« August 2008 | FEDERALiDEA | October 2008 »

September 27, 2008

Whither post-war Sri Lanka?

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

Sri Lankan government has been announcing for some time that the defeat of the LTTE in the North is imminent. Their daily bulletins reveal relatively very large number of casualties amongst the rebels. Although it is widely known these are overly exaggerated, there is no doubt that the relative fighting strength has shifted markedly in favour of the security forces. No one is challenging their stated position on the war front in Wanni.

The LTTE fighters withdrew from the East last year unable to resist the military onslaught. The security forces had the support of the breakaway Karuna group. The armed struggle for the liberation of the North-East region in Sri Lanka, largely inhabited by ethnic Tamils from the centralized Sinhala majority rule was launched by the LTTE more than 25 years ago. The Provincial Council system with some devolved powers introduced by the UNP government following the intervention of New Delhi in 1987 was rejected by the rebels. The Sinhala nationalists also opposed it very strongly. Subsequent ‘peace talks’ between Sri Lankan governments and the LTTE failed to progress towards a settlement. Civil society leaders and donor governments, including India have been continuously urging the parties to stop fighting and seek a political settlement. Their calls fell on deaf ears. The war resumed in 2006 after provocative attacks by the LTTE.

The intransigence of the LTTE leader is widely believed to be the main reason for the failure of ‘peace talks’. However, the lack of mutual trust, confidence in implementing agreements reached with the government leaders, bipartisanship or consensual politics, courage to resist Sinhala nationalistic forces and concern for the suffering civilians has also contributed to the prolongation of the war. The LTTE supreme leader remained confident of achieving his ‘Tamil Eelam’ goal, since no concerted efforts were made to remove the underlying causes of the ethnic problem and weaken the case for secession. Although the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) as instructed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa submitted the full implementation of the 13th Amendment as its recommendation for an interim solution, no serious effort is being made towards full implementation. Now a military solution to the ethnic issue is being sought surreptitiously under the cover of defeating terrorism. There is now growing doubt about the seriousness of the government in seeking a permanent political solution through the APRC process.

Democracy sans minority rights

The majority-minority division in the democratic system is not solely because of different political beliefs but due to differences in language, culture, aspirations and concerns of the citizens. This permanent division has been ignored in the Constitution which is structured to support Sinhala majority rule. The assumption for whatever reason is that the majority decision on all matters including those concerning the rights, welfare and security of ethnic minorities should prevail. The ethnic Tamils have settled in the island long before the arrival of Portuguese in 1505 AD. At the time of independence the North-East region was inhabited mainly by Tamils (mostly Hindus) and Tamil-speaking Muslims. They cannot be regarded like the ethnic minority groups elsewhere with no historical links to their present resident countries. .

Supreme Court judge Saleem Marsoof PC, in his inaugural K. C. Kamalasabayson PC Memorial Oration acclaimed that the present Constitution of Sri Lanka has bestowed “a form of direct participation by the people in the legislative process” and also made them “the ultimate guardians of the Constitution”. It has given primacy to the ‘Sovereignty of the People.’ In this regard, he cited Articles 85(1) and 85(2).

The elected President of Sri Lanka may in accordance with Article 85(2) of the Constitution submit to the people by referendum any bill (not being a bill for the repeal, replacement or amendment of the Constitution or any part thereof or which is inconsistent with any provision of the Constitution), which has been rejected by parliament. In terms of Article 85(1) of the Constitution any bill which has been certified by the cabinet of ministers as being intended to be submitted to the people at a referendum, or which the Supreme Court has determined as requiring the approval of the people at a referendum, necessarily have to be approved by the people to be enacted into law. What appears in the document in practice loses its significance, because of the sharp division between the politically powerful ethnic majority and powerless ethnic minority communities. This division distorts the meaning of ‘Sovereignty of the People’.

The word ‘people’ has only a conceptual meaning as in practice it is the majority ethnic community that decides on national matters. The point is that majority decision does not always mean the widespread decision of cross section of the society as it exists in the entire island. The sovereign right of one ethnic community dominates over the rights of other minority communities. This is because of the monopoly of powers usurped by the ethnic Sinhalese. The Constitution has no provision to safeguard the rights and to give due consideration to the concerns and interests of ethnic minorities. The concept of democracy assumed by the architects of the Constitution has ignored the diverse demographic features of the society. Their main concern was to preserve the Sinhala majority rule. The Sinhala nationalists are now overly concerned about this than solving the ethnic problem.

Majoritarian nationalism

The concept of nationalism that is influencing national politics is also at odds with democracy in multi-ethnic society. Existence of two kinds of nationalism was pointed out by Izeth Hussain in his recent commemorative article on the dedicated contribution made by the late Dick Hensman (a Tamil from Jaffna) to the Sri Lankan society. One derives “from the French conceptualization of the citizen as a full participant in the nation, and as such entitled to equal treatment irrespective of ethnic or social origin”. The other is “the blood and soil kind of majoritarian nationalism that has led to crypto-fascist racism”. The quotations are from Shanie’s column in The Island of 20th September. All sensible persons will agree that the first ‘emancipatory nationalism’ must prevail over ‘majoritarian nationalism’ for unity and real peace in Sri Lanka. The country’s future depends on such fundamentals. At present political decisions are largely influenced by the ‘majoritarian nationalism’ of the Sinhalese.

The blood and soil kind of nationalism need not be in conflict with the liberal emancipatory nationalism, if the former does not encroach on the rights and freedom of other communities and importantly influence national policy decisions. The attachment to particular community and region is not a threat to country’s future as long as the limits are recognized and observed faithfully. This was indeed the case before independence. Soon after independence the culprits were the irresponsible opportunistic political leaders whose greed for power made them blind to the future.

The younger generation may not know the kind of dual attachment, the Tamils of previous generations had to both their native places and the island-nation. Whatever development that happened earlier in the Tamil villages was the hard work and sacrifices of our parents and grand parents. I still remember my father telling me about the arduous tasks he performed for the family when he was a student at the village school. He had to wake up around 3 o’clock in the morning (there were no clocks and it was the crowing calls of domestic cocks that indicated the wake up time) and irrigate the crops in the family field. The water had to be drawn manually using the lever mechanism (the trunk of a chopped down palmyra or coconut tree was used for leverage) from deep well and return home in time to attend school. After sunset, students studied with the aid of kerosene lamp (hurricane lantern). Some studied under street lamps.

Co-operation of the villagers including members of the extended family and other relatives was readily available during harvesting time and social or religious functions. Temples, churches and mosques had a role in fostering this attachment to the native place. Although caste differences influenced social life, the sense of belonging to their local village or town was equally strong among all residents. The point here is this kind of attachment to the soil was confined to a particular area and was not a threat to other communities or regions. The Kandyan Sinhalese proudly maintained their distinct identity and they had no problem in embracing the Sri Lankan identity after independence, because they did not feel the discrimination and humiliation faced by the Tamils. In fact, their past high-class status was recognized by the low-country Sinhalese.

Behind the impetuous decisions

Political leaders were victims of the forces championing majoritarian nationalism. In many instances this was used for political gain by forcing governments to abandon decisions that would have helped to build a robust unified nation. It was first used by the SLFP leader S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike to defeat the UNP in the general election. The enactment of the Sinhala only legislation in 1956, following the pre election pledge to make Sinhala the sole official language was influenced by the thinking that this was the quick and effective way of defeating the UNP government that had the support of the Tamil and Muslim representatives. The 1957 Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact was abrogated after few Buddhist monks staged a sit-down protest outside Bandaranaike’s Rosmead Place residence, followed by the protest march to Kandy staged by the then opposition party the UNP led by J R Jayawardene. The terms of the agreement were marginal compared with what subsequent leaders were willing to grant. Similarly, the Dudley Senanayake - Chelvanayakam Agreement of 1965 had to be abrogated due to the then objection of the SLFP that had the unprincipled backing of the two left parties, the LSSP and CP. Again it was the majoritarian nationalism that propped up the popularity of the SLFP-LSSP- CP coalition in the 1970s. The 1972 Constitution adopted by this government strengthened majoritarian rule recognizing the supremacy of Sinhala Buddhists. Significant changes made to the parliamentary and administrative systems soon undermined democracy and good governance. This was also the beginning of the politicization of the administration that failed to function in the public/national interest.

In 1977, the UNP acknowledged the distinct problems facing the Tamil-speaking people in its election manifesto. It pledged, when it came to power would take steps to resolve their problems in education, colonization, use of language in dealing with government authorities and employment in the public sector. The Party won the election with an unprecedented five-sixth majority. The UNP government had ample strength to implement these promises but majoritarian nationalism stood in the way.

The opportunity that came with the 2000 devolution package of former President Chandrika Kumaratunga was squandered as a result of opportunistic politics of the UNP led by Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had his mind focused on the forthcoming general election. The Sinhala nationalists were happy that the proposed constitutional reform was abandoned and so were the LTTE and their supporters, who were against anything short of full autonomy.

The present leaders seem to have learnt nothing from the nationally damaging politics dictated by majoritarian nationalism. It has inflicted enormous damage to the integrity and development of the country. As an illustration let us recall the decision to abandon the use of English letters in the number plates of motor vehicles and use instead the Sinhala ‘Sri’. It was greeted with great emotional enthusiasm by the Sinhala nationalists. There were riots and damage to property owned by Tamils in the South. The letter ‘Sri’ was later replaced by a neutral hyphen ‘-‘. In what way the earlier decision helped the country to progress socially, economically or even politically? This question is equally relevant to other impetuous decisions taken for immediate political benefit.

Deception in national politics

The APRC project which gave a glimmer of hope to those looking for a political settlement is now serving to deceive the foreigners not familiar with the covert forces driving party politics in Sri Lanka. The concept of consensual politics is not in the mindset of the party leaders. The main opposition party, the UNP as well as the JVP, JHU and the TNA (known earlier to be the proxy of the LTTE in the Parliament and therefore was excluded) are no longer represented in the Committee. In accordance with government’s strategic plan, it served to proceed vigorously with the military campaign, while misleading those urging a political settlement. Since the Committee still exists, though stuck with no headway towards a consensus on the constitutional changes needed to share power equitably among all ethnic communities, it is continuing to serve the intended political purpose.

During the recent meeting with the Foreign Correspondents’ Association at Temple Trees, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said that a final solution to the ethnic conflict has to evolve through the APRC and “so we will have to await their report”. To the query how soon he thought a consensus might emerge, he did not give a definite reply. Since the rise of power politics, no leader wants to take risk with their political future and lead the country from the forefront along the right path to a promising future for the whole nation. National politics lacks will, courage and vision. It is also manipulative avoiding the bold decisions that need to be made for the future of the country, focusing on excuses for the inability to solve major problems. Internal dissension within the UNP is helping those messing with the country’s future.

The TNA Parliamentary Group Leader R. Sampanthan in his speech in Parliament on 10 September 2008 on the motion to extend the state of Emergency drew attention to the forces within the government that are opposed to political solution to the ethnic problem.

He quoted verbatim the reply given by JHU minister Champika Ranawake to Shakuntala Perera, when asked to clarify his earlier statement “any call now for a political solution would affect the path of the government”. The minister responded: “This Government’s path is based on a three dimensional approach towards a solution - demilitarization, democratization and development. It is the old paradigms that believed in the political solutions. This vocabulary even exists only within the NGO, INGO and embassy officials of western nations.” (“Hard Talk” column in the “Daily Mirror” of 11th August, 2008) The emphasis on democracy has been made repeatedly by the President with regard to the next move in the North after the end of the military offensive in Wanni. Will the crooked democracy that even failed to elect honourable members to Parliament solve the problems of the Tamil people caused by the inapt system of government?

The controversy over the undue delay in constituting the Constitutional Council (CC) reveals the aforementioned weakness in national politics. The 17th Amendment that provided for the CC was approved by the Parliament in 2001 with the support of all the main parties in the opposition. The excuse given earlier for not implementing the 17th Amendment introduced for ensuring good governance, law and order through independent police and judiciary and free and fair elections was that it has many weaknesses and the parliamentary committee appointed to look into them has not completed the task. However, recent revelations indicate the reluctance to forego the wide ranging powers the President has over the executive including appointments to key positions is the real reason.

The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), the political party led by Buddhist monks has openly conveyed its reason for opposing the constitution of the Constitutional Council. “It will place restrictions on the Executive President’s ability to function independently in pursuing the military offensive against the LTTE”. According to the party’s media secretary Nishantha Sri Wanasinghe, President Rajapaksa should be free to make the necessary appointments and “there should be no differences between the Executive and the Constitutional Council, if he were to take the country from an era of war to peace”. He also said there are many shortcomings in the way the CC is designed to be constituted on ethnic lines! Apparently the JHU wants ‘majoritarian nationalism’ to prevail at all times in national decision-making process.

Kishali Pinto Jayawardene in her column in ‘The Sunday Times’ 21 September 2008 has exposed the “flamboyant untruths regarding the 17th Amendment”. The authorities have been accused of duplicity. While talking on reform of the current Constitution's chapter on fundamental rights, existing constitutional provisions stipulating good constitutional governance are undermined. Regarding the allegation that the independent commissions set up on the recommendations of the CC are not responsible to the Executive, Judiciary or the Legislature and their rulings cannot be challenged in any of these forums she has pointed out: “The 17th Amendment, as it presently stands, does most definitely permit judicial scrutiny of decisions of the independent Commissions on the public service and the police, through the lodging of fundamental rights petitions in the Supreme Court.” It is relevant here to mention many SC rulings have not been favourable to the Government.

According to the veteran legal analyst, “the problem now is not that the decisions of the Commissions are all powerful but the fact that the members to these Commissions have been appointed unconstitutionally by President Rajapaksa resulting in their being deprived of public legitimacy”. It is obvious the excuses to stall actions are not advanced in the national interest but for immediate political advantage.

Future of Tamil people

Two articles in ‘The Sunday Island’ 7 September 2008 on the future of the Tamils in Sri Lanka after the war reflect optimism on the premise the greater repressive force that caused immense losses and suffering to Tamil civilians will vanish when the war against the LTTE ends with victory for the government forces and skepticism for different reasons. The question as to who is right or wrong does not arise. Both analysts are right on the basis of their perceived assumptions, which reflect their own sincere concerns about the future of Tamils after the war. Victor Ivan and Kumar David have no hidden political motives or ambitions. Both do not want Sri Lanka to continue to remain in the same volatile hopeless state that benefitted only the power-wielding politicians and war merchants. In the national tragedy, the Tamil civilians have endured the most terrible suffering and they need to recover from their tribulations as soon as possible.

Victor Ivan’s prognosis is that “the Tamil people may suffer to some extent at the defeat of LTTE due to the wrongful esteem inculcated in them by the LTTE. But on a long term basis, when the LTTE domination over the Tamil society is demolished, there will be a greater benefit to the Tamil people and not a loss to them. Even if they do get anything new from Mahinda Rajapaksa government after the victory at war, they will be sure to get many concessions indirectly due to the elimination of domination of LTTE”.

He has also opined: “Those who lost their lands and property due to high security zones will get the right to be resident in their lands. When there was a struggle to crush the JVP insurrection, the Sinhala people in the South had to bear the burden of that struggle. Once the insurrection was defeated, the Sinhala people in the South were able to live freely. In the same manner, once the war by Prabhakaran is defeated, the Tamil people in the North will be able to have a new life with freedom”. This assumption is credible, if the regime is not under the influence of ‘majoritarian nationalism’. But unfortunately this is not the case now and there is no sign of change in post-war Sri Lanka. The Sinhala people in the South and the Tamil people in the North have so far not been placed on the same level, because of the political value of the former. On the contrary, deprivation of equal rights and freedom to the Tamils was considered helpful for gaining political support in the South. This was the nature of politics that evolved after independence.

