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October 30, 2008

International Press Freedom Mission to Sri Lanka

Statement of the International Press Freedom Mission to Sri Lanka

The International Press Freedom Mission to Sri Lanka, on its visit between October 25 and 29,
found a deterioration in the press freedom situation since its last visit in June 2007, marked by a continuation in murders, attacks, abductions, intimidation and harassment of the media. In the recent World Press Freedom Index published by RSF, Sri Lanka has fallen to the lowest press freedom rating of any democratic country worldwide.

The International Mission is alarmed at the use of an anti-terrorism law for the first time in the democratic world, to punish journalists purely for what they have written. J.S. Tissainayagam, B. Jasiharan and V. Vallarmathy have been detained since March 2008 and later charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The Mission is worried about the dangerous precedent this sets for all media nationally and internationally.

In recent months journalists and media institutions seeking to report independently on the ongoing conflict have been attacked and intimidated in a seeming effort to limit public knowledge about the conduct of the war and to reveal their sources. This is a violation of the public right to know and the accepted norm that media sources should be protected.

Media in the North and East of the country have continued to bear the brunt of the worst forms of insecurity. Media access to war-affected areas is heavily restricted with journalists forced to reproduce information disseminated by the conflicting parties. Media are constantly threatened by all parties to the conflict in an effort to curtail independent and critical reporting. The International Mission condemns the murder of P. Devakumar in Jaffna in May 2008, as well as over a dozen other murders documented since 2005.

In the LTTE-controlled areas freedom of expression and freedom of movement continue to be heavily restricted preventing diverse opinions and access to plural sources of information. Media rules gazetted on October 10th by the Sri Lankan Government provide for a number of contingencies under which broadcasting licences can be cancelled, including seven different grounds related to broadcast content. Moreover, a popular broadcast channel has been put on notice that it is to submit transcripts of news broadcasts "to be carried" every week as of October 28th. The international Mission deplores any effort to impose prior restraint or direct censorship on the
media.

The International Mission is shocked at repeated instances of elected representatives and Government Ministers using violence and inflammatory language against media workers and institutions. The Mission is also concerned that state-owned media and the website of the Ministry of Defence have contributed to the vilification of independent media and journalists. Such actions can only be construed as efforts to discredit media through false accusations and clearly places them in danger.

The International Mission applauds the solidarity and resolve shown by the five organisations of journalists in Sri Lanka – the Free Media Movement, Sri Lankan Working Journalists' Association, Federation of Media Employees' Trade Unions, Sri Lankan Tamil Media Alliance and Sri Lankan Muslim Media Forum – in a tough and challenging situation.

Moreover, the International Mission supports the solidarity displayed by media owners and editors in seeking to bring the perpetrators of recent attacks on journalists to justice.

The International Mission would welcome the imminent invitation of the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression by the Sri Lankan government in line with its commitments to the Human Rights Council in 2006.

Background

In October 2006 and June 2007 delegations from the International Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression Mission to Sri Lanka, which is comprised of twelve international press freedom and media development organisations, undertook fact-finding and advocacy missions to Sri Lanka. In order to follow-up on these missions, the International Mission returned to Sri Lanka in October 2008. The delegation for this visit is comprised of the International Federation of Journalists (www.ifj.org), International Media Support (www.i-m-s.dk), International News Safety Institute (www.newssafety.org), International Press Institute (www.freemedia.at), and Reporters Without Borders (www.rsf.org).

Members of the International Mission met with the President of Sri Lanka, Ministerial Committee on Journalists Grievances, political parties, media owners and editors, journalists and media workers, human rights and legal experts, and the international community.

Bleeding Assam Cries out for Attention

By B. Raman

Available police statistics of incidents involving explosions and civilian casualties caused by the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA)since 2002 are given below:

YEAR NUMBER OF EXPLOSIONS CIVILIANS KILLED
2002 18 218
2003 19 260 2004 103 202 2005 121 65 2006 86 59 2007 70 124
2008 (Till end of January) 6 NIL

The figures of civilians killed in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 include civilians killed by explosions as well as in attacks not involving IEDs.Thefigures for 2006 and 2007 refer to only civilians killed by IEDs. While there was a large number of incidents involving IEDs, the number ofcivilians killed per incident was low as compared to incidents involving IEDs caused by jihadi terrorists in other parts of India. This could beattributed to the fact that the explosive material used by the ULFA----much of it procured from Bangladesh--- was of low quality as comparedto the material available to the jihadi terrorists --- whether procured from Pakistan or Bangladesh--- and the expertise in the use of IEDsimparted to the ULFA in the training camps in Bangladesh was also of inferior quality as compared to the expertise imparted to the jihaditerrorists---whether in Pakistan or Bangladesh.


[Bombs in India kill scores - Reuters Video]

A defining characteristic of the incidents involving the use of IEDs targeting civilians in Assam was that many of the incidents specificallytargeted non-Assamese civilians while taking care not to target Assamese-speaking civilians and illegal Bangladeshi migrants. Jihaditerrorists in other parts of India make no distinction. They kill civilians indiscriminately---- without worrying about their religion, ethnic orlinguistic origin.

Jihadi terrorism, as distinguished from the ethnic terrorism of the ULFA kind, has also started making inroads in Assam. According to theAssam Police, the following jihadi organisations are now active in Assam: The Muslim Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA); the IndependentLiberation Army of Assam (ILAA); the People United Liberation Front (PULF); the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), whose Pakistani counterpart isa founding member of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF); and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), whose Pakistanicounterpart is also a member of the IIF. According to them, the activities of all these organisations are co-ordinated by theJamiat-ul-Mujahideen (JUM) of Bangladesh, which organised hundreds of simultaneous explosions of crude devices all over Bangladesh onAugust 17, 2005.

Some HUM cadres, along with two Pakistani nationals, were arrested in August, 1999. Forty-two HUM cadres, including some trained in thePakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK), surrendered till 2006-end. Four HUJI cadres trained in Bangladesh surrendered in August, 2004. OneHUJI cadre was arrested in February, 2004. Till 2006-end, 370 jihadi terrorists belonging to different organisations had been arrested and128 had surrendered.

The Security Forces in Assam have been putting up a determined fight against the ULFA killing 1,128 cadres since 1991 and till 2006-endand arresting 11,173 during the same period. 8,465 others surrendered. The result: decrease in cadre strength; erosion of its support base inthe population; decrease in recruitment and fund collection; and shortage of arms and ammunition. In view of these developments, the ULFA started following a new modus operandi with the following features: decrease in specific targeted violence; increase in indiscriminate violence directed at soft targets; targeting of vital installations in remote areas; attacks on security forces when and wherepossible; and use of unconscious third persons not suspected by the Police for having the IEDs planted in public places. The use of suchunconscious third persons has been increasing.

However, the ULFA still has an estimated hardcore of 800 trained cadres and another 1,500 untrained cadres. There are no signs of anyweakening of its morale and motivation. Its command and control orchestrated from Bangladesh is intact.

Any effective counter-terrorism strategy in Assam has to have the conventional components such as improving intelligence collection,analysis and assessment and co-ordinated follow-up action; improving the capability and resources of the police; strengthened physicalsecurity; and a well-tested crisis management drill. In addition, it must have a strong anti-illegal immigration component---to prevent anyfurther illegal immigration from Bangladesh and the identification, arrests and deportation of those, who have already illegally entered India.Obviously for electoral reasons, there is a reluctance on the part of the Government to deal effectively with illegal immigration. This is likelyto prove suicidal. Muslims constitute about 32 per cent of the population of Assam today. If the problem of illegal immigration fromBangladesh is not tackled, there is a real danger that in another 50 years, Assam might turn into a Muslim majority State.

Pakistan, Bangladesh and China have an interest in keeping Assam destabilised---each for its own reason. The interest of Pakistan andBangladesh is in facilitating the emergence of a Muslim majority State and its ultimate secession from India. The interest of China is inweakening the Indian capability to protect Arunachal Pradesh in the likelihood of the unresolved border dispute over Arunachal Pradesh oneday leading to a confrontation between India and China.

The previous Government headed by Shri A. B. Vajpayee was strong in rhetoric relating to terrorism, but weak in action. Its successor Govt.is weak in rhetoric as well as action. It seems to believe that confidence-building measures with neighbours who are sponsoring terrorismagainst India and the peace process would pay dividends in improving the terrorism situation on the ground. This is unlikely to happen. Lackof determination to act strongly and in time is already costing us heavily and will cost even more heavily in future.

---Extract from the Chapter titled ASSAM: TERRORISM & “SILENT UNARMED INVASION” in my book titled "Terrorism: Yesterday, Today &Tomorrow" published by the Lancer Publishers (www.lancerpublishers.com) of Delhi in June,2008
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More than 50 persons are feared to have died and more than a hundred injured in over 10 blasts that were simultaneously orchestrated inGuwahati, the capital of Assam, and in the Districts of Barpeta and Kokrajhar on the night of October 29,2008. The picture regarding theexact number of explosions and the places where they took place is still confusing. Some reports put the number of explosions as high as18. At least four of the blasts took place in Guwahati.

2. The people of Assam are not strangers to serial blasts carried out from time to time by the ULFA and jihadi organisations of Pakistani andBangladeshi vintage, which have made inroads into the State by taking advantage of the uncontrolled illegal immigration of Muslims into theState from Bangladesh They have been operating separately of each other when possible and in co-ordination with each other, whennecessary.

3. Assam has been the nerve-centre of a cocktail of terrorist organisations----ethnic and jihadi--- who have been systematically eating at thevitals of this State, which is key for protecting the integrity of India from the designs of Pakistan, Bangladesh and China.But nobody hashad the time to pay attention to the alarming ground situation in this key State----neither the Congress (I) nor the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) nor any other party. Taking advantage of the lack of serious attention from the Government of India and the mainstream politicalparties, this cocktail of terrorists has been spreading havoc in the State.

4. "My heart goes out to the people of Assam," said Jawaharlal Nehru in a broadcast to the people of Assam as the Chinese troops weremarching in in 1962. He did nothing to protect them before the Chinese invaded. His Government and its successors did precious little toprotect this right arm of India and its people either from the Chinese in the event of another war or from the terrorist organisations of varioushues which have come up in the State since the 1980s. Who is whose surrogate? Who is the surrogate of Pakistan? Who is the surrogate ofBangladesh? Who is the surrogate of China? Is there a joint co-ordination by Pakistan, Bangladesh and China to undermine the control of theIndian State? Nobody knows the answer.

5. Everyone is clueless---- the intelligence agencies, the police, the security forces, the political class. There is hardly any realisation of theseriousnress of the situation in Assam. One can even understand inadequacies and even incompetence, but one is alarmed by the totaldisinterest in Delhi in what is going on in Assam.

6. It is too early to say who was involved in the explosions of October 29---- the ULFA only or ULFA plus? One has to wait for the results of theinvestigation, but from the large number of casualties and the widespread nature of the attacks, one thing is already clear----there has beena worrisome increase in the lethality of the explosives available to the terrorists and their ability to use them effectively.

7. Public opinion has to force the Governments at the Centre and in the State and the political class as a whole to act before it is too late.(30-10-08)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For TopicalStudies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )

October 29, 2008

Having an Obama in its future - Good or bad for us?

By B.Raman

The world has seen made-in-the-Internet scholars, made-in-the-Internet stock-brokers, made-in-the-Internet lovers and even made-in-the-Internet terrorists.

If Senator Barrack Obama is elected the President of the United States on November 4, the US and the rest of the world will be seeing for the first time a made-in-the-Internet President.

The way his advisers and entourage have effectively used the Internet to make him known to the people, to collect funds for him and to project him as a right-thinking person, who will take the US into a brave new world, will form the theme of many likely best-sellers if he wins the elections, as he seems destined to do.

Large sections of the American people are in a state of guilt----- over having suppressed the Blacks for so many years, over having supported President Bush and his Neo Conservatives in their Iraq adventure under the pretext of removing non-existent weapons of mass destruction, and over so many other perceived wrongs of the Bush Administration.

What better way of ridding themselves of their gnawing sense of guilt than to vote for a candidate, who is an Afro-American and who promises to rid the US of the legacies of the Bush administration. Just by casting their vote for him on November 4, they would in one stroke be able to get rid of all their guilt feelings and start a new life as Americans. So they think. As they stand before the voting machine, it will be their hour of the confessional ---- that they were wrong in having supported Bush.

His advisers and entourage have skillfully exploited the widely prevalent mood of guilt in the US to project him as a transformational figure (to quote Colin Powell) the like of which comes but rarely. Vote for Obama and vote for all that that is good and great in the US.

The liberals---- in the civil society, in the media, among the opinion-makers--- have made Obama seem a cult figure. For them, it will be blasphemous to ask questions about his past, to find out who he really is.

Had a white been the Democratic candidate like Senator John McCain, the Republican candidate, they would not have had the least qualms in researching into his past and in dissecting every inch of him.

How can one do it for a transformational, cult figure? Cult figures have to be accepted as such without questions. How can one do that for a Black, who is on the threshold of history by being the first Black to become the President of the US? To question his past and his credentials would be racist. So the American voters have been told.

Can anyone in the US or in the rest of the world assert that he knows Obama well ---- his past and his present and what he will be in future? Future is the child of the past.

Obama is a mix of two vintages. The old pre-2006 vintage and the new post-2006 one. All his admirers know Obama of the new vintage. How many know Obama of the old vintage?

Very few. There is no desire to find out either.

Obama of the new vintage has nothing but the highest words of praise for India and Indians. He wants to continue with Bush’s policy of promoting a strategic relationship with India.

What about Obama of the old vintage? Cautious and reserved in exuding any warmth for India and the Indians lest his Pakistani friends and constituents misunderstand.

It is said that as a student he had more Pakistani friends than Indians. He felt more comfortable in the company of the Pakistanis than Indians. It was his choice and nobody could grudge it.

It was at the invitation of one of his Pakistani friends that he visited Islamabad, Karachi and Hyderabad (Sind) in the 1980s. Nobody can hold that against him.

As an Indian, one will be but human if one felt troubled that he did not disclose this till he became the Presidential candidate. He disclosed this----as if in passing--- when it was alleged that he did not understand the Islamic world and its divisions. He mentioned his visit to Pakistan to show that he knew about the divisions in Islam, about the Shia-Sunni differences.

Why did he keep mum on his visit to Pakistan till this question was raised? Has he disclosed all the details regarding his Pakistan visit? Was it as innocuous as made out by him----to respond to the invitation of a Pakistani friend or was there something more to it?

One would have expected the US journalists to have gone into this, to have quizzed him on it. But, they didn’t.

As I read about Obama’s visit to Pakistan in the 1980s, I could not help thinking of dozens of things. Of the Afghan jihad against communism. Of the fascination of many Afro-Americans for the jihad. Of the visits of a stream of Afro-Americans to Pakistan to feel the greatness of the jihad. Of their fascination for Abdullah Azzam, who came to Pakistan in the 1980s and started teaching in the International Islamic University in Islamabad. Of the fascination of some Afro-Americans for him. Of the frequent visits of Cat Stevens, the pop singer, to Pakistan and of his fascination for Islam and the on-going jihad. Of his conversion to Islam.

One might think that I am morbid in entertaining such thoughts and questions in my mind. But morbidity is understandable when one has a feeling that one has not been told the whole story, but only a part of it.

It is the right of the Americans to decide who should be their President. It is my right to worry about the implications of their decision for the rest of the world, including India. (29-10-08)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )

October 27, 2008

Pastoral Address given by Bishop Duleep de Chickera

Full text of the Pastoral Address given by Bishop Duleep de Chickera to the Colombo Diocesan Council on 25th October 2008:

I welcome you all my dear Sisters and Brothers to our 123rd Annual Diocesan Council Sessions. I am aware of the trouble you have all taken to attend these Sessions. Many have travelled long distances. I thank you all for your efforts and co-operation.

We gather at Council to do God’s business in the name of Christ. Clergy and Lay Representatives have a responsibility to bring the experiences and views of your Congregations to this Council and to then take back the thinking of Council. So let us commit this Council to the triune God and God’s agenda. May we participate in such a way that the promptings of the Holy Spirit may challenge and transform us; and then send us out in Christ to transform the world in which God has placed us.   

At the time of writing, the participation of some of our Clergy and Lay Representatives is uncertain due to the prevailing war in the Vanni. If they are with us their presence will increase our joy. If not, we will be a diminished family, but we will all the more be mindful of their well being and needs. I must at this point thank all Congregations for your prayers and generous financial support for the people of the Vanni.

2. Lambeth Conference 2008

Geetha and I were privileged to participate at the Lambeth Conference for Bishops and spouses at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury and his wife Jane. The first Conference was held in 1867 and has since been convened every ten years. This years Conference brought together around 650 Bishops and their spouses at Canterbury. It began with a retreat conducted by Archbishop Rowan on the theme “The mission of God and the Bishop’s discipleship”. 

