective strategies of movement and fear reprisals if they do not. Their dilemma adds to their suffering.

Since both the GOSL and the LTTE claim, they are in this war for the liberation of these very civilians it is imperative that they jointly invite and assist the ICRC and UNHCR to set up peace corridors and peace zones for the safety of civilians. My Roman Catholic colleague, the Bishop of Jaffna, the Rt. Rev Thomas Savundaranayagam has already made this suggestion and it needs to be reiterated. If for some reason these agencies are unable to intervene, then an inter-religious group of leaders must be invited to do so.

The Government’s assurance that food, infant milk powder, medicine and other essential commodities are being supplied to the people of this region is to be commended. This process must be monitored by a senior Cabinet Minister in collaboration with the civil administration in the Vanni. It will also require facilitation by the military if it is to function smoothly in the circumstances of the war.

The Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera
Bishop of Colombo

WSJ Op-ed: Colombo needs to offer moderate Tamils a political settlement

The Sri Lankan Solution:

Sri Lanka's military is now two months into a full-on offensive against the Tamil Tiger rebels in their northern base. An end finally may be in sight to the war that has roiled the country for a quarter century.

The government claims control of large areas in the region and could soon take the Tiger "capital" at Kilinochchi, an important symbolic victory. The operation, which has made surprisingly fast progress, could be over within six months to a year. But winning the conventional war is only a start to winning the peace.

Colombo is following the pattern it set in 2006 in the eastern provinces: launch a major offensive against Tamil fighters, then establish a democratic government. Two eastern elections this year were marred by some violence and charges of voter intimidation, but the peace seems to be holding.

The Tigers, a guerrilla fighting force par excellence, won't be easy to subdue. Despite the government's latest progress, there's speculation the Tigers have been holding back their best fighters up to now. Even if the government wins, enough remaining Tigers are likely to fade into the jungle to carry on a guerrilla campaign. The 25-year-old conflict has already claimed more than 100,000 lives, according to the International Crisis Group.

So as the military operation continues, Colombo needs to offer moderate Tamils a political settlement to separate them from the rebels. The government of President Mahinda Rajapakse has long promised to put greater power in the hands of local Tamil politicians in the east and north. So far it hasn't. The newly elected local and provincial councils in the east have little power to set economic policies in their areas, for example. The government has stalled on any proposal to vest more authority with local governments.

To break the cycle, the government needs to allow the All-Party Representative Committee, a body charged with negotiating a comprehensive devolution plan, to push forward toward an agreement. Colombo could also show good faith by reinstating the independent Constitutional Council that's supposed to oversee important institutions like the Human Rights Commission and the National Police Commission. Both steps would signal to moderate Tamils the government's seriousness about a political compromise between the ethnic Tamil minority and the majority Sinhalese.

Part of the problem is that President Rajapakse lacks the political will to follow through. He rode to power in 2005 on appeals to Sinhalese nationalism. The military solution plays well at the polls, and his coalition won big victories over the weekend in two provincial elections billed as referendums on the government. The political follow-up is more controversial.

Taking the battle to the Tigers in the north is an important step in ending the war. But lasting peace will be built on a political deal with the moderate Tamils left behind when the rebels are gone. [courtesy: The Wall Street Journal]

Related: Sri Lanka's Tamils Deserve More Freedom


August 26, 2008

Lessons of a conflict

By Ram Manikkalingam

Ceasefires and insistence on human rights protection may not help peace processes in strife-torn countries.

SRI LANKAN SOLDIERS at Palampeddi village in northwestern Mannar, on July 4. [Reuters]

TWENTY-FIVE years ago, Sri Lanka’s conflict suddenly transformed into a violent civil war when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), then barely more than a couple of dozen persons, ambushed an Army convoy killing a dozen soldiers in Jaffna on July 23, 1983. Instead of targeting those who carried out the attack, state-backed goons went after Tamil civilians throughout the country the following day; it resulted in a week of violence and bloodletting.

Since then, the separatist rebellion has been transformed from one that involved ragtag groups fighting a parade army to a high-intensity conflict that employed air-strikes, artillery, naval units, bombings and suicide attacks. Even as we lament – it is really hard not to – what we as Sri Lankans have gone through, it would be useful to share lessons learnt about the ethnic conflict from Sri Lanka’s efforts to go from a war situation towards peace. The lessons relate to two basic questions: what is an ethnic conflict and how do you resolve it?

The civil war in Sri Lanka consists of three distinct conflicts: the ethnic conflict between Tamils and the Sinhalese, and other groups; the armed conflict between the Sri Lankan state and the Tamil Tigers; and the political conflict for power among the main forces that have the capacity to influence political rule in Sri Lanka – the governing Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the opposition United National Party (UNP), and the rebel Tigers.

The first, the ethnic conflict between Tamils and the Sinhalese, is commonly considered the hardest to resolve. Most descriptions of Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict (or for that matter any ethnic conflict) are variations of the hate-and-greed explanation. Hence we have Tamils and the Sinhalese (one can substitute them with Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians; or blacks and whites; or Hutus and Tutsis; or Israelis and Palestinians) as either hating each other because of conflicting nationalisms, or competing with each other for resources out of greed.

Where the nationalism comes from – be it ancient history (we did bad things to each other thousands of years ago), myth (we told stories about what we allegedly did to each other), or recent acts of violence (your father killed my uncle, so I will kill you) – is less relevant than that it exists and manifests itself in mutual hostility between the Tamils and the Sinhalese. Similarly, where the greed comes from – individual interests (that Tamil took the clerical job I wanted), group solidarity (I want my kin to get more stuff) or nationalist passion (my people deserve more because they are superior to yours) – is less important than that it ultimately leads ethnic groups to get into conflict.

Existing approaches to ethnic conflicts, however sophisticated, converge on hate and greed as motivations to explain them. They fail to examine how reasonable differences might also cause conflicts. If hate and greed are the only motivations of conflict, then we would be living in a very grim world indeed.

Prospects for the resolution of a conflict would depend either on external force (such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, or NATO, which would forcefully make conflicting parties co-exist) or economic incentives (the World Bank, the European Union, and other rich Western entities would give so much money that you will be bought off and corrupted into not fighting). This is the implicit assumption behind contemporary models of peace building or humanitarian intervention. The failure to secure the support of rich Western countries for United Nations’ peacekeeping efforts in Africa and the abysmally low amounts of aid provided to war-ravaged countries in the continent suggest that mobilising resources for this approach is simply impossible in most parts of the world. Moreover, the widespread challenge to international efforts in the Balkans indicate how this approach is rarely sufficient – even when billions have been spent and tens of thousands of peacekeepers continue to be present.

Another approach is to focus on how identities are constructed and to change the more violent expressions of them to less violent ones. This is the implicit assumption behind the plethora of studies about the construction of identities. These studies show – and correctly too – what it means to be a Sinhalese or a Tamil, a Jew or a Palestinian, a Hutu or a Tutsi, a Serb or a Muslim today compared with what it was 50 or 100 years ago. But the silence on how to change identities for a peaceful future indicates that the latter is too difficult or takes too long. All these approaches invariably lead to deep pessimism about peace in situations of ethnic conflict.

While the explanation that Tamils and the Sinhalese are enmeshed in a conflict over ethnic identity and material resources may continue to have relevance, it is becoming less and less plausible today as the only explanation for Sri Lanka’s intractable conflict, or for that matter many others as well. Most Tamils and Sinhalese desire an end to the war. Many of them have come to realise - whether enthusiastically or reluctantly - that a solution to the conflict will require the Central government, dominated by the Sinhalese, to share political power with other ethnic groups, particularly Tamils.

Whatever the various solutions proffered, they will invariably converge on some form of federalism, in fact if not in name. Except for extremist Sinhalese who want to centralise all power in Colombo and deny the presence of an ethnic conflict, and extremist Tamils who want a separate state on the grounds that the only conflict is ethnic, the majority of the people in Sri Lanka are likely to accept such a solution. But if that were the case, why have we not arrived at a solution? This is where reasonable differences come in.

LTTE chief Velupillai Prabakaran commemorates slain suicide bombers on the 21st "Black Tiger" anniversary on July 5, in the Wanni region in northern Sri Lanka.

Even many Sinhalese who are critical of power-sharing are less concerned that it will give more rights to Tamils than they deserve, than that it will enable the Tigers to consolidate power and establish a separate Tamil authoritarian state. Similarly, many Tamils who are wary of sharing power in a single state are less concerned about living among Sinhalese and more concerned whether the state will actually implement its promises in the absence of the armed leverage of the Tamil Tigers. This reasonable difference can even lead to advocacy of war, belying the common association of those who seek peace with those who are reasonable. For example, there are many who distrust the Sri Lankan state so much that they advocate violence as a way of pressuring the state to come to a solution that is just by Tamils. These people, mainly Tamils, but also members of other ethnic groups, do not necessarily believe the Tigers are decent freedom fighters. On the contrary, they condemn and even oppose the LTTE’s excesses. But they fear that only violence against the state, or the threat of it, can lead to a political solution where power is shared and which is subsequently implemented.

Similarly there are those who advocate military violence against the Tamil Tigers. These are Sri Lankans, primarily Sinhala, but also members of other ethnic groups, who feel that the Tamil Tigers are only interested in consolidating their own power and not interested in a political solution for the Tamil people. They believe that as long as the Tamil Tigers are present a peaceful solution will not be possible. The Sri Lankans who advocate these positions are not opposed to a just solution that treats members of all communities as equals. So it would be a mistake simply to view them as chauvinists.

These two political positions – exerting military pressure on the Tigers or on the Sri Lankan state for a just solution – may appear in the heat of war to belong to opposite sides of the political divide. But they are ideologically closer to each other and desire the same political solution than those who may share their views about militarily fighting the other side.

Unfortunately, because reasonable differences are rarely acknowledged in ethnic conflicts, we do not look for ways to reduce their adverse impact on finding a solution. This also leads us to more pessimistic views about the prospects of peace. By contrast, identifying reasonable differences offers a more optimistic alternative by showing how contemporary identities that lead to conflict may also be compatible with just and stable solutions, for which institutions can be designed.

Taking these reasonable differences into account can help design a peace process that mitigates the role they can play in exacerbating conflict. Part of the challenge of identifying these reasonable differences in an ethnic conflict is that there are two other conflicts that complicate it further.

Armed Conflict

Addressing the ethnic conflict is complicated by the armed conflict between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan state. Although the armed conflict is generally viewed as stemming from the ethnic conflict, it is also distinct in character. States claim a monopoly over the legitimate use of force in a given territory. So any state will repress those who seek to oppose it by force. It matters little to the state that those who oppose it do so on the basis of democracy, ethnicity, class or regionalism. And when it comes to suppressing an armed rebellion, it matters little whether the state is capitalist or socialist, authoritarian or democratic. All states have acted with varying degrees of violence and repression in stemming armed rebellions. So also have rebel groups that oppose states.

There are two ways armed conflicts between states and rebel groups can end – when one side defeats another or when both sides concede that they cannot defeat each other. Successive Sri Lankan governments and the Tamil Tigers have oscillated between these two approaches. Sometimes promising outright military victories, and at other times agreeing to ceasefires. Which option will ultimately prevail is still not clear.

The current Sri Lankan government continues to give deadlines for defeating the Tigers – the latest is yet another year. And the Tigers continue to assert that they are militarily secure. In the next few months, the fighting capacities and political sagacity of both sides will provide the answer to this question. I do not intend to speculate on the military outcome of Sri Lanka’s war.

Rather, I simply want to point out another element of the conflict – that of an armed group versus a state – that is distinct from the ethnic conflict thanks to its own dynamic – one that cannot be reduced to ethnicity alone.

Political Party Conflict

Addressing the armed conflict is complicated by the political power conflict among the SLFP, the UNP and the LTTE. While there are many smaller political parties and paramilitary groups contending for political power, it is only these actors who have the capacity to transform unilaterally the political context. There is a distinct power conflict among these three contenders that is derived from competition over the business of rule. The main political parties compete over who gets to rule the Sri Lankan state, while the Tigers seek to rule a separate Tamil state.

This competition cannot simply be reduced to varying ideologies of nationalism or competing policies over how to resolve the ethnic conflict or, for that matter, different socio-economic policies. Political parties are built around the express intent of securing political power. They may have different ideological leanings or social bases and therefore wish to carry out different programmes. Still, one of their central goals is simply to rule, not rule in order to do something else. Clearly, all three parties – the SLFP, the UNP, and the LTTE – do not contend for power the same way. The two main political parties in Sri Lanka do so through more or less democratic means. The Tigers do so through more or less violent means. Yet, an important part of what they all contend for is power.

The position taken by these parties helps illustrate the distinction between policy on the ethnic conflict and political alliances to secure power. During the last presidential election in the island, the SLFP candidate, who is the current President, was considered to be a hardliner. During the campaign, his manifesto condemned the ceasefire agreement and opposed a joint mechanism to work on post-tsunami reconstruction. He also opposed a federal solution and favoured a unitary state. Yet, as President he said he would be willing to talk directly with the Tigers in order to resolve the conflict, even when he took hardline positions on a political solution for the Tamil people.

This kind of contradiction between political deal-making and ethnic policy is not limited to one or the other ruling party in Sri Lanka – or for that matter only to Sri Lanka. During the earlier two parliamentary elections, the UNP opposed the government’s political proposals for resolving the conflict, saying that they granted too much autonomy to the Tamils. At the same time, the UNP supported a ceasefire and dialogue with the Tigers, who were asking for a separate state.

These seemingly contradictory positions – opposing Tamil autonomy but supporting a dialogue with the Tamil extremists – can be reconciled. The two parties, competing for the power to run the state, wanted Tiger support to obtain or block Tamil votes in areas under the latter’s domination, while keeping their Sinhala base satisfied. Similarly, the Tigers, seeking a separate state, implicitly supported a political party that sought to dilute measures granting autonomy to Tamil areas. The Tigers expected one party, and then the other, to be more conciliatory towards them. All three – the Tigers, and the two main political parties – have been disappointed after the elections by the outcome of their pre-electoral dalliance. The Tigers attribute this disappointment to opportunism on the part of the political parties, and the governing political parties to deception on the part of the Tigers. But this explanation is too simplistic and ignores instances where mutual commitments have been adhered to by different sides.

Rather, once political parties secure power, they run the state, and the logic of the armed conflict between a state and an armed group takes over – making it harder for these parties to fulfil unilaterally the political commitments they may have made in the past, when they were just political parties, operating outside the constraints of being office-bearers of the state.

So if there is one thing I have learnt about what an ethnic conflict is, it is that ethnic conflicts are never about ethnicity alone. This does not mean that ethnicity is not a central element of the conflict or that ordinary people often experience the violence as ethnic. It is simply that failing to take the other two elements of the conflict – the armed aspect and the political power – into account and seeing how they are inter-related can lead to a mistaken view of what the conflict is and can befuddle efforts to resolve it.

Resolving ethnic conflict

The toughest part of resolving conflicts in general and ethnic ones in particular is less about finding the correct solution or even about agreeing on what it ought to be, but actually about getting to a situation of peace, from one of war. For example, in the case of Sri Lanka, there is little doubt that the political solution will be federal in nature, if not in name. Similarly, in December 2002 the Tamil Tigers and the then Government of Sri Lanka agreed “to explore a federal solution”. Now clearly agreeing to explore is not the same as actually agreeing to such a solution, but the key point is the common understanding that any future solution to the ethnic conflict will be along these lines. The challenge we face lies less in intellectually figuring out what the solution should be, but in actually getting there politically. And these challenges can be better understood once we get beyond the broad goals such as reducing levels of violence and protecting rights, to actually seeking to implement these goals through practical mechanisms.

In Sri Lanka, as in many other states with similar situations, a solution requires that we move from a situation of violent polarisation to one of peaceful co-existence. And this usually entails doing the following – reducing violence, protecting human rights, working out a political solution and reconstructing the war-affected areas.

Ceasefires not always helpful?

Ceasefires are an integral part of all peace processes. How and when does a ceasefire help negotiate an end to violence and how and when does it hinder such a process? While most mediators work to secure a ceasefire prior to political negotiations, they often find that the ceasefire becomes the focus of the talks, rather than the political settlement, itself. Mediators involved in resolving a conflict usually make an effort to secure a ceasefire agreement between the two parties before they do anything else. The implicit assumption is that a ceasefire will be helpful both in humanitarian terms as well as in political terms.

In humanitarian terms, ceasefires lessen the daily pain and suffering caused by war. They allow people to go about their daily lives without fear and anxiety. They create a climate that enables freer travel between areas, movement of goods to markets and transportation of the injured, the infirm and the old for medical treatment. No one disagrees that no war is better than war from a humanitarian perspective. Obviously, people prefer the peace and the right to go about their daily lives without hindrance over the pain and suffering that inevitably accompany war. This is true even when the respites from war are only temporary, since a temporary respite from war is better than no respite.

In political terms as well, ceasefires are considered to be helpful. The assumption is that ceasefires can contribute to a positive climate for negotiations by improving the lives of civilians and building trust between the two parties. In addition, a ceasefire, it is believed, helps insulate political negotiations from military fighting, and move the negotiations away from pressing military and humanitarian concerns to longer-term political ones. So many efforts to resolve conflict begin with mediators working out a ceasefire and proceeding to monitor parties’ compliance with it.

But the humanitarian and political desirability of ceasefires is not that clear-cut, and in many cases, can actually lead to the opposite – more adverse humanitarian consequences and less trust. For example, ceasefires can contribute to temporary respites that allow parties to re-arm and re-group and begin another phase of conflict with greater intensity, rather than to engage in political talks. Respites from war that lead to intensified fighting may not be desirable on humanitarian grounds if the subsequent conflict results in even greater pain, suffering and loss of life. Furthermore, a ceasefire that enables parties to attack minorities or suppress dissenting political opinion within their own communities can also vitiate the humanitarian arguments in favour of it. All of these factors have had a perverse effect on the ceasefires in Sri Lanka – where children have been recruited, dissidents killed, and minorities expelled during ceasefires and more intense fighting has broken out after they have ended.

Ceasefires can also have a perverse impact on a peace process because they are not isolated military decisions to cease fighting that take place outside of a political context. Instead, in most conflicts ceasefires are expressly political decisions made in the context of political jockeying for power. When negotiations and ceasefires are linked, it is common to find the relative military strengths of the two conflicting parties on the ground affecting their decisions whether or not to support a ceasefire.

The party that is militarily gaining ground is unlikely to favour a ceasefire and vice versa. Under these circumstances, for a ceasefire to lead to viable negotiations, the two parties must not only be in a strategic stalemate but it should also be a tactical one. They must feel that neither side is likely to win the war in the long term and that neither side can gain a tactical advantage in the short term that will strengthen its bargaining position at the negotiating table.

Ceasefires can also hinder progress in political negotiations, because parties will, in the absence of clarity about a permanent settlement, prepare themselves for a possible outbreak of conflict. This preparation can lead to increased suspicion among belligerents and lead them to focus efforts on addressing ceasefire violations rather than political problems. And ceasefires can reduce the political pressure on parties to a conflict to work out a settlement.

Finally, when ceasefires are a precondition for political talks, any violations, however small, can lead to parties dissipating political focus and effort on maintaining a ceasefire rather than proceeding towards tackling the longer-term political causes of the conflict. This can not only delay a solution, but also lead to the erosion of trust and goodwill.

