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March 28, 2009

More challenges now for rebuilding battered Sri Lanka

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

The mere absence of the war that has destroyed many lives (more than 70,000 - no firm estimate is available), displaced tens of thousands of families from their habitats and inflicted untold suffering on virtually the entire population for more than two decades does not mean the return of lasting peace. This requires essentially, the elimination of the root causes that led to the violent conflict. However, the immediate need is the easing of the hardships of the victims of the vicious war. The reconstruction and rehabilitation programmes should be integral part of a genuine peace process. The attainment of the peace goal also requires the promotion of a sense of togetherness, understanding by the Sinhalese people of the problems faced by the ethnic minorities and the need for changes from the perspective of the future of all ethnic communities and the island nation. The extreme brutality of the war which the government resolutely continued at high cost aimed towards a conclusive victory for the armed forces has made the reconciliation and peace processes increasingly difficult.

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[Clean water distribution in the 'conflict zone'-in Valagnanyarmadam-more pics]

According to foreign diplomats and other analysts, the government’s military offensives intended to crush the LTTE in the battlefield have been “causing more resentment among the Tamils and sowing the seeds of future unrest” Various repressive acts are also “transforming Sri Lanka into a more repressive and intolerant nation”. To end the violence and secure a more stable peace, “the government must do more than it has to address the long-running grievances and ethnic antagonisms that lie at the heart of the conflict”. - ‘Resentments in Sri Lanka Reflect Challenges to Peace’ - NYTimes.com March 22, 2009. The resentment is quite openly visible among the Tamil expatriates. Adding insult to the injury is the pose of some Sinhala nationalists that they don’t know anything about the Tamil grievances or problems. They think these are just hallucinations!

Fundamental blunders

As stated previously by this writer, the internal strife escalated into a full-scale separatist war solely because of the cumulative effect of the discriminatory policies and practices of successive governments and the continued indifference of governments to the non-violent protests of the distressed Tamils. No determined effort was made to address the grievances and concerns of the ethnic minorities. These relate to their safety, security, individual and collective rights, education and employment opportunities and the (autonomous/ devolved) power to safeguard their interests and future. Not only the policies damaged unity and serenity, they also intensified the ethnic division promoting the separate ethnic identity of the communities. The ethnic majority-minority division severely hindered national development. This ethnic bias influenced the implementation of development plans. The Tamil majority areas were neglected. In general, undue importance was given to parochial interests ignoring the broad long-term interests and welfare of the entire country.

Nationalism and patriotism assumed narrow meanings to go with the political aims of those competing for dominant power. Democracy has also lost its true meaning. Even ancient history which has no relevance at the present time has been exploited for political mileage by the anxious power seekers. In short, it is the political class that is responsible for the country’s ethnic, economic and political problems.

Energized nationalistic forces

Many Sinhala nationalists believe without the full controlling powers over the entire island, the future of the Sinhalese is insecure. Some ‘patriots’ think the sacred island belongs to the Sinhalese and it is they who should have absolute power to decide the present and future welfare and development policies of the Sinhala nation. The ethnic minorities are the descendants of foreign immigrants and have no right to make any ‘excessive’ demand. They say the indigenous ethnic Sinhalese who constitute nearly 75 per cent of the total population will be generous enough to ensure the reasonable needs and aspirations of the ethnic minorities are met. But sadly the humanitarian outlook was not seen in the recent disasters in which many innocent Tamil civilians including infants and children died callously in Vanni

The flaunting term ‘national integration’ is only a mere slogan; yet to become a real process. There is nothing concrete on the ground to believe the process has started in earnest. The appointment of parliamentarians as ministers responsible for national integration and nation building has only short-term political significance. The basic conditions for launching earnestly the nation building process are missing. The biggest challenge for those concerned about the future of the country is to find a way to diminish the influence of the nationalistic forces on important political decisions. This started with their demand in 1957 that resulted in the abrogation of the B-C Pact. The reluctance to act with determination and courage ignoring the obstructive forces is the main reason for the present dismal situation. These radical forces gained strength mainly because of the divisive and power politics.

The dilemma of President Mahinda Rajapaksa with regard to the political resolution of the ethnic problem, without which real peace will remain a dream, is the very forces he mobilized for his victory at the November 2005 Presidential election. It was clearly fought on communal lines, with his UPFA offering a hard-line stance on the ethnic issue, and his rival the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe proposing a more conciliatory approach. Moreover President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s election manifesto – Mahinda Chinthanaya – promised to retain the unitary structure which in the minds of many Sinhalese ensures Sinhala majority rule/domination in the entire island vital for the protection and future of their race. In the present coalition government as well as in the opposition there are hardline members opposed to extensive devolution of powers to the ethnic minorities because they do not want to weaken the centralized Sinhala majority rule.

The JVP extended full support to President Mahinda Rajapaksa during the last Presidential elections mainly because of Mahinda Chinthanaya and also of the aversion to have a UNP leader as President of Sri Lanka. The majoritarian dogma blinds many Sinhala nationalists to the concept of multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation and the reality that peace and harmony come from unity on diversity. A regionally divided nation runs the risk of a complete break-up sooner or later. The regional division too deepened in Sri Lanka because of ethnic bias. Had the past governments focused on economic development from a broad national perspective, the living standard of the poor people would now be considerably higher. The absence of durable peace and good governance has been the major obstacle to progress and prosperity.

The southern and northern radical forces

The JVP and the LTTE have opposed sensible political proposals consistent with the real configuration of the island’s population. The present system ignores the regional variations and assumes that one pattern of ethnic majority-minority division applies uniformly throughout the island. Both radical groups are the products of the failures of past governments to promote unity and balanced development. Although the JVP abandoned violence and entered the political mainstream, the present leadership has not given up centralism. Because of the attachment to this political ideology, the JVP was earlier said to be a Marxist party by many analysts. In the Sri Lankan context justification for centralism is practical with apparent loyalty to nationalism than Marxism. Likewise, Tamil nationalism is useful to the LTTE for seeking their political goal of independent Tamil (Eelam) state. The LTTE in the past had opposed all devolution packages offered during President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s term. When the UNP members burnt copies of the draft constitution Bill that provided for extensive devolution of powers to the regions in the House and sabotaged the move, the LTTE and their supporters were delighted. The island nation was to be reconstituted as a union of regions. It is noteworthy the rigid attachment of the JVP to the centralized Sinhala majority rule is matched by the LTTE’s wish for Tamil majority rule in the North-East. The difference is that the latter does not want any pretense of multi-party democracy.

JVP is not the only party that is against the full implementation of the 13th Amendment. Other Sinhala nationalist parties support the Rajapaksa regime because of its aggressive approach to crush the LTTE. There is also nothing definite on the political front for settling the conflict via constitutional reform. Hence, they have opted to remain silent. However, their boycott of the APRC (All Party Representative Committee) meetings indicates their hard line stand on political settlement. On March 10, the JVP categorically rejected the devolution scheme currently being drafted by the government based on the 13th Amendment. The ‘patriotic’ party believes it would “divide rather than unite the people”.

JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva told the media that the government had no clear vision of what to do with the newly liberated North and as such different groups within the government were working to undermine the hard fought victories (of the military). He noted that implementation of the APRC proposals or a deeper implementation of the 13th Amendment as proposed by a group of Ministers would simply be handing over some areas to LTTE conspirators.

He also described the government’s moves to implement the 13th Amendment fully as a betrayal of the mandate given to it by the people in the 2004 parliamentary and 2005 Presidential elections. He alleged that the government has appointed a committee comprising Ministers Douglas Devananda, Rajitha Senaratne, Dilan Perera, Prof. Tissa Vitarana, and DEW Gunasekera and others, “all ardent advocates of the division of the country" to expedite the process of putting sections of the amendment into practice. The LTTE too rejected the 13th Amendment and like the JVP held an anti-Indian stance. But now, it is the JVP that is still against anything that has Indian connection. The presence of 52-member Indian military-medical mission in Pulmoddai, Sri Lanka to treat the civilian casualties of the war is resented by the JVP. The party is also against the involvement of other foreign countries and international organizations in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs.

The division and the weakness in the leadership of the main opposition party - the UNP, give considerable support to the present regime to execute its own political agenda. Although there are many political parties with diverse political ideologies in the coalition government, the agenda is that of the Executive President and his close advisers. This too reflects the present muddled state.

Sri Lanka’s financial and economic problems

The high level of corruption, nepotism, indiscipline, impunity for some lawbreakers, abuse of power and misallocation and mismanagement of public finances in Sri Lanka is also the cause for the present chaos. Singapore is a model of good governance and efficient use and management of the scarce resources. Sri Lankan leaders think they have all the power and resources they need and use them as they like for their benefit. There are cases where funds worth several billions have been spent on some nonviable projects like ‘Mihin Air’ which could have been used elsewhere for more deserving purposes. It is doubtful whether there were proper feasibility studies in such ambitious projects.

Singapore’s average per capita income was lower than Sri Lanka at the time of independence (then Ceylon). It is now more advanced, peaceful and prosperous because the political leaders acted responsibly with foresight and in the wide interest of the entire society. Singaporeans were fortunate to have had Lee Kuan Yew as the founding father of independent Singapore. His focus was on the economy and the development of the relevant institutions, skills and infrastructure. He was very mindful of the importance of safeguarding the unity of the multi-ethnic society. (Reference - Former Singapore Premier and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s speech at the 30th anniversary of “Speak Mandarin Campaign” on 17 March 2009 - while English remains the common language of all Singaporeans, Chinese parents are advised to use Mandarin in their homes.)

Besides the long-standing ethnic problem, Sri Lanka is now facing other national problems for three reasons One is the set of shortcomings mentioned above, which is related to the weaknesses in the administration organized to serve the short-term interests of those in power. Hence these cannot be considered as mainly due to the inefficiency of the senior administrators. The politicization of the public service started with the adoption of the first Republican constitution in 1972. It is now the dominant feature of the administrative system. The second problem is related to the enormous spending on the so-called war against LTTE terrorism. From the unfolding events, this expenditure is serving a political purpose, as there is little sign of winning the real peace essential for the rapid development of the country. The third is the problem caused by the present global financial crisis and economic recession.