Unlike in the past this Conference was shaped around a process of listening. Daily Bible study in groups of eight on the “I am” sayings of our Lord set the tone. As we reflected on the text and listened to the Holy Spirit on the lips of the other we acknowledged our vulnerability and discovered a bonding that was much stronger than our differences. For both Geetha and me, as well as for several of our colleagues, this was the high point of the Conference.

Thereafter the Bishops met in groups of 40 in “Indaba”. “Indaba” is the name of a South African Gathering that seeks consensus in decision making. It was here that the key issues of mission and unity that confront the Communion were addressed. Here too, a sense of belonging and respect for the views of others was discovered and grew.  In our “Indaba’ a consensus slowly and clearly emerged that each was incomplete without the other. Also, respect for the integrity of the other’s stance gradually took precedence over differences.  In one instance I sensed some struggle with certain views on inter-faith dialogue; but I also sensed respect. We disagreed but never argued and never ever thought of separating.   

The post lunch sessions comprised self-select-sessions. Participation was optional and based on ones interests. Several of us and some guest speakers led these sessions. The evenings were more relaxed and offered opportunities to hear prominent speakers as well as voices and experiences on the fringe.  

The Spouses Conference ran parallel with the Bishops Conference but we met at certain points like the daily Eucharist, Morning and Evening prayer and some plenaries. A particularly disturbing plenary was conducted on domestic violence. Our text was the story of the abuse of Tamar in the Old Testament.

The spouses programme balanced the formal with the informal and offered a variety of opportunities such as excursions, keep fit sessions and work shops on wide ranging topics. Since the Conference worked the Bishops harder it was soon jokingly acknowledged that while the Bishops were back at school their spouses were on vacation! And why not!

Around 230 Bishops, mostly from Africa, did not attend the Conference. They kept away as a protest against the presence at Lambeth of some Bishops of the Episcopal Church of the US who had approved the ordination of a practising homo-sexual as a Bishop. This along with the blessing of same sex unions and cross Diocesan interference are the issues that have threatened the unity of the Communion over the past few years.

It was because of this background that this Lambeth Conference made a shift from resolutions, debate and voting towards listening and consensus. It was probably felt that debates and voting would further aggravate our divisions at a time when it was more important to move towards reconciliation through listening and mutual respect. 

This is why the outcome of the Conference is not a report telling us what we all should do, but a “Reflection” summarising the thinking of the Bishops at Indaba. Many approved of the reflection as a document that reasonably focused the attention of the Communion on the critical issues faced by the Church. There were others who were dissatisfied with the Reflection. They felt it prevented decision making on urgent issues without which the Communion would not be able to move forward. However the overall impact of the Conference cannot be reduced to the Reflection.

Apart from the Reflection there were three prominent thrusts that echoed through the Conference. These were first, the recognition that God was at work in and through the Anglican Communion. Stories and experiences that were shared, demonstrated the humble faithfulness of Anglicans in varied challenging contexts. This very positive feature must never ever be forgotten or hidden by the undue publicity that the current controversy receives.

Second, there was the assertion that our common heritage, traditions, spirituality and practices were far more stronger than our differences. While recognising that differences must be addressed, an overwhelming majority of Bishops present, wanted to stay together. We did not see separation or schism as a way forward in Christ.

Finally, there was unanimous acceptance that the crises of the world required our energy and attention over and above our internal disputes. We realised that it was here that faithfulness in our witness and mission would be tested. In fact the call to respond to Gods torn and divided world as a reconciled Body was seen as perhaps the strongest reason for the Communion to heal our divisions and learn to live with our differences.

The Conference Reflection is now before our Diocese for study and response. I have shared copies with the Secretary, Registrar and Archdeacons and several other persons and groups engaged in the Mission in our Diocese. I have asked that Clergy and Congregations be provided with an opportunity to participate in this process. This is a sacred task and we must approach it prayerfully, collectively and seriously. There is much in the reflection that under the guidance of the Holy Spirit will bring renewal to our Diocese.

3. Ecumenism

On the 30th of November this year our Diocese will join a Confederation of Churches along with several Churches affiliated with the NCC. On the two previous occasions that we met at Council we voted almost unanimously to do so. This is now a decision that we are committed to. I once again remind all our Clergy and Congregations to study the changes this will bring and to enter this new relationship with humility and hope.

Confederation will require us to deliberate and act together with our sister Churches in our common witness for Christ in Sri Lanka today.  Our choice for Confederation will from now on deprive us of the right to refrain from joint action in certain agreed areas. We will be called to discover our place in a wider fellowship and process and this will take time. There could also be set-backs.  But if we are prepared to work hard and move with humility and discernment, the common witness of our churches will be enhanced and Christ honoured. So may we rise up, pick up the basin and be prepared to wash one another’s feet.  

If we give this step and the process that follows our best effort in Christ there is every possibility that we will grow together into a United Church under Christ for Sri Lanka. I call the Diocese to study, prayer and commitment and urge as many as possible to attend the services on the 30th of November in Colombo and elsewhere.

4. Inter-faith solidarity

Important as Confederation is I would like to place this step in the context of a much wider calling.  Denominational ecumenism should always be a step in the direction of wider ecumenism and National Integration. Our coming together in Christian Confederation must foster greater understanding among the faiths and communities of our beloved Sri Lanka.

This is necessary for several good reasons; but let me mention two. We are a Nation of world religions and we are a Nation in turmoil. We are therefore compelled to live with mutual respect for each other and to harness our collective spiritualities and resources to bring stability and dignity for all our people.

I am immensely grateful for all initiatives taken by our Clergy and Congregations in building inter-faith solidarity leading to social trust in various parts of the Country. My Pastoral visit in early September to Vavuniya ended with a Dana given by the Chief Incumbent of Vavuniya. The local Christian leaders who participated were all Tamils. Our conversation around the table centered on our role as religious leaders in the current National crises.  Here then, is just one example of how inter faith solidarity contributes to social trust in a very tense part of the Country.  

This excellent work must go on but there is now a new emphasis that is required. These friendships of solidarity need to be directed towards the interaction between the gospel/dhama and our socio-political context. Sadly for some, perhaps many, the context leads to a compromised redefinition of the gospel/dhamma. This is not a stance that faithful adherents of any religion are expected to adopt. The better way and indeed the only way of faithfulness is that the gospel/dhamma should highlight the discrepancies in the context and then offer a vision of hope and steps towards peace.

So it is imperative that the gospel/dhamma should compel us to speak and respond to situations of war, poverty, corruption, human rights violations, injustice, oppression, intimidation, discrimination and so on. We must never grow weary of striving in this direction. We must never imagine that evil will triumph over our shared spiritualities. We must never be silent even if all around us voices grow dim.  We must repeatedly reclaim our right to intervene on behalf of the people and refuse to allow this to be the sole domain of the politician. The promise of transformation and hope for all our people is adequate to sustain this journey.  

It is with this vital thrust in mind that I am taking steps to set up a Desk for Inter Faith solidarity under the guidance of Fr Adrian Aaron a Clergyperson with the calling and gifts for this crucial ministry. The decision to place this Desk in conjunction with the RAP Desk makes the point. Interfaith solidarity in this country today makes most sense if its drive is in the direction of justice, reconciliation and peace for all. You will hear more on this initiative in due course.

Another important part of the work of this Desk will be to engage in theological reflection on the nature of religion and the revelation of God in the context of the solidarity we seek. We will be required to work on the uniqueness of Christ in relation to our belief in God as creator and Liberator of all through history. This will have missiological implications as we will need to understand how and with whom God transforms the world.

5. Inter-Religious tensions

Certain small Christian Churches have been violently targeted by extremists in several parts of the Country over the past months. These aggressive acts contradict the teachings of all our religions. The authorities must ensure impartial investigations and protection for minority religions. As citizens we enjoy the right to worship and organise our religious activity and the State must provide the necessary safeguards for this. In past instances our Diocese and the NCC have set up dialogues to discuss such misunderstandings and tensions so that our religions can co-exist in harmony. The time is right for a return to a much more focused dialogue.  The Inter-faith Desk will be called upon to undertake tasks like this as well.

We must also be concerned about the recent spate of violence against Christians in several States in India. The worst violence was witnessed in Orissa but it has also spread to Karnataka. As part of a wider campaign I wrote to the Indian Prime Minister and several other Officials calling for the protection of Christians and their freedom of worship. I am also in touch with some Bishops of the Indian Church.

6. Our Nation.

The tragedy of our Nation is the rapid deterioration of universal human values. People’s rights and needs are being systematically disregarded. This trend is compounded with the absence of a constructive opposition and civil society intervention.  The triumph of corruption, intimidation, divisiveness, violence and lawlessness is dangerously gaining social endorsement.  Correspondingly, the drive for good governance, social integration and law and order has ceased to motivate the people. Many are either too frightened or pessimistic to attempt change.  

To make matters worse the population is being suffocated by the unprecedented high cost of living. While world economic trends make some impact on the cost of living, corruption and the lack of financial vision and planning aggravates the local situation. We often hear of allegations of the abuse of public office for personal gain, and financial extravagance and waste by those holding responsible office. As at present little is being done to arrest this trend which hits the poorest segments of our society, hardest.

The deterioration of law and order continues to be worrying. Brazen and violent acts of crime occur frequently. Media personnel in particular have been subject to assassinations harassment and intimidation. After arrest and a long period of detention without charges, the Sunday Times Columnist Tissanayagam’s case continues to drag.  Lawyers who intervene in human rights cases are subject to acts of violence and threats. The attack on Mr Weliamuna’s house is a current case in point. In-spite of the rhetoric hardly any detections are made by an otherwise alert intelligence service.  The net result is that the natural course of justice is seriously impeded and the people increasingly lose confidence in the law enforcement authorities.

The Tamil community continues to undergo severe hardship in all parts of the Country. Many are trapped in the struggle for military supremacy and the divisive political agendas of the warring sides. Tamils are also treated with growing suspicion and are subject to harassment as the anti terrorist propaganda taints them all as threats to National security. The recent requirement for Tamils only, from the North and East to register with the police, sent out signals that Tamils particularly must be kept under surveillance. Little thought was given to the hostility that these equal citizens consequently encounter in their neighbourhoods.  

The inability of the majority of sensible peace loving Sri Lankans to discern the signs of the times contributes to this worsening situation.  We today breathe the political air we have helped to create. What we are now experiencing is; ‘anomie’ a word coined by the early 20th Century sociologist Durkheim to describe a society influenced by the absence of norms.  For Durkheim the way out of ‘anomie’ was through education; both formal and non formal. We however need a much more comprehensive counter-trend to return to a value based society.   

What this Country needs immediately is an ethos of democratic pluralism in which dissent will be welcome, diversity respected and minorities treated as equals.  Visionary and inclusive leaders and multi cultural schooling will be indispensable for this process. It is as we stop demonising the other and our children associate with each other that we will learn to co-exist.

Our violent approach to resolving conflict and historic grievance must also change.  Security is a requirement in a modern State. But war, the recognition that our own will be killed in confrontation, even out of provocation or desperation, is never the answer. Time tested methods of dealing with conflict such as negotiations, dialogue, consensus and compromise need to be affirmed and pursued instead.  From here we will grow to understand that the devolution of political power within an united Nation is the path that an enlightened people travel. Our numerous peace conversations and agreements of the past and the experiences of other countries are resources that need to be harnessed with humility.

A substantial answer to the erosion of law and order is the implementation of the 17th amendment. This will ensure impartiality and accountability in the sectors that maintain law and order and lead to the reduction of corruption and crime. It will also enable Civil Society, the Media and the several democratic institutions to impact on the process of good governance. 

The Church, like all religions has a part to play in this transformation. A particular contribution that the Church can offer towards the healing of the Nation is restorative justice. This demanding but rewarding shift will enable forgiveness and reconciliation and bring healing to both victim and perpetrator. It breaks the cycle of revenge.

We should however bear in mind that Christians are just as much to blame for what our Nation has become. So we are called to demonstrate both repentance and faithfulness in Christ. We must be converted and take on the role of servants, pastors and prophets. It is only then that we will become useful instruments of peace, justice and reconciliation in the Nation.

7. Congregational renewal

The Church exists for mission. If we are to be faithful in mission we must strive to be a renewed community. While no one description can capture the fullness of Christian renewal the following signs seem to indicate a community that is moving towards renewal.

i. A community in which there is a well planned cycle of participatory worship, bible study and prayer. Those who participate will be spiritually nourished. They in turn will take on the role of “evangelist “and spontaneously invite others. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight O Lord my rock and my Redeemer.”  Ps 19.14

ii. A community in which unity is more a quality of life than a formal institution. This quality of life will stem from communion with the Divine unity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This quality of life will include mutual care and seek to overcome self interest. Leadership will be seen as service to the community and not as the mere holding of office. “Finally, all of you have unity of spirit, sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind.”

1 Pet 3. 8

iii. A community in which all are encouraged to discover and offer their gifts for the mission of God. This will be facilitated by a responsible ministry of teaching and preaching.  Such a community will witness to abundant life in Christ and respond to human need beginning with its immediate surroundings. It will share the Gospel through it’s values, deeds and words and stand with the helpless and harassed in particular. It will be called to take risks but will be sustained by the presence of Christ. This witness and mission will be understood as the central work of the Church and it will redefine the Churches agenda. “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given to you by prophetic utterance when the elders laid their hands upon you.” 

1 Tim 4.14

iv. A community in which conflict will still be real but dealt with locally. Differences and even jealousies and rivalry will be addressed first by the persons concerned and then through mediation by others sensitive to what’s happening. Hurt will not be allowed to continue to become nasty and divisive. Provision will be made for self examination. Forgiveness and reconciliation will be real.  “leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother and then come and offer your gift.”  Matt 5.24

v. A community that is welcoming. This will be influenced by all the above and will include invitations. But it will more importantly convey an ethos of who we are and how we do things. Those within will feel a sense of contentment, self worth and belonging. Those who visit will sense an integrated community and feel drawn to become part of its fellowship. “And day by day attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Acts 2. 46,47

vi. A community which acknowledges that all it is and does and is becoming is because of the grace of God. It will understand it has been called and equipped by God so that the whole life of the whole community would communicate the whole Gospel to the whole world. It will recognise that there are others also engaged in the mission of God and respect and work with them. It will be open to change and new insights and move forward with courage and humility. “Through Him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God”.  Rom 5. 2

8. My gratitude

Neranjala Manuel and Lanka Nesiah left Bishops Office during the course of the year. Neranjala has found employment elsewhere and Lanka has retired. I thank them both for the immense help they were to me. They gave of their best at all times; Neranjala offering a high degree of disciplined efficiency and Lanka contributing wise counsel and drafting skills. They were always courteous and kind and I shall miss them. I wish them every blessing in God for the future.

Ranjan Seevaratnam our Diocesan Treasurer came to us at a time of crisis soon after St. Elmo Gunesekera’s death.  He left us at the end of September. It was understood that his service with us would be an interim arrangement and he has fulfilled this task admirably. The financial vision and planning of the Diocese was considerably streamlined under his care.  I thank him for his soothing presence as well as his professional expertise and wish him fulfilment in the years ahead. 

The past year brought challenges of ill-health. I had to consequently re-schedule some of my commitments and pastoral visits and thank you all for your patience and understanding. I also thank all those of you who prayed for me during my illness and expressed your love in so many different ways. To receive kindness and know that you are being prayed for hastens the healing process. The surreptitious Chicken-gunya virus has now left me and I am able to attend to my several responsibilities.  

I am grateful to all Clergypersons, Lay Workers and the Laity of our Churches for your faithfulness in Christ. You are the Body of Christ and your witness and mission in so many daunting contexts is a source of inspiration to me.  

My thanks are also due to all Heads of our Schools and Institutions. Yours is very often a lonely task and I thank you most sincerely for your energy and leadership that enable our schools to offer integrated education of a very high standard.   

I thank Ven. Dhilo who stands in for me as Commissary whenever I am away from the Diocese and all the Archdeacons who share much of the pastoral work of the Church with me.  I am most grateful to Thanja, the Secretary of the Diocese and Sriyanganie our Honorary Registrar, both of whom carry very heavy responsibility so willingly and gently. Our Staff at Bishop’s Office and the Diocesan Office give of themselves un-stintedly in return for very modest wages and I thank them for their  commitment.

God’s grace has always been sufficient for our every need. He journeys with us from the lesser known to the unknown. His continuing presence leads, corrects, transforms and reassures us in very daunting times. His only requirement of us is that we remain faithful. May we pursue this calling with thankful hearts.    

With peace and blessings to all

Duleep de Chickera

Bishop of Colombo

 

October 24, 2008

India, Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu and the LTTE

By Rajan Philips

The situation in Sri Lanka calls for a more nuanced understanding of the different issues, parties and interests at play than the simplistic view of it as a straightforward military operation by a sovereign and democratic government to defeat and disarm an abominable terrorist organization. New Delhi’s expressions of concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation and the neglect of the political process in Sri Lanka indicate such a realization on India’s part, and could lead to some desirable changes in Colombo.

