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January 31, 2009

Obama Shows Openness to a Broader Role for States

By JOHN SCHWARTZ

The Obama administration seems to be open to a movement known as “progressive federalism,” in which governors and activist state attorneys general have been trying to lead the way on environmental initiatives, consumer protection and other issues, several constitutional experts say.

A recent decision by President Obama that could open the way for California and other states to set their own limits on greenhouse gases from cars and trucks represents a shift in the delicate and often acrimonious relationship between the federal government and the states, legal experts say, possibly signaling a new view of federalism.

“I think it’s quite significant,” said Samuel Issacharoff, a professor of constitutional law at New York University law school. “It shows the Obama administration’s more benign view of government intervention,” Professor Issacharoff said, and “may indicate a spirit of cooperative federalism” in which Washington will look to the states for new ideas and even a measure of guidance.

Tom Miller, the attorney general of Iowa, who met with the transition team in December to discuss federalism and other issues, said he believed the Obama administration would “usher in a new era in federal-state relations.” Members of the new administration, Mr. Miller said, “are open to what we’re talking about, what we’re thinking.” They also appreciate, he said, the fact that state attorneys general often achieve a level of bipartisan cooperation when they band together to pursue lawsuits.

The general trend under previous administrations had favored federal pre-emption, the belief that the best law comes from Washington, a concept still favored by business leaders.

William L. Kovacs, a vice president for environmental and regulatory issues at the United States Chamber of Commerce, said free-for-all federalism was bad for business and would lead to a “patchwork of laws impacting a troubled industry.” Detroit, Mr. Kovacs said, would have to produce different cars for different parts of the country, and the environmental protection agency would grow tremendously to meet the new regulatory burden.

Many liberal thinkers skeptical of states’ rights and state actions since the days of segregation have begun to see that the states, to use Justice Louis Brandeis’s words from the 1930s, can “serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”

Professor Issacharoff said states were often quicker than Washington to spot a problem when it emerged, and so “it may be the states that have the best initial take on it, and try different regulatory methods until we fasten on a single national solution.”

States have taken up the challenge of consumer protection, addressing issues like predatory lending well before the federal government took action, and often achieving reforms by suing the federal government to force it to enforce its laws and through legal settlements with industry. In October, 11 states reached an $8.4 billion settlement with Countrywide Financial in which it agreed to modify home loans to help people at risk of foreclosure. And in 2006, 49 states and the District of Columbia reached a $325 million settlement with the Ameriquest Mortgage company to change its policies.

Attorneys general also pressured major universities to adopt a code of conduct regarding their relationships with student lending companies. Eliot Spitzer, the former New York attorney general, achieved a settlement with the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline in 2004 in which it agreed to release more information about the risks to patients that had come out in clinical trials.

The Obama administration, then, is embracing a states’ rights movement that a liberal could love. “The pro-regulatory folks realized in the last eight years that the old line on federal power being the only good power wasn’t correct,” said William Marshall, a law professor at the University of North Carolina who was deputy White House counsel in the Clinton administration and a former solicitor general of Ohio.

“It doesn’t mean you abandon the federal regulatory process — you don’t, of course,” Mr. Marshall said. “But you treat it as a floor and not a ceiling.”

He added, “The Obama administration is signaling that state regulations may very well complement federal regulations, and they can both work together to achieve important goals.”

Still, James E. Tierney, the director of the National State Attorneys General Program at Columbia University Law School, cautioned against reading too much into a single presidential directive. “I don’t think we have a hallmark, sweeping view of states’ rights here,” Mr. Tierney said. He said “the Obama administration is going to take these one at a time” and “will be with the states as long as the states fit in with his view of the national interest.”

And Walter Dellinger, a solicitor general in the Clinton administration, said that the economic rise of the United States, compared with Europe’s, in the 1950s could be attributed in large part to the unified American market. Now Europe’s markets have unified, Mr. Dellinger noted. “There is a serious risk that if we decentralize regulations too much, we will, ironically, switch places with Europe,” he said.

Mr. Tierney, who is a former Maine attorney general, said that while he was an advocate for state power, there were areas where federal power should nonetheless hold sway. “What the federal government ought to do,” he said, “is open the door to the states, and let the states enforce the law that the federal government promulgates.”

He added, “This is the opportunity to have the attorneys general join their own government instead of suing their own government.” [courtesy: NY Times]

January 29, 2009

Civil Society Organisations deeply concerned by situation in the Vanni

As civil society organizations that have consistently highlighted the intensifying humanitarian crisis in the north of Sri Lanka and that are deeply concerned about the immense civilian suffering, we once again appeal to the Government of Sri Lanka, the LTTE and the international community to take immediate steps to respond effectively to the unfolding catastrophe.

There are very few independent reports regarding the situation, due to the denial of access to media and humanitarian agencies to the conflict zones. The few reports that have reached the outside world since Monday January 26, 2009, point to the gravity of the situation.

An Urgent Appeal has been issued in the name of the Regional Director of Health Services in Mullaitivu, the area most recently captured by the Sri Lankan security forces, calling for the most basic of medical supplies to be sent to the region immediately. The report highlights the killing of around 300 IDPs within the last few days, injuries to many more and that others are not accounted for. Basic emergency medical care for the injured is not available due to the lack of essential drugs and services in Mullaitivu and surrounding areas where the fighting is heaviest. Heavy fighting and travel restrictions imposed by the fighting forces prevent the health authorities from transferring the injured to hospitals outside the conflict zones.

The humanitarian crisis in northern Sri Lanka has been highlighted by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Sir John Holmes, as well as by UN agencies in Sri Lanka, by the Jaffna Bishop Saundranayagam and by the ICRC.

All have raised concerns regarding the critical situation confronting the over 300,000 displaced persons presently trapped within the Vanni. The ICRC in a press release on January 27 quoted Jacques de Maio, ICRC head of operations for South Asia in Geneva "People are being caught in the crossfire, hospitals and ambulances have been hit by shelling and several aid workers have been injured while evacuating the wounded. "
The few thousand civilians who have managed to flee the Vanni are detained in camps in Vavuniya, Mannar and Jaffna under the guard of the security forces, reportedly for screening to ensure that LTTE cadre do not infiltrate the south of the country. There are restrictions on the freedom of movement of those within these camps, and very limited access to extended family members and humanitarian workers, thus seriously compromising the 'civilian' aspect of these camps.

Recently there have also been individual reports of acts of violence and human rights abuse from within some of these camps. The continuing denial of access to the camps has been reinforced by their demarcation as high security zones, making any independent confirmation of this information impossible. The high level of impunity and lack of credible and independent investigations into incidents of abduction, disappearance and extra-judicial killings in Vavuniya and Mannar over the past months deter any witnesses to such human rights abuses from coming forward to report or seek redress.

As the fighting intensifies over the coming days, and the civilians get trapped into smaller spaces, we are gravely concerned that the casualties will mount and that the overall humanitarian situation will deteriorate even further. Hence we urge immediate action.

We call upon the Government:

• To permit an international mission of mercy immediate access to the Vanni in order to enable an accurate assessment of the humanitarian and protection needs of the people of the Vanni.
• To ensure urgent delivery of food and medicine to the Mullaitivu area and allow for the passage of medical convoys

To ensure that the security forces respect areas which are demarcated as safe zones

We call upon the LTTE:

• To allow civilians freedom of movement and respect their right to move out of the conflict zones
• To ensure its cadres respect areas which are demarcated as safe zones
• To allow the passage of medical convoys
• We call on the international community:
• To extend its cooperation to the Government of Sri Lanka in protecting civilians by preparing an international mission of mercy with immediate effect
• To unreservedly impress upon the LTTE to permit civilians trapped within the conflict zone to leave the area

Dated: January 29 2009

Signed by a group of civil society organisations including:

Centre for Policy Alternatives
Citizen Committee for Displaced People
Home for Human Rights
INFORM Human Rights Documentation
Mothers and Daughters of Lanka
Rights Now Collective for Democracy
Women & Media Collective

January 28, 2009

The invisible hyphens in Obama’s policy-making

by B. Raman

President Barack Obama has been in office hardly for a week now. It will be too early to expect a comprehensive security strategy in thePakistan-Afghanistan region to emerge from his administration. All one can say is that an exercise to evolve a strategy, which will beconsiderably different from that followed by George Bush, has been undertaken at various levels in the White House itself, in the NationalSecurity Council, in the State Department and in the Pentagon and that some Pakistani analysts such as Ahmed Rashid, the well-knownAfghan expert, are playing an active behind-the-scene role in this exercise There has been no involvement of any Indian analyst----eitherIndia or US based--- in this exercise. As a result, non-American inputs for this exercise have been coming largely from Pakistan.

2. On the basis of the initial comments of Obama himself, Vice-President Joe Biden, Richard Holbrooke, the newly-appointed SpecialRepresentative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and others, one could already make a reasonable assessment that certain aspects of thepolicy followed by the Bush Administration are unlikely to change and that certain other aspects are likely to change.

3. What are the aspects that are unlikely to change?

The US commitment to the war against the remnants of Al Qaeda operating from sanctuaries in the Pakistani territory till Al Qaeda ceases to be a threat to the security of the US homeland and US interests abroad. This commitment is expected to be reinforced with the induction of more US troops (an estimate given is about 30,000) into Afghanistan. The US is prepared to face the risk of increased American fatalities resulting from this surge.

The primacy given by the Bush administration to the military option will stay.Holbrooke has been quoted as saying on January 25,2009: " We plan to work closely with General Petraeus, Centcom, Admiral Mullen, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General McKiernan and the command in Afghanistan, to create a more coherent programme.”

The rules of engagement against suspected terrorists operating from the Pakistani territory as formulated by the Bush Administration will be adhered to. These rules provided for unilateral Predator (unmanned aircraft) strikes against suspected terrorist hide-outs in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan without prior intimation to Pakistan lest the information leak out. Such strikes in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) will be more an exception than the rule and will be avoided in Balochistan where the command and contreol of the Afghan Neo Taliban, headed by its Amir Mulla Mohammad Omar, is allegedly based. There has already been at least one--possibly two--- Predator strikes in Pakistani territory after Obama assumed office. The Bush policy of avoiding ground strikes in Pakistani territory unless there is specific intelligence about the presence of high-value targets such as Osama bin Laden himself and his No.2 Ayman al-Zawahiri will continue.

4. What are the aspects that could change as a result of the on-going exercise?

A greater priority to non-military aid to Pakistan than to military aid as was the case under Bush.

Linking all aid----whether military or non-military---- to Pakistan's performance in acting against Al Qaeda and the Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistani territory. In an article, which appeared in the "Foreign Affairs" magazine last year, Holbrooke said that the Obama Administration would face many tough challenges with regard to the war in Afghanistan and global peace, but the toughest was the insurgent sanctuaries in the tribal areas of Pakistan. There will, however, be no such linkage with the Pakistani action against anti-India terrorist sanctuaries such as those of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET, which was involved in the terrorist attack in Mumbai from November 26 to 29,2008. The pressure on Pakistan in respect of Al Qaeda and the Taliban will be diplomatic as well as punitive. There will be no punitive element in respect of the anti-India terrorist infrastructure.

A greater attention to the political dimensions of the security strategy than was given under the Bush Administration. While continuing to say that the US wants to strengthen democracy and improve governance in both Pakistan and Afgfhanistan, but has no interest in specific personalities, the Obama Administration will work discreetly to strengthen the position of Asif Ali Zardari in Pakistan and to have Hamid Karzai eased out-----if possible, before the Afghan Presidential elections due in October,2009, or at least during the elections. Obama's advisers are evidently worried that if Zardari is discredited and falls, his replacement may be either the army or Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League, who has been strongly critical of the US policies in the region. Obama and his advisers do not feel comfortable with either.Disappointment with the alleged unsatisfactory record of Karzai----without, however, namimg him--- whether in improving governance or security is evident in all statements on Afghanistan emanating from Obama and his entourage.

Giving a more strategic dimension to the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban than was done under the Bush Administration. It is in the context of this strategtic dimension that one has been seeing repeatedly comments from Obama and others about the need for a regional approach----whether in relation to the restoration of normalcy in Afghanistan or the fight against jihadi terrorism emanating from the Pakistani territory.

5. India comes into their policy calculations with regard to this regional approach. Pakistani analysts such as Ahmed Rashid have been ableto sell the idea to the advisers of Obama that a regional approach to the question of restoration of normalcy In Afghanistan would have toaddress the concerns of the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment over what they view as the increasing Indian presence inAfghanistan. This presence is viewed by the military-intelligence establishment as detrimental to Pakistan's historic interests in Afghanistanand its internal security, particularly in Balochistan. Till 2004, the Bush Administration was attentive to Pakistani concerns and sought todiscourage an increase in the Indian presence in Afghanistan. Its policy changed thereafter due to the belief that greater interactionsbetween India and Afghanistan could contribute to the strengthening of democracy and governance in Afghanistan.

6. Similarly, analysts such as Ahmed Rashid have been able to convince Obama and his advisers that without a more active role by the US infacilitating a search for a solution to the Kashmir issue, there will be no incentive for Pakistan to act sincerely and effectively against theterrorist infrastructure in Pakistani territory. The Bush Administratiion was disinclined to follow an activist policy on Kashmir and acceptedIndia's stand that it was a bilteral issue between India and Pakistan in which others should have no role. Obama and his advisers areprepared to revisit this policy, if not immediately, at a later date.

7. In response to Indian sensitivities, the announcement regarding the appointment of Holbrooke and his terms of reference have avoidedany reference to India or Kashmir. Despite this, it was clear from the confident remarks of Ahmed Rashid in his interview to Karan Thapartelecast by the CNBC-TV 18 TV channel on January 27,2009,that while Kashmir may not figures in his terms of reference just now, thequestion of addressing Pakistani concerns over India's relations with Afghanistan would be very much part of his agenda even though notopenly so stated. According to Ahmed Rashid, for this purpose Holbrooke will have to interact with India. There are wheels within wheelsand invisible hyphens within hyphens in the whole exercise relating to Obama's policy making on the security strategy in this region and theexpected role of Holbrooke in it.

8. It is important for India to make it clear to the Obama Administration at an appropriate stage that any departures from the past USpolicies on these two issues will have a negative impact on the growing strategic relationship between India and the US. A frank and firmexpression of the Indian views on this subject and a strict adherence to those views in our policy-making will be necessary not on the basisof what interested analysts such as Ahmed Rashid have been saying, but in response to any discreet pressures from the ObamaAdministration. (28-1-09)

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

January 23, 2009

Amnesty International: Media must be allowed to work freely and safely

Sri Lankan authorities must ensure that the country's media are allowed to work without restriction and in safety, Amnesty International said today.

"The Sri Lankan authorities are doing little to ensure the safety of the country’s media, or to prosecute those responsible for murdering or attacking them. They are also directly responsible for subjecting journalists to harassment and interrogation, " said Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International' s Sri Lanka Researcher.

Sandaruwan Senadheera, editor of 'Lanka-e-news' was questioned for six hours today by officers from the special wing of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) at their headquarters in Colombo Fort about a complaint lodged by the Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse.

The complaint concerned an article posted on the website on 21 February 2008 headlined 'International intelligence service suspends providing information to Sri Lanka; Gota is responsible for the losses since December 31.' Mr Senadheera was told that officers would visit his office next week for further questioning.

This comes a day after an assault on Upali Tennakoon, chief editor of the Rivira weekly newspaper, and his wife Dhammika, and follows the fatal shooting earlier this month of Lasantha Wickramatunga, editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper.

At least 14 media workers have been unlawfully killed in Sri Lanka since the beginning of 2006. Others have been arbitrarily detained, tortured and allegedly disappeared while in the custody of security forces. More than 20 journalists have left the country in response to death threats.

"Without a free media that is able to express alternative views and offer the opportunity for public scrutiny, abuses can flourish under a veil of secrecy and denial. Sri Lanka's climate of impunity for attacks on the media has made it impossible to get an accurate impartial picture of what is happening in the country. By threatening journalists with the risk of arrest, and failing to protect them from attack, the government is failing its citizens," said Yolanda Foster.

For more information please call Carina Trimingham in Amnesty International' s press office in London, UK, on +44 20 7413 5871 or email: carina.trimingham@ amnesty.org

International Secretariat, Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW, UK www.amnesty. org

Sri Lanka – Need for a major national overhaul

By: Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

“ On this day, we come to proclaim an end to petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for too long have strangled our politics.”

“We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”

“For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus- and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace”.

“To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West- know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand  if you are willing to unclench your fist.” - Excerpts from President Barrack Obama’s inaugural speech ( 20/01/2009)

In Sri Lanka, the LTTE has been driven into the Mullaitivu district and is being besieged by the Sri Lankan armed forces.  An estimated 250,000 Tamils civilians trapped- some of their choice, but the majority as captives of the LTTE- in this area are living in hell amidst the war, without adequate shelter, food and other services. Their lot is heart wrenching.   The government and sections of Sinhalese are celebrating with undisguised glee the recovery of large swathes of territory once ruled by the LTTE in the Vanni and the Jaffna peninsula.  Most Sinhalese while looking forward to the end of the debilitating and brutal civil war, and the end of the LTTE militancy, have been more circumspect and contemplative of what would or should follow.  The Tamil and Muslim populations have been silent and are sullen spectators to the unfolding scenario.

Large sections of the Tamil population, though not in love with the LTTE and its malevolence, are gravely concerned their security as a people will be compromised in the absence of the LTTE as a strong entity.  The rise of the LTTE having coincided with a period where no major anti-Tamil riots have taken place has given birth to this perception. The fact that the rise of the LTTE also coincided with decades- long destruction of all sorts in the north and east has to a large extent been over ridden, by fears of renewed Sinhala belligerence. The frustration they  may have lost the opportunity to regain their due place Sri Lanka, with the demise of the LTTE, is quite palpable among the Tamils who were born within the past three decades and have been fed a diet heavy on Tamil nationalism. The fate awaiting the civilians in Mullaitivu is an added concern.  What could be termed as the foolish utterances of the Army Commander Sarath Fonseka and the Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse in the recent past have added fuel to fire. The triumphalist and sectarian approach of the government to the military victories over the LTTE, for short term political mileage, has compounded Tamil fears. The reassuring words, spoken in Tamil on several occasions in recent times by the president do not hold water with the Tamils, in the light of their historical experiences and glimpses of the unfolding drama.

The LTTE suicide attack on the air force head quarters in Colombo, after the government announced the taking of Kilinotchchi and in the midst of firecracker lighting celebrations orchestrated around the Island, instantly ended the firecracker lighting.  This was a reminder to the Sinhala celebrants that the LTTE was yet an entity to be contended and unfortunately, to the Tamils the LTTE was yet a strong deterrent to Sinhala  belligerence.  The dastardly attack on the Maharajah television station, owned by Tamils, soon after the fall of Kilinotchchi into government hands further heightened these fears.

The murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge , the Editor of the Leader and Irudina newspapers, has left the whole nation stunned and deeply concerned as to where our nation is headed .   He had voiced the concerns of those who choose to remain silent in the face of the prevailing political culture-autocratic, corrupt and brutal- backed by facts fearlessly, in exceptionally strong and uncompromising prose, week in and week out. He was not only the one man opposition in Sri Lanka as someone has aptly described, but also served as the conscience of the nation.  His last testament penned a few days before his murder, is not only inspiring and poetic, but will also be enduring.  He will be remembered through it not only in Sri Lanka, but across the world.  His was a heart-rending cry for democracy, liberty, human rights, honesty, compassion, rule of law, accountability and justice in Sri Lanka.  Published posthumously, it was his last and most powerful piece of writing.   It was a desperate cry from the grave for all people in Sri Lanka and the world to hear, of the tragedy that has befallen Sri Lanka.  Lasantha Wickrematunge’s murder, purportedly by malevolent forces aligned with the government has also drawn attention to what  Sri Lanka has to contend, once the distraction of the LTTE and the on-going war abate.  The collapse of democracy, right of dissent and rule of law in Sri Lanka has been highlighted as never before in the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge.  His murder is a wake up call for all Sri Lankans.

The government has failed to carry out the directive of the Supreme Court on the pricing of fuels and insinuated the judiciary is also part of an international conspiracy against it in favour of the LTTE.  The government has acted worse than an unconscionable profiteer in the black market with fuel pricing in the face of declining prices of crude oil. The fuel prices are criminally exploitative and are adversely affecting the economy. Why the high prices charged for fuel are necessary to finance the war, could have been explained prior to the Supreme Court directive and would have been grudgingly accepted by the people who are saddled with an unbearable cost of living.  The attempt to justify the high fuel prices as a luxury tax on the rich was not only criminally misleading but also an insult to the intelligence of the people. The failure of the government to obey the Supreme Court does not bode well for the country and confirms we are on a slippery slope with regard to the rule of law and constitutional governance.  The checks and balances required in a functional democracy have been thrown to the winds in Sri Lanka.  We have enthroned a bunch of despicable politicians-of all hues and shades- and their hangers-on as the uncrowned  royalty of our nation.  How long the judiciary can stand up to this bunch is anyone’s guess, given the veiled threats being made against that last bastion of democracy.

The war against the LTTE- a necessity-is being exploited by the government to cover-up its manifold failures.  Every battle won against the LTTE is being celebrated  in an attempt to intoxicate the Sinhala citizens with tribal sentiment and make them oblivious to the failure of governance all around them. The fact that the  LTTE without a territory to hold will revert to a guerilla  mode,  which may take a lot more time , effort and expense to control  and could be more debilitating, is not being told to the people. Incidents that point to failures of governance, break down in the rule of law  and government complicity are being painted as  conspiracies involving local as well as international players. Sri Lankans are indeed being treated as nothing short of village idiots by their government and politicians! The fact that the president takes solace these concerns are not shared by the rural vote bank he depends on, is indeed tragic.

The deliberate delays  in resolving  issues that have alienated Tamils and other minorities, in a rational and reasonable manner, even while conducting the war against the LTTE, is perceived by many as attempts to enforce the victor’s terms on the vanquished. This ‘US’ vs. ‘THEY’ mentality that initially amplified the communal divide in the country, continues to persist in the corridors of power and is being deliberately fueled by powerful elements within the government. While most Sinhala people differentiate the Tamils from the LTTE and are ready to address Tamil concerns, the government and the political forces aligned with it are not yet inclined to do so.  Using Tamil paramilitary groups aligned with the government to fill the space vacated by the LTTE, is viewed by most Tamils with grave suspicion.  None of the Tamil paramilitary groups operating in Sri Lanka, enjoys any meaningful degree of support among the Tamils. Continuance on this path will definitely alienate the Tamils and backfire on the government sooner than later.

The attempt in the media to call Tamil villages and towns by their Sinhala equivalents is gaining ground and creating the illusion the whole of Sri Lanka is a Sinhala land, parts of which have been usurped by the Tamils.  The Ministry of Defense is  a party to this re-emerging twist- another symptom of  Sinhala triumphalism raising its ugly head-in our national scene.  Such acts raise the hackles among Tamils and set off reactions that could benefit only the LTTE.   Most  Sinhala place names have  their Tamil equivalents and  most Tamil place names have their Sinhala equivalents.  The ancient Hindu shrine in the Deep South is Kathirkamam to the Tamils and Katharagama to the Sinhalese.  Similarly, Meegamuwa (Negombo) in Sinhalese is Neer Kolumbo to the Tamils.  Yarlpanam (Jaffna) to the Tamils is Yappanaya or Yappa Patuna to the Sinhalese.

The three faces- the ugly, bad and the good- of the Sinhala polity that are visible to the discerning are exemplified by the following :

1. On being informed of the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge by phone, while at a meeting, the only response by President Rajapakse was ‘ Oluwatada Wadune? (Did the shot hit the head?).   He apparently continued with the meeting unperturbed by what he had just been told.  There was no shock or expressions of regret.   The brutal murder of a senior journalist and long term associate seems to have not disturbed the president, who only ventured to inquire about the nature of the injury. Was the president glad Lasantha Wickrematunge would die without knowing pain because of the shot to the head- a compassionate thought or was he making sure death was certain- a cynical concern?  The president alone would know the answer.

This face represents the insensitivity to corruption, brutality, suffering, blood shed and   murder among the ruling class and recourse to these as means to an end that remains undefined.  This same immoral and unrighteous (Adharmic) attitude characterized the LTTE and brought it to its present position.

2. The  instructions given by Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse ( the president’s brother) that Chevan Daniel – a Tamil-  who is the News Director at Maharaja Television should be interrogated and arrested on the grounds that he is ‘Kotiya (Tiger)’ is the second face.  This was in response to an interview given by Chevan Daniel to the CNN regarding the attack on the TV station in which he cited initial investigations pointing to claymore mines being used and complained about the tardiness in apprehending the suspects.