Kumar David’s disagreement with Victor’s assertion that the Tamil people will be better off after the defeat of the LTTE is also logical, if there are no changes in the present governing system and the interest of political parties is as in the past on parochial matters and on the contest for power. His doubt shared by this writer too is with regard to the present Constitution. It is not only the willingness to change but also the commitment to honour the changes both in letter and spirit by the Sinhala polity that is critical here. To quote Kumar David: “My most forceful assertion is on constitutional matters - to be fair, Victor does not claim that federalism or substantial devolution will follow. If the LTTE is wiped out, let us forget about federalism, deep devolution, autonomy and such pie in the sky. All of this came on the agenda only because of the military balance; remove the military threat and it will disappear from the radar screen. The victorious Sinhala mood, the hard-line character of the regime, the enhanced power of extremists in society and government, and Mr. Rajapaksa’s own non-pluralist penchant, will ensure this outcome”.


The distinction between winning the battle and winning the hearts and minds of the affected people has been emphasized by many leaders. Some of the statements of the nationalistic elements in the Government and actions of the security forces are unhelpful for winning hearts and minds. The attempt last year to expel North-Eastern Tamils from Colombo lodges and now compelling all who have come to the Western Province, including Colombo from the North to register in the local Police stations are just two examples. The elimination of the root causes of the conflict is vital for achieving real peace. Without stability, unity and peace, progress in the social, economic, cultural and political fields will be difficult as it has been in the past several decades.

Given the fact, it is the lack of political will to act in the larger interest of all communities, regardless of ethnic and regional differences that has brought the country to the present tragic state, the challenge ahead for uniting the divided nation is quite formidable. There are no common national goals, only short-term political aims of the parties competing for power. The lack of balanced economic development, despite the availability of useful natural resources is also the hallmark of the failed system. Political stability and balanced regional development that provides employment opportunities for rural educated youth are sine qua non for sustaining the peace in hand.

The senior journalist R. S. Karunaratne PhD (The Island 11 September 2008) has ventured to predict what will happen to Sri Lanka in 2050. No one can imagine anything different, if the present system and practices continue for another few years. There is no need to extend the horizon to 2050. His prognosis is based on the dictum, “coming events cast their shadows before”. Extrapolating the present trend, he predicts “politicians will try to grab your vote by force. They will roam the electorate surrounded by armed thugs and the law enforcement authorities will look the other way. They will kill or maim one another to get into Parliament. Bribery, thuggery and other forms of corruption will be the order of the day”. The base is in the finding of the quality of men active in politics; “majority are bent on amassing wealth at the expense of the tax payer. Some politicians have earned money even for the next four generations”. The expected population growth has also been taken into consideration in the forecast.

Regarding the education system, given the present messy state with school principals having beaten the police officers as bribe-takers, the future is bleak. At present, “Instead of teaching the students, teachers go on wildcat strikes asking for higher salaries and various other facilities. They do not cover the syllabus which is subject to changes every now and then and allow the students to sit examinations. The teachers who are appointed as examiners refuse to mark the answer scripts holding the poor candidates to ransom. When schools do not provide a good education, parents begin to send their children to private tuition classes. Sometimes, teachers who do not teach in schools cover the syllabus effectively in private classes. Meanwhile, some of the private tutors have questionable academic qualifications. Sometimes, those who have failed the GCE O/L examination start giving private tuition in English and various other subjects”. And “the ultimate goal of school education appears to be gaining admission to one of the state universities which have become hot beds of politics. Most undergraduates invariably become stooges of various political parties. Then they forget why they sought these facilities”. Sadly, even the importance of education to the future of the country has been ignored by the political leaders. Given that the education system also bolstered division along ethnic lines and mistrust between communities, reform was long over due.

On terrorism a very convincing forecast is made. “In 2050, the government will have no problem with terrorists demanding a separate state. But the newly passed out graduates will pose a bigger problem to rulers. They will demand government jobs as no private sector organization will absorb them. There will be daily demonstrations at the ‘Lipton circus’ and opposite the Fort Railway station in Colombo”.

Commenting on the ongoing war in Sri Lanka, the London weekly ‘Economist’ (4 September 2008) observed: “President Rajapaksa's war up north may soon be won, and a flag planted in Kilinochchi. But an end to the broader conflict will be elusive until his government tackles the economic, cultural and political grudges that have long fuelled Tamil nationalism”. Secretary General, International Alert, Dan Smith in an interview while in Sri Lanka also stressed the need for early action on the political front after the current phase of the military campaign has been concluded. He warned: “Even on those few occasions where conflicts of the kind in Sri Lanka seem to have been resolved militarily, the ‘armed conflicts have come back a couple of years on’, thereby underscoring the need for peace agreements”. Will the Sri Lankan leaders take these concerns seriously?

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

September 26, 2008

UN to recommence food deliveries to Tiger-held areas

Photo: IRIN
The UN is to restart food distribution in the Vanni area

COLOMBO, 26 September 2008 (IRIN) - The first convoy of food supplies since 16 September will travel under the UN flag to areas held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the north in the next few days, Neil Buhne, the UN Resident Representative in Sri Lanka, told IRIN.

The World Food Programme (WFP) convoy will be the first since UN and other international agencies working in areas held by the Tigers in the north-central region, known as the Vanni, relocated to government-controlled areas following a state directive amid deteriorating security.

"The key for us is to get the distribution right, and to get food directly to those who need it most," Buhne told IRIN. "The success of the first convoy is important, because it will shape those that follow it."

There are between 200,000 and 230,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in the Vanni, according to UN statistics, and most are in areas north-east of Kilinochchi, the Tiger political headquarters, where the UN had also been based before the relocation.

New route

"The supplies will not be offloaded at warehouses, so the convoy will travel directly to where the IDPs are staying and distribute the supplies," Buhne said. "We're still determining the precise route, but it will be to the east of Kilinochchi."

Heavy fighting between government forces and the Tigers has been reported near Kilinochchi in recent weeks.

UN officials will accompany the convoy and supervise the distribution. They are likely to remain in the Vanni until the distribution is completed.

The government directive on 5 September had advised all international humanitarian organisations including UN agencies to cease all work in areas under Tamil Tiger control by 29 September.

Up to 230,000 people are displaced in the Vanni area
Essential supplies

Government officials in Kilinochchi told IRIN that following the relocation of UN and other international agencies a series of discussions had been held to formalise the new distribution system.

"We held meetings with the WFP and other UN agencies in Vavuniya [south of Kilinochchi] this week and we have planned to send 60 lorries of essential items in one instant during next week," Nagalingam Vedanayagam, the Government Agent for Kilinochchi, told IRIN. "These goods will be for both Killinochchi and Mullaithivu districts [in the Vanni]."

He said that since the relocation no new supplies had reached the Vanni and more delays could lead to lowering of rations.
"At the moment the situation in the area is okay ... there was some fear because no supplies had come [into the Vanni] after the relocation," he told IRIN, "but after the new convoy arrives things will get better."

Buhne also said it was essential to continue with supplies transported by the UN into the Vanni.

"These supplies are a vital lifeline to tens of thousands of civilians forced by fighting from their homes. If they do not continue, their condition will deteriorate the longer the fighting and their displacement continues.

Reported by: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [irinnews.org]

September 22, 2008

US Ambassador: Sri Lanka Government and the elected Chief Minister must assert responsibility for security in the East

Full Text of Remarks by Ambassador Robert Blake at the inauguration ceremony of the Kaluwanchikudy Vocational Training Center, Sep 22, 2008:

Chief Minister Chanthirakanthan, Major General Ponnamperuma, other distinguished invitees, staff and future students and residents of Kaluwanchikudy - thank you all for coming today for this ceremony to inaugurate the Kaluwanchikudy Vocational Training Center.


[file pic-by Daily Mirror - Ambassador Robert Blake greets Eastern Province Chief Minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan during recently concluded SAARC meeting]

I am here to represent the Government and the people of the United States of America who provided the funds for this new Center. 

I am very glad to be here in Kaluwanchikudy today. I am especially glad as it gives me an opportunity to reiterate the United States’ commitment to support the stability, security, democratic governance, economic growth, and development in Eastern Sri Lanka. 

The fact that we are here today shows that the United States’ commitment is more than just words. We are making a serious commitment to support your institutions and to improve the economic opportunities that impact all of the people in the East.

It is beyond doubt that the Eastern Province has great potential for economic growth. However, to nurture the economic potential, we need skilled people. And to enhance people’s skills, we need institutions such as the Kaluwanchikudy Vocational Training Center.

This center is truly unique. The Kaluwanchikudy Vocational Training Center will be the first and only formal vocational education training facility in the southern half of Batticaloa District. This center will help young people here in Kaluwanchikudy to become productive members of society by teaching skills in trades that lead to well-paying jobs. This center will help you support yourself, the Eastern Province and Sri Lanka as a whole to build a prosperous society for your own and future generations.

I suspect that you, the residents of Kaluwanchikudy, agree with me.  Based on your interest here today, I know you appreciate our efforts and that future students of this school see how this kind of education will be a catalyst for their careers. Last week, when this new school opened its doors for registration, there were long lines of potential students seeking a place at the center. In fact, more than 500 students gathered to compete for 143 slots. This is proof of how much you welcome a Vocational Training center in Southern Batticaloa. And it is proof of the young people’s interest in gaining appropriate skills to enter the job sector. 

At Kaluwanchikudy Vocational Training Center, young people will learn trades in plumbing, electrical work, masonry and domestic sewing.  The main focus of the center, however, is the information technology department.  This center is part of larger plans to make Kaluwanchikudy the lead center for information technology in the East.

I cannot stress enough the importance of gaining solid IT skills. IT skills are no longer skills that are nice to have.  In order to survive, compete, develop and innovate, modern companies need to harness IT.  All companies and employers will look for job applicants who can use IT to find information, communicate, calculate, and make decisions.

To make sure the skills acquired by the students here at Kaluwanchikudy are in tune with the needs of their potential employers, we have developed the vocational skills curricula in consultation with the private sector.

We have also worked with other private donors, such as the Chevron Corporation, Prudential and the Mellon Foundation, who have provided generous funding to ensure this vocational education center is complete and equipped with modern equipment for the use of the students. 

Today we mark the completion of a large construction project, but we also mark another significant milestone: the beginning of training that will lead to more economic opportunities than these young people who will graduate from this institution could have dreamed of. From now on, the teaching and learning that will take place inside this new building that becomes the most important focus. It is now the task of the Ministry of Vocational and Technical Training and the Vocational Training Authority to make sure that this school’s potential is realized so that it can help to expand economic opportunities for young people and turn out a workforce whose skills are in demand.  

Ladies and gentlemen, providing education and training for the young people of eastern Sri Lanka is a key piece in the overall goal of creating lasting development, growth and stability in the east.  But an equally important piece in that strategy will be to attract private sector investment to create jobs for all those who receive training. 

The US Agency for International Development has a number of important initiatives with Hayley’s, Cargill’s, Brandix and others to promote private sector led growth in the East.  But when we approach potential private sector partners, they tell us that the Government’s first priority in the East, and the pre-requisite for private sector investment, must be to ensure security in the east. 

That means that the central Government and the elected Chief Minister must assert responsibility for security, end the abductions and extra-judicial killings and other security challenges that continue, and demobilize paramilitaries, including all child soldiers.  Only then will we see the Eastern Province attract significant private sector investment and realize its great potential.

I had the honor of meeting the Chief Minister in Batticaloa this morning to discuss these important issues.  I was pleased that he assured me that he too is committed to demobilizing the paramilitaries and ending the gun culture that has prevailed in many parts of eastern Sri Lanka.    
I want to thank and congratulate the US Agency for International Development (or USAID) for its vision in prioritizing vocational education in its tsunami reconstruction program and our Government of Sri Lanka partners for your excellent collaboration on this project. I also want to commend our contractors Sierra Construction and CH2MHill.  Thanks to all of our efforts, we can all take pride in the completion of this impressive school.

Ministers, distinguished invitees, staff and future students – I wish you every success with making the Kaluwanchikudy vocational training center a center of excellence and a place that offers new opportunities to the young generation of Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province.

Thank you.

[US Embassy, Colombo , Sri Lanka]

September 21, 2008

Sri Lanka, The Endless Civil War

Nestling off the southern tip of India, the tropical island of Sri Lanka has beguiled travellers for centuries with its palm-fringed beaches, diverse landscapes and historical monuments.

But for the last 20 years, the country has been torn apart by civil war.

It is a conflict that has pitted the majority Buddhist Sinhalese against Tamils who are largely Hindu.

In the second part of this series, Robin White travels to the country's capital Colombo, to see how people are coping with the violence.

[Listen MP3 Audio, narrated by Robin White of BBC World Service, Featuring JHU, TNA leaders Mano Ganesan MP, Students of St. Thomas College and Journalist Namini Wijedasa] - [audio from BBC World Service radio]

Beginning of the end

A ceasefire was signed in 2002, but it was undermined by regular clashes between government troops and Tamil rebels, and in January 2008 it expired.

The government claims that a military victory is in sight but suicide bombers regularly strike civilian targets in the capital, Colombo, which is now ringed by thousands of security checkpoints.

Everyone is stopped and searched many times everyday.

Many hotels were refurbished during the ceasefire but the only tourists who dare to come now, are local.

Although violence and uncertainty is part of everyday life, cricket, literature and travel are just some of the things that ordinary Sri Lankans enjoy.

Political solution

Robin travels through the country meeting the various political factions to find out what they think about the current climate.

He visits the government department that has been specifically set up to deal with the peace process.

Would a federal system work or should Tamil Tigers be given their own state?

Or, are the Tigers simply a terrorist organisation that can only be defeated through military action.

Join Robin on his journey as he investigates the underlying issues behind Sri Lanka's racial tensions.

September 18, 2008

The persistence of “-isms” in international relations

by Jayantha Dhanapala

A reckless Georgian President has just tried to restart the Cold War by triggering a dangerous series of events. Rhetoric on both sides redolent of the bad old days threatens international peace and security. But, of one thing we can be fairly certain. The ideological confrontation between the East and the West, in what was portrayed as a Manichaean struggle between capitalism and communism, will not resume. It is this ‘de-idelogisation’ of international relations that is less likely to return in a new competition between the USA-led NATO alliance and Russia and such allies as it can muster. Instead, we are more likely to see three ‘-isms’ continue to dominate global affairs affecting all nations and requiring our collective and cooperative attention and energies.


[Jayantha Dhanapala]

Terrorism, nationalism and consumerism have emerged as challenges facing the entire global community. Unless global responses are forged as a common approach to them, we are likely to not just return to the “Great Games” of the 19th century and its balance of power politics but, more dangerously, endanger the future of our planet through nuclear annihilation or disastrous climate change or both.

The first of those ‘-isms’ is terrorism. Although terrorism predated 9/11, the global reach of modern international terrorism with its complex network of funding, arms purchases and supplies, training and planning is new and 9/11 represents its epitome. It has provoked a global consensus condemning terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and a recognition that no cause justifies the use of terrorism. Thirteen international conventions have been agreed upon as a bulwark against terrorism. International cooperation is the key to combating terrorism as a global problem affecting the orderly conduct of international relations.