This suggests that mediators/peacemakers ought to resist the instinct to negotiate a ceasefire prior to political talks. Instead, making efforts to de-escalate a conflict with steps to improve the humanitarian situation rather than a ceasefire may contribute to a more stable peace process. Several peace processes – such as the Salvadorean one mediated by the Peruvian diplomat Alvaro de Soto and the Aceh peace process mediated by former Finland President Martti Ahtisaari – did not include a ceasefire.

Human rights element

We generally expect and would like good things to go together. When a conflict breaks out, human rights violations invariably take place. So we hope the opposite is true – that is, when we protect human rights, we can contribute to ending armed conflict. While this may be the case in many situations, it is not always so. In my experience in observing Sri Lanka’s conflict closely as well as in studying a number of other violent conflicts, efforts to protect human rights do not always contribute to efforts to promote peace. Sometimes in practice these efforts can come into tension with each other.

First, the good news – strengthening human rights can be good for resolving a conflict. Human rights can contribute to the long-term stability of a society. It can help identify causes of a conflict and potential mechanisms for its resolution. In a divided society, it can protect bridge builders between communities. It can provide a neutral standpoint for addressing contentious issues and it can generate international support for a peace process.

But strengthening human rights can sometimes be in tension with resolving conflict. This is particularly true at the initial phases of a peace process. Raising human rights violations with belligerents can reduce trust in a mediator. For example, the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government today are accused of widespread human rights violation. Indeed, they are also probably guilty of most of these accusations.

Nevertheless, unless one or the other is decisively defeated, it is hard to imagine a serious peace process that does not involve these two parties. But it is also equally hard to imagine these two parties entering a peace process, if the first issue raised is their violations of human rights, because this is bound to make them anxious that they will have to face some form of justice and make them skittish about entering a serious process of peace.

Similarly, they will see protection for human rights as reducing their control over populations. And, finally, they may be anxious about the prospect of being prosecuted for war crimes. While these tensions between resolving conflicts and promoting human rights exist, they are not inevitable and can be reduced through institutional design and political skill.

These lessons can be summarised. Ethnic conflicts are not only about ethnicity. They are also about political parties seeking power and armed entities confronting each other militarily - who are not necessarily divided neatly along ethnic lines. Starting with a ceasefire may not be the best way to resolve ethnic conflicts, even if this might give you a temporary respite from the armed conflict. Protecting human rights may not always help with promoting peace, though such tensions can be reduced with political shrewdness and strategic design. These lessons, I believe, are true not only for Sri Lanka, but for many countries struggling to go from a situation of war to one of peace.

Ram Manikkalingam is a Visiting Professor of Political Science at the University of Amsterdam and an adviser to the Humanitarian Dialogue Centre in Geneva. He served as senior adviser in the peace process to the previous President of Sri Lanka. 

[Courtesy: FrontLine] 

The Consequences of July 1983

(Edited Text of a presentation at the seminar ‘Lest We Forget: the tragedy of July 1983’, arranged by the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process and the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies in commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of the event)
Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
[Secretary General
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process]

I have been asked to speak on the political and social consequences of July 1983, and I will try to focus on these. With regard to background and causes, I said enough when I introduced the topic of the seminar, and also I have written about these at length, so I will refrain from discussing these areas here.

In talking of the political and social consequences I will look at several areas. Some of them are the obvious consequences, which have already been referred to, so I will not spend much time on them except to say that the most obvious consequences may be subsumed under the title Changes in the Tamil Psyche’. That is why this morning I said the events were a watershed, because until 1983, however disappointed the Tamil community was at what they felt was a failure to resolve the problem politically, the problem that had begun not just in 1956, but as long ago as 1920 when Tamil representation in the Western Province was ignored, they saw these as political questions, to be solved politically. Despite continued disappointments - the tearing up of the pacts of 1957 and of 1968 - there was a sense that the time would come when this could be discussed politically. And that hope was crushed in the minds of Tamils by the events of 1983.

The consequence of that was something that has been really very corrosive, a certain bitterness. This has had tremendous ill consequences for Sri Lanka, but consequences we cannot say were undeserved, in terms of the power of the Diaspora. Tamils left this country after 1983 in a sense of bitterness, of understandable bitterness, and they have since contributed to the type of feeling that both previous speakers referred to and many others earlier today, the sense in the international community - and I do not refer only to the west, which sees itself sometimes as the sole international community, but also to other countries like the Philippines, as Dr Ariyaratne said, or India, which felt that we were a brutal country. I think what happened in 1983 explains that feeling. And even though it has not happened again, it is an understandable feeling, and not enough effort has been made by successive Sri Lanka governments to suggest that that was a mistake, it should not have happened and we will make sure it will never happen again. Unless that is done very clearly I think there is no hope of the bitterness being got rid of.  I am not saying   that this will get rid of the bitterness. It will last beyond that. But at least it would be a start and I think it is necessary to get that picture clear.

The second factor, which was exacerbated not only by the tragedy of July 1983 but also by the political response, was to destroy democratic Tamil forces. We all know that on July 28 JR Jayewardene’s public response was that the mayhem was what he described as the understandable reaction of the Sinhalese to attempts to divide the country. He said therefore that he would make sure such attempts were no longer possible by introducing legislation, which in effect led to the TULF having to leave Parliament. The baton passed, on that day, to the terrorists. I think that is an unquestionable fact. The TULF no longer had a political role to play. You have to remember that, in any case, the election of 1977 was for a Parliament for 6 years, which was to end in July 1983. That parliament had been extended. No elections were therefore held till 1989, and there were no democratically elected representatives of the Tamils, apart from Mr. Thondaman, in Parliament from 1983 to 1989. So power passed to the terrorists.

And it must also be remembered that a combination of the two factors I just mentioned led to Indian intervention. I know there are many people who claim that India was interfering before but, as Mr. Moonesinghe pointed out, in 1977 Tamil Nadu was firm about dealing with Kuttimani on our behalf. And it was only after the anti-Tamil riots of 1977 and 1981 that Tamil Nadu opinion began to change. For various political reasons India was wary about Sri Lanka but the evidence of training of terrorists is post 1983 and I think any Sri Lanka should recognize that Sri Lanka asked for it. They asked for it for a variety of reasons, including the gamesmanship of President Jayewardene with regard to the Cold War, but worst of all because of what happened in July 1983. So that you had this change, as I said, this 3-fold change. There was the change in the Tamil psyche, which contributed to the influence of the Diaspora, and the change in international opinion. There was much greater aggression on the part of India. And there was the triumph of terrorist forces which of course, as has been explained, were by and large resolved, when in 1987 we healed the breach with India. But the problem was that the LTTE remained intransigent and has remained intransigent since.
There is another consequence we need to look at, namely the change also in the Sinhala psyche. I think in that respect, as the two former speakers have mentioned, there was an improvement. Both of them referred to the involvement of ordinary people in what happened, and even though the prime responsibility was that of those – in government as I have said before – who planned it all, we have to grant that ordinary people too participated. But their involvement it must be stressed was provoked. I think what is forgotten is that in the period upto 1983 – and we must note that it has not happened since - there was a relentless media campaign to turn people against the Tamils. And people are gullible. Not all the people. As the preceding speaker said, many people sheltered Tamils, responded adversely to the horrors. But many people did get involved.

Now leaving aside the question of crowd psychology there is the very simple fact that the pressures on the Sinhala people were immense in those six years. I mentioned before what happened in 1981, and let me repeat it more comprehensively for people who have forgotten. In 1981 we had an appalling attack in Jaffna. The Jaffna MP was nearly killed. The Jaffna Public Library was burnt. When this was brought up in Parliament, far from a motion of no confidence against Cyril Mathew being allowed, they allowed a motion of no confidence against the Leader of the Opposition and every day the papers were full of the concept not only of ‘TULF equals Tigers’ but even ‘Tamil equals Tiger. And that mindset was built up relentlessly. And again that was done in 1983.  Some people say it was part of Jayewardene’s attempt to dragoon the TULF into the All Party Conference, which they had refused to attend.  But the media at that point – and you have to remember that it was a monopolistic media, the radio station and both television stations were entirely in government hands, the media was entirely in government hands except for the relatively new Island Group and the Aththa which was then banned – the media, government propaganda, tried to create in the minds of the Sinhalese the idea that Tamil equals terrorists. And because of this creeping evil bursting out in 1983, I think people realized that this would not do and this must not happen again. And it has not happened again. There are of course isolated examples in the papers of that type of approach. As Dr Ariyaratne said some people say provocative things of that sort, and then something else different the next week. The point is, there has not since then been such a concerted campaign, a concerted attempt to pervert the Sinhala psyche. That had stopped.

Jehan Perera mentioned very positively changes in education in the 1990s and I think he was correct in paying due credit to that. I think the factor that Dr Ariyaratne mentioned, the determination that children should learn other languages, this too is a positive change. Such changes would have been impossible in the early 80s because of the racist mindset that was being propagated relentlessly. And of course it’s ironic that the international community, which turned against us after 1983, did not notice this. But the fact is, one of the most important things is that after 1983 we began to realize that early warning systems were essential, to stop that type of thing happening again. And I think we have done our best in that respect.

Now I would like to refer to another area that has not been looked at, which should be considered in the light of the complaint that many of those invited to this event did not attend. Conversely we should note that perhaps the largest representation here is from the security forces, past or present, and the Ministry of Defence. I think that says a lot for the transformation of our security forces in the last 25 years into what is to my mind the most professional public institution we have in this country at the moment. I know I say something that may be considered unorthodox, but the evidence suggests this is a fact. This is the one public institution in the country that still tries to think and improve itself. And that I think is the result of what happened in 1983. In 1983, I am sorry to say, there had been for the preceding, not just six years but perhaps 13 years, a campaign of de-professionalistaion. There are some who would say that the de-professionalisation of our public institutions was perhaps accidental during the 1970 to 1977 period.  It certainly happened.  But it was qualitatively greater in the next six years, deliberately so, and the judiciary is a case in point.

If you look at the judiciary from 1970 to 1977 it was markedly independent. It came into conflict with the government on numerous occasions.  From 1977 there was a determination to bring it under the total control of the government.  The same thing happened to the Attorney General’s Department and I think, if you read the account of the Welikada massacres, the most startling indictment there is of the combination of Judiciary and AG’s Department in suppressing the truth. This was part of an institutional change during the late ’70s and early ’80s and to my mind the turning point, almost as in a Greek tragedy, in the arrogance of the Jayewardene Government, was what happened  not in July but four months earlier, when they attempted to attack the Supreme Court judges who had delivered a verdict of violation of human rights.

We have come a long way since that. Now, when people talk about the situation now, they forget that it is unthinkable that if the Supreme Court delivered a verdict against the government, government goons in government buses would be transported to demonstrate outside Supreme Court Judges’ house. But this was normal in 1983. And that breakdown of institutions also affected, to a great extent, elements in the armed forces. But as the account of the Welikada massacres shows, when the professionals were called out, they acted responsibly, in a way that the politicians had not encouraged. And that situation has continued to improve. There are those who say that in the ’80s the Sri Lankan army was the worst disciplined in the world. That may be an exaggeration, but certainly there were aberrations.  There was a thirst for revenge on occasions. There were terrible incidents that happened.  That has not happened in recent years. The training that developed over the next few years, the insistence on a professional approach, is something we can be proud of.  I am not saying it is perfect but I think that you will find that the imperfections have to do with political contingencies.

One major problem that still persists is that after 1983 the recruitment of minorities fell considerably. People complained, I do all the time, about the absence of minorities from the Sri Lankan security forces. The answer has always been that it is open to them to apply, but after 1983 applications dried up. Very few applied. If you look at the higher echelons of the army, there are Tamils. If you look at the higher echelons of the police there are plenty of them. But they just haven’t been applying recently. But now there have been positive measures taken by this government to promote minority recruitment, which have not been given enough credit - partly because this government is not very good at pointing out its positive features. One of the most positive is the targeted recruitment of Tamils into the security forces. All previous governments complained that Tamils were not applying. They kept advertising, Tamils did not apply. This government has said, ‘Ok if they are not applying, we will go out and find them’.  And I think that it is an immensely positive step and it is part of the developing national awareness of the security forces, which as we know sometimes gave a reflection of negative factors within the country but have now moved on apace.

And I think in that sense one of the most important political and social consequence of 1983 was the recognition that the monolithic power of a particular government could not be tolerated any more. There are people who say this constitution is bad. It is bad. The whole manner in which it was introduced was a mark of the lack of professionalism. We may disagree with many features of the 1972 Constitution but it was done professionally. It is not a constitution that is inconsistent and incoherent. I disagree with its fundamental principle, which is supposedly based on a British principle. Good Trotskyists, bred in the London School of Economics, followed a British constitutional pattern and asserted the supremacy of Parliament which I think is nonsense but it is a consistent belief.  The 1977 Constitution however is a joke. It is inconsistent. It was introduced as an amendment, not as a new constitution, and its constitutional provisions, although very bad, were then perverted by the way in which it was manipulated.  It has not been manipulated in the same way since. There are independent institutions. We have an independent media. I mean for people working now it is unthinkable that there was no television or radio stations, apart from government ones, in the ’80s.  There were no newspapers until the Island started. The Supreme Court is not packed now in the way it was then.

Again there will be people who would disagree with some of the judgments of the Courts but no one will say that it is under the control of the government. There is a contrast between now and what happened in the ’80s, when for instance Justice Rodrigo, in a famous judgment after the 1982 referendum, basically said, ‘Why does anyone bring challenges to a government, after all the government was elected by the people. It should be allowed to do what it wants.’ That, I think, is not an unfair representation of what Justice Rodrigo wrote in one of his judgments, at that time.

But that sort of perversity, the perversion of the State, culminated in July 1983 and then it changed after that. And I think that was something for the better. We have suffered since because, as I said, as our national politics got better, the Tamil psyche, for very understandable reasons, got more bitter and that has led to continuing conflict.

In this light I believe the approach of this government in dealing with the different problems is perhaps more logical than that of past governments. Although I give credit to the governments who tried to negotiate with the LTTE as Jehan said that has proved impossible. So I think that instead of pursuing chimeras it is necessary to say ‘No’ to terrorism but ‘Yes’ to a pluralistic democratic Sri Lanka. And I go back to a point Jehan made. He spoke of the lack of faith in a negotiated solution after 1983. I think that was true on the part of many Tamils, and it got worse after 1987 when the Sri Lanka government for various reasons seemed to join together with the LTTE, and therefore also let down those Tamils who had abandoned terrorism and joined politics. I think what this government is trying to do on the contrary is work together with democratic Tamil forces, to arrive at a negotiated solution, bearing in mind the need that for acceptance throughout the country.

Meanwhile the work that people have mentioned already has confirmed the change in the Sinhala psyche after 1983, and thereafter too, it is now willing to accept devolution, willing to accept a pluralistic state.  I think that work will be invaluable in promoting the negotiated political solution that we need. But we have to remember that the terrorist aspect cannot be dealt with except by ensuring that terrorism is abandoned and arms are given up.  I like to share the view expressed already that there are certain elements in the LTTE, like those in the Eastern Province, which will be happy to enter a political process as various Tamils did in 1987 but I think we need to be sure about that.

Before I conclude however, I would like to read out to you the last section of an account by the Jaffna University Teachers for Human Rights of perhaps the worst episode in 1983. The account will be published in ‘Lest We Forget: the tragedy of July 1983’, that should have been out today, but which will now be published only next week. This section, written I think by Rajan Hoole, is from the postscript to the detailed account of what happened in Welikada and the attempts at cover up:

Many years have flown since that eventful month of July 1983. But it would be wrong to say that the dark secrets of Welikade prison lie buried in the sands of time. Their effects are still with us. Those who lived through it remain haunted by the experience. Many of the prisoners who survived went on to become militant leaders, who were dedicated to fighting the State. Some in turn became killers. Mr and Mrs Nithyananthan rejoined the LTTE in India and left in disillusionment the following year. Fr Slngarayar re-established contact with the LTTE, and died in Jaffna in 1993, a lonely and broken man. Fr Sinnarasa who escaped to India in September 1983 distanced himself from the LTTE for several years, but is now in North America campaigning for the LTTE in a spirit of blind hatred not different from that which moved the Cyril Mathews of July 1983. Arulanandam David of the Gandhiyam lives in India, a man of gentle pursuits, dabbling in literary and philosophical matters. But in his political opinion he is perhaps even more a blind Eelamist, dreaming of a Tamil Israel, supporting the group which tortured and killed several of his old friends in the PLOTE. Douglas Devananda now leads the EPDP and once again narrowly survived after a second prison attack on him at Kalutara. He was badly mauled by LTTE suspects whom he visited as an MP in 1998.

Let me note that Major Sunil Pieris, who was responsible for Douglas being alive now, is here with us today, and will speak this afternoon. That fact, the fact that Douglas is now a Minister, the fact that we now have a Provincial Council in the East, headed by a Tamil leading a truly multi-ethnic political group, suggest that perhaps we have begun to turn the corner after 1983. [peaceinsrilanka.org]

Towards Economic Development in the Northern Province

by Rohantha N A Athulorale
Director - Economic Affairs
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process

The on going conflict has resulted in economic and social repercussions affecting people throughout the country.  It is estimated that Sri Lanka lost 2 to 3% of GDP growth annually due to the prevailing terrorism in Sri Lanka. During the period 2002 – 2004 when there was a cessation of hostilities through the Ceasefire Agreement, real GDP growth increased four-fold to 12.6% in the Northern Province, whilst it doubled upto 10.1% in the Eastern Province. This depicts that the economy was waiting to develop in this area of Sri Lanka. With the liberalization of the Eastern Province the development which has taken place is remarkable where local companies have invested over Rs.1 billion in the new opportunities that have emerged in the Eastern Province. Sri Lanka is sure to see this same trend in the Northern Province in the near future.


Research from the Central Bank reveals that the Northern province GDP quadrupled   from an average of 3.4% during the free Ceasefire time period (2002-2004) to 12.6%. The main area of growth that was seen was in the agricultural and fishing sector which expanded by an average of 32% during this period in the Northern Province. This clearly shows when the North is liberated the key focus area should be agriculture and fishing. For the fisheries industry in particular we require cooling systems to be developed, specifically an ice factory, whilst also the physical distribution system needs to be revamped so that goods can be transported to Colombo and the other parts of the country efficiently. The model implemented in the Eastern Province can be replicated to ensure the security aspects of doing business post liberalization.


Sri Lanka must also use the Northern Province fisheries sector development programme to develop a strategy targeting the EU. Shrimp farming should be introduced to this area as one of the key markets globally for Sri Lanka - the EU depicted a 77 percent growth last year which explains the opportunity that we have in the global market place. We must look at removing VAT from shrimp feed which can be an incentive to the farmers in the North to get involved in this project. May be we can also set up a BOI type export processing zone dedicated to shrimp farming.

Paddy Sector

Central Bank statistics reveal that the overall Paddy Production decreased by 6.4% to 3,128,881 MT in 2007 with the Maha and Yala seasons dropping by 7.7% and 4.1% respectively. This resulted in Sri Lanka having to import rice by over five hundred percent to 88,000 MT in 2007.
Paddy Key Performance

However, World Bank research reveals that Paddy production doubled in the Northern Province from the average 65,000 tons to 138,000 tons during the 2002-2003 cease fire period. This means that, after the liberation of the Northern Province, we have the  opportunity of stopping the import of rice into the country and thereby also saving foreign exchange.