This blatant abuse of power and attempt to equate every Tamil who is unpalatable to the government as a ‘Kotiya’ is the second face of the Sinhala ruling class, the Tamils are quite wary. Some Sinhalese who differ with the government on matters relating to the Tamils are also labeled as ‘Sinhala Kottiyas’ by men, who consider themselves above the law and even omnipotent.

3. The third and the more dominant and rational, but less visible face of the Sinhala polity is   represented by the following words of  Gamini Weerakoon (Senior Journalist and  former editor of the Island newspaper) when he states in his article titled ‘Who is   Sinhalese or Tamil (Sri  Lanka Guardian  19/01/2009),

“For the past many years  there has been the deconstruction of Sri Lankan history  and some claimed that the Sinhala race was  a myth! The theory was that the Sinhalese were no more than Tamils.”

He goes onto say, “---Since being told that citizens of this country will be compelled to register  themselves in terms of ‘Ethnicity’ there has been a rising rebellion inside me”.

His article was in response to the directive of the Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse that all citizens should register themselves through the internet or at Police stations and identify themselves, with details of their ethnicity.  This is no ordinary census, but an insidious attempt to identify Tamils and their places of residence in the name of national security.  The Sinhalese  and other communities have been included in the equation, to give a façade of reasonableness and to preclude judicial intervention The possibility that every citizen in the country could be subject to so much inconvenience and expense cannot be a  feature of a democracy where the people are supreme!  Even if the intentions are above board-which is unlikely- this directive will no doubt generate apprehensions among  most Tamils, who have not forgotten how voters lists were used to locate them during the 1983 riots.

Gamini  Weerakoon has seen in this devious act an attempt to paint every Tamil  a potential ‘Kotiya’ and hence a  security risk. He has also quite bravely and rightly questioned the morality of  dividing the Sinhala and Tamil speaking people of Sri Lanka on the basis of non-existent ethnic differences.

I leave it to the readers to judge which of these face is the ugly, the bad and the good in Sri Lanka. Many Sinhalese yet are unaware or pretend ignorance of Tamil grievances. To many, the problems of the Tamils and the problems in the Island  began with the LTTE  and  should end when the LTTE is defeated. The failure to understand that unless the factors that gave birth to the LTTE phenomenon are addressed, the defeat of the LTTE would not solve the problems, is tragic. The politicians, media and the educational system have conspired over the years to keep the Sinhala people ignorant of the problems which gave birth to the LTTE , the problems they continue to face on account of the LTTE insurgency and the war between the LTTE  and the Sri Lankan State, and the problems they could potentially face in a post-LTTE era.  Although the nature of the Tamil grievances has changed over the past three decades, the following problems need to be addressed through political, constitutional and administrative arrangements:

1. Security:  Tamils (& other minorities) should be guaranteed their security to their person and property as citizens will be assured in all parts of the country at all times. This problem should garner the immediate attention of the government. Moderate Tamils (used for lack of a better term) are scared to come forward to participate in public life and provide an alternative to the LTTE and other paramilitary groups.  They also fear the response of forces within the government, if they do so. Action to allay these fears should be immediately forthcoming, if moderate Tamils are to come forward to provide an alternative to the LTTE.

2. Respect: Tamils (& other minorities) should be treated with respect by various  instruments of the government. This should include permitting them to communicate with the government in the language of their choice.  A culture of mutual respect among all communities should be fostered through the media and the educational system. The politicians should be held to the highest standards in this regards.  The right for any citizen to live any where in Sri Lanka should be upheld and any attempt to interfere with this by anyone, how ever powerful, should be punishable in law.

3. Opportunities: A level playing field, where merit will be the only concern should prevail in all areas of public life.  The only exceptions should be where the handicapped are favoured as a matter of policy.

4. Equal citizenship: Every citizen irrespective  of their linguistic, religious and locational identities should be entitled to full rights of citizenship in all aspects of  civil life.  This right should be strictly defended by the Judiciary.

5. Rehabilitation and reconstruction:   Massive investments in rehabilitation and reconstruction in the north and east should be made in an open and transparent manner, in consultation with men and women who the peoples of these provinces can trust.

6. Constitutional reform:  Substantial and meaningful powers should be devolved  to the provinces- particularly the northern and eastern provinces- to conduct their own affairs to the greatest extent possible.

However, what needs to be remembered most is that Sri Lanka needs a major overhaul immediately in all aspects of governance.  A political system that assumes  citizens are village idiots, who can be manipulated and herded as needed, cannot be acceptable in a constitutional democracy. Idealism and sublime objectives should guide our nation.  The  values of the lowest common denominator in society when brought into play in national life, can only result in what we have now.

The remarks excerpted from President Barrack Obama' inaugural speech at the beginning of this article should remind us what the ideals of democracy and good governance are.  The corruption, despotism, nepotism, sycophancy, violence, intolerance, opportunism, ignorance, arrogance of power , impunity and  disrespect for the rule of law embedded in our system of governance should be  rooted out or severely restricted, through developing the framework for   accountability, transparency, dissent and morality in public life.  This should be a national priority on which every right-thinking citizen, whether Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim or other should concentrate.  The judiciary, as the only institution that has survived defiling by our politicians, should play a more activist role in holding the government to the highest standards laid down in the constitution and called for by universally accepted principles. Interpretation of the constitution is the judiciary's exclusive right. Sri Lanka will not progress in the right direction, even if the LTTE were defeated, if the prevalent system of governance is not overhauled top to bottom and right to  left.   The LTTE and the JVP of old were only symptoms of what is wrong in our Island and not the root causes of our problems. Our problems are larger and deeper than the LTTE, and should be addressed immediately at a national level. The problems of the Tamils and other minorities will be also largely addressed by such an overhaul.

CPA alarmed by increased threats and attacks against media

23rd January 2008, Colombo , Sri Lanka: The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) vehemently condemns the violent attack against the Editor of Rivira, Mr. Upali Tennakoon this morning. Mr. Tennakoon was on his way to work when attackers who came on motorbikes stabbed and beat him. His wife who had stepped in to intervene also suffered injuries. Both are currently in hospital recovering from injuries sustained in the attack. Rivira is a Sinhala newspaper widely read in print and online.

This is the third significant incidence of violence against the media this month. The arson attack on TV broadcaster MBC / MTV Networks that destroyed its Main Control Room and production studios, the assassination of Lasantha Wickremetunge, Editor in Chief of the Sunday Leader and the brutal attack against Mr. Tennakoon today confirms our worst fears of an orchestrated terror campaign to silence journalists, conducted with complete impunity.

These attacks are part of a growing trend of media suppression in the country. CPA is alarmed by numerous threats against media personnel and organisations in the recent weeks. One notable incident was the statement made by Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse on 14th January on national TV when he called a media personality a ‘terrorist’ and threatened to put him in prison. Subsequently, the person threatened had to flee the country. Many other journalists and media personnel have had to flee the country in the past few weeks due to direct threats and attacks.

According to reports, a special Police team has been appointed to probe attacks on media by the IGP on the instructions of the President, following the assault on Mr. Tennakoon. Given the total failure of similar methods and mechanisms of investigation in the past, CPA is deeply sceptical about the possibility of any constructive outcome from this. We note in this regard the failure of the Cabinet Sub-Committee setup in June 2008 established under the President’s instructions to look into the grievances of journalists and come up with any concrete measures to protect them.

We hope the Government appreciates the fact that announcements of investigations which eventually, and inevitably, produce no results in terms of the apprehension, prosecution and conviction of perpetrators of these politically motivated crimes have the broader consequence of seriously eroding public trust and confidence in the criminal investigation process and the administration of justice. The lack of independent and effective investigations into such attacks raises questions whether the Government genuinely wants to unearth the truth behind such attacks and by inaction further exacerbates the culture of impunity.

This belittlement of institutions is as gravely harmful to democracy, the rule of law and the freedom of expression as the escalation of the scale and frequency of physical violence against the media we have witnessed in the last three weeks. This deterioration of democracy, media freedom and freedom of expression in Sri Lanka severely undermines the Government’s smug complacency that it is winning the war against terrorism. We reiterate our observation made at the time of Lasantha Wickremetunge’s assassination that those responsible for this egregious violence are enemies of democracy and become terrorists themselves.

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) was formed in the firm belief that there is an urgent need to strengthen institution- and capacity-building for good governance and conflict transformation in Sri Lanka and that non-partisan civil society groups have an important and constructive contribution to make to this process. The primary role envisaged for the Centre in the field of public policy is a pro-active and interventionary one, aimed at the dissemination and advocacy of policy alternatives for non-violent conflict resolution and democratic governance. Accordingly, the work of the Centre involves a major research component through which the policy alternatives advocated are identified and developed.

For more information, please visit http://www.cpalanka.org

A Historic Inauguration: Insider as Outsider

by Rajan Philips

The most anticipated American Presidential Inauguration is over. American modernity has not dispensed with rituals but has added its own to those of the old world. America’s political rituals have evolved over 200 years of unbroken continuity of constitutional democracy and a canonically regular electoral calendar. The inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama had them all - the pre-inaugurals, the parades and the pageants, the music and the poem, the invocation and the oath, the speech, benediction and the anthem, and, finally, the sendoff of the old and the sign-in of the new.

Both first timers, the Chief Justice (John Roberts) and the new President fumbled the public oath, missing and reordering words to the mild amusement of a few but largely unnoticed otherwise. Although legally unnecessary, a private oath was later performed at the White House out of an “abundance of caution” – apparently to preempt conspiracy theorists from blogging overtime. They will work overtime anyway.

Americans needed this inauguration more than ever for it is the best of times in America, and it is the worst of times. Politically, Americans have never been more united in their exhilaration. Economically, they have never been more despondent since the Great Depression. White America is awash in Black, along with Brown and Yellow, and a solid majority of even the Republicans are solidly behind the new President despite his middle name. The markets delivered their own message, the Dow Jones recording its lowest in two months at the end of the day. It was a moment to cheer amidst the despair, but the reality was nigh as night follows day.

The Speech

The inaugural speech, the most watched political speech in the planet’s history, “captured the moment” as Obama had promised, but not quite the same way as pundits were predicting. In front of the largest inaugural gathering since Lyndon Johnson took the oath in 1965, Obama delivered a speech that was sterner than soaring, more educational than inspirational, yet a message steeped history, tempered by the present and resolute for the future. It was the speech of the writer in him rather than the orator, to read and reflect upon rather than enthuse and applaud.

As with the victory speech in Chicago, in November, Obama’s inaugural eschewed the memorable takeaways that were aplenty in the Kennedy inaugural, but laid down the main markers of his presidency. It is a measure of the man, as I wrote in November, that he has come to realize even before taking office and in spite of inexperience that he will be judged not by his eloquence but by his performance as President. Starting with the transition, Obama is faring even better as President than he did as a candidate.

In one respect, the speech did not hold back. More than any time in the campaign, Obama hit on the enormous significance of his phenomenon for African Americans. He bluntly reminded the Americans that they had elected as President a man “whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant.” There was no honourable mention of his (White) mother’s side as there was in his celebrated ‘race speech’ in Philadelphia. But that invocation is not necessary anymore because Obama has shown that he is steeped in that half of the American tradition as thoroughly as any other American politician and he is possessed of the sense of American history as well as any one else. In fact, he could articulate that sense better than most. He is the quintessential insider who can also be portrayed as the outsider.

The speech hit on a number of themes each one elegantly straying from another in the manner of a sermon. There were quotes from St. Paul and George Washington, and varying echoes of Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson and even Clinton. America is still a young nation of celebrated risk-takers and “men and women obscure in their labour”; their best is not behind them but is yet to come. This generation like generations past will be grand in its ambitions regardless of carping cynics. The market is the pre-eminent path to wealth and freedom but needs “a watchful eye.” The challenges are new but there are no substitutes for the old American values of “honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism.” America must leave behind old debates, “set aside childish habits”, stop consuming like there is no tomorrow, and change with the changing world.

The most telling moment in the speech which was also the severest indictment of the Bush Administration came when Obama said “we reject as false the choice between safety and our ideals.” With unprecedented swiftness so soon after inauguration, the new President has signed executive orders to close the Guantanamo Bay prison within one year, ban harsh interrogation methods and suspend military trials of suspects. Appearing in the State Department with the new Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, President Obama said, “with no exception and without equivocation America will not torture”.

These are not the changes of a maverick but the validation of America’s founding promises, Obama repeatedly asserted in the inaugural speech. Whether it is the ending of slavery and segregation, controlling the market, reinforcing health care and social security, or fighting terrorism without abandoning freedom, Obama linked every one of them to “the meaning of our liberty and our creed.” America’s transgressions in the past, he seemed to argue, were results of the failure to be “faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.” Again, he is the insider calling on the Americans to march with him to the drums of their founding fathers.

[Kenyans gathered in Kisumu to celebrate. Mr. Obama's father was born in Kenya.-more in pics: NY Times]

America and the World

President Kennedy delivering his inaugural in 1961 at the height of the Cold War, heralded “a new generation of Americans born in this century”. In keeping with the times and the changing face of America, Obama is calling on the strength of America’s “patchwork heritage” and the plurality its people - “Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers … shaped by every language and culture, and drawn from every end of this earth” - for his country to “play its role in ushering in a new era of peace” in a world troubled by old hates and new battle lines. To the Muslim world, the new President has signaled his willingness to “extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

He did not acknowledge or articulate the significance of the changing world economic order and its implications for continuing American dominance. Instead, he seems to be relying on America’s plurality as the microcosm of the world to project a positive American influence. There is new hope about a new America in a new world especially after their disastrous relationship during the last eight years. Obama is promising to work with “old friends and former foes” to “lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the spectre of a warming planet.” More than any other American President, Barack Obama is well poised to relate to the outside world with new meaning and better understanding. But that alone is not enough to turn what is mostly a frosty relationship in many parts of the world into a friendly one.

After Vietnam, America has mostly been the interested outsider in world conflicts. Under President Bush, America became a party to the conflict in two of the most intractable areas in the world – the Middle East and Afghanistan. President Obama is sending every signal that America is changing course in both places and is restoring the respect to the United Nations that was so badly wounded throughout the Bush years. He promised and has signed orders to do government business in the light of day and according to the rule of law, to be transparent and to be accountable, changes that are of significance both internally and in relation to the outside world. But how much change in substance can these changes in approach and style deliver?

The political world outside America has always seen little difference between the Republicans and the Democrats. Within America, however, the difference between the two Parties has been seen as the dominant historical dynamic of American progress. But the more penetrating school in American historiography has challenged this myth of difference and highlighted the fundamental ideological consensus over individual and property rights and the cultural values of “self-help, free enterprise, competition and beneficent cupidity.”

According to a seminal member of this school, Richard Hofstadter, Franklin Roosevelt was a rare leader who recognized the failure of tradition and dared to take a different path. The New Deal was Roosevelt’s response, although, according to Hofstadter, President Roosevelt while daring in practical innovations could not bring about a change in the mindset of the Americans to supplement and sustain his policy changes. The New Deal was assailed even as it was being implemented and dismantling the New Deal became the preoccupation of much of America’s postwar history; with the assurance of material plenty the rage against big government often took the form of ‘culture wars’ over abortion, sexuality and religious fundamentalism. It is these wars, “childish habits”, that President Obama is promising to put an end to, while keeping the underlying consensus intact.

Of all the Presidents after Roosevelt only Lyndon Johnson was the unabashed legatee of the New Deal. Candidate Obama became critical of the market only after it bottomed out on Wall Street; until then he was the cautious, conservative insider. Although his gravitation to a new New Deal has been more opportunistic than preconceived, he has the intellectual gravitas and the advantage of a generational movement to attempt a change in the American mindset that Roosevelt could not. But will he or won’t he?

The ironic juxtaposition “Insider as Outsider” in the title of this article, is my adaptation of Hofstadter’s chapter titles in his historical classic, The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It, to describe, for example, Jefferson – Aristocrat as Democrat, Theodore Roosevelt – Conservative as Progressive, Woodrow Wilson – Conservative as Liberal, and Franklin Roosevelt – Patrician as Opportunist. In that vein, Barack Obama, although portrayed as an outsider, is very much an American insider. Whether he will break America out of the mould of laissez faire market and cultural narcissism remains to be seen. We are living in politically interesting times, the deadly violence and economic hard times notwithstanding.

January 22, 2009

Obama’s counter-terrorism strategy

by B. Raman

The counter-terrorism strategy of President Barack Obama will be different from that followed by his predecessor George Bush. The initial emphasis will be on removing the distortions which had crept into the strategy under Bush in the hope that this would create some goodwill for the US in the Islamic world and using the goodwill thus hopefully generated for enlisting the support of the Muslims in the campaign against Al Qaeda.

2. These distortions were in the form of ethically questionable deviations from the traditional US counter-terrorism practices. Examples of such deviations: Treating the terrorist suspects as prisoners of war and keeping them in an army-controlled detention centre in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and subjecting them to trial by a military tribunal instead of by normal courts; renditions, which are nothing but avoiding the due process of the law by taking the suspects for interrogation to co-operating third countries over which the US judiciary will not have any jurisdiction; and tolerance of practices bordering on torture during the interrogation.

3. By issuing an order on the very first day in office suspending the trial before the military tribunal for 120 days, Obama has made clear his determination to do away with these deviations and make US counter-terrorism practices once again acceptable to the civil society as a whole---- in the US itself as well as in the rest of the world.

4. Dick Cheney, Bush's Vice-President, and some professionals of the US intelligence community had convinced Bush that without such deviations it would be difficult to prevail over a dreaded terrorist organisation such as Al Qaeda. Obama, who does not buy such arguments, expects that there would be opposition from these professionals to his attempts to do away with these deviations. That is why he has chosen for the post of the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Leon Panetta , who is not an intelligence professional, but who is believed to agree with Obama that such deviations have done more harm than good to the fight against Al Qaeda and hence need to be abolished. A professional as the head of the CIA might have dragged his feet in implementing the ideas of Obama. In some instances in the past too, when there were allegations of unethical practices by the CIA, US Presidents had brought outsiders to head it to put an end to such practices.

5. Implementing Obama’s ideas with regard to the Guantanamo Bay detention centre is not going to be easy. Only a small number of the nearly 300 detenus there have specific cases going against them. There should be no problem in transferring their cases to normal courts and shifting them to jails in the US. But, the majority of the inmates of the detention centre are preventive detenus, who are suspected to be associated with Al Qaeda, but against whom there is not sufficient evidence for prosecution. What to do with them since it may not be possible to transfer them to jails in the US? If they are handed over to the countries to which they belong and if those countries release them, they might once again join Al Qaeda with renewed anger against the US for keeping them in the detention centre. Some of the detenus----such as the around 15 Uighurs---- are from countries such as China, which might execute them. Winding up the detention centre without adding to the strength of Al Qaeda and without creating new groups of anger against the US is going to be a tricky task.

6. Will the abolition of such practices help Obama in winning the support of the Muslims for the campaign against Al Qaeda? Doubtful. The anger of the Muslims against the US is not only due to such practices, but also due to the indiscriminate use of air strikes in counter-terrorism operations in Iraq as well as in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region. These air strikes have allegedly been causing a large number of civilian casualties. In the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, the Bush Administration was constrained to increase the number of air strikes by unmanned Predator aircraft of the CIA on suspected Al Qaeda hide-outs because of the unwillingness or inability or both of the Pakistan Army to act on the ground against these hide-outs.

7. Under the Bush Administration, the number of such air strikes increased dramatically from 10 in 2006 and 2007 combined to over 30 in 2008. Only eight of these strikes were successful in killing Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives. Over 22 strikes proved to have been based on incorrect intelligence and resulted in many civilian casualties. The accuracy rate of the US intelligence is not more than one-third of the reports disseminated.

8. Obama, who was critical of the deviations in the treatment of detained terrorist suspects, was not critical of the use of air strikes. In fact, he has promised a more robust and proactive campaign against Al Qaeda than was, according to him, followed under Bush in order to wipe out the surviving leaders of Al Qaeda operating from sanctuaries in the Pakistani territory. Rules of engagement authorizing air and ground strikes against Al Qada hide-outs in the Pakistani territory are favoured not only by the CIA, but also by the US Armed Forces. Thus, Obama cannot but continue the policy of stepped-up air strikes followed by Bush. His ability to do so without adding to the civilian casualties will depend on an improvement in the quality of the intelligence flow. Will the posting of an outsider and a non-professional as the chief of the CIA help in improving the quality of intelligence? If it does not, the goodwill which Obama might earn by abolishing the deviations might be wiped out by the anger over continuing civilian casualties due to inaccurate intelligence.

9. Obama’s objective is to delink Iraq from the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, divert more forces to Afghanistan and concentrate on the fight against them. His ability to divert forces from Iraq to Afghanistan would depend on the present low level of activity by Al Qaeda in Iraq continuing, thereby enabling the US to thin out its presence in Iraq. The low level of activity of Al Qaeda in Iraq is partly due to the parting of the ways between it and the secular Iraqi resistance fighters and the crushing of Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia by the Saudi authorities. Wahabised Saudis constituted a large component of Al Qaeda in Iraq. A decrease in the flow of Saudis has contributed to the weakening of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

10. Will Al Qaeda consider it to be in the interest of the global jihad being waged by it to let the US shift many of its troops to Afghanistan for crushing the Taliban or will it try to step up its activities in the Sunni areas of Iraq in order to frustrate the plans of Obama to shift troops to Afghanistan? To be able to do so, it will need a fresh flow of Arab volunteers. The widespread anger in the Arab world over the Israeli military strikes in Gaza, the perceived US support for Israel in the UN Security Council and the alleged silence of Obama on the issue could help Al Qaeda in its recruitment of new volunteers for keeping the fighting going in Iraq. If it happens, Obama may not be able to delink Iraq from the ongoing war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

11. Al Qaeda and its Arab supporters do not view Obama as a man of change. They see him as no different from Bush and other American leaders so far as support for Israel is concerned. They do not expect any dramatic change in the US attitude towards Israel under him. If they have to hurt Israel, they have to hurt the US. So they think and so they will try to do.

12. How successful will Obama’s counter-terrorism strategy will be will depend not only on how Obama views the war against Al Qaeda. It will also depend on how Al Qaeda views its jihad against the US. Despite the weakening of its position in Iraq and despite its inability to organize any major terrorist strike outside Pakistan and Algeria since the London and Bali blasts of 2005, Al Qaeda does not think it is losing its global jihad against the US and Israel.

13. It may not have had any spectacular gain on the ground since 2005, but it has convinced itself that the economic difficulties faced by the US are only partly due to the mismanagement of the economy by the Bush Administration. In its view----as seen from its recent messages---- the global jihad as waged under its leadership has also contributed to the economic difficulties of the US by forcing it to spend more and more on the war against it. It thinks it is in the interest of the global jihad to force the US to spend more and more thereby aggravating its economic difficulties. For that, the US will have to be kept preoccupied in Afghanistan as well as Iraq. It has been trying to take advantage of the Arab anger over the Israeli military strikes in Gaza to step up its recruitment and increase its activities in Iraq.

14. The weakest point of the still-evolving counter-terrorism strategy of Obama---- as it was with the strategy of Bush---- is its inability to think of a coherent and compelling response to Pakistan’s complicity, if not collusion, with Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the various other pro-Al Qaeda jihadi terrorist groups operating from Pakistani territory. The present Government of President Asif Ali Zirdari---like its predecessor Government of Pervez Musharraf--- is skillfully exploiting the US fears of a jihadi deluge without Pakistan’s co-operation for following a policy of seeming co-operation with the US and covert complicity with the terrorists. Like Bush, Obama too seems reluctant to confront Pakistan with punitive action if it fails to co-operate. Unless and until Pakistan knows that it will suffer if it does not change its present devious policy, things are not going to change. (22-1-09)

(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 )

New interim committee takes over Free Media Movement

A new interim committee was elected at a special meeting of the Free Media movement. With Chulawansa Sri Lal as convenor the committee will oversee FMM activity until fresh office - bearers are elected at a general meeting scheduled for May.

An official communique by the FMM stated as follows:

21/1/2009

SPECIAL PRESS RELEASE

A special general meeting of the Free media Movement (FMM) was held on January 20, 2009 at the Sri Lanka Press Institute in Colombo 05, under the section 9 of the constitution of the movement. The FMM constitution gives the powers to its members to discuss matters of urgency and importance with regard to functioning of free and independent media in Sri Lanka by calling an special general meeting as and when need arises.