That cooperation is threatened by another “-ism” – nationalism. With multinational economic entities like the European Union and other regional and global organisations, nation states were prematurely regarded as historical relics of the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia. Nationalist competition for real estate and resources dominated international politics until World War II when the United Nations was established with the hope of eliminating “the scourge of war” and ushering in global cooperation for freedom, peace, development and human rights. Today, in this post-Cold War phase, nationalism is alive with a multiplicity of ethno-nationalist groups, all seeking to achieve statehood – even in developed countries like Belgium. It is also evident in the actions of large countries defending their national security interests. This cannot be underestimated. Dangers arise from the covert support for terrorism by some countries to groups elsewhere in support of irredentist claims or inter-national rivalries. Encouragement of groups who have used or continue to use terrorist means by recognition or by arms supplies violates the global strategy against terrorism however you may disguise it. It can also be self-destructive as terrorist groups created for one purpose mutate horribly to strike back even at their own creators. Thus the Taliban, financed and run by the CIA against the Soviet invaders in Afghanistan, transformed themselves into the extremist force that harboured Bin Laden and incubated global terrorism against the U.S. and others. Within South Asia, Indira Gandhi’s short-sighted policy of encouraging Bhindranwale as a counter to the Akali Dal’s dominance in the Punjab led to Sikh terrorism and her own assassination. Examples abound but the lessons are not learned as surreptitious means are found to finance, arm and otherwise support groups to destabilise neighbours or opponents in the perceived national interest. And so the unbridled nationalism of some countries is in conflict with the common interest of stamping out terrorism in terms of the UN strategy agreed upon in 2006.

Finally, with globalisation we have consumerism as a very important driver of the international economy. Since the invention of mass production in the Industrial Revolution consumerism is now a global phenomenon. Consumerism is what lubricates markets and the recent empowerment of a number of large economies in the South, particularly in China and India, has led to a demand for energy and other commodities, entailing a rise in prices already distorted by agricultural subsidies in the U.S. and the European Union and other developed countries. With the failure of the Doha Round of the World Trade Organisation, we need to move rapidly for equality in the terms of trade so that developing countries can have access to markets and to commodities that their people rightly deserve in an increasingly inter-dependent world. We are no longer able to afford to continue the use of fossil fuels to satisfy the consumer demands of the world. The reports of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) irrefutably argued that case. To ignore them would be a supreme self-destructive folly.

But the case against the use of carbon emitting fuels is leading to a fresh demand for peaceful uses of nuclear energy – the ‘nuclear renaissance’ that is being talked about. Although Article IV of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) guarantees that non- nuclear weapon state parties will have an ‘inalienable right’ to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, the world has suddenly woken up to the perils of this. It is less the threat of massive radiation leaks or accidents like Chernobyl and Three Mile Island to human lives and the environment that lies behind this concern now. It is more the fact that there are no credible firewalls between the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and the development of nuclear weapons since the signing of the Additional Protocol of the IAEA is purely voluntary. That these concerns are being acted upon inconsistently is not the point.


Looking through the prism of these three ‘-isms’ at the world today, their inter-connectedness becomes evident. So also does their link with prevailing crises and the solutions. The first crisis is, of course, nuclear weapon proliferation which arises largely from the strong demand for national security in a world of competing nationalisms. Neither the NPT, which applies to non-nuclear-weapon states, nor the Nuclear Terrorism Convention together with UN Security Council Resolution 1540 which seeks to prevent terrorist groups acquiring weapons of mass destruction, can hold this demand in check as long as nuclear weapons are held by some states and vast amounts of enriched uranium and separated plutonium lie around.

The second is climate change caused by our consumption patterns globally, the prevailing structure of international trade and the need for cooperation in the search for new environmentally friendly sources of energy.

Ultimately, the response to the three ‘-isms’ is another “-ism” – multilateralism. Effective and cooperative multilateralism.

(Jayantha Dhanapala is a former U.N. Under-Secretary-General and a former Sri Lanka Ambassador. He is currently the President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science & World Affairs and the Chairman of the U.N. University Council. These views are his own.) [courtesy: The Hindu]

September 17, 2008

Separation Between combatant and Civilian is a Fundamental Humanitarian Law Principle

By Radhika Coomaraswamy

Since I last reported to the Council on the situation of children and armed conflict, there has been an increase in the intensity of armed conflict around the world and a growing sense of despair in many countries where conflict has become protracted and more confused and where the toll on civilian life is increasingly immeasurable.

[Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict-file pic]

However, there have also been some successes- Cote D’Ivoire has been de-listed from the annexes of the Secretary General’s report as all parties to the conflict have entered into action plans with the UN country team and released all their children. Sierra Leone and Liberia, where there have been terrible excesses in the past, have become beacons of hope in Africa with the United Nations playing an important role in assisting these countries to return to normalcy.

My visits recently to Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory has increasingly convinced me that the main challenge we face for children and armed conflict lies in the changing nature of warfare where civilian life is far less protected. This is true not only in these countries but in many others facing what is termed a terrorist problem. In the battle between terrorism and counter terrorism, many insurgent groups are not only mobilizing children in their political and military activities but are using them as child suicide bombers.

Some groups attack schools where children study regardless of the casualties and are particularly brutal with regard to girl students.

In response to the above developments we see children in military detention without adequate judicial process, and we see the use of aerial bombardment and precision bombing where collateral damage is an increasing consequence. Children are often the victims of these incidents. Security checkpoints, the building of walls and humanitarian access also become issues of contention. Humanitarian space is increasingly politicized and the lines between military and humanitarian work are being blurred, endangering the lives of aid workers.

The fundamental principles of international humanitarian law which was the separation of civilian from combatant and the rule of proportionality are often observed in the breach. This Council must make it clear that the rules of engagement as defined by international law must be implemented and civilians, especially children, must remain a protected category.

Human rights and humanitarian law often focus on States as the primary actors in conflict. Increasingly, however, in our work it is the non-state actor that also engages in grave violations against children. We see the gradual blurring of lines between criminal activity and political activity.

Many groups involved in political campaigns and armed struggle are also involved in criminal activity, including human trafficking, the drug trade, arms smuggling and mineral exploitation. Profits from these enterprises alienate armed groups from their political base, fuelling conflict as an end in itself

Unfortunately, many states are also closely associated with non state actors or paramilitaries who engage in criminal activities as well as grave abuses. By tolerating their actions, including the recruitment and mobilization of children, a climate of impunity prevails and grave violations against children and the general population continue unabated, making life less secure for everyone. Paramilitaries can be owned and disowned at will, thus confusing the lines of accountability and liability.

It is important that this Council deal comprehensively with the issue of all non state actors, how to make them accountable for human rights violations and how to deal with State tolerance of their activities. It is also important that States facilitate dialogue with such actors so that UN agencies may bring them into compliance with their international obligations.

Since my office was set up ten years ago, its main focus has been to end impunity for the grave violations against children. To this end, my predecessor engaged the Security Council and assisted in securing resolution 1612 where the possibility of targeted measures against parties that violate the rights of children is envisioned. In addition, a Working Group of the Council was established along with a monitoring and reporting mechanism in countries coming under its scrutiny.

In this regard, we have noted that there are sixteen persistent violators who have continued to defy the Council and have been listed in the annexes of the Secretary General’s report for recruiting and using child soldiers. During the last debate of the Council on this topic, I urged the members to move forward and to set up a mechanism for determining targeted measures against these violators.

The fight against impunity has also led to my office filing an amicus curiae in the case of Thomas Lubanga before the International Criminal Court. We argued for a broad interpretation of the definition of recruiting and using children so that all children associated with armed groups would get the benefit of the protection of the law. Girl children who play multiple roles from combatant to wife to domestic aide are particularly in need of this protection.

Although the processes before the International Criminal Court and the Security Council are long, tedious and time consuming, I cannot underscore their importance in terms of achieving deterrence and compliance. Recently I made a visit to the Central African Republic and with the permission of the Government, met with Commandant Laurent of the Armée popularize pour Ia Restauration de la Republique et de Ia democratic (APRD).

At first he was unaware of being listed on the annexes of the Secretary General’s report but after the implications of Security Council resolution 1612 were explained to him, he agreed in principle to release the children. Just last week, UNICEF informed me that he has implemented his commitment, identified over 250 children in his armed group and was now ready to release them into programmes set up by UNICEF. The same was undertaken in Cote D’Ivoire where all the groups entered into action plans and released children in their ranks pursuant to the passing of Security Council resolution 1612. In Sudan, many non state actors, inquired at length about the Lubanga case and its implications, and some have entered into agreements to release children under action plans required by resolution 1612.

And, we must not forget the victims. In the Central African Republic, I met three generations of women in one family who had been raped by Mr. Bemba’s MLC forces when they invaded Bangui. They were now getting ready to go to the Hague before the ICC to testify against him and to achieve justice. Meeting them reaffirmed my faith in the importance of these processes, despite their faults, despite what may, at times, seem to be double standards and in spite of State reluctance.

These are stark events which capture the imagination and give a strong signal that certain actions will not be tolerated. Peace must come with justice- it is only the timing that can be negotiated.

Although preventing grave violations against children is an important part of my mandate, the humanitarian needs of children in situations of armed conflict cannot be forgotten. Recently, in Berlin, the Secretary-General set out his vision on the responsibility to protect, a doctrine born out of the work of the United Nations, especially that of Mr. Francis Deng as the former Special Representative on the Internally Displaced, and endorsed by three consecutive Secretary-Generals and the World Summit Outcome Document of 2005. The Secretary-General in his speech, emphasized the responsibility to protect as an exercise of sovereignty, with the international community playing a role in assisting nation states meet their obligations.

Only in very exceptional circumstances would the doctrine approve forceful measures and this only in the context of war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide, and according to procedures outlined in the UN Charter. The responsibility to protect has special meaning when it comes to children because of their vulnerability. My office will assist Mr. Ed Luck, the Special Advisor to the Secretary-General and Mr. Francis Deng who is now the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, in developing and operationalising this concept after wide ranging discussions with Member States and international civil society. Proposals along these lines will be presented to the General Assembly in January for discussion and debate.

In modem conflicts, among those most in need of protection are the internally displaced, many of them forced out of their homes because of the conflict and denied shelter, education and basic social services. Research has shown that large numbers of children are also recruited as child soldiers from camps due to lack of adequate security.

Sexual and gender-based violence continue to be a horrendous part of war’s reality, and young girls have often been the targets. We have already seen in the Great Lakes region that this is a major issue prompting a concerted international response. The Panzi hospital in Bukavu, DRC and the work of UNICEF, UNFPA and other actors is part of that response to deal with the victims. What is urgently needed is to deal with the perpetrators and I am proud to say that a resurgent judiciary in the DRC is beginning to address the issue although the scale of the problem requires a monumental effort by all parties.

My office is part of this effort and we have been working closely with the Security Council and the Sanctions Committee to ensure that groups that engage in these practices are dealt with appropriately.
Sexual violence is not only limited to girls. In my recent trip to Afghanistan, I was appalled by the scale of sexual violence against boys embedded in the practices of war lords and commanders.

The Government of Afghanistan has pledged to eradicate these practices along with the support of the religious leaders and yet they persist. Cultural taboos and fear of reprisal only further the impunity. The vulnerability of boys is an often-neglected aspect of war and perhaps the report on Afghanistan that will be published in October will help redress this balance.

The easy availability of small arms in some parts of the world coupled with cultures of impunity, have made children not only lose their childhood but also perverted their ideas of adulthood and masculinity.

Recently my office, along with the International Tribunal for Sierra Leone, screened the controversial film Johnnie Mad Dog, where the actors were former child soldiers who reenacted on the screen what they were asked to do in real life during the Liberian war. The sheer horror of this movie will leave you speechless and the perversion of the adults will infuriate you. No-one can see a film like that and say State sovereignty supersedes human rights, or that perversity is a cultural practice.

In many ways, the Human Rights Council today faces a pivotal moment- whether it recommits itself to the values we have built since the end of World War Two when we still remembered the scourge of war, or whether as warfare changes, we compromise our most humane instincts in a desperate search for security- which, ironically, in the end, to be sustainable, must come from the very people we have the responsibility to protect.

I will end with the story of J. a young Iraqi refugee I met in Jordan. I met him at a youth club, and he described how his family had to flee Iraq because his father and uncles were killed and there were threats to kidnap him for ransom. He was full of rage against his parents, his leaders and the global community. He had particularly rude words about the United Nations.

As I tried to calm him down, tears of bitterness formed in his eyes. His anger is a reminder to us that there is a lot of work to be done. There are children and young people all over the world who are deeply affected by armed conflict and the humiliations they and their families have had to suffer.

They will only feed the cycle of violence unless we promise them a better tomorrow. And we must do this without ideological blinkers and with a real desire to assist in their actual lives, so that they and their communities can build a better future for themselves and their loved ones.

(Text of a Statement at the Human Rights Council by Dr.Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of UN Secretary -General for Children and Armed Conflict )

Tamil-Muslim Relations and Unity for Peace

by Dr. A.R.M. Imtiyaz
Visiting scholar
Department of Political Science
Temple University

The paper presented during the conference “Ending the war and bringing justice and peace to Sri Lanka” held at the Steelworkers’ Hall in Toronto, September 13, 2008.

First of all, without any offence to my co-speakers, I merely wish to assert that I am here as an academic to analyze and understand and not to advance or set back the interests of any political party or grouping, and thus the views I express in this short presentation are academic in nature. Thank you!


Relations between people of the different ethnic groups are crucial to maintain stability in the world of today. History tells us human activities and connections to secure resources create more tensions than harmony. Also, the politicization of ethnic relations in divided societies generates conflict and ethnic civil war. Sri Lanka’s six decades old ethnic conflict which led the island to the gruesome civil war between the minority Tamils and the majority Sinhalese is one of classic examples of politicization of ethnic relations. This essay, however, would attempt to examine relations between the Tamils and the Muslims of Sri Lanka, particularly the Eastern Muslims to explore possibilities to build a unity between these mutually suspecting groups.

The Sinhalese people who are predominantly Buddhist are the major ethnic group in Sri Lanka. They cover some 82 percent of the population and are migrants who arrived from North India as early as around 500BC.

The Sri Lankan Tamils, who are mainly Hindus, are the largest ethnic minority in the country. They composed 12.7 percent of the population in 1981. Sri Lankan Tamils immigrated to the island from South India. The Tamil elements in Sri Lanka drastically improved with the arrival of the Indian Tamils or up-country Tamils largely in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to work in the British-owned estates as workers: first for the coffee and then later for the tea and rubber estates in the highlands. By 1921, Indian Tamils shared 13.4 per cent among the total Tamil population of 24.8 in Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lanka Muslims or Moors, who practice Islam and speak Tamil, are another significant section of the minority in Sri Lanka. Muslims, who trace their ancestral roots in seafaring Arab merchants, prefer to be recognized by their religious and cultural identity. They constitute 7.9 percent of the island’s total population in 2001. They live throughout the island “in small communities,” and maintain smooth ethnic cohabitation with the Sinhalese for some obvious political and trade objectives. However, Sri Lankan Muslims claim majority in Amparai district of Eastern province, and regularly develop social and political tensions with the Tamils of the East. Muslims of the North and East became regular victims of ethnic instability that generated ethnic civil war between the Tamils and the Sinhalese. Sri Lankan Muslims of the North and East now claim that they have some special problems. For this reason, they seek solutions for their grievances.

Tamil-Muslim Divide

The process of the modernization brings both progress and violence in deeply divided societies. Such a social condition could occur through the politicization of ethnic relations. The politicization of ethnic relations can ruin the unity among the ethnic groups at massed level, particularly among the low-income masses. The politicization of ethnic relations to gain a power can generate deep disharmony between the different groups and possibly violence if the trend continues unimpeded for political purposes.

Outbidding the opponents along ethnic lines could be one of the profitable strategies to win votes in societies. In Sri Lanka, politicians emotionalize ethnic relations. There was a trend in the Sinhala political establishment in Sri Lanka since S.W. R. D. Bandaranaike to effectively ethnicize the political system and relations between the different ethnic groups, to outbid the opponents on anti-Tamil platform. Sinhalese politicization of ethnic emotions by the Southern parties of Sri Lanka failed the country and it eventually drove the Tamils and the Sinhalese into grisly ethnic civil war.