Although the impending problems were known, the Government and the Central Bank presented an optimistic picture, saying Sri Lanka was unaffected by the global credit crunch and economic recession. But this has been contradicted recently by eminent sociologists and economists, who have said that Sri Lanka is not immune to the global economic crisis. Based on the interview with Lankan sociologist Sunil Ranasinghe, Melani Manel Perera reported in ‘AsiaNews’ that although the global recession is having a major impact on the country, in order to continue its war against Tamil Tiger rebels vigorously “the government is downplaying the problem, accusing those who talk about crisis of deceiving the population”. The war has also helped to conceal the shortcomings in other areas.

Milinda Moragoda. Minister of Tourism has explained very lucidly in his article published in the Sunday Island of March 8, how all the national economies are linked and major changes in the world economy affects individual countries. With special reference to the mistaken view of some nationalists that “we are surrendering to colonial interests”, he said, “look at Vietnam, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and yes, even India and China – all of them have actively sought to integrate into the world economy, while successfully maintaining their independence, integrity and identity, have grown into strong economies”. He also said that some are contented giving “a convenient excuse not to facie up to unpleasant realities”.

His forthright comments on the practical way of seeking solutions to economic problems are equally relevant to Sri Lanka’s political problems. To quote: “The extremes never produce the solutions we need – the middle way does. No doubt the Opposition will want to treat this crisis as an opportunity to undermine the government, but before they do so they should think long and hard. If they were in government could they handle the current situation alone? The answer to that is clearly, no! Equally, the government does not need to be defensive; that can only make matters worse. Do they need the opposition to support them at this difficult time for our country? Yes!” His article under the title ‘Economic costs of war will haunt us for a long time’ was posted March 9 by LBO in its online bulletin with the comment “A Sri Lanka minister writes economic sense”.

Kath Noble in the article titled ‘How to look stupid’ published in ‘The Island’ 11 March 2009 wrote: “The Government ended up with a rather unattractive splash of egg on its face last week. After months of denying the need for a loan from the IMF, it had to admit that negotiations were underway. And the confession was all the more embarrassing given that these ever so passionate rebuttals had been preceded by what had seemed like years of denouncing the organization”. Sri Lankan government is now seeking 1.9 billion US Dollars emergency support loan from the IMF.

International community

The Sri Lankan government rejected brusquely a fresh call by the United Nations to allow UN human rights monitors to visit Sri Lanka saying there was “absolutely no need” for such monitors to be present on its soil. At the same time it declared the IMF is most welcome to re-establish office and resume work in Sri Lanka. IMF closed down its office in Colombo in 2006 and the staff left the island.

A second attempt to bring the present crisis in Sri Lanka for deliberation by the UN Security Council was thwarted again by China and Russia. The other permanent members who have the veto power, the US, UK and France are in favour of taking up the issue. According to latest report, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Sir John Holmes is set to brief council members at an informal meeting that is not expected to lead to any action.

The concern of the US is clearly evident from various official statements on the issue and offers to help in rescuing the civilians stuck in the conflict zone. When three non-permanent members of the UN Security Council - Austria, Mexico, and Costa Rica tried for an “informal briefing” on the issue in the UNSC, the US envoy to the UN Ms Susan Rice supporting the move said, "The United States feels strongly, and concerned, about Sri Lanka” and wanted, “a full and updated information on the humanitarian situation” Not only the US but also many countries notably India have been pressing for a political settlement by devolving powers to the regions.

At last month’s US Senate Foreign Relations Sub-committee (Near Eastern South and Central Asia) hearings on the disturbing situation in Sri Lanka, the consensus was the only leeway the international community has at present to influence the Sri Lankan government to settle the conflict politically, is for the donors including the international financial agencies to link aid to the required political process. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) senior researcher Dr.(Ms.) Anna Neistat, who had been to Vanni, northern Sri Lanka recently briefed the committee on the plight of displaced and trapped civilians there.

Brad Adams, HRW Executive Director Asia Division on March 23 sent a letter to the Executive Directors of IMF on Sri Lanka's ‘Emergency Support Loan Request’. He said: “Based on our recent field research on the humanitarian situation in the northern Vanni area, we are deeply concerned that an emergency support loan for post-conflict resettlement will not achieve its intended objectives unless the Sri Lankan government takes serious steps to safeguard the rights of internally displaced persons and ensure an effective humanitarian response to the immediate conflict and post-conflict situations”.

Attention has been drawn in the letter to the stated aim, namely to "continue with the resettlement, rehabilitation and reconstruction work in the Northern Province, and the continued rapid development of the Eastern Province." which it considers essential "not only to uplift the living standards of the people in the areas affected by the decades long conflict, but also to successfully implement the government's efforts to bring a sustainable solution to the conflict." The HRW has raised doubts as “the government's current policies and practices are counterproductive to the intended goal of the IMF loan. First, the government's continuing disregard for the rights and well-being of civilians in the Vanni, who are almost entirely ethnic Tamil, erodes the trust of the Tamil population generally, making post-conflict stability and a lasting political settlement less likely”.

The Daily News on March 26 reported that the Public Administration and Home Affairs Minister Sarath Amunugama has emphasized that the IMF loan is solely for development. According to the Minister, the money is needed “not because of the failure of the local financial management.” It is “because of the global economic crisis”. He said, “the IMF has formulated the new relief package on the request of countries battered by the economic crisis. Therefore, Sri Lanka responded to the IMF to obtain this package. The IMF has come forward to support us and discussions are being carried out by Sri Lankan officials with the IMF officials. The IMF has not imposed any condition to grant the loan.”

LBO in its March 26 bulletin has explained the IMF’s new lending rules. Bailouts or standby arrangements (SBAs) need quick acting measures. A precautionary standby arrangement (PSA) is for “far-thinking” countries who think they may head for balance of payments trouble and want to be prepared ahead of time. Countries interested in ‘precautionary lending’ will have either access to the Flexible Credit Line (FCL), High-Access Precautionary Stand-By Arrangements (HAPAs) or the traditional SBA (for normal access levels).

Space does not permit to include here all the IMF facilities currently available. As an illustration, only the FCL is explained here. It has been designed in a flexible way to accommodate the needs of countries that have very strong fundamentals and policies but which already have financing needs resulting from the crisis, or could become vulnerable if the global downturn and deleveraging is prolonged.

With regard to the qualification, it is important the IMF must have confidence in the qualifying member’s policies and ability to take corrective measures when needed. At the heart of the qualification process is an assessment that the member (a) has very strong economic fundamentals and institutional policy frameworks; (b) is implementing—and has a sustained track record of implementing—very strong policies, and (c) remains committed to maintaining such policies in the future.

The relevant criteria for the purposes of assessing qualification for an FCL arrangement are (i) a sustainable external position; (ii) a capital account position dominated by private flows; (iii) a track record of steady sovereign access to international capital markets at favorable terms; (iv) a reserve position that is relatively comfortable when the FCL is requested on a precautionary basis; (v) sound public finances, including a sustainable public debt position; (vi) low and stable inflation, in the context of a sound monetary and exchange rate policy framework; (vii) the absence of bank solvency problems that pose an immediate threat of a systemic banking crisis; (viii) effective financial sector supervision; and (ix) data transparency

In conclusion

It is unrealistic to assume without genuine peace and stable conditions, IMF or other foreign loans can bring about rapid development. Actually, the urgent need for emergency support loan is because the level of Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves has dropped drastically, sufficient to pay for just 5 weeks imports. Moreover, unlike outright grants, loans have to be settled as agreed by the recipient and the ability to repay also depends on the future state of public finance. This in turn depends on factors linked to peace and stability.

In his address announcing the decision to rebuild the damaged rail track and railway stations in the North and resume the Yal Devi Express train service between Colombo and Jaffna, President Mahinda Rajapaksa spoke passionately about national unity and co-existence. He said, “By reconstructing the Yal Devi Railway Line we are defending the liberated North”. He also said that when this reconstruction is completed, “terrorism would not be able to raise its head again”. There is no doubt about the usefulness of such conciliatory moves but these are not the substitute for the political changes needed to settle agreeably the key issues that deprived the nation real peace, progress and prosperity. Reconstruction and rehabilitation should be an essential part of the new peace process. The present system is divisive and changes are needed to ensure unity in diversity. Without these the peace process will not succeed.

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

March 24, 2009

Racism, xenophobia lie at the root of many inter- and intra-state conflicts

By Dr. Dayan Jayatilleke

“Mr. President,

In my capacity as Chairperson/Rapporteur of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration & Programme of Action, it is my honour to submit the report on its 6th Session to the Human Rights Council, pursuant to Resolution 1/5 and Decision 3/103.

Racism, xenophobia and related intolerance pose a threat to national and international peace and security as they lie at the root of many conflicts, both interstate and intrastate. Therefore, it is our responsibility to work whole-heartedly towards the eradication of racism and xenophobia by fulfilling the mandate of the Inter-Governmental Working Group accordingly. I am committed to ensuring that the goals established under the mandate are realized effectively.

Mr. President,

The Working Group held its 6th meeting in two parts: from 11th to the 22nd February 2008 and on the 18th December 2008. This report includes narratives on the meetings and deliberations of the Working Group. At the first meeting, the Working Group elected the new Chairperson/Rapporteur and adopted its agenda.

My nomination as the new Chairperson/Rapporteur was proposed by the distinguished delegate of China on behalf of the Asian Group, to whom I wish to offer my sincere gratitude for his most kind words. My gratitude extends to the entire Working Group including the distinguished Representative of Egypt, who seconded the nomination on behalf of the African Group, for the trust bestowed on me.