The Special general meeting had unanimously decided to defeat and take every possible action against the forces which are acting to discredit and destroy the image and the functioning of the movement.

The committee of the FMM for 2008/09 resigned voluntarily and appointed a new interim committee to continue the work of the FMM till the next AGM scheduled for May 2009. FMM members, during the special general meeting, also appointed a disciplinary committee under the section 13 of the constitution, to conduct an inquiry into the matters which affected the credibility of the FMM and its members, thus to make available the findings to the public.

The new committee is as follows:

Convenor: Chulawansa Sirilal

Secretary: Sunil Jayasekara

Treasurer: Ananda Jayasekara

Assistance Secretary: Dileesha Abeysundara

Committee members:

Buddhika Weerasinghe

Daya Lankapura

C. Dodawatta

N.Kenniyoodson

Raveendra Chandralal

Convenor – Chulawansa Sirilal - +94 777 314380 Secretary – Sunil Jayasekara +94 777751092
No. 1C, 28th Lane , Off Flower Road, Colombo 07. Tel: +94 115 675906 Fax: +94 112 573 279
E-mail: fmm@sltnet.lk http://freemediasrilanka.wordpress.com"

Ethno political conflict in Sri Lanka

By A.R.M. Imtiyaz and Ben Stavis

This study examines ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. The major thesis is that politicization of ethnic distinctions by major political parties has fuelled an ethnic violence and conflict in Sri Lanka. The study employs an interactive approach to understand violence of both parties. Each party’s violence against the other increases the sense of distrust between them. Political elites then use ethnic emotions in their quest for power, reinforcing ethnic tensions. This paper also discusses some fundamental historical factors that play a role in understanding Sri Lanka’s ethnic violence. It finally suggests solutions to the protracted ethno-political conflict -- partition or power-sharing.

Click here full PDF version of the Report

Published in the The Journal of Third World Studies, Vol 25, No 2, Fall 2008.

A.R.M. Imtiyaz is a Visiting scholar, Department of Political Science, Temple University, USA.
Dr. Ben Stavis is Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Science, Temple University, USA.

January 21, 2009

Lankan Politicians are Utterly Ignorant or Terribly Dishonest

By Prof. S.T.Hettige

A significant feature of the 1978 constitution is that it has ensured that there will always be an election around the corner. According to the provisions of this constitution, the executive can prematurely dissolve the parliament, PC’s and local authorities and compel the election commissioner to conduct elections for these representative bodies. How many elections did we have over the last ten years?

We had four parliamentary elections, two presidential elections, two local council elections and several PC elections, at an enormous financial cost to Sri Lankan citizens.

When an incumbent government faces frequent elections, often on its own volition, one should expect politicians in power to take populist measures to appease the voting public. Some of these measures can be counterproductive from a long term development perspective. In the run up to the PC elections scheduled to take place next month, the opposition parties began their agitational campaigns, to win various concessions to the general public .When the pressure was building up against the high fuel price, the government quickly introduced a price reduction to defuse anti-government campaigns. The government also cut back some of the perks given to parliamentarians and cabinet ministers, perhaps as a temporary measure.

Now, if we take the reduction of fuel prices, this can certainly be counterproductive in the long run. It is true that a higher price for fuel enables the government to increase revenue and have more financial resources at its disposal. Yet, if the government uses public funds in an irresponsible and wasteful manner, a high fuel price can only undermine larger public interest. So, one could argue for a higher tax on fuel only if one can be sure that the revenue raised will be used to improve the life chances of the ordinary people rather than offer more perks to an ever expanding and enormously privileged, self-serving political elite.

Just because higher fuel taxes lead to wasteful government expenditure, one cannot agree that the solution is to lower fuel prices and pass the benefit to the consumer. Though the latter might appear to be the case on the surface, in the present global context, lower fuel prices can be damaging to public welfare in numerous ways. This becomes clearly evident if one examines the issue closely and critically.

Firstly, when the fuel prices were very low several decades back, car companies could sell any number of cars they produced, because more and more people could afford private cars. In fact, public transport was more expensive in countries like the United States and Australia. So it is virtually impossible to promote public transport when private transport is easily affordable.

Secondly, when petroleum products are cheap, it is not possible to develop alternative, renewable sources of energy because the latter can be more expensive. The down side of increasing use of petroleum products is the environmental damage it causes. It is not necessary to mention that environmental damage is detrimental to public welfare, a fact that is well established. Thirdly, cheap oil not only prevents the development of alternative, environmentally less damaging energy sources but also retards the development of more sustainable production systems, consumption patterns and systems of transport.

However, when oil price increases steadily as it happened a few years ago, people are forced to cut back not only use of oil but also consumption in general. This naturally contributed to an economic down turn or a recession. It is the recession that in turn, brought the price of oil down again over the last two years. Now the oil is cheap but many people have lost their jobs and /or assets and they can no longer benefit from cheap oil.

What is evident from the above is that the price of oil is integrally linked to many other socio-economic phenomena. It is not just another consumer item that should be given at the lowest possible price. The behavior of the price of oil has many ramifications that need to be carefully analyzed. This is particularly so in Sri Lanka because of the particular conditions prevailing here. We need to handle the oil issue more carefully.

It is natural for consumers to demand that oil should be made available at the lowest possible price. So, when higher taxes make oil more expensive, opposition politicians can easily mobilize the consumers to agitate for a price reduction. This is exactly what happened several weeks ago. Those who are dependent on cheaper oil for their livelihoods run into hundreds of thousands today due to certain unregulated or unplanned developments over the last two decades or so. While there are about 200,000 motor bikes and over 350,000 three wheelers in the country, the number of private cars has reached 850,000. All these people would like to have cheap oil.

The rapid expansion of the fleet of vehicles in the country is partly the result of a major policy failure and partly the increasing incomes of a large part of the population. When public transport services did not expand in keeping with the rising demand, more and more people began to resort to private transport. Instead of waiting for crowded buses and unreliable trains, more and people began to use motor bikes and three wheelers. Liberalization of imports led to a steady influx of transport equipment into the country.

Many people purchased three wheelers and began to hire them, initially in cities and towns, later even in remote rural areas. Today, three wheelers have become a menace in many large and small towns. There are dozens of three wheelers even in small villages with few hundred families. Hundreds of three wheelers are parked along busy streets, making it virtually impossible for pedestrians to freely move around in crowded cities and towns.

Do we know how many three wheelers we need for the country? Today, we have one three wheeler for every 57 persons in Sri Lanka. Thousands of young men who could engage in more productive activities can be seen waiting for hours looking for customers. When there are too many three wheelers, the drivers cannot earn a reasonable income. Since we keep adding more vehicles to the existing fleet, this situation can only get worse. So, the issue is obvious. If we leave it to the market, i.e. companies, we will have more and more three wheelers. No body knows how many three wheelers we nee for Sri Lanka. Per capita income of drivers will continue to decline, leading to widespread poverty among drivers. If they have no alternative jobs, they will continue to engage in the trade in spite of declining incomes.

January 18, 2009

Reflections on the role of the LSSP in Sri Lankan Politics

by Rajan Philips

A. J. Wilson, the Political Scientist, credited N. M. Perera and the LSSP with three landmark achievements in Sri Lankan politics: being the single most reason that forced Britain to free Sri Lanka and transfer power in 1948; founding the trade union movement that proved to be the bulwark of parliamentary democracy as long as it lasted; and postponing the day of reckoning for national unity by the principled opposition to Sinhala Only in 1956.

LSSP0118B.JPG

[LSSP office in Colombo]

Castigated by the LSSP as fake at that time, Sri Lanka’s independence eventually became a fact, even though, as S.W.R.D Bandaranaike warned in his famous independence-day oration, for many Sri Lankans political freedom could not come alive in the absence of economic freedoms. The state of our parliament and our democracy, on other hand, is more distressing now than it has ever been. As for national unity, it is in the eye of the beholder whether the country is more divided or united, notwithstanding the military reclamation of the island’s northern territories. The State and its quislings are celebrating ‘future minds’ in Jaffna while its living bodies are going through hell. How have we come to this pass?

You can do anything and get away with it

In a public lecture at the Colombo New Town Hall sometime in 1976, Dr. Colvin R. de Silva offered a somewhat subjective observation of the change in the attitude and values in Lanka’s public life – between what was there when he started public life in the 1930s and what he saw when he returned to the island after independence from his political exile in India. What earlier used to be a generally abiding respect for law and propriety in public affairs, he said, seemed to have given way to an attitude of indifference and impunity that "you can do anything and get away with it." The public lecture was an extension of the LSSP’s No Confidence Motion in Parliament against the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s alleged impropriety in the declaration of her landholdings under the Land Reform Law, and Colvin used the ethical slide in the country after independence to put in perspective Mrs. Bandaranaike’s actions to circumvent the law.

The 1976 No Confidence Motion was perhaps the last motion of no confidence moved by the LSSP in Parliament. The LSSP and the entire Left were wiped out of parliament in the 1977 elections and nothing has been the same since. Indeed, the new UNP government used the land declarations as one of the grounds to suspend Mrs. Bandaranaike’s civil rights, but re-privatized some of the nationalized lands and even restored to its friends and families new lands better than what they had given up earlier! All of it without a hum! "Not a dog barked", boasted JR, when he took away Mrs. Bandaranaike’s civil rights.

From 1948 till 1977, the LSSP and the CP were past masters of the parliamentary process and vigilant protectors of the powers and functions of parliament. They used parliament to keep governments, ministers and officials on alert and on their toes all the time. They protected the public interest and looked after the public good. They did not need the courts to do their job as the representatives of the people.

The cavalier attitude, "you can do anything and get away with it", has infected not just inconsequential minions, senior officials and ministers, but even the hallowed Central Bank. How else could one explain the Bank’s advocacy role and lack of oversight in the Petroleum Corporation’s hedging fiasco in oil purchases? A leader like NM would have raked red the Bank Governor over parliamentary coals for his too-clever-by-half games with the country’s finances. Such a leader would have pilloried the government over prices. Everyone would have got the message, and there would not have been the occasion for a stand off with the Supreme Court.

The contrast with today’s parliament, the pathetic incompetence of parliamentarians and their collective impotence are all too distressing. It is the lack of parliamentary oversight and authority that has tilted the so called separation of powers towards the judiciary. The public has no other recourse than to run to the Supreme Court for relief in everything from school admission, to public corruption and petrol pricing. It is a sad commentary on the forensic competence of the entire cabinet that it could not see that its decision to ignore the Supreme Court order to reduce the price of petrol could backfire by putting in question the earlier Court order suspending payment of hundreds of millions of dollars of state funds to banks in the controversial hedging deals.

Even under colonial rule, when the legislative body had limited elected members and authority, the LSSP used every legitimate method to advance the cause of independence and to bring redress to the disadvantaged people. The legal process was not spared and the courts sided with the LSSP in striking resounding blows against the colonial government in the Bracegirdle affair and in the judicial inquiry into the police shooting of P. S. Govindan, a plantation worker.

Today, a prominent newspaper editor is killed in full public glare for political reasons and the system is corrupted enough to pull the curtain and let the killers go free. The rest of us have been treated to a pseudo moral sermon by an establishment apologist about blessings in murders: the murder of Lasantha Wickramatunge may lead to the gradual withdrawal of death squads just as it happened after the murder of Richard de Zoysa decades earlier. The State apologists obviously did not know that the late Wickramatunge would anticipate their sophistries and pre-empt them by writing with uncanny premonition a devastating indictment of his killers and their direct and indirect masters. The whole world is awash with the posthumous indictment.

A reflective question

The ultimate blame for all of this is the constitutional house that JR created in 1978. But JR’s house did not come out of thin air, and there was more to it by way of genealogy than the unintended precedent set by the 1972 Constitution with Dr. Colvin R. de Silva as Minister of Constitutional Affairs. Further, the criticisms of the 1978 Constitution by NM and Colvin could not stop the JR juggernaut and their anticipatory warnings have been tragically proven to be correct. A more reflective question is, given the extent to which the Old Left Parties and their leaders dominated parliament even without ever forming a government on their own, did they do enough for the parliamentary system to sink roots among the people and to cultivate the people’s awareness and readiness to be parliament’s ultimate protectors.

LSSP0118.jpgThere is no question that the LSSP uniquely contributed to raising political awareness among the people especially in the early years after the introduction of universal voting rights. Jayadeva Uyangoda has drawn attention to this aspect based on his research of that period and to the fact that not enough credit has been given to the LSSP on this score. The point though is that the LSSP itself may not have given itself much credit because of what Hector Abhayawardhana would call in 1964 as the simultaneous functioning "on the two planes of parliamentarism and doctrinaire revolutionsm." Hector’s 1964 challenge to the LSSP and the Left was that they could not continue to function simultaneously on these two planes. The response to this challenge was the beginning of coalition politics which later grew into the more formal United Front Government.

The point here is that neither the proponents nor the detractors of coalition politics addressed the crucial significance of parliament itself. The former took it for granted, while the latter denounced it as the opium against revolution. The impossibility of mobilizing a text book revolutionary movement in an open society was lost on the doctrinaire revolutionaries, while the constraints of simultaneously operating on the two planes inhibited the Left from taking practical advantage of its own parliamentary achievements. As Ranjith Amarasinghe has noted in his scholarly study of LSSP in the pre-1964 period, at critical moments, both before and after independence, doctrinaire considerations prevailed over more pragmatic calculations.

In fairness, the LSSP was an open party from the beginning and its leading lights were not "disgruntled men" who had gravitated to Marxism to resolve personal contradictions. Although the first manifesto of the LSSP, as Hector recalled at the 1985 Peradeniya University seminar on "Marxism and the Left Movement" to mark its fiftieth anniversary, was greatly inspired by the old Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels, there was a notable discrepancy between the two. While the Communist Manifesto was "clear and crisp" in identifying the ‘proletariat’ as the only "revolutionary class", noted Hector, the LSSP Manifesto made not one mention of the proletariat or working class, but assigned the agency of the Sri Lankan revolution to the "toiling masses."

This, Hector argued, was a reflection of the LSSP leaders’ grasp of the social and political realities of Sri Lanka, and was also consistent with the political content of Marx’s concept of the proletariat as opposed to its purely philosophical content. The political content was a measure of the radical necessities that the working and dispossessed classes were denied and their urge to realize these necessities through collective action. Like the Communist Manifesto, the LSSP Manifesto listed "22 immediate demands reflecting the concrete needs of the working people" and other demands for the welfare of the village society that were "realizable within the framework of normal capitalist society." From its inception, enhancing social product and welfare has been a constant priority of the LSSP, and whatever may have been its other failures, it is fair to say that the LSSP never gave up on that priority.

January 17, 2009

Ethnicity based registration and the Sri Lankan identity

By Gamini Weerakoon

Ever since I read reports that all citizens of this country will be compelled to register themselves in terms of 'ethnicity' there has been a rising rebellion inside me. I have no qualms about declaring my race. In fact I have been called a "Sinhala Pirapaharan" by no less than R. Sampanthan of the TNA at a function during the time I used to blast Pirapaharan and the LTTE in editorials and columns I was writing at that time.

I am still being called a 'Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinist' by my liberal friends, which I find to be quite humorous. But I resent being tagged by race or religion by fiat of the Rajapakse junta.

I get the feeling of being inanimate like the number plate of my car. My plate has WP (which means Western Province) and the letter P which stands for Petrol. The other letters and figures are supposed to be some kind of secret code by which my address and the place where the vehicle is kept can be identified. The rage inside me is whether some political junta and their cohorts could reduce people of this country through this process of registration to inanimate objects that can be picked and chosen for their purposes?

I am aware of many senior and responsible citizens who do not want to be identified by race for reasons of their own. We are Sri Lankans they say. Why should any government panjandrum be empowered to cow down these people into doing what they do not want to do?

Mahinda Rajapakse is now striking refrains of high statesmanship while claiming military victories. Equality of all people and races, human rights, peace and harmony are his refrains. This is a multi religious, multi racial, multi lingual society; he says, in so many words - words that have not emanated from the lips of Rajapakse, often. It simply isn't logical to affix racist tags on people like those sent to concentration camps, in the age of peace and tranquillity, he envisions.

What causes worry among citizens of all communities are these strict 'security measures' being adopted when this so called 'war' is over. It could be said that the terrorists may resort to urban guerrilla warfare as well as in the villages. If so why they did not do it all the while the conventional war was raging is moot point. On the other hand if such strict security measures are called for the 'war' is by no means over.

It can be pointed out that racial and religious tags have been used down the years albeit for no sensible reason. For example if you meet with a traffic accident the first query of the policeman recording your statement would be: Nama, Gama, Aagama. The first two queries, name and place of residence are certainly called for but why religion? Does one's faith make a traffic offence less or more heinous?

We once told a recording policeman our religion was, 'free thinker.' He glared and asked what the hell that was. He then asked for our parents' religion and then recorded my religion in accordance.

A Tamil businessman, a millionaire and perhaps a billionaire by now related his experience with the police. When asked for his race he said: Sri Lankan. The policeman would have none of that. The businessman's name was Cage (suitably altered by us to avoid identification). The policeman's eyes lit up because it was a Western name. Burgher, no? he asked and recorded accordingly despite protestations of the Tamil businessman.

It is ironic that in these times when learned academics, social scientists and the like are questioning the validity of various ethnic groups the government wants definitive answers about your race. For the past many years there has been the deconstruction of Sri Lankan history and some claimed that the Sinhala race was a myth! The theory was that the Sinhalese were no more than Tamils!

In this context, our dear friend and Gentleman at Large About Town, Ananda Chittampalam sent us a research paper done on the genetic composition of Sinhalese, Tamils and Veddahs titled Genetic Affinities of Sri Lankan Populations by Kshatriya Gautam Kumar of the National Institute of Health and Family Welfare, New Mehrauli Road, Munrika New Delhi 110067 India.

We could not make much of the genetic research quoted but will reproduce some conclusions reached.

It says: The Bengalis, the Tamils and the Veddhas are considered parental populations for the Sinhalese. The Bengali contribution (genetically for the Sinhalese) is 25. 41 %, the Tamil (India) contribution is 69.86 per cent and the Veddha contribution is only 4.73 %.

For Sri Lankan Tamils, the Sinhalese, the Bengalis and Indian Tamils can be considered ancestral populations. The contribution of the Sinhalese to the Sri Lankan Tamils is 55. 20 %, the Bengali contribution is 28.7 % and the Indian Tamils is 16.63 %.

The report adds: 'The results indicate a predominant influence of the Sinhalese (who already have a high contribution from Indian Tamils) and Bengalis to a lesser extent.' This is a subject which can cause 'blood boil' among many people. We through this research could provide a basis for Sri Lanka's ethnic composition and need not be taken as the last word on the subject.

We wonder how people of mixed marriages would record their identities for the benefit of the Defence Ministry. If a Tamil woman with a markedly Tamil name married to a Sinhalese registers herself as a Tamil would she be considered a subversive element? What of children of such mixed marriages? Perhaps it would have been sorted out with the officials of the Department of Census of Statistics and the Elections Department.

But officials of these departments would be quite different to security sleuths looking for subversive elements under the bed.

And what of the increasingly Gay Community? Would they be categorised as males or females?

Bureaucracies have ways of inventing stupidities such as in filling forms. Mark Twain when confronted at an Immigration Desk and asked to mark a form which included a query on his 'Sex' wrote: Anytime!

Creeping dictatorship under guise of democracy?

By Kishali Pinto Jayawardene

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa's strident outburst this week against dissenters in the media underscores the fact that we now live in a dictatorship cloaked in an exceedingly thin guise of a democracy.

Objectively evaluating the interview conducted on national television, one would conclude that the Defence Secretary did both himself and his brother, President Mahinda Rajapkse, considerably more harm than good. The Defence Secretary's largely measured tones when discussing about the war and military victories, gave way to a shrill and even hysterical denunciation of the media at a point, freely categorizing anyone who pointed the finger at the government in regard to media repression, as being a terrorist. The tone and tenor of these remarks were unfortunate at the least and highly condemnatory at the most.

The contempt showed for the law was significant. For example, it was asserted by the Defence Secretary that they had to allow Parameswari, (categorized as a terrorist), to go free. However, this was the very same Parameswari who had been freed upon intervention by the Supreme Court and against whom the government had no actual evidence to indict, to all intents and purposes. So, the question becomes moot; on what basis are these allegations of terrorism being made? Who determines as to who is a 'terrorist'? Is it the Defence Ministry or is it the courts of law? Surely in instances where the relevant investigative and legal machinery has been invoked, these are matters to be decided by the courts? This is what the Rule of Law is all about, after all. And when accusing fingers are pointed at the government for the attack on MTV or the assassination of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickremetunge, the government can move to arrest their accusers under emergency regulations. But to whom do those maligned by the government turn to?

At a different level, there are continuing arguments that President Mahinda Rajapaksa cannot be responsible for the killing of the Sunday Leader editor just as much as President Ranasinghe Premadasa was not personally responsible for the killing of Richard de Zoysa nor President Chandrika Kumaratunge personally responsible for the killing of 'Taraki' Sivaram.

This is flawed reasoning however. Let us put aside, for the moment, the justification that the orders to kill did not personally issue from the President. Yet, the executive responsibility in each of these cases emanates from elsewhere. It does not emanate purely from being the head of the Government and of the State. On the contrary, the responsibility stems from allowing an environment to flourish where killings, intimidation and the silencing of dissent is tolerated, condoned and thereby implicitly encouraged. In the current context, it stems from allowing the President's senior advisors to categorise those who oppose the government in any way whatsoever as terrorists. It stems from allowing the website of the Defence Ministry to continually publish the names of lawyers appearing for suspects under the Emergency Regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act, as traitors. Executive responsibility is underscored by all these factors.

In this climate, to call for the police to investigate independently or indeed, for the prosecutors to indict independently, amounts to sweet nothings. As long as state policy is to crush all opposition and as long as the police and the prosecutors remain subservient to the political executive, we really cannot expect anything to be different.

Attempts have been made by some this week to enumerate the long list of unsolved political assassinations and thereby argue that all these killings are unsolved and the perpetrators not punished. Ergo, we should not be surprised that the investigation into the Wickremetunge assassination would be inconclusive. Or so, the argument goes.

Yet again, such reasoning is fundamentally fallacious. It was precisely due to decades of absolute failure of the investigative and prosecutorial machinery that the 17th Amendment was passed in 2001. During 2002-2004, it certainly had a positive impact in insulating the police force from the more egregious forms of political interference. Obviously this constitutional amendment was not perfect but any creases in the fabric of its implementation could have been smoothed over by a harmonious working together of the relevant institutions.

Such arrangements have worked perfectly well in other jurisdictions. For example, the United Kingdom's Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) established by the Police Reform Act of 2002, is a non-departmental public body which is government funded but operates completely independently. Its credibility is secured by the independent quality of its investigative staff and the direct disciplinary control that it exercises over offending police officers. Though the IPCC has been occasionally critiqued, there is wide consensus that its efforts have been to the good in the context of increased police surveillance and investigations in the UK's own 'war against terror.'

We however, have failed in this respect due to the absolute inability of political leaders to release power from their rapacious grasp. Currently, we are told that there may be political consensus within the coming weeks in establishing the Constitutional Council (CC). But such promises have, after all, been floating in the air for quite some time now. Further, there is no point in grudgingly allowing the CC to function, only to obstruct and hamper it at every point. Instead, the political executive must learn that this change is essential for our systems to breathe democratically. If such self realization does not come voluntarily, it must be forced. And this lesson holds good for the opposition as well as the government.

Presently however, the burden of proving its bona fides in democratic governance rests heavily on the Presidency and cannot be satiated by social meetings with lawyers and editors or by empty reassurances. The sub-culture of repression that lies beneath the smiling face of the Presidency must be dismantled. In the alternative, President Rakapksa is as guilty as if he is personally issuing the orders to intimidate, repress and assassinate. And we would be living in a society as intolerant of dissent as that totalitarian regime once ruled over by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Kilinochchi. There is really no escaping this fact.

Osama minus his Elan

by B.Raman

There have been two audio messages disseminated by Al Qaeda calling for an armed jihad against Israel in support of the people of Gaza intheir fight against the Israelis. The call is for support to the people of Gaza and not to the Hamas with which Al Qaeda does not feelcomfortable.

2. The first message by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No.2 to Osama bin Laden, was issued on January 6,2009, and the second by bin Ladenhimself on January 14,2009. The first by Zawahiri is direct with virulent attacks not only on Israel, but also on Muslim rulers considered asapostate by Al Qaeda such as those of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen etc. In the past messages of Zawahiri, the name of Gen. (retd) PervezMusharraf of Pakistan used to figure among the alleged apostates, but the latest message of Zawahiri contains no reference to the presentrulers of Pakistan after the exit of Musharraf.