The Muslim masses of Sri Lanka, in fact, caught between these deeply hated ethnic groups by war. The political establishment of the Muslims supports the Sinhala political leaders for political and commercial purposes. This led them to vigorously oppose to the Tamil demand of self-autonomy in the combined North and East and to support successive Sinhalese-dominated governments’ military actions against the Tamils. Roughly 25% of Muslims of Sri Lanka live in the pockets of the Tamil dominated North and East, where the Tamils have been confronting the Sri Lanka’s Sinhala dominated military. The point is that the political aspirations of the Hindu Tamils have not always had approval from Muslims of Sri Lanka, particularly Muslims of the east whose economy is, by and large, tied to land and put considerable interests in seeking a government jobs.

Muslims have their own concerns and issues pertaining to their identity and security. A notable feature of the Tamil-Muslim relations in contemporary Sri Lanka, according to McGilvray, is Muslim desire to develop a non-Tamil identity based on Islam, a religion which strictly calls obedient only to Allah, a profound emotional message that relentlessly resists any forms of obedience to all other human and spiritual powers.

Muslims’ decision to seek own identity based on the Islamic religion triggered Tamil anger, but the Muslims primarily blame the Tamils for their interests in non-Tamil identity: the Tamil threat for the Muslim existence cited as the key factor. This, as a matter of fact, goes back to the period of Ponnambalam Ramanathan. P. Ramanathan attempted to assimilate the Muslims into the wider Tamil community, arguing Muslims are but Tamils converted to Islam. This led to the historic Ramanathan-Azeez debate in which the latter using their mythical Arabic ancestral, argued that the Moors of Ceylon were of Arab origin and therefore racially distinct from the Tamils who claimed to originate from South India. Also, the political positions of Muslim elites concerning their interests and aspirations directed the Muslims, who speak Tamil, to develop their own identity as a distinct ethnic group based on the Islamic faith.

Above and beyond, Muslims have nurtured certain fears that in a unified north and eastern province or ethnic Tamil state aspire by the Tamil nationalists would not protect the interests of the Muslims of the North and East. This shows the way for what I call the security crisis. The security crisis of the Muslims has dramatically shaped the Muslim preferences toward the Tamil national struggle. As a result, Muslims have changed their preferences and strategies to contain the ethnic Tamils' cultural and political domination. This suggests one key rational for the formation of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) in the mid of 1980’s, when the Muslims also established some informal contacts with the Sri Lanka state forces.

As it happens, no ethno-political group would proffer their cooperation to a fellow oppressed ethnic community when it is systematically targeted by a group that itself is subject to the major, dominant group’s political and military oppression and discrimination. Evidences suggest that Sri Lanka’s north and eastern Muslims do not cultivate much trust on the delivery of the Tamils. This reckoning largely based on the past bitter experiences Muslims confronted from the Tamils: Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan vigorous defense to protect the Sinhala political leaders who openly involved in anti-Muslim violence in 1915 still fresh among the politically aware Muslims. Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan’s support to the Sinhala leaders “has become a ‘racial memory’ for the Muslims.”

write it for children

[Kids in Karambai - file pic By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai]

Apart from this pre-independent memory, northern Muslims were expelled forcefully by the Tamil Tigers, commonly known as the LTTE from Jaffna in October 1990. One hundred and three Muslim men from Kattankudy were killed at a prayer time inside their mosque on August 3, 1990, and wealth belonged to the Muslims is confiscated, particularly both in the Baticolaoa and Amparai districts of the eastern province. All this evidences that the irrational approaches of the Tamil resistance movement toward the Muslims of the North and East was the key component of Muslim frustration, and thus some (affected) Muslim youth eventually embraced violence against the Tamils and joined the state security forces, either as low-level cadres or as informants.

Tamil violence against the Eastern Muslims, however, raises the key question, ‘why did the Tamils target the Muslims?’ One theory argues that the role played by the Muslim political leaders centered in the South could have frustrated the Tamils: Muslims leaders have been collaborating and supporting the Sinhala political class for political and commercial positions and gains. Muslim political leaders in the mid of 1930’s and 40’s turned around and came to side with the Sinhalese leaders, who had direct connections with the anti-Muslim riots, especially D.S.Senanayake, who was one of the prime beneficiaries of Ramanathan's deeds in 1915-17, and opposed the Tamil politics.

In 1940s the Muslim leaders deviated from the 1915 thinking and joined hand with D.S.Senanayake for plums of office and patronage. Likewise, the Muslim political class’ outright rejection for a fifty-fifty demand, which was a brainchild of G. G. Ponnambalam, South-centered Muslim elites’ deep disinterests in Chelvanayagam’s Federal demand, needless to say, their opposition to the separate state demand of Tamil resistance movement, the major thesis of the Vaddukoddai resolution of 1975, and the explicit support for military offensives against the Tamils of the North and East since 1977 have contributed for the growth of Tamil anger toward the Muslims.

Furthermore, according to Hussein, Muslim political leaders “supported the iniquitous the Sinhala Only Act, and the subsequent University admission policies that were clearly detrimental to Tamil interests. During the State terrorism of 1983 a Muslim Minister disgraced Islam by unleashing his thugs in central Colombo against the Tamils. The Muslims of the Eastern Province were alleged to have got together with the STF in terrorist exploits against the Tamils there.” The Muslim politicians’ anti-Tamil policies may help to maximize commercial and personnel interests of elite Muslims. But it seems they are actually counterproductive and contain some solid ingredient to cause security crisis for the Muslims of the East.

Also, the Muslims in the East are accused of confiscating Tamils land and are “perceived as taking advantage of Tamil misfortune,” according to the study on the Eastern Muslims. It further notes, “Muslim purchasing of paddy land from Tamil absentee landlords, buying up Tamil owned shops, the creeping spread of Muslim villages into Tamil villages is part of the contemporary reality of the Eastern Province.

All this could have contributed to the violent Tamil response: “Thousands of Muslims were expelled forcefully from Jaffna in October 1990; three hundred Eastern Muslims were killed at prayer time inside their mosque in 1991 and Muslim wealth confiscated in the Jaffna, Baticolaoa, and Amparai districts of the North-Eastern Province.” And, according to Hussein, “there is every possibility that the EP Muslims will be ethnically cleansed from there some time in the future. The facts clearly show that it was not humanly possible for the Muslims to have gone further in their support for the Sinhalese against the Tamils.”

Why Unity?

History will answer as to whether the choices of Muslim political establishment to cooperate with the Sinhala political class are appropriate moves or whether the Tamil response to punish the Muslims has logical weight. However, communities have to move forward to meet the challenges presented by modernization, and to seek a meaningful truth and reconciliation.

Both the Tamils and Muslims in Sri Lanka have been facing common challenges and problems. Since independence, the Sinhalese politicians and leaders formulated the policies to weaken the interests and status of the minorities, and to strengthen the unitary state structure, a kind of political symbol of the Sinhalese. There is a common fear among the Sinhalese that the minorities, due to their substantial external connections, would harm the territorial integrity of the island. Such fears motivate the Sinhalese to support aggressively against any power-sharing schemes that goes beyond the current form of unitary structure. It is important to point that many Sinhalese, as Mahavamsa advocates, believe that the entire island is the sacred home of the Sinhalese and Buddhism and thus, oppose power-sharing with the minorities.

Such Sinhala fears help the Sinhalese to advance hegemonic desire to violently preserve the unitary state structure and to weaken the position and interests of the minorities who dare to challenge the monopoly of the Sinhalese. On the other hand, the Sinhala hegemony causes deep security and identity crisis among the minorities. The Sinhala project to build a strong Sinhala Sri Lanka can be understood as (1) Sinhala supremacy in the course of colonization of North and East (2) pro-Sinhala employment and development policies (3) anti-power sharing attitude, and (3) militarization of the Eastern region.

The bottom line is that the minorities in Sri Lanka have some special problems. These problems are associated with the issues of identity and existence, and thus they need special solution. The fact is that the problems of the minorities would not draw some reasonable attention and human solution from the Sinhala political class as long as these comminutes distrust each others and present obnoxious political position. In other words, solidarity and cooperation between the Tamils and the Muslims could mount some pressure on the Sinhala political class to sincerely attend the legitimate aspirations of the minorities.

Toward Unity

Unity between the Tamils and the Muslims is the key to gain justice and peace. To gain unity, there must be efforts to embrace truth and reconciliation. Ethnic reconciliation is a product of progressive efforts engineered by rational forces. And it would not occur among the conflicting groups at the masses level as long as there are no sincere attempts at elite level to arrest ethnic hatred.

The North-East Muslims, who share linguistic and cultural ties with Tamils, prefer to be recognized by religio-cultural identity which has been playing a significant role in shaping their ideas, values and life style, in other words, Muslims desire to maintain non-Tamil identity should be respected, despite the rational doubts of such identity based on religion. The point here is that a sense of insecurity emerges among the members of a group when they feel that their identity is being threatened by the dominant group of the society.

The Muslims of the North and East have some reasonable fears about the Tamils. These fears are based on sheer demography. In the east, Muslims, Tamils and Sinhalese constitute a third each of the population. If the northern and eastern provinces were to be merged as part of any political deal, the Muslims fear they would have to live under the Hindu Tamils of the north.

Muslims also have fears living under the regional administration led by a Tamil chief administrator. It seems that this was the key reason behind their demand for Muslim chief minister in the concluded Eastern provincial elections in June 2008. The Eastern Muslims, particularly those who backed the SLMC reacted angrily when the government of Sri Lanka appointed Mr. Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, alias Pillaiyan, an armed cadre of the pro-government Tamil Makkal Viduthal Puligal (TMVP) as the Chief Minister of the Eastern Province. The Muslim fears (whether they real or perceived) over the Tamil domination was one of major fundamental ingredients of separate identity for Muslims, based more on religion than on language.

Tamils, therefore, if they are committed to ethnic reconciliation, need to calm the Muslim fears. The Tamil Tigers demonstrated some willingness to ease the Muslim concerns. An accord signed between SLMC leader, Rauf Hakeem, and Tiger supremo Prabhakaran on the 13th of April, 2002, was reflective of this. The deal specifically underlined the acceptance of the position that the internally-displaced Muslims of the north would have a right to return to their homes as part of the peace process. Moreover, the LTTE’s initiatives such as an apology for Muslim expulsion from the Northern Province in October 1990, and permission for resettlement, release of 25% confiscated lands from the Eastern Muslims and negotiations with the Muslim civil society organizations such as North East Muslim Peace Assembly (NEMPA) helped ease some Muslim security concerns and contributed to build some trust between the Tamils and Muslims. The Muslim of the East can reduce their fears if there is consistency in Tamil efforts to check the Tamil domination.

Moreover, Muslims of the North and East claim they have some special problems pertaining to their ethnic identity and security, and expect these issues should be discussed at the negotiating table by their own representatives with the major stakeholders in the context of core issues of the ethnic civil war between the Tamils primarily led by LTTE and the Sinhalese dominated Colombo government so that viable measures could be made, backed by political will on the part of the Government and the LTTE, to redress Muslim grievances without delay. Since Muslims seek non-Tamil ethnic identity, “they wish to be represented clearly and solely on the basis of their own interests whether or not those interests converge with the interests of the Government and the LTTE, and that is what they are asking for”

The section of the global opinion considerably reinforces Muslim case for a separate participation at the peace talks. Tamil nationalists need to understand the mood of the global community, and thus they need to openly support for an independent Muslim participation at the peace talks. There cannot be a feasible final and durable power-sharing to the ethnic civil war “unless the Muslim community is heard and accommodated in its own right and not by proxy.” Tamil support for Muslim participation could open a new chapter for the Tamil-Muslim relations and radically weaken the anti-Tamil chauvinistic forces among the Muslims.

The Muslim politicians demand for a separate representation at the peace negotiations has an ethnic logic. But that logic may suffer some reasonable political difficulties when Muslims refuse to voice for a political solution that aims to go beyond the unitary state structure. It is highly unlikely that the Muslims of the North and East will win any meaningful power-sharing unit, a kind of Muslim Unit that would ensure administration and security of the Muslims in the region, in the pockets of the north and east to decide their own destiny as long as the Tamils win irrevocable devolution package from the Sinhala ruling class.

Moreover, Muslim claim they have certain fears over the behaviors of the Tamil nationalists. It is equally true that the political choices and position of Muslims aggravated Tamils, particularly in relation to their political leadership as well as participation of some Muslims of the East in violence against the Tamils. International Crisis Group (ICG) publication on Muslims of Sri Lanka evidences one such anti-Tamil violence by the Muslim forces. According to the report, "security forces were implicated in several violent confrontations between Muslims and Tamils. One of the worst was an attack on the (Tamil) village of Karaitivu of April 1985, when Muslims youths, apparently with the support of the security forces, went on a rampage, killing several people and burning hundreds of houses. Thereafter, violent incidents became relatively common between Tamil militants and Muslims. Some Muslims were armed by the government for their own protection but they were also involved in vigilante action against neighboring Tamils, provoking more reprisals."

The minorities of Sri Lanka are at the cross-roads. Both communities face major crisis and threat from the Sinhala hegemonic project that seeks to build a Sinhalese-Only Sri Lanka to advance a mono-ethnic modernization programs. Therefore, to meet the challenges posed by the Sinhala hegemonic agendas, there must be a rope of unity and understanding among the minorities of Sri Lanka. The need of unity and understanding can raise some success through the efforts of truth and reconciliation. In Hussein words, “let both sides acknowledge the wrongs done to the other side as the necessary prelude to the reconciliation without which ethnic harmony will never be restored. Let neither side think of itself purely as the victim of the other side.”

Conclusion: Road to Peace

The meaning of the unity is beautiful, but it would not merely crop up among the yesterday’s enemies. Both the Tamil and Muslim communities, as other ethnic groups across the world, particularly in non-industrial societies, extend strong commitment to their (either primordial or constructed) identity, which naturally combines with the elements of emotional, cultural, and religious symbols.

In ethnic politics, symbols are important. They used to influence the people; to appeal to values; to refer to ideas; to stir emotions and to stimulate action, and symbols can become tools for politicians and ethnic leaders to influence the masses. Moreover, these symbols generally trigger emotional appeals and regularly invite hatred toward ethnic or religious others when the bad elements of the society manipulate them or when the ethnic others represent the different symbols.

Both the Tamil and Muslim groups deeply respect their respective symbols. These symbols works vigorously at the masses level, particularly among the economically and socially weakened sections. But the mission to weaken the bad energy of symbols is not- at- all impossible. Obviously, that requires sincere human imagination to seek a future of hope and amity, energy to vigorously challenge a bad nature of symbols that push members of the group to classify ethnic and religious others as an enemy or bad group, and efforts to seek a truth and reconciliation. In other words, the road to peace can be opened if desire for harmony dominates among the subcultures both at elite and masses level.

Please click to Print/View this presentation article and foot notesTamil-Muslim Relations and Unity for Peace, by Dr. A.R.M. Imtiyaz [PDF File]

September 16, 2008

UN completes relocation from Tamil Tiger areas

Photo: OCHA
The Vanni area of Sri Lanka. Humanitarian agencies have withdrawn to Vavuniya

UN agencies have relocated all international staff and offices from areas under the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the north to areas under government control, with the last convoy of UN vehicles leaving on 16 September.

"The convoy left in the morning and was assured safe passage through areas they control by the Tigers and also through areas where there is now fighting by the Sri Lankan forces," Gordon Weiss, UN spokesman in Sri Lanka, told IRIN.