Encouraged by its military success in the Eastern Province, the Sri Lankan government mobilized its resources for a swift military victory in the North. The government obviously calculated that all the other tasks - mitigating humanitarian impacts, resettling displaced people, installing an interim administration and eventually holding elections for a new Provincial Council in the North – could come later, just as it was done in the East. Given the LTTE’s intransigence and its singular contribution to breaking the ceasefire and restarting the war, the Sri Lankan government seemed to have sensed a convenient indifference, if not a tacit go ahead, on the part India and other concerned Western governments, to its all-out military offensive against the LTTE in the Wanni.

As deadlines for capturing Kilinochchi come and go, and despite the unprecedented military advantage it now claims to have secured over the LTTE, the government’s exclusive military plan has run into significant non-military difficulties. The biggest of them is the growing humanitarian crisis in the embattled northern districts. The rather facile, if not cynical, description of the war by the suave Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Rohitha Bogollagama, as a “humanitarian operation to free our people from the fascist and dictatorial control of the LTTE terrorists”, flies in the face of ground realities and political credibility.

There are nearly half a million (according to relief agencies and British government sources) displaced people in the North. Over 200,000 of them are ‘repeat IDPs (Internally Displaced People)’, repeatedly displaced over two decades owing to intermittent fighting and the tsunami disaster of 2004. About 30,000 have been displaced ten times or more. Providing relief to the displaced in the war zone is already a difficult task, and it will become even more daunting with the onset of the northeast monsoons.

The government did itself no favour in ordering international relief agencies out of the conflict areas. The LTTE’s bungling bomb-dropping in Vavunia (its seventh overall) apparently gave the government the excuse that it could not take responsibility for the safety of their staffers. Even though sent out of sight, international agencies and foreign governments have remained concerned, and as conditions kept worsening they waited for a cue from New Delhi.

The Tamil Nadu whiplash

If Delhi needed a straw to break its silence, it got a whiplash from Tamil Nadu. The humanitarian situation in Northern Sri Lanka, more than anything else, galvanized seldom seen solidarity spanning the entire Tamilian political spectrum to demand in unison action by New Delhi. It was not the usual pro-LTTE suspects who facilitated the mobilization – but the Tamil Nadu branch of the Communist Party of India. All the other major parties of Tamil Nadu – the ruling DMK, the ADMK and the Congress joined, with the ADMK carefully making it clear that its sympathies were with the “common people and not the LTTE.” Chief Minister Karunanidhi was forced by the political groundswell of concern to break coalition protocol (DMK is also a member of the Congress-led ruling coalition at the centre) and publicly call on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to “intervene immediately and stop the genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka.” New Delhi could no longer sit on the fence.

After a few high-profile diplomatic exchanges, the Sri Lankan President telephoned the Indian Prime Minister on 18 October. According to the press statement issued by Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh “expressed his deep concern on the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the North of Sri Lanka, especially on the plight of the civilians caught in the hostilities … (and) emphasized that the safety and the security of these civilians must be safeguarded at all costs.” The Prime Minister “further mentioned that the rights and welfare of the Tamil community of Sri Lanka should not get enmeshed in the ongoing hostilities against the LTTE … (and) reiterated that there was no military solution to the conflict and urged the President to start a political process for a peacefully negotiated political settlement within the framework of a united Sri Lanka.”

Interestingly, the statement issued in Colombo spoke of the briefing given by President Mahinda Rajapakse to the Indian leader on “the current situation in the North, where the security forces are engaged in an operation to disarm the LTTE and restore democracy, peace and stability to the region.” The Sri Lankan President also “reiterated that the security forces are under strict instructions to avoid causing any civilian casualties, during this operation.” But the Colombo statement is silent on whatever the two leaders talked about the “political process for a peacefully negotiated political settlement.”

Although not contradictory, the different emphases in the two statements are indicative of the dilemmas faced by the two governments. The Sri Lankan government is clearly determined not to give up the military advantage it now has over the LTTE by being pressured to declare a ceasefire by India or anyone else. For its part, India has not asked for a ceasefire, but only that the government of Sri Lanka must give the highest priority to addressing the humanitarian situation, and must clearly differentiate between the military offensive against the LTTE and resolving the Tamil political question. It has urged Sri Lanka to restart the political process.

Extremist and ultra-nationalist forces

Some of us have been questioning the government’s sincerity and seriousness about a political solution from the time President Rajapakse rolled up and cast aside all the progress that had been achieved in the search for a political solution and necessary constitutional changes during the twelve-year tenure of his predecessor, President Chandrika Kumaratunga. The great achievement of that period was the sea change in the values and attitudes of Sri Lanka’s two main political parties – the UNP and the SLFP. After decades of marginalizing and alienating the minorities, the two parties acknowledged that the state of Sri Lanka was in dire need of being restructured to reflect and enable the equality of citizenship of all ethnic groups, and not just the Sinhalese.

One of the really worrisome developments of the last few months has been the tendency to rollback this attitudinal change and to revert to the chauvinistic language and the values of the 1950s. The popular Army Commander Lt. Colonel Sarath Fonseka started the slide saying that the Sinhalese accounted for 75% of the population and the minorities should realize this and desist making undue demands. The Minister of the Environment, Champika Ranawaka, who belongs to the extremist Jathika Hela Urumaya group, went further and opined that “the Sinhalese are the only organic race of Sri Lanka. Other communities are all visitors to the country, whose arrival was never challenged out of the compassion of Buddhists … What is happening today is pure ingratitude on the part of these visitors.”

The National Freedom Front, the breakaway JVP faction supporting the President, summed up that President Rajapakse has no mandate to seek a political solution and that military solution is the political solution. Even a usually progressive and minority-friendly activist and commentator like Victor Ivan patronizingly advised the Tamils, while defending “Mahinda’s anti-LTTE war”, that the Tamils should welcome just the elimination of the LTTE even if nothing else changes politically and constitutionally after the war. While these reactionary views have been roundly condemned by quite a few Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim Sri Lankans, they have raised the menacing prospect of the government being totally hijacked by Sinhalese extremists and ultra-nationalists.

The hand of extremism and ultra-nationalism is also evident in the Eastern Province where the new Provincial Council is having more than teething problems. The new Council represents an irreversible modification to the original intent of the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement and the Thirteenth Amendment to integrate the Northern and Eastern Provinces. With the East separated from the North, President Rajapakse and his government could lay the foundation for the multi-ethnic Eastern Province to become the microcosm of a new, plural and power sharing Sri Lanka by vigorously honouring the rest of the Thirteenth Amendment - in regard to language, land settlement, security, social and physical infrastructure and economic development. Or, they could simply and easily turn the East into a permanent reflection of Sri Lanka’s troubled past.

Indeed the East appears to being pushed back to the past rather than ushered into a new future. Eastern Province Tamils and Muslims are alarmed at the signs of ‘Sinhalisation’ of the new Provincial Council administration that is being set up. They also fear future changes in the ethnic composition of the Province through encouragement to new Sinhalese settlers. All three communities feel insecure amidst the continuing violent interactions between the security forces, the LTTE and the TMVP factions. New High-Security Zones are being established displacing people out of their homes and they will become permanent landmarks on the liberated lands of the ‘rising East’, just as they are in Jaffna already..

The performances of the former militant and the former LTTE Tamil groups and the government’s patronization of them are also hardly encouraging. These groups are yet to become a blessing and not a curse in disguise or otherwise. They have liberated themselves from the LTTE only in name but not in undemocratic spirit or method. They are too subservient to the government politically, while the government in return turns a blind eye to their rampant acts of kidnapping and killing of Tamils and Muslims that have been going on for two years and more. Rather than checking the activities of these groups, the state security forces add to the misery of the already traumatized Tamils who trek to Colombo by subjecting them to periodical security sweeps and mass registrations. This is hardly the way “to free our people from the fascist and dictatorial control of the LTTE terrorists”, that Foreign Minister Bogollagama is claiming that the government is doing.

Political wake-up call

In sum, while the military plans of the government have run into non-military difficulties, the political process relating to the Tamil question has suffered a serious setback. A few steps forward militarily but many steps backward politically – is not an inapt description of Lanka’s predicament. Let us spare discussing the economic dimension for another day.

New Delhi’s intercession was a much needed wake-up call to arrest this political recession. The early signs are that the hardliners in the government may be forced to go silent, making space for moderate views to have some influence on President Rajapakse and his government’s decisions. India’s non-insistence on a ceasefire but insistence on restarting the political process has found resonance among influential voices in the government circles and outside. In fact, Dayan Jayatilleke, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Geneva, K. Godage, retired diplomat and formerly Sri Lanka’s Deputy High Commissioner in Delhi, and the Sunday Island editorial of 19 October, all in different ways, have gone further than asking for a restart of the political process. They are urging the government to proceed with finalizing a political solution independent of the military operations against the LTTE and not wait till the military operations are over.

Much good work has been done in this regard by members of the Left Parties, Tissa Vitarana and D.E.W. Gunasekera, who are also Government Ministers. The two have been sidelined by the rush of military blood and visions of military glory within the government. India’s sober counseling should help bring back the two Ministers and other likeminded government members to the President’s inner circle in a fruitful and purposive way. Tissa Vitarana is also the Chairman of the beleaguered All Party Representatives Committee, the work of which has so far been used primarily as a diversion against criticisms of the government’s failure to work towards a political solution. It is time that the Committee is expanded to include all the political parties, and not just the government parties, and its work used as the basis for new policies and constitutional changes.

None of this will happen unless President Rajapakse puts his mind to it and commits himself to finalizing a political solution. The broad parameters and even the details of a political solution – some of them to painstaking degrees – have been identified through the hard work of the Experts Committee and the All Party Representatives Committee. President Rajapakse created these bodies and then chose to ignore their work and recommendations because they were unacceptable to the JVP and JHU, both extremist and occasional fellow travelers of the governing coalition. New Delhi should encourage the Sri Lankan President to ignore the extremists and work with the more rational and principled Ministers and advisers of his own government.

By raising its concerns the way it did, the Government of India has addressed for the time being the legitimate sympathies in Tamil Nadu for the physical and political plights of the Sri Lankan Tamils without confusing them with whatever emotional empathy there might be in Tamil Nadu for the LTTE. The significance of the stand taken on the Sri Lankan situation by the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and other political leaders should not be dismissed as Tamil chauvinism and electoral opportunism, although there are strands of both in Tamil Nadu’s whiplash at Delhi. Instead, it would be more productive to see if Tamil Nadu’s concerns could be used to achieve something practical and beneficial for Sri Lanka in general and for Sri Lankan Tamils in particular.

The LTTE’s involvement although ideal is not a pre-requisite for the finalization of a political solution, just as the military defeat of the LTTE should not be a precondition to it. Implementing the solution in the Northern Province, on the other hand, will require some involvement of the LTTE, or elements of it, since the LTTE, according to General Fonseka himself, is likely to survive a conventional military defeat on the battlefield and return to its guerilla roots. For this reason, the possibility of using the intercession of Tamil Nadu leaders to involve the LTTE in implementing the political solution should be explored by New Delhi and Colombo.


Basis for national unity and lasting peace

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

National unity and peace are essential for securing the territorial integrity and promoting social, economic, cultural and political progress of any democratic multi-ethnic country. The presence of these two interdependent facets depends on the consideration, foresight, open-mindedness and determination of the national leaders.

Ironically, the unity and peace that existed in Sri Lanka/Ceylon before independence faded soon after because of the divisive ways the governing power was sought and utilized. With another tragic phase of the resultant ethnic conflict coming to an end, the concern now of many peace-loving citizens and foreign governments is on the political resolution of the conflict that has caused enormous losses to all communities and hindered national development. Many opportunities for settling the conflict amicably were lost because of the internal power struggle. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been projecting himself at various regional and international meetings as a national leader committed to end permanently the protracted conflict via political settlement acceptable to all ethnic communities. But conflicting decisions and actions as well as the insensitive utterances of some influential persons close to him including the army commander have not been assuring.

‘Mahinda Chinthanaya’

The political thinking of President Mahinda Rajapaksa before the November 2005 Presidential election was conveyed to the electorate in his election manifesto - ‘Mahinda Chinthanaya’. It helped to win the support of many Sinhalese voters and the chauvinistic parties, the JVP and JHU. These two parties were dead against the placatory approach to peace of the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who as Prime Minister confidently signed the ceasefire agreement with the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in February 2002. Norway’s intermediary role in drafting the agreement and later as facilitator of the peace process arranging the ‘Peace Talks’ was also detested by the Sinhala patriots. They still vehemently oppose the intervention of foreign parties in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs. Any political solution that undermines the supremacy of the Sinhalese is unacceptable to them. Their main attraction in ‘Mahinda Chinthanaya’ is the firm commitment of the President to the present unitary structure that is synonymous with Sinhala majority rule.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s stand on the resolution of the ethnic conflict is markedly different from that of his predecessor Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, who was also the previous leader of the SLFP. The party opted then for a quasi-federal solution to the ethnic conflict. The former leader also took an accommodative approach to entice the LTTE into the democratic mainstream. In Sri Lankan politics, members of political parties generally follow the stand of their party leaders on national issues. The present SLFP leader President Rajapaksa, as a senior member of the party had earlier accepted the devolution proposals including the transformation of the unitary State into union of regions of his predecessor.

Sumanasiri Liyanage, a senior lecturer in economics University of Peradeniya in his introduction to the book ‘A Glimmer of Hope’ published by South Asia Peace Institute, Colombo, Sri Lanka in 2007 (the other co-editor is M. Sinnathamby) has given two explanations for regarding ‘Mahinda Chinthanaya’ as flexible with regard to the ethnic question. On this important issue, ‘Mahinda Chinthanaya’ is said to be subordinate to the three basic principles, namely, “an undivided country, national consensus and honourable peace”. There is no problem with regard to the first, as the division of the island into two independent States is neither desirable nor feasible. The whole world including the most concerned country, India is against absolute division. With regard to national consensus, at present there is no consensus even within the Sinhala polity on the fundamentals. With the rise of Sinhala nationalism after the November 2005 Presidential election, the voice of the Sinhala supremacists who are against devolution of powers is deafening. What is honourable peace? Is it the peace that comes from the faithful observance of the dignity and equality of all citizens, regardless of the differences in ethnicity, religion, caste and wealth, which entail the acceptance of the diverse makeup of the Nation or the peace in the minds of the Sinhala supremacists on their terms? These questions would have seemed stupid or chauvinistic 50 years ago but not now after the damage done to the trust in governments, respect for human rights and the sense of belonging to one nation.

Dodging the challenges

By setting up the APC and the APRC (All Party Representative Committee constituted in April 2006), the President left the onus of finding a political solution to the national problem to the political parties (except the Tamil National Alliance the proxy of the warring LTTE in the Parliament/outside the North-East) that are deeply divided even on the concepts of nation and democracy. With the upsurge in the notion of Sinhala Buddhist supremacy, the challenges in uniting the divided nation and securing lasting peace have also become increasingly difficult. This development does not seem to bother the President, as he is not going to swim against the rising tide in the south. However, he is very keen on projecting himself as committed to political settlement of the ethnic conflict. This has become necessary now more than ever before. The APC and APRC processes are now seen by many as handy tools in sustaining this image. The formation of an Expert Panel with members from all ethnic communities (not in active politics) to advise the APRC on the proposals for constitutional reform needed for political settlement also buttressed the President’s commitment to consensual political settlement.

But the dubious motive behind the ‘All Party’ approach to seek a reasonable political solution to the national problem became apparent when the report containing the recommendations of the majority members of the Expert Panel was rejected. The recommendations were inconsistent with the stances of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists. The ‘interim’ report of the minority group in the Panel instead of addressing the root causes of the conflict focused on safeguarding the interests of the majority ethnic Sinhalese, their dominant role in. government and against secession. The majority (Expert Panel A) report contained the joint recommendations of eleven members from all three ethnic communities, whereas the minority report (expert Panel B) was endorsed by four members, all prominent Sinhalese professionals - H.L. De Silva PC, Professor G.H. Peiris, Gomin Dayasiri Attorney-at-Law and Manohara R De Silva PC.

The details are in the aforementioned book “A glimmer of hope”. Although the title has lost its full relevance now because of subsequent developments discussed here, the contents are very useful to understand the forces hindering the political solution needed to settle the conflict. A critique of this minority report by this writer titled, “Minimum ‘Devolution’ and Maximum Safeguards” posted in www.tamilweek.com 24-30 December 2006 is also in this book. While Panel A has taken a positive approach based on one integrated multi-ethnic nation, Panel B has been on the defensive assuming the existence of an enemy within waiting to overpower the Sinhalese. The latter cannot be a basis for national unity. The argument, the Sinhalese unlike the Tamils have only Sri Lanka as their native land and hence the need for special protection against secession is fallacious. Also, the existence of a Tamil State in south India does not invalidate the existence of time-honoured Tamil homeland in N-E Sri Lanka.