Labour Force

As per the 2004 report of the Department of Census and Statistics, in the Northern Province the labour force participation rate is as low as 34% whilst the national average is at 48.6%. This means that we need to drive livelihood development projects and get people involved so that there is no idle labour in the Northern Province. The focus on agriculture and fisheries is one way of addressing this issue. Recent studies done on this area reveal that with a focus thrust on agriculture and fisheries, labour force participation in the North can expand to over 50% which is above the national average.

Whilst driving the traditional industries we also need to focus our efforts on providing employment opportunities for women as the unemployment rate for women in the Northern Province is reported to be higher than the national average. Taking this information into consideration the main focus could be on industries like outsourcing (BPOs), which essentially recruit women.

However the challenge is how soon we can get the private sector involved, so that investment can happen similar to the Eastern province. A point to note is that Sri Lanka requires benefits in the short term due to the many economic shocks we face globally - like the oil price hike and WTO talks crashing. The need of the hour is an entrepreneurial spirit with a strong will to ensure that the menace of terrorism becomes just history in the landscape of Sri Lanka. [PeaceinSri Lanka.org]

Sri Lanka's Foreign Policy: The Way to Go

By Dayan Jayatilleka, PhD
Foreign policy derives from a country's efforts to best represent its national interests in the world, and to reconcile those national interests with existing yet changing international realities.

The challenge before Sri Lanka's current foreign policy is to correctly identify and defend the country's fundamental interests in a changing world. As a small country, our foreign policy should always be globalist. It should build bridges cross-regionally, reduce or diversify our dependence and give us more scope to engage in power-balancing. A concerted effort must be made to reach out at a high political level, to all three continents of the global South, and we must reaffirm our commitment to our traditional non-aligned foreign policy stance.

What are Sri Lanka's fundamental national interests? The defence of the nation's independence and national sovereignty and the restoration of territorial integrity are clearly fundamental to the country’s interests.

In concrete and contemporary terms, this translates itself into the eradication of the LTTE as a military enemy. In terms of foreign policy, this means obtaining external support for and limiting external opposition to, the elimination of the LTTE's military capacity.

In this struggle, we need the support of our neighbours, particularly the support of Asia's rising super-powers: India and China.

China is a reliable and long standing friend and shares our views on state sovereignty and secessionism. However, we also need the support of our closest neighbour- Asia's other rising power-India. A laissez-faire policy on her part would enable the LITE to operate relatively freely from or through Southern India. Given the simple realities of geography - India is a vast and very near neighbour; we will not be safe if India turns against us, or simply turns away from us.

For its part, the West has demonstrated that it is not averse to the fragmentation of existing states and the proliferation of new ones. The recent recognition of Kosovo by Western countries is a clear example of this. Moreover, other powerful phenomena, such as transnational capital, neo-liberal economic policies, international NGOs, the influential Tamil Diaspora, and the Sinhala and Tamil 'federalists" also give the West both incentives and instruments for undermining this nation's sovereignty.

The West therefore would consider the military victory of the Sri Lankan state over the LTTE an undesirable outcome and would prefer a negotiated settlement.

However, we Sri Lankans know from bitter and bloody experience that negotiations with the LTTE cannot lead to a settlement within a united Sri Lanka, and that entering negotiations would only give the Tigers a respite while debilitating the morale of our soldiers. Therefore, as long as the LTTE remains possessed of hostile intentions and a military capability, there will be a conflict between Western perception and policy on one hand, and the fundamental strategic and security interests of the Sri Lankan state on the other.

The answer to this does NOT reside in a foreign policy that is isolationist or even purely Asiatic (which is but a regional version of that isolationism). It resides rather in building as broad as possible a network of allies among those nations which privilege state sovereignty and oppose any attempts to weaken the state through external (interventionist) or internal (secessionist) means.

This means a foreign policy that is firmly anchored in Asia but not restricted to our home continent; a foreign policy that constantly renews its non-aligned credentials and character (reaching out to Latin America and Africa); and strengthens strategic ties with those states (chiefly but not exclusively Russia and China) that value state sovereignty and act as counterweights to the forces who would weaken sovereignty and the state.

Our foreign policy must constitute a set of concentric circles. The innermost circle will inevitably be our regional South Asian identity but this should be enveloped by considerations of our broader Asian identity. However our Asian identity too should in turn be surrounded by our developing country (G 77) and non-aligned identities, our Euro-Asian identification and finally by our character as a (legitimate, democratic) state fighting terrorism.

However, this last objective cannot be pursued unilaterally, and for the moment, the West refuses to treat us on the basis of this identification. Sri Lanka has to operate within this context and maximise the political space available to it while striving to prevail over the LTTE.

A foreign policy is only as good as those who represent and implement it, and if we are to secure the external strategic environment that will enable us to win the war-indeed to continue waging it - the principle of merit has to be rigorously observed or re-instituted.

However constructing this architecture is not the main challenge to Sri Lanka's foreign policy. That challenge springs from the changing, transitional nature of the world order. Today that world order is living through the effects of recent changes and current ones. We live in a period of history that is post-Cold War, and post 9/11, but also in the throes of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. We are living through an era that will see the end of uni-polar hegemony but not of uni-polarity since the US will remain the sole superpower, the resurgence of Russia and the rise of Asia led by the explosive economic rise of India and China. All this is known, if insufficiently digested, but it is not all, and the most dramatic changes may be yet to come.

It is probable that a new, positive cycle of world history will commence If Barack Obama wins the forthcoming US presidential elections. If he succeeds, be may not only legitimise and complete the liberal democratic revolution in the US metropolis and thereby hasten its globalization, he may also, being himself a synthesis of civilisations, pave the way for addressing clashes of civilisations.

That change, the paradigm shift represented by Obama, epitomising anti-discrimination, equality, multi-culturalism and meritocracy, is already underway in the USA and will eventually influence the world at large. Is the Sri Lankan mindset ready for such a change? Defending our vital interests in such an era of dramatic change will require nothing less than a change within our collective consciousness and identity. Our policy, profile and we ourselves will have to change. We shall have to evolve.

That is the main challenge before our decision makers and policy makers. Particularly those policy makers and diplomats responsible for conceptualising and managing our relations with our external environment in a changing world.

Dayan Jayatilleka is Sri Lanka's Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, and holds a PhD in Political Science from Griffith University, Brisbane. The views expressed in this article are his private ones.
This article first appeared in the Print Edition of: Montage August 2008

[H.E. Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka is Sri Lanka's Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva]

August 23, 2008

The Tragic Phenomenon of Permanent Refugees

By Rajan Hoole

The pledge of government leaders not to leave the problem of terrorism to the next generation might have carried credibility, were the different components to a rational strategy in place. One should have been a federal settlement that would have left no doubt that the Tamils would enjoy equality, security and dignity as citizens of Lanka. Nothing approaching it has happened in 60 years of independence.


[World Refugee Day, June 20, 2008 - at an IDP welfare centre in Kilivetti, Eastern Province, Sri Lanka: pic: drs. sarajevo] 

Instead the state’s ponderous defence apparatus has been bludgeoning away at the Tamils for 25 years. Another component of the strategy should have been human rights and humanitarian guarantees and there are none. Wars have become political shows, like a Roman Circus, for the Sinhalese electorate, run by politicians and aspiring politicians. They wear the mantle of tribal heroes and gloat over presumed body counts, presently of helpless boys and girls placed on the front under duress.

Timetables for taking Kilinochchi and triumphalism compensate for abysmal failures in the real business of governance to improve the lot of the common masses. It has become so acceptable that hundreds of thousands of people, especially Tamils, should remain refugees without hope, while the government does everything to sweep the issue under the carpet. Journalists have been intimidated to an extent where papers with a sense of integrity have cautiously to quote AI and HRW to inform their readers. The number of refugees is much greater than appears, as even those who survived the massacres in the Weli Oya land grabbing exercise of 1984 remain forgotten refugees. A new generation of refugees has grown up in India. In the East, the displacement of Tamils by violence that began in 1956 and 1958 became a flood in the 1980s.

While the government has been hectoring Muslim refugees from the North chased by the LTTE to return, it ignores the fact that what they want as reassurance is a political settlement to clear the air and not just an ambivalent military presence.

The immediate problem concerns 150 000 displaced in the Vanni. They represent the endemic problem of a generation of Tamil refugees, who have been displaced and resettled several times in the last 25 years and many of them half a dozen times in the last year. The LTTE conscripted many of their children and blocks their escape, and the government herds them like cattle by shelling, driving them deeper into LTTE territory. In two of a series of typical instances, on 25 October 2007 artillery shells fell in Periyamadu killing three displaced persons including a pregnant mother. On 8 August 2008 shells fired from Weli Oya fell inside the Mullaitivu hospital and environs killing an 18 month old and injuring many others. In both cases the Government issued denials, but our sources rule out the LTTE having fired the shells in either instance. The hospital also treats LTTE injured. The result is that people leave their homes and temporary shelters and are forced to move towards Kilinochchi. On the western side of Kilinochchi, missiles recently fell in Akkarayan and pushed more people towards Kilinochchi, as also in Puthukkudiyiruppu and Kumulamunai to the east killing and injuring people.

The frequency and increasing numbers involved in the displacement has meant that INGOs that sheltered them earlier are unable to cope. A temporary shelter for a family costs Rs. 30 000 to 50 000. Thousands are under trees in jungles, receiving rations, but with no income to buy extras and medicines, and no schooling for their children. In desperation mothers try to raise money by selling gold. Gold, which fetches Rs. 30 000 a sovereign outside is hard to sell even for Rs. 10 000 in the Vanni. Snakebite is common in their situation and 23 cases were recently admitted to Kilinochchi Hospital from around Akkarayan, Anaivilunthan and Vanneri. There is no record of those going to native physicians. People have moved so deep into the domain of wild animals that cases of fox-bite have been admitted to the same hospital. Normally, foxes in local experience avoid humans.

Adding to the misery of the people are frequent official intimations of their conscripted sons and daughters being killed on the war front. They do not have their home environment to mourn and expiate their grief. A list of 69 LTTE dead with details from a website for the first 15 days of July 2008 had 19 girls, and eight men from the auxiliary force, one apparently a Tamil displaced from the hill country in the 1970s. Twenty-five names were from the Jaffna district, very likely displaced in 1995, and four from the East. About 16 are listed as officers, two of them older looking from the auxiliary force.

Most of the dead look barely 18, betraying signs of recent conscription. This would also place the deaths among those sent to the front at the order of 1000 for this year, around 80% of them recent conscripts. This is a very rough estimate and some recent battles may have been very costly for both sides. One day, during the latter half of July ‘40 funerals were held in Jeyapuram (100 houses scheme) near Kilinochchi. It was traumatic for many people.

Displacement has also made conscription easy for the LTTE. Using its records the LTTE ‘plucks’ conscripts from refugee camps. At present it is applying pressure on families to hand over a second member, and even asking whole families to join. Former LTTEers who had left and raised young families have been ordered to rejoin. Two years earlier they rebuffed attempts to make them rejoin, protesting at the humiliating punishments inflicted on them when they wanted to leave.

A pro-LTTE website places their number at 5000. While there have already been many deaths and injuries from bombing and shelling. Judging by previous operations such as Operation Liberation in 1987 and the two operations to take Jaffna in 1995, these are likely to rise to several hundreds, as the army gets closer to Kilinochchi. The government would then be in a state of automatic denial. One might recall the killing of 120 civilians by bombing at the Navaly Church in July 1995. President Kumaratunga and her government went beyond denial to harass and villify those who confirmed the incident, which alienated many Tamils sympathetic to her inexorably.

The present government’s claim that it is opening escape routes for civilians cannot be taken seriously. Even those who managed to escape from the LTTE have been confined in a camp in Kallimoddai as virtual prisoners. The government has opened two more camps, at Jeevanagar and Sirukandal, all in the Murunkan area, which might just house 1000 in all. Further, the army having advanced far to the border of Kilinochchi District, the LTTE this week executed a series of guerrilla attacks behind army lines, inside the areas it recaptured. Attacks have been reported at Andankulam, Pandivirichchan and Illuppaikkadavai and it reportedly blasted a bridge at Kalliadi. Several army casualties were admitted to Vavuniya and Mannar Hospitals. The army advance will not be smooth as government propaganda claims.

Taking Kilinochchi and substituting flags through sheer force of manpower and firepower may be the least of the Government’s problems. In the past 25 years, the army has not been able to ensure stability for the civilians in any area it captured. The LTTE’s killings are one matter, but the government’s political task of giving confidence to the civilians never got off the ground.

Jaffna death squad

Given the intemperate noises the government has been making against INGOs, how would the army, which has been free with its death squads, handle this situation? Many in Jaffna forcibly trained by the LTTE during the ceasefire had been the target of death squads.
The government has intelligent people who know this is not the way to deal with the ethnic problem or to handle the LTTE. governments have been happy to go on the offensive regardless of the civilians when they thought the LTTE was weak, get bogged down and then start talking about peace and a political settlement without ever understanding what makes the LTTE tick.

The sooner those in the government and the opposition stop playing games with the ethnic problem and ask themselves some pertinent questions, the better for us all. What would be the consequences of denying that there is an ethnic problem and further pursuing a homicidal strategy for which the state has neither the resources nor stamina, as the last 25 years have shown?

Is it morally or politically justifiable for a government to condemn a significant section of its people to the insecurity and deprivation of permanent refugees, because they are from a minority, while it blunders about endlessly in search of a Sinhalese peace?

August 20, 2008

Indictment of Journalist J. S. Tissainayagam

Statement by Free Media Movement

The Free Media Movement (FMM) learns from reliable media sources that journalist J. S. Tissainayagam, who has been held in detention in the custody of the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) since 7th March 2008, has finally been indicted in the High Court, which has issued notice.

While FMM has not so far seen a copy of the indictment, reliable sources suggest that it contains the following charges against Mr. Tissainayagam, viz., (1) offences under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in respect of the printing, publishing, and distribution of the magazine known as the ‘North Eastern Monthly’ (sic) during the period between 1st June 2006 and 1st June 2007, (2) offences under the PTA in respect of bringing the government into disrepute by the publication of articles in the said magazine, and (3) the violation of Emergency Regulations issued under Gazette Extraordinary 1474/5 of December 2006, by aiding and abetting terrorist organisations through the raising of money for the said magazine.

FMM is dismayed that, after five months of detention purportedly for the purposes of investigations by the TID, and in which considerable procedural leeway has been given the authorities by the courts, the Attorney General has only been able to frame charges against Mr. Tissainayagam on such manifestly insubstantial and absurd grounds as these. It appears that the authorities are desperately attempting to manufacture grounds on which to prolong the incarceration of Mr. Tissainayagam using legal provisions that can only be described as oppressive. We note that at least in respect of the allegation of bringing the government into disrepute, there is no corresponding criminal offence recognised by the law of Sri Lanka, and are therefore at a loss to understand how someone can be charged for the commission of a non-existent offence. These concerns raise several questions of very grave significance for the protection of fundamental human rights in general, and the freedom of expression and the independence and integrity of the media in particular.

The PTA has always been widely regarded as a ‘draconian piece of legislation’ that has led to the abuse of power, ethnic discrimination, the suppression of liberty, and is inconsistent with international standards of human rights protection. FMM also notes that this is the first occasion since it was enacted in 1979 that a journalist has been charged under the PTA, in respect of matters arising directly from the practice of his profession. The PTA not only undermines universal principles of procedural justice and confers inordinate powers in the hands of the executive; it also directly undercuts the freedom of expression and the media by allowing content control by the executive on pain of penal sanction.

Local and international human rights groups, including FMM, have consistently argued from the inception that the Emergency Regulations of December 2006 were wholly inconsistent with fundamental rights guarantees under both the Sri Lankan constitution and international law. In our statement protesting the promulgation of these regulations in December 2006, we noted that the wide, overbroad language of several of the regulations, could allow for the possible criminalisation of a range of democratically legitimate activities of the media and civil society, and curtail free expression and dissent. FMM was clearly of the view that, “Taken together, it is inconceivable that such a broad conferral of powers can be exercised without imminent abuse and violation of fundamental rights, especially in the context of the current challenging security environment” (see FMM Statement of 7th December 2006; see also the contemporaneous press releases by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)). With the indictment of Mr. Tissainayagam this week on what is factually an extremely weak foundation, our worst fears with regard to the dangers of such authoritarian and unconscionable legislation have been confirmed.

The FMM is of the unequivocal opinion that the legal framework established by the PTA and the Emergency Regulations of December 2006 is inconsistent with international standards governing the balance between legitimate national security considerations and the freedom of expression, as reflected in the UN-endorsed Johannesburg Principles. The language of the legislation is imprecise and overbroad, they require no rational nexus or proportionality between the restrictive measures and the harm sought to be averted, they do not provide meaningful means of review and appeal, impose disproportionate penalties, and are grossly discriminatory in operation.

Both these pieces of legislation therefore are, as the charges against Mr. Tissainayagam amply demonstrate, a direct attack on the freedom of expression and the freedom of the media. It represents nothing less than an attempt, by making an example of Mr. Tissainayagam, at the suppression of alternative viewpoints and dissent, open debate and the contest of ideas central to the democratic way of life. It also represents an attempt to silence media professionals into submission through the use of anti-terrorism legislation.

We urge all Sri Lankans to regard the prosecution of Mr. Tissainayagam on these grounds as a serious threat to democracy and human rights in Sri Lanka, which we disregard at our peril. We also urge the international community to take due note of this cynical abuse of emergency powers, and to make the relevant interventions with the Sri Lankan authorities. FMM hopes that the judicial process in Sri Lanka will vindicate the confidence we repose in it to do justice with regard to Mr. Tissainayagam, and to safeguard the democratic values that are cherished by all Sri Lankans as their birthright

August 16, 2008

Beneath the evasive negotiated settlement

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

The BBC world service programme ‘Insider’s Debate’ on Sunday 27 July 2008 with Lyse Doucet in the chair started with the questions - What is it like to try to sue for peace between two bitterly-opposed factions? To be in the same room as Northern Ireland adversaries Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley? How do you begin to get the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government to talk to each other? The four participants were: Jonathan Powell, Martin Griffiths, Alvaro de Soto and Francesc Vendrell - all had been separately involved in difficult arbitrations elsewhere at different times. They believe strongly in the use of negotiation as a lasting tool for peace. The actual debate on negotiating peace lasted 49 minutes. At the very end, some expressed readiness to help in seeking a negotiated settlement to the protracted and vicious conflict in Sri Lanka. The enthusiastic peace envoys must have assumed both the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE are committed to negotiated settlement and what they need is an intermediary. This paper examines why the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka has evaded settlement for half a century, despite the third party involvement since 1983 and the prospects for settlement in the near future.

Foiled attempts and bad faith

Early attempts to settle the ethnic issue before it escalated to a vicious conflict were foiled by Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists. With the rise in the politics of power, the main political parties were sensitive to the whims and concerns of the ethnic Sinhala majority. As mentioned by ‘The Island’ columnist Shanie (9 August 2008 – ‘The Travails of being a Tamil’), it could have been solved in 1956 and 1965 and again in 1977 at much less cost. An opportunity arose in 1983 - at the time of annexure C when India intervened following the anti-Tamil pogrom and later in 2000 when President Chandrika Kumaratunga presented her constitutional proposals. All the opportunities were not grabbed for political expediency, ignoring the consequences to the future well-being and unity of the nation.