The convoy included staff and vehicles from other international humanitarian agencies that worked in Tamil Tiger-held areas in the central-northern area of Sri Lanka, known as the Vanni.

The Sri Lankan government issued a directive on 5 September that the security of the agencies and staff could not be guaranteed in the Vanni due to the deteriorating security situation.

Public protests

However, the process had to be suspended from 12 to 15 September when protesters blocked the only access road out of the Vanni.

On 12 September, demonstrators gathered near the offices of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and World Food Programme (WFP) in Kilinochchi town, 300km north of the capital Colombo, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) said in a situation report released on 15 September. 

"Negotiations with the protesters failed to enable the departure of a small convoy of INGO/UN vehicles that were scheduled to leave," the IASC report stated. The protests continued until 15 September.

Fighting has been nearing the A9 highway, which runs across the Vanni-pic: Amantha Perera-IRIN

UN officials held discussions with the Tamil Tigers after the protests to secure safe passage. On 15 September the office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka said in a statement that it had received assurances from the Tigers for staff to travel out of Vanni safely the next day. It also highlighted that the security situation was too unstable for them to continue remaining in the Vanni. 

"We reiterate that we have been compelled to temporarily relocate from Kilinochchi because of our security assessment that the situation has become too dangerous to remain working from there at this time," the UN stated.

Weiss told IRIN that fighting and shelling had been reported on the highway used by the convoys to leave the Vanni the previous day. "There was shelling and fighting very close to the A9 [highway on 15 September]," he said.

Security fears

"We need to be mindful of what we do, when, where and how in a militarised zone," Jeevan Thiyagaraja, executive director of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA), a national umbrella body of local and international humanitarian agencies, told IRIN. "There is an element of physical risk in the current situation."

Representatives of international relief organisations working in the Vanni were planning a fact-finding trip to plan how to provide relief assistance effectively in the future, he said.

UN and other humanitarian agencies will be based in the northern town of Vavuniya, about 60km south of Kilinochchi for their operations in the Vanni.

Weiss said the UN was prepared to ensure supplies and humanitarian work in the Vanni continued from its offices in Vavuniya. The location has been developed as a humanitarian operations hub.

"We are prepared to keep supplies moving to the Vanni and assist the government's humanitarian work for civilians in the Vanni and those who come out. We share the concern for the welfare of the growing number of people displaced."

According to CHA, 13 organisations, including UN agencies, were working in the Vanni with 534 employees when the directive to pull out was received. The majority of staff members are locals living within the Vanni, who did not relocate. 

Reported by UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [irin news]

September 10, 2008

Full Text: Speech made by Mano Ganesan MP, during the debate on the extension emergency

Speech made by Mano Ganesan MP
during the debate on the extension emergency in the Parliament of Sri Lanka on Tuesday September 09th, 2008

Deputy Chairman of the committees Hon. Ramalingam Chandrasekar chaired the house

(In Tamil language)

Thank you sir, Hon. Deputy Chairman, I am sad and dismayed to note the empty government benches. This is the all important emergency debate. But where are the government ministers for observations and answers? Look, there is nobody in the front row. There are few seated in second and other rows. Why is this? Implementation of emergency laws is a very close subject to the Tamil people of this country. On a guess I think the ministers are not interested in listening to the views of the representatives of the Tamil people.

(In Sinhala Language)

Sir, I very rarely speak on the issue of my own personal security though it is now a very long pending issue. However, I have to speak about it today as demanded by the circumstances. I sought to raise an issue of privilege. Hon speaker very kindly agreed to it. But later I decided to speak out all during this debate.

Sir, Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) of the police summoned me to it’s office on August 26th. I went to the office and faced the TID enquires. I did this because I respect law and order and support the implementation of the same. The questions were raised on my visits to the Kilinochchi during the 2002-2005 Cease Fire Agreement periods. I went to Kilinochchi and openly held discussions. They were with the officers of the political department of LTTE. There is nothing to hide in this. It is not only me but Ministers in the government today, Hon. G.L. Peiris, Arumugan Thondaman, P. Chandrasekaran went to Kilinochchi. Many media personnel went to Kilinochchi. So are the members of the international community.

Every time I went there, I had informed my prime minister then Hon. Ranil Wickramasinghe. I also reported back to him. Once it was Hon. Karu Jayasooriya to whom I reported back after my discussions in Kilinochchi. He was the deputy leader of the UNP, the major party in our alliance government. Now he is a minister in the present government. The last time I went to Kilinochchi was in year 2005. President Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumaratunga had dismissed our government headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe by then. It was the time when Mr. Karuna Amman had split away from the LTTE. Many thought Mr. Karuna Amman was staying in Colombo secretly. President considered of providing asylum to Mr. Karuna Amman if such a request is made to her by Mr. Karuna Amman. President called me and made a request to me. It was for me to meet LTTE Leader Velupillai Pirabakaran in Kilinochchi and inform him of her decision. She was particular that LTTE leader should not consider it as a negative act. It was because she wanted to continue the peace talks between the GoSL and LTTE despite the fact that she dismissed Ranil government for it’s peace talks with the LTTE.

It was not all. During the run-up period to the last presidential elections Hon. Late Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle and Hon. Basil Rajapakse MP came to my residence with a request. They requested me to arrange a special link with LTTE. It was in year 2005. Today the TID too wanted to know if I had developed any special link with the LTTE.

I refused on the basis of three reasons. First, I never had any such special relationship with LTTE. It was only open political discussions. Second, if anybody wanted a boycott of elections in north east it was not agreeable to me. Voter people should have the personal right to vote or not to vote at any elections. Third, my party by the time was publicly committed to support Hon. Ranil Wickramasinghe in the presidential elections. I stick to principles and never a double player.

Sir, many numbers of politicians are facing many numbers of accusations. Murder charges and bribe charges are made against many. Some are facing court cases too. What’s more, you too were summoned to the TID in the recent past. Hon. Jayalath Jayawardena and Hon. Vijitha Herath were summoned too to the TID. If that is the case, why pick only on Mano Ganesan? Why is the hate campaign? Why are the stories planted in the Media? I am facing threats to my life for a long time. Today this has added up. I am very much vulnerable today. The situation is bad for me. But this hate campaign is not anything new to me. In last January, Defense secretary called me a Dealer with LTTE. The official paper of Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the major party in the ruling alliance referred to me ‘a drug trafficker, a weapon runner and an underworld operator. They also called me an American agent due to the award given to me by the US government. Now the ‘Terrorist’ label.

In year 1988, we had the ‘Deshapremi’ problem in our country. The JVP got the beatings from then government. Many number of Sinhala youths belonging to the JVP ‘Deshapremi Viyaparaya’ (patriot movement) went missing and many were killed illegally. The victims were all Sinhalese. Who was the human rights champion? It was none other than His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapakse. Mahinda as an opposition parliamentarian like me today then fought on behalf of the victims during 1988-1989.

What are the difference between 1988 and 2008 September today? The victims of 1988 were all Sinhalese. The champion of the human rights of the victims was Mahinda Rajapakse, a Sinhalese gentleman politician. Today in 2008, the victims are all Tamils. So is the person who stands for them. That is me, a Tamilian. So the difference is very crystal clear. It is Sinhalese in 1988then and Tamil now. The worst is that those who fought for the human rights have turned into the perpetrators today. Those who praise Mahinda Rajapakse for his human rights campaign of 1988 find fault with our campaign of 2008. They cannot accept and approve our campaign. They cannot get on board in our campaign trail.

Why, why is it, Sir?

It is because you and I are Tamils and they are Sinhalese. It is the obvious reason. They are harboring double standards for the death and lives of Tamils and Sinhalese. There is no other logical reason.

Sir, TID claims that they have arrested some people who hold my party membership cards. On one hand these cards are made simply. We cannot verify the authenticities. Other hand, no party leader of a functioning party can screen all his or her members. We have a large membership. So are the UNP, SLFP and JVP.

Sir, there are policemen and members of security forces arrested by this very TID. They are arrested for supporting and working for the LTTE. So if the police cannot screen and identify it’s own men and women how we, a civilian entity can screen and identify our members? I tell the police that if a member of my party breached the law, please treat him or her according to the law. Do not try to pin such on me for political demands. We will also monitor your investigations. This ends there.

UNP and many opposition parliamentarians from this side went and joined the government. They are ministers now. I am not going to make comments on them. I guess they have the right to do that. Let the judiciary and the respective party decides about it. I too could have become a minister in this government. It did not happen because I am not after portfolios and perks. As they have the right to be in the government, I have the right to be in the opposition. This is democracy. Had I been a minister, now the TID would say that they have had arrested a LTTE member who was to assassinate Hon. Minister Mano Ganesan, disguising as a member of Minister Mano Ganesan’s party. Please do not consider all those who are not part of the government as enemies or traitors. It cannot be that way.

I am a Tamil political party leader who also speaks Sinhala. I speak of the miseries and aspirations of Tamils to the Sinhalese in their own language. All what I do seek is a way out for the division of political power and therefore avoid the division of the country. I do not want to end up as the last man of this Sinhala speaking Tamil clan.

You are wrong if you believe that you can put me down and stop me. You cannot put me down by these intimidations and threats. I have a journey. It is the journey of peace and justice. I will not stop unless convinced otherwise. I will not lie down. If needed I will die as a person who stood against injustice rather than as a coward.

Thank you.

September 09, 2008

Address by Ms. Navanetham Pillay at 9th Session of the Human Rights Council

Address by Ms. Navanetham Pillay UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the occasion of the opening of the 9th Session of the Human Rights Council:

[Ms. Navanetham Pillay UN High Commissioner for Human Rights - file pic]

Mr. President,

Distinguished Members of the Human Rights Council,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wish to thank the President of the Human Rights Council for his very kind words and to congratulate him for his able leadership of this premier intergovernmental human rights body. It is a pleasure and a great honour for me to address the Council today. I stand before you mindful of, and humbled by, the magnitude of the tasks ahead, as well as eager in my new capacity, as I have been throughout my career, to contribute to promoting and protecting human rights, equality, and justice for all.

Together and in a shared spirit of service, we will surely learn to maximize our combined efforts and put them to optimal use. Presently, I am acutely aware that there is only one opportunity to make a first impression and that first impressions linger in memory long after the habit of acquaintance has set in. Thus, I would like to immediately convey my pledge to an open-minded, frank, and reciprocally reinforcing interaction with the Human Rights Council.

As a jurist and as a human rights defender, I have learned that the pursuit of human rights is a Janus-like endeavour which combines the measured and deliberate pace of the law with the urgency and passion of advocacy. I have learned that we cannot always stay the hand of tyrants, or of those consumed by hatred and prejudice. And I know that we cannot stem all ills and abuses. We do, however, have an obligation to alleviate them and prevent others from occurring, as well as hold perpetrators to account. Allow me to offer some preliminary thoughts of what, I believe, needs to be done to meet such obligations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The current year marks a series of important anniversaries which represent rallying points for the human rights community, as well as opportunities to galvanize others into action. In particular, I refer to the 60th anniversaries of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of the Genocide Convention; and the twin 10th anniversaries of the Declaration on human rights defenders and of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, as well as the 15th anniversary of the Vienna Conference. I will briefly expand on some salient implications of these events.

The 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which falls on December 10th, and the year-long campaign launched last December by the Secretary-General have already offered, and will continue to present, various occasions to reflect on the progress made over the past six decades.

At the same time, we must focus on the challenges that remain in bringing to reality the comprehensive vision of human rights set forth in the Universal Declaration. This vision is a beacon of hope for the future—it contemplates a world with the full realization of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights without distinction. This is a world in which every man, woman and child lives in dignity, free from hunger and protected from violence and discrimination, with the benefits of housing, health care, education and opportunity. This vision in my view represents the global culture of human rights we strive for, and it should be a unifying rather than a divisive force, within and among all cultures.

In the course of my career, I have seen the growth, and contributed to the development of an expanding framework of international law that, together with national and regional legal instruments, represents an effort to implement the principles of the Universal Declaration. This body of law and the mechanisms that it fostered, such as treaty bodies and Special Procedures, have created a system for the promotion and protection of human

rights worldwide. The challenge is how to make this system work better to overcome the persisting abuses, the omissions and the neglect that still stand in the way of the full implementation of human rights.

Foremost of importance in this effort, I believe, is impartiality in the operation of this system and adherence to the single and consistent standard represented by the Universal Declaration that is applied equally to all without political consideration. That may sound like a fantasy, but I think it is critical to overcoming the divisions that plague us in our efforts to promote human rights, particularly in the context of an intergovernmental organization. I start from the premise that the credibility of human rights work depends on its commitment to truth, with no tolerance for double standards or selective application.

The history of the two Covenants, adopted to provide a more detailed legal framework for implementation of the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration, clearly equate the importance of civil and political rights on the one hand and economic, social and cultural rights on the other. The two sets of rights are interdependent, and in my view, equally important. I will work for common recognition of this interdependence. My priority will not be the ranking of various human rights but rather their implementation on the ground in a way that affects and improves the lives of the men, women and children who are all entitled, regardless of their culture or nationality, to the realization of each and every right set forth in the Universal Declaration.

In today’s world, globalization has sometimes run circles around national sovereignty. Moreover, the food crisis, as well as other emergencies including natural calamities, demonstrate not only the precariousness of national boundaries and the need for international solidarity, but also—and crucially—how abuses of one set of rights reverberate on other rights. Clearly, our challenge is to facilitate a common human rights agenda. The United Nations in general and the High Commissioner for Human Rights in particular, are in a unique position to assist governments in their efforts to protect and promote all human rights. I believe that the expansion of field operations that my predecessor, Louise Arbour, so capably undertook is an important step in this direction. This is where we can more easily strive for practical cooperation with governments to ensure that they have effective systems in place to promote human rights obligations holistically and to provide protection and recourse for victims when violations take place.

The human rights treaty bodies and the Special Procedures mechanisms that have been developed by the United Nations play an equally important role in our efforts to create a global culture of human rights. States parties to these treaties should respect their obligations under the treaties and engage with the treaty bodies in a constructive fashion to make the process more meaningful. I would like to use the influence of my Office to promote implementation of human rights treaties, as well as to encourage universal ratification of these treaties and productive interaction between States and special mechanisms.


The United Nations has recognized that development, security, peace and justice cannot be fully realized without human rights. Our welfare rests on each and all of these pillars. Each and all of these pillars are undermined when discrimination and inequality—both in blatant and in subtle ways—are allowed to fester and to poison harmonious coexistence.

I talk with the insight of my personal experience in apartheid South Africa, and of human rights abuses that I have confronted firsthand. Racial discrimination and gender discrimination, particularly when they are institutionalized or systematic and incorporate an element of State involvement, are entirely incompatible with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Charter.

I grew up as a second-class citizen with no legal recourse. In my lifetime, however, I had the privilege to witness a complete transformation. Today, South Africa has one of the strongest constitutions in the world. While it struggles as many countries do to turn legal rights into reality, watching the course of change over the span of a single decade and through a relatively peaceful evolution leads me to believe that solutions are possible.

In this context, allow me to welcome the progress achieved thus far in the lead up to the anti-racism review conference scheduled for April 2009, and in particular the productive discussions of the two regional meetings in Brasilia and Abuja. Let me also take preliminary stock of the concerns that have been voiced regarding this process as a whole.

My starting point in addressing these concerns is to promote participation. I accept that there will be diverging points of view among States and undertake to do everything I can to ensure that these differences are addressed in a constructive manner. I do not believe that “all or nothing” is the right approach to affirm one’s principles or to win an argument. Nelson Mandela has taught me that, far from being appeasement, coming to terms with other people’s experiences and points of view may serve the interest of justice better than strategies that leave no room for negotiation.