The letter sent on 19 January 2007 to the eleven Members of the Panel A by a group of liberals residing in and outside Sri Lanka, including the APRC Chairman Prof. Tissa Vitharana, who is also the Minister of Science and Technology praising their work on formulating a ‘Constitutional Framework for the Political Resolution of Sri Lanka’s National Problem’ stated: “The document that you have produced is of immense importance for Sri Lanka’s political and constitutional future and your collective effort in producing it will go down in history as an act of rare courage, bold vision and great integrity. While reflecting the rich diversity of the ‘constituent peoples of Sri Lanka’, you have risen above our ethnic differences and brought into political relief our common humanity. You have proposed the foundation upon which we can build a new Lanka, inclusive of the Sinhalese, the Sri Lankan Tamils, the Muslims and the Upcountry Tamils”. A great opportunity was lost and with it the APRC too lost its significance.

With regard to the rejection of both the Majority and Minority Reports by the Sinhala chauvinistic parties the JVP and the JHU the letter confidently said, “(This) should not prevent the movement towards a political solution”. The subsequent events showed the opponents of fair political solution granting due rights of the ethnic minorities are within the government itself in high positions. The JHU is a partner in the coalition government. The leader of National Freedom Front (NFF), a breakaway group of Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), Wimal Weerawansa said recently: “The war conducted by the Sri Lankan government against the LTTE is the political solution for the national question.” Although the NFF is not a coalition partner, it is also a political ally of the present government and is against those countries pressing for a political settlement. The President also rejected the report prepared by the APRC Chairman, Prof. Tissa Vitharana, fusing the majority and minority reports whilst retaining most of the recommendations in the former. It too was politically unsuitable.

The majority report as commended by broad-minded persons in their letter is a sound basis for the much needed and long overdue constitutional reform to rid the country of the troubles, tribulations and under development endured over the past several decades. But the forces responsible for these misfortunes rose again to scuttle the positive move. Appendix 3 in the aforementioned book pp 182-199 has Prof. Tissa Vitharan’s, “Main proposals to form the basis of a future Constitution”. The preceding Appendices 1 (pp 81-103) and 2 (pp 104-181) have the full majority and minority reports.

Back to the 13th Amendment

After rejecting the reports of the Expert Panel and the APRC Chairman, President Mahinda Rajapaksa instructed the latter to submit the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution as interim recommendation of the APRC. This was in January 2008 after 63 sittings of the Committee over nearly one and half years. In the interview Wilson Gnanadass of the Sunday weekly ‘The Nation’ (3 February 2008) had with the APRC chairman Prof. Tissa Vitharana, the latter had hinted that the question of 13th Amendment was thrust upon the APRC. The intent of President Rajapaksa to give hope rather than seek boldly the political solution acceptable to the ethnic minorities was clear from his reply to the question: “How do you interpret President Rajapaksa's suggestion to delay the whole process?”

The APRC Chairman replied: “The President had laid certain dead line in January for handing over to him the final set of proposals that the APRC had been developing over the last one and half hears. But later he indicated to us that the 13th Amendment was sufficient for him to act in the interest of winning over the Tamil speaking people, and also to convince the international community of his commitment to a political solution to the conflict, and therefore we could take our time over the main set of proposals which he would be ready to receive”. Now nearly nine months have elapsed, the powers of the Provincial Councils remain as restricted as before and not as in the PC Act passed two decades ago. The usefulness of the APC and APRC to the President is now increasingly evident with the mounting calls for political solution from the international community, notably India. The latter is being pressurized by political parties in Tamil Nadu.

No sign of true believers

In support of President Rajapaksa’s campaign to convince intensely the international community of his commitment to political settlement, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa on October 18 announced that he rejected the claim by Sinhala extremists that military victory by the government forces is the final solution to the national problem. He also agreed, there is no military solution to the long-drawn-out conflict in Sri Lanka. The Defence Secretary who is also President’s brother and former military officer is also anxious that emphasis on the political resolution issue should not hinder the thrust of the military offensive at this critical time. Military victory is also crucial to the Government for political reasons.

Prof. V. Suriyanarayan, author of several books on recent developments in Sri Lanka in a recent interview told Shobha Warrier on the current situation: “The present (Sri Lankan) government is only doing lip service to constitutional reforms”. He also cited the telephone conversation N Ram Editor-in-Chief of the Indian daily, ‘The Hindu’ had with President Rajapaksa on October 16 in which the latter had told Ram, “I am firmly committed to a just and enduring political solution to the Tamil question in Sri Lanka and am clear that there are no military solutions to political questions” and the political solution will come later (The Hindu October 17). Earlier on October 11 the President told the All Party Conference, hurriedly convened by him that he intends to go for a political solution. At the beginning, when the APRC process was enthusiastically launched, President Rajapaksa kept on repeating that there would be “maximum devolution” for the North and East. This has now been withdrawn, probably sensing some strong opposition within his camp.

President Rajapaksa had also reminded N. Ram, it was political India that introduced the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution and “it was not implemented earlier on account of opposition in the South but in the Eastern Province we have shown we are interested in implementing it.” As usual showing interest and actual implementation are completely different matters in Sri Lanka. Will the Sinhala nationalists agree to asymmetrical devolution with more powers devolved to North and East? With regard to the ‘liberated’ Eastern Province, the Brussels based International Crisis Group in their latest report No. 159, 15 October 2008 has drawn attention to the delay in taking important actions to restore normalcy and create conditions helpful for the promised development. It has stated that the “Government must address the security needs and land-related grievances of all ethnic communities or risk losing a unique opportunity for development and peace”. It “must devolve real power to the new Eastern Provincial Council, end impunity for ongoing rights violations and work to develop a lasting political consensus on issues of land, security and power sharing with independent representatives of all communities”. None has happened.

In order “to build confidence among all three communities, the government should develop transparent policies on security, the fair allocation of state land, the legitimate protection of religious sites and the equitable distribution of the benefits of economic development”. The Group has recommended actions to be taken by all stakeholders. The report is useful to grasp the reason behind the failure of the authorities to act in good faith. Official statements of intents hardly get transformed into corresponding actions on the ground. All the citizens right down to the grass roots level must experience the benefits of socio-economic development. Mere words cannot win the hearts and minds of the people. Balanced development that benefits all ethnic communities is also crucial for unity and peace. Unfortunately, this has not been the case since independence. It is not the people but egoistic power greedy politicians who destroyed unity and peace.

Professor Suriyanarayan well aware of usual happenings in Sri Lankan politics told Shobha: “But if you go by the record of Colombo on how they have fulfilled the obligations and commitments, the probability of constitutional reforms is very bleak”. He also told the interviewer: “You can now hear powerful voices being expressed that it is a Sinhala country, and Sinhalese are the majority and therefore, the majority will has to prevail. In multi- ethnic societies, some of us believe that rights of the minorities are equally important”.

On military victory first political solution later, who can believe the solution of the victor, if and when one is offered, will be generous to accommodate the aspirations and concerns of the powerless ethnic minorities? Gamini Weerakoon has quite rightly pointed out that after eliminating the military prowess of the LTTE, the political solution will be one dictated by the President. He has also dismissed the APRC process as a futile exercise, although the President expects “the people to believe that the APRC comprising of volatile and combustible forces such as the JHU, JVP, TMVP and EPDP to get together and work out a compromise solution!” (SL Guardian 19 Oct. 2008).

It is more likely the practice of giving promises and offering positions and concessions to amenable minority leaders as happening now will be followed more eagerly. If this is the case, the present divisive system will continue and the ethnic majority-minority divide will hinder national unity and peace. This uncertainty is greater now than in the past because of President’s close connection with the champions of Sinhala supremacy and Sinhala majority rule. There is definitely a similarity between the approaches to win and consolidate power taken in 1956 and now. 50 years seem not long enough to know in advance the difference between the consequences of parochial and national politics. The military victory is certainly not a lasting victory for the island nation. This would have been the case had the LTTE been defeated politically by sensible changes to the present system that assure the ethnic minorities their legitimate rights, safety, security and equal opportunities to succeed.

At the dead end with damaged credibility

In his recent comments on the tense situation that has arisen after India’s renewed concern over the plight of Tamil civilians in the North, former Ambassador K. Godage said that his Indian friends had told him, a credibility gap has been created “by promising their PM that we would come up with a political package to address the grievances of the Tamil people shortly after the government came to office and then seeking to cheat them by appointing the APRC which has according to them transparently dragged on the process unnecessarily till a military ‘victory’ was achieved. They claim that this (deceiving) act of the government has become so clear they find it difficult to accept its word any more”. His suggestion is to “reach out to the minorities with credible constitutional proposals immediately.”

He has also drawn attention to the unanimous desire of all political parties in Tamil Nadu that “the Tamils of Lanka must be able to live as equal citizens in dignity, in security and be able to decide on their own destiny in keeping with the principle of ‘subsidiarity’ within a united sovereign Sri Lanka. The ball, according to them, is in our court to come up with an offer which would be endorsed by them (India) and which the LTTE (also other Tamil nationalists) would not be able to refuse”.

In this regard, the former Ambassador has boldly suggested that the Sri Lankan government should “formulate such an offer with the assistance of Indian constitutional experts in line with the Oslo formula. But the offer should be conditional upon the LTTE renouncing its goal of Eelam, renouncing violence as a means to achieve its political objective, agreeing to a phased demilitarization in keeping with their own security and accepting the principles set out in the Tokyo Declaration”. This may seem sensible to pragmatic persons but nauseating to the Sinhala patriots who detest any foreign involvement, especially Indian. It is doubtful even the modest Mangala Moonesinghe Select Committee proposals based on the Indian devolution model and two separate Councils for North and East with an Apex Assembly consisting of Members of both Councils to plan common policies and co-ordinate programmes will be acceptable to the Sinhala nationalists, who are opposed to any change in the present power structure. The de-merger of the North-East Province by Supreme Court ruling is considered to be a significant achievement in their campaign to preserve the structure of the State in its present form.

The Sunday Island editorial (October 19) has drawn attention to the web of forces created by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to strengthen his hold on power. These very forces have now put him in a tight spot. It stated: “The government needs to make a course correction but can it do so, given the symbiotic connection between President Rajapaksa and the Sinhala supremacists? Can the President, without endangering his very survival, muzzle the Army Commander, restrain the Defence Secretary, neutralise the JHU, and other assorted Sinhala hardliners, allow adequate humanitarian assistance to get through to the war displaced, soften the stance on human rights and come up with a political solution ideally based on the Indian model?”

The whole country is now entangled in his netting. Following the Army Commander’s challenging statement, “the latest historically inaccurate and racially bigoted outpourings of Environment and Natural Resources Minister Champika Ranawaka indicate the impossibility of the task (course correction)”. The Environment Minister told Shakuntala Perera of the Daily Mirror (October 16 issue): "The Sinhalese are the only organic race of Sri Lanka. Other communities are all visitors to the country, whose arrival was never challenged out of the compassion of Buddhists. But they must not take this compassion for granted. The Muslims are here because our kings let them trade here and the Tamils because they were allowed to take refuge when the Moguls were invading them in India. What is happening today is pure ingratitude on the part of these visitors." Such statements contrary to the declared intents of the President, who is the head of State, head of government and Commander-in- Chief of the Armed Forces are not withdrawn or corrected. Who can expect unity and peace to emerge from this muddle? The Sri Lankan society is now increasingly polarized and the apprehension is also greater because of the deterioration in the economic and public financial situations, due to high military spending, increasing debt service payments and dim prospects for exports in the light of global recession.

Conclusion

The fundamentals for creating the climate for national unity and peace have been and still are being ignored. All communities must feel confident of their safety, security and future in the political system. Mutual trust is essential for gaining this confidence. All citizens regardless of their ethnic, religious and regional identities must have equal rights, privileges and opportunities. The legitimate rights of ethnic minorities recognized by the UN must be observed. The political system must provide means for fulfilling their reasonable aspirations. Devolution and power sharing will be useful here and should not be viewed as a threat to the future of the ethnic Sinhalese. It is illusory to think unity and peace could be achieved by some ‘clever’ means without relevant changes to the present system. The perception that it is an effective safeguard against Tamil domination and secession is another delusion. It is not only the interests of the majority Sinhala community but also those of the ethnic minorities that need to be protected. Many misconceptions are based on medieval history. Almost all developed countries have histories of foreign invasion and conquest of territories but these do not influence the thinking of their present political leaders.

It is now clear constitutional reform per se without the commitment to equality and the basics of well functioning democratic system in plural societies and the will to implement the Constitution, its amendments and enacted laws, the climate for unity and peace will not improve much. Although Great Britain has no written Constitution, the parliamentary system of government with extensive powers devolved to Scotland functions smoothly because all the main political parties there have embraced pluralism and democratic values. One can say this consciousness is intrinsic to the culture of the multi-ethnic society there. Our political culture has acquired notoriety because of the disregard for human rights, good governance, Rule of Law, social justice and free and fair elections. A sea change in attitudes is also needed to secure national unity and peace.

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

Ambassador Blake's Remarks at the University of Madras " U.S. Perspectives on Sri Lanka"

Related: Report on "The Hindu" ~ re: U of Madars Event: 'Military solution in Sri Lanka very difficult'

Full Text of Speech by Ambassador Robert Blake

Good afternoon.  It is wonderful to be back in Chennai and have the opportunity to visit this prestigious University.  I visited Chennai several times while I was Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Delhi from 2003 to 2006 and developed a great fondness for your city and its people. 
Today I address you in a new hat as the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives.  I thought I would use the occasion to talk about the US perspective on Sri Lanka and then give you a chance to ask any questions you might have.

[Ambassador Robert Blake - file pic: By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai]   

I will talk first about our support for a political solution, the situation in northern Sri Lanka, our policy on terrorism in Sri Lanka, and conclude with our assessment of Sri Lanka’s promise if fighting can be stopped.

Need for a Political Solution

America’s experience in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere has taught us that terrorism cannot be defeated by law enforcement and military measures alone.  That is why President Bush has made the promotion of democracy one of the centerpieces of American foreign policy.  And that is why the U.S. and other Co-Chair countries have urged the Government of Sri Lanka to adopt now a political solution to the conflict within the framework of a united Sri Lanka that meets the aspirations of all of Sri Lanka’s communities.  One way forward is for Sri Lanka to complete the work of the All Parties Representative Committee which has reached agreement on 90% of a blueprint for constitutional reform that most Sri Lankans believe offers great promise.  It remains for the country’s two main Sinhalese parties to agree on the document, which has proved a significant hurdle thus far.      

One reason for the lack of recent progress on a consensus APRC document, is that some in Sri Lanka believe that the Government should first defeat the LTTE and then proceed with a political solution.  The U.S. view is that the Government could further isolate and weaken the LTTE if it articulates now its vision for a political solution.  This would help reassure the more than 200,000 IDPs now in the Vanni that they can move south and aspire to a better future.  It would also disprove the LTTE’s claim that they are the sole representative of Sri Lanka’s Tamils and the only ones who care about Sri Lanka’s Tamils.  Finally it would help to persuade Tamils in Canada, the US and other parts of the diaspora to stop funding the LTTE which in turn would hasten an end to the conflict.  The U.S. also believes that an improvement in the human rights situation -- that has disproportionately affected Tamils -- would help to hasten reconciliation and give Tamils a greater sense that they will enjoy a future of hope and dignity within a united Sri Lanka.

US Assistance

To help lay the basis for peace, America has long been a partner in Sri Lanka’s development and its quest to realize its tremendous potential.  U.S. assistance has totaled more than $1.63 billion since Sri Lanka's independence in 1948.  Through the U.S. Agency for International Development, the United States has contributed to Sri Lanka's economic growth with projects designed to reduce unemployment, improve housing, develop the Colombo Stock Exchange, modernize the judicial system, and improve competitiveness. 

US assistance now is focused on helping to stabilize and develop eastern Sri Lanka and on providing humanitarian assistance to those displaced in northern Sri Lanka by fighting.  Let me first discuss our efforts in the east.  Following the Government of Sri Lanka’s successful efforts to defeat and expel the LTTE from eastern Sri Lanka in 2007, the U.S. believes there is now an important opportunity to stabilize the east by encouraging democratic, multi-ethnic governance, and development and growth that will benefit equally the Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese communities.  We have emphasized the imperative of establishing security and demobilizing paramilitaries to help lay the basis for private sector-led investment and growth.  A successful and participatory stabilization and reconstruction effort in the east could serve as a powerful template and confidence builder for a future solution in the north. 