3.The message of bin Laden is less aggressive than that of Zawahiri and avoids references to individual leaders of the Islamic world. Whilethe message of Zawahiri criticises President-elect Barack Obama by name for his silence on the Israeli military strikes in Gaza, bin Laden'smessage does not criticise him by name. Its criticism is directed more at the outgoing Bush Administration than at the incoming ObamaAdministration.

4. bin Laden's message tries to project the Israeli military strikes in Gaza as intended to achieve the Israeli objectives before Bush laysdown office. Reading between the lines, one could see that bin Laden is saying that Israeli fears that the next Administration may not beable to back Israel in the same way as the Bush Administration did because of its expected preoccupation with the worsening economiccrisis in the US should account for the Israeli desire to achieve its aims in Gaza before Bush leaves office.

5. Both Zawahiri and bin Laden have told the Muslims of the world that holding anti-Israeli demonstrations alone would not be sufficient.They want the Muslims to wage a determined armed jihad against Israel in retaliation against its military strikes in Gaza. bin Laden talks ofthe need for jihad by individual Muslims as well as for collective jihad by the community as a whole.

6. Interestingly, bin Laden's message avoids any references to the ground situation in Iraq or Afghanistan. He refers to the defeat of theSoviet troops in Afghanistan by the jihadis in the 1980s and projects the current economic crisis in the US and the rest of the Western worldas the outcome of the determined jihad waged by the Muslims against them. In proof of his claim that the jihad has started having an impacton the West, he does not cite the results achieved by the jihadis in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, he refers to the severity of the economicmelt-down and cites remarks of Joseph Biden, the US Vice-President-elect, Alan Greenspan, former head of the US Federal Reserve, andother Western leaders.

7. The fact that he is constrained to quote from Western leaders to convince the Muslims that the jihadis are winning shows that there isapparent skepticism in sections of the Ummah whether the jihad is really benefiting the Muslims.He quotes from Western statements in anattempt to remove this skepticism.

8. The message of bin Laden does not speak of a man with the same elan as bin Laden, the author of the past messages. His unusual appealto rich Muslims for contributions to help the peope of Gaza speaks of a possible decline in the flow of funds for the global jihad.

9. The two messages do not contain references----direct or indirect--- to the Mumbai terrorist attack of November 26 to 29,2008. bin Laden'smessage has a reference in passing to the allegedly oppressed people of Kashmir. Apart from that it has no reference to India or itsMuslims. Zawahiri's message contains an appeal to the Muslims of a number of countries, including Pakistan, to wage a jihad against Israel,but his appeal is not addressed to the Muslims of India.

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

Fight against Pak sponsored terrorism: India should not Bank on Obama

by B. Raman

Despite differences over strategies and tactics in the fight against global jihadi terrorism, there is a convergence of views between theoutgoing administration of President George Bush and the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama as to what should bethe ultimate objective of the US war against global terrorism.

2. They are both agreed that the ultimate objective should be to prevent another 9/11 in the US homeland by Al Qaeda and an act ofcatastrophic terrorism involving either the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) material or devastating attacks on the criticalinfrastructure.

3. In their view, of all the terrorist organisations operating from the Pakistani territory, only Al Qaeda has the capability for launching another9/11 in the US homeland and for organising an act of catastrophic terrorism. Hence, the first priority of the Bush administration was to thewar against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, its ideological ally. This priority will continue under Obama too. During the election campaign,Obama's criticism of the policies of Bush was not because of the focus on the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but because of what helooked upon as the inadequacy of that focus as illustrated by the perceived failure of the Bush administration to have Osama bin Laden andhis No.2 Ayman Al-Zawahiri killed or captured and the sanctuaries of Al Qaeda in the Pakistani tribal belt destroyed.

4. He attributed the inadequacy of that focus and the failure of the Bush Administration to destroy or even seriously weaken Al Qaeda towhat he looked upon as the unnecessary US involvement in Iraq, which took resources and attention away from the war against Al Qaeda inthe Pakistan-Afghanistan region. According to him, the real threat to the US homeland comes from the Pakistan-Afghanistan region and notfrom Iraq and hence there should have been no diversion of the attention and resources from there. He said during the election campaign:"We are fighting on the wrong battlefield. The terrorists who attacked us and who continue to plot against us are resurgent in the hillsbetween Afghanistan and Pakistan. They should have been our focus then. They must be our focus now.” In a speech at the Wilson Centre inWashington DC on August 1,2007, he said: “When I am President, we will wage the war that has to be won…The first step must be getting offthe wrong battlefield in Iraq, and taking the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

5.Anoher point on which there has been a convegence between the views of the two is over th importance of Pakistan in the war againstglobal terrorism. Both feel that the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban cannot be won without th co-operation of Pakistan, which,essentially means the Pakistani Army. Obama said during the campaign: "Success in Afghanistan requires action in Pakistan. While Pakistanhas made some contributions by bringing some al Qaeda operatives to justice, the Pakistani government has not done nearly enough to limitextremist activity in the country and to help stabilize Afghanistan. I have supported aid to Pakistan in the Senate and ... I would continuesubstantial military aid if Pakistan takes action to root out the terrorists." He also said when Pervez Musharraf was still the President: “If wehave actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will. I firmly believe that if we know thewhereabouts of bin Laden and his deputies and we have exhausted all other options, we must take them out.”

6. His proclaimed determination to act unilaterally against high-value targets of Al Qaeda in Pakistani territory is no different from the policypursued by the Bush Administration in the last year of its presidency. Unmanned Predator aircraft of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)carried out over 30 strikes on suspected hide-outs of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistani territory during 2008 as against 10 in 2006 and2007. These strikes were carried out despite protests by the Pakistan Government and Army and resulted in the deaths of eight middle-levelArab operatives of Al Qaeda and Rashid Rauf, a British citizen of Pakistani origin, who was related by marriage to Maulana Masood Azhar, theAmir of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM).

7. Even if Obama wants the CIA to further step up its Predator attacks, their effectiveness would depend on a further improvement in theflow of human and technical intelligence. Obama has avoided specific pronouncements on his willingness to order land-based strikes on thesanctuaries of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistani territory. Under the Bush administration, the US special forces did try a land-basedstrike in South Waziristan in September,2008, which was not successful. It did not launch any more land-based strikes following a furore inPakistan. While the Asif Ali Zardari Government is avoiding any action to resist the Predator strikes despite its open condemnation of them,there seems to be a fear in Washington that if the US continues to undertake land-based strikes, public pressure could force the PakistanGovernment and the Army to resist them resulting in an undesirable confrontation between the armies of the two countries.

8. Obama is likely to face the same dilemma as Bush faced. The sporadic successes of the Predator strikes alone will not be able toeffectively destroy the terrorist infrastructure of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistani territory. To be effective, land-based strikes wouldalso be necessary. However, the political consequences of repeated land-based strikes would be unpredictable. There is alreadyconsiderable anger in the tribal belt against the Pakisan army for co-operating----even half-heartedly--- with the US in its war against AlQaeda and the Taliban. How to make up for this unsatisfactory co-operation by the Pakistan Army by stepping up unilateral US covertactions in the Pakistani territory without adding to the public anger against the Zardari Government? That is a question to which theadvisers of Bush were not able to come up with a satisfactory answer. Even the advisers of Obama do not seem to have an answer to this sofar.

9. A recommendation of Gen.David Petraeus, the Commander of the US Central Command, to induct another 30,000 US troops intoAfghanistan in the coming months to counter the activities of the Taliban has already been approved by Bush. This decision has the supportof Obama. But, more troops alone to step up the operations against the Afghan Taliban in Afghan territory would not serve the purposeunless accompanied by action to choke the supplies of men and material from the sanctuaries of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the Pakistaniterritory and the flow of funds from the once again flourishing heroin trade in Afghanistan.

10. No terrorist organisation in Pakistan can exist without State complicity if not sponsorship, sanctuaries and funds. Not only Al Qaeda andthe Taliban, but also the largely Punjabi terrorist organisations of Pakistan operating against India in Indian territory enjoy these threeessential elements of survival in Pakistan.A ground reality not realised in Washington DC is that all the jihadi terrorist organisations basedin Pakistan make available to each other the use of their hide-outs, sanctuaries and training centres. One recently saw the instance ofRashid Rauf of the JEM being killed in a Predator strike on an Al Qaeda hide-out. There have been reports in the Pakistan media of twoPunjabi terrorists belonging to what they have described as the Punjabi Taliban being killed in a Predator attack on an Al Qaeda vehicle inSouth Waziristan on January 1,2009. The Predator strike targeted and killed Osama al-Kini alias Fahid Mohammad Ally Masalam, describedas responsible for Al Qaeda operations in Pakistan including the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on September 21,2008, and hisNo. 2 Sheik Ahmed Salim Swedan. Both were Kenyan nationals. In addition to the two of them, the Predator strike also reportedly killed twomembers of the JEM, who were also in the same vehicle. One would recall that in March,2002, Abu Zubaidah, the Palestinian member of AlQaeda, was caught in a hide-out of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) in Faislabad in Pakistani Punjab.

11. From such instances, it should be clear that one cannot make a distinction between sanctuaries of Al Qaeda, those of the Taliban andthose of the anti-India organisations. All sanctuaries have to be attacked and destroyed irrespective of to which organisation theybelonged. The Bush Administration was not prepared to follow such a clear-cut policy and tried to make an operational distinction betweenanti-US terrorism and anti-Indian terrorism. Pakistan fully exploited this ambivalence.

12. From the various statements of Obama and his advisers, there is not much reason for India to hope that this ambivalence woulddisappear under him. The double standards vis--vis anti-US and anti-India terrorism, which have been the defining characteristics of UScounter-terrorism policies since 1981, will continue to come to the rescue of Pakistan. It would be futile for India to expect any majorchange under Obama. We should deal with the terrorism against our nationals and interests emanating from Pakistani territory in our ownway, through our own means and on our own terms. So far as India's fight against terrorism is concerned, the advent of Obama as the nextPresident of the US is not going to make any major difference.

13. At the same time, even if he succeeds in damaging if not destroying the capabilities of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, India will have somebeneficial fall-out, but it will not be the end of Pakistani use of terrorism against India. We should wish him well and help him in whateverway we can professionally without accepting any political interference by the US in matters such as Jammu & Kashmir and India's presencein Afghanistan. We should not accept any US overlordship in the region under the pretext of a regional approach to the problem ofterrorism.(15-1-09)

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

January 15, 2009

Massive displacement of civilians amid escalating conflict

Statement by ICRC

Ever more civilians have been leaving areas held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and entering government-controlled territory in recent weeks.

The ICRC has been helping them to maintain acceptable levels of hygiene, to keep in touch with relatives and to maintain hope.

Fighting has prevented relief supplies from reaching the population in the Vanni for the past five days. "Civilians in the Vanni are weary from the conflict. Repeated displacements, often involving the loss of their personal belongings, have taken a toll on them. Nevertheless, their ability to cope has been remarkable," said Paul Castella, the ICRC's head of delegation. "The ICRC is committed to stay at their side as long as there are needs to address"

Because of ongoing combat operations and the moving front line, tens of thousands of displaced civilians are concentrated in an area so small that there are serious concerns for their physical safety and living conditions, in particular in terms of hygiene. In addition, the ICRC has to negotiate safe passage over a distance of up to 30 kilometres between government- and LTTE-held areas with the parties every day (between 2002, when the ceasefire was signed, and November 2008, guarantees of safe passage were needed only for travel on a 300-metre stretch of road). The new situation has made it necessary for the ICRC to bring in more international and national staff to manage the convoys and communicate with the parties on the ground.

The ICRC also negotiates with the parties to the conflict to arrange for the safe passage of ambulances transferring patients and health professionals back and forth between the various medical facilities in LTTE-held areas and Vavuniya. However, the ICRC is extremely concerned by the fact that no safe passage has been arranged since 9 January. This has put at risk the lives of patients who cannot receive suitable treatment on the spot and therefore need to be transferred to Vavuniya Hospital, in government-controlled territory.

A major concern of the ICRC is to ensure that civilians, the sick and wounded and medical personnel receive the protection to which they are entitled under international humanitarian law. The organization has reminded the parties to the conflict repeatedly – in recent days especially – of their obligation to protect persons not taking part in the hostilities.

ICRC maintains its support for displaced people in the Vanni

In the districts of Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi, more and more civilians abandoned their homes and shelters and fled combat areas in December. Unfortunately, there is almost no area left in that part of the country where people can be safe from the ongoing hostilities. "Families heading westward in search of safety are encountering other families moving eastward with the same aim," said Mr Castella.

Heavy rains that fell on the Vanni in December damaged shelters and roads and destroyed millions of rupees' worth of food crops, thus posing further challenges for the displaced population.

Existing health-care facilities are managing to cope with the basic health needs of the civilian population despite a lack of personnel and other constraints.

The ICRC has distributed personal-hygiene and baby-care items to more than 750 displaced people and built toilets and bathing facilities. In addition, it has monitored conditions in centres for the displaced set up by the authorities in Jaffna and Vavuniya. It has listened to the concerns of those living in the centres and where necessary helped them to restore contact with their relatives by means of Red Cross messages.

In an attempt to stave off mosquito-transmitted disease among displaced people, the ICRC distributed some 350 baby mosquito nets.

Working together with volunteers from the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society, the ICRC provided some 3,600 displaced individuals in Puthukudyirippu with shelter and other essential items. The ICRC also repaired wells and built toilets for the displaced population in Oddussudan, Kandavalai and Puthukudyirippu. In addition, it gave over 1,100 displaced people in these areas tents and tarpaulins for use in erecting emergency and temporary shelters.

In December, a total of 60,056 families in Kandawalai, Karachchi Maruthankerny and Puthukudyirippu received food, clothing and hygiene items donated to the ICRC in November by the Indian government for the conflict-affected population of the Vanni.

ICRC serving as neutral intermediary between government and LTTE

In its role as a neutral intermediary, the ICRC facilitated the movement of civilians, sick and wounded people, food and other relief items, and Sri Lanka Red Cross members and various officials across the front line throughout most of last year. In 2008 the ICRC helped more than 273,000 civilians and 32,000 vehicles to make the crossing.

In December, the conflict continued to disrupt the movement of civilians, civilian vehicles, ambulances and humanitarian aid convoys across the no man's land between government- and LTTE-held areas. During the month, the ICRC facilitated the passage into the Vanni of 199 ambulances carrying 505 patients and of nearly 1,190 trucks loaded with humanitarian aid. ICRC staff also transported the bodies of 204 fallen fighters across the front line.

Protecting civilians and people held in connection with the conflict

The ICRC continues to monitor possible violations of international humanitarian law affecting civilians throughout the country. When necessary, it makes representations to the authorities concerning missing persons, arbitrary arrests, under-age recruitment, unlawful killings and ill-treatment of civilians or detainees by weapon bearers. Allegations of violations are discussed confidentially with the parties to the conflict.

With the cooperation of government officials and the LTTE, the ICRC has been visiting a growing number of people arrested in connection with the armed conflict to monitor their treatment and conditions of detention. In December, ICRC delegates held private talks with more than 900 security detainees in some 50 government places of detention throughout the country and provided them with clothes, toiletries and recreational items. The ICRC covered the travel costs of six detainees returning home on public transport after being released, and of the families of over 465 detainees visiting their detained relatives.

Restoring family links with Red Cross messages

Red Cross messages help family members separated by the conflict to keep in touch. In December, the ICRC and the Sri Lanka Red Cross collected or distributed 685 messages.

ICRC staff member killed in Jaffna

An ICRC staff member was killed in a shooting incident in Jaffna on 23 December. He was the father of two children and had been working with the ICRC since 1999. The incident occurred while the victim was exiting a bus on his way to work. The police authorities are investigating to ascertain the exact circumstances that led to his tragic death.

For further information, please contact:
Carla Haddad Mardini, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 24 05 or +41 79 217 32 26
Sarasi Wijeratne, ICRC Colombo, tel: +94 11 250 33 46 or +94 773 158 44

January 13, 2009

Prabhakaran not Sinhala Nationalists destroyed federal concept

by Gomin Dayasiri

A Prabhakaran dead can be more menacing than a Prabhakharan alive. Prabhakaran missing could be still worse. The call to surrender laying down arms is to place the pill under his tongue - Prabhakaran fears to face Tamils without arms and ammunition. Prabhakaran dead or alive would not matter, if the legitimate grievances of the Tamils are attended, without leaving it in the freezer.

Tamils fleeing the northern sector (except those planted by the LTTE as moles to cause economic and military damage) know Prabhakaran better than those in the South. They had to escape from him to tell the sorry story. To the parents- Prabhakaran is the prime child snatcher; to the children-Prabhakaran has ruined their future; to all- the man has rendered them homeless by ethnically cleansing his own creed. Resurrection conjures reincarnation from the grave, icons can become idols; the second coming of Prabhakaran is possible through fable and legend in the form of fairy tale and folk lore, mime and music.

Prabhakaran and Wijeweera are the anarchist children of J.R.Jayewardene. He fathered them when he aborted the election and gave birth to a referendum. Instead of becoming babes in parliament they went into the woods to emerge as killers in battle dress. Prodigies became megastars with a dream in mind and a gun in hand. Holding out as freedom fighters they hunted and killed their own kith and kin which made them fall from grace with division within their own divisions.

The self proclaimed freedom fighters alienated their own people when they denied them their freedom to live with dignity. The student circles destroyed Wijeweera in hiding – military cadres are doing the same to Prabhakaran in hiding. To operate from hiding with a remote controller is handing power to others to make grave mistakes. History will show cadres alienate the people more rapidly than the leader, in isolation, to accelerate his downfall.

Wijeweera died with few friends at home. So will Prabhakaran. JVP has to still depend on support and funding from abroad from their diaspora. So does the LTTE. After Wijeweera, the JVP entered the democratic process. So will follow suit, the remainder of the LTTE after Prabhakaran; the JVP politicians who remained at home became parliamentarians. JVP keeps metamorphosing into further fractions. It will happen to the LTTE more so with a political vacuum. JVP blow themselves big with small and energetic cadres. LTTE does it better. The post Wijeweera youthful leadership in the JVP made a greater impact as democrats winning 40 seats in parliament than their discredited revolutionaries whose exit only their families mourn. The breakaway former LTTE group captured power in the East at the first democratic opportunity. Out of crushed revolutions grow meaningful evolutions.

JVP hardly talks of Wijeweera and his fighting forces except on the commemoration day. Few knew him in JVP to talk of him. Ask Wimal Weerawansa or Vijitha Herath-they merely have a picture image of the founder being schoolboys. Probably only Somawansa Amerasinghe speaks of him fondly. Still less would know Prabhakaran, living in splendid isolation, and few would care to talk of him endearingly. Like Wijeweera in the JVP, Prabhakaran will live more in the minds of the diaspora who are living overseas seeking attention for a moment when they come home on furlough to be recognised and willing to pay for it. Prabhakaran will be made the fall guy like Wijeweera and blamed for killing fields-a topic JVP assiduously avoids. Once the upper echelons of the JVP were eliminated the next generation was willing to walk the path of democracy.

It is the governments by procrastination and neglect that can make northern homes decorate with garlands the photographs of a murderer. If the legitimate grievances are attended to, in a reasonably satisfactory manner, Tamil will put his picture in the ustbin. The greatest setback for the launching of the Federal concept for the Federalists was the emergence of Prabhakaran; not the Sinhala nationalists who energized the federalists. Prabhakaran destroyed it for more than a generation He inherited the federal trappings and killed those propelling it and converted the weaklings to be his mouthpiece. He made an exhibition by deed and act, that federalism will lead to secession.

It is to the credit of Anandasangaree that he fearlessly stood alone on the deck when others deserted him. It is ironical that a Tamil fighting for a homeland pulled the curtain down on federalism eliminating it from the constitutional choreography. Now is the time to move the idol from iconology- by being genuine towards Tamil grievances.

The priority must be the Tamil people and not the Tamil politicians. The lesson to be learnt is from the CWC which has been warming cabinet seats uninterruptedly under every administration for 30 years, while the Indian Tamil community has hardly progressed; the beneficial flow has been to the party officials and the community still deems it to be neglected. Provincial Council is side stepping the issues affecting the Tamil people.

The 13th Amendment was never sought-it was imposed and accepted by a weak leader who was a thug only at home. It has stands flawed fractured flayed because the present constitution was plotted at a ‘mad hatters’ tea party- an Indian midsummer nights dream. It could be said a programmed coup is worthwhile merely to rewrite a constitution.

A sub committee headed by the distinguished jurist Nirmala Naganathan identified areas which can be treated as minority grievances -listed broadly under the headings (1) Language (2)Security (3) Land (4) Water (5) Employment (6) Development (7) Abductions and Kidnappings (8) High Security Zones (9) Multi Ethnic Security Forces (10) Child Recruitment.

The sub committee was an off shoot of the barren experts committee which the President with wisdom disbanded swiftly having appointed ill advisedly.

Though many of the problems of the aforesaid grievances touch the majority community, current country situation warrants solutions on a fast track to the grievances of the minorities, if found to be legitimate The nature of the grievances requires the intervention of the centre which must act with speed courage and determination.

A federal solution is most unhealthy as it will result in an inevitable clash between the existing centre and the emerging periphery. It will again aggravate and revivificate the existing grievances with interested parties waiting to exploit political advantages to lead to another explosion and revive secession. After the elimination of the prime LTTE military structure, there will surface again the federal school of thought engineered by INGOs, closeted government federal agents posing off as intellectuals, decrepit leftists, Tamil politicians now in hiding and foreign advisors. The inside story of the Burghof Foundations intrusions into the activities of a Ministry to propagate federalism as stated in the Parliamentary Select Committee Report on the INGOs has sufficient source material for a future researcher to write a paper.

Their combined threat could be as deadly as that of the LTTE, as it will lead to the revival of the LTTE under another name; the same voices that once convinced society that the security forces cannot defeat the terrorists, will raise the federal issue. If the war was fought at the costs of so many valuable lives at such great costs, to usher federalism, totally rejected by the people consistently at elections, it may have been more prudent to hand over the North and East to the LTTE without spilling blood. A clash between the centre and periphery would mean the legitimate grievances of the minorities will remain to fester while politicians posture to gain mileage- the prescription of the LTTE medicine man. Reaching the people and attending to their grievances is a fast forward approach to eliminate the problem without placing power in peripheral political units more enthusiastic in widening their political cult than solving problems. The lesson learnt in the East is an intensive course in adult education and a learning curve to handle a more complex North. The answers to the listed grievances can be assuaged without constitutional amendments by legislative and administrative measures by the central government through the existing peripheral units. The speed has to be accelerated by Presidential Directives.

All Party Representative Committee [ARPC] is poppycock. It cannot justify its existence or continuation. It has become a convenient façade to do nothing on the national problem. It neither receives nor delivers direction from or to its parent, the All Party Conference [APC]. Both deserve a public caning for allowing the national problem to rankle.

With the successful completion of the war, must emerge an immediate formula as a reasonably feasible solution to the problem. It will not be a perfect solution to satisfy all stakeholders but with time it can be perfected but yet it will never be and/or expect to be the flawless resolution to the issue-that is to live in cuckoo land. The resolution of the ARPC- of fulfilling the terms of the 13th Amendment- is not an answer to the question but a question to answer, as to whether the 13th amendment which has lasted as long as the war, has created rather than solved problems?. An instant IQ test- name one benefit conferred by the 13th Amendment to the people? So many for the politicians but is there just even one for the people or a semblance of a contribution to solve the national issue? We are stuck - marooned in an island with a constitution like an albatross around our necks and a judiciary attempting to break out from its moorings.

The Constitution cannot be amended to change its character due to its inbuilt locking system. The eerie spirit of J.R.Jayewardane, still hovers over it to exorcise any efforts to dismantle the structure he constructed to permanently disable any tinkering that will bring down the house that Dick built. The curse of Jayawardane has outlived his life and times. It is Sri Lanka’s twentieth century disaster stretching into the twenty first. It is worse than a tsunami-financial or tidal- since both are repairable or replaceable but the supreme document is a construction fabricated on alien soil that is hard to dislodge unless a pragmatic and innovative judicial process is operated.

If the grievances remain un attended it will be the Sinhalese who will be unwittingly restoring the image of Prabhakaran The streets of the peninsula will be decorated with graffiti in praise of the LTTE by their underground remnants, to be scored off by their competing rivals. The danger will be when photographs of Prabhakaran will be restored in the homes from where he ejected the occupants to build a safety net for himself.