However, it was a clear case of deception in 1977. The UNP election manifesto very clearly stated that the Tamils have real problems and these need to be addressed speedily and justly. It also specifically mentioned some of them. Soon after gaining the unprecedented five-sixth majority seats at the poll with the support of the Tamil voters, their problems were dumped. The then UNP leader, JR Jayewardena had the power and the means to get parliamentary approval for remedial actions but he opted to ignore the Tamil grievances. The cruel ‘punishment’ meted out to Tamils after the 1977 election victory was shocking. Violent mob attacks against innocent Tamil civilians occurred periodically since 1977 culminating in the July 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom.

[Merchants return to their burned out businesses in the Pettha area of downtown Colombo, Sri Lanka on Aug. 1, 1983, to see what can be salvaged following a week of rioting-pic: AP photo via Yahoo! News]

Dew Gunasekara, a Minister in the present UPFA coalition government and the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka in his recent newspaper articles explaining why the Black July is unforgettable, said: “Mystery prevails how under such a Government with sympathy and goodwill of the minorities, communal disturbances erupted within a few months of it being installed in power. …1981 witnessed the burning of the Jaffna Library with 94,000 books and the dirtiest ever the District Development Council Election. On July 23 with the bodies of 13 soldiers having been brought to a single place for cremation in Borella, emotions were allowed to run high for the eruption of virulence and violence unprecedented in our recent history”. This was certainly a case of exploiting the tragic event for political advantage. Quoting Regi Siriwardena, Shanie has said: “In the entire course of the ethnic conflict, the vast majority of the Sinhalese and Tamil people were deceived regarding the realities of the political situation” and this seems to be the case even now.

Destined to fail ‘peace talks’

The ‘peace talks’ between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government that followed the February 2002 cease-fire agreement (CFA) collapsed early, while the ceasefire despite many violations by the LTTE held for nearly five years. The nearest stage to political settlement was in December 2002, when both the Government and the LTTE teams at the Oslo round agreed to explore a suitable federal structure. But this was rejected by the intransigent LTTE leader V. Prabhakaran, who did not agree with his team leader Anton Balasingham’s stance. Soon after the talks in Oslo, the latter explained convincingly the reasons for the compromise and the search for a federal alternative acceptable to both sides. The failure to advance the peace process based on the 2002 Oslo understanding also reveals the lack of interest in negotiated settlement.

True, the present constitution has been designed with narrow political and selfish motives, disregarding the diverse demographic and regional features and the long-term interest of the multi-ethnic island-nation but this should not have been an excuse for LTTE’s negative stance on the peace process, particularly when there was full backing of the international donor community to the 2002 Oslo understanding. There was indeed the need for a struggle to liberate the minority Tamil speaking people from Sinhala hegemony but the reckless way it was executed depending solely on warfare was unwise. The targeted killing of noncombatants including intellectuals and politicians considered as a hindrance to the struggle was a costly blunder. Its aim was also detested by the entire international community. These developments resulted in the erosion of the support extended by many countries to the Tamil cause in the aftermath of the 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom. The disastrous effects are obvious from the present predicament with no external pressure on the Sri Lankan government to suspend its military onslaught. India’s hands-off policy with respect to the conflict in Sri Lanka is the result of the thoughtless blunder made in May 1991. Until recently, New Delhi was repeating like a mantra - ‘seek a negotiated settlement acceptable to all ethnic communities’.

The Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) proposal submitted by the LTTE, a year after rejecting the Oslo declaration was based on the notion of confederation of two states, which was rejected unreservedly by the Sinhala polity. Although the LTTE announced they were willing to discuss their set of proposals with the government, the latter showed no interest because of the wrong timing and their extreme nature. There was increasing pressure to topple the then UF government led by the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who in good faith signed the cease-fire agreement (CFA) brokered by the Norwegian government. The controversial clauses in the ISGA proposal extended far beyond India’s non-unitary structure and lacked realism.

Contrasting situations

Unlike the present UPFA government that is firmly committed to the unitary system which for all intents and purposes is synonymous with Sinhala majority rule throughout the island, the then UF government with the President and Prime Minister from the two main rival parties was not bound rigidly to such a structure. Among the pre-conditions essential for a negotiation process to succeed is the kind of environment that prevailed soon after the February 2002 cease-fire agreement (CFA). The leader of the then coalition government, Ranil Wickremesinghe put his and his party’s political fortune on the success of the peace process. Now President Rajapaksa, who won the November 2005 Presidential poll with the crucial support of the LTTE via their enforced boycott in the North-East, relies on the success of the military campaign against the LTTE for consolidating his standing as a conqueror of terrorism and redeemer of the Sinhalese. He has now the backing of not only the very people and some foreign governments that supported the earlier peace process.

According to recent opinion polls, majority of Sinhalese want the Tigers to be defeated militarily. They are even ignoring the many undemocratic and corrupt practices and putting up with the unbearable high cost of living for the sake of the promised military victory. What an irony; the Tigers did not take advantage of the conducive environment in 2002 for negotiating a settlement, while the present government is exploiting the resumed war for its own political advantage As the Tigers did then, the government now is dodging the political settlement giving importance to the military campaign. The clamour for negotiated political settlement is fading fast. In fact, this now seems unlikely. .

Power of Sinhala nationalism

will not

[Clashes erupted at an anti war rally in Colombo Aug 17, 2006]

Soon after President Rajapaksa assumed office as head of State and head of government, the international community called for a political settlement to the violent conflict that had inflicted huge damage not only by way of immense losses and suffering of many thousands of families but also as a major obstacle to development and general wellbeing of the people. The President responded promptly by setting up the APC and the APRC, despite the past fruitless experience with All Party Committees. Outsiders unaware of the country’s political culture believed in this apparent ‘logical’ approach to seek a ‘home grown’ solution. The APRC process has exposed clearly the inherent difficulties in resolving the conflict because of the prevailing contrasting concepts of nation and democracy. Preconceived suspicions and fears have also contributed to the discord.

The expert panel set up by President Rajapaksa to assist the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) included consciously several Sinhala nationalists. Not surprisingly, the panel prepared two contrasting reports. The multi-ethnic majority report (6 Sinhalese, 4 Tamils and 1 Muslim) focused on removing the underlying causes of the conflict, while the minority report (6 Sinhalese only) stressed the desired political setup of the nationalists, which is the present unitary structure and the safeguards needed to uphold the powers of the ethnic majority Sinhalese. Apparently, these have been considered necessary by them to prevent secession at any time in the future. Having set up the panel and urged it to submit soon their recommendations, the President rejected the majority report because the proposals were unpalatable to the Sinhala nationalists. After the rejection of not only the majority report but also the proposals submitted by the APRC Chairman fusing the two sets of proposals of the Expert Panel, the APRC process lost its earlier momentum and is now regarded by many a farce of no practical use in conflict resolution. However, in the short term it has given some hope to those seeking a political settlement to the conflict, while the military campaign proceeded in full force.

The scaremongering noises that prevented a settlement of the ethnic problem in the 1950s and 1960s when it could have been settled easily within the existing structure are heard once again with the JHU condemning the proponents of more devolved powers to the provinces as ‘supporters of federalism’. In their disturbed minds any devolved system is federal, which is the penultimate step to separation! The JHU’s decision to withdraw permanently from the APRC, because of the attempts being made to evolve a federal mode of solution (via devolution) to the ethnic conflict was communicated to President Mahinda Rajapaksa in writing August 12. Izeth Hussain in his article on ‘State terrorism’ (The Island 11 and 12 August 2008) has said, “the two parties known for their extremism on the ethnic problem, the JVP and the JHU, today have negligible support among the Sinhalese people”. Despite the few seats the political party led by Buddhist monks (JHU) have in the legislature, it seems to have considerable influence on the present government, because of President Rajapaksa’s allegiance to Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism. There is absolutely nothing wrong here but the question is should this overwhelmingly influence national politics in a multi-ethnic multi-religious country? The right balance must be struck to ensure ethnic harmony and national unity.

The perception of ultra Sinhala nationalists is at odds with the notion of multi-ethnic democratic country with equal rights and freedom for all citizens. They want to keep the centralized Sinhala majority rule intact throughout the island to assert the dominant status of the ethnic Sinhalese. To them the Sinhalese are more equal than others. The dilemma is in finding ‘a just and fair’ political solution acceptable to all the ethnic communities without undermining the supremacy of the Sinhalese. The present unitary structure guarantees this supremacy and hence the keenness of the Sinhala nationalists to retain it. Resistance to devolution (not decentralization) is because of the anxiety that it will weaken the present unitary structure.

India’s role in Sri Lanka

[Norwegian diplomats in Kilinochchi, May 2004]

Norway is (now on paper) the official negotiator (meaning envoy) of peace between the government and the LTTE. There is a fundamental difference between mediation and facilitation. The latter is useful when both parties to the conflict have finally decided to settle it through dialogue and compromise. Mediation entails greater involvement in the negotiation process, not necessarily participation in the direct talks between them. Norway’s role in the defunct peace process was very limited, not to the extent of influencing both parties to iron out the differences. On the other hand, India after realizing the problems of getting both sides to engage earnestly in ‘peace talks’ arranged in Thimpu, Bhutan in July 1985 took up a direct role in 1987 that went beyond mediation.

The late Ketheshwaran Loganathan has explained India’s role in 1985 and the lessons New Delhi learnt in his book “Sri Lanka: Lost Opportunities”, published by the Centre for Policy Research and Analysis, University of Colombo in 1996. His book has relevant material useful to understand the problems hindering negotiated settlement to the conflict in Sri Lanka. Both sides have different political agendas which they do not wish to compromise. On the Thimpu talks he attended as a representative of the EPRLF in the joint Tamil delegation, he has said: “The Government of India assigned two senior officials to liaise with the two delegations (Sri Lankan government and Sri Lankan Tamils comprising TULF leaders and representatives of all Tamil groups active at that time including the LTTE) and to facilitate the talks. The Indian officials were not present during the actual negotiations. But, during the course of the talks , when it became clear that it was running into snags, Romesh Bhandari, the Indian Foreign Secretary spent a few days at Thimpu and functioned as a ‘facilitator’ – but, again, was not physically present during the actual talks”.

“The ‘Thimpu Talks’ lasted two rounds. During the First Round, which lasted from 8th July to 13th July, the Sri Lankan Government delegation put forward the set of proposals and draft legislation that had been placed before the defunct APC. The salient features were that the Districts would comprise the unit of devolution, with provision for the District Development Councils to amalgamate. The Tamil organizations declined to negotiate any proposals that had already been rejected by the TULF at the APC. Further, the Tamil organizations took the position that the burden of presenting a broadly acceptable formula lay with Colombo. … the Tamil delegation placed before the Government delegation a set of ‘four cardinal principles’, based on which it expected the Sri Lankan Government to come out with a set of proposals”. It was also made clear that the Thimpu principles did not imply an ‘independent Tamil state’. The joint statement of the Tamil groups at the Thimpu Talks stated: “We are prepared to give consideration to any set of proposals, in keeping with the above mentioned principles, that the Sri Lankan Government may place before us”. This was not the basis of subsequent ‘peace talks’ between the Government and the LTTE.

The very sensible stand which is highly relevant even now is discernible from the joint statement issued in 1985 after the collapse of the Thimpu Talks by the left-social democratic front, comprising the Communist Party of Sri Lanka (CP), Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and the newly formed Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya (SLMP). The SLMP was headed by the true patriot and visionary Vijaya Kumaratunga, husband of former President Chandrika Kumaratunga. He was later assassinated for his liberal stand by Sinhala extremists. The following is the relevant excerpt quoted by K. Loganathan in his book: “Our three parties are also of the firm opinion that a negotiated settlement would be more easy to achieve if the government and its spokesmen as well as the Tamil and other organizations and the extremists conduct themselves in the perspective of the highest interests of all the people of Sri Lanka and not primarily or solely as the representatives of any particular community”. This is paramount if the settlement is sought on the premise of one people with equal rights in a united multi-ethnic country. What a contrasting situation now with the perspectives of nationalists overshadowing liberal views!

The terrorism which the present government wants to eliminate at very high cost could have been avoided had their advice been followed earlier. Their joint statement also urged the government to “come forward with new proposals which take account of the desire of the Tamil people to be ensured conditions which will protect them against violence to their persons and property, discrimination, injustice and affronts to their self-respect.” This is the sensible approach to seek a permanent settlement but it did not materialize for the reasons mentioned earlier. The case for separation would have been weakened and the LTTE marginalized in 1980s, if in the larger interest of all the people and the entire country the vital changes to the political system needed to unite the divided nation and ensure the ethnic minorities have the same rights as the ethnic Sinhalese and no one is disqualified or disadvantaged because of his or her race, caste, religion or place of birth been made then. This is the sure way to annul the case for separation completely and not coercion.

Having realized the nature of the problem, India leaving behind the Tamil organizations, negotiated peace directly with the Sri Lankan government in 1987. This resulted in the Indo Lanka Accord, the dispatch of the Indian Peace keeping Force and the resultant Thirteenth Amendment to the present Constitution. The role played by the LTTE in opposing India’s efforts to settle the seemingly difficult conflict is well known. It was not LTTE alone, the JVP and Sinhala nationalists in other parties too opposed India’s intervention. Now the present Sri Lankan Government is looking for ways to avoid major changes to the conflict-ridden system that distort the present structure, which is anathema to Sinhala nationalists. President Rajapaksa has turned the political clock back several decades. It is not only the future of the Tamils but also that of the entire country is uncertain. The two main parties must realize it is their confrontational power politics that led to the rise of radicalism.

The Island 13 August 2008 editorial has recalled the opposing stands the SLFP and the UNP took in turn since the early 1980s sabotaging the moves of their rival to settle the conflict. It has said: “Today, the UNP, which used to be a hawk, has transmogrified into a dove and the SLFP, the pacifist of yore, has turned out to be a hawk!” There is, however, a striking difference this time. The dove is in the opposition and the hawk is in the government reluctant to take dovish moves. The LTTE wanted a hawk in the government but this has turned out to be counterproductive.

India’s advice

[President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh at the SAARC summit-pic: Yamuni Rashmika]

Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, during the talks he had with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and other government leaders when he was in Colombo for the SAARC summit is reported to have reiterated India’s position that there is no military solution to the northeast conflict and a political solution is necessary. In this regard, he recommended the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution early and further moves later to settle the conflict permanently. Indian National Security Adviser M. K. Narayanan who was also a member of the Indian delegation to the SAARC summit and is very knowledgeable about the ethnic conflict and the LTTE, in an interview with ‘The Strait Times’ August 12 warned Sri Lanka it may not be able to win the ongoing ‘war’ (even if the battle is won) against separatist LTTE, despite recent military gains, unless the Tamils are given “a feeling they have the right to their own destiny in many matters”. Stating that Iraq was a good example, Narayanan said: “What we are telling them is, get the Tamils on your side by greater devolution of power. What the Sri Lankans are not factoring in is the great deal of sullenness in the Tamil man. There are accusations of profiling even in Colombo”.

The implementation of 13th Amendment is opposed by some pro-government parties. The JHU leader has already warned that his party would immediately withdraw support for the government, if it agreed to give police and land powers to the provinces. The JVP and its breakaway group the JNP led by Wimal Weerawansa are also opposed to this move. On the other hand, a majority in the government including the UNP democratic group want the full implementation of the 13th Amendment.

The debate on the 13th Amendment has been going on in the newspapers for some time now. It indicates the polarization of the Sinhala community between the diehard nationalists and moderates, who respect the multi-ethnic character of the nation and the rights and aspirations of the minorities. The moderates in the government have set up a national movement for ensuring wider powers to Provincial Councils (PCs) because of the felt need. Currently, the PC system is useless and a heavy burden on the government budget, as fiscal powers are not devolved. Minister Dilan Perera, a force in the newly formed national movement has said boldly that lasting political solution to the ethnic conflict could be found only through a federal concept. He wants police and land powers also to be devolved to the provinces. He is reported to have said: “We have formed the movement to urge the government authorities to devolve (full) powers to PCs. Our struggle for more powers to PCs would continue."

President Rajapaksa has assured the Indian Prime Minister that his government would comprehensively implement the 13th Amendment. The joint statement issued after the one to one meeting between the two heads of state confirmed this assurance. It is now for India to pursue this matter which is important from her standing as a regional power and obligation to end the conflict. Combating terrorism also requires the elimination of the causes. The previously active co-chairs of the donor conference/peace process still want positive developments on the political front. Having played a role in the peace process, they too cannot remain indifferent now. The coming weeks and months will be a crucial test of Sri Lanka’s sincerity to seek a political solution to the national problem. The earlier dubious argument that the military effort should not be undermined by any move on the political front is untenable now.


The LTTE leader has often cited the lack of ‘southern consensus on the ethnic question’ as a major obstacle to negotiated political settlement. Apparently, he was quite confident that this would not materialize in the foreseeable future. In this case, he seems to have been quite right. This shortcoming is now a formidable challenge to those seeking a just and fair political solution, let alone a negotiated political settlement.

Having recognized the fundamental weaknesses that resulted in going round and round the mulberry bush with the problem for decades, Somapala Gunadheera in his article - ‘In search of a Peace Package’ (Groundviews August 12, 2008) - has suggested a different approach to the final resolution of the ethnic conflict. He has attributed the inability to resolve the conflict to two factors. “We never had a clear policy on the modalities of resolution”. The second one is - “our leaders never had the wisdom, the sensitivity and the courage to handle the problem with statesmanship. In the alternative, they were exploiting the dispute for their own survival in power.” He has hit the nail on the head!

The reluctance to implement the 17th Amendment also shows the basic cause of the national malady. Shanie too in conclusion (‘The Travails of being a Tamil’ cited at the very beginning) has said: “Today, more than ever, we need leaders of foresight and courage, in politics, in civil society and in all walks of life. We need men and women who will take a public stand, as Governor Carr did, against violence in all forms – whether against an ethnic minority or against the weak and marginalised in society. We need leaders who will speak out against ethnic prejudice and war hysteria. We need men and women who will help our country towards that new dawn which will ensure justice and equality for peoples of all ethnicities, religions, and classes”.

The attraction this writer finds in Gunadheera’s suggestion is keeping the active politicians on the sidelines especially in the task of preparing the draft peace package. This is left mainly to the civil society leaders committed to national unity and peace, open-minded professionals including Constitutional Law Experts and an established neutral “NGO eminently qualified and resourceful enough” for coordinating the evolution of the Peace Package. Without naming he has said there are “non-partisan, intellectual institutions dedicated to the resolution of the ethnic conflict” to perform this task well.

It is high time the Sinhala patriots realize that it is the blunders of their power-hungry political leaders that led to the emergence of the national problem which intensified over the past several decades, because of the failure to resolve it for political reasons. The reluctance to reform the present constitution knowing well its flaws and the consequences is the kind of blunder referred to here. The full implementation of the 13th Amendment does not require any negotiation or any new approach because it is part of the constitution which all legislative members and the executive President had vowed to uphold.