To support development and growth, the US has initiated two programs.  First, our regional governance program aims to: 1) develop capacity for increased citizen participation and engagement in regional and local government,  2) strengthen inter-community reconciliation; and 3) support the development of civil society in East, including human rights organizations, independent media to improve reporting on regional news 

Our economic growth program seeks to establish growth and livelihoods to reduce the chance of the East sliding back to terrorism and violence.  This program will support establishment of small businesses that can participate in value-chain development activities, thereby improving access to new markets.  It will strengthen local private sector organizations that can help establish and strengthen marketing and development links between the eastern and western province.  It will also facilitate access to finance, strengthen financial service providers, provide business and agricultural services, promote access to capital equipment and small infrastructure, and enhance utilization of information and communications technology.

Already we have made progress in spearheading important new private sector projects.  To promote the dairy industry, USAID partnered with the international NGO World Concern and Milco Private Ltd.  USAID constructed 40 cattle sheds, a milk chilling center, and five milk collection points, provided 300 milk cans and trained 160 farmers in feeding technologies, animal health and business planning. In all, nearly 2,000 households in the area have benefited.

To promote agricultural exports, we partnered with an indigenous Sri Lankan company, Hayley’s Sunfrost, on a pilot project with 170 farmers in eastern and Uva provinces to increase production of high value pineapple, jalapeno peppers and gherkins through training, agricultural inputs and buy-back agreements.  And we hope to do much more by establishing a private sector challenge fund to develop new public-private partnerships and private investment. 

Humanitarian Assistance

The United States also is playing a leading role in providing food, and other humanitarian assistance to the more than 200,000 people displaced by fighting in northern Sri Lanka.  Already this year, the U.S. has contributed $21.7 million worth of food and other commodities through our Food for Peace program.  Another $11 million worth of commodities are on the seas bound for Sri Lanka to help these same needy people. 

The U.S. shares the concern of India and other countries about the plight of civilians who are caught in the middle of hostilities in the Vanni.  We have urged both sides in the conflict to allow the UN and ICRC  continued access so they can continue to deliver the food, shelter and other supplies in a secure manner to those IDPs need, particularly now that the monsoon rains have started.  We have also urged both sides to exercise maximum restraint to ensure civilians are not injured in the fighting.  We have also urged the LTTE to allow freedom of movement so the IDPs can move away from the fighting, including into areas controlled by the Government should the IDPs wish to do so.   

The Fight Against Terrorism

One of the great threats facing the world today is the threat of terrorism.  The United States is committed to helping Sri Lanka fight terrorism and we have demonstrated this in a number of ways.  We were among the first to declare the LTTE a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1997.  Since then, it has been a felony under U.S. law to provide material support or resources to the LTTE.

In August 2006 and April 2007, the FBI arrested a total of 9 people who the U.S. Department of Justice subsequently charged with various crimes, including conspiracy to provide material support and resources to the LTTE.
Those arrests also led to discovery of operational and financial links between the Tamils Rehabilitation Organization and the LTTE.  The TRO is a charitable organization with offices in Sri Lanka and in a number of countries abroad. 

In November 2007, the U.S. Government concluded that, in the United States, the TRO had raised funds on behalf of the LTTE through a network of individual representatives.  The TRO also facilitated LTTE procurement operations in the United States.  Those operations included the purchase of munitions, equipment, communication devices, and other technology for the LTTE.

It was on the basis of these links that the U.S. Department of the Treasury in Washington DC last year designated the TRO under Executive Order 13224, thereby freezing the TRO’s assets in the US and prohibiting Americans from dealing with them. 

In addition to law enforcement measures, the US has taken several steps to help the Sri Lankan military defend itself against terrorism.  The most important was our decision to provide maritime radar system and 10 rigid hull inflatable boats to help the Sri Lankan navy detect and interdict LTTE vessels carrying arms and other illegal cargo for the LTTE.  

Sri Lanka’s Promise

I’d like to conclude with some brief thoughts on Sri Lanka’s future.  The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said:  “Those who have knowledge, don’t predict.  Those who predict, don’t have knowledge.”  So I will not show my ignorance by attempting any predictions.

I do believe, however, that Sri Lanka’s is a country of great promise and opportunity if the fighting can stop and a political solution can be agreed on that satisfies Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslim aspirations.  Sri Lanka is a country blessed with a well educated population; a diversified economy; plentiful water, and other resources; and good opportunities to expand food production and reduce dependence on foreign energy.  The country also has a President with many political gifts who enjoys the trust and support of the Sinhalese majority that he can use to gain their support for a political solution and national reconciliation. 

An end to the fighting would bring a quick end to the humanitarian challenges the country now faces, and would significantly diminish human rights problems.  It would also allow the Government to reduce defense spending, bring down inflation, and raise spending for infrastructure, education and development.  Perhaps most important it would help reverse Sri Lanka’s brain drain.  The World Bank has estimated that more than one million Sri Lankan professionals live and work overseas.  Just as the return of Indian-Americans to India has had a major impact in India, the return of these Sri Lankan professionals would have an equally positive result. 

Let me take this opportunity to thank the University of Madras for this opportunity to join you today.  I would be pleased to take your questions.


October 23, 2008

Time to realize the suitability of Federalism

by A.Rajasingam

The measures taken to solve the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka within the concept of a Unitary framework has ended in a futile exercise. The only achievement to solve the problem eventually not only ended in destruction of lives and property but also in mass exodus to foreign countries. The main cause for such failure was the lack of far-sighted thinking by the Sinhalese political leaders as well as by some Tamil leaders in the past. Sinhalese Political leaders were only concerned in changing the constitution to their suitability. The steps taken by both Mrs.Srimavo Bandaranayake and J.R.Jayawardena to have a unicameral constitution with the sole purpose of denying a noice for the minority Tamils, eventually led to the birth of terrorism to rear its ugly head as well as the uprisings of the JVP subversives.

One ponders whether such uprisings would have taken place had there been a federal form of government in existence since the time of independence. This prompted to give a brief account of Federalism and how it operates for the benefit of the people.

Federalism refers to two levels of government - one refers to the Federal and the other refers to the Provinces. The Federal Government exercises its particular powers across the whole country while the Provincial governments exercise their powers within their particular regional territory.

Each level of government usually has its own particular jurisdiction. The Federal Government has its authority over “national” issues usually on national defence, foreign policy and monetary affairs while the Regional governments will have its authority on regional issues (other than the national defence, foreign policy and monetary affairs). Briefly power is divided on certain areas is divided between the Central Government and the Provincial Government or it can be called “decentralized” to Regional governments. Thus leaving room for wider participation by the public resulting in addressing the grievances of the people from all quarters.

Federalism differs from Unitary Government. In a Unitary Government there is only one level of government which has the autonomous constitutional powers. It is the party in power that makes all political decisions. The problem crops up when the ruling party makes decisions in a multi-racial country. However, in a Federal Government, the Provincial Government attends to all matters pertaining to the development of the particular Province other than the National issues over which the Regional Governments have no constitutional authority. However, in case of conflicting decisions some mechanisms are included in the Constitution by way of incorporating the Second Chamber (the Senate) to monitor the activities of the both level of Governments. Further, an independent Judiciary is incorporated in the Constitution to settle any conflicting decisions that are detrimental to the public.

However, the local governments such as the Municipal and Town Councils and Pradeshya Sabhas can function within the Provinces which are responsible for creating local governments and setting out their basic frameworks. In addition for purpose of simplicity the country should be divided into Five Provinces and Colombo as the Capital with the Corporation Status under the direct rule of the Federal Government.

There are two divisions of jurisdiction and authority between the Federal Government and the Regional Governments. Briefly Federalism is the mechanism which allows nations to exist within a nation. However, in the United Kingdom which is a Unitary Government, have passed some Devolution Acts for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to attend to their regional matters while maintaining the legislative supremacy of the Parliament.

Working system of Federalism

A more wider participation is seen in Federalism where intergovernmental relations are characterized by a day-to-day communications between personnel from different governments. This is evidenced when the politicians and the government servants discuss with their counterparts to exchange ideas and information and coordinate their activities and thus promoting governmental interdependence.

Such exchange of ideas and coordination of activities is lacking especially in countries like Sri Lanka where politicians are corrupted by their supporters especially in the field of taxation, assignment of major projects, allocation of funds, etc. In Sri Lanka politicians are only interested in receiving commissions from major projects and the expectations of the public are neglected, resulting in strikes, imprisonment under false charges and murders. Wider participation in the administration in a Unitary country like Sri Lanka is denied on the pretext of legislative supremacy of the Parliament.

The most appreciating factor of Federalism is that recognizes different types of political issue with the creation of regular departments of intergovernmental affairs which should be financed by the Minister who also has a place in the Cabinet. Such departments have their responsibility to communicate with other Regional Governments and comply with the Guidelines or directions in the best interests of the public. But in some developing Unitary State of Sri Lanka, the Central Government places restrictions in order to conceal the corruption of the Ministers and their supporters. Had there been a federal system such malpractices would not occur because power would be dispersed and coordinated and federalism is seen as a means of protecting pluralism. Even the rights of the individual is protected against powerful government. Federalism is not separation of a country but coordination (binding together) between Provinces. Such decentralization of power and coordination within the States and with the Federal Government would have definitely avoided the current bloodshed.

However in the United Kingdom the issue of Federalism will not crop up because there are special Acts for Devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland giving sufficient powers in their respective Parliaments to attend to their needs and in my view this is marked shift from the concept of a Unitary character.

Unity in diversity

The vibrant feature of Federalism is there is unity in diversity by sharing information. The interaction of the Chief Ministers of each Region or Province with the Federal Prime Minister and Chairman of the Senate by way of Conferences in an atmosphere of brotherhood and friendship to thrash out the National issues should be held annually which will pave way for strengthening the unity of the country. Similarly the cabinet of every Region or Provinces together with the Departmental Heads should also have conferences in an atmosphere of brotherhood and friendship to discuss and exchange intergovernmental issues and businesses for the betterment of their respective people. It is through such measures the Federal or the Central Government can listen to the aspirations of the people of each Region or Province and take adequate measures. The Regions or the Provinces should be given wider authority to attend to specific areas such as Health Insurance, Pension Scheme for Seniors and the disabled, Students, Education, Language, Transport, Police (to maintain law and order), Orphans, Taxation, etc. Sri Lankans (Sinhalese, Tamils & Muslims) would not have imagined such benefits arising out of such federal structure. Had this structure been in Sri Lanka, funds such as Tsunami Fund, etc., would not have been swindled by unscrupulous politicians. It is this structure that stimulates the confident building measure and enforces the concept of binding together firmly. Federalism is a way of life.

If such a measure can be adapted, the question of increasing the number of Representatives in the Parliament and the Ministers in the Cabinet in Sri Lanka becomes meaningless. It is really ridiculous and utter waste of money. It is no excuse to say that Federalism is unacceptable. It is the moral duty of every educated persons and politicians to inform the public the benefits of Federalism which is suitable in a multi-racial country or the people should be vigilant to look at the benefits of Federalism by reading materials at the libraries. Sri Lankan politicians are the root cause for misleading the people giving a false picture of Federalism and their allegations that Federalism leads to separation are absolutely baseless and without any foundation. Really Federalism leads to a better tomorrow in a multi-racial country.

Having known that the relations between the Provinces should be conducted under the Rule of Law, the issue before the Sri Lankans is, whether the conflicts should be resolved peaceful means or through war. The choice is whether Sri Lankans want Federalism which resolves through peaceful means or Unitary which resolves through coercion of war.

New Level of Danger for Sri Lanka’s Journalists as Threats Mount

Statement by International Federation of Journalists

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is alarmed at widespread and frequent verbal and physical attacks against journalists and press freedom defenders in Sri Lanka as the country’s internal conflict continues.

According to the Free Media Movement (FMM), an IFJ affiliate, journalists in the troubled Eastern Province and those raising voices unfavourable to either party in the violent confrontations between Sri Lankan Government’s with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are in grave danger.

In the latest assault on media freedom, a series of letters were reportedly received by human rights defenders and lawyers associated with the current trial of senior Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam, the first journalist to be charged under anti-terrorism laws for his published work.

The letter reportedly warned any supporters of Tissainayagam or other defenders of human rights cases that they would be summarily killed or suffer life-threatening injuries. The source of the letter, “Mahason Balakaya” (Mahason Regiment) is an unknown group, the FMM reports.

In August, a supporter of the Tamil Makal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) Karuna faction threatened journalist Thakshila Jayasena from Sandeshaya, the BBC Sinhala Service, when covering a protest campaign by the United National Party, Sri Lanka’s main opposition party.

In September, journalist Radhika Devakumar, a provincial correspondent of the Tamil daily Thinakaran newspaper, survived an assassination attempt in her home. This incident is reportedly linked to her former position as media coordinator for Eastern Province Chief Minister Sinvaesathurai Chandrakanthan.

On October 18, an article in the state-controlled Dinamina daily accused ten journalists of working for the Tamil Tigers and allegedly reporting distorted interpretations on the humanitarian crisis facing the Sri Lankan government.

 “For any hope of democratic stability to return to this now conflict-devastated country, journalists and photographers must have the right of passage to report on the war independently and disseminate information locally and internationally,” IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

“Journalists are now more than ever being actively targeted for their reporting. Moves by any party to incite further violence against the media are not only irresponsible but inhumane.”

The IFJ joins the FMM in calling upon the Inspector General of the Police to take the lead in dismantling the growing attitude of disregard for journalists’ safety and professional duty by demonstrating that any perpetrator of such violence will face justice.

Only through denouncing the trend of attacks and threats will the Government be able to restore public confidence in Sri Lanka at such a fragile time.

October 22, 2008

Only peace protects freedoms in post-9/11 world

Press Freedom Index 2008: Statement By Report Without Borders

It is not economic prosperity but peace that guarantees press freedom. That is the main lesson to be drawn from the world press freedom index that Reporters Without Borders compiles every year and from the 2008 edition, released today. Another conclusion from the index - in which the bottom three rungs are again occupied by the “infernal trio” of Turkmenistan (171st), North Korea (172nd) and Eritrea (173rd) - is that the international community’s conduct towards authoritarian regimes such as Cuba (169th) and China (167th) is not effective enough to yield results.

“The post-9/11 world is now clearly drawn,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Destabilised and on the defensive, the leading democracies are gradually eroding the space for freedoms. The economically most powerful dictatorships arrogantly proclaim their authoritarianism, exploiting the international community’s divisions and the ravages of the wars carried out in the name of the fight against terrorism. Religious and political taboos are taking greater hold by the year in countries that used to be advancing down the road of freedom.”

“The world’s closed countries, governed by the worst press freedom predators, continue to muzzle their media at will, with complete impunity, while organisations such as the UN lose all authority over their members,” Reporters Without Borders added. “In contrast with this generalised decline, there are economically weak countries that nonetheless guarantee their population the right to disagree with the government and to say so publicly.”

War and peace

Two aspects stand out in the index, which covers the 12 months to 1 September 2008. One is Europe’s preeminence. Aside from New Zealand and Canada, the first 20 positions are held by European countries. The other is the very respectable ranking achieved by certain Central American and Caribbean countries. Jamaica and Costa Rica are in 21st and 22nd positions, rubbing shoulders with Hungary (23rd). Just a few position below them are Surinam (26th) and Trinidad and Tobago (27th). These small Caribbean countries have done much better than France (35th), which has fallen again this year, this time by four places, and Spain (36th) and Italy (44th), countries held back again by political or mafia violence. Namibia (23rd), a large and now peaceful southern African country that came first in Africa, ahead of Ghana (31st), was just one point short of joining the top 20.

The economic disparities among the top 20 are immense. Iceland’s per capita GDP is 10 times Jamaica’s. What they have in common is a parliamentary democratic system, and not being involved in any war. This is not the case with the United States (36th domestically and 119th outside its own territory) and Israel (46th domestically and 149th outside its own territory), whose armed forces killed a Palestinian journalist for the first time since 2003. A resumption of fighting also affected Georgia (120th) and Niger, which fell sharply from 95th in 2007 to 130th this year. Although they have democratic political systems, these countries are embroiled in low or high intensity conflicts and their journalists, exposed to the dangers of combat or repression, are easy prey. The recent provisional release of Moussa Kaka, the Niger correspondent of RFI and Reporters Without Borders, after 384 days in prison in Niamey and cameraman Sami al-Haj’s release after six years in the hell of Guantanamo serve as reminders that wars sweep away not only lives but also, and above all, freedom.

Under fire from belligerents or intrusive governments

Countries that have become embroiled in very violent conflicts after failing to resolve serious political problems, such as Iraq (158th), Pakistan (152nd), Afghanistan (156th) and Somalia (153rd), continue to be highly dangerous “black zones” for the press, places where journalists are targets for murder, kidnapping, arbitrary arrest or death threats every day. They may come under fire from the parties at war. They may be accused of taking sides. Any excuse will do to get rid of “trouble-makers” and “spies.” Such is the case in the Palestinian Territories (163rd), especially the Gaza Strip, where the situation got much worse after Hamas seized power. At the same time, in Sri Lanka (165th), where there is an elected government, the press has to face violence that is only too often organised by the state.