The session of the Working Group included discussions on its programme of work, during which the Representative of Slovenia, on behalf of the European Union, suggested that the Group adjourn its session until the conclusion of the work of the Preparatory Committee for the Durban Review Conference. However, this position was not supported by other delegates, who held the view that the Working Group had to carry on with its work as per the amended mandate. Thereafter, the Intergovernmental Working Group approved the programme of work by consensus and resumed its session.

Mr. President,

Consistent with the agenda and the programme of work, the Working Group prepared its contribution to the Durban Review Conference pursuant to Council Resolution 3/2 which requested the Working Group and other mechanisms to “assist the Preparatory Committee by undertaking the review and submitting recommendations through the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights as contributions to the outcome of the Review Conference”.

The contribution was submitted to the Preparatory Committee of the Durban Review Conference in the form of a document entitled “Compilation of Conclusions and Recommendations adopted by the Inter-Governmental Working Group on the Effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action”.

The Intergovernmental Working Group was unable to formally adopt a draft programme of work for the 2nd part of its sixth session and to discuss the content of the draft programme of work, owing to non-availability of full conference services.

Despite challenging circumstances under which the session was held, some progress was achieved in terms of dealing with the thematic areas relating to other important provisions of the DDPA. The Inter-governmental Working group has to deal with its future programme of work and it is important to summon the necessary political will and good faith in collectively tackling issues of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Action-oriented and forward looking Conclusions and Recommendations need to be adopted by the mechanism, with a view to tangibly contributing towards the total eradication of racism.

A decision on future areas of work could not be reached despite efforts made by some delegations to put forward proposals for possible inclusion in the future programme of work of the Inter-Governmental Working Group. There is still strong posturing in certain quarters which often leads to a delay in the conduct of the sessions of the Inter-Governmental Working Group. The necessary political will and good faith will guide the next session of the Inter-Governmental Working Group.

The Working Group adopted the draft report on its sixth session ad referendum on the conclusion of the session on 18th December 2008 and concluded the sixth session.

Thank you Mr. President.”

(Statement made by Ambassador Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka, Chairperson/Rapporteur and the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka, at the 10th Session of the Human Rights Council on 24th March 2009, during the submission of the Report on the 6th Session of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration & Programme of Action)

March 21, 2009

Sri Lankan constitution analysed by a different Rajapakse

Dr. Deepika Udagama

BOOK REVIEW

A Guide to Current Constitutional Issues in Sri Lanka
By Ruana Rajepakse Published by Citizens’ Trust (2008)

Some constitutions around the world appear to be rock solid; others seem to work reasonably well; and yet others seem to be floundering no matter how much of work has gone into them. We have witnessed three constitutions in operation since independence in 1948. The last of them, the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka, was amended no less than seventeen times, with many more attempts at amendment. Yet, our problems as a nation seem so intractable. Are our national problems due to the constitutions, or are we, the citizenry, to be blamed for our apathy and our choice of political representatives?

A Guide to Current Constitutional Issues in Sri Lanka by Ruana Rajepakse, a versatile legal practitioner, is an admirable attempt at educating the public on some of the most pressing and complex constitutional issues of our times. She makes the issues accessible through readable language without cutting corners on accuracy, substance or analysis.

The book comprises six chapters, including the introduction and conclusion. The introduction maps the modern constitutional history of the country beginning with the Colebrook-Cameron reforms, the Donoughmore reforms all the way up to the present constitution. It traces the evolution of ethnic and class politics in colonial Sri Lanka, which acutely informed constitutional developments in the country, and still continues to do so.

The promise of the consensus-seeking executive committee system under the Donoughmore Constitution is analysed at some length. The system is viewed positively and the author ruefully refers to the erosion of its effectiveness at the hands of majoritarian politicians. Similarly, political negation of the potential of Article 29 (2) of the Soulbury Constitution (which prohibited legislation that discriminated on the basis of religion or community) in defusing ethnic tensions is analysed at some length.

The author argues that some of the provisions in the 1972 Republican Constitution-such as Article 6 which recognises the foremost place of Buddhism — were formulated in reaction to the aversion to some of the features of the Soulbury Constitution, particularly Article 29 (2). Quite an indictment against the progressive UF government!

The analysis of the modern constitutional history of Ceylon/Sri Lanka set out in the introductory part of the book, sadly confirms the reality that in Sri Lanka, politics, or rather politicians, have viewed the constitution as a utilitarian tool that can be ignored or bent to suit political needs of the day.

The adoption of new constitutions in quick succession, as also the extensive number of amendments effected to the 1978 Constitution, were mostly motivated by political expediency than a desire to improve constitutional ideals or principles. That we have yet to develop a political ethos that is disciplined enough to recognise the supremacy of the constitution is a theme that runs throughout the book.

The analysis of the 1978 Constitution in Chapter 2 is equally interesting. The chapter presents a useful comparison of the Sri Lankan presidential system with those in France and the USA. Surprisingly, the thrust of the arguments made there is that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the current executive presidential system in Sri Lanka. What is necessary, it is argued, is a sound system of checks and balances that makes the president accountable - not immune from responsibility. The author maintains that a powerful prime minister under the previous constitutional dispensation was equally amenable to authoritarianism as an executive president, if either had the luxury of an absolute parliamentary majority, as enjoyed by President J R Jayawardene. Certainly, food for thought.

An invaluable feature of the book is Ruana’s brief but illuminating insights into many of the seventeen amendments to the 1978 Constitution (pp38-58). She provides information on the political backdrop to each amendment and also related jurisprudence. The political antics surrounding some of the amendments are a telling statement of the political rot that has set in.

In the chapter on the ethnic question and devolution of power, the discussion does not attempt to rehash historical reasons for the conflict, but in a very practical, and somewhat technical manner focuses on two constitutional issues — language rights and power sharing.

The author bemoans the many lost opportunities in adopting a just language policy. With the aid of comparative perspectives from India and Singapore, she appears to favour a national language policy which promotes multi-lingualism in vernacular languages, while according to English a special status as the language necessary for commercial and scientific pursuits.

The much vexed question of devolution power is discussed at length, again with the aid of comparative perspectives. Power sharing arrangements in Belgium (cross cutting devolution), the UK (asymetrical devolution), Canada and South Africa are discussed in brief, with a sharp assessment of what promise those models hold for our own situation. Options for effective power sharing at the centre (but not via crossovers!) and also coordination between the centre and the region are also examined.

Critiquing territorial devolution based on ethnic concentrations, she maintains that such a scheme would not have prevented the 1983 anti-Tamil pogroms in the South nor the evictions of Muslims by the LTTE in the North. The author argues for a more sophisticated system of devolution that is carefully tailored to balance aspirations of the various communities, while preserving a national identity.

Readers will greatly benefit from the discussion on the Thirteenth Amendment and jurisprudence relating to it. The author maintains that the subsequent judgments of the Supreme Court have paved the way for the emergence of a quasi-federal system, confirming the fears of the minority judgment in the Thirteenth Amendment case which held it to be unconstitutional. I have serious disagreements with the author on this point, for in my opinion, the system contemplated by the Thirteenth Amendment still gives a strong upper hand to parliament and the president in their relationship with the provincial councils, making the latter predominantly creatures of the centre.

Theoretical debates aside, it is clear that neither the majority community, nor the disgruntled minority communities view the current system in favourable light. The goods have not been delivered, even though the system has dearly cost the public coffers. If the existing system is to work without reform, there will have to be a great change of heart at the centre and a phenomenal increase in political maturity and decency. Such expectations may be too Utopian.

The chapter on electoral reform is a treasure trove of information on the existing system of elections and also attempts at reform. The technical nature of the subject is made bearable by pithy interjections on the political realities that have steered the electoral system. We are reminded of how the very political regime which introduced the proportional representation system in 1978, refused to put it to use, instead opting to prolong its term in parliament via a referendum. Thus, it clung onto the 5/6 majority they had gained through the previous first past the post system for 12 long years, amending the constitution many times over during that period without cross-party consensus.

Similarly, the section on the hotly debated “crossovers”, not only provides a sound discussion on the attendant constitutional issues, but also a description of the movements of politicians this way and the other, all in the name of forging multi-party consensus!

The author then takes us through a kaleidoscope of election history and issues, including the 1981 DDC election in Jaffna and the 1982 referendum (both of which firmly established the cult of election violence), the proportional representation system, the problematic preferential voting system, the questionable “national list” system (which has brought in many unsavoury personalities into parliament ), the role of the elections commissioner, the proposed Elections Commission and the election petition system. Capping off the very useful chapter is a discussion on the recent recommendations made by the Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reform, whose major recommendation of adopting a hybrid system of elections appears to find favour with the author.

The final substantive chapter is on the profound issue of fundamental rights. Considering the vastness of the subject, the discussion is disappointingly limited. This is especially so considering the emerging dimensions of economic and social rights and public interest litigation that the author herself has played a significant role in championing.

In my opinion, the most significant point made here is that, under both the 1978 Constitution and the 2000 Draft Constitution, the supremacy of the Bill of Rights was defeated by permitting contravening existing laws to continue - a populist concession to customary laws and identity politics. At no cost should such a feature be included in future constitutional reform.

Ruana concludes by admitting, very rightly, that a constitution can only accomplish so much and no further; it can stipulate a system of checks and balances and limits on state power. A constitution cannot determine the integrity, sincerity and commitment of persons who will eventually wield those powers. That part is left to us, the voters.

Overall, A Guide to Current Constitutional Issues in Sri Lanka is highly recommended as a valuable educational tool to keen citizens, teachers and students at both secondary and tertiary levels, and observers of Sri Lanka. Its value lies in the range of issues discussed and, more so, in the intelligent and non-dogmatic manner in which the author treats each issue. Even if one may disagree with the author on some points, one does so respectfully, conscious of the integrity and seriousness of purpose that she brings to bear on the subject.

I strongly encourage Ruana to have the book translated into Sinhala and Tamil, so that it will be accessible to the readership that really matters.