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

August 12, 2008

IDPs: Need for a national legal framework in Sri Lanka

By Andres Angel

'The ongoing ethnic strife between Sri Lanka's Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority has led to one of the worst crises of internal displacement in South Asia. In terms of the proportion of the population, Sri Lanka has one of the world's largest IDP populations. Internal displacement in Sri Lanka predominantly stems from conflict-related violence caused by the clashing of the government's armed forces with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Disregard for human rights has traditionally caused displacement as rebel and government forces indiscriminately assault, arrest, and abuse civilian populations.'


[Internally Displaced Persons at the Kilivetti welfare transit camp, in Trincomalee district - just days before being resettled in their villages - pic: by drs. sarajevo]

Unlike refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) live within the borders of their respective countries. The common understanding of the nature of internal displacement is that national authorities must commit as the sole entity with primary responsibility for protection, assistance, and development of IDPs. In the absence of legislation that legally decrees the rights of the displaced, and a national legal framework that specifically, entirely, and holistically refers to internal displacement, IDPs become deprived of the basic necessities of life. This encourages their marginalization from within society which in turn contributes to the breakdown of social and cultural structures and identities. Over time, this process leads to the creation of vicious cycles of crime and poverty which ultimately compound to worsen a nation's prospects for economic, political, and social development.

The ongoing ethnic strife between Sri Lanka's Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority has led to one of the worst crises of internal displacement in South Asia. In terms of the proportion of the population, Sri Lanka has one of the world's largest IDP populations. Internal displacement in Sri Lanka predominantly stems from conflict-related violence caused by the clashing of the government's armed forces with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Disregard for human rights has traditionally caused displacement as rebel and government forces indiscriminately assault, arrest, and abuse civilian populations.

It is difficult to accurately gauge the number of IDPs in Sri Lanka due to several factors. Apart from the absence of appropriate monitoring mechanisms, there are divergent figures between civil organizations' and government data. The overall lack and ambivalence of existing data suggests that the precise number of IDPs is unknown. Conservative estimates report that the ethnic strife has left approximately 800,000 citizens internally displaced since the armed conflict broke out in the late 1970s. Other assessments estimate that one million Sri Lankans have been displaced at some point in the conflict. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, there are approximately 460,000 IDPs presently in Sri Lanka. There is no public document of the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) that indicates the number of IDPs in the nation today. Yet, the data that the government has made public indicates that 182,802 citizens have been displaced between April 2006 and May 2008.

In Sri Lanka, IDPs have not been accorded a special place in the legal system. Sri Lanka's IDPs are citizens with the same obligations, rights, and duties, as those who have not been displaced. There is no single piece of legislation that addresses IDPs specifically let alone any comprehensive legislation. Existing provisions for protection are scattered in no systematic or orderly manner, with little cohesion, and without addressing critical concerns. Nonetheless, the rights of IDPs are partially secured by eight existing common national laws and by a non-binding National Framework for Relief, Rehabilitation, and Reconciliation (NFRRR).

By neglecting IDP-specific legislation, the GoSL fails to tackle the needs of a portion of the population that lives under circumstances distinct from the rest of the citizens. Despite the fact that all of the existing entitlements affecting IDPs are common laws, they are for the most part Authority-creating decrees. The lack of accountability of and under-funding by the authorities, calls into question the effectiveness of the Acts. Furthermore, adding to the faults of the legislation, several Acts are special and temporary provisions intend to provide short-term humanitarian cures as opposed to long-term sustainable solutions. Their nature as common laws and their emphasis on immediate response, as opposed to sustainable and durable solutions, continues to negatively affect IDPs. The effectiveness of the existing legislation is further called into question as the Acts do not take into consideration all phases of displacement- (1) generating phase or pre-displacement, (2) displaced phase, and (3) resettlement phase or post-displacement. The ineffectiveness of the present legislation is proved by its limited effect on the day-to-day reality of IDPs. Throughout the Acts there is a recurring theme suggesting that the present law is clearly inapplicable to the conditions of IDPs.

On the other hand, the adoption of the NFRRR in 2002, as the official policy of the GoSL towards conflict-affected populations, is neither a binding law nor decree and thus provides no legal protection to IDPs. The Framework simply adopts the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement without considering that their effectiveness in easing the displacement crisis depends on the degree to which they can be translated to procure the development of legislation, provisions, and directives at the national level and reflecting the country's situation. The NFRRR only has two clauses pertinent to displacement and fails to be useful because it depicts incongruent intentions between the government's goal and the national reality of Sri Lanka.

A national legal framework for IDPs establishes the rights of IDPs, decrees a government's responsibility to uphold them, and establishes the basis of reference for a national policy while reflecting national commitment towards internal displacement. Closely related to the national legal framework is a national policy which stipulates the specific course taken by a government in its attempt to end displacement. National policies delineate the course of action in a non-binding plan that corresponds to the adoption of binding national legislation. For the national policies to stand the test of time, they must be based on a preconceived set of rights delineated in a legal framework.

Until today, IDP policy in Sri Lanka has been largely extemporary while driven by individual personal fervor as opposed to national institutional schemes. Existing binding national laws and a non-binding national framework have proven ineffective in rendering adequate protection and gradual solutions to displacement in Sri Lanka. The lack of a national legal framework is evident in the unwillingness of the GoSL to accept the imposition of legally-binding standards of protection. Convenient politically-motivated policies have traditionally dominated IDP discussion and legislation. To do away with this, a national legal framework for IDPs should be passed in an Act of Parliament to become a binding law.

How effective is international humanitarian law in rendering protection to Sri Lanka's IDPs?

Sri Lanka's IDPs are entitled to the human rights and humanitarian law protection that is available to them as well as every other citizen. The Guiding Principles are composed of abstract humanitarian law and by definition are not binding. If they are cross-referenced with international law in theory they become binding. Although the NFRRR includes the Guiding Principles, their prescriptions are not applicable to Sri Lanka's IDPs because they have not been legally decreed in an Act of Parliament. Sri Lanka has not adopted enabling legislation for the Guiding Principles and as a consequence international humanitarian law has been ineffective in rendering protection to the nation's IDPs.

How effective can a national legal framework for IDPs be if there is no political will to implement its prescriptions?

Making the framework binding on the government will only occur when an administration has the political will to propose such legislation. Like any other Act of Parliament, the national legal framework will only be effective if there is the political will to abide by the law. Apart from political commitment, the framework will require the strengthening of Sri Lanka's judicial system in order for it to be effective. The benefits of the framework are contingent upon the executive and judicial compliance with the law.

Why is it important for the national legal framework to define the cessation of IDP conditions?

It is crucial for the national legal framework to delineate the parameters to gauge the end of displacement because the principles, rights, and guarantees stipulated by the framework cannot be applied indefinitely. If there are no cessation clauses, the privileges bestowed by the framework could motivate resettled citizens (former IDPs) to continue demanding the special aid and assistance which IDPs are entitled to. [Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS)]

August 11, 2008

The Spectre of Dravidastan

By R.Venugopal

Dayan Jayatilleka's review of Tamil Nadu and the Indian model is a sensible, measured, lucid articulation of the problem at hand. His article makes a compelling and convincing logical exposition of the parameters within which the possible settlement of the ethnic conflict can meaningfully take place - and partisans of all stripes should be forced to read it. Arguably there is little new here, but it nevertheless manages to untangle the present knot of possibilities with the kind of clarity and honesty that is otherwise uncharacteristic of the spokesmen of the present government (which is often accused of many things - but rarely of clarity or honesty).

The only thing that is surprising, coming from someone as intelligent and well-read as DJ is the relapse into the kind of Dravidastan-phobia that certain Sinhalese politicians built a career on in the 1940s-80s. The idea that Tamil Nadu poses a civilizational-historic threat to Sri Lanka and is a repository of deeply imbued anti-Sri Lankan, anti-Sinhala atavism (presumably going back to their distant Cholan ancestors) is a recurrent theme in contemporary Sinhala nationalist writings. But it is a sentiment that most of India's 60 million Tamils would be a little surprised to learn of.

[Children at the Buddha Smiles Garden of Peace School near Vellore in Tamil Nadu-pic: David Reid]

The vast majority of people in Tamil Nadu are not imbued with a deep historically devolved antipathy towards the island or people of Lanka. School-children in Tamil Nadu are not filled with hatred for their southern neighbours, and are not taught historical myths that single out the Sinhalese as an ancient and implacable enemy to remain suspicious of. Everyone knows the Ramayana, but young Tamil children are not taught that they bear the burden of some sacred unfulfilled historical mission to over-run the island or to support a secessionist movement for their cousins there.

Far from it. Closer to the truth is the ego-shattering reality that they couldn't care less. The people of Tamil Nadu including its politicians and intelligentsia, are not obsessed with the small island to their south and do not spend very much of their time thinking of it, except to the extent that the persistent tragedy of the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict keeps injecting it into their consciousness through the news media. Outside of this, and before this endless war came to fill their TV screens and newspapers, Sri Lanka simply did not feature in the formation of popular historical-political consciousness of Tamil Nadu. The fact that it is imagined to do so is more telling about the state of Sinhala nationalism than Tamil Nadu, and perhaps reflects a measure of narcissism rather than paranoia.

Neither does the island of Lanka feature even in the wildest cartographical hallucinations of the most extreme Dravidian nationalists of the past. The so-called maps of Dravidastan that the fellow-travellers of the DK movement produced in the 1950s did not include any part of the island of Lanka within it. It was a (short-lived, hastily abandoned) agenda for the secession of the southern part of the Indian peninsula, but which had no reference outside this region. Furthermore, it was largely the product of the fertile minds of a small nationalist intelligentsia dominated by imaginative cinematic and literary personalities, and had no relevance among the largely illiterate and extremely impoverished masses of Tamil Nadu. If Tamil Nadu exists as an 'existential threat of long historical duration', then it does so only within the imagination of contemporary Sinhalese nationalism in the course of projecting its own image, world view, and historical imagination onto an enemy that that long refused to reciprocate in kind.

Before 1983, Sri Lanka had relevance in the consciousness of Tamil Nadu only in the sense that it was a destination for migrant labourers until the 1940s, and, for a brief period of time from 1977-83, was a favoured destination for Tamil Nadu's smugglers to source electronics and other white goods then unavailable in India. Much has been made of the links between India's Dravida movement and Sri Lanka's Eelamists, but despite the conspiracy theories that emerged from New Delhi and Colombo, these links did not actually exist in concrete form until after July 1983. In other words, whatever support exists in Tamil Nadu for the Tamil Eelam movement is of the delayed, reactive sort. By no stretch of the imagination was it a pre-emptive irredentism, much less one that went back to antiquity.

[Garlanded portrait of M.G. Ramachandran, at a March 2008 rally in Chepauk, Chennai]

Sri Lankan Tamil nationalists may well have drawn inspiration from Dravida nationalism, and militants might even have sought safe haven across the straits. But from the Indian side, such support at an active level simply did not exist until the news of the riots hit the newspapers, with tens of thousands of survivors with heart-rending stories washing onto the shores of Tamil Nadu. From that point onwards, the Eelam issue became briefly injected into Tamil Nadu's electoral politics, with rival politicians competing with one another to be seen to provide relief for the refugees, and to patronise the different militant groups. As is widely known now, the ruling chief minister M.G. Ramachandran was close to the LTTE, while the opposition leader M.Karunanidhi supported the TELO.

For a short while, the Tamil nationalism of India was indeed in active fraternal collaboration to assist the Tamil nationalists of Sri Lanka to carve out a separate state for themselves. This agenda enjoyed the support of a large part of the Tamil Nadu population during that time. But this brief twilight of inter-Tamil affection was transformed in the whirlwind of national, regional and global events of 1987–1991. The period following Rajiv Gandhi's assassination brought about a sea-change in the sentiments of the Tamil Nadu electorate towards the LTTE, and towards militant separatism in general, that remain true to this day. The Ananda Vikatan survey aside, there are two major internal dynamics underway that militate against continued Tamil Nadu support for militancy and separatism in Sri Lanka – and these are factors that the votaries of the Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism would also do well to consider.

Firstly, Indian politics has been turned on its head in the last 25 years, so that it is no longer a Congress dominated central government that rides roughshod over the states any more, as in the days of Indira Gandhi. Since December 1984, no single Indian party has won a clear stand-alone majority in parliament. By the mid-1990s, the equation had changed totally so that it was the provincial satraps that came to dictate the terms of occupancy in New Delhi. What this means in reality is that India's current policy towards Sri Lanka is as much the creation of DMK patriarch M.Karunanidhi as anyone else. Karunanidhi himself is no longer a Tamil Nadu politician as such, but is among the most powerful men ruling India as a whole, playing in a much bigger game, for much higher stakes than the parochial little politics of Tamil Nadu will allow. If India today agrees to limited military cooperation with Sri Lanka, and continues to shun the LTTE, this is as much Karunanidhi's doing as anyone else.

[Political poster in Tamil Nadu, proclaims "Leader Karunanidhi, capable of governing the world"-pic by: Carol Mitchell]

Secondly, the experience of militant separatism, religious violence and terrorist bomb blasts in India since the early 1980s has rendered the population, and particularly the middle-classes and influential opinion-makers hostile to the idea of secessionism as goal and violence as method. It remains the case that a large portion of the actual violent deaths in India over the past 20 years have been committed at the hands of the Indian security forces themselves in places like Punjab, Assam and Kashmir, or by blood-thirsty mobs of the Hindu majority against a largely helpless Muslim minority. But nevertheless, the present mood in Tamil Nadu as much as the rest of India is such that it is highly unlikely that there will be active support for militant separatism. Even without taking into account the lingering anger at Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, the popular sentiment in Tamil Nadu as the rest of India is very ill-disposed to the LTTE's agenda, as is evident from the fact that it is championed only by maverick and fairly marginal personalities.

All this brings us back to the question of what explains the support for separatism in the Ananda Vikatan survey. Leaving aside the question of the bona fides of the survey, and its methodology, what it implies in reality is not support for secessionism as much as hostility and revulsion for the present government, and deep sympathy for the humanitarian plight of Sri Lanka's Tamils, who are once again found washed ashore and huddling miserably on the beaches of Rameswaram.

To some extent, it reflects the fact that the news media in Tamil Nadu, especially the Tamil-language media is indeed biased and one-sided, and disproportionately features the views, concerns and interpretations of Sri Lankan Tamils, and pro-LTTE spokesmen over the Sinhalese. This much is to be expected of it. The Tamils of India are by and large ignorant of the political aspirations and historical consciousness of their Sinhalese neighbours across the straits – just as the fanciful portrait of Dravidastan reflects the same in reverse. What is different now, though is that this is the first time in 20 years that such purportedly pro-Eelam noises have come out of Tamil Nadu, and there is nothing to explain it other than the exceptionally poor international image that the Rajapakse government has willfully cultivated for itself.

DJ is entirely correct that the opinion of Tamil Nadu has no bearing on the solution of the conflict, and that it is Sri Lanka that must do its soul searching and find its own solution. To put it mildly, violence and communal strife are no strangers to the mainland of the subcontinent, and the good people of Tamil Nadu would do well to keep their own house in order before preaching secession elsewhere. The failed experience of the recent internationally sponsored peace process certainly reiterates the necessity for an internally generated solution that is designed and led by men and women of stature who command respect, and who can win over the naysayers, pessimists and hysterical chauvinists who will doubtless want to swing public opinion against it. But the concern is that such statesman-like behaviour is unlikely to arise in an environment where one side emerges swaggering and triumphant from the battlefield, vindicated only by blunt military force. It is also unlikely to rise from a nationalist milieu which fills the world around it with imaginary enemies, and projects itself and its own prejudices onto these (reluctant) foes.

August 10, 2008

Tamil Nadu, the Indian Model and devolution

by Dayan Jayatilleka

The devolution debate has been sharpened by the highly interesting and significant results of the public opinion poll recently conducted in Tamil Nadu, with regard to Sri Lanka’s ethnic issue and its internal arrangements.

The poll has had the effect of strengthening both pro and anti-devolution camps in their chosen opinions.

Cover of Ananda Vikatan, Aug 8

I suggest that a realist reading should result in a more nuanced approach to devolution, which escapes the trap of overreaction in either direction, namely allergic rejection and imitative appeasement.

With or without the new data from Tamil Nadu, the debate on devolution in Sri Lanka reveals roughly seven and possibly eight points of view or "lines". These are:

1. Zero or small unit devolution: Abolition of the 13th amendment and Provincial Councils, replacement with District level devolution, if at all.

2. 13th amendment Minus or Provincial Councils Lite: Retention of Provincial Councils, but deduction or non-implementation of even those powers granted by the 13th amendment.

3. 13th amendment Classic: The full and speediest possible implementation of the existing 13th amendment, meaning the full devolution of those powers already granted by the 13th amendment.

4. 13th amendment Plus: the enhancement of the powers of the 13th amendment by relocating or partially redistributing the powers of the Concurrent list. This position subdivides between those who are willing to risk a constitutional amendment and those who seek only that which is possible without one.

5. The Indian model: quasi-federalism; powers no less than those of an Indian state.

6. Full or classic federalism.

7. ISGA/Confederation of two states.

8. No ethnic based federalism or two unit model; a radical reform of the state, citizenship and identity, reflecting hybridity, secularism and pluralism.

Positions 1-7 are present to varying degrees in the political domain, national and international (including the twin Diasporas) while the last arises from within the civil society intelligentsia (Prof Nira Wickremesingha in Open Democracy).

While administrative decentralisation is needed for purposes of development, devolution or transfer of some measure of power from centre to second order units at the periphery, is needed as a bridge between the North and South, the Tamils and the Sinhalese.

Therefore any and all devolution proposals must pass the test of enjoying the support of some segment of both communities. It must at the least, be at the interface of the two "sets", namely Sinhala and Tamil opinion.

No sustainable solution can be unilaterally imposed upon either the Sinhalese or the Tamils.

Positions 1 & 2 (abolish or weaken Provincial Councils) have no takers outside the Sinhala community, and therefore fails the test of acceptability by at least some Tamils.

The international and regional blowback of any such move (which would have many powerful opponents and no supporters whatsoever outside the island), would be disastrous for our military efforts and our overall stability and security.

Similarly, Positions 6 and 7 (federalism, con-federalism) have no takers among the Sinhalese, going by public opinion polls, the results of which, ranging from the 1997 polling by Research International Pvt Ltd, up to today’s CPA polls, have been remarkably consistent.

Position 5 that of Indian model quasi federalism, enjoys, according to the CPA (and much to its regret) 5% support among the majority Sinhala community— that’s 5% of 74%. No mainstream political party or candidate in a competitive electoral democracy (and that includes Senator Obama) would treat as anything other than radioactive, a position that was so hopelessly unpopular. And yet, otherwise sensible Tamil politicians expect the two main Southern parties to agree on this. If there were any such possibility, President Kumaratunga’s 1995and 1997 "union of regions" packages, or her admirable August 2000 draft Constitution would have obtained bipartisan support, instead of suffering the highly visible fates they did.

The new argument, basing itself on the Ananda Vikatan opinion poll, is that Sri Lanka can best protect itself from pro-Tamil Eelam sentiment by adopting the Indian model of quasi-federalism.

This argument runs up against several counter-considerations.

Firstly, by the same logic, Cuba can best protect itself from the extreme anti-Cuban Revolution sentiments of Florida—and by extension Washington DC, since Florida has a significant influence on American elections-- by adopting an economic and political model such as that which prevails in the USA. Any self –respecting Cuban, and there is an island full of them, would reject that argument with the contempt it deserves.