Bringing up the rear are the dictatorships - some disguised, some not - where dissidents and pro-reform journalists manage to open cracks in the walls that enclose them. The year of the Olympics in the new Asian power, China (167th), was the year that Hu Jia and many other dissidents and journalists were jailed. But it also provided opportunities to those liberal media that are trying gradually to free themselves of the country’s still pervasive police control. Being a journalist in Beijing or Shanghai - or in Iran (166th), Uzbekistan (162nd) and Zimbabwe (151st) - is a high risk exercise involving endless frustration and constant police and judicial harassment. In Burma (170th), run by a xenophobic and inflexible junta, journalists and intellectuals, even foreign ones, have for years been viewed as enemies by the regime, and they pay the price.

Unchanging hells

In Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s Tunisia (143rd), Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya (160rd), Alexander Lukashenko’s Belarus (154th), Bashar el-Assad’s Syria (159e) and Teodoro Obiang Nguema’s Equatorial Guinea (156th), the leader’s ubiquitous portrait on the streets and front pages of the newspapers is enough to dispel any doubt about the lack of press freedom. Other dictatorships do without a personality cult but are just as suffocating. Nothing is possible in Laos (164th) or Saudi Arabia (161st) if it does not accord with government policy.

Finally, North Korea and Turkmenistan are unchanging hells in which the population is cut off from the world and is subjected to propaganda worthy of a bygone age. And in Eritrea (173rd), which has come last for the second year running, President Issaias Afeworki and his small clan of paranoid nationalists continue to run Africa’s youngest country like a vast open prison.

The international community, including the European Union, endlessly repeats that the only solution continues to be “dialogue.” But dialogue has clearly had little success and even the most authoritarian governments are still able to ignore remonstrations without risking any repercussions other than the inconsequential displeasure of the occasional diplomat.

Dangers of corruption and political hatred

The other disease that eats away at democracies and makes them lose ground in the ranking is corruption. The bad example of Bulgaria (59th), still last in Europe, serves as a reminder that universal suffrage, media pluralism and some constitutional guarantees are not enough to ensure effective press freedom. The climate must also favour the flow of information and expression of opinions. The social and political tensions in Peru (108th) and Kenya (97th), the media politicisation in Madagascar (94th) and Bolivia (115th) and the violence against investigative journalists in Brazil (82nd) are all examples of the kinds of poison that blight emerging democracies. And the existence of people who break the law to get rich and who punish inquisitive journalists with impunity is a scourge that keeps several “great countries” - such as Nigeria (131st), Mexico (140th) and India (118th) - in shameful positions.

Certain would-be “great countries” deliberately behave in a manner that is brutal, unfair or just disturbing. The examples include Venezuela (113th), where President Hugo Chávez’s personality and decrees are often crushing, and the Putin-Medvedev duo’s Russia (141st), where state and opposition media are strictly controlled and journalists such as Anna Politkovskaya are killed each year by “unidentified” gunmen who often turn out to have close links with the Kremlin’s security services.

Resisting the taboos

The ranking’s “soft underbelly” also includes countries that waver between repression and liberalisation, where the taboos are still inviolable and the press laws hark back to another era. In Gabon (110th), Cameroon (129th), Morocco (122nd), Oman (123rd), Cambodia (126th), Jordan (128th) and Malaysia (132nd), for example, it is strictly forbidden to report anything that reflects badly on the president or monarch, or their family and close associates. Journalists are routinely sent to prison in Senegal (86th) and Algeria (121st) under repressive legislation that violates the democratic standards advocated by the UN.

Online repression also exposes these tenacious taboos. In Egypt (146th), demonstrations launched online shook the capital and alarmed the government, which now regards every Internet user as a potential danger. The use of Internet filtering is growing by the year and the most repressive governments do not hesitate to jail bloggers. While China still leads the “Internet black hole” ranking worldwide, deploying considerable technical resources to control Internet users, Syria (159th) is the Middle-East champion in cyber-repression. Internet surveillance is so thorough there that even the least criticism posted online is sooner or later followed by arrest.

Only a few countries have risen significantly in the ranking. Lebanon (66th), for example, has climbed back to a more logical position after the end of the bomb attacks on influential journalists of recent years. Haiti (73rd) continues its slow rise, as do Argentina (68th) and Maldives (104th). But the democratic transition has halted in Mauritania (105th), preventing it from continuing its rise, while the slender gains of the past few years in Chad (133rd) and Sudan (135th) were swept away by the overnight introduction of censorship.

The ranking

RankCountryNote 
1Iceland1,50
-Luxembourg1,50
-Norway1,50
4Estonia2,00
-Finland2,00
-Ireland2,00
7Belgium3,00
-Latvia3,00
-New Zealand3,00
-Slovakia3,00
-Sweden3,00
-Switzerland3,00
13Canada3,33
14Austria3,50
-Denmark3,50
16Czech Republic4,00
-Lithuania4,00
-Netherlands4,00
-Portugal4,00
20Germany4,50
21Jamaica4,88
22Costa Rica5,10
23Hungary5,50
-Namibia5,50
-United Kingdom5,50
26Surinam6,00
27Trinidad and Tobago6,13
28Australia6,25
29Japan6,50
30Slovenia7,33
31Cyprus7,50
-Ghana7,50
-Greece7,50
-Mali7,50
35France7,67
36Bosnia and Herzegovina8,00
-Cape Verde8,00
-South Africa8,00
-Spain8,00
-Taiwan8,00
-United States of America8,00
42Macedonia8,25
43Uruguay8,33
44Italy8,42
45Croatia8,50
46Israel (Israeli territory)8,83
47Mauritius9,00
-Poland9,00
-Romania9,00
-South Korea9,00
51Hong-Kong9,75
-Liberia9,75
53Cyprus (North)10,00
-Montenegro10,00
-Togo10,00
56Chile11,50
57Panama11,83
58Kosovo12,00
59Bulgaria12,50
-Nicaragua12,50
61Kuwait12,63
62El Salvador12,80
63Burkina Faso13,00
64Serbia13,50
65Timor-Leste13,75
66Botswana14,00
-Lebanon14,00
68Argentina14,08
69United Arab Emirates14,50
70Benin15,00
-Malawi15,00
-Tanzania15,00
73Haiti15,13
74Bhutan15,50
-Ecuador15,50
-Qatar15,50
-Seychelles15,50
-Zambia15,50
79Albania16,00
-Fiji16,00
81Guinea-Bissau16,33
82Brazil18,00
-Dominican Republic18,00
-Tonga18,00
85Central African Republic18,50
86Senegal19,00
87Ukraine19,25
88Guyana19,75
89Comoros20,00
90Mozambique20,50
-Paraguay20,50
92Congo20,75
93Mongolia20,83
94Burundi21,00
-Madagascar21,00
96Bahrein21,17
97Kenya21,25
98Moldova21,38
99Guinea21,50
-Honduras21,50
101Guatemala22,64
102Armenia22,75
-Turkey22,75
104Maldives23,25
105Mauritania23,88
106Tajikistan25,50
107Uganda26,00
108Peru26,25
109Côte d’Ivoire26,50
110Gabon26,75
111Indonesia27,00
-Kyrgyzstan27,00
113Venezuela27,33
114Sierra Leone27,75
115Bolivia28,20
116Angola29,50
-Lesotho29,50
118India30,00
119United States of America (extra-territorial)31,00
120Georgia31,25
121Algeria31,33
122Morocco32,25
123Oman32,67
124Thailand34,50
125Kazakhstan35,33
126Cambodia35,50
-Colombia35,50
128Jordan36,00
129Cameroon36,90
130Niger37,00
131Nigeria37,75
132Malaysia39,50
133Chad41,25
134Djibouti41,50
135Sudan42,00
136Bangladesh42,70
137Gambia42,75
138Nepal43,25
139Philippines45,00
140Mexico46,13
141Russia47,50
142Ethiopia47,75
143Tunisia48,10
144Singapore49,00
145Rwanda50,00
146Egypt50,25
147Swaziland50,50
148Democratic Republic of Congo51,25
149Israel (extra-territorial)51,50
150Azerbaijan53,63
151Zimbabwe54,00
152Pakistan54,88
153Somalia58,00
154Belarus58,33
155Yemen59,00
156Afghanistan59,25
-Equatorial Guinea59,25
158Iraq59,38
159Syria59,63
160Libya61,50
161Saudi Arabia61,75
162Uzbekistan62,70
163Palestinian Territories66,88
164Laos70,00
165Sri Lanka78,00
166Iran80,33
167China85,50
168Vietnam86,17
169Cuba88,33
170Burma94,38
171Turkmenistan95,50
172North Korea96,50
173Eritrea97,50

October 17, 2008

Tens of thousands of IDPs hit by monsoon rains

Report by IRIN News

The onset of the north-eastern monsoon in Sri Lanka is accelerating the need to provide adequate shelter to more than 220,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in areas controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the north, UN and government officials said. 

 

Many IDPs have relocated to flood-prone areas and thousands of families still have no shelter against the monsoon downpours

The IDPs remain in the Vanni, a north-central area under Tamil Tiger control and, according to the latest situation report by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), insufficient temporary shelters had been erected by mid-September.

"The first of the monsoon rains have started in Mulaithivu District [in the Vanni], increasing concerns for vulnerable displaced families," the situation report, released on 13 October, stated.

"Humanitarian agencies are increasingly worried about the large gap in shelter provision for IDPs currently with inadequate shelters," stated the report. "Although some IDPs have managed to take shelter material and roofing with them as they have had to displace, only 2,100 temporary shelters had been built at the time humanitarian organisations relocated from the Vanni on 16 September."

UN and other international agencies working in the Vanni left the area in September following a government directive amid deteriorating security.

Shelter needs

Imalda Sukumar, the government agent for Mulaithivu District, which has the largest concentration of IDPs at 155,000 persons (about 39,000 families), said up to half needed proper shelter.

"We feel that at least 14,000 families are in need of shelter material and we are working to get them that," she told IRIN.

Heavy rains in eastern Sri Lanka led to heavy flooding in late December 2007 and the temporary displacement of some 250,000 people-pic: Amantha Perera/IRIN

"The monsoon is something that we all were expecting and now as we keep food supplies moving to the displaced [in the Vanni], we will have to look at transporting shelter material as well," Gordon Weiss, the UN spokesman in Sri Lanka, told IRIN.

Another 66,000 IDPs remain in Kilinochchi District west of Mulaithivu. Recent fighting in Kilinochchi has forced IDPs to move to Mulaithivu District in large numbers.

The situation report stated that many of the displaced families had relocated to low-lying areas. "Many IDPs have congregated in areas along the A35 highway which were once paddy land and therefore prone to flooding. Shelter agencies had previously assessed some of this land as potential IDP sites and found them unsuitable."

The Meteorological Department has warned that the annual north-eastern monsoon was likely to remain active until at least November.

Food convoys

Since the relocation, some 71 trucks with food supplies, including 30 with supplies from the World Food Programme (WFP), have crossed into the Vanni.

The government pledged it would keep supplies moving into the Vanni and officials said that at least one convoy would travel there every week.

"In order to ensure effective, adequate and safe delivery of humanitarian supplies, the government has been working closely with UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC], as well as a number of local and international NGOs," Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said on 14 October during an official visit to Australia.

The UN said it planned to move its second convoy of supplies since the relocation this week. "The plan is to send 50 vehicles with about 45 carrying food stuff from WFP," Weiss told IRIN.

Sukumar, however, warned that the rains could hamper future convoys. "The road from Puliyankulam to Nedunkerni [the route taken by the food convoys] is in a very bad condition," she said.

Due to fighting in Kilinochchi District, the food convoys did not travel far on the A9 highway, the best road in the Vanni, but took a safer route to the east.

"The situation in the Vanni is evolving daily," Anthony Dalziel, ICRC deputy head of delegation in Sri Lanka, stated in the agency's September bulletin, released on 13 October.

The ICRC is the only international humanitarian agency with a permanent presence in the Vanni. "While security remains a concern, we are in daily contact with the Sri Lankan security forces and LTTE, which allows us to obtain the necessary security guarantees to be present and carry out our work in the field," Dalziel said.

Reported by UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [IRIN News]

October 15, 2008

Wrong Methods must not be adopted to counter Terrorism

By Manmohan Singh 

 

We are meeting at a time when our nation is facing many and simultaneous challenges. Responding to challenges, at best of times, is a very complex exercise. It gets even more complicated when the security calculus is a matrix of many imponderable factors.

Throughout India’s modern history, our country has seen many challenges, challenges that would have fragmented nations of lesser intrinsic strength or lesser will. I have, therefore, no fear of our ability to withstand the current challenges. I do believe, however, that it is important at times like this to look within ourselves, and draw upon our national genius to overcome problems that appear at times to overwhelm us.

There are a number of issues that need strong reaffirmation in to-day’s context. One, we must be conscious that in seeking short-term remedies the fundamental underpinnings of our inclusive society are not undermined. Another, is to maintain a strong sense of nationhood. In the recent past we are witnessing signs of increasing fissiparous tendencies specially in areas like the North East, in Jammu & Kashmir, in Orissa and Karnataka, in Assam and some other parts of our country. Third, sometimes the situation is aggravated by external interests that wish to de-rail the essential unity of India. Further, as witnessed recently in Orissa, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Assam we see ethnicity and religion being used as arguments to stir divisions.

We have defence mechanisms to prevent such divisive trends from spreading as also the necessary instruments to overcome them. We need, nevertheless, to be subtle in the manner in which these are employed. It is a tribute to our political process that over the 60 years and more since Independence, we have successfully met the challenges without in any way undermining our social fabric and tradition.

We can take pride in our inheritance of a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-caste society. We must not, however, ignore the fact that there is need for utmost vigilance and caution to sustain such an inheritance. The chief characteristic of our civilization has been unity in diversity. We have never attempted to impose uniformity or dilute diversity. We have believed in a composite culture where, while individual identities are retained, traits are shared. The continuity and strength of our civilizational process depends on this implicit recognition of our ancient value system.

Central to this, is a recognition of the futility of violence and of the need for reconciliation, specially of all those caught up in the vortex of to-day’s conflicts. I am stressing this point since violence seems to be permeating society to-day, across the length and breadth of our country – whether it be terrorist violence, whether it is violence with an ideological veneer such as that adopted by the Left Wing Extremists or Communal violence. We need to meet to-day’s mindless violence with the requisite amount of force, but must also ensure that this is tempered by reason and justice which is the normal order of governance.

Terrorism and terrorist acts undoubtedly present us with a serious dilemma. Terrorism is the major scourge the world faces to-day. Several individuals are being inveigled into participating in terrorist acts by projecting a sense of real or perceived grievance. The use of violent methods by those embracing terrorism is abhorrent to any society. There can be no compromise with terrorism and terrorists have to be dealt with firmly. At the same time it is important that in trying to counter terrorism, wrong methods and means are not adopted. Any impression that any community, or sections amongst them, are being targeted, or that some kind of profiling is being attempted should be avoided.The means are as important as the ends. This is vital, as otherwise it could lead to a major polarization of society.

In dealing with Left Wing Extremist violence, one must recognize that many of those who are being encouraged to take to violence have suffered from years, and sometimes generations, of violence at the hands of exploiters and unscrupulous elements. Many of those involved are amongst the ‘poorest of the poor’ and are merely demanding a place in the sun they have been denied so far. Yet we cannot ignore the reality that today’s naxalites are armed with sophisticated weapons, and adept at guerilla warfare techniques and have caused the death of many innocent people and members of the security forces. A proper distinction has, hence, to be made so that while there is no attempt made to minimize the threat posed by them and to deal effectively with the problem, the poor tribals and others should not be made to suffer needlessly at the hands of the authorities as well.

Perhaps, the most disturbing and dangerous aspect to-day is the assault on our composite culture. Ethnic and religious communities have lived together peacefully during the past millennium. We take pride in the fact that people of all castes, communities, religions and languages live together peacefully, and our culture imbibes the best from each one of them. Yet to-day, we see fault-lines developing between, and among, communities. Recent tragic events in Orissa, Karnataka, and Assam have pained all right thinking persons. There are clashes between Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Tribal groups. An atmosphere of hatred and violence is being artificially generated. There are forces deliberately encouraging such tendencies and also spawning militant outfits who engage in irrational violence. These need to be firmly dealt with. There is, at the same time, real need for better understanding of the forces at work. There is need for better intelligence about such elements; our investigation methods need to be further refined. The process of governance needs to be strengthened and the rule of law maintained, but in a manner that brings hope and succour to the poor and the needy.

There has been considerable debate in our country on how to handle these issues of sectarian and communal violence. There cannot be two views on the fact that such attempts must be thwarted with the full power of a state that is intent on protecting its democratic foundations. Those who threaten our communal harmony, integrity and peaceful coexistence deserve very deterrent punishment. In doing so, we need to be bound by the framework of our Constitution and the political democratic process that enables us to reconcile differences through dialogue. We should not be provoked to suspend or subvert a democratic process in the search for solutions. A democracy has a special onus in that it has to ensure protection of civil liberties even as it seeks to enforce law and order. It has also to be done in a manner that respects the Constitutional bounds of a federal polity. This creates the complexity that we need to collectively address and resolve and I urge you honorable members to put forward your suggestions on how this may be done.