The spectre of federalism may raise its head, unwittingly, through the forces which fought terrorism- the founding fathers of terrorism were those who originated federalism.

Defend media freedom, defend democracy

Statement by The Law & Society Trust (LST)

The Law & Society Trust (LST) shares the public outrage and revulsion over the assassination of Mr Lasantha Wickramatunga, Editor-in-Chief of the Sunday Leader newspaper, on Thursday 8 January 2009, only metres away from the security cordon surrounding the Ratmalana Air Force Base.

The Sunday Leader newspaper has been a vigorous critic of the present and previous governments and has exposed corruption and abuse of office at the highest levels of State.

This cowardly murder of a leading media commentator follows the destruction of the main control room of Sri Lanka ’s largest private television and radio organisation, Maharaja Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), on 6 January 2009, through armed assault and arson.

Law enforcement agencies must carry out their mandatory duty in identifying the perpetrators of this and similar crimes such as the torching of the Sunday Leader press in 2007, abduction and brutal assault of Keith Noyahr in 2008, and the murder and harassment of media workers.

We call upon our fellow citizens to rise to protect the lives of journalists, lawyers, politicians, and human rights defenders on whom the gun could next turn, and to resist through peaceful protest and public action, the dismantling of democracy in Sri Lanka .

Law & Society Trust (LST)
3, Kynsey Terrace
Colombo 08
Sri Lanka

Tel: +94 (11) 269 1228 / 268 4845
Fax: +94 (11) 268 6843
www.lawandsocietytrust.org

January 11, 2009

"Politicians are ganging up against the 17th amendment"- Rohan Edirisinghe

The 17th amendment to the constitution which was passed in October 2001, has come in for a great deal of criticism, with some raising questions about its practicability. The fear being that if this constitutional amendment is implemented, the country will be rendered ungovernable. In this interview, C.A.Chandraprema speaks to Rohan Edirisinghe of the Centre for Policy Alternatives about the practicability of the reforms envisaged in the 17th amendment.

Q. What is your overall assessment of the 17th amendment to the constitution?

A. Most of our constitutional amendments have been introduced for partisan political reasons and to strengthen those who wield political power. If you look at most of the amendments introduced by President Jayewardene, they were all basically designed to favour him and the ruling party. The 17th amendment goes against that trend as it seeks to depoliticize the appointment of important officials to key institutions and promote independent institutions. These were two issues identified by the commission on youth unrest appointed by President Premadasa as being among the main reasons for young people to be totally cynical about our political system. I think the rationale underlying the 17th amendment to the constitutions is something very positive.

Q. Well that’s the underlying rationale. But how practical do you think the goals are that the 17th amendment has set out to achieve? For example, this de-politicisation that you speak of is supposed to be brought about by removing the president from the process of appointing certain key state officers, and vesting that power in parliament, where the prime minister and the leader of the opposition have to agree on these appointments. The problem is this – it’s not a once and for all agreement. Once every three years, they will have to agree on new appointments to the constitutional council. So within the lifetime of one parliament, there may be two or even three occasions on which the leader of the opposition and the prime minister who are natural adversaries have to agree on the five members to the constitutional council. How practical do you think this is?

A. I think the 17th amendment has flaws and can be improved. But I am totally opposed to the argument that it should not be implemented until those flaws are rectified. This is an extremely dangerous argument put forward by this government and the JHU. My position has always been that the 17th amendment has to be obeyed, and as a parallel process you engage in review and reform. On your particular point however, I do not think that is a flaw or that it is impractical to expect the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to come together to identify a group of people who would form the constitutional council. I think its healthy to be reminded of the fact that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition both play important roles in a  democracy and on certain occasions they have to work together to identify five people. I do not agree with the view that this will have to happen three times within a parliamentary term. Once the constitutional council is in place and once the prime minister and the leader of the opposition have identified the five people, their role ends and the constitutional council will continue for four or five years. So I do not think it’s impractical, and the record speaks for itself. There has been absolutely no problem in the prime minister and the leader of the opposition agreeing on five people except that there was an unacceptable delay in the meeting taking place. But they have identified five people and they did so a long time ago. The problem is in the President refusing to activate the constitutional council because his power is reduced by the 17th amendment to the constitution.

Q. When it comes to reducing the powers of the president, isn’t it he who is ultimately responsible to the people for the promises given by his party to the people?

A. The President has to do so in terms of and subject to the Constitution. Furthermore, it is the role of the executive to design and implement policy. It does not necessarily include appointing people to key institutions. It’s important that these appointments be removed from partisan politics. The 17th amendment removes the president’s powers to appoint key people to some institutions which are considered to be so important that they have to above partisan politics.

Q. You seem to suggest that once the prime minister and the opposition leader agree there will be no problem. But they have to agree in this manner once every three years, because the constitutional council will hold office only for three years. If a government is voted out of office and the constitutional council has be reappointed one year later, in the fourth year of that parliament the CC will have to be appointed yet again.

A. So that strengthens my point. The constitutional council will continue even if governments come and go. That’s the whole rationale. We are not talking about the appointment of cabinet ministers or anything like that. We are talking about certain officers where there is the general expectation that these people have to be independent.

Q. Yes, but we have seen these same key officials continuing through many changes of government even without the 17th amendment. Officers like the attorney general, the elections commissioner, the  IGP, the chief justice and others have almost always stayed out their normal term despite changes of government.

A. Yes thank goodness. I hope you are not suggesting that when a new government comes to power, they should have the freedom to appoint their own elections commissioners, IGPs and so on.

Q. No, I’m not saying that. What I am saying is that this has in any case been the practice even without the 17th amendment and the CC. During the past five years we saw about four changes of government but key officials of the state remained the same, doing their usual terms in office. So this has been the usual pattern and the 17th amendment does not introduce anything new.

A. But the point is that there is the risk of removal and the uncertainty arising from that. In the 1950s and 60s there may have been conventions and officials may have been appointed according to certain unwritten rules. But ever since the early 1970s, with the 1972 constitution and the politicization of the key institutions, the rot set in and it was made worse under the 1978 constitution. So you had, for example, Justice Wanasundara being overlooked for chief justice because of his decision in the 13th amendment case, you had people penalized for acting independently. Remember that there was so much frustration about this and as a result many institutions did not command respect. I remember G.L. Peiris and Radhika Coomaraswamy telling me that the thing that struck them the most when they were on the presidential commission on youth unrest – was the total lack of confidence in key officers and key institutions. There is a need to entrench in the constitution, certain guidelines and norms, to restore public confidence in the main democratic institutions of the country.

Q. During this conversation, you mentioned that youth commission report twice. I have not read this report. But they appointed this commission to look into the causes of the JVP’s second insurrection. Whatever is said in the youth commission report has to be disregarded for this reason – the JVP is a Marxist organization and its very rationale was to seize power by force, and to come into power the same way that Lenin, Mao Tse Tung, Ho Chi Minh and others came into power. They don’t need reasons or grievances to launch a revolution. Their very existence as an organization is the reason for launching the revolution.

A. The youth commission did not talk just to JVPers only. They spoke to individuals and groups throughout the country while they made a special attempt to talk to young people about their concerns and complaints and the issue of  the lack of credibility of important institutions was one of the major points raised. This need for independent institutions has, therefore, been a recurring theme since the early 1990s.

Q. I am just raising a procedural question. Just supposing the prime minister and the leader of the opposition are unable to agree on appointments to the constitutional council, They may have done it once, but that does not mean that it is going to happen the next time. The whole country will be plunged into a situation of uncertainty because two people who are natural adversaries are expected to co-operate. Why would the leader of the opposition want to make things easy for the government?  If the country is rendered ungovernable, it is the government of the day that suffers, not the opposition. The opposition will in fact benefit from such a situation.

A. It is in the interest of the opposition to have independent institutions. If there is an impasse between the PM and the Leader of the Opposition, then the solution would be to have a clause in the 17th amendment setting out what happens if the PM and the Leader of the Opposition fail to agree. This was discussed in the parliamentary select committee on the 17th amendment, and the suggestion in the interim report, which was very positive was that until the new appointments are made, the earlier appointees continue in office.

Q. This is easier said than done, because there is no such escape clause in the 17th amendment at the moment. If you look at the stalemate that has occurred with regard to the electoral reforms that have been discussed for some time now, and we have a similar stalemate with regard to these amendments to the 17th amendment, then what happens?

A. If the existing constitutional council remains in office until the new appointments are made, there will be absolutely no problem. This was, as I said, agreed to in fact in the select committee on the 17th amendment. That was an agreement reached across party lines.

Q. But this is not in the law. So what happens if there is a stalemate?

A. One has to ensure that the letter and spirit of the 17th amendment which is part of the supreme law of the land is observed as far as possible. The judiciary may have to intervene. After all its fundamental duty is to ensure that the constitution is upheld. I’m quite willing to accept the point made in your Sunday column that Ranil Wickremesinghe is not interested in the 17th amendment. No politician would be interested in the 17th amendment. Look at what Vajira Abeywardene, the UNP MP has been saying in the Public Petitions Committee. He has proposed that the decisions of the public service commission should  be reviewed by a committee of politicians. To make matters worse, he seems to have convinced his colleagues from the  JVP and  PA as well. So the politicians don’t like the 17th amendment. The 17th amendment is meant to empower the people at the expense of the politicians. So we must mount pressure on the politicians to implement the law. That is why it is dangerous to say that we have to wait until the law is improved, because the politicians have no interest in improving a law that reduces their powers.

Q. I will now come to another point. People say that the attorney general should be non-partisan, the IGP should be non-partisan. That is accepted. Almost all holders of such positions are promoted from within those institutions, departments or professions as the case may be. Don’t you think that alone imposes certain restrictions on the executive? And if you look back, all heads of the executive arm up to now, even those whom we have identified as having been particularly autocratic, like President Premadasa, and Chandrika Kumaratunga, did not appoint Sotthi Upali or Beddagane Sanjeewa as the IGP. So there are certain limits that apply.  

A. Yes, but these checks and balances can be manipulated. And the message that goes to those in these departments is that you have to be in the good books of those in power to get ahead. You are right in that we must not over-romanticise the 17th amendment and say that it introduced concepts of independence that never existed before. But having the 17th amendment enhances the possibility of having independent people. I don’t think the checks and balances that you referred to are adequate to deal with the situation in Sri Lanka. Look for example at the manipulation that goes on in the police during election time.

Q. The point is that however much you manipulate the police during election time, if a particular government is on its way out, then its on its way out. In 2001, what didn’t the Chandrika Kumaratunga regime do to stay in power? But they were wiped out. That is the established pattern in this country and this is something that we can take for granted. If there is an unpleasant government in power, they can always be removed.

A. I don’t agree with that. If you have the kind of manipulation that took place at the referendum of 1982 or at the infamous Wayamba provincial election for example, its too much of a risk.

Q. The 17th amendment looks nice on paper, but what will it do to the day to day functioning of this country? We have reposed our trust in the supposed ability of two natural adversaries to cooperate….

A. The two people concerned have done their job. They have identified five people. The problem is with the president.  His philosophy is a kind of populist authoritarianism philosophy – "I was elected by the people, and I should be allowed to appoint anyone I want, to important institutions". This is very alarming and contrary to basic principles of Constitutionalism.

Q. I don’t see anything wrong in that because all heads of governments have been doing that from 1948 onwards. The 17th amendment is based on a certain mistrust in people wielding power. One of the main problems that I have with the 17th amendment is that in the case of these independent officials, they can’t be removed. We can remove politicians, but not officials from their position.

A. Constitutionalism is based on the premise that ANY PERSON who exercises power is prone to abuse it. This is why we have a Constitution- for the people to impose restraints on those who wield power. With regard to officials there are checks and balances too. There is the possibility of removal for incompetence and things like that and anyway, they are appointed only for a fixed term, so they are not going to remain in power indefinitely.

Q. When we go to a government department, getting your work done is an absolute nightmare. You have to have someone known in the department or you have to have some way of making approaches to people within. If you give them absolute unfettered power to do as they wish without the possibility of pressure being brought from outside to get them to do their work, then this country is finished.

A. That is perhaps one side of it. On the other hand, if you have a public service, where recognition and  promotions are decided on performance and merit, instead of having to ingratiate yourself with the minister and so on, isn’t it the case that the culture in the public service will improve?

Q. The poor man’s way of getting the government agencies to work is to go to a politician. Nothing gets done except at the whim and fancy of the public servant. This is so at every level.

A. I feel that the solution to this is not to have a system whereby nothing moves except at the whim and fancy of the politicians. The assumption at the time the 17th amendment was brought in was that the notion of an independent public service, free from political interference was a good one.

Q. If we are both agreed that there are flaws in the 17th amendment that have to be rectified, then it should be implemented only after those flaws are corrected.

 A. No, the Constitution must be obeyed. The delay in implementation based on the existence of flaws is utterly unacceptable. The next argument will be that since our electoral system is flawed we should postpone elections until the flaws are rectified. The argument is a recipe for authoritarianism. Furthermore, there has been absolutely no commitment or sense of urgency to improve the 17th amendment. The select committee on the 17th amendment couldn’t get a quorum for several of its meetings. The interim report, though basically positive in terms of its substance, was produced after a long delay.

Q. If they didn’t have a quorum, that means there was no interest on both sides.

A. Yes, but this is not surprising. My fundamental point is that this is a people versus politicians battle. The 17th amendment is one of those rare constitutional amendments that empower the people at the expense of the politicians. Now the politicians are ganging up to undermine this amendment that is in the interests of the people.

January 10, 2009

The Christmas season and Sinhala triumphalism

by Old Pachyderm

Being the season of goodwill and in an effort to display a tangible commitment to the spirit of that season, the writer’s partner organized, for the third year, a Christmas party for those who’d worked for us in the year past. As is traditional at that time of the year, the gathering was replete with soft drinks, cake, short eats, party favorites and all the other trappings one has come to expect at that time of year and at a gathering of this nature. As is typical of such events, the activities were directed primarily at the workers’ children, pretty well all of whom were present and seemed to really be enjoying themselves.

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Trincomalee District Development Association (TDDA) end of year get together-pic: Drs. Sarajevo

The adult generation was comprised largely of those who’d worked for the writer several decades before, prior to his departure for northern climes, as well as more recent additions to the workforce. The group was a mix of Sinhalese Buddhists and Hindu and Fundamentalist Christian Plantation Tamils, all of whom mingled comfortably, without any of the acrimony that many of the political leaders of the two communities seem to revel in. All of their children were growing up in a Sri Lanka to which I was, essentially, a stranger. A Sri Lanka in which these Tamil children, some in kindergarten, were walking five kilometers each way to a Muslim school in a Muslim village, so that they could be taught in Tamil and where they were compelled to observe Muslim religious holidays, including being off school during the fasting period. Of Tamil culture there appeared not to be a trace in the curriculum.

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Trincomalee District Development Association (TDDA) end of year get together-pic: Drs. Sarajevo

During the many years I spent among aboriginal people (First Nations/Indians) in Northern Canada, the need to preserve their languages in order to preserve the cultures of those who spoke them was brought home most forcefully to any observer with a modicum of cultural sensitivity. In addition, as one engaged in community development work in one of the larger northern Canadian Cities one could not but appreciate initiatives such as Heritage Languages programs developed to assist immigrants, ranging from those who crossed the Atlantic in the 19th Century to those who came from places such as Vietnam and the Sudan in the late 20th Century, preserve their mother tongues and the cultural pride that went with that knowledge. Here, what I was witnessing was a perversion of those principles that could not but provoke disgust.

Insult was added to injury when, during "performance time," one of the young Tamil children chose as his "item" a Sinhala song, taught him in school, extolling the virtues of Dutugemunu with particular reference to his defeat of the Tamils and Elara.

I could not but think of how an Irish Catholic would view the idea of a child of his being coached to proficiency in a song extolling the virtues of the Battle of the Boyne!

I have not ever encountered a piece of insensitive cultural imposition such as this at any time during the not inconsiderable time I have spent on mother earth. Is this what a nation once renowned for its kindness, hospitality and cultural sensitivity has descended to? This is crass brainwashing of the worst kind and it struck me as particularly harsh when I recalled what a Sinhala friend of mine who had spent most of his adult life in the study and practice of Buddhism once told me about Elara: that he was a humane and just ruler and that his choice of meeting Dutugemunu in single combat was solely to avoid the carnage that would have ensued had their two armies engaged in a huge battle. Another little piece of information my friend offered me was that, while Dutugemunu was in the prime of life, Elara was an old man approaching eighty years of age. Hardly a titanic battle of two physical equals!

The esteem in which the ultimate victor, Dutugemunu, held Elara was displayed by his order that all those passing Elara’s grave were to dismount, pass in silence, and show the utmost respect to a great and honourable man.

That we live in a land where educational policy dictates that the historical descendants of Elara are trained to sing songs of praise to the man who vanquished and killed him says more about the "victors" than the vanquished and gives this writer pause every time he thinks of where all of this is ultimately going to take all of us when the generation that is now in school does in fact become the movers and shakers in Sri Lanka.

Not only Tamils but Muslims and Christians also live in fear

by Dr. Vickramabahu Karunaratne

Full Text of speech by Dr. Vickramabahu at a joint meeting on 7 January Hyde Park:

We are forced to come together by the actions of Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Initially we were discussing the plunder made through petrol prices. Then came the cruel blow given to the Sirasa media. A crime that earth could not bear. It is an attack not only against the Sirasa establishment but also against people, a lost of precious wealth to the country.

It is an act to stop people listening to diverse opinions and news presentations. Sirasa has an ideology, so does Lake House. This choice marks the freedom of media. Clearly the government is responsible for this dastardly act. This government uses the slogan of war to carry out all kinds of heinous acts, abductions, disappearances, ransom taking, corruption, fraud and plunder. People are not aware how they plunder and rob them. Hence they were dancing in the streets celebrating government claimed conquest of Kilinochchi, forgetting huger and depravation. They are unaware why Tamils rebelled or the nature Tamil national problem. Poor were robed of every thing including their cloths. Still they were dancing holding lion flags, naked and in huger.

While the poor are fooled in this manner the rich had their parties in the five star hotels with roast beef and wine. While Tamils, citizens of this country, were living in fear and depravation, they were having bacchanals. In the past there were other repressions, especially against JVP insurgents. Sirimao killed JVP rebels and crushed the JVP rebellion. But she never asked people to dance in the streets or to have Heroic parties. Premadasa faced a rebellion in 88 and used armed violence to crush them. But he never asked people to dance in streets or to organize roast beef parties. But now this regime so callously has celebrations of repression and murder of Tamils. Can they ever solve this problem?

It is a barbaric society were not only Tamils but also Muslims and Christians live in fear. Muslim priests and Christian bishops are in street protesting. In the past there're instances where leaders were accused of communalism. Bandaranayke was accused of Sinhala chauvinism but he never personally made racist comments or encourage his cabinet ministers or high officials of the administration or the armed forces to come out with racist statements. Nor did JR or Premadasa behaved in this manner. But today it has degenerated into this uncivilized level. While poverty is spreading unabated barbaric racism is dominating the society. Time has come for us to get together and fight back.

January 09, 2009

The Assassination of a Leading Media Personality

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

The assassination of the Editor of the Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunga, in broad day light on a public road in Colombo last morning, sent mixed shock waves of anger, fear and desperation through the Country. This deliberate and senseless act must be condemned by all Sri Lankans who value life and media freedom. It is part of a wider and worsening strategy to suppress and silence the media.

I extend the condolences and assurance of the prayers of our Church to his wife Sonali, his children and the rest of his family; as well as the Staff at the Sunday Leader. May the God of truth and consolation sustain you through the difficult days ahead and guide you in the ways of courage and truth that Lasantha himself strived towards.

Mr Wickremetunga was a leading media personality, committed to investigative journalism. His assassination, in times like these when truth is deliberately distorted, is a severe blow to the responsible role the media is called upon to play in our journey towards a just democratic culture. It is also an indication of the worsening crisis in good governance and the fast deteriorating law and order situation.

In these circumstances it is only the collective response of a mature, courageous and sensible political, civil society and religious leadership that can prevent the Country from plunging into inevitable chaos.

With peace and blessings to all

The Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera
Bishop of Colombo

9th January 2009

South Asia Terrorism Portal & the Sri Lankan campaign of denigration against me

By B. Raman

"The LTTE is calculating that if it can keep fighting against the Sri Lankan Army for some more weeks, "Gen. Monsoon" and "Gen. Recession" could put an end to the pipedreams of the Sri Lankan Army of a definitive victory over the LTTE. Will its calculations prove right or will they be belied? Whatever happens, one thing seems likely---- there is going to be no definitive victory or no definitive defeat for either side in the on-going war."

From my article dated 21-10-08 titled "Kilinochchi---The Spectre of Stalingrad" at (http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers29/paper2886.html),

"In pursuance of my article titled "Kilinochchi: The Spectre of Stalingrad" (http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers29/paper2886.html), I have been in receipt of many messages---- some complimenting me for drawing attention to the Battle of Stalingrad and others pointing out previous references to it by some LTTE cadres. I do not claim any credit for originality. For some months now, there have been reports from West Europe claiming that pro-LTTE elements in the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora have been buying up all the books on the Battle of Stalingrad available in the local bookshops. This reminded one of a pre-1994 report from the British and others that pro-LTTE Tamils in their countries were spending a lot of money buying up books on flying and aircraft maintenance and that Flying Clubs in the UK and Switzerland had reported that some Sri Lankan Tamils were learning flying. In recent months,some persons, who have been following the fighting in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka closely, have been referring to Kilinochchi as a "Stalingrad in the Making". Rediff.com, the well-known Indian news web site, had also referred to the Stalingrad precedent in a report on the reactions in Tamil Nadu. The question is not whether Kilinochchi would turn out to be a Stalingrad-in-the-making. Most probably not. The question is how the LTTE's mind works and how it tries to draw lessons from history. It is surprising that the Sri Lankan authorities, despite their having an inflated Deputy High Commission in Chennai---- which one fears meets the intelligence requirements of Sri Lanka as well as Pakistan---were not aware of the perceptions in Tamil Nadu. "

--From my article dated 27-10-08 titled Kilinochchi: A Stalingrad in the Making? " at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers29/paper2896.html

"Will Kilinochchi prove a similar turning point in the battle being fought between the SL Army and the LTTE? If the LTTE loses the battle, it could mark the beginning of its end as an insurgent force, but not as a terrorist organisation. If the SL Army wins, it will be a Pyrrhic victory."

From my article of 19-12-08 titled "Kilinochchi---The Kiss of Death" at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers30/paper2986.html

"To mention all this is not to under-estimate the significance of the LTTE's loss of control over Kilinochchi after remaining in occupation of it for 12 years, but to stress the inadvisability of premature claims of victory in unconventional conflicts between a State actor and a non-State actor. The re-occupation of Kilinochchi by the Sri Lankan Army will naturally add to the pride, confidence and morale of the Sri Lankan Army. This does not mean that it will necessarily undermine the motivation and morale of the LTTE. Its motivation and morale would have been undermined if it was an unexpected rout for the LTTE. From all indications, it was not.".
---From my article of January 2,2009, titled "Mission Accomplished? "

During my career of 27 years in the intelligence profession, I had dealt with Sri Lanka on some occasions:

(a). Between 1967 and 1971, when I was in charge of Sri Lanka--Analysis in the Intelligence Bureau and subsequently in the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) after it was formed in 1968.

(b). Between 1988 and 1991, when I held additional charge of the portfolio of VIP security. In that capacity, I used to supervise the work of the division which was responsible, inter alia, for monitoring likely threats to VIP security from Tamil elements in Sri Lanka, including the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

(c). In June 1991, when I was sent on a brief visit tro Colombo to meet Sri Lankan Police officers and the then Defence Secretary to seek their co-operation in the investigation of the assasasination of Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE by a special task force of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

2. Since my retirement in 1994, I have been writing off and on Sri Lanka and the LTTE. All my articles are available in WWW and can be accessed through a Google search. I have been fairly consistent on the following points:

(a).India cannot do business with Prabhakaran and other charged assassins of Rajiv Gandhi. It would find it difficult to accept any political solution, which could bring the charged assassins to power.

(b).For over 20 years, the LTTE is the only Tamil organisation, which had effectively articulated the concerns and grievances of the Tamils. The objective of the Sri Lankan Government is not only to destroy the capabilities of the LTTE as an insurgent and terrorist organisation, but also to destroy it as a political organisation. If this happens, Sri Lanka will be back to the pre-1983 period when the Sinhalese were accused of brutally suppressing the human rights of the Tamils.