Secondly, by what logic do 50 million ethnic Tamils in Tamil Nadu and a tiny fraction of that number in Sri Lanka require the same quantum and therefore model of devolution?

Thirdly, by what measure is the opinion of the citizens of Tamil Nadu of greater validity with regard to the internal arrangements of Sri Lanka, than those of over 95 % of Sinhalese citizens of this country, comprising 74% of the population, who oppose Indian model quasi-federalism?

Fourthly, this pro-Tamil separatist opinion in Tamil Nadu is a news flash? It would not have been so to generations of Sinhalese going back millennia, into antiquity. The anti-Sri Lankan and anti-Sinhala sentiment in Tamil Nadu represents an existential threat of long historical duration, which we must permanently protect ourselves against.

The new polling data must neither be ignored and brushed aside as irrelevant, nor appeased by mimicry of models.

Many Tamil politicians and liberal commentators forget Sri Lanka’s bitter experience with the Vardharajaperumal administration (from which I had resigned a year before, alarmed at the trends behind the scene), which made an Unilateral Declaration of Independence but could not be instantly dissolved by the Government without first bringing amending legislation which mde that possible.

What is needed by way of response is neither a model that is so tightly closed and claustrophobic that it generates irredentist sentiment, nor one that is so carelessly open that it permits irredentism.

This brings us to positions 3, 4 and 8. The last is probably the most attractive but seems unrealistic at the moment. The lamentable fate of the Equal Rights Bill presented by President Kumaratunga in 2000, withdrawn in the face of agitation by alumni of certain leading (boys and girls) schools in Colombo and the JVP run Inter University Students and Bhikku Federations, shows how far we are from that level of enlightened consciousness. As Mr Anandasangaree correctly reminds us, the easy abolition of Section 29, the anti-discrimination clause of the Soulbury Constitution, gives the minorities no reason to trust a solution devoid of political space and some measure of self governance.

That leaves Positions 3 and 4: 13th amendment Classic and 13th amendment Plus.

Position 3 and possibly 4 are the only ones with significant support from the Sinhala public and some support from some Tamils (both North and East). Thus 13th amendment Classic passes the test. (Arguably, so does 4, but this is a stretch,).

Most recently at the SAARC summit, President Rajapakse has rightly re-iterated his government’s commitment to Position 3, "the comprehensive implementation of the 13th amendment", drawing attention to the Eastern process with its elected Chief Minister and expressing his belief that the Northern Province will similarly possess a Chief Minister. Given that the Sri Lankan armed forces have gained the strategic initiative and are on the strategic offensive, this is a prospect for the foreseeable future. In his remarks the President also left room for submissions by the APRC.

Recent retrospectives surrounding the Karadzic trial regarding the events in former Yugoslavia recall the disaster of the holding of a referendum in Bosnia in 1992, with the Serbs abstaining and the Bosnian Muslims voting in favour. This was the schism that resulted in civil war. Bosnia shows the absolute imperative on avoiding a referendum in an ethnically or ethno-religiously polarised society, and therefore the imperative of avoiding any proposals that require a referendum.

This is why the only man with a roadmap, Douglas Devananda, has embraced President Rajapakse’s "comprehensive implementation of the 13th amendment" as the only feasible start, while placing the 13th amendment Plus, and even consideration of the Indian model, as subsequent stages of political evolution. Between the various stages of his gradualist formula lie periods of the broadening of consensus and the building up of trust between the communities over time and through practical experience.

(These are the personal views of the writer)

Related: The Spectre of Dravidastan, by By R.Venugopal

August 09, 2008

A bleak assessment on post PC elections

By Kusal Perera

The SAARC came with a thundering bang and left with a hollow whimper. It’s back to usual business that’s provincial council elections with a national impact. It’s about who would catch a windfall, to come out smiling. Political windfalls don’t come by ever so often to a political leader, however calculating and cunning he or she could be. Or however fortunate he or she could be. They often come when the Opposition lacks political will and a defined role, as a responsible Opposition. That seems so with the Provincial Council Elections for the North-Central and the Sabaragamuwa Provinces. By now the results are very predictable and safely too. If not for a few dumb ruffians who go about knocking on unnecessary doors creating unpleasant and violent scenes, President Rajapaksa would be home peacefully and comfortably. 

All that because the main Opposition, the UNP is no match politically to understand and positively react to the Rajapaksa doctrine of “war at any cost to survive” politics in governance, which is different to the same doctrine carried while in the Opposition and against a leader who markets it with State power. In an election where the voter is well aware the government wouldn’t change, this holds more water. There would be very little “anti - government” sentiments at play in these elections. Very little, because there is no Opposition to the government, on its major survival issue.


[File pic, at a UNP office pic: courtesy Ajith Perera]

This raises the question, “what is the political slogan” of the UNP at these elections? To come up with a political slogan, one should understand the politics behind these elections. This government has proved it has no capacity to manage a national economy. Despite what the CB Governor says, the “felt inflation” in society is very much higher than the declared 30 per cent. The bank borrowing rates pitched at 22 percent cuts back heavily on private sector investments. Without investments in a market economy, the State alone cannot generate enough employment other than through war, which is counter productive. Huge wastes and rampant corruption at the highest levels make the economy far worse than it would anyway limp into. The government is compelled to repair its credibility and its image before the situation worsens and goes beyond repairs.

Again, this President, if not the government, never ever promised a war at any time in their Presidential Campaign. The promise was spelt out as “Honourable Peace”; the 2005 November Presidential aspirant Rajapaksa promising he would go an extra kilometre to Kilinochchi. He would talk peace with Prabhakaran himself and promised everything would be done within a single year. Of course, all the rhetoric that cushioned the promise of an honourable peace, within a “Unitary State” smelt of gun powder and roared like mortars. Nevertheless, the promise for peace being a strong one, the government had to put up a bold face in switching gears to wage war as soon as this President assumed office. That was almost two and a half years – 30 months – ago.

Within these 30 months, schedules put out many times by many high rankers to conclude war had been altered many a time. The numbers of Tiger cadre killed in action and otherwise, has now reached over 7,000 since Mavil-Aru, discounting another couple of thousands immobilized, due to injuries. Yet the war continues with only an extended promise. The government is therefore compelled to repair its image before the situation worsens and goes beyond repair, especially in the face of an aggravating economy.

To date the social psyche had been moulded and held through a controlled media intervention by the ruling regime, where the private media had been stymied and tamed to suit the war needs and the war Generals. This approach in governance over time inevitably leads to a militarization of the society and a break down in civil life. In a corrupt and unusually politicised society, any war with extensive security measures leads to arbitrary and corrupt practices at most levels within the defence establishment. The danger is that the war psyche created makes them powerful and leaves them with a patriotic immunity that allows no questioning. That’s reason why, even the UNP remains dumb over all the Human Rights violations that bleeds this society.

The President realises this government needs renewed approval by the people before its social grip gives way. It needs to prove to the world at large that its political role has a legitimacy and the mandate of the people. That plainly is the reason for the hurried PC elections. The President has already bagged the Eastern Province with all that talk about armed thuggery, mass rigging and misuse of State resources going naturally dead and the Opposition too getting set with the Provincial Council work forgetting their own protests.

[Stage of a recent JVP rally in Kegalle, pic: jvpsrilanka.com]

These two PC’s would further bolster this government’s image for sure. The UNP that started off disastrously cannot in any way lift the war troubled NCP with a war veteran projected as the Chief Minister. Although the UNP thinks it could challenge the government with a war veteran, they are only succumbing to the war psyche of the Rajapaksa regime and that wouldn’t help in winning. On the other hand, what purpose is his war experience as a Chief Minister in a plain civilian job? What is the strategy in Sabaragamuwa? The UNP clearly proves it has no consistency in its politics with Ramanayake projecting a different image of his own. And both have no plans for provincial development either. Nor has the UNP leadership any set plan with a strong political message to challenge the government.

The UNP perhaps expects the JVP to scrounge a sizeable vote bag that would push the government into difficulty. Unfortunately, the JVP is fast losing its credibility and they wouldn’t get the numbers they polled alone at the 2006 Local Government polls when they polled 17 per cent in Anuradhapura and 9 percent in Ratnapura districts. Today, they have to abide with the government’s overall war strategy and anything else to challenge this government goes obsolete. The cry is for continued war and that’s where the JVP is trapped in their own noose. What relevance has the JVP if they too stand for war, for the voters to choose them? Let’s not expect anything more than half they polled then and that’s what President Rajapaksa would also prove at this election. That he does not want the JVP to win.

What would happen to Sri Lanka thereafter? Immediately, the UNP would plunge into further crisis that would be simply personal than political. Their crisis all through these years had been their total inability to politically assess their own performances at elections. With the UNP unable to find peace among themselves, the President may go ahead with the rest of the PC elections before the year is out and successfully prove the South and the East is with him. Such public endorsement amidst a demoralised and devastated Opposition, would allow the government to crush every opposition to its rule. The JVP that would anyway have to pull its cadres out onto the streets would have to face the brunt of the oppressive machinery, unfortunately without much solidarity from any front. It would mean all defeats at PC elections would lead to a more oppressive government.


[Leaders of SAARC Nations at the Colombo Summit-Photo: Yamuni Rashmika]

Regionally, the government would not be alone to push its agenda of war and suppression of rights. Pakistan would have to back Sri Lanka with the escalation of Islamic terror brewing in its own belly and Afghanistan tormented by the Talibans. Pakistan in fact pledged its support to Sri Lanka in military assistance at the SAARC. Dr. Manmohan Singh too had to back the call against terrorism at the SAARC floor with frequent serial bombings in its major cities and its Kabul Embassy coming under a severe terrorist attack, whatever its perception is on the Pakistani ISI. India also heading towards an election would not be too aggressive with Sri Lanka that professes to punish the LTTE that killed Rajiv Gandhi. All that with a budget that may provide a few edible crumbs to the South, bolstered by Chinese assistance that seeks to keep the Indians at bay, President Rajapaksa could with all confidence go for a general election and wrest a cleaner parliamentary majority with a more cohesive entity. And, of course, with Gotabhaya in parliament to be the next Deputy in war.

All that would be on more hyped and stronger campaigning for defeat of LTTE terrorism, and in all probability to end up with a government that would have more military muscle in its decision making. A government that would not allow space for criticism and dissent on platforms, pushing the JVP to extremes for its own survival. The future thus would gradually turn bleak after the two PC elections, but would keep all waiting with clasped hands expecting a better future sans terrorism and terrorists.

August 07, 2008

Provincial Election Campaign: Battling for the Centre?

by Pradeep Peiris

Today, the UNP, the SLFP and the JVP have zeroed-in all their resources to the Sabaragamuwa and North Central provinces. Ministers, Members of Parliament and the Pradeshiya Sabha politicians across the country have all been entrusted with specific tasks in this provincial council election campaign. These tasks are based on their individual capacities. Some of them strategize the campaign, some others speak at the rallies while others –unskilled labourers – have been assigned the popular traditional tasks of intimidating and harassing their opponents which has often been effective in election campaigns in Sri Lanka. This shows the utmost importance that political parties have placed in the upcoming provincial council elections. Does this mean that parties and politicians are serious about getting to the regional politics or is it all about paving their way to power at the centre?

Provincial Councils

Whether we like it or not, democracy in post-independent Sri Lanka was a decision of the British Government which we have happily practiced over the past sixty years with no interruptions. Similarly, the provincial council system was a decision of India that has been practiced for the past twenty years though the outcome of it is argumentative. It is not wrong to say that late president Jayawardena’s decision to establish the provincial council system in 1987 was not a choice that he made out of his political maturity, but rather something that was given as a part of the indo-Lanka accord that he had to heed to at the time due to the UNP’s immature policies on international relations. The 13th amendment under which the provincial council system was introduced granted a great deal of powers to the regions for the first time since independence though some deficits were often highlighted. This system was introduced with the firm belief that it will be a catalyst in devolving the power at the centre to the region and thereby provide a solution to the ethnic conflict. However, the chief party to the protracted conflict, the LTTE, rejected provincial councils even before the ink of the signatures dried up, challenging the prime objective of the provincial council system. Therefore over the past twenty years the provincial councils neither became a meaningful channel in devolving power to the regions nor did they mitigate the threat of the ethnic conflict.

However, though the provincial councils system might not offer the desired and ideal autonomy for regional communities, it was considered to be a starting point for the devolution of power. If provincial councils were given the powers described under the 13th amendment, the role and the outlook of those councils would have been very different to what they are today. For example not only areas such as education, culture and health but even powers like the police should have been under the authority of these councils. If one examines the reason for this situation, it is not only the case that the centre was not ready to devolve their power but the regions too were not eager to demand these powers. Therefore, the puzzle here is, WHY are those who were not enthusiastic in strengthening the powers of the provincial councils or those who sometime ago denounced the system are now ready to fight with full force to grab the power in those institutions.

Centralized desires in decentralizing politics

Over a century of British rule and sixty years of Colombo-centric democracy has left no room for decentralized imagination amongst the majority. Thanks to the Sinhala chauvinist politicians the word ‘devolution’ has been contaminated with the idea of ‘secession’ and therefore any discussion over devolution of power is simply unpatriotic if not traitorous. Both the UNP and the SLFP who ruled the country consecutively, attempted to introduce a certain degree of decentralization in response to the demand of the minority community, often as a part of electoral alliances. However, many such attempts were abandoned by these parties soon after their electoral victory in the face of Sinhala Buddhist protest. Whatever little successes were largely limited to an administrative decentralization rather than a political power. However, quite interestingly the decentralization was exclusively a minority demand and frequently discussed in the context of conflict resolution. For example, the results of the State of Democracy in South Asia survey conducted in 2004 shows that it is mostly the people of the Northern and the Eastern Provinces who prefer the idea of giving more powers to the region by reducing the powers at the centre. This further crystallizes with the finding that over 75% of all ethnic minority groups support the proposal of granting more powers to the provincial councils while only 34% of those from the Sinhala community extend their agreement in this regard. Unfortunately this debate completely missed the arguments of development, equality and greater democratization in the concept of devolution of power. This is further vindicated by the above survey results that state that the people of the Uva province – the least developed province outside of the North and East that contribute only 4.4% of the GDP - are the least susceptible to the idea of granting more power to the provincial council at the cost of power at the centre.

There is a belief that a smart politician who starts his/her political career at the local council should end up in the parliament. I once had a conversation with a young provincial councilor of the Southern Province at a workshop on federalism. He was of the opinion that the people who stuck to the local or provincial level politics were the less capable ones. Therefore according to him provincial council membership is the second step of a triple jump for any politician to Parliament. The results of the survey conducted by the Institute of Professional Public Administrators (November, 2007) on the provincial councils vindicates this idea to a great extent. This report states that 29% of provincial administrators think that provincial councilors take trouble to get elected anticipating future political goals. These national ambitions of the regional politicians are understandable under the context of a highly centralized legislature and political party system. Irrespective of where it is located, all lucrative and powerful institutions are under the preview of the politicians at the centre. So, members of the central government have access to the projects and institutions that can be used to grant jobs to their constituency and contracts to their political clients that ensure his or her political future.

The party structure too is highly centralized and decision making always flows from top to down. Irrespective of whether it is a cardre based or mass based party, the central leadership of Sri Lankan political parties enjoys unprecedented authority. They decide who should be given the candidateship or other positions in the district or province instead of letting the constituency chose. Being loyal to the leadership and his or her ideology irrespective of the opinion of the constituents is the essential and necessary condition to progress within the party. The defeated parliamentary candidates are often given candidacy for provincial councils and local authorities. Therefore, usually provincial politicians are often one step below parliamentarians and this culture obviously sets the competition for the centre than the regions. Hence, there is no motivation for the politicians to struggle for a stronger regional authority.

Another reason for the weakening of provincial councils is that often powerful ministers in the central government overrule the authority of the provincial councils. They use various methods to take over the subjects of provincial councils and launch under their authority as national projects. On the one hand the discrepancies in the Provincial Council Act itself undermine the spirit of the provincial council system. On the other hand myths amongst the public that national projects, national schools and national hospitals are always better than the regional ones, allow politicians of the central government to barge into the subjects of the region. Once former president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumarathunge (CBK), speaking at a southern rural village in support of the members who were contesting for the provincial council, announced that she was going to covert the district hospital into a national hospital. Even though what she said was quite contrary to what she was promoting at that evening, the public reaction indicated that it was well taken. This shows the centralized imagination of rulers as well as those of the ruled. According to the State of Democracy in South Asia Survey, except for the people in the Northern Province, the majority places greater trust in the central government than the provincial councils or local authorities. When looking at the South Asian regional scenario, the above survey shows (Figure) that the Indians and Pakistanis expressed a higher degree of trust in their provincial governments than the Sri Lankans placed in their provincial councils.

Cricket and Elections!

In this context the current prominence that the main political parties have given to the two provincial council elections pose an interesting puzzle; why have they decided to venture into an expensive election campaign for relatively powerless regional positions?

Our infamous sport, Cricket could shed some light on this million dollar question. Usually when another cricket team reaches Sri Lanka for a tournament, a couple of practice matches are always arranged by the hosting cricket board. The purpose of these matches to the touring team is to learn the condition of the pitches and the condition of the grounds of the hosting country. They try to play well, as it will boost their team’s confidence as well. On the other hand the players of the manager’s team get an opportunity to exhibit their skills and qualify for a place in the national team. In those practice matches no trophy is awarded nevertheless it allows players to achieve individual advancements. This scenario explains the current provincial election competition to a great extent. The only difference is that unlike in the practice cricket matches these elections are held spending a colossal amount of public funds and at the cost of the citizen’s spirit of democracy. Because no matter how powerless and ineffective the institutions concerned are, Sri Lankans tend to vote in most elections as they perceive that voting is more of a duty than a right.

The two provinces can be considered as two different cricket pitches. The North Central Province’s pitch seems to be best for the bowlers who can throw a ‘nationalist’ spin. The strategy of the UNP is to use the war veteran to reunify its scattered– due to the liberal policies- voter bases and infiltrate the frustrated SLFP constituencies. However, it should be noted that for someone from Colombo to compete for the chief ministerial candidacy in the north central province chiefly based on his past military record hints that his political ambition is in national politics rather than in the province. On the other hand the previous chief minister of the province seems to have lost the confidence and the support of his party higher ups perhaps due to his past criticism of the central government. This indicate that SLFP is looking for someone with national ambition and loyal to the centre to be crown as the next chief minister. One the other hand the JVP may be contesting because it is not an option for them anymore. So, following the footsteps of Mr. Rauf Hakeem, the chief ministerial candidate of the JVP would return to the parliament seat soon after the election.

Sabaragamuwa plays a completely different kind of match. The entertainment of spectators has become a serious concern for the parties. So UNP has found local MGR – a popular actor turned chief minister in Tamil Nadu- from Wattala to contest in Sabaragamuwa. This strategy doesn’t seems to be a bad idea, as some people have already started betting on the candidate by turning the election campaign in to some kind of horse race. On the other hand this election will pave the way for family members of the national politicians to have their debut in politics. Minister wanniarachchi’s husband and Minister Siyambalapitiya’s brother are some of the individuals who will be baptized at this election.