(The Reviewer, Dr Deepika Udagama is from the Faculty of Law University of Colombo and was recipient of A ZONTA ward recently)

Some aspects on the barriers to the Tamil cause

Point of View: By A. Rajasingam

The Tamils all over the world are concerned of the plight of the innocent Tamils who are caught in the armed conflict. On one side the Government calls it has waged a war on the terrorists in order to rescue the Tamils from the clutches of the LTTE. On the other side the LTTE maintains the people are with them. Apparently the Tamils also do not have faith in the Armed Security Forces fearing that they will be persecuted on suspicion of a LTTE cadre or sympathizer. Further, the Government, too, has not demonstrated its good faith without placing a meaningful solution for the innocent Tamils to decide a better future. Moreover, there are reports that the LTTE held these innocent Tamils as shields to protect them. Above all, the Government had denied access to the journalists and the NGOs on whom the trapped innocent Tamils have full confidence. The issue raises the role of the United Nations to deal in such a situation.

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[Barbed wired centres being built to shelter the Vanni displaced in Manic Farm, Vavuniya-Feb 2009~pic by drs. Sarajevo]

A a brief synopsis of the description Convention, Protocols, etc., under the international law will give clear thinking of its operation. Under international law Covenants, Conventions, Exchange of Letters are treated as Treaties. A Protocol is an international agreement that supplements a previous international agreement. All these treaties must be respected based on the maxim “pacta sunt servanda” which is the main principle. A Protocol can amend the previous international agreement or add additional provisions. However, parties to the earlier agreement are not required to adopt the Protocol which is called an optional Protocol. The UN Charter states that Treaties should be registered with the UN for purposes of invoking and the obligations of its members outweigh any competing obligations under other treaties.

Though, generally Treaties prohibit withdrawal, there is room for States to withdraw provided it follows certain procedures of notification. But a multi-lateral Treaty continue to remain in force between other Signatories. Treaties are not permanently binding upon the signatory States. Human Rights Treaties are generally interpreted to exclude the possibility of withdrawal, because of the importance of the obligations.

If a signatory has violated its Treaty obligations, the matter should be brought before an international tribunal as specified in the Treaty which may be subject to conditions. However a Treaty can be terminated on grounds of unforeseen circumstances. The impact of terrorism on the democratic structure becomes a question of supervening impossibility for which there a number of shades of opinion affecting the validity of the Treaties.

Now the conflict between the Municipal Law (national law of the a Sovereign State) and the International Law raises number of issues as to which gain priority. There is on one side the operation of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Constitution of Sri Lanka aided by Emergency Regulations., while on the other side the operation of the Geneva Convention on Genocide, Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to which Sri Lanka is a signatory.

Though Article 2 (7) of the UN Charter provides that no State shall intervene into the domestic affairs of another country, it is subject to the application of enforcing measures under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter which allows States to retain the right of coercive action, including the use of military force, to protect international peace and security. Moreover, Article 27 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties states that in the event of a conflict between a Municipal Law and a Treaty, the State is requires to meet its obligations under the Treaty, except where a State's expression of consent to be bound was a violation of a rule of its internal law of fundamental importance by virtue of Article 46 of the Vienna Convention.

Intervention on behalf of “good causes” arise under circumstances where the Municipal laws fail to address the humanitarian issues which are of utmost concern to the international community. Terrorism is a 21st century concept which have a great impact on the democratic structure. Countries have entered into treaties for the suppression of terrorism in any form. But it does not mean killing of humans as stipulated in the Geneva Convention on Genocide.

Rajapakse's government cannot act of its own to continue with the massacre of innocent Tamils by denying access to the NGOs to the war torn areas. The suspension of medical supplies and the basic necessities to the needy at this crucial hour coupled with restrictions on fishing and other matters connected with the daily needs, would tantamount to acts of war crimes. Such grounds can also be treated as “good causes” for intervention by the UN.

There is an argument that a liberation armed struggle may be carried out with a political objective, but terrorism has an impact of demolishing the very foundation of democracy. But does it mean that about 300 innocent civilians should be massacred along with destruction of property to kill a terrorist. This type of situation calls for intervention on behalf of “good” causes. Notwithstanding the importance of the applicability of Municipal laws, there is a moral obligation on the part of the signatories which had entered into a Convention or Protocol to abide by humanitarian laws in the best interests of humanity.

Knowing that the intensified action would result in the likelihood of indiscriminate bombings and shelling on the civilians leading to a genocide in spite of the government giving an ultimatum to leave the terrorist area, still there is a moral obligation on the government to protect them when they are in a helpless situation. The allegation of the difficulties in differentiating a civilian from that of a terrorist is no excuse. In such a situation, there is a moral obligation on the part of the Armed Security Forces as well as of the LTTE to allow the free movement of civilians with the assistance of the NGOs and the journalists to secured places which should be declared no war zones.

Merely blaming the government is also insufficient. Assuming the Armed Security Forces continues with its intensified offensive, there is a right for the LTTE in this case to appeal to the international community with clean hands. The LTTE failed to demonstrate its genuineness on account of the decimation of educated and law-abiding citizens, such as Dr.Neelan Thiruchelvam, Ms.V.Maheswary, who were funded by the international communities to look after the humanitarian task, shows a very bad record of the LTTE. Such bad records have marred all hopes of drawing the attention of the international community.

Though the possible option for the Tamils to lobby in other countries may draw the attention of the international community, there are reservations for the likelihood of being a futile exercise because of the unpredictable actions of the LTTE in not honouring the truce. Past records show that the LTTE missed two golden opportunities, firstly when the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord was signed and secondly when the Draft Constitution (almost on the Canadian model) was proposed by Dr.G.L.Peiris in consultation with Dr.Neelan Thiruchelvam. The assassinations of Rajiv Gandhi and Dr.Neelan Thiruchelvam demonstrated the hate propaganda of the LTTE by way of violating the laws of the country and causing breach of peace, thus proving it has no clean hands to come before the international community.

Mere assertion that the LTTE is the authentic representative of the Tamils also fails when the murders of Tamil politicians, professionals, Principals, government servants, Tamil Ministers and members of other Tamils groups (especially of the Eastern Province) in thousands were killed mercilessly. Moreover, the Tamil Parliamentarians for the hill country Tamils with other Tamil Ministers had voted for the Emergency Regulations (meant to defeat the LTTE's practices), all of which had nullified the call of authentic representative of the Tamils as claimed by the LTTE. At the very inception, the concept of the authentic representative of the Tamils was scoffed by the Tamils in view of the decimation of the Tamils by the LTTE.

The claim of the Government to secure the release of the innocent Tamils from the clutches of the LTTE over shadows the LTTE's treatment of the presence of government forces as a foreign occupation. Had the LTTE accommodated the entire Tamil groups without any discrimination or joined under one umbrella in its liberation struggle then the conflict between the government and the rebels claiming to represent its people would have been meaningful and drawn the attention of international community. Intervention on behalf of “good causes” by the international community was frustrated by the LTTE on account of its ruthless nature. Now the only option available is to solve this conflict through a politically negotiated settlement.

The other issue is whether such an armed conflict between the Armed Security Forces and the LTTE could trigger the internationalization of the ethnic Tamil conflict. In analyzing this issue, there should be a foreign (colonial) domination, when, in fact, it was an internal matter and lacked in characterizing their cause at international level. The assertion that the LTTE treats the government forces as a foreign occupation should be thrashed out to, given the fact that there are some Tamil Ministers looking after the interests of the IDPs. Apparently the members in the Security Council, namely Russia and China will block the issue of the Sri Lankan crisis in the agenda.

However, all hopes of a ceasefire are not lost. There is something called the behaviour of the States especially in South Asia, which look into the mass persecution of innocent civilians. The blunders of the LTTE is due to its hostile attitude which led to the adoption of wrong strategy. The strategy adopted by the LTTE in criticizing and humiliating India in and out of Sri Lanka Parliament, eventually led them to beg India for assistance to enforce a ceasefire. In stead, the wrong strategy was adopted by the LTTE in rallying round the Dravidian political leaders only, thus neglecting the Central government leaders.

Lobbying is a mechanism of carrying on propaganda or participating in the publishing or distributing of statements pertaining to some form of oppression in the political context. The LTTE failed in its exercise of lobbying at direct level where it failed to influence through communication with sections of Tamils such as G.Parthasarathy, P.Chidambaram, etc., who has a voice in the formulation of policies and could have internationalized the ethnic Tamil issue. In contrast, the LTTE only concentrated in its grass root level to influence the Tamil Nadu legislators through an effort to affect the opinions of the general public, which resulted in transforming the issue into a political business among the Dravidian parties. It is time for the LTTE to realize that Sri Lanka is referred to as Colombo Government and India is referred to as Delhi Government. But India cannot be referred to as Chennai Government.

Perhaps their demonstration could have shown the strength of their vote bank. Similarly, Tamil leaders are not confined within the Dravidian class of leaders proclaiming as world Tamil leaders. There are other sections of Tamils such as G.Parthasarathy, P.Chidambaram, etc, on the political front who play a decisive role in the Central Government.

In my view, the Indian Minister Mr.P.Chidambaram, who has a first hand knowledge of the problem in Sri Lanka, since the signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord, could apply pressure successfully for the ceasefire. The surrendering of arms means a symbolic laying down of few arms. Rallying around the other Dravidian political leaders will in no way help in enforcing a ceasefire. Since the formation of the Asian Union have not come into existence, and as India has a final voice, the LTTE should have rallied around the rulers of India, though there is a cold war taking place between the major countries in the SAARC. This does not mean that the LTTE should only participate but should allow Tamils from all walks of life to participate at the negotiations. The LTTE should categorically avoid placing threatening restrictions on other members. If the LTTE can neutralize its arrogance in this way, the Government too can step down for a compromise. Further, such negotiations with the government should be held in foreign soil. The hope of every peace loving citizen is that India and the international community may prefer such a method to avoid bloodshed.