The process will certainly benefit from active participation by all. Without that participation, the anti-racism debate and agenda will be impoverished. Let’s not forget that diversity of opinions is often an inherent and welcome characteristic of relationships among peers. We should be prepared to accommodate such diversity in the spirit of collegiality and respect. Should differences be allowed to become pretexts for inaction, the hopes and aspirations of the many victims of intolerance would be dashed perhaps irreparably.

For these reasons, I urge those governments that have expressed an intention not to participate in the conference to reconsider their position. I will do all in my power to bring everyone to the table and build on the progress made so far thanks to you and to the expert work of treaty bodies, Special Procedures and the follow up mechanisms to the Durban 2001 Conference. I hope that all States take the opportunity provided by the review conference to give new momentum to the struggle against discrimination, xenophobia, intolerance and racism, and to bring into focus the need to implement the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action at the national level. Allow me to underscore that such implementation is still sorely lacking in too many countries in all regions of the world.

As we focus on intolerance and inequality, we must highlight that gender discrimination remains of pressing concern. Such discrimination makes the Universal Declaration’s promise an empty pledge for millions of women and girls. No effort should be spared to persuade countries to repeal laws and practices that continue to reduce women and girls to second-class citizens despite international standards and despite the specific commitments that have been made to throw out these laws and customs.

I say this not only as a matter of right and principle, but also as a matter of practical value. The critical role of women in development, and the role of women in peace and security have been recognized time and again, most recently in the passage of Security Council Resolution 1820, which builds on Security Council Resolution 1325 and which specifically and historically recognizes the link between sexual violence and peace and security. A root cause of violence against women is discrimination against women, and I believe that gender equality will contribute to development and security, as well as human rights.

Mr. President,

Genocide is the ultimate form of discrimination. We must all do everything in our power to prevent it. What I learned as a judge on the Rwanda Tribunal about the way in which a society can be shattered, and the way in which one human being can abuse another, will haunt me forever.

We have to break the cycles of violence, the mobilization of fear, and the political exploitation of difference—ethnic, racial and religious difference. The Universal Declaration, as well as the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, grew out of the Holocaust, but we have yet to learn the lesson of the Holocaust, as genocide continues. International criminal justice is a relatively new phenomenon that has changed the dynamics of global politics. It has given us a tool of

accountability that we did not have before, and we have to be creative and thoughtful about how we can use that tool to prevent war rather than prosecute war crimes after the fact.

We must help States address the root causes that make genocidal atrocities even possible. As requested by the Human Rights Council last March, my Office is currently planning a seminar on the prevention of genocide. This event will not only enable us to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the genocide convention, which falls on 9 December 2008, but it will also offer an important opportunity to explore strategies that can be adopted to prevent this most heinous of crimes. I have served as a judge in the prosecution of genocide for many years and contributed to bringing a former prime minister to justice and to holding accountable those who controlled the media for whipping up a frenzy of hatred that exploded into genocide. I now welcome the opportunity to be able to step back and focus on prevention.

Indeed, I am particularly pleased that OHCHR will organize a seminar to further explore the implications of Articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We will focus on the balance between freedom of expression and the need to enhance protection against incitement to hatred, discrimination, hostility or violence. We hope that this discussion will also provide guidance to States where, increasingly, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic communities coexist.

Distinguished Members of the Human Rights Council,

A moment ago, I spoke about the imperative for all States to wholeheartedly participate in, give effect to, and take full ownership of human rights processes and agendas. In a similar vein, I wish to emphasize the need to involve, support and, when necessary, stimulate robust contributions from civil society and National Human Rights Institutions in such processes. Indeed, human rights defenders represent a veritable pillar for the scrutiny and accountability that sustain the edifice of human rights work. There is no doubt that civil society’s activism, expertise, profile and influence have grown exponentially since I was a young anti-apartheid lawyer.

Yet, rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, which are indispensable to the functioning of civil society, have come under sustained attack in all regions of the world. Although the flaring up of repression of protest in some countries routinely captures international attention and concern, elsewhere in less visible, but pervasive ways, States have recently enacted or tightened legislation aimed at curtailing or severely restricting the ability of organized civil society to gather and advocate views deemed detrimental to State interests. By the same token, in too many countries the press continues to be muzzled.

Against this background, it is quite clear that civil society should be constantly vigilant and jealously defend its prerogatives and rights. In doing so, it should take advantage of the human rights mechanisms which can assist individuals and organizations in this vital task. Undoubtedly, the 10th anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders should offer an opportunity to compare notes and fine tune strategies that can assist and strengthen civil society in its human rights work.


Conflict and other man-made calamities, as well as natural catastrophes, continue to engender mass people movement often within some of the very same countries that can least afford such upheavals. An opportunity for additional reflection on how to better retool our responses to this unremitting challenge presents itself with the celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. The 2005 World Summit, the largest gathering of heads of State and government in history, recognized that they provide an "important international framework for the protection of internally displaced persons.” Laudably, the principles have been integrated in numerous national and regional legislations and policies. Translated in more than 50 languages, they guide the action of national authorities, international organizations and NGOs working with IDPs. We must ensure that these principles are implemented uniformly and consistently at all times.

Mr. President,

Many in this room are just back from Vienna where they took stock of 15 years of work that followed the World Conference on human rights. I am sure that important elements of that discussion will be reflected in the work ahead. Let me just recall here that the Vienna process led to the creation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Sustained by the United Nations principles of impartiality, independence and integrity, I am determined to follow in the footsteps of my predecessors who envisaged and shaped their office as a springboard for the betterment and welfare of all and a place where all are given a fair audience.

These are a few of my preliminary thoughts, as yet uninformed by those in the system who have been dealing with these matters in much more detail. As the new High Commissioner for Human Rights, and as an individual who has in her life faced mighty challenges, I will spare no effort in the pursuit and advocacy of human rights. I know that in this extremely demanding task, I will be able to count on the assistance of many excellent colleagues and partners, as well as on the wisdom of the President of the Human Rights Council and of the Council’s members.

Thank you.

September 07, 2008

Sinhala hegemony taking a hold

by Dr. Vickramabahu Karunaratne

The recent provincial council elections show the nature of the consolidation of the Sinhala nationalist state. One could extrapolate from each district, and indications will show the consolidation of Sinhala hegemony throughout Sinhala areas except perhaps in the Western Province. This has intensified repression. Mano Ganesan maybe charged for “assisting” the LTTE.

An attempt is being made to track down all those responsible for the Hiru publication. Hiru was a Sinhala weekly that defended Tamil autonomy. However there are some oppositional forces that directly or indirectly challenge Sinhala hegemony.

Firstly the Tamil resistance in the north is still forceful. In spite of government claims of LTTE losses, the latter is continuing to be a formidable resistance. It is true that they have lost important avenues of resources but they appear to have overcome these setbacks. The most important gain has been the sympathy of the Tamil masses.


In spite of the appeals of the government through leaflets and messages sent through the administrative mechanism involving GA, AGAs and gramsevekas, refugees have not come back to Sinhala army controlled areas. Even the social services’ appeals of international agencies have failed to break this determination of these hungry and miserable people. Even in the Tamil diaspora the sympathy for the resistance has grown. In other words Tamil resistance has taken a wider meaning. The Sinhala army’s attempt to takeover the heart of the Tamil homeland has aroused strong feelings among all Tamils. Secondly the teachers’ boycott of A/L examination work became a problem for the government. At a time when even the oppositional political parties, the UNP and the JVP, succumbed to Sinhala nationalist pressure, the stand taken by the teachers is remarkable. The Mahinda regime accused teacher union leaders of collaboration with the LTTE. Indirectly, it was taken by the government before the Supreme Court and the CJ ruled that the government should come up with a feasible solution. In effect the Supreme Court ruling accuses the government of negligence and playing with the future of students!

Trade union movement

In the meantime there are three tendencies within the trade union movement. Bala Thampo has convened a meeting of all trade union federations to organise a delegate conference of workplace leaders on the issues of war and inflation. It has attracted some of the pro government trade unions as well, indicating the dissension within the ranks of old left parties. Then there is the August 4 movement that proposed a protest day on the same issues. While the debate about the importance of a delegate conference before any island wide action programme is still going on, Lal Kantha of the JVP is still going on with their proposal of a three-day general strike.

However, the JVP leadership is strongly influenced by the hegemony of Sinhala nationalism. It is doubtful whether Lal Kantha could go ahead displacing the Sinhala chauvinism of the leadership. We cannot underestimate the influence of the media freedom campaign against the authoritarianism of the government. Media personnel became targets of the government automatically when they displayed the truth about the war: corruption, Sinhala chauvinism and grave human rights violations. The media freedom movement is capable of calling together all parties and unions committed to the defence of media freedom and human rights and continue the campaign it started before the election. Apparently, a proposal for a common protest meeting in Colombo is under consideration.
What is the attitude of the international community? This is basically governed by the stand of the Indian rulers.

Delhi leaders are more frightened of the LTTE than of the Indian left or the Tamil Nadu agitations. They expect the Sinhala army to gain control over the Tamil homeland, before any meaningful steps are taken to persuade the Mahinda regime towards real power sharing or autonomy for the Tamil homeland. This position has been accepted by the world powers in spite of the liberal remarks that they make here and there. However, international left and far left movements have stopped believing government and the JVP propaganda. The former has taken a strong stand for devolution.

Tamil liberation

They have recognised Tamil liberation as an authentic movement against oppression. The left in India, particularly the communist parties, have taken Tamil autonomy as a serious demand and both parties have dropped their special connection to the JVP.

In this scenario there is a strong tendency developing for a way out challenging the Sinhala hegemony of the government. Left currents from many directions are coming together to put together a common programme to struggle against not only Sinhala hegemony but also the pseudo opposition of the UNP. The need of the hour is to make democracy and freedom a reality. [lakbimanews.lk]

September 06, 2008

Prejudice, Phobia and Parochial Politics Hindering Progress

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

Recent responses to some comments and suggestions concerning the resolution of Sri Lanka’s protracted ethnic conflict by those seeking a political settlement have highlighted the forces opposed to changing the present political order. The Sinhala nationalists have now come up with crafty reasons for keeping the unitary structure in its present form. They do not want any change that undermines the dominant role of the ethnic Sinhalese in governing the entire island. Even devolution is anathema to some middle-class Sinhala nationalists. The nationally destructive conflict emerged from ignoring the rights, interests, concerns and aspirations of the ethnic minorities. The diverse ethnic makeup of the provinces was also conveniently ignored by political parties anxious to please the Sinhala nationalists. Under the centralized unitary system, the ethnic Tamils and Muslims in the North and East where they outnumber the Sinhalese have no way of influencing decisions that concern their welfare, security and socio-economic development.

In his analysis of the results of the recent North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council elections, under the caption ‘Increased polarisation is the other side of euphoria’ Jehan Perera in the Daily Mirror 26 August has attributed the psychology of resistance that developed among the Tamil people in the Tamil majority north-east to the reality of overall ethnic majority rule over the ethnic minorities. The awareness that “their fate was being decided in the electoral verdicts that the more numerous southern (Sinhala) electorate would be delivering, and which they in the north had little or no opportunity to influence” was indeed frustrating.

The disintegration of the multi-ethnic nation of Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and other ethnic minorities started with the move to curtail the rights and opportunities enjoyed by the ‘Ceylon Tamils’ at the time of independence. This was politically advantageous for the parties whose supporters were mainly ethnic Sinhalese who had also been infused with the fear of Tamil domination. The marginalization of ethnic Tamils, who under the British colonial ‘divide and rule’ policy prospered relatively well was also perceived as useful for safeguarding the supremacy of the Sinhala Buddhists in the independent island nation.

Although the proportion of Tamils in the entire island is relatively small, taken together with the 70 million Tamils in south India the ethnic community is perceived by some nationalists a threat to the Sinhala nation. The language, religious and cultural ties of Sri Lankan Tamils with their brethren in Tamil Nadu give a basis for this phobia. Moreover, India with nearly a billion people and considerable military and economic power is perceived by some Sinhala nationalists a potential threat to their sovereignty. Because of this fear close economic ties and Indian investment in Sri Lanka are viewed suspiciously.

Although the upcountry Tamils (earlier known as Indian Tamils) are the known descendants of the migrants who arrived during the British colonial period to work mainly in the tea and rubber plantations they are not considered to be a potential threat by the Sinhala nationalists. Their leaders did not make the kind of demands made by indigenous Tamil (Ceylon Tamil) leaders before independence. This was in response to the historical connections with ancient Sinhalese monarchs claimed by the then Sinhalese patriotic leaders, although the entire island was not at any time solely under one or more Sinhalese rulers.


The claim for territorial and communal representation was made by Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan from the standpoint of maintaining “the good relations that existed between the ethnic communities”. Regrettably, he opposed the extension of the franchise recommended by the Donoughmore Commission as he thought universal suffrage would institutionalize Sinhala majority rule, which was detrimental to the interests of Ceylon Tamils. The social class distinction influenced his political thinking. The Tamil Vellalas who had high proportion of educated members wanted to be at the center of influence. Ramanathan advocated property and educational qualifications for the exercise of franchise knowing fully well this would only empower the better-off and more educated sections, leaving the poor and less educated lot as second class citizens. The attitudes of Sinhala and Tamil elites were not very different. The Sinhala nationalists anxious to keep the Tamils under control are from the elitist class.

In a 50-page Memorandum to the Secretary of State for the Colonies dated 18 July 1930 Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan asked: “What then would be the fate of the different races in Ceylon where only a very small percentage of the people have received elementary education, where the vast majority of the people have not learnt to manage their own affairs properly…? Universal suffrage for a people who have not been given universal elementary education and sound education in business methods will assuredly lead to the filling of the legislature with speculators and schemers, skilled in robbing Peter to pay Paul”. (The break-up of Sri Lanka by Prof. A. J. Wilson 1988)


The universal free education introduced on the eve of independence raised the literacy rate appreciably as well as the demand for white collar jobs. Initially many were able enter the government service but later unemployment of educated youth shot up. The education system after abandoning English completely and students compelled to learn exclusively through the medium of their mother tongue turned out to be nationally damaging and unhelpful, especially to those seeking professional careers. Had the parents been given the choice to choose the medium of education for their children, many would have opted for English, while retaining Sinhala and Tamil languages as compulsory subjects in the school curriculum. But the choice was not available because the politicians were anxious to portray themselves as patriots.

The new system promoted the concept of two nations based primarily on the linguistic difference (not religious) of the citizens. The frustration of the educated youth increased because of the difficulty in securing employment. In general, even present graduates of Sri Lankan universities lack basic skills as well as proficiency in English essential for high level employment in the organized private sector. Education is a much broader concept than just obtaining a paper qualification.

Education from the kindergarten to the university denied opportunities to cultivate friendship between students from different ethnic groups and importantly the sense of all fellow citizens belonging to one Sri Lankan nation. The media-wise standardization of marks to reduce the number of Tamil students qualified to enter the universities was a deadly blow to Tamil aspiration. Thus, parochial politics denied gainful education to the children and promoted the concept of two nations in the island.

Modernizing the education system to conform to present and future social and economic needs is resisted even now by the power seeking Sinhala nationalists. Dr. Tara de Mel has drawn attention to the “destructive and savage behaviour” of some university students and the continued practice “to bow to their ridiculous demands” and the “reluctance in pursuing important policies connected to modernising education”. The fear of antagonizing the Sinhala nationalists who have been supporting parties like the JVP seems to be the reason. Incidentally, most JVP members are also the product of the divisive education system that promoted the wrong idea of patriotism based on racial prejudice.