What does this mean? Will this election strengthen the provincial council system and allow the councils to bargain with the centre to get the powers that they are entitled to? Or will it be a practice match for the government to test its political popularity while the opposition selects its national level players and spark a momentum for a future victorious campaign? I guess the latter!

HRW: Sri Lanka Government Misusing Emergency Regulations

Free Journalist and Other Critics

The Sri Lankan government should release a prominent journalist and two others connected to a website critical of the government, Human Rights Watch said today. The three have been held without charge since March under emergency regulations.

On March 7, 2008, the police Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) arrested J.S. Tissainayagam, a columnist with the Sunday Times newspaper and editor of the Outreach website. The previous day the TID had arrested N. Jasiharan, the owner of E-Kwality press, and his wife V. Valamathy. Tissainayagam and Jasiharan are co-directors of the company Outreach Multimedia; Valamathy has no official role with the company. In a court appearance on June 23, Jasiharan stated that TID officers had assaulted him.  
“The three have spent more than 150 days in custody, yet no charges have been filed and no evidence of any crime has been produced,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “If the authorities have no credible basis to charge Tissainayagam and the two others, they should be immediately released.”  
The government has yet to provide reasons why the three were detained. Tissainayagam has been critical of the government on many issues. At the time of his arrest, government sources suggested that he may have connections to the armed separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), but have produced no evidence of this. Reports have suggested that Jasiharan and Valarmathy were detained due to their connections to Tissainayagam. Journalists and others who are vocal critics of the government are often accused of having links with the LTTE and branded as traitors and terrorists.  
Human Rights Watch expressed deep concern at the government’s disregard for Sri Lankan and international law in these cases. Detention orders for the three were not issued at the time of arrest as required by the emergency regulations. On March 27, the attorney general’s department stated before the Supreme Court that a detention order had been issued for Tissainayagam, but said that the order was not in their possession to be given to the courts or the detainee. Later the same day, a detention order was issued to Tissainayagam, backdated to March 7.  
None of the three detainees has had adequate access to counsel. Tissainayagam has been allowed visits by his lawyers only twice. On both occasions, police officers were present during the discussions, violating his right to communicate and consult with a lawyer in full confidentiality. The three have filed a fundamental rights petition in the Supreme Court challenging the legality of their continued detention.  
On July 11, the attorney general’s department informed the Supreme Court that investigations into Tissainayagam’s case had been completed. But the attorney general’s department obtained an extension until August 20 to report back to the court on the status of the investigations. Human Rights Watch said that the slow pace of the investigation reflected broader concerns about the department’s independence and impartiality that raised troubling due process issues.  
“The attorney general should release the three, instead of continuing to violate their rights under domestic and international law,” said Adams. “By detaining a prominent government critic without charge, he is seriously risking the credibility of his office.”  
Human Rights Watch reiterated its concerns about sweeping emergency regulations introduced in August 2006 after the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgama. The present regulations give the security forces expansive powers of search, arrest, detention, and seizure of property, including the authority to make warrantless arrests and to hold individuals in unacknowledged detention for up to 12 months. Most of those detained under the emergency regulations are young Tamil men deemed by the security forces to have LTTE ties. Increasingly, however, the regulations are being used against Muslims and Sinhalese who challenge or criticize the state.

August 05, 2008

Reporting on Human Rights in Sri Lanka: Gender Equity in Media Charter

Full text of presentation on "Gender Equity in Media Charter" at the summit of "Reporting on Human Rights in Sr Lanka"

Presented by: Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

I would like to quote a song by an African woman. The song is as follows:

I have only one request.
I do not ask for money
Although I have need of it,
I do not ask for meat . . .
I have only one request,

And all I ask is
That you remove
The road block
From my path.

From the Acholi poem, Song of Lawino
Okot p'Bitek

Like in the above song, we women are marginalised in third world countries. Sri Lanka being the 53rd most populated nation in the world. We women represent 54% of the whole population of the country, which are about 20 million people. When it comes to journalism, the female representation is comparatively lower than any other professions such as teaching, banking, so on and so forth.

According to the handbook for media practitioners published by five media organisations comprising Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, Free Media Movement, Federation of Media Employees Trade Unions, Sri Lanka Muslim Media Federation and Sri Lanka Tamil Journalists Association , it quotes the Human Development Report (HDR) of 2007; Sri Lanka’s Gender related Development Index (GDI) rank is 88 out of 177 countries. In comparison with its neighbours, it ranks higher than India at 128, Pakistan at 136, and Bangladesh at 140.

The handbook for the media practitioners further states that, the political participation of women in Sri Lanka is low. Seats in Parliament held by women are only 4.9% despite Late Mrs.Srimavo Bandaranaike becoming the world’s first female Prime Minister as far back as 1960. Sri Lanka was the first republic in the world whose two top executive offices were simultaneously held by women namely Mrs.Chanrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga as the President, and Late Mrs.Srimavo Banadaranaike as Prime Minister. In addition, both posts were filled through democratic elections. Despite these high achieving women as role models, there are only 10% women at a ministerial level in Government, and the percentage of legislators and senior officials is only 21%.

There are 25,000 war widows in Jaffna Peninsula alone, who are struggling to survive and feed their children daily according to a research carried out recently. Around 22% of all households in Sri Lanka are female headed.

We as journalists felt the urgent need to form ourselves and to have a separate organisation for ourselves, although we are members of various organistaions representing journalists in Sri Lanka . As a result journalists from all three ethnic groups Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim gathered in Bentota and formed an association named “Sri Lanka Women’s Journalist Network”. We have quite a vibrant number of working women journalist as members.

The members of Sri Lanka Women’s Journalist Network gathered again under one roof to discuss about “Talking Gender” in May 2008. There were three new Co-Conveners elected by the members. During a two days Summit on Gender Equity in Media, we actively discussed the issues faced by the working women journalists in the respective offices and on the field, and drawn an action plan. We identified the following five issues and prioritised them.

They are:

1.Lack of women’s participation in media organistaion and unions.

Goal is to increase quantity and quality of participation in media organisations and unions.

2.Lack of training and awareness, including gender awareness among women journalists.

Goal is to provide leadership training and capacity building for women journalists.

3.Stereotyped media coverage on gender issues.

Goal is to improve media coverage on gender issues.

4.Job security for women journalists.

Goal is to enhance job security for women journalists.

5.Sexual harassment

Goal is to create a sexual harassment free work place

Women constitute 52% of the world’s population, yet make up only 21% of people featured in the news according to the Global Media Monitoring Project(GMMP) survey in 2005. It furthers states that, women are least likely to be found in ”hard” news stories about politics and government (14%) and economy (20%), women are more likely to be found in “soft” stories such as celebrity and arts (28%). And, only 3% of stories challenge stereotypes and 96% of news stories worldwide do not highlight issues of gender equality or inequality.

I like to site an example of a female columnist, who writes for a Tamil Weekly. She writes on current politics. When it was found out that, the particular columnist is a female the fellow Tamil male journalists refused to accept the fact that, she is capable of writing current political development Sri Lanka similar to what her fellow male colleagues are able to write.

According to Global Media Monitoring Project(GMMP) survey in 2005, which was published on www.whomakesthenews.org men dominate as spokespersons and experts. Men make upto 86% of spokespersons and 83% of all experts, and women more than twice (19%) as likely to be portrayed as victims than men (8%). We as members of the Sri Lanka Women Journalist’s Network felt that, we as women journalists have a bigger role to play with regard to portrayal of women in the media. Therefore we have decided to issue statement, whenever we read, listen or watch stories related to women which are portrayed in an unacceptable stereotyped manner.

The Charter of Gender Equality for Media and Journalism in Sri Lanka, which was drafted in 2006 says that, there should 1/3 of female representation in the unions for journalist, but it’s rare to witness. As we have noticed in the media that very rarely women are quoted spokesperson. And as a result of this we are in the process of publishing a sourcebook with women spokespersons.

I like to quote Sonali Samarasinghe, Editor of The Morning Leader, who made a presentation at the Summit on Gender Equity in Media in May 2008, on “Good journalism doesn’t have genitals”.

“For giving voice to minority concerns, I receive hate mail addressed to Sonali “Letchumie” Samarasinghe. This is reflective of the deep hatred and intolerance of people for another point of view; the notion that a Sinhalese who gives a voice to all sides is s traitor to the race. So that is the media culture we are in today.

The second example I like to site is that, I had written series of articles which also exposed the government issuing diplomatic passport to Karuna. A government sponsored website then wrote articles that trashed me, my abilities, my achievements and undermined my journey as a professional woman. Even my underwear wasn’t spared”.

I like to leave you with this thought to think.

Thank you.

[Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai is Co-Convener of Sri Lanka Women’s Journalist Network]

Reporting on Human Rights in Sri Lanka, a two day summit was held in Colombo on July 5th and 6th 2008. The summit was organised by the International Federation of Journalist and Centre for Policy Alternatives, with the support of the European Union

Reporting on Human Rights in Sr Lanka: News in a human rights framework

by Jacqueline Park

The IFJ is the global union for journalists. It represents 600,000 journalists organised in 130 independent unions in 122 countries.

It speaks for the rights of the media, and for those who work in it.

It gives me great pleasure to represent the IFJ at this important summit meeting.

Over the past fifteen years, the IFJ has been actively involved in working with journalists in many societies riven with conflict and where human rights are challenged.

[Jacqueline Park, Asia Pacific director of International Federation of Journalists-file pic]

Our experience has taught us that when societies are under stress, it is critical that our communities have access to the truth and information that enables them to understand their rights and control their lives and to fully exercise their democratic rights.

In fact, the European Commission supported much of our early work with the media for democracy program in Africa and South Eastern Europe and more recently in Nepal. And we are still drawing oh the lessons and resources from these experiences.

Since then we have been working with journalists in South Asia and I would like to talk shortly a little about that experience as well as the work with CPA and the 5 journalists organisations in Sri Lanka now.

But before I do I would like to draw some general observations.

Journalists have a triple interest in human rights.

Firstly, journalists have a duty to examine and reveal the state of their societies.

A key test for society is the delivery or infringements of human rights.

Secondly, journalists have a specific need to protect freedom of thought and freedom of expression so that we can do our jobs effectively. The right to publish news and opinions does not exist where human rights are widely abused.

Thirdly, journalists have an equal right with other citizens to have their own human rights protected.

Through the discussion in this meeting we hope we will all have the opportunity to examine ways of understanding a human rights agenda and incorporating it into our everyday reporting. We expect to draw on your experience arid. knowledge in a series of practical sessions.

Human rights reporting is not just a topic for political reporters. It should be part of the approach for all reporters. It is a way of thinking about your work as a journalist and the decisions you take in the newsroom.

The IFJ has been working with Sri Lankan journalists since 2000 to help improve conditions and professional standards. During this time we have witnessed terrible human rights violations and journalists have been facing intolerable threats, intimidation and violence, often with apparent impunity.

Sadly, we have seen recently some of the most gross violations of the rights of journalists — the assaulta, abductions and murder of journalists and media workers has taken this country to a very dark place.

Meanwhile the huge challenges in society — the Tsunami and more recently the resumption of war -- demand the highest standards of journalism to ensure that people know what is happening in their societies and car~ exert control over those whom they elect to lead them.

To do this, journalists need a way of working that does not depend on the whims of politicians or media owners. They need to work to standards that give them a degree of independence and that make their work relevant and significant.

In basing our work around the human rights of ordinary people, journalists have some objective criteria by which to judge the performance of governments and those who hold power in society.

Human rights cover everything from the right to life and freedom from fear to the rights of minorities and of majorities; a woman’s right not to be exposed to violence in the home; a child’s right to a~ education; the right of people under arrest to be properly treated; the right to a fair trial and the right of everyone to be treated with fairness and equality.

Human rights cover every aspect of life from policing and social security to food, water and the media. They address the relationships between majorities and minorities and set standards to protect the weak against the strong.

Many people do not know their rights. Journalists can inform them through day-to-day coverage of the events and issues of ordinary people: employment, health, crime, punishment, education and sport.

Journalists can deliver on people’s right to freedom of expression by focusing their cameras and their reporting to a greater extent on ordinary people. By helping people to understand better their own lives they strengthen their ability to stand up for their rights.

And not only is it right and ethical for journalists to ground their work in the rights of ordinary people but it makes commercial sense for media companibs as well.

So what do we do:

We want this meeting to put forward practical reporting suggestions for putting human rights at the centre of a journalist’s work.

I think the most important thing we can do is just do our job professionally according to the principles of journalism:

• To report accurately
• To report fairly
• To respect the rights of others

While some knowledge of human rights principles is needed, in the main, a human rights perspective comes from spending time with people and representing them in the media.
If we focus only on what powerful people think and say, or cover politics as exclusively the preserve of politicians, then ordinary people’s human rights are only a side-show.

We need to cover politics by examining how decisions affect people’s lives.

We need to give a voice to the people -- and force governments to justify their actions in a human rights context.

We need to encourage more newsroom discussion and organise training around these issues.

At the same time it is our belief that you cannot have free and high-quality journalism if journalists are treated badly and underpaid in their own profession.

To defend the rights of others, journalists must be able to defend their own rights.

Many journalists are poorly paid with little job security and there is pressure in the newsroom undermining their independence.

Getting a proper working journalists act that can deliver working rights to journalists is a priority.

That is why we advocate strong unions of journalists. Journalists do not have to choose between defending their own rights and those of the public. By doing one they strengthen their ability to do the other.

Journalists also need protection. This can include the press freedoms enshrined in legislation. It sometimes comes because courts see media freedom as vital to democracy.

But probably the most important form of protection is solidarity — the mutual support that journalists can give to each other, by protesting at each media freedom breach and by creating strong and united Journalists organizations.

Journalists in Sri Lanka working through the five journalists organizations have shown remarkable courage, fortitude and unity in their continuing campaign to defend press freedom and journalists safety.

For this to work, journalists must be willing to defend not only their own media, but also media and journalists from different political, religious and ethnic backgrounds. I think the five journalists organizations together with SLPI have come a long way but there are major challenges ahead.

[Full text of speech delivered by Jacqueline Park, Asia-Pacific Director of International Federation of Journalists, at "Reporting on Human Rights in Sr Lanka" a two day summit held in Colombo on July 5th and 6th 2008. The summit was organised by the International Federation of Journalists and Centre for Policy Alternatives, with the support of the European Union]

Reporting on Human Rights in Sr Lanka: Turning the trends that define our times to our advantage

by Christopher Warren

"Journalists, the media and civil society need to consider how we can use communication technologies to break through government control and report news and information to the Sri Lankan community and to the world. I know much is already happening in this area, but the potential to do more is great."

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – a declaration that is about the same age as an independent Sri Lanka,

So perhaps it is appropriate to see the challenge of human rights as having been intertwined in the history of an independent Sri Lanka almost from the very beginning.

It has been a history punctuated with human rights abuses from the denial of citizenship to the upcountry Tamils through to the bashings of Namal and Mahendra just a few days ago. It has included some of the world’s most terrible events from the Colombo pogrom 25 years ago this year to the presentation of suicide bombings as the LTTE’s most enduring gift to the world

It is a country that has brought us the great disillusionment of a human rights activist who becomes president only to eat away at those very same rights.

Yet it is not alone in the world. It is not even close to the worst in the world, although it has endured some of the worst moments. If the only humans rights test a country had to pass were that it not be the worst of the worst, then Sri Lanka would pass judgement.

Balancing these human rights abuses have been an enduring democracy, flawed and inadequate as it has been at times. A simulacrum of an independent judiciary has survived. Civil society has grown.

What intertwines human rights so deeply in the history of Sri Lanka is not that it has been the worst of societies, any more than it has been the best. It is that from the very beginning of the country’s independence, human rights have always been the central contested terrain of struggle.

The history of Sri Lanka can only really be written and understood as a history of the struggle for human rights.

And the contest over freedom of expression has always been at the heart of that contest. And that’s why as human rights have again started to deteriorate in Sri Lanka under the impact of war and communal conflict, freedom of expression is being eaten away by government, by military, by paramilitaries, by terrorists and even at times by those who have the greatest vested interest in human rights – the media and the judiciary.

As a result, the Sri Lankan people have been denied their right to know, journalists and others committed to reporting the truth have been bashed, abducted or murdered.

Once again, freedom of expression has become the centre of the struggle because you cannot have a society founded on human rights without the right of freedom of expression. And, you cannot have freedom of expression without a society founded on human rights.

Freedom of expression underpins some other rights directly – the right to practice your religion freely, the right to peaceful assembly as well as freedom of speech or, narrowest of all, freedom of the media. None of these rights exists without the right to freely express

It’s integral to the rights of women, minority groups and disadvantaged groups. They cannot be empowered without being empowered through their own freedom to express themselves. That’s why I have no truck with those who argue that freedom of expression is marginal to the struggles of the disadvantaged. Those struggles cannot even have the words to express themselves if they are not empowered to speak.

It’s reflected in the right to freely express yourself in your own language, without having one single language imposed.

It’s bundled up in the right to a fair trial – part of a fair trial is to be tried in the open.

And it underpins all other rights – rights of security, rights against arbitrary arrest, rights to citizenship, rights against torture because it – along with an independent judiciary – is the means for enforcing these rights. It’s the means for exposing abuse and by exposing end them

Freedom of expression is the catalyst that enables every other right to be freely exercised.

While freedom of the press is really only a subset of the broader right of freedom expression, traditionally, it’s been through journalists bravely exercising our craft here in Sri Lanka that the struggle for human rights has been reported and made known.

And that’s why right now, journalists, themselves, are the targets for abuse.

Like every other person, a journalist has a right against abduction, against illegal imprisonment, against torture and against murder. Yet now, for reporting, for analyzing, for questioning, for – in short – doing their job, many journalists find themselves in the vortex of spiraling human rights abuse in Sri Lanka.

Journalists and the media bear some responsibility for this. Too many journalists are prepared to place ethnic bias over professional solidarity. Too many are prepared to accept unquestioningly the line fed them by security forces. Too many are cheerleaders for war, rather than reporters.

Yet while, it is too many, most journalists have not fallen for this trap. The solidarity of the media community in Sri Lanka – reflected in the coming together of the five organization – is a model for the island. The media community – the journalists community -- It is the only community that appears to be capable of transcending the divisions that cause so much havoc in Sri Lanka.

It is this support and solidarity that makes bearable the pressures that journalists are now facing.

It is easy in this environment to think things will only get worse.

But journalists are making a difference. And the more that journalists understand the imperatives of human rights reporting, understand the centrality of human rights reporting to journalism and to Sri Lanka, the greater the difference that will be made.

The difference this time around is that journalists in Sri Lanka are no longer alone.

Too often, we moan the way in which emerging information technologies are shattering the monopoly we used to enjoy as the sole conduit of information to our communities. It is making our lives much less comfortable than they used to be.

But in the struggle for human rights, the new technologies are an invaluable ally. Now, newspapers, radio, tv are no longer the sole source of information. Bloggers, citizen journalists, web sites all add immeasurably to the mix, although none of them are a substitute for independent journalism.

But they do more than simply add to the total volume of information.

The potential of these technologies shatters the paradigm that successive Sri Lankan governments have followed. They cannot shut off the faucet of news and information by political appointments to run state-owned media, pressuring advertisers to abandon independent media and threatening, abusing and murdering journalists.

Coupled with this is the fact that the world is increasingly global today. No government in Sri Lanka can expect to escape scrutiny or criticism for human rights abuses. A nationalist-minded government may resent this. It may strike against it. But it knows in its heart that it has to live with it.