It is not by accident that these incidents are increasing in our society. As members of the National Integration Council, we need to collectively consider whether short-term narrow political ends are driving some of us to encourage forces of divisiveness that are today threatening the unity of our people. A country like ours which is defined by co-existence of different ethnic groups and religions and cemented by an acceptance of a pluralistic and tolerant framework cannot afford the promotion of such divisiveness for narrow partisan ends.There is no politics that has a right to assert over the rights of the common man or the integrity of our nation. The responsibility of the political leadership is to preserve and promote this pluralistic and democratic framework. I would like to appeal to all political parties to bear in mind this fundamental political responsibility that enjoins on each one of us to ensure that we not only preserve but promote this unique confluence of cultures that India has become for the many past centuries.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, when he convened the National Integration Conference in 1961, wanted to find ways to respond to the evils of communalism, casteism and other forms of regional, linguistic and sectarian divides. It was this Conference that set up the National Integration Council and adopted as its charter the need to maintain the pluralistic ethos of India. I feel it appropriate to quote the declarations of objectives adopted by the Council in 1968 "the foundations of our national life is common citizenship, unity in diversity, freedom of religions, secularism, equality, justice – social, economic and political, and fraternity among all communities. The National Integration Council reiterates its faith in these values and dedicates itself to their achievement". It is these very goals dear members that we set for ourselves as a nation, and which the National Integration Council is committed to further, and these are the values which have come under stress.

This is a time therefore, that calls upon each one of us to collectively reassert our identity as a pluralistic, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-linguistic country, whose Constitution respects and upholds the freedom of all religions. We must thwart all efforts to create divisiveness in our polity to further sectarian interests. If we do not do this, we would be failing in our duty towards the toiling masses of our country who struggle every day for economic betterment and a life of dignity. We would also be failing in our duty to build an India that provides our children the opportunities to realize their dreams.

As people engaged in public life, all of us are aware that there are multiple deprivations in our country that can be manipulated, perhaps cynically manipulated, to promote divisions in our society. Our task of nation building is still work-in-progress. Our energies ought to be singularly focused in ensuring that the commitment we made at the time of our independence "to remove poverty, disease, ignorance and the inequality of opportunity" is fully met for all our people. We are at a point in history where the world is looking at India as a country which is successfully transforming its economy in the context of a functioning working democracy. Our economic transformation is all the more exciting because it is happening through political dialogue engendered in a democracy, where contending views clash and reconcile. The process of economic development itself has a way of creating winners and losers and it is only a democratic framework that ensures equalizing opportunities and justice for all side. Our government has sought to create a framework of inclusive development that can structurally address the divides in our society. We have also sought to address the root causes of left extremism resulting from alienation of tribal communities through the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 and which has sought to ensure also a right to work through the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. The fast rate of economic development that we are witnessing would in itself become an antidote to several forces of sectarianism that we are witnessing today when inequality of economic opportunities become the fodder for divisive politics.At the same time, determined efforts have to be made to empower the marginalized sections to lead a life of dignity and self respect so that we become effective partners in processes of development.

The National Integration Council provides a forum where we should find the strength to rise above narrow partisanship and divisive politics. The Council needs to exert its immense moral authority on the nation collectively to ensure that the pluralistic and secular foundations of our country are nourished maintained and strengthen. We need to isolate and fight those who promote divisiveness. The common citizen in this country wants peace and harmony in society. The common citizen of this country is not bigoted but generous and compassionate and nurtured in a tradition of tolerance intrinsic to all faiths that nourish our composite cultures. Let us collectively endeavour to preserve these values which the people of our country cherish".

(Opening remarks made by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at meeting og India;s national integration council)

October 11, 2008

Tamil Homeland in Sri Lanka

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

Tamil homeland has existed in Sri Lanka for the past several centuries. Kandyan Sinhalese, low-country Sinhalese and N-E Tamils and Muslims have their ancestral roots in three distinct parts of the island. Language, religion, tradition, social life and ‘Thesa Valamai’ of Tamils are different. Moreover the actions of the governments of Sri Lanka since independence have made this distinction based on race and region relevant. The recent directive asking all citizens from the Northern Province who have come to the Western Province during the past 5 years to register with the Police by September 28 and those from the Eastern Province on October 5 is the latest action. Although there are no war zones in the Eastern Province, all arrivals from there had to register.

The continuous damage caused to the integrity and unity of the nation is due to the Sinhala majority rule based on the notion that the entire island is the homeland of the Sinhalese and being the major ethnic community (constituting 75 per cent of the total population) they have the right to govern the whole country. The inapt system has also caused much suffering to the people and deprived peace, political stability, progress and prosperity to the island nation. The intrinsic diverse regional characteristics associated with the historical settlement of the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims in the island have been ignored in the Constitution based partly and superficially on the British/Westminster model.

British model

The British system recognizes the separate homelands of the English, Scottish and Welsh people in the island. It functions with powers devolved to Scotland and Wales. Maximum powers have been devolved to Scotland, which has its own Parliament, administration and judiciary. Scotland has even its own currency. Significantly, the British system is not labeled as unitary or federal. Now that the Republicans in Northern Ireland (who fought for merger with the Republic of Ireland) have decided to keep their homeland as constituent of the United Kingdom, they too have accepted the existing system that has both unitary and federal features. The Northern Ireland administration is now functioning under the power-sharing arrangement between the Republicans and Unionists, which has enabled both the Catholic and Protestant communities to co-exist peacefully.

If you ask a Scot where his homeland is, he or she will promptly reply Scotland. This does not make the respondent a non-British. On the other hand, if an Englishman living outside tells a Scot that Scotland too is his homeland he would get a mouthful. It is also important to note, there has been no planned attempt by the British authorities to settle non-Scots in Scotland. Recognizing the diverse demographic features of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, all governments have been functioning judiciously without disturbing national unity and the union of regions. Importantly, the majority of residents in the different regions have confidence in the present system and there is no widespread clamour for secession. Confidence of all sections of the population in any sovereign democratic country’s governing system is essential for its success.

Breakup of the Nation

The political leaders of the ethnic minorities in Sri Lanka accepted the unitary system in 1947 (recommended by the Soulbury Commission) on the undertaking given by the national leader D. S. Senanayake that the minorities have nothing to fear, they will be treated as equal citizens and their interests will be protected. They also believed that the Tamil homeland as it had existed before independence would remain intact. Soon after independence ignoring the pledge, his government disenfranchised the plantation workers of Indian origin

The leadership of the ruling United National Party that was really committed to national unity and the concept of multi-ethnic nation thought the party would be weakened, if the working class were to lend support to the then relatively strong opposition left parties. The decision to disenfranchise the Tamils of Indian origin was motivated largely by the political interest of the conservatives to prevent the left parties gaining control of government. The rightist leader of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress did not object because this posed no threat to the Tamil homeland. The subsequent developments, after the SLFP emerged as the main challenger to the UNP went to the extent of keeping the ethnic minorities permanently in a state of submission. The power struggle between these two parties in which the ethnic minorities were used as pawns resulted in the division between the majority Sinhala and the minority Tamil speaking ethnic groups. Intimidation and denial of equal rights and opportunities to prosper demonstrated the supremacy of the ethnic majority community. This became a politically attractive flag for winning the support of the Sinhalese voters.

The argument of Sinhala nationalists or rather the majoritaians for unitary system is based solely on their thinking that any other structure would weaken the hold of the Sinhalese over the entire island resulting sooner or later in its breakup. In their myopic view, any arrangement outside the control of the Sinhalese imperils the future of their nation. Their concept of nation excludes or dissociates the ethnic minorities. The hegemony of the majority has been detrimental to national unity, peace and development. The ethnic tension that developed into a violent rebellion against Sinhala majority rule is the result of political decisions taken with this majoritarian nationalist mindset. The series of discriminatory official actions and several violent attacks against the Tamils led to the uprising of Tamil youth in the North. Although there seems to be increased realization amongst the Tamils that the ‘Eelam’ goal is pie in the sky, some Sinhala nationalists by their hostile utterances and devious moves are encouraging the Tamil nationalists not to abandon the concept of two nations.

Truth and reconciliation, not trickery are needed for uniting the divided nation. Formal recognition of Tamil homeland is fundamental to conflict prevention and strengthening the unity of the multi-ethnic nation. Tragically, this was ignored by the Sinhalese leaders, who thought with the Sinhala majority rule the ethnic minorities could somehow be kept under control. The stark truth is separation will not bring lasting peace and prosperous future for the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Importantly, not only the Tamil-Muslim unity but also Tamil-Sinhalese unity is essential for ethnic harmony and progress of all communities. Muslims who have ancestral roots in the North-East have the same right as the Tamils to claim the region as their homeland. The Sinhalese settlers in the East, many of them moved in after independence via the state sponsored colonization schemes should continue to live in the Tamil homeland in the same way as Tamils are living amicably in the Sinhalese areas. But this does not mean the SL government can continue with the past moves to settle Sinhalese in the North-East with ulterior motive. The right of individual families to settle any where in the island must be guaranteed. All these should be integral to the reconciliation efforts.

Reasons given for Sinhala majority rule

In the interview Stewart Bell of the Canadian daily ‘National Post’ (published 23 September 2008) had with the Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the latter said: “I strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese but there are minority communities and we treat them like our people… We being the majority of the country, 75%, we will never give in and we have the right to protect this country… They can live in this country with us. But they must not try to, under the pretext of being a minority, demand undue things”. In another interview he had said: "The Sinhala nation has to sacrifice, if you want to protect the country and survive… In any democratic country the majority should rule the country. This country will be ruled by the Sinhalese community which is the majority representing 74 percent of the population" (Daily News 19 July 2008).

His forthright statements have highlighted the political thinking of Sinhala nationalists.

Tisaranee Gunasekara in her column in the Sunday Island 5 October 2008 has said, “General Sarath Fonseka is not just the Army Commander; he is known to be close to the Rajapaksa brothers and a member of the ruling cabal. And here he is, speaking his mind, publicly articulating his vision for a post-War Sri Lanka”. When President Rajapaksa in his interviews to foreign media keeps on telling that the final political solution will follow after eliminating terrorism, one wonders what kind of solution he has in mind?

The contrasting views expressed by many on the Army Commander’s statements reflect the difficulties in reaching a reasonable political solution to the national problem. To the nationalists, the social and economic progress is secondary despite the past miserable performance because of the failure to settle the protracted conflict that has not only destroyed many lives and property but also deprived progress and prosperity, which appeared at hand some decades ago, when real peace and hope prevailed amongst many people. The foreign donor community was anxious to help in the recent past and the development process would have accelerated, if only a reasonable political solution jointly agreed by the main parties in the government and opposition had been presented. Now the Environment Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka from the Jathika Hela Urumaya, the political party led by Buddhist monks wants national development to be based on Buddhist principles. Why not base the entire governing system on Buddhist principles? Had this been done real peace, social justice and equality of all citizens would have been the hallmark of the blessed island. Does the presumed supremacy of ethnic majority tally with Buddhist principles? The violations of human rights, rule of law, procedures for good governance and honest and consensual politics defy the Buddhist philosophy. Apparently, the nationalists or majoritarians do not believe in the ‘Middle Path’.
Irrelevant and questionable arguments

H.L.D. Mahindapala: former Editor, Sunday and Daily Observer (1990 - 1994) presently residing in Australia in his recent two-part article –“ The Hidden History Of Jaffna” - has blamed the Tamil political leadership for the ‘separatist politics’. He has said: “By 1956 the Tamil leadership had prepared the ground and sowed the seeds for communalism to sprout, raising its ugly heads in the north. The political pendulum that swung from the English-speaking, Westernized elite to the grassroots end of the political spectrum in 1956 was inevitable and necessary to redress the imbalances of colonial history. Bandaranaike’s task was to give the Sinhala people the heritage they lost under nearly 500 years of foreign rule.” Was there no other way of redressing the imbalances without denying the legitimate rights and opportunities to the Tamils? When SWRD promised the electorate ‘Sinhala Only’ in 24 hours on the eve of the general election was the main motive to give the Sinhalese people their lost heritage? The cost of this impetuous move has been colossal as subsequent developments showed.

The racial prejudice against Tamils is glaring almost every where in his analysis. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and C. Vanniasingham left the Tamil Congress led by G. G. Ponnambalam only after the UNP government disenfranchised the Tamils of recent Indian origin. The agreements SJV reached with two Prime Ministers, namely, SWRD Bandaranaike and Dudley Senanayake required only some minor changes to the administrative system. It needs reminding here, the Jaffna people rejected Chelvanayakam’s federal concept and he was also rejected by the Kankesanthurai voters in the 1952 general election which he contested as leader of the Federal Party. The trust in the Sinhala majority rule declined after 1956 when the Sinhala Only language Act was introduced and the sequence of tragic events that followed to intimidate and subjugate the ethnic Tamils are the relevant ones to understand the reasons for the demand of self-rule by the oppressed Tamils.

The two nation concept was propelled by the perpetual neglect of the concerns and aspirations of the ethnic Tamils. Mahindapala like other Sinhala dogmatists has also ignored the circumstances that led to the 1976 Vaddukkodai Resolution. It was meant to convey the extent of the frustration among the Tamils, especially the agitated youth denied of higher learning and employment opportunities. In fact the TULF later willingly accepted the District Development Councils but the system failed because of the then government’s lack of sincere commitment. He has said: “This theory of two nations could be made credible only by, first, drawing geographical boundaries that no one knew existed before and, second, by filling the space within the imaginary boundaries with a narrative that was not known to the ancient, medieval or modern historians. Unable to fill their ‘homeland’ constructed in 1976 they filled it with concocted theories”. The ancient history of Sri Lanka is full of emotive stories conveying the imaginations and apprehensions of the writers. The different versions raise doubts about their veracity.

According to Mudaliyar C. Rasanayagam (Ancient Jaffna, 1926) Vijaya was not a Sinhalese and the Naga tribe spoke a language similar to Tamil. Yalpanam Vaipava Malai (1736), Yalpanam Charithiram (1878) and Yalpanam Vaipavam (1884) presented versions rejected by modern Sinhalese scholars. According to Ponnambalam Arunachalam the Dravidian race was an ancient and pure race while the Sinhalese were mixed unlike the Tamils. The late C. Suntheralingam who was the MP for Vavuniya before the ascendance of Federal Party also claimed in 1957 that except for a period of 22 years (reign of Parakramabahu 1st and 6th) the Island always had regional rulers and that Jaffna Kingdom was independent of Sinhalese rulers. The legendary story of Rama and Sita and the abductor Ravanan, the king from Lanka and a devotee of Lord Siva can also be considered as part of the island’s ancient history. There is no sense in going back to periods that lack an authentic and comprehensive record of events in the entire island.

Modern history, which is confirmable reveals only after the second half of the nineteenth century under British colonial rule, the administrative unification of the island happened. The north of the island, inhabited mostly by Tamils was fully linked to the rest of the country with the construction of the railway line from Colombo to Jaffna and later to Kankesanthurai, the most northerly town by the British colonial government The 1848 Kandyan rebellion was the last attempt of the Kandyan Sinhalese chiefs to assert their separateness. The Kandyan Sinhalese population had their own social customs and laws. Their homeland was in the hill country. The close links they had with royalty in South India now Tamil Nadu is also real. At the time Portuguese landed in the island, there were three separate kingdoms - those of the Tamils of Jaffna; of the lowland Sinhalese in Kotte; and of the highland Sinhalese in Kandy. It is recalled, it was not the Tamils but the Kandyan Sinhalese who first demanded a federal system on the eve of independence. There is absolutely no proof for a section of Sinhalese historians to claim that the entire island was the haven of the Sinhalese and the Tamils and Muslims were intruders.

Seeking national unity under Sinhala majority rule

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, addressing the 63rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 24, quoted the following remark made by Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan at a public meeting in Colombo in September 1904. ‘I have been to many countries in the world. But, nowhere have I seen such a friendly race as the Sinhalese who also uphold high moral values.’ President Rajapaksa told the Assembly: “Such was the harmony between the Tamils and the Sinhalese. But a malicious group has turned all of this upside down”. He also spoke a few words in Tamil at the beginning of his address, elaborating on how Sinhala and Tamil unity could be strengthened.

It is a well known fact that the ethnic unity, understanding and peace that prevailed before independence was remarkable. The living standard of the islanders was also considerably higher than of others in South Asia. All these were shattered soon after independence by ‘a malicious group’ of politicians whose main interest was seizing power regardless of the long-term consequences. It is this political class portraying as the protectors of the Sinhala nation not from any foreign power but from a minority ethnic group in the same island-nation that started the process of destruction. Their political philosophy is rooted in ‘majoritarian nationalism’ and not the enlightened ‘emancipatory nationalism’ (Ref. ‘Whither post-war Sri Lanka?’ Tamilweek 21 – 27 September 2008).