The Sinhalese too should realize that the presence of Tamils in Colombo and in the hill countries does not mean that Tamils will claim separation in those areas. The Sinhalese will be the majority in those areas and the Tamils will be the minorities. The position of its assertion for a Unitary claim throughout this period, instead of a federal solution, ultimately ended that Sri Lanka has become a failed State. The Government should take actions to reduce fear of arrest for no reason in such a situation and facilitate communication, transparency and verify measures that are required for a confident building measure.

This is the hour for all Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims to shed all differences and allow no room whatsoever for the Armed Security Forces and other terrorist groups to engage or complicit in cases of disappearances, torture and murder of civilians, as already the murder of a six year old school girl at Trincomalee has signaled the beginning of the after effect of the battle before completion. After all, there are still mixed marriages taking place among the Sinhalese and Tamils. A change of heart for mutual understanding is required after realizing the errors through these meaningless wars by way of having a government with Federal features where power will be allowed to be shared by all communities.

(The writer was a practicing Attorney-at-Law in Sri Lanka)

March 18, 2009

ICRC continues to help civilians as crisis escalates

Fighting continues between Sri Lankan government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), prompting growing fears for the lives of those trapped in the conflict area. The ICRC has been bringing a little hope, evacuating the sick and wounded and escorting boats carrying food and limited medicines - ICRC activities in January and February 2009:

Tens of thousands of people confined to a rapidly-shrinking area have headed for the coast to escape the fighting, in search of safety, food and medical care. But numbers in the coastal belt held by the LTTE have increased drastically over recent weeks, and clean water is scarce. The area is affected by shelling every day, and the cramped conditions and the lack of water and proper sanitation are putting people at risk of epidemics.

"The humanitarian situation is deteriorating by the day," said Paul Castella, head of the ICRC’s Colombo delegation. "Many of these people are forced to shelter in trenches. They are in considerable physical danger. After having been forced to move from place to place en masse for weeks or even months, they depend entirely on food from outside the conflict area."

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[ICRC helping in transportation of patients in Vanni-pic: dpdhs Kilinochchi]

The sick and wounded continue to arrive at Putumattalan, where local people have helped set up a makeshift medical facility in a community centre and a school. Medical staff from the ministry of health do their best to cope with a constant influx of people injured by the fighting, but there are not enough medical supplies to meet the needs.

With the agreement of the government and the LTTE, the ICRC has continued to evacuate patients from Putumattalan (which is in the LTTE-held area) to Trincomalee (in the government-held area). The ICRC-chartered Green Ocean ferry has evacuated over 4,000 sick and wounded people, together with their carers, since evacuations started on 10 February. The evacuees included over 1,400 people in need of surgery, so an ICRC medical team consisting of a surgeon, an anaesthetist and a nurse are helping Trincomalee Hospital to handle the influx.

Since mid-February, the ICRC has on 12 occasions facilitated the movement of food shipments from Trincomalee to Putumattalan, delivering a total of over 700 tonnes of flour, dhal, sugar and oil provided by the government and the World Food Programme. On three occasions it was possible to deliver some medicines provided by the ministry of health, but the quantities were too limited by comparison with the needs.

"With patients continuing to arrive at the improvized medical facility in Putumattalan, it is essential that evacuations take place regularly and without interference. It is encouraging to see food and medicines going into the conflict area, but they must be delivered regularly if they are to have an impact," said Morven Murchison, who coordinates the ICRC's health activities in Sri Lanka.

The civil and military authorities have helped with the medical evacuations and the food shipments, as have local people. Offloading food onto the beach in Putumattalan may involve up to 275 people transporting the food in fishing boats and carrying it ashore. These are dangerous and complex operations. The fighting is one hazard, but bad weather and heavy seas often make things worse.

With the help of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society, the ICRC was able to give 130 sick and wounded evacuees personal hygiene kits, emergency household kits, kitchen utensils and baby-care parcels. These people received medical treatment at hospitals in Trincomalee and Vavuniya.

ICRC staff member killed

ICRC employee Vadivel Vijayakumar was killed by shelling on 4 March just north of Valayanmadam, on the coastal belt of the territory held by the LTTE. His nine-year-old son was injured in the same incident. This is the second time in less than three months that an ICRC staff member has been killed in Sri Lanka. Mr Vijayakumar leaves a wife and three children.

Acting as a neutral intermediary between the government and the LTTE

The conflict has disrupted traffic through Omanthai, formerly the only crossing point between government and LTTE areas, However, in January the ICRC facilitated the passage of 360 civilians, including 70 patients seeking treatment in Vavuniya hospital and nearly 125 vehicles, including ambulances. ICRC staff also transported the bodies of 100 fighters over the same period, 99 of them in January. The last ICRC-escorted land convoy took place on 29 January. Since 10 February, the ICRC has been facilitating the movement of the sick, the wounded and humanitarian aid between the LTTE- and government-held areas by sea.

Emergency aid for villagers following attack

An attack on a village in Ampara district in February left 14 dead and 10 injured. The ICRC provided a total of 143 families with personal hygiene kits and baby care parcels, while 20 families displaced by the attack received basic household requisites. Five families whose houses had been burned down in the attack also received a tarpaulin, kitchen utensils and a kerosene cooker.

Protecting civilians and detainees

The ICRC continues to monitor allegations concerning violations of international humanitarian law affecting civilians throughout the country. In January and February, over 3,900 people contacted the organization with allegations concerning missing persons, arbitrary arrests, recruitment of minors, unlawful killings and ill-treatment of civilians by arms bearers. In order not to endanger the people reporting such violations, ICRC staff discussed their reports bilaterally with the parties involved.

With the cooperation of government officials and the LTTE, the ICRC has been visiting people arrested in connection with the armed conflict to monitor their treatment and conditions of detention. ICRC delegates held private talks with over 1,400 security detainees in over 70 places of detention throughout the country and provided them with clothes, toiletries and recreational items. The ICRC paid for 10 detainees to return home by public transport after release, and for the families of 635 detainees to visit their detained relatives.

Working with volunteers from the SLRCS, the ICRC has been providing water and sanitation facilities for displaced persons in transit centres in Vavuniya and Jaffna. Over 150 toilets have been built, along with tanks to store water.

Restoring family links through Red Cross messages

Red Cross messages help detainees, their relatives and separated families to keep in touch. In January and February the ICRC and the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society collected over 1,000 messages and distributed almost 400.

March 17, 2009

UN Human Rights Council urged to intercede on behalf of two detained journalists

Reporters Without Borders, which has consultative status with the United Nations Human Rights Council, today asked the council to intercede on behalf of two imprisoned Sri Lankan journalists, J.S. Tissainayagam and N. Vithyatharan, and to meet as quickly as possible to discuss the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.

The press freedom organisation said Tissainayagam, who worked for the Sunday Times newspaper, has been held under an anti-terrorism law for more than a year just for writing two articles about how civilians have suffered as a result of the fighting between government forces and the rebels of the LTTE.

Vithyatharan, the editor of the Tamil daily Sudar Oli, has been held by the Colombo police since 26 February. The authorities are trying to establish a link between him and the Tamil Tigers by going through hundreds of calls made or received by him or members of his staff.

Reporters Without Borders is shocked by the comments which the president’s brother, defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, made about Vithyatharan in an interview for Amos Roberts, a reporter with Australia's Special Broadcasting Service (SBS). “He is involved in the recent air attack and I am telling you if you try to give cover-up for that person you have blood in your hands,” Rajapaksa said. “And if someone says he is arrested because he is in media, that person also has blood on his hands.”

March 15, 2009

Genocide and Human Rights in Sri Lanka-Re-visited

Point of View by A.Rajasingam

Today the UN is burdened with the problem of genocide and terrorism which are inter-twined and complex. These problems exists in developing countries including some multi-racial countries. Terrorism in any form which is committed by anyone or group has to be condemned unequivocally. In Sri Lanka though the Government is waging a war on terrorism, the Tamils have to clear all the hurdles to prove that the government is committing genocide on the pretext of fighting terrorism. A careful study of the Geneva Convention on Genocide together with other Resolutions on suppression of Terrorism, Declaration of Human Rights, Sri Lanka Constitution and the Prevention of Terrorism Act have to be scrutinized in dealing with genocide. The basis of the applicability of the international humanitarian law are the Geneva Conventions where armed conflict occurs and deal with the general protection of civilians.

Article 2 of the Geneva Convention on Genocide describes killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group and Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. Article 3 of the Geneva Convention on Genocide goes on to state that genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, attempt to commit genocide and complicity in genocide are punishable.

Finally, Article 4 states that whether persons are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals, they shall be punished for committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3.
Article 25 (1) of the UN Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care, all of which are considered as basic necessities.

Crimes against humanity include murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation or forcible transfer of population, imprisonment depriving physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law, torture, sexual slavery, rape, persecution against any identifiable group on political, racial, ethnic, religious and other similar grounds which are not permissible under international law, enforced disappearance, crime of apartheid and other similar inhumane acts causing great suffering.

Simultaneously, the United Nations General Assembly had paid attention on terrorism which was a menace to democracy. It adopted two counter-terrorism related conventions: the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons in 1973 and the International Convention against the Taking of Hostages in 1979 and thereafter number of Resolutions were adopted. With the passage of time terrorism began to spread its ugly tentacles pausing as a dangerous element to all democratic countries. The birth of terrorism originated from religious fanaticism, political oppression, etc.

Terrorism showed no respect to anyone. It did not even spare the innocent sportsmen from Munich Olympics Games to the Sri Lankan cricketers at Lahore. Problems arise when innocent civilians got caught within the conflict when countering terrorism. The General Assembly has been consistently addressing on the issue of terrorism issue and adopted several counter-terrorism related Resolutions. The war on terrorism is a battle between the visible and the invisible. As such violation of human rights is a matter of concern.