(c). The US and Israel had followed a policy of destroying the capabilities of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) for terrorism without seeking to destroy it as a political organisation.The US had publicly announced that it would be prepared to deal with a PLO minus Yasser Arafat. That is what they are doing after the death of Arafat. We should similarly announce our readiness to deal with the LTTE as a political organisation if it gets rid of Prabakaran and others associated with the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.

(d).While India, which is itself a victim of terrorism of various hues, cannot oppose the counter-terrorism operations of the Sri Lankan Government, it should strongly oppose the ruthless use of the Sri Lankan Air Force in the Tamil areas. India's counter-terrorism assistance to Sri Lanka should be confined to land-based operations and to protecting Sri Lankan civilians from air strikes by the so-called LTTE Air Force.

(e). It is not in India's interest for the LTTE to have a sea capability and an air capability.

3. Ever since I started writing against the use of the SLAF against the Sri Lankan Tamils, the Sri Lankan Army, intelligence and Foreign Office have initiated a campaign of denigration against me questioning my credentials as an analyst and making very serious allegations about my character. This campain of denigration has been stepped up after I wrote two articles on Kilinochchi in October,2008, and after I wrote an article on the fall of Kilinochchi on January 2,2009. They have inter alia alleged as follows:

(a).I had trained the LTTE during my posting in the R&AW and hence do not want it to be defeated.

(b). I was sacked from the R&AW because of my suspected involvement in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, though the suspicion could not be proved.

(c). I do not know anything about terrorism and hence my credentials are bogus.

4.Some weeks ago a couple of Sri Lankan media sources had referred to me for comments articles received by them against me purporting to give details of my alleged role in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. I told them it was rubbish.They asked me whether I would have any objection to their publishing the articles. I told them it was up to them to decide and that I would not give any advice. They subsequently informed me that they decided not to publish them because they suspected that the articles had originated from the Sri Lankan military intelligence.

5. I was not bothered about this campaign of denigration against me by the Sri Lankan Army and military intelligence. I ignored it with the contempt it deserved, but I was surprised to note a similar attempt to denigrate me in an article disseminated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal without the allegations about my character. This is the second time the portal had done it. Some months ago it carried an article , which tried to project me negatively. I ignored it with contempt. I thought I should not ignore this second attempt by the portal.

6.Normally, if this had been done by a private think-tank, I would have ignored it just as I have ignored till now the campaign of denigration against me by the Sri Lankan Army and intelligence. But, the South Asia Terrorism Portal is not a private think tank. I understand it is funded by the Government from the discretionary funds of the Government of India. Its budget, therefore, comes from the tax payers of the country. I have, therefore, a right to protest and do so through this article.(9-1-09)

January 08, 2009

Without reconciliation, Sri Lanka will never recover from war

In Victory, Disgrace

The Sri Lankan Army appears to be on the brink of a military victory that would bring to an end one of Asia's longest and bloodiest civil wars. Yesterday government troops were advancing on Elephant Pass, the strategic former army base at the entry to Jaffna. Last week they captured Kilinochchi, the town in the far north of the island declared by Tamil Tigers rebels as their separatist capital. With the troops poised to capture the remaining rebel territory, President Rajapaksa's hawkish Government is already trumpeting its success in ending a rebellion that years of negotiations by Norwegian intermediaries failed to accommodate.

The triumphalist note, however, is as ominous as the accompanying brutality. Yesterday the editor of a newspaper strongly critical of the Government's war on the Tigers was shot dead by motorcycle gunmen. The shooting came just two days after unidentified attackers set fire to a private television station denounced by state media as “unpatriotic” for its coverage of the ethnic conflict. There are widespread fears that the Government, which won power by appealing to Sinhalese nationalists, will follow any victory with a crackdown on civil liberties, an uncompromising attempt to crush Tamil sentiment and a refusal of any cultural or political autonomy.

Such a move would spell further disaster for Sri Lanka. Churchill's axiom of magnanimity in victory was never more needed. Over the past 25 years, at least 70,000 people have been killed in a war marked by appalling terrorist brutality, especially the widespread use of child fighters and the forced recruitment of suicide bombers. Directed by the reclusive and uncompromising Velupillai Prabhakaran, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have deliberately worsened conditions for civilians under their control, killed moderates and rival Tamil politicians and done their best to sabotage Oslo's patient efforts to negotiate a political settlement.

In this, they have been helped by hardliners among the Sinhalese majority, long suspicious of peace efforts made especially eight years ago by Ranil Wickremasinghe. Then the Prime Minister, he signed a ceasefire with the Tigers in 2001 and began peace talks. During the lull, the battered economy revived and Sri Lanka underwent huge social changes. But the Tigers, fearing a loss of political control, abruptly withdrew from the peace process in 2003, and the Sinhalese majority turned against reconciliation. With calculated cycnicism, the Tigers then enforced a boycott among Tamils during the last general election, knowing that this would help the return of hardliners to power in Colombo - as it did.

Without reconciliation, however, Sri Lanka will find it hard to overcome more than a generation of civil war. The Tigers, and especially their intransigent leader, have no interest in accommodation. But the government decision on Wednesday to proscribe the LTTE again will drive them farther underground and reinforce the zealotry of a dictatorial leadership. The Tigers, already outlawed in America and the European Union, will step up urban terrorism across the island and their financial blackmail of Tamils overseas.

An end to a war that has blighted a country's once prosperous future cannot come too soon. But that end must herald peace, not vengeance, triumphalism and an assault on civil liberties.

[An Editorial page comment appeared on Jan 9, 2009 in http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/leading_article/article5477827.ece]

Statement from U.S. State Department - Assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge and Attack on Sirasa TV

Statement by Robert A. Wood, Deputy Spokesman

Assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge and Attack on Sirasa TV:

The United States strongly condemns the murder today of the Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge and the January 5th attack on Sirasa TV. These deplorable acts mark the latest in a series of attempts to quell independent voices in Sri Lanka.

USSD0109.jpg The murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge is a shocking blow to independent media in Sri Lanka. This is the second attack in 48 hours against individuals or media outlets and just the latest in a string of incidents against journalists. The United States is deeply concerned that such attacks undermine efforts to build a united and democratic Sri Lanka where the rights of all people are protected. We call on the Government of Sri Lanka to investigate these attacks expeditiously, bring the perpetrators to justice, and take all possible measures to protect freedom of expression for members of the press.

HRW: Attacks Highlight Threat to Media

Investigate Killing of Prominent Journalist

(New York, January 8, 2009) – The killing of a prominent newspaper editor today and the bombing of a private television station on January 6, 2009, highlight the Sri Lankan government’s failure to stop violence against the media, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said. The groups said that past investigations into attacks on journalists have led nowhere, and that the government should act quickly to bring the perpetrators of the attacks to justice.

Unidentified armed men in close proximity to a security forces checkpoint shot Sunday Leader newspaper editor Lasantha Wickremetunga, a senior journalist acclaimed for his investigative reporting, during his morning drive to work in Colombo today. He died shortly after. On January 6, a dozen heavily armed men badly damaged the studios of the private Maharaja Television station on the outskirts of Colombo by detonating Claymore landmines and grenades.

“The fact that these attacks were carried out in broad daylight against vocal critics of the government without any arrests or law enforcement action adds to the climate of impunity in Sri Lanka,” said Roger Normand, Asia-Pacific Director at the ICJ. “The government must not only condemn these heinous acts, but take effective measures to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Wickremetunga’s in-depth investigations into corruption and nepotism in the Sri Lankan government frequently made him the target of intimidation attempts and lawsuits. Maharaja Television came under attack after state media labeled it “unpatriotic” for its coverage of the government’s recent military campaigns in the war with the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). On January 2, 2009, government forces captured the LTTE administrative center in the northern Vanni area.

“Sri Lanka prides itself as a functioning democracy. Yet media freedom, a vital pillar of democracy, has increasingly come under attack,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should not take its recent military victories as a signal that it can stifle dissent.”

The freedom to express views opposing those held by the government has come under severe threat in Sri Lanka. A prominent ethnic Tamil journalist, J.S. Tissainayagam, a Tamil publisher, N. Jasiharan, and his wife, V. Valamathy, were arbitrarily arrested in March 2008 and six months later charged under the state terrorism laws. These cases have raised serious due process concerns.

On September 27, 2008, unknown assailants flung a grenade into the home of J. C. Weliamuna, a lawyer who is executive director of Transparency International Sri Lanka, an anticorruption group. Weliamuna is counsel in several fundamental rights cases involving torture, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances. So far, no one has been arrested for this attack.

Impunity for human rights violations remains a disturbing norm in Sri Lanka. The government’s unwillingness to hold accountable those responsible for serious violations has fostered an environment in which journalists have come under increased attack. In its 2008 press freedom index, the media group Reporters Sans Frontiers (Reports without borders) ranked Sri Lanka 165 out of 173 countries.

Article 14 of the Sri Lankan constitution provides for freedom of speech. The rights to freedom of opinion and expression are protected under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sri Lanka is a party.

However, since 2006 the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse has increasingly intimidated and tried to silence the media, nongovernmental organizations, and others with independent or dissenting views with regard to the government’s military policies and human rights practices. Senior government officials have attacked such critics, calling them supporters of the separatists and traitors.

“The Sri Lankan government should ensure that perpetrators of rights abuses are brought to justice,” said Adams. “For too many years and in too many cases, those who commit violence have gone unpunished while those who dared to speak have paid with their lives. This culture of impunity has to end now.”

For more of Human Rights Watch’s work on Sri Lanka, please visit:

http://www.hrw.org/asia/sri-lanka

To read the December 2008 Human Rights Watch news release, “Sri Lanka: Free Journalists Unfairly Held,” please visit:

http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2008/12/02/sri-lanka-free-journalists-unfairly-held

For more information, please contact:

In London, for Human Rights Watch, Charu Hogg (English, Hindi): +44-790-626-1291 (mobile)
In Bangkok, for the International Commission of Jurists, Roger Normand (English): +66-22-46180
In New York, for Human Rights Watch, Elaine Pearson (English): +1-212-216-1213; or +1-646-291-7169 (mobile)
In Washington, DC, for Human Rights Watch, Sophie Richardson (English): +1-202-612-4341; or +1-917-721-7473 (mobile)

Prayathna People's movement condemns the brutal assassination of Lasantha Wickramatunga

Prayathna People’s Movement vehemently condemns the brutal assassination of the Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickramatunga. This is the second cruel attack on media within 72 hours. The entire civil society is shocked with this sad news while the memory of Sirisa attack still looming in the country.

This is not the first time the Sunday Leader being attacked. Earlier, Mr. Wickrmatunga was threatened and the printing press of the paper was burnt. Two days ago we have pointed out that a fascist shadow is being spread all over the country. With this attack, this has been well proved. It is now clear that a powerful group which does not tolerate any dissenting views operating in the country.

Mr. Wickaramatunga is one of the few journalists who revealed large number of corruption and malpractices in the country. He always stood for the media freedom.

Media freedom is fundamental in any democracy. Under democracy, it is necessary to allow various opinion including dissenting ideas. But, this fascist group is not prepared to accept and tolerate these democratic principles.

The attack on Wickramatunga clearly demonstrates that there is a threat to journalists. If we allow to continue this situation not only journalists but also the right-thinking cannot survive in this country.

Therefore, we call upon all the democratic forces, civil society and religious organizations to rise up against this tendency and unite to defeat this fascist shadow that engulfed through the country.

Kelly Senannayake
General Secretary
prayathna people’s movement

RSF: Outrage at fatal shooting of newspaper editor in Colombo

Expressing outrage over the murder of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, Reporters sans frontières (RSF), a Paris-based media watchdog, in a press release issued today, said: "President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his associates and the government media are directly to blame because they incited hatred against him and allowed an outrageous level of impunity to develop as regards violence against the press. Sri Lanka's image is badly sullied by this murder, which is an absolute scandal and must not go unpunished."

Full text of RSF's press release follows:

Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the murder of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunga, who was shot dead by two men on a motorcycle as he drove to work this morning in Colombo.

"Sri Lanka has lost one of its more talented, courageous and iconoclastic journalists," Reporters Without Borders said. "President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his associates and the government media are directly to blame because they incited hatred against him and allowed an outrageous level of impunity to develop as regards violence against the press. Sri Lanka's image is badly sullied by this murder, which is an absolute scandal and must not go unpunished."

The press freedom organisation added: "The military victories in the north against the Tamil Tigers rebels must not be seen as a green light for death squads to sow terror among government critics, including outspoken journalists. The international community must do everything possible to halt such a political vendetta."

President Rajapaksa called Wickrematunga a "terrorist journalist" during an interview with a Reporters Without Borders representative in Colombo, last October.

This morning's attack on Wickrematunga occurred in rush-hour traffic about 100 metres from an air force checkpoint near one of the capital's airports. The two assailants smashed the window of his car with a steel bar before shooting him at close range in the head, chest and stomach. He was rushed to a Colombo hospital where he died a few hours later.

The Sunday Leader's outspoken style and coverage of shady business deals meant that Wickrematunga was often the target of intimidation attempts and libel suits. The most recent lawsuit was brought by the president's brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who got a court to ban the newspaper from mentioning him for several weeks.

Lasantha Wickrematunga, who was also a lawyer, told Reporters Without Borders in an interview that his aim as a journalist was to "denounce the greed and lies of the powerful." His newspaper specialised in sensational investigative reporting of corruption and abuse of authority in Sri Lanka.

The printing press of the Sunday Leader media group (Leader Publications), which is located in a high security area near Colombo, was destroyed in an arson attack by a group of gunmen in November 2007. Wickrematunga told Reporters Without Borders at the time the attack was "a commando operation supported by the government." The police did not carry out a proper investigation.

Sri Lanka was ranked 165th out of 173 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2008 press freedom index. This was the lowest ranking of any democratic country. Two journalists were killed in Sri Lanka in 2008 and two others, J. S. Tissanayagam and Vettivel Jasikaran, are currently in prison.

January 07, 2009

US Ambassador Robert Blake on the key role of media in society

"Media plays an important role in ensuring good governance. Media and reporting by journalists can ensure that public money is well spent by exposing corruption or mismanagement by public officials at all levels. And, we should not forget the valuable role media can play in building civil societies, where all citizens can get the information they need to participate fully in their communities", said US Ambassador Robert Blake at the USAID's Journalism Scholarship Award Ceremony in Colombo.

Full Text of Remarks by US Ambassador Robert Blake:

Honored guests, students, faculty, members of the media, and others here today who believe strongly in the value of a free and professional press, thank you for inviting me to speak on such a happy occasion.

Today we are here to congratulate all of the students starting the one-year Journalism Diploma Program through the Sri Lanka College of Journalism. To the students, I would like to congratulate you on this important occasion which marks the beginning of your professional careers, as you prepare to become journalists. No doubt the next year will be challenging and exciting for each of you as you pursue your training.

I also want to commend the 18 young men and women from the Eastern Province and Uva Province who have received scholarships from the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID. These one-year scholarships will make it possible for them to receive professional training and then return to their home districts to work as members of the press.

The U.S. Government has a strong interest in helping to stabilize and develop the East so that livelihoods and good governance can be established and terrorism is never again allowed to take root. Development that preserves the existing ethnic balance in the East and develops new linkages between the diverse communities of the East and the more prosperous provinces in the central and western parts of Sri Lanka will help the entire nation, and could serve as a powerful example for how the north might be managed once fighting can be concluded.

Though the military campaign has long been over in the Eastern Province, there is still much work to be done to improve the daily lives of average people. There is a need to create jobs and encourage economic activity; to open schools and expand health clinics; to make the streets safe; to build confidence in local governments and local police forces: to help all three communities find ways to live and work together that bring about increased stability and prosperity.

The U.S. Government is committed to helping these efforts. Through the United States Agency for International Development, we are funding a number of programs that target these issues to help bring about stability and prosperity in the East.

One program is the Supporting Regional Governance Program or SURG. SURG is a three-year program that will expand and improve social equity or the ability of all members of society to participate; improve local governance; increase community empowerment; and enhance open dialogue.

These journalist scholarships supported by SURG are key parts of our goal to increase open dialogue between government and civil society in the East to help ensure that elected local government officials are responsive and accountable to the people they represent. Indeed, the media serves as an important mechanism for local and national leaders to get feedback on their programs and policies. And media provides an effective way for leaders to take their message to the public, the voters.

Media also plays an important role in ensuring good governance. Media and reporting by journalists can ensure that public money is well spent by exposing corruption or mismanagement by public officials at all levels. And, we should not forget the valuable role media can play in building civil societies, where all citizens can get the information they need to participate fully in their communities.

SURG will also strengthen regional journalist associations in the East, and improve the professional skills of journalists. There is a strong need for more reporting from the provinces, especially from the East. People living outside Colombo often complain that newspaper, radio, and television news do not cover the stories that are most important to their lives. And, people living in Colombo don’t have all the information they need to be well informed about the situation outside Colombo.

The SURG scholarship program is one way we can begin to address this gap. A new generation of well-trained journalists working in the provinces will improve the quality and the quantity of regional reporting. After all, our scholarship awardees represent the Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese communities in the East, and the districts of Ampara, Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Moneragala. That diversity will create reporting that is more representative of a broader range of viewpoints. We are especially pleased that they are committed to helping build their home districts during this time of transition.

Let me conclude with final words to all the students with us today, not just the USAID scholars. You are preparing to start a new career in professional media. And, as Tuesday’s attack on the MTV facility showed, journalism in Sri Lanka has become a dangerous profession. This is not good for the public because it restricts the information that journalists can report on. And, it is not good for a democracy, because a media that is under threat cannot promote debate and discussion on important issues. We recognize the risk that comes with the profession but we also share the excitement you must feel for the important role you will play in building civil society and a better tomorrow for all the people of the East.

Finally, I want to thank the Sri Lankan Press Institute and the Sri Lanka College of Journalism for your efforts to build the next generation of Sri Lankan journalists. On behalf of the U.S. Government and my colleagues at USAID, we are proud to be a part of this program. Thank you.

The arson attack on the MTV Complex

A statement by Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo

The arson attack on the MTV Complex very early last morning must be condemned forthright. The method and manner in which this terrible act of violence was carried out is an indication of the impunity that prevails. Given the security alert that exists in the City and suburbs in particular, a gang of armed men could not have travelled on our streets in a numberless van to commit this crime, unnoticed.

This attack is not an isolated incident. It must be seen as part of an alarming trend that has intimidated and harmed Media personnel and resists the expression of democratic dissent and diverse opinions. It is a trend that must therefore be of concern not only to the Media but to all Sri Lankans who have a right to information and the political analyses of happenings in the Country.

The call for probes and inquiries are always welcome; but the people are now wary and even cynical about such responses. Consequently, the Government must either name the perpetrators and prosecute them according to the law, or acknowledge a dangerous flaw in the prevailing security arrangements, especially when the city is asleep. In either case this incident points to a serious breach of public trust and law and order.

With peace and Blessings.
The Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera
Bishop of Colombo
7th January 2009

Country heading in dangerous direction

Full Text of Media Release by National Peace Council of Sri Lanka

The government's announcement of its military victory at Kilinochchi has been accompanied by two acts of targeted violence in Colombo. The first was an LTTE suicide bomb attack that killed 8 and injured over 20 persons. The second was the attack and fire bombing of a popular independent TV station, MTV by a heavily armed group with automatic weapons and grenades. The National Peace Council condemns both these acts of terror. It is perhaps of significance that the attack on the broadcasting station followed government and nationalist criticism of MTV for allegedly emphasing the costs of the suicide bomb attack, instead of highlighting the government's victory at Kilinochchi.

The National Peace Council is concerned that the government's emphasis on its military success will lead to a de-emphasis on the political reforms necessary to establish lasting peace in the country and end the lawlessness that terrorism and militarization of society breeds. We are concerned by calls being made by government allies to even do away with the All Parties Representatives Committee which has been mandate by the President to work out a political solution to the ethnic conflict that is acceptable to all communities. The ethnic conflict predates the LTTE, which is a symptom and not the cause of the conflict. NPC urges the government to reaffirm its commitment to a political solution and give hope to the people that lasting peace and the rule of law will be the outcome of the government's endeavours.

NPC is appalled by the attack on MTV which is a media organisation that has consistently been supportive of political efforts to resolve the ethnic conflict and to show the costs of the war. MTV has also been giving equal importance to Sinhala, Tamil and English language programmes unlike other media channels, which helped uniting the three ethnic communities along cultural lines. We are dismayed by the lackadaisical attitude of the law enforcement authorities who failed to give adequate protection to MTV even after it was attacked a few days ago when petrol bombs were flung from a vehicle. NPC calls on the government to take meaningful and genuine and immediate action beyond rhetoric to apprehend the culprits without considering their status or position and restore confidence about the direction in which the country is heading.

Governing Council

The National Peace Council is an independent and non partisan organisation that works towards a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It has a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka in which the freedom, human rights and democratic rights of all the communities are respected. The policy of the National Peace Council is determined by its Governing Council of 20 members who are drawn from diverse walks of life and belong to all the main ethnic and religious communities in the country.

January 06, 2009

Governor is obstructing devolution of power to Eastern Provincial Council

by M.M. Abul Kalam

The maiden statute of the Eastern Provincial Council (EPC) enacted early November is yet to get the assent of the EPC Governor. As a result the EPC is unable to implement the statute as scheduled with effect from 1/1/9. But the Governor instead of giving the assent has referred this to Attorney General. He has not referred it direct to the AG but through the President.

The governor seems to believe that the statute is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution. But the EP Councilors say that the statute is enacted purely on the subjects devolved to the provincial council in the schedule under the 13th amendment to the constitution.

According to article 154H (1) of the constitution, any statute made by a council shall come into force upon such statute receiving assent as provided in sub articles 154H (2), (3) and (4). The four sub articles of article 154H does not speak referring any statute to the President or the Attorney General.

The governor has three options under these articles. He may either give assent or refer back to the PC with his amendments. The PC with without the governor’s amendment may refer it back to the governor for his assent.

When the PC passes the statute for the second time probably without the amendment of the governor he is given the option to refer NOT to the Executive President or to the AG but he may refer it to the President of the Supreme Court that should mean and include the Chief Justice in my view. Article 154H (4).

He has to refer it to the SC within one month of passing the statute for the second time for a determination whether it is consistent or inconsistent with the constitution. If the SC determines that it is consistent, the governor SHALL give the assent. If it is inconsistent, the he SHALL withhold the assent.

What the governor has done to the maiden statute of the EPC is obviously inconsistent with the constitution in terms of the above articles of the 13th amendment. The governor’s delay in giving the assent has derailed the journey that the EPC was planning make with a kick start in the New Year.

The EPC has reached an important milestone in its journey towards acquiring maximum powers under the Constitution within a short period of its formation by passing this statute. The Council has taken all necessary steps to implement the provisions of this statute and to levy stamp duties and other allied revenues that could be levied by the Council with effect from 01/01/2009.

By the passage of this financial enactment the EPC has asserted its devolved power under the 13th Amendment of the Constitution for the first time. Exactly after 20 years of the establishment of the Provincial Council. The formerly merged Northern and Eastern Provincial Council could not even enact single provincial statute within its short life span of two years.

Already the EPC is granted a budgetary allocation of Rupees 1.4 billion. Comparatively this allocation is less than the budgetary allocation granted to other provincial councils. Hence the EPC is compelled to evolve a mechanism to increase its revenues on the devolved subjects under the 13th Amendment.

The EPC from assuming its duties after the provincial council election held in April this year has been agitating for the exercise of devolved powers by the Council under the Constitution.

Only two months ago a Senior DIG of Police in charge of the whole province was designated in terms of the 13th Amendment. This Senior DIG will be in charge of law and order in the province and will function under the Chief Minister of the Eastern Province.

Whilst the EPC Chief Minister S. Chandrakanthan from TMVP and Board of Ministers from UPFA are demanding its due powers to the EPC under the Constitution, another senior TMVP MP V. Muralitharan seems to be lobbying against it, according to media reports. The EPC should not suffer without its legitimate powers devolved under the Constitution merely on account of personal power politics between two aspiring individuals.

The financial statute enacted by the EPC recently is a right step in stabilizing the powers and functions of the EPC under the 13th amendment at a crucial time. There are several other statutes that this Council could enact and generate its own revenues on the devolved subjects. Registration of Motor vehicles under the eastern province has commenced even prior to the election of provincial political authority.