Many Tamils will readily admit that there are still many liberal and humane Sinhalese, the kind Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan described in 1904. They gave protection to many Tamil civilians during the 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom (Black July) and rushed to assist the Tamils and Muslims battered by the 2004 Tsunami. The post independence history of Sri Lanka or indeed Jaffna will be misleading, unless the sequence of events that led to the violent rebellion is considered objectively. An eye witness account of the happenings in Jaffna at the time of setting on fire and destroying the Jaffna library by organized Sinhalese gang (the organizers were not the Sinhalese outside the government machinery) presented by Dilip Kumar (September 27 Sri Lanka Guardian) should not be ignored in the history of Jaffna, particularly when the causes of the ethnic problem are discussed.

President Rajapaksa also said that the government could not let an illegal and armed terrorist group -- the LTTE -- hold a fraction of the population, a part of the Tamil community, hostage to such terror in the northern part of Sri Lanka, and deny those people their democratic right to dissent and free elections. He said: “Our Government has always been ready to address the causes of these issues and effectively implement political and constitutional solutions to meet the aspirations and rights of all communities.” These statements would have been credible, if the government had not tried to suppress political dissent in the South and made serious effort towards reaching a southern consensus on the political settlement of the ethnic problem.

All peace-loving, law abiding and humble Sri Lankans want a democratic rule that is not dominated by a power-hungry class in one community. What is preventing the government to practice what it is preaching? From the standpoint of constitutional reform, it is important to differentiate between, (i) the ethnic conflict, that developed as a result of the discriminatory policies and practices against the minority Tamil-speaking people and the regions mainly populated by them and (ii) the armed conflict between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan state, which the government is determined to settle militarily. The burning issues in Sri Lanka require political and constitutional changes that will remove the causes. Who is preventing the initiation of the reform process? Certainly, not the Tamils; the LTTE leader has been saying repeatedly that the Sinhalese leaders will never grant the Tamils their due rights.

In conclusion

The present system because of its inaptness, failed to lay a strong foundation for nation building. This vital process has been completely ignored by successive governments. Not surprisingly, for the reasons mentioned before the sense of belonging to one nation among all citizens has eroded. In this regard, the developments in India are remarkable. Renaming the southern Indian state as Tamil Nadu and the capital Madras as Chennai has not encouraged any agitation for secession In fact, in my opinion the attachment of Tamils there to India has strengthened. Even after 1956, despite enduring the discrimination and humiliation because of discriminatory State policies and actions including instigated attacks against Tamils and their property, no Sri Lankan Tamil wanted to abandon the Sri Lankan Tamil identity. Even those who fled to Tamil Nadu, because of the civil war are anxious to return to their homeland in Sri Lanka. I am aware even Sri Lankan Tamils permanently settled in other countries do not like to be branded as Indians or Pakistanis.

On October 2 Mohamed Saleem, President of the Sri Lanka chapter of the Mahatma Gandhi Centre is reported (The Hindu 5 October 2008) to have said: “Even after 60 years of Independence, the citizens of Sri Lanka have not been given a political environment to claim that the country belongs to all, and that in the country they can pursue their own life goals without fear of discrimination and marginalisation. The country has failed to derive complimentary benefits from the diverse ethnic, lingual, cultural and territorial strengths. Sixty years of self-rule has only brought to this country fear, suspicion, distrust and uncertainty. The people have become pawns in political games. They cry out for a miracle to change their pitiable condition. They cry out for a new environment of peace, equality and justice.” The omissions and mistakes that led to the national crisis cannot be expressed plainly in any other way. The statement also indicates the kind of remedial actions needed.

Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council in his article aptly titled “To whom does the Country belong?” (Daily Mirror 7 October 2008) has stressed the need for a political solution and that it should not be based on military victory and Sinhalese supremacy. “A viable political solution can only be based on the position that Sri Lanka belongs equally to all its citizens, be they from the ethnic majority or minorities, and finding ways to accommodate all of their reasonable aspirations”. Assurances alone are not enough, if the sense of belonging to one nation of all the citizens is to be realized. The reason for this is the utter failure of ‘majority rule’ because of the misconception that in democracy minorities must accept the agreed majority decisions.

As mentioned at the outset, the Tamils and Muslims (Tamil speaking people) have been living in the North-East part of the island for centuries and they are the majority ethnic group there even now, despite the calculated moves by the Sinhala majority governments to settle Sinhalese in districts like Trincomalee, Amparai and Vavuniya. The argument that the ethnic minorities unfairly occupy one-third of the land that has two-third of the island’s coast when 75 percent of the total population are Sinhalese also ignores the fact that this was how the different communities chose to live before independence. Many Sinhalese preferred to live inland and this is how the overall settlement pattern emerged

Despite the Portuguese, Dutch and English occupation, Tamil homeland did not lose its features. Names of some places in the North-East have changed. The Dutch renamed the islets in the North as Leiden, Kayts and other cities in the Netherlands. Yalpanam is known outside the Tamil community as Jaffna; Parithithurai as Point Pedro; Mattakkilappu as Batticaloa; etc. The Tamil homeland was not endangered by such naming. But the motive behind Sinhalisation of Tamil names like Manal Aru becoming Welioya is different. It is to strengthen the claim that the entire island belongs to the Sinhalese.

This process is continuing, disregarding the feelings of Tamils. The Defence Ministry website has already given modified names to captured Tamil areas in Wanni. Piramanthalkulam has been spelt as Piramanthalkulama. Vannivilankulam has been spelt as Vannivilankulama and Mankulam as Mankulama and Pankikkankulam as Pankikkankulama. Many names in the East have Sinhala version of Tamil names like as Tampalagama for Tampalagamam. This change is pronounced in the Trincomalee district. This is also the district where the ethnic composition has changed markedly in recent years. Instead of erasing the historical names and other hostile actions, sincere ways of winning the hearts and minds of the Tamil speaking people recognizing their right to be partners in self-rule will definitely be more productive in achieving lasting unity and peace.

Giving recognition to the existence of Tamil homeland in the Constitution is the sure way to secure stability and lasting peace needed for Sri Lanka to catch up with other developing countries that have overtaken us in all aspects of national development. Importantly, this will also assure the security of not only all the Tamil and Muslim communities but also the Sinhalese. Tamil homeland in the island will not be threat to the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. On the contrary, it will serve as a protector. If the present dogmatic thinking that the entire island is the homeland of the Sinhalese and the ethnic minorities are welcomed guests prevails, there is no hope for regaining the past glory of Sri Lanka.

The permanent resolution of the ethnic problem hinges crucially on the method of integration and governing system suggested here. This is also essential for building mutual trust between different ethnic communities, confidence in the governing system and a vibrant democratic nation capable of meeting the new challenges in the changing world.

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

October 09, 2008

Livelihoods at risk as tourism sector slides

Report by IRIN News

Sri Lanka's struggling tourism industry - hard hit by the conflict between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and government forces, and with security concerns increasing in Colombo, the capital - is banking on the island's traditional attractions to lure tourists back again.

 

[Sri Lanka is a tourist paradise, but with large numbers of tourists avoiding the island because of security concerns, many hotels are in dire economic straits and it is having a ripple effect on their work forces and suppliers]

Government and industry officials have renewed promotional campaigns marketing a varied assortment of attractions, including safaris tracking wild elephants, eco-tourism, nature tours and visits to archeological sites.

The promotional campaign comes at a time when the industry has been hard hit by the tense security situation. Tourist arrivals have recorded alarming slides, according to industry officials. In August 2008, monthly tourist arrival figures fell by 31.4 percent compared to last year, according to Tourist Board statistics.

 

[With an alarming decline in the number of tourists visiting Sri Lanka, the Tourist Board is launching special promotions to induce tourists to visit, including tour packages that include getting up close and friendly with the elephants-photo Amantha Perera-IRIN]

In July the drop was 25 percent and in the first eight months of 2008, arrivals indicated an increase only in January, March and May, while during that eight-month period overall arrivals fell by 8.2 percent to 288,000 from 313,000 in 2007.

Tourism contributed about US$1.03 billion, or about 3 percent of gross domestic product, in the last year, according to the Sri Lankan Tourist Board.

"Arrivals have dropped because of what has been happening [on the security front] and things have been difficult for the industry," George Michael, secretary to the Ministry of Tourism, told IRIN. The slide in the industry has been continuing since 2007. The Department of Census and Statistics said in its economic performance report for 2007 that arrivals had fallen by 11.7 percent in 2007 to 494,000 (from 559,000 in 2006). The conflict escalated in late 2006.

Village economies affected

Hotel operators warn that the downturn in the industry will not be limited to the number of falling arrivals or occupation rates.

"Entire village economies can depend on a single hotel," Dayal Fernando, the general manager at Amaya Reef Hotel, a beach front hotel at Hikkaduwa on the scenic southern coast, 100km south of Colombo, told IRIN.

"When the hotels lose business, the suppliers in turn feel the pinch and it will impact their employees and those in the transport sector or on the farms that provide food for the tourist trade," Fernando said. "Most of the hotels also employ a lot of people from the area and if retrenchments start, the local economies will be the first to feel the heat."

The Census and Statistics Department's Labour Force Survey for 2007 found that over 100,000 people were employed in the restaurant and hotel sector and of that 56 percent were employed as informal employees.

A recent World Bank report said the Sri Lankan tourism industry had lagged behind regional growth levels for over two decades.

"Tourist arrivals have not increased significantly compared to 1982 despite a six-fold increase in tourist arrivals in East Asia and the Pacific during the same period," the Bank stated in its World Bank Country Assistance Strategy for Sri Lanka released on 6 October. The report also said that tourism was one of the areas identified for future assistance.

Tourist Ministry Secretary Michael feels that there are already small signs of a recovery. "There is a slight increase in forward bookings in the winter season (from November 2008 onwards). Our hope is that the trend will continue."

However, hotel manager Fernando feels that a permanent turnaround for the fickle industry can only be expected once the violence ends.

"We really don't need marketing gimmicks," he said "It is a beautiful island and if there is no war, tourists will flock to it."

Hotel operators said they had not yet assessed the impact of the global credit crunch but expected it to put further strains on the industry.

Reported by: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs - Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)

October 04, 2008

The war and the new wretched of Sri Lanka

by Rajan Philips

Having missed every opportunity to stop fighting and reach a resolution, the LTTE is now reaping exponentially what it has all along been sowing linearly. It is now the government’s turn at sowing, which it is doing with great gusto and transparent glee. Over a thousand hits from the air by the government, so far, against the paltry seven bomb-drops by the LTTE’s more-show-than-sting air force. The ground skirmishes may be a little less uneven but are very much lopsided against the LTTE. It is a matter of time, says the government, before Kilinochchi falls.

The bigger victims of these onslaughts than the LTTE are non-political and non-combatant Tamils. Over two hundred thousand of them have been forced out of their huts and hearths in the last two months or so in the districts of Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi. An equal number of them have been similarly languishing as “internally displaced” in the other Northern and Eastern Districts, some of them for nearly twenty years. Add to their number all the other denizens of North and East who are stuck in their homes, living from one day to another not knowing what awaits them the next day.

The people of the North and East have seen many wars, were devastated by the tsunami and are now being bombarded relentlessly. The LTTE has no use for them, the government does not care for them, and the philanthropic international community has been shut out of their space by a nasty government decree. Nastier still, those who flee to Colombo from the North are considered ‘abnormal’, declared a security threat, and are put through the process of mass humiliation called registration.

The internally displaced indigenous Tamils are the new wretched of Sri Lanka, surpassing in misery, violence and abandonment the island’s old wretched – the Indian Tamil estate workers. The Indian Tamils were brought in as “coolies” by the British Raj and were forced to toil to pay for Lanka’s passage from paddy land feudalism to plantation modernity. At the stroke of independence, they were the first to be alienated and rendered stateless, and it would take a full fifty years before the status of their statelessness could finally be resolved.

The impetus for that resolution unmistakably came from the rise of Tamil militancy in the North and East. J.R. Jayewardene was forced to settle the Indian Tamil question and accommodate the late Thondaman in his government even as he opted to play hard ball in dealing with the indigenous Tamil question. Political scribes who now opine that it is Delhi and not Kilinochchi that is responsible for forcing Sri Lanka on the tortuous path to devolution, forget the fact that the mighty Mother India could not lift a finger on behalf of the plantation Tamils of Indian origin. In fact, after 1960, New Delhi bent over backwards at every turn to appease chauvinistically insistent Sri Lankan governments on the question of citizenship for the Indian Tamils, with India eventually accepting one half of the Sri Lankan plantation population.

Even then the granting of citizenship to the people who stayed behind on the estates was not a forgone certainty. J.R. Jayewardene would not have moved an inch to resolve the citizenship question if he did not think he needed to have peace in the ‘thottams’ on the hills while he was taking on the separatists on the plains of Jaffna. Admittedly, the influence of indigenous Tamil militancy in resolving the citizenship question of the Indian Tamils was more indirect than direct.

Many fathers, no mother

On the other hand, the hand of Tamil militancy in pushing Sri Lankan governments towards devolution has been more direct than indirect. Tamil militancy was the direct result of the refusal of successive Sri Lankan governments to responsibly deal with reasonable political demands raised by moderate Tamil political leaders. It did not arise because of India although it gave the militants sanctuary in Tamil Nadu. Without Tamil militancy, India would not have had the passport to enter Sri Lanka’s political space in the manner and to the extent it did. From thereon, India dictated, albeit more unsuccessfully than successfully, the framework for and the process of devolution in Sri Lanka. The Thirteenth Amendment had many direct and indirect, willing and unwilling fathers, but no nurturing mother!

It has had, however, several capable enemies among the Sinhalese. The LTTE, more unwittingly and with more martial hubris than political savvy contributed mightily to the Amendment’s non-implementation in the North and East and its ultimate truncation between the two. Finally, having boasted to the world its military invincibility, the LTTE is now showing its military incapability against the government’s air power and ground forces.

If you need a parallel, as some of us cannot see a straight line without a parallel, we had one in Saddam Husain’s boasting about Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction without actually having any. He gave the excuse to the Bush Administration to invade his country. The Americans are stuck in Iraq, and Colin Powell’s ‘cut it off and kill it’ military strategy that worked in Kuwait is not working in Iraq. The emerging American strategy for Iraq is more like ‘cut and run’ rather than ‘cut and kill’.

“Cut it off and kill it”, is what Sri Lanka’s armchair military zealots are offering as advice on how to finish off the LTTE. “First we cut it off; then we kill it.” Colin Powell, the soldier, may have said it in relation to the enemy Iraqi forces that his (American) army was fighting in Kuwait in the Gulf war of 1991. But Powell, whether as soldier or as Secretary of State, would never have countenanced rounding-up and finger-printing Arabs and Muslims in New York in the wake of the 9/11 bombings.

Not so with Sri Lanka’s soldier turned Defence Secretary, who ordered all Tamils who have come to Colombo during the last five years from the five districts of the Northern Province to register themselves at nearby police stations or designated Buddhist temples.

Too many people coming into Colombo create a security threat, according to the Defence Secretary. He considered “abnormal” the arrival of 6,950 people to Colombo during the month of August, while ignoring the much greater abnormality of 70,000 people fleeing their homes during the same period in Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi.

Having had its knuckles rapped by the Supreme Court earlier for trying to forcibly evacuate Tamil people out of Colombo, the government chose to give three days (18-21 September) to an estimated 60,000 Tamils from the five northern districts to register themselves with the security forces. Reportedly, no proof of registration was to be issued and the act of registration would not spare the people from future round-ups and interrogations by the same security forces. No one knows what any Tamil from the North coming to Colombo after 21 September should or should not do to prove that she or he is not a Tiger.

Has the registration of 60,000 Tamils improved the security situation in Colombo? There is no way of knowing. If the purpose was to catch LTTE sleepers in Colombo, it is more than likely that the sleepers gave the registration circus a slip. What we know for certain is that those who went for registration - children, women and men of all ages - suffered indignity and frustration. They are too helpless to complain and too disoriented even to be angry. They indeed are the wretched of Sri Lanka.

In a BBC interview, the Defence Secretary let it be known that he knows that “all Tamil people are not terrorists … but almost all terrorists are Tamil, 98 percent of the terrorists.” He went on to say that “when you do operations … the Tamil community will be targeted … not because the government and the security forces want to harass Tamils … (but) because of the Tamil Tigers …”

We need to remind the Secretary that there is another side to his premise that almost all terrorists are Tamils – which is that more than almost all members of the security forces are Sinhalese. Perhaps, we should not hold the Secretary of Defence to a high standard when even a person of the calibre of Victor Ivon appears to have missed this obviousness in his recent interventions in the Sunday Island.