Chapter 3 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka contains provisions of fundamental rights. Simultaneously, the Prevention of Terrorism Act also describes certain acts that amount to terrorism. But no where is terrorism is defined. Upon a close examination of the Act, there are contradictions between the provisions of the Sri Lanka Constitution and the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Further, Sri Lanka is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

One can understand the problem of the United Nations in dealing with the terrorism. Great Britain, Canada, Malaysia and a host of democratic countries handled the issue of discrimination swiftly, leaving no room for the birth of terrorism in their constitution, a fact that Sri Lanka should learn. Neverthless, international terrorist groups continue to pose a threat to the stabilization of democracy. Terrorist groups should realize that fanaticism is not the answer.

However, the consequence of the discrimination shown to the Tamils eventually led to the prolonged detention of suspected innocent Tamils without any charges by the successive governments, while the politicians having links with the the terrorists and the notorious criminals, are still enjoying immunities, has become a matter of concern. What was astonishing was the disregard shown by some Ministers to the Supreme Court Order and the unanswered questions relating to the mysterious deaths of important witnesses pertaining to the connection with the terrorists. The question that arise, is should the innocent Tamils suffer for the clumsy handling of the rulers.

How will the provisions of the Geneva Convention on Genocide lend a helping hand to the helpless Tamils in such a situation? Since the clumsy handling of the ethnic issue demonstrates a dishonest motive on the part of Sri Lanka, there is a paramount duty on the international community to rescue the helpless Tamils and compel both warring parties to begin negotiated political settlement.

Since Terrorism has the force of demolishing the very foundation of the structure of democracy posing an imminent danger, priority is generally given to deal with terrorism with due care for the safety of the civilians. The attack on the Twin Tower on September 11th and the attack on London demonstrates that terrorists do not have any concern for hundreds of civilized races because of their evil motive. Both Britain and America were civilized States that have accommodated several hundreds of races without any discrimination.

Problems do arise in a country with complexities as to race, religion, and language when its constitution allows room for discrepancies. The main aim of the constitution is to maintain peace and rule the country for the benefit of the people without any discrimination. A constitution should be framed with a sense of care for the adjustment of the relationship between the powers of the government and the rights of the people. If the constitution is drawn with evil motive to suppress the ethnic community with the murders of journalists and eviction of NGOs, then the State becomes a 'rogue State' where politicians attempts to conceal their corrupt practices, they had with the terrorists and the criminals. Further, the conflict between the ruling politicians and their opponents, who had adequate knowledge of the dealings with the terrorists, led to the use of the State machinery (Armed Security Forces) to wipe out their opponents in order to conceal their corrupt practices. Politicians should realize that a Constitution is a living document which sets out a plan of government and should not be changed at their will and pleasure.

The rejection of any compromise and the breach of the so-called 2002 ceasefire agreement coupled with the denial of access to journalists and the international NGOs are considered as intolerant practice to crush the Tamils mercilessly. This is not promising and calls for intervention by the international community, given the fact that Rajapakse's regime altered the prevailing democratic level of government into a totalitarian State. This is a continuation of the other form of Srima-Shastri Pact of 1964 which paved the way for the repatriation of more than 500,000 hill country Tamils to India. All repressive practices by successive governments showed signs of lack tolerance and nullified any attempt on confident building measures. Now the JVP and the JHU have joined in the forefront of such practices.

In Sri Lanka, all peace proposals have been virtually originated from the ruling party only and wanted to thrive on it by forcing on the minority community. It had not originated from a centrally collective decision which would reflect the opinions of various communities. At present, the few Tamils who are close to Mahinda Rajapakse are not creditable individuals. They should realize that Peace Package does not mean giving concessions with one hand and snatching same with the other hand by way of placing procedural constraints on the Provincial Councils. The accommodation of the paramilitary groups is to show the world that the root cause of Sri Lankan conflict never lies in the anti-communalist policy of the government when there are sufficient evidence of their atrocities. The paramilitary groups are still engaged or instrumental in encouraging the Security Forces to systematically exterminate the Tamils, apart from the atrocities committed by the LTTE. It is this situation that should have been deplored by the international community and take necessary steps to halt the persecution of innocent Tamils.

Upon an examination of the Geneva Convention on Genocide and the UN Declaration of Human Rights in the context of the past records of Sri Lanka's successive governments, Prof.M.Sornarajah is absolutely correct in his stand that there is a responsibility for the international community to protect the innocent Tamils.

Another contributing factor for committing genocide on the pretext of waging a war on terrorism at this crucial hour is the inability to challenge the sound argument that federalism can outperform unitarinism to date. This is tantamount to squeezing the voice of federalism. Successive governments have resorted to repressive practices, disregarding the rule of law and signaling the emergence of a totalitarian State like the Communist countries, to deal with people favouring federal solution, on the pretext of waging a war on terrorism. The ulterior motive of the southern politicians is to deny wider participation as envisaged in federalism by the people in the administration, to conceal their corrupt practices. Had there been a tax structure on the Canadian model, none of the politicians can escape to account for the vast amount of wealth amassed illegally, which was also a contributing factor to commit genocide like in Phillipines during the period of Marco and also Imelda. This is also one of the reasons for successive governments to resort to repressive practices. Such intolerance tend to commit genocide on the pretext of waging a war on terrorism.

Moreover, there are difficulties in identifying a terrorist from that of a civilian. However, persecution of innocent Tamils en masse without showing tolerance is treated as acts of genocide. Since the concepts of 'Genocide' and 'Protection of Human Rights' are inter-twined and complex, Rajapakse cannot deny responsibility for the deaths and injuries which are accounted as Crimes against humanity. It would have been acceptable had he tendered an apology to the victims when taking such a deterrent action to wipe out terrorism. But Rajapakse has miserably failed to take adequate preventive measures, such as placing a meaningful solution, all of which goes on to prove Sri Lanka was a failed State. The question of placing a solution after the complete victory demonstrates the cunningness of the ruling politicians. In contrast, the Western democratic countries sacrificed their soldiers to restore democracy from the clutches of terrorists and do not deny access to journalists and the NGOs.

Western countries always demonstrate their sportsmanship when civilians are targeted accidentally, but they do not engage in committing genocide. Here is a case where Sri Lanka is engaged in ethnic cleansing in order to squeeze the voice of federalism, an act contrary to the provisions of the Declaration of Human Rights, by denying access to journalists and the NGOs. As such mere call for accommodation of IDPs appears to be a farce. The difference of the treatment by Sri Lanka would be publicly known if the Western countries steps to evacuate the Tamils in North-East Sri Lanka, where it is certain that the Tamils are ready to welcome them.

If Rajapakse's government is really genuine, is it prepared to place a federal solution on the Canadian model, or American model or Indian model immediately instead of placing after the completion of the war. If this solution is unacceptable, they should point out the defects in such models including the paramilitary groups. Everyone has a suspicion when Sarath Fonseka remarked that Sri Lanka belongs exclusively to the Sinhalese which statement was not condemned by Rajapakse and his coterie. I presume that this is the position at this juncture.

It is urged that the formation of an Asian Council within an Asian Union would greatly reduce the ethnic conflict to a great extent in lending its arms to strength the provisions of the Geneva Convention on Genocide and UN Declaration of Human Rights to assist the United Nations. The dealing of terrorism should be confined with the concept of 'one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter'. The manner of tackling terrorism requires reconsideration. Since democratic countries are concerned about civil values, they tolerate for sometime and then take time to fight terrorism because societies are built upon civil values. But totalitarian countries do not tolerate such menace and are not the least concerned for human rights violation in dealing with terrorism and so with countries with Marxist ideologies.

(The writer was a practicing Attorney-at-Law in Sri Lanka)

March 10, 2009

The grid map of political opinion in Sri Lanka

by Dayan Jayatilleka

How do we classify Sri Lankan opinions and the opinions about Sri Lanka? One broad categorization would be between those who think that the Tigers are the problem and those who think the Tigers are the solution. Most Sinhalese belong to the first category and many Tamils, especially in the Diaspora, to the latter.

There is a more subtle version of this classification. There are those who think the Tigers are part of the problem and those who think they are part of the solution. Most Sinhalese and some Tamils fall into the first category and most Tamils into the latter.

Then there is a quadripartite way to slice it. (a) Those who think that the Tigers (and their supporters/sympathizers) are the sole problem, (b) those who think that the Tigers are the main problem or a major problem, (c) those who think the Tigers are the sole solution and (d) those who think the Tigers are the - or an imperative part of - the solution.

Here in category (b) too, one could distinguish two subcategories:

(i) those who think the Tigers are the main problem (“the primary contradiction”), the resolution of which is the prerequisite for the resolution – though not the addressing -- of all others,

(ii) those (like the UTHR-J, the SLDF and much of the human rights community) who think that they are a major problem but not the main one, and are co-equal with or increasingly secondary to the Government, the military or ‘Sinhala chauvinism’.

For the first grouping (a), those who think that Tiger terrorism (and its allies, local and foreign) constitutes the only problem, the solution is simple: eliminate the Tigers.

For the third and fourth groupings (c) & (d) too, the solution is very simple: talk to the Tigers.

For the second grouping, (b) i.e. for those who consider the Tigers as the main or the most crucial problem but not the only one; for those who think that there is another question, that of building a Sri Lankan nation which accommodates and reconciles Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim identities, matters are less simple.

In terms of policy practice, this category (b) subdivides between (I) those who think that the Tigers should be negotiated with and (II) those who feel that this suggestion confuses issue with agency; confuses the need to address the Tamil issue with the need to talk to the Tamil Tigers. Thus (b) (I) unfortunately lends itself to conflation with or being perceived as on a continuum with (c).

Those belonging to grouping (II) above, i.e. (b) (II), the pro-State Sinhala Realists and anti-Tiger Tamils, argue that there is an issue of identity and political space that needs to be negotiated but that the Tigers are the major, though not the sole, obstacle to designing and implementing a viable solution. They disagree that there is nothing to talk about which cannot be resolved by pure economic development and simple (re)integration. They also disagree that the talks should encompass the Tigers, not least because the history of talks and ceasefires has been disastrous.