It is important to note that this enactment was passed at the EPC without any objection by the Opposition parties. The Opposition led by SLMC Chairman Mr. Basheer Segu Dawood has abstained from voting. The stand taken by the Opposition for the first statute of the EPC is encouraging. The Opposition of the EPC constituting of mainly the UNP and SLMC are pro-devolution parties. In fact these two parties always demand devolution of more powers than provided under the 13th Amendment. These parties upheld the same position when the provincial budget for 2009 was also passed.

16 members of the ruling UPFA voted in favor of the budget 2009 and the same numbers voted in favor of the first financial statute also. The single member of the EPRLF also abstained along with the UNP and SLMC members. The only member who voted against the budget and against the financial statute is the lone JVP provincial councilor from the Trincomalee district.

JVP is a party that went against the Indo-Lankan Accord and the 13th Amendment that established the provincial council, so the stand of the JVP is obvious. The EPRLF was the first party that reined the first Northern and Eastern Provincial Council in 1987. So the abstinence of the EPRLF is understandable.

Accordingly, the budget and the first financial statute were passed by a majority of 15 votes. The EPC has to enact more statutes on other powers devolved under the 13th Amendment as soon as possible.

When the Chief Ministers of 8 provinces met at the Chief Ministers’ Forum held in the middle of this year they unanimously decided to demand maximum powers devolved under the 13th Amendment from the Central Government.

The other 7 provinces in the country have enacted their provincial financial statutes nearly 15 years ago. Accordingly, they collect stamp duties and other revenues to the Council and have stabilized the financial status of those councils. There have better working relationship between the PCs and the Governors of the respective provinces.

The people of the Eastern province, the whole country and the international community eagerly wait for the successful functioning of the EPC without any bureaucratic or any other hindrance. The powers devolved to the EPC will be better tested only in the EPC.

This could be quoted as model to the Northern Provincial Council when the North is liberated and the provincial election is held next year as per the govt.’s plan. Therefore, it is high time the looming cold war is brought to an end an the EPC and the governor work hand in hand in the interest of the people of the East.

The EPC should not suffer on account of undue delay any more and must be allowed to enact the other important statutes that it plans to enact and make it operative from the beginning of the New Year. What should prevail in the EPC is the will of the people who have elected a council not the will of the Governor

January 05, 2009

Can India emulate Israel's action in Gaza?

by B. Raman

Ever since Israel started its military strikes in Gaza a week ago to put down the acts of terrorism of the Hamas, there have been demands from sections of analysts and the general public in our country that India should emulate Israel and retaliate in a similar manner against Pakistan for its complicity in the terrorist attack by the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Pakistani terrorist organisation, in Mumbai from November 26 to 29,2008.

2. Nobody can question Israel's exercise of its right of self-defence to protect the lives and property of its citizens from rocket attacks from Gaza by the Hamas for weeks and months now. As the Deputy Permanent Representative of the US to the United Nations said in a press interview after the US had refused to join in the condemnation of Israel's action by the UN Security Council: " Israel, like all other members of the UN, has the right of self-defence. This right is not negotiable."

3. Like Israel and other members of the UN, India too has the right of self-defence against acts of terrorism emanating from Pakistani territory and sponsored by the State of Pakistan and has the right to retaliate against Pakistan and the duty to do so to protect the lives and property of its citizens.

4. The question is not whether we should retaliate. We should if we want Pakistan and the horde of terrorists nursed by it to take us seriously. The question is whether a direct military strike will be the wise and appropriate way of retaliating against Pakistan or should we do it through political and diplomatic measures, followed by deniable covert actions if those measures do not make Pakistan change its ways.

5. For many years, Israel has been the victim of acts of terrorism by organisations such as the Hamas and the Hizbollah sponsored mainly by Syria and Iran. Its retaliation has been directed against these terrorist organisations and not against their State-sponsors. After the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 and the Yom Kippur war of 1973 Israel has indulged in military strikes in the territory of a sovereign state and a member of the UN only on two occasions---- against the Osirak nuclear reactor under construction in Iraq in the early 1980s and against the Hizbollah's infrastructure in the Lebanese territory in 2006. In the past,Israeli armed forces had operated in Lebanese territory on other occasions too.

6. Its action against Osirak in Iraq was a success, but its action in the Lebanon in 2006 against the Hizbollah was not. Despite its concerns over the nuclear sites in Iran for the production of enriched uranium, Israel has till now avoided any military strikes on these sites despite public pressure from sections of the Israeli people to do so. It did launch an attack on a suspected nuclear site in Syria last year, but as a deniable covert action and not as an admitted military strike.It has also indulged in covert actions against suspected Hamas operatives based in Syria.

7. It is able to indulge in openly admitted military strikes against the Hamas in Gaza because Gaza is not part of any sovereign State. In the past, Israel's retaliatory military strikes have been against terrorist organisations posing a threat to Israeli citizens and property and not against the States sponsoring them. Its actions against States sponsoring terrorism have been in the form of covert actions and not direct military strikes.

8. Practically all States facing the problem of terrorism have a covert action capability because it gives you a third option if political and diplomatic measures fail. If you don't have this capability, the only option you have if political and diplomatic actions fail is a military retaliation, which could be messy when used against a next door neighbour. If you don't use military strikes and if you don't have a covert action capability, the state-sponsor and the terrorists sponsored by it develop a contempt for you.

9. The US has bombed Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan in retaliation for their perceived anti-US acts, but it never does it against Cuba, its next door neighbour. It has declared Cuba a state-sponsor of terrorism and constantly keeps trying to undermine Cuba's political stability and economy, but avoids direct military action against it despite its being a super power because it knows it could be messy.

10. It is hoped the Government draws the right lessons from its dilemma after Mumbai and tries to revive quikly our covert action capability, which was discarded more than a decade ago as an ill-conceived unilateral gesture to Pakistan.

(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 ) Reply Reply to all Forward

Why does war against Tigers prevent a political package being offered to Tamils and Muslims?

by Shanie

The headline in a website this week read "Sri Lanka defeat spirited Tigers". The reference was of course to the victory that the Sri Lanka cricket team secured over Bangladesh in the First Test concluded on Wednesday.

Bangladesh is the minnow among the test-playing nations and Sri Lanka were expected to have an easy win. Early on the fourth day, it appeared so when Bangladesh, chasing 521 to win in the fourth innings, were reduced to 180 for 5. But the Bangladeshi skipper Mahamed Ashraful and his tail-enders had other ideas. Two century partnerships for the sixth and seventh wickets took them to 403 for 6. The minnows had not only taken the match well into the final day but were in a position to pull off a sensational and record-breaking win. In the end, the Bangla (Bengal) ‘Tigers’, despite a spirited performance, succumbed to a better-equipped opposition,

We do not know if the web editor coined the headline with tongue in cheek but it is possible that the headline could apply at some future date to the ongoing conflict in the Vanni. The predicted easy victory for the security forces is not happening so easily and the war, like the test match, is dragging on and being pushed to the wire. In the cricket match, it was one tragic mistake by a tail-ender, who dragged a ball well outside his off stump to his wicket, which both deprived him of a well deserved century and also triggered the quick collapse of the last four wickets. Can that happen to the Sri Lankan Tigers? Only time will tell.

For the present, we can only watch with a mixture of admiration and dismay. Admiration is for the performance of the Bangladeshis at cricket and dismay is at the mounting loss of young lives in the conflict at home. The sacrifice of these young men and women who are being killed or maimed could have been avoided or at least minimized to a great extent if only President Rajapaksa and the LTTE kept to their promises to the people whom they claim to represent.

The LTTE has repeatedly failed to seize opportunities to secure an honourable peace by spurning attempts, particularly by the Government of Chandriika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge, that sought to provide a constitutional framework to address minority grievances. President Rajapaksa promises justice to the minorities but has only rhetoric to offer. He has had and continues to have opportunities to offer a political solution to minority grievances but continues to spurn every such opportunity.

His twisted logic that this will be done once the war is over rings hollow. If, as his Government often says, the war is against the LTTE and not the Tamils, why does the war against the LTTE prevent the offer of a political package to the Tamils and Muslims? Indeed, if the government were sincere about offering a political solution, the war itself would have been rendered unnecessary. The LTTE would have been marginalised among Tamil opinion makers had the LTTE opposed such a solution worked out by consensus among the non-LTTE and non-Sinhala chauvinist political parties and civil society/religious groups.

Losing the larger picture

But sadly, President Rajapaksa has opted not to take that line. He seems unwilling or incapable of looking at the larger picture. Instead, he is going along with, or at least turning a Nelsonian eye to the lawless and reactionary actions of the obscurantist and fascist forces that are part of his Government.

In the North, Anandasangaree is quite right with his complaint that an armed group, seemingly enjoying the support of the security forces, is engaging in abductions, extortions and extra-judicial killings, replicating the actions of the LTTE in earlier years. The armed groups of today are totally insensitive to the feelings of civilians. Locals agree with Anandasangaree and say that people could be increasingly turning to the LTTE for protection from this armed fascist group. Civilians are being robbed in their homes by armed gangs in the night during curfew hours. It is possible that in addition to this armed group, lawless elements are also taking advantage of the breakdown in the rule of law. But, since the robberies are taking place during curfew hours, the armed gangs obviously are confident of immunity.

If President Rajapaksa is sincere about restoring democracy in the North, he should not be replacing one set of armed fascists by another. ‘The future minds of Jaffna’ deserve better than that. But first, genuine democracy must be restored in the rest of the country. Journalists should be free from intimidation, assault and arbitrary arrests. Lawyers should be free to practise their profession without death threats and without having their photograph and name ominously displayed on the web.

The Rajapaksa Government must learn lessons from a disastrous policy in the East that has brought about a multiplicity of armed groups and brought back a strong LTTE presence. Bishop Kingsley Swampillai, Bishop of Batticaloa and Trincomalee, was expressing the concerns of many locals when he complained of continuing abductions, violence and killings. It is a self-defeating policy to promote one armed group of fascists against another. And it is pity that continuing calls for a respect for the rule of law are being ignored. Sooner or later, such a policy will come to haunt the government.

The crisis in the Finance Industry

The Government’s economic woes are being compounded by a crisis in the banking and finance sector. Coming so soon after the huge losses suffered from a hedging deal in the petroleum sector, it is a disaster that will require professional management skills of a very high order to contain.

It has to be acknowledged that a hedging deal in the circumstances was, on principle, something worth pursuing. Crude oil prices were rising and a hedge was a way of insurance against further rises. A hedging deal should have had escape clauses if the crude oil prices moved outside defined margins. Apparently there was no provision in this agreement to cushion the loss to the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation in the event of prices dropping drastically as it did. The terms of the deal seems to have been largely in favour of the banks. We do not know if the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation sought the specifically expert professional advice that was necessary before they inked the futures agreement. If they did not, it was poor management.

It is also poor management that has led to crises in so many financial institutions, regulated and unregulated. The full impact of global financial crisis has yet to be felt by us. But what ails us now has nothing to do with the global crisis. It is sheer mismanagement and fraud.

The scams by Sakviti Master, Danduwan Mudalali and others are the result of unregulated fraud. The Central Bank cannot wash its hands saying that these were unregulated deposit-takers and that they had warned the public against investment in such institutions. They have a duty by the country to ensure that deposits by the public are safeguarded. If laws needed to be enacted for this purpose, then it should have been initiated. Most of these depositors are from the lower middle classes who need the income they will earn by investing their hard-earned savings. They are therefore prepared to take the risk (without realising the extent of the risk) by investing in deposits that offer high interest. In ignoring the unwarranted risks being taken by the unsuspecting public, the Central Bank does not seem to have learnt its lessons from the Pamruka Bank scam.

Going by reports available so far, the crisis in the Ceylinco Group seems to stem more from mismanagement and poor corporate governance rather than fraud. It appears that the Golden Key Credit Card Company which began as an issuer of credit cards, but at some stage accepted customer deposits. Even if this was within the terms of the Articles of Association, the knowledge that the company was offering high interest rates should have put the company’s affairs under scrutiny by the Central Bank. It was poor management both by the Central Bank and the Board of the company. One hopes that the company’s CEO Khavan Perera has not been made a fall guy for others.

The run on Seylan Bank began not because Golden Key was part of the same group of companies. It began after the Chairman of the Ceylinco Group made the unnecessary statement that he was going to divest his shares in Seylan to pay off the Golden Key depositors. It is a pity that the Central Bank allowed such a statement to be aired. If there were ongoing negotiations to sell the shares to a prospective buyer, an announcement should have been made only after the sale was completed. It was natural for Seylan depositors to be concerned when they heard the Chairman of the Bank make that statement.

There was no mention of any sale to a buyer. The appointment of a new Board to the Bank is not going to re-assure the depositors who will want to move their investments elsewhere. Like Pramuka, this is not a crisis that is going to disappear soon. The Central Bank has to be more pro-active if this crisis of confidence in the banking and finance sector is to be restored. The global crisis will soon hit us hard and our regulatory authority will need to re-assure the public that they have better professionalism and skills than they have shown in the past.

(Thie article is from the column NOTEBOOK OF A NOBODY written by Shanie in "The Island" of January 3rd 2008)

Self inflicted assault on its own credibility by government

by Professor Ashley LS Perera

Since the Supreme Court ruling on the price of petrol there has been a variety of views expressed as regards the desirability or otherwise of the proposed price revision. Many of those who spoke either for or against a price reduction chose to give extraneous reasons perhaps with the sole objective of confusing and confounding the public on the subject. Most of those who expressed views against the price reduction were noted for their utter impertinence. The contention of most government spokesmen that the government needs to impose taxes is a truism and does not need to be restated. Similarly the attempt by some to link the price reduction with a move to disrupt the war effort is cockeyed, dogmatic, superstitious and utterly false.

This contention by the entire government combine that the price revision will adversely affect the military campaign for want of funds has been contradicted and negated by the government itself by its subsequent relief package amounting to a staggering Rs 16 billion. Curiously though, this is a self inflicted assault by the government on its own credibility.

It is also interesting to note the entry of the legal fraternity into the debate with their diverse views on the subject. Some of those of the Hultsdorf types seem to believe that fiscal matters are the exclusive preserve of the Parliament. They are apparently guided by a rigid interpretation of the doctrine of separation of powers.

This can be described as a straitjacket approach where these gentlemen seem to be in hot pursuit of the pound of flesh of the Shakespearean fame. Governance is a much more serious business which should be an integrated outcome of the Legislature, Executive and the Judiciary that needs a degree of flexibility to ensure good governance. Checks and balances of the Westminster type and Dicey’s ‘Rule of Law’ which seeks to prevent arbitrariness are all important considerations in the politico–juridical decision making process. A government is brought into existence by a morally self-possessed society for making the society’s conception of justice prevail in the justifiable sphere of social life. Although the government enjoys supreme legal authority these powers should be exercised in strict conformity with the moral standards of society. The upkeep of the society’s conception of justice and community’s acknowledged moral standards are vital for the survival of a government. All past governments have realised these norms pretty late, perhaps after the downfall of their respective regimes.

All patriotic people of this country acknowledge the tremendous efforts made by the present government to crush terrorism and are more than willing to undergo any harsh hardships towards achieving the goal of ending terrorism in this country. These people will be willing to bear any type of price increase irrespective of the hardships it causes to achieve this single objective. But the rationale is that there should be a give and take policy on the part of the government. It is morally incorrect for the government and its ministers to enjoy undue privileges and lead a luxurious life style while the common masses sacrifice their pittance towards the war effort.

This government through its indifference has eminently qualified to the famous satirical description of the ruling elite by George Orwell, who declared under similar circumstances that ‘some are more equal than others.’ Given the hard times experienced by the commoners in the country it is despicable that Colombo based parliamentarians along with those from outstations are given a monthly rent allowance of one hundred thousand rupees perhaps for living in their own houses. The recent reduction of this amount by half is only a 50% reduction of the dismal embarrassment of the government for its embezzlement of public funds. Other blatant financial misdemeanours such as funds for a jumbo cabinet, Mihin Air and for perks of ministers and other parliamentarians are too banal to be restated.

Financial misdemeanours apart the government has miserably failed to take appropriate disciplinary action against unruly elements within the government and has also failed to take action in terms of the findings of the commissions of inquiry appointed by the government. The obstinate nature of the government on these matters has compelled court intervention which if not for anything else is justified on moral and ethical grounds which are the foundations of all laws, customs and conventions. What is not realised by many is that the courts in the process of interpreting the law is invariably required to add to the existing volume of laws through the process of judgements. All citizens, agencies institutions and the government should therefore first comply with court judgements and then complain if they are not satisfied with any judgement.

Disregard to authority at any level can invite disastrous consequences leading even to a complete breakdown of law and order. Thus any move to disregard the Supreme Court order on the revision of fuel prices will not only create a bad precedent but will also be totally repugnant to the spirit in which the decision was made. Besides, such defiance does not augur well for a government which has been eminently successful in the war effort. History repeats they say.

Thus Churchill who was an excellent wartime Prime minister of Britain lost the immediate post war elections. It is the fervent hope of the people of this country that Rajapaksa will not follow suit. What is required from the government is to simultaneously win the wars against bribery, corruption and indiscipline of all types.

On the other hand the UNP must refrain from attempting to belittle the victories achieved in the war front. It should join the main stream in saluting the gallant security forces and give due credit to the government for their part in crushing terrorism. They should abandon their public proclamations of advocating unconditional negotiations with terrorists. Otherwise, they will continue to lose every election. In short, they should learn to behave as a constructive Opposition and qualify to be considered as an alternative government.

January 03, 2009

What ‘Political Solution’? ‘What’s the problem?’

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

Despite the disturbing developments since introducing the 1972 and later the 1978 nationally incompatible Constitutions that denied the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural island, peace, progress and prosperity, there are some Sinhala nationalists, who still question the need for a political solution to what many regard as a pressing national problem. The failure to settle when it was mainly the official language issue and subsequent politically motivated decisions of successive governments that hurt spitefully and isolated the ethnic minorities resulted in the escalation of the problem with violent disturbances and humongous losses and intolerable suffering to hapless Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim citizens. The system deprived the ethnic minorities, their legitimate rights as equal citizens of one integrated nation, because it ignored the nation’s diverse demographic and regional characteristics. The aim of its creators was to ensure Sinhala majority rule throughout the island, assuming it to be entirely a Sinhala land in which the ethnic Tamils, Muslims and others also live as ‘tenants’. Recently, some claimed it was the generosity of the Sinhala rulers that enabled outsiders to settle in the Sinhala land!

In my previous article ‘Changes vital for regaining Sri Lanka’s future’(TamilWeek 14-20 December 2008), it was stated at the very outset that besides the long-drawn-out ethnic problem there are others threatening the future of the island nation. These were attributed to the inapt and weak political system and egoistic politicians who exploited it for narrow political and personal gains. The main focus in this article is on the ethnic issue, which some believe will go under with the successful conclusion of the current military offensive in the Vanni region. Many experts have opined that the capture of territory alone will not bring permanent peace. Within a short time after the public announcement by President Mahinda Rajapaksa that the Army has captured Kilinochchi Friday 2 January, a suicide blast just outside the Air Force Headquarters in Colombo killed at least three persons including two airmen and injured 37 others. Among the injured were 14 Air Force Personnel.

The many questions raised by ‘Foxwatch’ in the Sunday Island 14 December 2008 – ‘Political Solution …. Points to ponder…..’ have also induced to focus here mainly on the factors that caused the ethnic problem and its neglect by successive governments because of their inability or unwillingness to change the divisive political system. It is only by political changes and restructuring that the divided nation can be reunited and the kind of problems that denied peace, progress and prosperity avoided in the future.

No need for more time to ponder

There was, of course, a simple remedy at the beginning but by not using it then, the disease has become very complicated requiring surgical treatment. Importantly, its cause has been clearly identified. It is the incompatible unitary structure in its present form. This has to be replaced by one suitable for building a robust multi-ethnic Nation where all ethnic communities can live harmoniously with dignity, equal rights and hope. 60 years of ill health and the suffering endured are long enough to diagnose the main cause. The unsettled Tamil problem has been political stock-in-trade for the Sinhala polity. Time is crucial to stop the mad destruction and seek progress and prosperity for the neglected nation. This is not the time for pondering or foot-dragging. It is unimaginable in what state the country will be if the unhealthy system continues for some more years.

The 13th Amendment remedy was not properly administered. The 1987 amendment to the ‘Sinhala Only’ Official Language Act No 33 of 1956 approving Tamil as an additional official language still remains dormant. This is only one of many symptoms of the structural problem that needs to be resolved by suitable adjustments. The overly centralized power structure that denies any significant role to the ethnic minorities in both the formulation and implementation of relevant policies and ignores their aspirations, needs and concerns is the reason for their distrust in the system. The past record of abandoned pacts and broken promises is one major reason for the LTTE leader’s firm assertion that the Sinhala political leaders will never willingly grant the deprived Tamils their legitimate rights.

Hence, the Tamils have to fight for their real freedom.

The observations of ‘Foxwatch’ exhibit fair amount of subjective thinking and questionable intent. For instance he has said, "A Political Solution." is “promoted mainly by much the same people who pressurise us to stop the war”. “At first sight a political solution seems plausible and even admirable” but “a closer look reveals it to be a doosra”. Does this mean both President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Opposition and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe are bowling ‘doosra’? Was President’s switch earlier to the discarded 13th Amendment also another ‘doosra’? Moreover the UNP is not urging the government to stop the war. The countries including the USA pressing for a political solution have also not asked for ceasing the war proclaimed to be against LTTE terrorism. It is also called ‘humanitarian operations’ by government spokespersons!

‘Foxwatch’ has alleged that “the mantram (Political Solution) is marketed as the wonder drug which would cure all our ills for ever. Let us be street-smart. We are on the verge of militarily crushing the most dangerous terrorist group in the world. Prudence demands that any sequel does not nullify the military success. There is no room for instant preconceived panaceas, no axiomatic solutions made in foreign capitals or think tanks. We have to go through miracle cures with a fine tooth comb”.

His disbelief in ‘political solution’ is discerned from his view that the remedy via ‘political solution’ is “Worse than the Disease”. To quote: “Why, for instance, must there be a political solution? Why not the more general "solution", political, administrative or otherwise? After all, a surgeon would not instantly decide on major surgery even before diagnosing the ailment, which may turn out to have a simple non-surgical remedy. Intensive brainwashing has produced the almost Pavlovian reaction "political solution". But unless the problems - and solutions - are thought through, the remedy may be worse than the disease. An ill-considered political solution could have such momentous repercussions that it could trigger even bigger conflict in the future. We need to look well beyond our noses”. In his opinion, all previous devolution plans sabotaged by the main Opposition Party, a trend intrinsic to the country’s confrontational political culture and the APRC final proposal expected soon according to its chairman Minister Prof. Tissa Vitharana are useless.

Soon after independence

In his weekly column ‘As I see it’ in ‘Bottom Line’ 24 December 2008, the veteran journalist and author T. Sabaratnam has recalled some early court decisions on political matters that led to the distrust of past Tamil leaders in the judiciary. He quoted the comments of former Minister of Constitutional Affairs, Prof. G. L. Peiris in his Justice Siva Sellaiah Memorial Oration delivered on January 12, 1998.

K.G.S. Nair, whose first name was Kodakanpillai was the Joint Secretary of the Ceylon Indian Congress, later renamed Ceylon Workers’ Congress. His name was removed from the electoral register in 1952 following the enactment of the Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1948. He filed an action in the Kegalle District Court against Madanayake, the then Commissioner of Immigration and Emigration, challenging the removal of his name. District Judge N. Sivagnanasundaram ordered that Kodakanpillai’s name be restored in the electoral list and held that the citizenship laws were ultra vires of the Constitution, as these violated Article 29 1 (c) of the Soulbury Constitution. The government appealed to the Supreme Court which quashed the judgment of the District Judge and ordered that there was nothing in the face of the law to indicate that the legislation was intended to apply to the Indian Tamil community. Kodakanpillai appealed to the Privy Council and it concurred with the decision of the Supreme Court and ordered that the citizenship laws were intra vires the Constitution.

Prof. Peiris said the fact that the second of those laws, the Indian and Pakistani Residents (Citizenship) Act stipulating one’s paternal grandfather and great grandfather had to be born in the country to be entitled to gain citizenship rights, which was a devious and indirect means adopted to disfranchise the Indian Tamils was not taken into consideration. The court did not look into the element of discrimination contained in the law, which was so framed as to disfranchise only the Indian Tamils. He correctly diagnosed the impact of that decision as “the beginning of the process of disillusionment on the part of the minority communities with the judiciary of the land.”