To quote from her article in ‘The Island’ 21 August 2008: “A few years ago, when the regime in power at that time proposed progressive reforms to the school and university education sectors, the hue and cry orchestrated by the JVP was deafening. Except for a minority, many in that Government feared and held in awe the JVP. And this was not just due to the power they held over the Government with their numbers in parliament. Several excellent and landmark initiatives related to education that had been proposed, planned and approved by the cabinet had to be aborted due to the irrational fears that the regime harboured about the JVP” (and nationalists in other parties including its own).

Another damning report ‘Teachers` pact with the devil a la Faustus’ dated 27 August 2008 stated: “The JVP is in a position to wreak havoc on schools, catch students young, indoctrinate them and turn them into cannon fodder in a future insurgency! In the late 1980s, it may be recalled, the JVP shamelessly took out school children, some of them as young as five or six years, to take part in its demonstrations against the JRJ government. Many students perished in the uprising, as could be seen from the Suriya Kanda mass grave, where over a dozen school children were found buried. Governments are callous and politicians stupid and inconsiderate. They won’t give two hoots about teachers` or students` problems, as they love to have a nation of ignoramuses who will vote for them without asking questions. Let there be no argument about that fact”. Although the LTTE does not have similar power to meddle with the system, the damage done by them to the education of Tamil children in the North- East is enormous. The point here is the past negative political developments because of weak and parochial leadership with no long-term outlook are now major obstacles to reforms that are vital for the future of the nation and the people.


There are some Sinhala nationalists (patriots) who intentionally want to downplay (some pretend not to exist) the grievances of the ethnic minorities. Their real motive is to retain the present unitary structure without devolving powers to the provinces. S. L. Gunasekara a well-known Colombo lawyer has argued in his article in the Daily Mirror 28 August 2008 that the Tamils in Sri Lanka do not have a monopoly of grievances that need to be addressed by a political solution. He was responding to Indian National Security Adviser M. K. Narayanan’s recent interview with the Strait Times in which he said: “What the Sri Lankans are not factoring in is the great deal of sullenness in the Tamil man…..unless you give the Tamils a feeling they have the right to their destiny in many matters, you will not succeed.”

He has ridiculed Narayanan’s remark made in the context of the ongoing conflict which has nothing to do with the grievances of the Sinhalese people. It is certainly not his “extreme myopia” that made him to refer to the “sullenness” of the Tamil man. Also, he did not say that he saw, “only smiles of supreme contentment in all others - be they Sinhalese, Muslim or any other…” Indeed, vast majority of Sri Lankans in all ethnic communities have common grievances regarding their children’s education, present high cost of living, employment opportunities, public services, security and uncertain future.

Narayanan was not commenting on the prevailing social and economic conditions in Sri Lanka but specifically on the lingering ethnic problem.

The way the lawyer has responded, seems like arguing a case in a court of law. The distinction between the general grievances and those specific to the ethnic minorities is directly connected with the monopoly of control, the system has bestowed on the Sinhala polity, which has denied the ethnic minorities the right to their destiny in matters concerning their general welfare, aspirations, security and socio-economic advancement.
On the common grievances he has said - “those who suffer because of these ailments in the body politic are the ordinary people and, in particular, the poor, be they Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim. No one or more communities have a monopoly of such suffering: we are, in this regard, partners in misfortune. Nobody can enjoy his undoubted right to his destiny when much of it is controlled by functionaries to whom a `sense of shame’ is something that is extinct!!!” If there is the will, these can be addressed by implementing apt policies. Why concerned persons like S. L. Gunasekara have not pressed for counteractive measures? Were there other pressing issues requiring the full attention of successive governments?

With regard to the specific grievances of ethnic minorities, he has cited the plight of the Tamils because of the harsh war not mentioning those connected with the neglect and unfair treatment for decades by successive governments. “Thus, today, the Tamils of the Northern Province suffer untold hardships because of the terrorism of the LTTE in the same way that the Sinhalese suffered untold hardships because of the terrorism of the JVP. Such hardships, however, must necessarily end with the now inevitable defeat of the LTTE in the same way that the particular hardships suffered by the Sinhalese ended with the annihilation of all but one of the leadership of the JVP”. Surely, he cannot be unaware of the many hardships continuously endured by the Tamils and Muslims because of their helpless state in the present setup. Over 5 decades of bitter experience with the Sinhala majority rule that is sensitive to the concerns of Sinhala nationalists, on what grounds the ethnic minorities can believe their separate sufferings and concerns about their future will ease? What gives them the confidence in the expressed hope that the restoration of “standards” and “a sense of shame” will resolve the ethnic problem? The optimism seems to be based on the military defeat of the LTTE as if that is the main obstacle in the path to lasting peace. In the past promises and official declarations gave false hopes. This too contributed to the distrust, especially of desperate Tamils in the unitary system.

The post war hope for change is based on the imagined unity of the people of all races and collective action for ethical improvements within the present polity. “The military defeat of the LTTE will only serve to create conditions conducive to the restoration of `standards’ and a `sense of shame’ and it will be for the People of this Country regardless of race, caste, religion and political affiliation to act in unison to compel the politicians to restore them – for if that is not done, there is no future for us, whether we be Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim …” Whatever unity that existed at the time of independence was shattered by discriminatory policies and practices that hurt severely the ethnic minorities and to expect the restoration of the unity without fundamental changes to the present system is as unrealistic as the establishment of a separate Tamil State. Unity can be achieved only by suitable power sharing arrangement in a reformed democratic system.

Another lawyer Gomin Dayasri (also member of the Expert Panel B that submitted the minority report to the APRC containing maximum safeguards and minimum devolution to retain the unitary system in its present form) has suggested a way “to bind the nation which was disturbed by separatist forces with the connivance of mischievous NGO elements”. (Amity after the War – Asian Tribune 29 August 2008). The division had occurred long before the Tamil Tigers exploited it to achieve their political aim. In fact, they wanted more of the same policies and practices that brought about the division. Anyway, he has said “some of the prime grievances of the Tamils can be identified as – (1) Failure to implement language provisions enshrined in the law; (2) Security Concerns; (3) Acquisition of Land and payment of compensation and/or release; (4) Land and Water; (5) Child Recruitment; (6) Lack of development; (7) Multi ethnic defense and police force; (8) Lack of Employment opportunities; (9) Rehabilitation of internally displaced persons; and (10) Inadequate infrastructural benefits.”

The problems caused by the destructive war must not be confused with those created by discriminatory policies and practices that were possible freely under the present unitary constitution. There are no safeguards like Section 29(2) in the Soulbury Constitution to protect minority rights. He also wants the “legitimacy of these grievances” to be examined. “The Tamils must establish their grievances are legitimate and the government must examine and satisfy their validity and thereupon ensure that remedies of a lasting nature are provided while assuring that no harm befalls the other communities. Tamils, if they fall prey to extreme elements and the NGO community; if the Sinhala leadership listens to the fanatic elements- the hand of friendship cannot be extended in the hour of need, after the culmination of the War”. He has also dismissed the provisions relevant to political settlement in the Constitution Bill of 2000 submitted to Parliament by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga as weird. Apparently, he is glad these “were shot down at conception”. It is clear from the conciliatory rhetoric that the intent is to avoid any changes to the lopsided structure that has bestowed Sinhala majority rule throughout the island.

The following statements substantiate this conclusion. “Provincial Council system has proved to be a colossal failure-another in the series of blunders made by J.R. Jayawardane who can be described as the father of terrorism in the North and the South with Prabhakaran and Wijeweera as the off springs”. “The satisfaction of the grievances will directly benefit the minorities while devolution alone will enhance powers acquired by politicians and how much of it will trickle down to the constituents, as past experience has shown is doubtful”. “Grievances of the minorities can be addressed forthwith without the tinkering of Constitution which is an impossibility t o amend with provisions dealing with 2/3 majorities and a referendum”. He must be grateful to JR for putting down these conditions! Finally, the phobia that has stood in the way to reasonable settlement taking cognizance of the diverse demographic and regional features is evident from the statement – “Minorities can gain much if they can convince the majority that they do not make claims that give rise to separatism”.

Superficial democracy

Democracy in sovereign Sri Lanka has been perceived as the majority rule of the people who elect periodically their representatives to the Parliament. In the Cabinet system policies and programmes are not decided according to the specific needs of the people in the different provinces. There is no way to consider their concerns, views and suggestions before decisions are made on important matters. The Executive Committee system that existed before independence provided space for members from different parties to participate in the decision-making process.

Regular elections are a good indication of strong democracies, provided the results reflect the free will of the voters. In a representative democracy, all parties must be allowed to compete on an equal footing and the citizens given the opportunity to make their own choice. With the intrusion of corrupt practices, elections have not been entirely free and fair. Many voters do not cast their votes on the basis of past performances of candidates and/or their known stands on national issues relevant to the general welfare of all citizens and overall development because politicians have made parochial and nationalistic issues more important. Under the present system even the candidates rejected by the electorate are able to become immediately parliamentarians and even Ministers!

The stark truth is democracy and the unitary system ignored the diverse ethnic and regional features and majority rule did not represent the real structure of the Lankan society. In the North and East, the vocal language is mainly Tamil and the customs are also different. The ethnic composition in the East changed significantly because of government sponsored colonization schemes. There was no concerted effort to integrate residents of all ethnic communities as stakeholders in the development of the region and allay the fears of the ethnic communities previously settled there. The official policies after independence polarized the society along ethnic lines and underscored the division between traditional Tamil and Sinhalese regions.

The culture of impunity that grew rapidly in recent years has also undermined democracy. Sri Lanka is now widely recognized as a dangerous place for journalists, following several violent incidents where media personnel have been abducted or assaulted and their equipment damaged or seized or arrested on flimsy charges. The journalists unions have accused the government for creating a culture where any one is free to assault a journalist with a camera or a notebook. This recent accusation is the culmination of several earlier incidents where the assailants were goons including a Cabinet Minister. None of them were apprehended and brought to justice. The latest incident occurred on August 28 when three journalists who were interviewing members of the public were attacked by Colombo university medical students. The Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association secretary, Podddala Jayantha said: “The government has worked towards establishing a Mervyn Silva-media culture in the country. This is why medical students assaulted journalists, who were collecting material for a current news matter.” He also said “the country had reached a point, where the public believed that journalists could be manhandled and assaulted and their equipment damaged or stolen and that nothing would be done about it”.

In real democracy, governments must be committed to human rights, rule of law, basic freedom including freedom of expression (media freedom), good governance, social justice and the welfare of all citizens. The lawful right to information in many countries has helped to observe the doctrine of accountability. Politics in Sri Lanka is largely parochial and self-interest takes precedence over other wider interests of the society and the country. An article in Sri Lanka Guardian 29 August 2008 captioned ‘Politicians dragging Lanka towards anarchy’ states “Politics in Sri Lanka has proved an easy way for politicians to become rich fast. Many politicians who have not had a proper education, but the ability to dupe people with their rhetoric are having a field day. The racist war created by them for personal gain has reduced this country to a pariah state where only rulers enjoy life while others starve”.


In her article in the EPW Economic & Political Weekly, August 9 ‘Democracy as Solution to Sri Lanka’s Ethnic Crisis’, Rohini Hensman has proposed a shift in emphasis from devolution to democracy as the current system is not majority rule (of the collective Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and others) but that of the minority elitist class. “The representatives who are elected - and they tend to come from the wealthier strata of society - can go on to do what they like without any reference to the wishes of their constituents and there is very little the latter can do about it until the next elections”. It is important to remind here, the ethnic divide was exploited by the ‘minority elitist’ class in the south to gain mass support vital for seizing power. The power seekers also gave confidence that they would protect the Sinhala people against future Tamil dominance. Many Sinhala voters believed this was necessary for a better and secure life. The reasons for denying political power and economic benefits to the ethnic minorities are not because of the class distinction in the Lankan society. There are problems associated with class distinction but these are different from those faced by Tamils as members of ethnic minority community.

Rohini has said that the discriminatory acts such as “the disenfranchisement of upcountry Tamils and the Official Language Act to the recent revival of attempts at Sinhala colonisation of the East, successive governments or parties hoping to come to power have enacted or advocated policies that deprive members of minority communities of their citizenship, franchise, employment, education, land, homes and in many cases their lives, all in the name of the Sinhalese majority” have only benefitted a “Very few” Sinhalese. “….majoritarianism is a way in which (elitist) ‘minority rule’ seeks to legitimise itself by creating the illusion that a small elite speaks and acts in the interests of the majority” (Sinhalese). Let us not get confused between two different problems With regard to the ethnic conflict, the issue is not how many Sinhalese have benefitted from the pro-Sinhala discriminatory policies but the fact that the entire Tamil speaking ethnic minority has suffered immensely.

The choice is not between more democracy and less devolution or vice versa. Given the nature of the problems that are hindering progress, real democracy and maximum devolution are needed. By allowing the representatives of the people in the provinces to decide on matters concerning the needs, welfare and security of the residents, democratic process is made more meaningful. Empowering the people in the provinces to influence the decisions that directly concern their day-to-day living is not a sinister move towards separation. The federal system was initially proposed by the Kandyan Sinhalese chiefs in their appearances before the Donoughmore Commission in 1927. The suggested federal polity consisted of (i) the Tamil areas of the Northern and Eastern Provinces; (ii) the Low Country Sinhalese provinces (the Southern and Western) ; and (iii) the Kandyan Sinhalese (upcountry) provinces. It is worth mentioning here that the Donoughmore Commissioners as a compromise suggested Provincial Councils (Chapter VII of their Report). Moreover, the Soulbury Commissioners in their Report of 1945 “echoed more positive views on the subject of Provincial Councils. They took cognizance of the fact that the then Ceylon Government had already proposed Provincial Councils” (Prof. A. J. Wilson in ‘The Break-up of Sri Lanka’).

The present Constitution allows the abuse of power, misuse of public funds, violation of the rule of law, nepotism, discriminatory policies and practices against ethnic minorities, human rights violations and autocratic rule via the powerful Executive Presidency. Despite all these weaknesses that have hindered stability, peace and progress, it is very valuable for some because of the unitary structure enshrined in it. This is crucial for safeguarding their interests and status, hence their keenness to hold on to the 1978 Constitution with the 13th Amendment dormant. If this is going to be the case, it is not difficult for any sensible person to predict the future of Sri Lanka.

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

September 04, 2008

Opportunities and challenges in the globalized world

"Rohan Weerasinghe graduated from Harvard College and then earned a joint MBA and law degree from Harvard Business School and Law School.  He is now the senior partner at Shearman and Sterling, a major Wall Street law firm, and the first Asian to head a Wall Street firm. 

Raj Rajaratnam received his MBA from the University of Pennsylvania and founded the Galleon Fund which is one of the largest hedge funds in the world managing more than $5 billion in assets. 

Jayantha Dhanapala earned a BA at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, UK  and an MA from American University in Washington D.C. He capped an extraordinary diplomatic career by serving as Under-Secretary General for Disarmament Affairs. 

Rohan de Silva studied at the Royal Academy of Music and The Juilliard School in New York and is widely recognized as one of the world great pianists. 

Radhika Coomaraswamy received her BA from Yale University, and a law degree from Columbia University. She is now Under-Secretary-General, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict" - US Ambassador Robert Blake  

US Ambassador Robert Blake's Remarks for the Carsons Undergraduate Convention, September 4, 2008:

Students, parents, friends, first let me congratulate Carsons Management Services for organizing this gathering.  

I thought I would use this opportunity to talk to you a little about the globalized world you will be entering, the tectonic changes that are taking place, and the opportunities and challenges you will face.

[Ambassador Robert Blake, at Carsons Undergraduate Convention, September 4, 2008]

It might be appropriate to start by defining globalization.  My boss, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a recent speech characterized globalization as the interdependence among peoples and governments and the rapid international movement of information, money, technology and people.  She said these are the main drivers of change in the world today.  They are transforming our world in two important ways.