As for solutions, if the issue is one state or two, the basic division is between those are for a separatist two state solution, perhaps leading to confederation (Tigers, pro-Tiger Diaspora, pro-Tiger Tamil Nadu elements, some Southern peace NGO elements) and those who are for a one state solution (the vast majority of Sri Lankans and the international state system).

Those for a single state solution divide up between those for:

* A centralized unitary state with zero or minimum devolution

* A federal system and

* A unitary system with maximum devolution (13th amendment full implementation/13 Plus One/13 Plus).

If the issue is the war, or war/peace, or war/negotiations then apart from the obvious division into ‘pro-war’ and ‘anti-war’ camps, there are further subdivisions observable.

n Pro-war, pro-Tiger (hardcore Tigers, pro-Tiger elements in Diaspora)

n Pro-war, anti-Tiger (UPFA, EPDP, TMVP, Karuna)

n Anti war, pro-Tiger (Tiger sympathizers in Tamil Nadu and Diaspora, who want to prevent a military defeat; pro-CFA ‘peace NGO’ lobby, NLF Trotskyists)

n Anti-war, anti-Tiger (India’s CPI-M, UTHR, SLDF, elements of LSSP)

To put the same matter differently, adding on devolution, the Sri Lankan politico-ideological pie slices up as follows, into six positions, three pro-Tiger and three anti-Tiger:

(1) Pro-Tiger and anti-devolution, because they are pro-Tamil Eelam/confederation;

(2) Pro-Tiger and pro-federalism (eg.TNA);

(3) Pro-Tiger/soft on Tigers, pro-devolution (UNP, ex-CBK peaceniks, some Leftists).

(4) Anti-Tiger, pro-federalism/Indian quasi-federalism (e.g. TULF, EPRLF, UTHR-type);

(5) Anti-Tiger, anti-devolution (eg. JHU, NFF except Nandana Goonetilleke);

(6) Anti-Tiger, pro-devolution (EPDP, Karuna, TMVP, SLFP, CPSL, LSSP, PLOT)

If the issues of pro and anti Govt, which means in reality, pro and anti-President Rajapaksa, are added on, together with the issue of devolution, the situation is as follows:

(A) Pro-Tiger, anti-war, anti-MR/Govt, pro-devolution/federalism (UNP leadership, ‘peace’ NGOs, INGOs)

(B) Anti-Tiger, anti-war, anti-Govt/MR, pro devolution/federalism (UTHR-type, CBK sympathizers)

(C) Anti-Tiger, pro-war, anti-Govt/MR, pro-devolution/federalism (UNP base, TULF)

(D) Anti-Tiger, pro-war, anti-Govt/MR, anti-devolution (JVP)

(E) Anti-Tiger, pro-war, pro-Govt/MR, pro-devolution (SLFP, CPSL, EPDP, Karuna)

(F) Anti-Tiger, pro-war, pro-Govt/MR, anti-devolution (JHU, NFF)

Given the character of the Lankan crisis, chiefly a crisis of armed secessionism, Sri Lanka is best served by those who take an anti-Tiger, pro-military position.

Given the character and proven track record of the Tigers, the anti-Tiger cause is best served by a pro-war, pro-military position.

Given the nature of the UNP leadership, that anti-Tiger, pro-war, pro-military position is sustainable only through a stand that is pro-Govt and pro-President Rajapaksa.

Thus the interests of the country are best served by the anti-Tiger, pro-war, pro-military, pro-Mahinda Rajapakse, pro-Govt position and camp.

Given that sustainable security and peace require the support of India; that sustainable prosperity requires the support of the world community; that no element of the world community from the Global North or South, East or West, supports an anti-devolution position and all of them urge reasonable devolution upon Sri Lanka, the future of the country is best served by the pro-devolution stand, to the extent that it is the sole viable stand.

Given that (going by voting patterns and opinion polls) the overwhelming majority of the country’s citizenry are anti-Tiger, pro-war, pro-military, pro-President Rajapaksa, the pro-devolution cause cannot be served from outside that camp. It cannot be productively served from within the anti-state, anti-military camp or the federalist camp.

Given the domestic realities, the cause of the Tamil people is most viably served by an anti-Tiger, pro-war, pro-Govt/MR, pro-devolution (non-federal) position.

Given both the domestic and international realities, Sri Lanka is best served by the positions and forces at the saddle point, the point of intersection, namely the anti-Tiger, pro-military, pro-war, pro-Govt, pro-devolution position and political elements. This then is the stand that must be taken, the ground that must be converged on, the position that must be strengthened and these, the political forces that must be supported.

(These are the strictly personal views of the author)

Obama: Good-bye to Dalai Lama & Aung San Kyi, Hail Hu Jintao

by B. Raman

"There is a common interest in the US as well as in China in maintaining and strengthening the present economic linkages without lettingthem be damaged seriously by what a Chinese analyst has called the tumours in the otherwise healthy organism of Sino-US relations whichkeep appearing from time to time such as the Taiwan, the proliferation, the Tibet and the National Missile Defence (NMD) issues. Thepolitical leaderships and the business class in the two countries would see to it that these tumours do not become malignant. One saw thatduring the Clinton Administration and one would see that during the Bush Administration too. After the present phase of rhetoric andconfrontation, moderation would again set in at Washington as well as in Beijing. It would be unwise and short-sighted for India to think thatthe present confrontation would last for long and that it could strategically take advantage of it."

2.So I wrote on May 14,2001, in an article titled SINO-US RELATIONS: THE ECONOMIC ASPECT available at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers3/paper241.html . That article was triggered off by a surge in US rhetoric in relation to China afterPresident George Bush assumed office on January 20,2001.

3. There has been no surge in US rhetoric vis-a-vis China after Barack Obama assumed office on January 20,2009. On the contrary, the focusof his advisers has been on identifying and expanding the mutual comfort features in the bilateral relations rather than on those features,which tended to cause friction in the past. The references from Washington DC to human rights issues---- whether they be in relation toTibet, Myanmar or the Chinese role in the Sudan--- have been muted. Mrs.Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, hardly mentioned them inpublic during her visit to Beijing from February 20 to 22,2009. She attended a Church service at Beijing apparently to underline continuingUS interest in the question of religious freedom in China, but avoided any comments on allegations that the Chinese authorities, whilewelcoming her visit to a church, took care to prevent any Christian dissenters from having interactions with her at the church. The normalexpressions of concern over China's military spending too were equally muted.

4. The focus was on the role which the US and China could play in jointly halting the unrelenting slide-down in the global economy and howthe two economies could sink together if they don't swim together. She underlined in benign words the increasing mutual dependence ofthe two economies----- with the Chinese dependence on the US consumers for a quick recovery of its exports-dependent manufacturingsector and with the US dependence on continued Chinese purchases of US Treasury Bonds to provide the cash flow to fund Obama'sstimulus packages.

5. The transformation of the US perceptions of the mutual economic dependence is remarkable if only one recalls that in the 1990s whenher husband, Bill Clinton, was the President, US policy-makers and many Congressmen lost no opportunity to express their concerns overthe increasing trade surplus in favour of China and over the national security implications of the Chinese cash flow for investment in the USTreasury Bonds and in US stocks. The advisers of Obama do not articulate these concerns. On the contrary, the concern now is, not that theChinese are buying the US Treasury Bonds, but that they are showing signs of slowing down their purchase because of their own economicdifficulties.

6. Mrs. Clinton did not hesitate to openly express the hope on more than one occasion that the Chinese would continue to invest in thebonds. Speaking at the US Embassy in Beijing on February 22,2009,shortly before her departure from China, she said: "By continuing tosupport American Treasury instruments, the Chinese are recognizing our interconnection.It would not be in China's interest if we wereunable to get our economy moving.We are truly going to rise or fall together. We are in the same boat and, thankfully, we are rowing in thesame direction." Responding to her comments separately , Yang Jiechi, the Chinese Foreign Minister, said that China wanted its foreignexchange reserves - the world's largest at $1.95 trillion - invested safely, with good value and liquidity. He said that future decisions onusing them would be based on those principles, but added that China wanted to continue to work with the US.

7. Mrs. Clinton's open acknowledgement of the benign aspects of the increasing economic inter-dependence between the two countrieswas music to the ears of the Chinese. The Chinese policy-makers chose to interpret it as indicating that the Obama administration did notview China as a potential adversary, but it viewed it as a potential partner. Mrs.Clinton said that she felt during her discussions in Beijing it was like the beginning of "a new era" of bilateral relations characterized by "positive cooperation". Addressing a joint press conference onFebruary 21,2009, Mrs.Clinton and Yang said that the two countries would build a "double-track" strategic and economic dialoguemechanism to discuss concerns of either politics or the economy. She added that she and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner would beinvolved in it. According to her, a decision on this was expected to be announced when Obama and Hu meet at the G20 summit in Londonin April. She also said that the US and China would build "an important partnership" to develop clean energy technologies and speed up thetransition to low carbon economies.

8. As I had been pointing out in the past, whereas Mao Zedong believed that power grew out of the barrel of the gun, Deng Xiaoping believedthat power also grew out of the money purse. Money speaks as eloquently as the gun, if not more eloquently. The bulging Chinese purse ata time when the rest of the world is facing a cash flow problem spoke repeatedly during Mrs.Clinton's visit. Good-bye to the Dalai Lama andAung San Suu Kyi, Hail Hu Jintao----- that is the message from the Obama administration .

9.A spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced in Bejing on March 7,2009, that Yang Jiechi would pay a working visit to the US from March 9 to 13, 2009, as a guest of Hillary Clinton. The spokesman added that the two sides would exchange views on the growth ofSino-US relations in what he described as the new phase and on regional and global issues of common concern.