The disillusionment strengthened when the Supreme Court dodged the issue when the legality of the Sinhala Only Act was canvassed before it. In the Kodeeswaran case, the Supreme Court avoided making a pronouncement on that matter. Kodeeswaran, a government servant, challenged the stoppage of his salary increment because he failed to sit for a qualifying examination in Sinhala. The litigant also questioned the legality of the Sinhala Only Act under which it was done. O.L. de Kretzer, District Judge, Colombo held that Sinhala Only Act was incompatible with Article 29 and declared that the Sinhala Only Act, bad in law. The Attorney General appealed against that judgment to the Supreme Court. The case was argued before a Bench comprising Chief Justice H.N.G. Fernando and Justice G.P.A. Silva. The Attorney General raised a preliminary objection saying that a public servant was not entitled to sue the state for arrears of salary. The Supreme Court upheld that objection without calling upon the Attorney General to submit his arguments on the Sinhala Only Act. Kodeeswaran appealed to the Privy Council, which held that Kodeeswaran had the right to sue the state, but did not comment on the Sinhala Only Act, since neither they nor the Supreme Court had heard any arguments on that matter.

Importantly, the District Court’s ruling that the Sinhala Only Act was void had not been challenged by the state at the Supreme Court or at the Privy Council. In this sense, the Act remains void in law, but the state decided to ignore de Kretzer’s ruling and live with it, thus debasing the judicial process. The judiciary had avoided confrontation with the legislature, since the approved Act supported the interests of the majority Sinhalese. Although it disadvantaged the ethnic minorities the legislation was welcomed by the vast majority of Sinhalese.

In a conversation the veteran journalist had with S.J.V. Chelvanayakam around that time, the latter had told that his Federal party did not challenge the legality of the Sinhala Only Act before the Supreme Court because it was useless. “It’s a Sinhala Supreme Court. The judges will find some technical reason to dismiss the case.” SJV had also pointed out how a former chief justice Hema Basnayake led the opposition to the District Council Bill after his retirement. It is recalled S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, C. Vanniasingham , Dr. E. M.V Naganathan and others inaugurated the Federal Party in December 1949 after the disenfranchisement of Tamils of Indian origin contrary to the assurance given by the national leader D. S. Senanayake before independence that the minorities need not have any apprehension as nothing will be done against their interests.

After British conquest

There were separate states in the island until the British conquest of the Kandyan Kingdom. “The Portuguese (1505) and the Dutch (1658) colonial powers ruled the kingdoms of the Tamil and Sinhalese peoples separately, each people having a distinct culture, religion and language. In 1796, Britain conquered the island and in 1815 captured the Kandyan Kingdom (hitherto unconquered by the two previous colonial powers). For administrative convenience, the British then amalgamated the Tamil and Sinhalese kingdoms in 1833, creating a 'unitary state', later named Ceylon. Of note, Britain used the concept of Tamil homeland, utilizing the distribution of Tamil and Sinhala place names, as the basis to demarcate the boundaries of two Tamil provinces.” (Ref. ‘The Tamil People's Right to Self-Determination’ - Deirdre McConnell in Cambridge Review of International Affairs Posted by transCurrents in TamilWeek on December 17, 2008). The British colonial powers as promised respected the traditional laws and customs in different parts of the island.

It was the Kandyan Sinhalese leaders keen on safeguarding their separate identity who demanded a federal set up with three regional governments – for the upcountry, low country and the North-East. Later the Tamil leaders had trepidations about the Westminster model for independent Ceylon. Following the 1947 general elections, the All Ceylon Tamil Congress asked London to give the right of self-determination for the Ceylon Tamils. Finally, it was the assurance that no harm would be done to Tamil interests and all citizens, regardless of ethnic and religious differences can live as equal that induced the Tamil Congress leaders to accept the British model.

A. J. N. Selvadurai (Sri Lanka Guardian, 24 December 2008) has also referred to the early settlement pattern of the Sinhalese and Tamils that is important for understanding the developments during British colonial rule. “The Tamils living in the inhospitable and under-developed arid zone had to depend on the British goodwill and the employment opportunities provided for an English educated people”. The Sinhalese settled in the hospitable wet zone had no such pressing need for survival and it is this difference that compelled many Tamils to seek English education and government employment during the British reign. The English educated Tamils also sought employment in other British colonies like Malaya and Burma. It was the reckless way to rectify this imbalance that deepened the ethnic division. Now efforts are being made to teach English in all schools after realizing the loss incurred by the Sinhala youth. Had the parents been given the choice to decide the medium of instruction to their children earlier, most Tamils would have gone for English. The Muslims in the South had this choice and the results are visible now.

More questions to muddle the issue

Stating the obvious, ‘a political solution’ presupposes a political problem ‘Foxwatch’ has raised the following questions: “What is the political problem which would be solved by the proposed political solution? Has the problem been defined, after meetings between political parties and other concerned persons? Are there grave obstacles, for instance, to the ability of political parties to function? Is the electoral process flawed? Are people free to vote? Can political parties express their views freely in Parliament and outside? Whatever the political problems are, they must first be defined in order to devise a political solution”.

All these questions can be answered straightaway by pointing to the flawed political system designed to ensure countrywide governing power rests with the ethnic Sinhalese. It is also helpful for achieving narrow short-term political goals of the power wielders. The mythical perception that a powerful Tamil community in the island is a threat to the future of the Sinhalese, who have no linguistic ties like the Tamils with any Indian state, also influenced the thinking of the Sinhalese patriots. Although great emphasis is placed on the basic principle of ‘unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the island nation’ by the Sinhalese political leaders, the system they have embraced since 1972 is in conflict with this doctrine. It is divisive especially without the restraints to ensure no ethnic community is denied the rights and privileges available to the ethnic majority.

National unity can never be achieved by subjugation and coercion of the ethnic minorities, which the centralized system under the control of the Sinhala majority permits. The several anti-Tamil riots since 1958 failed to keep the Tamil minority subdued. The government-backed 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom was largely instrumental in turning the peaceful public demonstrations against the anti-Tamil discriminatory policies of the State into violent uprising by disgruntled youth. Development of Tamil majority areas in the North and East was neglected solely on ethnic grounds, despite the known economic benefits to the country. Trincomalee is a classic example of this kind of discrimination. The settlement of Sinhalese in such areas under state sponsored colonization schemes continued despite the angry protests of Tamil leaders. All such worrisome factors contributed to the demand for self rule in North-East Sri Lanka where the majority of the residents even before the Portuguese landed in 1505 have been ethnic Tamils and Muslims. As stated earlier, Sinhalese lived mostly inland in the wet zone.

Creating confusion with ulterior motive

The following questions raised by ‘Foxwatch’ exhibit reluctance for change despite the known fundamental weaknesses in the present Constitution. Even if Sinhalese were the only people living in the entire island, it is unsuitable for a democratic socialist country. To quote: “Once the political problems are identified, there remain key questions to be asked. Which problems could be solved administratively within the present constitution? Which would require an amendment within the scope of the present constitution? Which would require a new constitution, and if so would such a new constitution undermine the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, and therefore its very existence?” It is an illusion to think territorial integrity can be protected merely by a unitary structure. All the people in the different communities and the provinces must have confidence in the system with regard to their safety, security and rights as equal citizens. Threat to territorial integrity comes from continued discrimination against a section of the citizenry driving them to seek a better future outside the oppressive state.

It is amazing that after a half a century of maltreatment, humiliation, intimidation and denial of equal rights and opportunities and development that ultimately drove the distressed Tamils to rebel against the discriminatory rule, ‘Foxwatch’ has accused the promoters of political solution of having “some other problem in mind” The existence of the ethnic problem is doubted It is alleged, “Foreign countries and media in particular tend to instantly label our plight as an ethnic problem; and Tamil politicians talk of discrimination, grievances and aspirations”. Apparently the perception is - if there is political problem it is for the Sinhala majority to provide a political solution,. The ethnic minorities or foreign powers have no right to demand a political solution. This also points to the system desired by the Sinhala supremacists. It is one in which the ethnic minorities have to depend on the largesse of the Sinhala majority for their safety, security and welfare.

The distinction between demand-driven solution and problem-driven solution has also been made. It is alleged: “So far, the political solution has been formulated without first defining a political or ethnic problem, and is therefore suspect. Instead of being rooted in problems, it has veered towards satisfying demands clothed as "aspirations" of the Tamil speaking people - a term which, in the language of the LTTE, consist of a Tamil nation, Tamil homeland, self-determination, and the right to secede. In short, ‘Eelam’. Add to this the Indian factor, and it becomes clear that the so-called "political solution" is not problem-driven but demand-driven”.

The Expert Committee appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to assist the APRC in finding a political solution to the ethnic problem submitted two reports – Majority Report ‘A’ and Minority Report ‘B’ in 2006 Even the Minority Report ‘B’ prepared by dissenting Sinhalese members recommending ‘Minimum Devolution and Maximum Safeguards‘(Ref. my earlier paper in TamilWeek 24-30 December 2006) recognized Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem and the grievances of Tamils. The Majority Report ‘A’ prepared jointly by the Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim members did not make recommendations to meet LTTE’s demand for ‘Eelam’. This does not mean there are no just Tamil demands related to the problems endured as a result of deliberate acts of commission and omission of past governments since independence.

The recommended political solution in the Majority Report ‘A’ is suitable for achieving national unity, political stability and lasting peace, all vital for progress and prosperity of the nation. Another important factor is the usefulness of the recommended devolution package in weakening the case for separation. The importance of this need is recognized by all countries determined on defeating terrorism, including India and the USA. The US Ambassador in Colombo Robert Blake has been reiterating this point time and again at various meetings. The latest instance is in the extensive interview given to Daily Mirror 1 January 2009. He is convinced of the need for early political solution with adequate devolution of powers to enable the powerless ethnic minorities in their areas of historic habitation to manage their affairs, safeguard their regional interests and promote the hitherto neglected development. They must have the power and the means to shape their future. At present these are in the hands of the ethnic Sinhalese whose interests and concerns are at odds with those of the ethnic minorities. Robert Blake and other leaders are not asking for a political solution without knowing the problems and their causes.

The two reports of the Expert Committee have exposed another disturbing division in the Sri Lankan Society. Those who want maximum safeguards for granting minimal power to the ethnic Tamils feel a politically powerful Tamil community in Sri Lanka is a threat to the future of the Sinhalese. On the other side of the ethnic divide, the majority of Tamils believe without any power to govern the part of the island that is historically indigenous to them, their future is unsafe. The rigid attachment of Sinhala nationalists to countrywide Sinhala majority rule which the present Constitution assures is the main reason for ignoring many of its negative features that undermine democracy, stability, good governance, ethnic harmony and national unity and development. This paradoxical situation is causing difficulties in seeking the logical political solution. Unless a way is found to surmount this obstacle, there is not much hope for achieving national unity and lasting peace in volatile Sri Lanka. Without a reasonable political solution, it is not possible to make significant progress on political, social and economic fronts. People have to continue living with anxiety and uncertain future.

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

January 01, 2009

Rauff Hakeem lashes out at Israel Over Palestinian Plight

Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader and Parliamentarian Rauff Hakeem has lashed out at the barbarity unleashed by Israel on a defenseless and half starved 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza.

Following is the statement issued by Mr. Hakeem yesterday in this regard:

Gaza, which has been under the control of Hamas, ever since they were voted to power in a free and fair election, supervised by former US president Jimmy Carter, has been subjected to cruel Israeli bombardment indiscriminately killing men, women, children and the aged besides destroying mosques, schools, hospitals and all other such infrastructure facilities.

Israel and its supporters in the US, Europe and even in the Middle East were alarmed when Hamas, which insists on peace with Israel, with dignity, was elected in a free election. Thus from the very inception Israel conspired to destroy this flourishing democracy in Gaza, which threatened the Arab rulers who were all dictators, imposed on the people and not elected by the people. Their prime target was to destroy Hamas and replace it with a complying Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas, who was bribed millions of dollars and provided with arms and arms training to divide the Palestinians.

The result was the division within Palestinian ranks. Israel backed by its supporters first tried to force the Palestinians to set up against Hamas by imposing an economic blockade, depriving the Palestinians of food, medicine, water, electricity and all other such essential needs for more than 20 months, in one of the worst forms of cruelties ever known in human history. However, they failed to break the spirit of the Palestinians who cherish their freedom and dignity rather then capitulating to the Zionists.

These economic blockades also exposed the Western claim of promoting democracy as a farce. Unable to break the will of the Palestinians, the Zionists backed by the US, UK and Europe, together with some Arab regimes, plotted to oust Hamas by military means. The result is the barbaric Israeli killing of Palestinians in Gaza, trying to destroy Hamas and install Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestine Authority into power so that Israel could continue its evil designs on the Palestinians.

The tragedy is that this heinous crime is being committed with the backing of the United States, Britain and the European Union with some Arab countries remaining spectators doing nothing to save their brethren. As if the aerial bombardment by US supplied F 16 fighter planes and helicopter gunships were not enough Israeli troops have been preparing for a ground assault in one of the worst forms of violations of human rights and international laws. This is war crime by all standards.

As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, there have been speculations of sinister efforts by the Israeli spy network, the Mossad, together with anti Muslim elements to destabilize the Muslim community here as well. In this regard, I would like to highlight the great concern among Muslims after a meeting an Eastern Province Muslim Minister from the Batticaloa District had with Israeli officials in Colombo.

Under the circumstances, I urge all to Pray to Almighty Allah to protect the Palestinian people and our first Qibla Masjid Al Aqsa from the evil deeds of the Zionists whose crimes are common knowledge and are a shame to the entire civilized world.

Why Tourists Are Not coming in large numbers to Sri Lanka

* Despite being a beautiful country with huge tourist potential, fewer than 500,000 visit annually.

* An outdated railway network where the 100 km between Colombo and Kandy offers wonderful scenery but takes 3 -4 hours in noisy and dirty trains.

* Buses that are often overcrowded and dangerous driving that goes unregulated.

* Drivers who ignore numerous laws in overtaking, lack of lighting at night, smoke belching from exhausts, tyres, brakes, steering that are often in a dangerous condition, and police who take scant notice of these violations.

* Advertising hoardings, often dangerous, erected without regulation on main roads. Posters stuck on almost any flat surface.

* Piles of rubbish everywhere and anywhere.

* Restaurants and eating places that have sometimes been inspected as unhygienic yet continue to operate.

* An educational system that relies on private tuition classes to have creditable results.

* Universities that have very low ranking among institutions in South Asia.

* 25% of teachers absent on any typical day according to the Minister of Education.

* Students who study English daily for 11 years but unable to speak that language.

* Poor tourist facilities such as toilets, visitors centres, information centres.

* Noise pollution through powerful loudspeakers from places of worship.

* Over 100 Ministries and an over-staffed civil service employing over 1 million workers.

* Public servants in high office involved in corruption and illegal activities but never facing prison.

* Government departments that make a culture of not responding to letters, phone calls and emails and often are far from being "civil"

* Inflation that averages over 20% for the past few years through continually printing money to pay for a war and an expensive bureaucracy.

* Despite a high rate of literacy, many thousands of unemployed graduates.

* Malnutrition among 25% of children who are either stunted or wasted.

* Politically independent yet relying on massive financial assistance from Japan, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, 1 million citizens working abroad, and government bond issues, to prevent bankruptcy.

* A majority of public buildings and works donated by friendly foreign governments.

* An absence of a National Art gallery, Concert Hall, Theatre, Museums, and Parks that meet an acceptable high standard

* A government that has become self-righteous and ignores, deplores and restricts criticism.

* BUT a friendly and hard working population trying to make the best of a difficult living situation exacerbated by poor governance over several decades.

(These observations were provided by a concerned citizen from Kandy, Sri Lanka)

Rambukwella's deadline and Weerawansa's demand reflect govt. policy

by T.Sabaratnam

I wish to stick to tradition and wish you, my dear readers, a happy and prosperous New Year. Let me hasten to add that I am not that optimistic. I foresee the intensification of the Wanni war and the deterioration of the economic woes of the people.

The reasoning behind my pessimism is obvious. President Mahinda Rajapaksa and LTTE Chief Velupillai Pirapaharan have vowed to continue the fight. President Rajapaksa has declared the coming year as the year of triumph and Pirapaharan had told a Colombo English weekly in an email interview, “We will not run away leaving our people and the soil.”

The President had reiterated his determination to liberate the remaining territory in the Wanni soon from the LTTE’s hold, while Pirapaharan had said, “We have not been weakened… The battles in Kilinochchi had proved that. The future battles will demonstrate that we have not lost our strength.”

And Defence Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella has fixed the new date for the capture of Pirapaharan as before February 7 and Wimal Weerawansa, the leader of the National Freedom Front that signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the governing UPFA last week to contest together the forthcoming provincial council election, has demanded the banning of the LTTE.

Rambukwella’s statement reflects the urgency with which the government wants Pirapaharan captured and Weerawansa’s the possible next step the government wants to take. Saturday’s Wattala blast and Monday night’s attempt to damage an electric transformer at Ratmalana may indicate LTTE’s possible reply.

The intensification and the widening of the war would naturally strain the economy further. The impact of the global economic turmoil would further strain the economy.

Let me also follow the customary practice of looking back and taking stock of the achievements and failures of the departing year. In the war front, the security forces have gained territory and continued the series of victories that started in the east last year. But during the last three months, the fighting has been stiff and losses in the number of men and material are heavy on both sides. Defence analysts predict that that trend will continue in the coming weeks.

This column has kept its readers informed about the developments in Tamil Nadu and the pressures to which Delhi is subject to. The main by-product of the intensification of the Wanni war is the upsurge of Tamil nationalism in Tamil Nadu and in the world.

O.A. Ramaiah, a senior trade unionist and Secretary General of the Red Flag Union, which is active in the hill country who attended the All India Trade Union Congress held at Travancore during November 29-December 5 captured the situation in Tamil Nadu thus: “Resurgence of Tamil emotion was evident everywhere. It was more so among the lower strata of society.” The Tamil people are generally disappointed with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Congress government for its failure to act on the request of the Tamil Nadu State Assembly’s resolution to pressurize President Rajapaksa to declare ceasefire. Their disappointment is turning into anger which resulted in attacks on the Congress headquarters Satyamoorthy Bhawan in Chennai. Houses of Congress leaders have been attacked last week.

Posters decrying the Congress leaders have begun to appear. One called the Congress leaders of Tamil Nadu slaves of Delhi.

The important development of the departing year is the Convention for the Acceptance of Tamil Eelam held on Friday in Chennai. The Convention adopted a resolution supporting the creation of an independent state of Tamil Eelam in the northeast of Sri Lanka. To overcome the difficulty the ban on the LTTE had placed on them, the organizers went back to the Vaddukoddai Resolution passed by the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in 1976 and the final declaration of S.J.V. Chelvanayakam calling for the establishment of Tamil Eelam, a month before his death in April 1977.

Thol. Thirumavalavan, Leader of the Viduthlai Siruthaigal, who convened the Convention said, “Tamils have no state of their own. Tamil Eelam, as proposed by S.J.V. Chelvanayakam is the only possible Tamil state. We will tell the Tamil people to support it.”

Kasi Anandan, the Tamil poet from Batticaloa who was one of the promoters of the Vaddukoddai Resolution, told the Convention, “Supporting Tamil Eelam does not amount to supporting the banned LTTE. The demand for Tamil Eelam was the result of the failure of the Sinhala leaders to accommodate the aspirations of the Tamil people.”

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi who is aware of the anger building up against the Congress Party and Manmohan Singh administration is in a dilemma. He does not want to sever his relations with the central government where his party holds several important portfolios. He also knows that he is coming under attack and is losing support.

He thus got the general council of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which met on Saturday to pass a resolution urging the central government to push the Rajapaksa government to declare a ceasefire. Proposing the resolution Karunanidhi admitted that the central government is not acting fast. He said the delay on the part of Delhi is causing the deaths of more Tamils. He issued a ‘tearful plea’ to Delhi to realise the urgency and act fast.

Karunanidhi said, “To help the Tamils in Sri Lanka we are prepared to make any sacrifice. If we are told to sacrifice our lives we are even ready to do it. I appeal to the central government to act at least after this appeal.”

Tamil Nadu Congress Chief K.V. Thangabalu announced on Monday that Foreign Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee would visit Colombo soon. He had made similar announcements earlier.

Why this delay? Pro-LTTE lobby in Tamil Nadu has accused Delhi of waging a proxy war against the LTTE. Some say that Delhi is waiting till the security forces capture Kilinochchi and Pirapaharan considerably weakened. Still another view is also emerging. Delhi wants both sides to be weakened.

Civil society is badly in need of self - reflection and self - criticism

by Dr. Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu

The war and its woes aside, recent events have highlighted the issue of governance in the non-state sector. There has been the Interim Report of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), the resignation of a leading media rights activist from the Centre for Policy.

Alternatives on account of anomalies in a financial transaction for which he was responsible and the Golden Key fiasco with the Central Bank now handing over Seylan Bank to the Bank of Ceylon. The Golden Key fiasco or should one say scandal is said to run into some Rs. 25 billion.

At the heart of the first and third issues cited above is that of regulation, transparency and accountability. In all three cases there can be no categorical denial that greed too has played its part and even on the part of those who are and claim to be victims.

The shenanigans of the regime and of officialdom notwithstanding, civil society too is badly in need of self-reflection and self criticism with regard to putting its own house in order in respect of standard operating procedures of transparency and accountability and most importantly the pivotal issue of ethics.

There are certain fundamentals that need to be integrated into the governance ethos and structure of organisations pertaining to conflict of interest, due diligence and transparency. Furthermore, ends however purportedly noble do not justify means that are patently squalid and shabby.

The ways that the current messes are resolved are therefore of the utmost importance in restoring adherence to basic principles of governance. Nothing less than democracy and public trust and confidence are at stake. Dissent will lack credibility if it is tainted with graft and the ideal of a share and property owning democracy will be fatally compromised if financial institutions are seen as rackets for the rich at the expense of the average citizen.

The Parliamentary Select Committee seems to have misunderstood this when dealing with one of the sectors involved – NGOs and INGOs. The issue is not one that demands new laws per se, but rather the proper implementation of existing laws dealing with transparency and accountability.

The new law that is needed is that providing for a Right to Information, and here it is not just non-transparent NGOs that will be made uncomfortable but non-transparent governments that will have to pay the political and electoral costs for systematic plunder, loot and mismanagement of the common wealth.

Fatally blinded by political bias and populist stereotyping – its list of consultants read in the main like the politburo of the NMAT or Hela Urumaya — it went on a witch hunt and reached a pre ordained conclusion that strikes at the heart of the freedom of association provisions of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) – one of the international human rights instruments, the effective implementation of which is one of the subjects of the EU GSP+ investigation.

The Select Committee seems genuinely confused between INGOs and NGOs and is of the opinion that they must merely be service providers for the regime in power.

Accordingly, anything defined as being outside the narrow perspective and parameter of the Mahinda Chinthanaya, is classified as suspect and subversive. The cruel and corrupting extension of this Stalinist logic is the Tissainayagam case where the journalist Tissainayagam is accused of amongst other things, of bringing the government into disrepute — precisely what, in a functioning democracy, one would have thought journalists are duty bound to do, when there are the grounds for doing so.

Interestingly, the politicians who signed up to this report seem to have indulged in an inadvertent act of selflessness or sacrifice by subscribing to a definition of NGOs that must surely apply and accordingly restrict the personal and private foundations they have a penchant for establishing in the interests of patronage politics. It reads as:

All organisations formed by an individual or a group of individuals with no state agreement, for the purpose of rendering volunteer service with local and foreign aid, with no expectation of profit but aiming at social security, welfare and development, with a constitution and management system consistent with the domestic legal and policy framework and ethics are defined as voluntary social organisations or non-governmental organisations.

Does this mean that only regime or regime friendly politicians will be able to establish foundations for the distribution of largesse and bounty in the expectation of votes? Did the opposition politicians who signed up read what they were signing up to? Is this really the way in which legislative business is conducted?

Another recommendation appears to be:

NGOs should pay strict attention to national identity, national security, territorial integrity, customs and rituals, values and culture of the country and the commission (the proposed NGO Commission) should compile a set of guidelines restraining NGOs from taking action to destroy or distort them to create a sense of dependant mentality (sic) in the people.

Could this be anything other than a licence for cultural policing? Could a NGO run a campaign against the dowry system, a caste based sangha or discriminatory customary laws?

In order to halt this narrow minded authoritarianism, civil society organisations need to get their act together be it NGOs or corporate bodies. There can be no point in whingeing and whining against regulation if there is no demonstrable evidence of a commitment to self-regulation and a modicum, at least, of self respect.