Despite these two changes – the two significant changes that define the 21st century – when it comes to human rights and freedom of expression, the Sri Lankan government is like a general fighting the last war, using the tactics that worked so well in the 1980s and at a lost to understand why they do not work this time around.

And as they struggle to understand, the government and their military and paramilitary allies, lash out ever more wildly and ever more journalists fall victim to their failure to understand the world in which we all live.

On the other hand, the challenge for us as journalists, as human rights activists, is to turn these two trends that define our times to our advantage.

Journalists, the media and civil society need to consider how we can use communication technologies to break through government control and report news and information to the Sri Lankan community and to the world. I know much is already happening in this area, but the potential to do more is great.

At the same time, we need to continue to work to bring international solidarity to bear on Sri Lanka.

Like you, my country is an island. But in a world of global human rights, no countries are islands any more.

[Speech notes for Christopher Warren, immediate past President, International Federation of Journalists, at "Reporting on Human Rights in Sr Lanka" a two day summit held in Colombo on July 5th and 6th 2008. The summit was organised by the International Federation of Journalists and Centre for Policy Alternatives, with the support of the European Union]

August 03, 2008

Tamil separatism survives on the strength of Sinhala nationalism

By Kusal Perera

With SAARC on the cards, reminiscing “Black July” is almost over. There were plenty of articles in most of our print media and in web portals with differing points of view on “Black July”. In some, Black July was even discussed in a South Asian context. What ever the route taken to reach July 1983, the point of convergence in most was that it helped an accelerated growth of armed groups to establish their case for a separate “Thamil” State. There were also readings about the South, about the Sinhala psyche, that said the South should reach a broad consensus on the ethnic conflict. Some wanting such Southern consensus to negotiate a viable and justifiable solution and others to crush separatism militarily. A Southern consensus, nevertheless.



[Exhibition by, Chandraguptha Thenuwara one of many events marking 25th anniversary of July 83]

Yet what was missing in most of that discussion was a reading about the LTTE psyche, 25 years after the Black July. Does the LTTE work towards achieving any justification or sympathy from the South for their struggle, liberation or separatist war or what ever label one may wish to stick on it in the South? This is the single most important question the South needs to ask itself, if the South is serious about concluding this war in any way they wish to have it concluded.

In plain black and white, the LTTE is clearly committed and working towards a separate Thamil Eelam State, never mind its size and the geographical area to begin with, while holding onto the Thimpu concept of a Thamil Homeland. From the very beginning of the conflict, Southern political leaderships had opposed this Thamil homeland concept and stood for a Unitary State. All governments since 1977, except the Ranil Wickramasinghe government (Dec 2001) have fought a war to defeat this separatist movement. Madam Chandrika Kumaratunge who in 1994 braved a racist campaign against her to win both the Parliamentary and the Presidential elections on a platform of conciliatory politics, also went to war within 06 months of assuming power as President. Under her, the heavily fought and much emphasised “Jaya Sikurui” military campaign that lasted 18 months and drained off billions of rupees to capture some parts of Northern territory, failed to dislodge the LTTE from their Wanni base. Much hyped “Jaya Sikurui” military victory was turned into a national event. On 06th of December, 1998, President Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumaratunge addressed the nation to announce the victorious conclusion of “Jaya Sikurui” military campaign and opened her statement thus.

“I wish to tell you that the second phase of the peace offensive launched by the government of Sri Lanka against terrorism and separatism was victoriously concluded last morning, the 05th of December.

A moment ago, the Army Commander, Commanding Officers of the armed forces and the Police Chief, informed me about that news.

We are proud to accept this historical and noble news and we remain humble too.

From this day, with the dawn of this new era, we have opened up a path for peace and prosperity for every citizen living in our country and to be able to live in a free society with equal rights……” - (translated from her Sinhala speech)

The government’s euphoria over that victory couldn’t last long. The LTTE launched their most vicious onslaught ever called the “Unceasing Waves III” in 1999 November and within a fortnight had even run over the heavily fortified Elephant Pass military base. Ever since then, the LTTE assembled their State structures, in areas under their control. They organised their administrative and police apparatus in those areas. With their police in action, they needed a judicial system, which they brought into place complete with a Law College. To run them as civil systems, the LTTE needed money from society and they have imposed taxes, the percentages and totals not very important right now, except for the fact that they have an Inland Revenue collecting system of their own. Close upon 10 years for now, all these have evolved into more systematic structures and have gained currency among those living under their undeclared State. A State, yet to be accepted internationally as an independent State.

This is what the LTTE leadership is grappling with, now. Their concern is no more the necessity of immediately gaining ground. Their concern is the ability to guard the area they have now brought under their administration. What they therefore pursue now is recognition as a State and the opening for such legitimacy. Do they need a Southern approval or a Southern justification for that ? They simply don’t and they also know they wouldn’t get such Southern accreditation, although minor “Left” groupings would say the Tamil people have a right for self determination and therefore a right to secede. But the “Left” taken together is a non-entity in Southern politics.

Unfortunately, over decades the South has been moulded into a “patriotic” mindset that takes national pride in crushing the Tamil voice. It has been moulded to think that the majority Sinhala society has a right to offer and the minority Tamils would have to accept what is offered under a unitary system. Any rejection of what is offered gives way for oppression and that had been our history in settling the issue. With every attempt at negotiating answers to justifiable Tamil aspirations given a dud coin by the Sinhala leaderships, emergence of a Tamil psyche that opted for a separate Tamil State was unavoidable. For that Tamil psyche to justify taking arms was logical too. The heir to such armed struggle and the emergence of the ultimate leader of that armed Tamil politics is no different to the Palestinian armed struggle. Yasser Arafat’s Al-fatah, Dr. George Habash’s PFLP, Nayef Hawatmeh’s PDFLP, Abu Abbas’s PLF are all major components in the PLO. But it would be one single decisive armed force that would eventually decide the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, either way.

The LTTE emerged as the decisive force within Tamil politics in Sri Lanka from among many others. For the LTTE to pursue their Separate Thamil State for which they have sacrificed thousands of lives, they would not wait for the Left or the moderates in the South to flag them off. They prefer the hard line Sinhala Buddhists to engage them militarily to establish the Sinhala “Unitary” State, the corollary of their Eelam State. More ruthless and fanatical the Southern approach is in forcing a Unitary State, bigger their space would be in arguing that the Sinhala leadership is not prepared to share power with the Tamils and the minorities. Therefore, what the hard line Sinhala platform in the South does, is all what the LTTE would want them to do. In short, the LTTE wouldn’t waste time placating the South over the right of the Tamil society to co-exist either together or separately with the Sinhala South. The South as a polity is no priority in their agenda.

Yet if the South needs to live in a united country with a single constitution, that is possible too. But for that the South needs to reach a broad consensus to re-structure its old, inefficient and corrupt State that is exclusively a Sinhala State. A State that has for 60 years since independence not given even the Sinhala people a space to better their lives. A State, against which even the Sinhala youth waged war, twice within the past 35 years. A State that has pauperised this society and burdened the people with international debt, underdevelopment and continued conflicts with increasing crimes and break down of law and order.

If the South wants to live a decent modern life, the South should accept that the people in this island has evolved over centuries with two modern standard languages, Sinhala and Tamil. These two languages have also helped two distinct cultures. These two cultural identities with language as their main and dividing factor also carry with them distinct geographical areas where Sinhala and Tamil societies are historically very conspicuous. Using one of them (Sinhala) to secure a basis for nationalism in establishing a nation-state over the whole of Sri Lanka, provides a dialectically opposing (Tamil) nationalism for another state. The ensuing nationalistic desire to establish a nation state based on one (Sinhala) language gives way for political coercion over both societies. One, to achieve its nationalistic ambition and the other (Tamil), to resist and overcome its opposite. The logic behind the “Separate Tamil State” is the failure of the Sinhala society to understand this simple, civilised necessity of pluralism in modern day nationalism. Understanding and accommodating that pluralism within a new democratic State structured to be inclusive, provides the only possible answer in defeating separatism, which the South refuses to accept and thus provides for the LTTE to exist and fight for their ideal separate State.

August 02, 2008

Dr. Nesiah: President wanted me to quit the commission

by Namini Wijedasa

Devanesan Nesiah - veteran public servant and activist - controversially quit the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Serious Violations of Human Rights after counsel for the army and STF, Gomin Dayasiri and S L Gunesekera, claimed a conflict of interest due to his involvement in the Centre for Policy Alternatives. The CPA had obtained the CoI’s permission to intervene on behalf of the victims and of civil society.

In his first interview since the resignation, Dr Nesiah (emailing us from Australia) said he left because the two counsels had attacked and threatened him constantly.


[Dr. Devanesan Nesiah]


Ln: Why did you leave the Commission of Inquiry?
DN: Counsel for the Army and the STF attacked and threatened me constantly, demanding that I quit. This did not bother me unduly. However, two developments disturbed me. The two counsel began to threaten the other commissioners with individual prosecutions to recover the cost of the entire sum of the order (Rs 100,000,000) spent on the commission after getting the commission proceedings invalidated on account of my participation. Two of the commissioners thought that I should at least temporarily withdraw from commission sittings. The other negative factor was a letter from the secretary to the president which suggested that the president took the allegations of conflict of interest seriously, wanted my explanation, and in the meantime, wanted me to withdraw from the commission sittings. It was these two developments, especially the latter, that led me to quit. Remaining in the commission and not attending the current sittings (relating to the killings of the seventeen ACEF aid workers in Muttur and the five youth in Trincomalee) would have been possible but totally unacceptable to me.

Ln: Politics aside, was it not a conflict of interest for you to be a member of the CoI given your very close association with CPA?
DN: There was never any conflict of interest. I was never a full-timer at CPA, but a part-time consultant, peripheral to its organisational structure. Even before I was appointed as a member of the commission, the major project on which I was a consultant to the CPA had ended, and I was on short, ad hoc assignments. Within a few months, even these stopped so as to permit me to function full-time on the commission. By the time that the civil society consortium, including CPA, came into the commission proceedings, I was not working for the CPA, but merely using it as my mailing address.

Ln: Does your resignation prove that you are ‘guilty as charged’?
DN: No. I have made this clear in my letter of resignation and in several public communications on the subject.

Ln: Did you deliberately stay on in the commission despite your close ties with the CPA and did you resign only after you were ‘forced to’?
DN: No. I disregarded the charges of a conflict of interest because I saw them as baseless. No one had the authority to force me to quit. I quit only for the reasons set out in response to the first question.

Ln: As you know, there is little confidence that the commission will produce results - find the real culprits behind the crimes committed. Do you think this is a fair judgment?
DN: I should not prejudge, but the cancellation of the programmed video-conferencing on the directions of the presidential secretariat was a major setback. There were very good prospects of reaching satisfactory conclusions in the ACF aid workers case, the Trincomalee youth case, and, perhaps, in a few other cases, but these were sharply diminished as a result of that directive. Hopefully, there will be satisfactory conclusions in at least the two cases referred to.

Ln: How would you assess the work of the commission (in terms of speed, efficiency, impartiality, effectiveness, ability to perform the task assigned, etc)?
DN: As many as eight members in a commission is not conducive to speed, efficiency, and effectiveness. Moreover, public inquiries (as against closed-door investigations) could begin only in January this year, with the amendment to the Act expressly permitting the commission to sit, provided at least one half of the commission, inclusive of the chairman, were present. The inquiry process was initially slow-moving, but accelerated dramatically with the introduction of video-conferencing. This was because key witnesses are mostly frightened to give truthful evidence unless they are safely overseas, in which case they can be satisfactorily accessed only through video-conferencing. The cancelled video-conferencing program promised to be even more critically important than the earlier video-conferencing program.

Ln: Do you think the IIGEP helped the commission or did they hamper it?
DN: The IIGEP helped to secure the statements of several important witnesses. The help of the IIGEP in respect of video-conferencing was indispensable.

Ln: There was bad blood between the IIGEP and the commission when the former left. What happened to the relationship?
DN: When one group (the commissioners) is assigned to inquire, and another (IIGEP) to observe the former, some misunderstandings are to be expected. Cooperation in video-conferencing helped to reduce the rift.

Ln: Is the president/government interfering with the proceedings of the commission?
DN: Item-by-item control of expenditure by the presidential secretariat hindered progress. Allowing the first video-conferencing program was very helpful; disallowing the second was a disaster.

Ln: Gomin Dayasiri and S L Gunasekera wrote scathing and personal articles about you. Why haven’t you responded, particularly to their allegations of conflict of interest?
DN: I needed to maintain my dignity as a commissioner. It would be unseemly for individual commissioners to get into arguments in public, especially with lawyers appearing before them. In any case, the tone and content of the articles of the two counsels did not merit reply.

Ln: Do you think your resignation followed by that of Javid Yusuf in any way serves to cripple the work of the CoI?
DN: If the working of the commission is crippled, it is not because of the resignations, but because of the factors that led to them.
Ln: Justice Udalagama has said that the two resignations will not affect the CoI and that a report is due in September. Do you have confidence in this?
DN: I am not in a position to assess the progress being made now.

Ln: What do you feel about the funding constraints faced by the CoI and how serious are they in terms of how the affect the proceedings?
DN: The problem is less with the quantum of the funds voted and more with the controls exercised by the Presidential Secretariat on the use of those funds.

Ln: What do you think about the manner in which the video-conferencing issue was handled or interfered with?
DN: The decision to disallow the video-conferencing was taken by the presidential secretariat without consulting the commission. The effect was crippling.

Ln: How vital was video-conferencing to the proceedings of the commission?
DN: Absolutely vital in making a difference between success and failure.

Ln: Do you think that the IIGEP was “malevolent and anti-Sri Lankan?” Personally, I felt the IIGEP assistants should not have forged such close ties with the CPA because this relationship really complicated things.
DN: No. I am unaware of any IIGEP-CPA relationship.

Ln: Who is serving “national interest” where commission proceedings are concerned?
DN: There may be different perceptions of ‘national interest.’ In my opinion, if the commission is successful in reaching robust conclusions in several cases - even if some of those recommended to be prosecuted are police or service personnel - that would serve national interest. It would help to boost the reputation of the state and the nation. It would also help to greatly increase confidence, nationally and internationally, that the Sri Lankan state is capable of upholding human rights and meeting justice to victims of terrible human rights violations. It would also help to enhance the reputation of the commission, and increase confidence in, and the effectiveness of, future national commissions. In contrast, if no such findings come out of the commission, it would be an unqualified disaster, for the victims, for nation and for the state. [lakbimanews.lk]

SAARC and the Tamil National Question

by P Shantikumar

Sri Lanka is obviously drifting towards a two state solution. The easiest way to tell that is by looking at the manner in which successive governments had unleashed brutal military terror against hapless Tamil civilians to what is essentially a political problem. If war is said to be the extension of politics then it follows, at least in the Sri Lankan context, eventual solution is inevitable secession. To try and impose any other solution would only result in continuation of the war – which means a very resourceful island continuing to burn itself – because of the Sinhala Political Establishment’s ineptitude and selfishness. Only the Sinhalese can settle this conflict amicably. The Tamils do not posses the political clout to do so – especially when the Tamil community itself is deliberately divided by the Sinhalese by the use of Tamil political mercenaries and military- adjuncts. Tamils can only rebel against State terrorism, oppression and persecution unleashed against them. The Sinhalese are the ones who should demilitarise occupied Tamil homeland, decolonise land grabbed by stealth from the Tamils only to be colonised with criminals, ex-convicts, rapists and murderers. Now they are even represented in Parliament – talk about no taxation without representation!

Although, Tamils do not have the political clout to settle this conflict on their own, they can offer a unilateral ceasefire as a gesture of goodwill to welcome our neighbours to Sri Lanka; wish them a very happy stay; and a very successful summit too. Tamils hope that their neighbouring nations would at some point in the not too distant future prevail upon the Sinhala government of Sri Lanka to put an end to what had come to be commonly known as an unending war. It was wise of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) to declare a unilateral ceasefire and extend a warm welcome to the leaders of the SAARC nations to Sri Lanka.

[Sri Lankan motorists drive under a billboard depicting eight heads of South Asian nations in Colombo-pic: via Yahoo! News-Ishara S. Kodikara]

Historically, Tamils and Sinhalese have made the island their home for millennia. To quarrel about who occupied the land first and to whom does the island belong is a ridiculous argument to pursue. Both communities have to endeavour to live as harmoniously as possible with other communities, such as the Muslims. Broadly, what probably had caused the present conflict could have been the fact that the colonial yoke was lifted suddenly when the island was not adequately prepared to govern itself. There are many who believe that had Sri Lanka emulated Mahatma Gandhi’s civil disobedience campaign against the British colonialists, Sri Lanka too would have forged a common identity, which would have led to a more equitable society, devoid of such brutal civil wars. Singapore may still have been clamouring, as it did once upon a time, despite its advances in politics and economics, to emulate Sri Lanka, had Sri Lanka got its post-independence politics right. But, as it happened, Sri Lankan politics declined inexorably, not to put too fine a point on it. Alas, the fact that the British colonialists united Sri Lanka for administrative convenience did not help! One hundred and fifty years after such an unwise unification, it had set off a brutal civil war as a direct consequence, in a bid to separate to be the component entities they always were.

The British colonialists left the Tamils heavily dependent on the Sinhalese in political and economic terms. What did Sinhala Political Establishment do since independence? They even robbed the Tamils politically and economically of what little they had acquired through pure hard work and ingenuity, Tamils have lived under State terrorism, oppression, and persecution for the first thirty five years and since 1983 a civil war between Tamils and Sinhalese broke out, following worst ever race riot in which thousands of Tamils were murdered, their properties looted and destroyed. Even before 1983 there have been race riots which murdered, plundered and raped Tamil women. Racial tension had always existed and it still does exist.

It is twenty-five years since the July 83 pogrom claimed the lives of thousands of ordinary Tamil men, women and children. The sad thing about that pogrom was that it was violence unleashed by Sinhala mobs instigated by Sinhala politicians that claimed the lives of thousands of Tamils. There is the claim that the Tamils live peacefully with the Sinhalese in the south. But, the fact remains the Tamils are made economically dependent on the south. And, they live in constant fear in the south. These facts are not openly acknowledged by the Sinhala Political Establishment. There is discrimination against Tamils at all levels in society.

A recent survey commissioned by Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) shows how the gullible Sinhala public are being easily swayed by anti-Tamil propaganda. The two communities are as far apart as they were twenty-five years ago. What this really shows is the need for political education; instead what public are exposed to is constant propaganda barrage of war rhetoric, which causes the Sinhala public’s attitude to harden towards Tamils – clearly highlighting the fact that successive governments have been misleading the Sinhala public with anti-Tamil rhetoric. Nevertheless, a word of appreciation is in order to those who abhor racism, and those who have risked their lives to save the Tamils from the mobs, during anti-Tamil riots.

Whichever way one looks at it, Tamils and Sinhalese have come to a point to part company, in the interest of both communities as well as others in the island. Neighbouring SAARC nations should recognise these facts and help bring about a permanent solution based on two states in the island. It is also important to remember that the little island of Sri Lanka does have a long history of civilisation and culture, as such Sri Lankan are very much naturally resourceful people. It would be a great pity to let their resourcefulness to continue burn for over quarter of a century, without an end in sight.