First, globalization is empowering those nations that can seize its benefits, and at the same time, it is revealing the weaknesses of many others and their inability to govern effectively.   She said America’s greatest foreign policy challenge will come from the many states that are too weak, too corrupt or too poorly governed to be able exercise their basic responsibilities like policing their territory, governing justly, enabling the potential of their people and preventing the threats that gather within their countries from destabilizing their neighbors and, ultimately, the international system.

David Rothkopf, of the Carnegie Endowment, takes Secretary Rice’s argument one step further.  He says that one of the major challenges of our time is the waning power of nation states which is creating a void.  That void is being filled by a new “superclass,” a new global elite who are much more nimble in operating on the global stage and influencing global outcomes than the vast majority of national political leaders.  Many of this new superclass are leaders from business such as Bill Gates, entertainment such as Bono, and academics such as Jeffrey Sachs, who is a Professor of Sustainable Development at Columbia University and Special Advisor to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  But some of them also are criminals such as the notorious arms dealer Victor Bout (who is now in custody) and terrorists like Osama Bin Laden. 

Another Perspective

Richard Haass, the President of the respected Council on Foreign Relations in New York,  provided another perspective in a recent article.  Haass believes the days when the U.S. was the world’s only superpower are now over.  Power in international relations in the twenty-first century will be more diffuse and shared by nonstate actors.

Haass tells us that at first glance, the world today appears to be multipolar.  The great powers – the United States, China, the European Union (EU), India, Japan, and Russia -- contain just over half the world's people, and account for 75 percent of global GDP and 80 percent of global defense spending.  But those statistics can be misleading, he argues, because there are many more power centers.  One of the new features of today’s globalized world is that nation-states have lost their monopoly on power. They are being challenged by regional and global organizations; from below, by militias; and from the side, by a variety of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and corporations. In sum, power is now found in many hands and in many places.

Economic power also is becoming diffused, Haass tells us.  Sovereign wealth funds, that is government-controlled pools of wealth, mostly from oil and gas exports in countries such as Kuwait, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates now total some $3 trillion. These are part of a massive wealth transfer that is taking place from oil importing countries to oil exporters.  These wealth funds are growing at a projected rate of $1 trillion a year and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future because energy prices are likely to remain high, driven mostly by the surge in Chinese and Indian demand.  

Is Multi-Polarity A Bad Thing?

Some people are worried that the diffusion of global political and economic power is a bad thing.  David Brooks, a respected columnist for the New York Times recently wrote that ever since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, people have looked at the way President Harry Truman, Secretary of State George C. Marshall and others created forward-looking global institutions after World War II, and they’ve asked: Why can’t we rally that kind of international cooperation to confront terrorism, global warming, nuclear proliferation and the rest of today’s problems?

Brooks’ answer is that, in the late 1940s, global power was concentrated and global leadership rested on the Atlantic alliance. The United States accounted for roughly half of world economic output.   Today power is dispersed with the rise of China, India, Brazil and the rest.

Brooks contends that while some think dispersion of power should be a good thing, in practice, multipolarity means that more groups have effective veto power over collective action.  Put another way, this new pluralistic world has given rise to what Brooks aptly calls “globosclerosis,” that is an inability to solve problem after problem.

As an example, Brooks points to the recent failure of multilateral talks in Doha to liberalize global trade.  He argues that the Doha round collapsed, despite broad international support, because India’s Congress Party did not want to offend small farmers in the run up to India’s national elections next year, and because Chinese leaders refused to compromise in defending their cotton and rice producers.

Brooks provides other examples.  The world has failed to effectively end genocide in Darfur because China needs oil from Sudan and has therefore blocked more aggressive UN action in Darfur.  Chinese and Russian vetoes foiled efforts to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe.  Similarly the world has failed to implement effective measures to deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The world has failed to embrace a collective approach to global warming.   In each case, the logic is the same. Groups with a strong narrow interest are able to block larger groups with a diffuse but generalized interest. 

Not so Fast

Others are not so pessimistic about the global future or the loss of U.S. influence in the world.  Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek International, has written a much discussed book called the Post American World in which he documents the rise of countries like China, India, Brazil and Turkey, but also provides a cogent argument to show that the United States will remain a vital, vibrant economy, at the forefront of the next revolutions in science, technology, and industry.  Let me briefly summarize Zakaria’s view.  

Zakaria demonstrates that improved communications technologies have leveled the global playing field, allowing capital to move freely across the world.  The United States has benefited massively from these trends. The US economy has received hundreds of billions of dollars in investment, and its companies have entered new countries and industries with great success.
Zakaria  highlights several indicators to prove his point: 

  • The World Economic Forum currently ranks the United States as the world's most competitive economy. 
  • GDP growth has averaged just over three percent in the United States for 25 years, significantly higher than in Europe or Japan. 
  • Productivity growth has been over 2.5 percent for a decade now, a full percentage point higher than the European average.

America’s leading role is likely to continue, Zakaria argues.  By way of example, he cites nanotechnology which is likely to lead to fundamental breakthroughs over the next 50 years, and is a field dominated by the United States.  The US has more dedicated "nanocenters" than the next three nations (Germany, Britain, and China) combined and has issued more patents for nanotechnology than the rest of the world combined, illustrating America’s unusual ability to turning abstract theory into practical products.

The same is true for Biotechnology. Biotechnology revenues in the United States approached $50 billion in 2005, five times as large as the amount in Europe and representing 76 percent of global biotechnology revenues.

Zakaria acknowledges that manufacturing has been leaving the U.S. to the developing world, transforming the United States into a service economy.  But outsourcing has strengthened U.S. competitiveness.  He shows that the real money is in designing and distributing products -- which the United States dominates -- rather than manufacturing them. A vivid example of this is the iPod: it is manufactured mostly outside the United States in countries such as China, but most of the added value is captured by Apple, in California.

Why is the U.S. still leading the world in 21st century products such as nano and biotechnology?  Zakaria says it is because higher education is the United States' best industry.  He cites a 2006 report from the London-based Center for European Reform which points out that the United States invests 2.6 percent of its GDP in higher education, compared with 1.2 percent in Europe and 1.1 percent in Japan.

He also points to studies that show that the United States, with five percent of the world's population, has either seven or eight of the world's top ten universities and between 48 and 68 percent of the top 50. The situation in the sciences is particularly striking. In India, universities graduate between 35 and 50 Ph.D.'s in computer science each year; in the United States, the figure is 1,000. A list of where the world's 1,000 best computer scientists were educated shows that the top ten schools are all American.

The United States also remains by far the most attractive destination for students, taking in 30 percent of the total number of foreign students globally, and its collaborations between business and educational institutions are unmatched anywhere in the world. Zakaria argues these advantages are likely to be sustained because the structure of European and Japanese universities -- mostly state-run bureaucracies -- is unlikely to change. And while China and India are opening new institutions, it is not easy to create a world-class university in even a few decades.

Let me take shameless advantage of this opportunity to put in a brief plug.  This Friday and Saturday at the Hilton Hotel, the US Embassy will be hosting our first ever education fair at which American representatives from 22 U.S. Universities will be available to meet Sri Lankan students to talk about undergraduate and graduate study opportunities in the U.S.  I hope all of you will come.

Returning to my topic, Zakaria interviews Singapore's minister of education, who explains the difference between his country's system and that of the United States as follows.  "We both have meritocracies, America’s is a talent meritocracy, ours is an exam meritocracy. We know how to train people to take exams. You know how to use people's talents to the fullest. Both are important, but there are some parts of the intellect that we are not able to test well -- like creativity, curiosity, a sense of adventure, ambition. Most of all, America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if it means challenging authority."

Zakaria also points to another crucial advantage the US has over Europe and most of the developed world that will help America sustain its pre-eminent economic and technological advantage: the United States is demographically vibrant.   He cites studies that estimate that the U.S. population will increase by 65 million by 2030, whereas Europe's population will remain "virtually stagnant."  Moreover, Europe by 2030 will have more than twice as many seniors older than 65 than children under 15, with drastic implications for future aging. (Fewer children now means fewer workers later.) In the United States, by contrast, children will continue to outnumber the elderly.

The only real way to avert this demographic decline is for Europe to take in more immigrants.  But Zakaria says that “European societies do not seem able to take in and assimilate people from strange and unfamiliar cultures, especially from rural and backward regions in the world of Islam. The question of who is at fault here -- the immigrant or the society -- is irrelevant. The reality is that Europe is moving toward taking in fewer immigrants at a time when its economic future rides on its ability to take in many more.”  The United States, on the other hand, is famously an immigrant nation made up of all colors, races, and creeds, living and working together in considerable harmony. 

Zakaria tells us the effects of an aging population are considerable: 

-- Fewer workers must pay higher taxes to support the pensions of the growing elderly population.

-- A smaller working-age population means fewer technological, scientific, and managerial advances because most innovative inventors -- and the overwhelming majority of Nobel laureates -- do their most important work between the ages of 30 and 44.

In the US by contrast: 

  • Foreign students and immigrants account for 50 percent of the science researchers in the country and in 2006 received 40 percent of the doctorates in science and engineering and 65 percent of the doctorates in computer science. 
  • By 2010, foreign students will get more than 50 percent of all the Ph.D.'s awarded in every subject in the United States. In the sciences, that figure will be closer to 75 percent. 
  • Half of all Silicon Valley start-ups have one founder who is an immigrant or a first-generation American. 


So what does all this mean for all of you?  It means that in this 21st century world of improved communications, faster travel, and the rapid international movement of information, money, technology and people, there are going to be extraordinary opportunities for you and the other young people of the world who have strong education credentials, strong English language capabilities and the willingness to take risks.  

A recent survey by the Economist Magazine found that even though Asia has more than half of the planet’s inhabitants, the biggest problem facing employers in this region is the lack of employees trained in the skills businesses need.  This is because schools and universities in Asia have been unable to provide sufficient opportunities for the growing number of young Asians to pursue a university education, and those that do attend universities are not able to acquire the skills they need to compete in the 21st century.

As a result the shortage of trained talent ranks as one of the major concerns of businesspeople in Asia, according to the Economist.   NASSCOM, which represents India’s computer software industry, estimates there could be a shortfall of 500,000 IT professionals in India by 2010.  The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that 75,000 business leaders will be needed in China in the next 10 years, while the current stock is 3-5,000.     

This means there will be a global war for talent and all of you can benefit, if you have the right skills.  I think many of you do.  I am continually impressed by the extraordinary Sri Lankans who have distinguished themselves in my country and can be role models for all of you.  Let me cite just a few.   

Rohan Weerasinghe graduated from Harvard College and then earned a joint MBA and law degree from Harvard Business School and Law School.  He is now the senior partner at Shearman and Sterling, a major Wall Street law firm, and the first Asian to head a Wall Street firm. 

Raj Rajaratnam received his MBA from the University of Pennsylvania and founded the Galleon Fund which is one of the largest hedge funds in the world managing more than $5 billion in assets. 

Jayantha Dhanapala earned a BA at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, UK  and an MA from American University in Washington D.C.   He capped an extraordinary diplomatic career by serving as Under-Secretary General for Disarmament Affairs. 

Rohan de Silva studied at the Royal Academy of Music and The Juilliard School in New York and is widely recognized as one of the world great pianists. 

Radhika Coomaraswamy received her BA from Yale University, and a law degree from Columbia University.   She is now Under-Secretary-General, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. 

These outstanding Sri Lankans have risen to the top of their global professions.  So can you through strong educational achievement and hard work.  

Giving Back

I am confident that many if not most of you will prosper in this globalized world.  But let me also ask that you not forget those who were less fortunate than you.  Each of you received assistance or a leg up from parents, mentors and others who helped you to get where you are today.  You must not forget your duty to give back and help others achieve what you have. 

Bill Gates, who is perhaps the most famous drop-out of Harvard College, received an honorary degree from Harvard a few years ago and gave those graduating that year some good advice.  He said that “From those to whom much is given, much is expected."

He urged each of the graduates to take on an issue – either a complex problem, or a deep inequity, and become a specialist on it. Some could make the issue the focus of their career, but you don't have to do that to make an impact. He urged that for a few hours every week, each graduate should use the growing power of the Internet to get informed, find others with the same interests, see the barriers, and find ways to cut through them.

He concluded by saying:  “Don't let complexity stop you. Be activists. Take on big inequities. I feel sure it will be one of the great experiences of your lives.”

Let me conclude by offering some pieces of advice that I wish someone had told me when I was your age. 

First, remember that not all learning takes place in the classroom. Midway through my undergraduate education, I took time off.   I worked for six months as a bellhop in a hotel carrying suitcases to earn some money and then spent nine months traveling around the world with a backpack. This was one of the greatest experiences of my life and convinced me I wanted to lead a life of public service and work on international issues.  I urge all of you to seek out new experiences, especially while you’re young and do not have to worry about taking care of a spouse and children or making payments on your new scooter or car.  People live to learn and every day I still learn something new.

My second piece of advice is to follow your passion.  The world is full of unhappy people who failed to heed this advice.  But it is never too late.  Sri Lanka’s greatest architect was a lawyer until the age of 38.  It was only then that he pursued his passion for architecture and became one of Asia’s greatest architects and a winner of the prestigious Aga Khan award for architecture. 
In my last tour in India I met another individual who followed his passion, which in his case was a river, the Yamuna River which runs through Delhi.  I attended a small event one day where I met an extraordinary young 23 year old man called Vimlendhu Jha who had organized it.  The river was his passion and he organized boat trips to help raise awareness.  I helped him win a grant so he could go on a short trip to the US where he learned more about organizing and fund raising.    While watching CNN the other day, I was delighted to see Vimlendhu is one of 6 young people whom CNN has equipped with cameras, laptops and a brand new Web site. Vimlendhu and his colleagues are blogging and posting videos of their lives and new jobs.  

My third piece of advice is don’t be afraid to challenge conventional wisdom.  Robert Kennedy said “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” 

As I look out into this audience, I see a new generation; a roomful of dreamers, rebels and maybe even some rabble rousers, and that’s a good thing! 

  • Ted Turner rebelled against the convention of the six o’clock evening news and reshaped television reporting by founding CNN. 
  • Twenty years ago Steve Jobs revolutionized the computer industry when Apple computer introduced a computer that used a mouse and icons, today he’s turned the music industry on its head with digital downloads to iPods. 
  • Mahatma Gandhi defied conventional wisdom and brought down an empire through his selfless moral authority and his powerful example of non-violence.  African Americans took Gandhi’s lessons to heart and won the civil rights so long denied to them. 

Let me conclude with a brief anecdote. 

Three boys are in the schoolyard bragging of how great their fathers are.

The first one says: "Well, my father runs the fastest. He can fire an arrow, and start to run, I tell you, he gets there before the arrow".

The second one says: "Ha! You think that's fast! My father is a hunter. He can shoot his gun and be there before the bullet".

The third one listens to the other two and shakes his head. He then says: "You two know nothing about fast. My father is a civil servant. He stops working at 4:30 and he is home by 3:45"!!

So, no, I am not urging all of you to become civil servants although I myself have enjoyed government service immensely. 

Instead I invite you to go out into the world and make a difference.  Be the dreamer, the iconoclast and the person who asks why, or why not, to challenge conventional thinking. Go out and explore, invent, heal, create and inspire.  While society might run smoothly when everyone agrees, it surges forward when pioneers decide to blaze their own trail.  In this globalized world we all inhabit, you have been blessed with a fine education and the opportunity to pursue your passion and do great things for Sri Lanka and yourself.  Do not be content with mediocrity!   

When all is said and done, more is said than done - so let’s do!