10.The visit comes less than a month after the visit to Beijing by Mrs. Clinton, which has given immense satisfaction to Chinesepolicy-makers as marking the beginning of the process of the US coming to terms with the reality of a four-polar world----with the US, China,the Europen Union and the developing world constituting the four poles of the new world order as seen by China. In the Chinese perception,India's place in this four-polar world is as an important member of the developing world but not as a power by itself on par with the US andChina. Japan has no prominent place in this new world order. China projects itself as a developing country despite its galloping economyand huge foreign exchange reserves. At the same time, it views itself as a newly-emerged world power on par with the US and the EU.

11.This Chinese perception of itself and the world became evident in the articles and commentaries of Chinese analysts on the strategicsignificance of the US economic melt-down and of the US dependence on China for preventing an economic collapse. An article by the"People's Daily" of February 23,2009, said: "China has grown to be a new heavyweight player and stepped into the limelight on the worldstage. And its role in salvaging the plummeting world economy from hitting bottom looms large and active, as the U.S. Secretary of StateHillary Clinton said during her just wrapped-up Asian tour, 'the U.S. appreciates the continued Chinese confidence in the U.S treasuries.' Ifthe Cold War was 'a tug of war' between East and West, and a showcase of hard power, what we have today, for the first time in history, is aglobal, multicivilizational and multipolar competition, and a display of smart power. To be the winner, one has to seek more cooperationrather than confrontation."

12. The two defining characteristics of the Obama administration are opportunism and pragmatism. Its main priorities for some time to comewill be restoring the economic health, preventing another 9/11 in the US homeland by going after Al Qaeda's sanctuaries in Pakistan's tribalbelt and any kind of peace in Afghanistan which would avert a Vietnam type disastrous withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan. Forachieving these objectives, the US relations with China and Pakistan would have greater importance for Obama than its relations withIndia.

13. It should not, therefore, be a matter of surprise that India figures less and less in the short and medium-term strategic calculations of theObama administration. The only interest of the Obama Administration in India will be in ensuring that it does not take any military actionagainst Pakistan for its continued sponsorship and use of terrorism against India.

14. The Obama Administration is not going to be interested in building up India as a counter to China. In continuing to develop the USA'smilitary-military relationship with India to which the Pentagon continues to attach importance, it will avoid features which could causeconcern to China just as the Kevin Rudd Government in Australia is doing.

15. All India can expect from the Obama Administration is soothing words from time to time to tickle India's vanity. Nothing more. After theeuphoria created by the policies of the Bush Administration among policy-makers and in the community of wishful-thinkers in New Delhieuphemistically called strategic thinkers, we are in for a mood correction. (10-3-09)

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

March 09, 2009

Commonwealth Runs Risk of Becoming Relic In Britain

by Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah

March 9 was Commonwealth Day. To mark it, Queen Elizabeth was set to join 2,000 others at Westminster Abbey, London, for the U.K.’s largest multifaith observance. Since emerging from the colonial era as a voluntary grouping of independent nations 60 years ago, the modern Commonwealth has done a great deal to promote democracy, international understanding and the interests of vulnerable states. Yet, at least in the U.K., if more is not done to raise its visibility and relevance the Commonwealth risks disappearing from the national consciousness.

In 1969, a Gallup poll found that 34 per cent of British people identified the Commonwealth as the most important part of the world for Britain, on a par with those who said America, and one and a half times those who said Europe. An RCS/YouGov survey finds that only 14 per cent of British do so now, well behind America and Europe.

QTC0309.jpg

[Britain's Queen Elizabeth II arrives at Westminster Abbey in London, ahead of the annual Observance for Commonwealth Day, on March 9, 2009. AFP PHOTO]

More worrying is the fact that, although many Brits feel warmly about the Commonwealth (42 per cent said they would be sorry or appalled if Britain left the association, compared with 4 per cent who would be pleased), only one in five respondents could name any of its activities. Levels of awareness among young people are poor: only a third of 18- to 34-year-olds could identify Jamaica or South Africa as members, and a third did not know the Queen was its head.

Invisibility does not, of course, equate to irrelevance. Some of the Commonwealth’s best work is done behind the scenes. The secretariat has helped some of the world’s most delicate peace negotiations and democratic transformations. A vibrant network of Commonwealth civil society organisations promotes interaction between its peoples, but usually away from the limelight.

However, relative invisibility may explain the downward spiral in British attitudes to the Commonwealth. In the 70s and 80s, when the association took strong stances on white rule in Rhodesia and apartheid in South Africa, it was regarded as brave and effective. Without similar high-profile successes in recent years, popular support has fallen, and it becomes ever more difficult to convince incoming foreign secretaries it should be a priority. Britain’s financial contribution to the Commonwealth is about 20p per person per year, compared to £2 to the U.N., £10 to Nato and £54 to the EU.

A voluntary association of states committed to democracy, development and diversity should have huge potential. Yet the Commonwealth has recently seemed unable or unwilling to flex its muscle. Just last week Fiji was allowed to stay a member (in suspension) despite the military government’s failure to meet deadlines for elections.

A more fundamental long-term challenge for the Commonwealth in the U.K. is to become relevant to a new generation who may not remember colonial ties, let alone recall them fondly. But this is where its greatest potential lies. If the Commonwealth applies its unique brand of diplomacy and collaboration to the issues of the day, it can transform itself into a true agent of progress. On climate change, for instance, it offers the opportunity for non-binding but useful conversations between countries that are rich, poor, big and small. On education, the networks, scholarships and exchanges across Commonwealth countries are unparalleled. On peace-building, Commonwealth organisations run wonderful projects among young people in conflict situations.

Very few people in Britain seem to hate the Commonwealth, but unless many more are given reason to start loving it, it risks becoming a relic.

(Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah is director of the Royal Commonwealth Society.)

Reformist Perspective on Constitutional Change

by Sumanasiri Liyanage

One autumn day when Basho and one of his ten disciples, Kikaku, were going through a rice field, Kikaku composed haiku on a red dragonfly that caught his fancy. And he showed the following haiku to Basho.
Take a pair of wings
From a dragonfly, you would
Make a pepper pod.

“No” said Basho, “that is not haiku. You kill the dragonfly. If you want to compose a haiku and give life to it, you must say”:
Add a pair of wings
To a pepper pod, you would
Make a dragonfly.

-Kenneth Yasuda, The Japanese Haiku

 

March 06, 2009

Will deterrent actions solve the Sri Lanka's political crisis

Point of view: by A.Rajasingam

Democracy is a Western concept that was introduced by the British to Sri Lanka with good intention whereby all sections of the community could take part without any discrimination as to race, religion, language, etc. However, Sri Lankan history has shown that successive governments have engaged in suppressing the rights of the minorities as from 1956 for political gains and changed the constitution thrice to suit their objectives of having the Tamils to be under their control without recognizing their rights. Their failure to resolve the problem without placing a meaningful federal solution had eventually led the minority to view the government as a foreign domination, giving rise to the birth of the concept of Tamil Homeland. As a result the presence of the ethnic issue emerged and continued until it took the form of terrorism and countered by State terrorism with the passage of time.

The marginalization of the Tamils began with the colonization at Minneriya, Sinhala Only Act and the Standardization. These type of measures of the Sinhalese politicians laid the foundation for the growth of violence in Sri Lanka which eventually gave birth to the rise of terrorism. Though terrorism means to inflict serious injury with the intention of creating an acute fear and despair in the minds of the people for a political or religious purpose, there is no definition for it. But the element of targeting the innocent people or non-combatants is always there in order to create a sense of insecurity and to destablize the government. Neverthless the Tamils were opposed to terrorism, given the fact that the Tamils are generally a hard working race and education was their asset.

When the legitimate aspirations are deliberately suppressed by the majority by the use military force, it is natural that racism becomes instrumental as the force behind terrorism. The root cause is inequality and when agitated, the State uses its military force to crush it, an act of State Terrorism, resulting in the destruction of lives and property. In a multi-racial country the right to self-determination is the right of people to freely determine their political, economic and social development within their national boundaries, without affecting the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country. If a proper constitution is drawn like in the USA, Canada, India or Switzerland, self-determination could not be abused to encourage secession and terrorism. On the contrary there will be firm unity and mutual understanding among the entire people of the country.

The southern politicians boasts of Buddhism which preach the Buddhists to get rid of greed, hatred and delusion (which are considered as evils) in order to attain Nirvana. The Buddhist priests also tie the thread to the soldiers to win and conquer the hearts of the people with love and compassion. But it is regret to hear that Buddhism maintained silence when the Special Task Force (STF) commandos commited sexual assault on a 14-year-old Tamil girl and later assault her father and then torture her mother (social worker) before killing and dump her body in the well as punishment for complaining against the STF. This was an incident occurred at Wellaweli in Batticaloa. Moreover the manner of handling the dead female LTTE cadres and the persecution of innocent Tamils by the Sri Lanka Armed Security Forces, raises a question whether they are causing hatred among the communities, which appears to be the other side of preaching Buddhism.

As such, it is no wonder the government is reluctant to recognize the rights of self-determination to the Tamils. The government failed to establish a Confident Building Measure by winning the hearts of the Tamils by rejecting the calls for truce when an opportunity arose to build trust and limit escalation of hatred among the people in general.

The failure of the southern political leaders to realize that the out come of the atrocities committed by the Security forces, would turn on more than a million of Tamils living in foreign countries to battle it out on economic front such as boycott of purchasing Sri Lankan goods, stop traveling on Sri Lankan Airlines, etc. If so, the consequences of Sri Lanka's economy would be disastrous creating loss of employment and causing misery and poverty in the country, thus bringing everything to a standstill. As such, the possibility of a battle could be seen between the fire-power of the Security Forces and the will-power of the Tamils in the coming months.

Having liberated the area from the LTTE, there is no reason for the Government to place the IDPs in camps when those people have a place of their own. This is where the entire world watches what the Government intends to do with those people. In a democratic country when journalists and International NGOs are denied access, there is reason to believe that a systematic persecution of selected youths from these camps are carried out at an average of 30 a day and that such cruel treatment that are meted by these people amounts to a flagrant violation of humanitarian law. There is no guarantee for human life even if the IDPs are accommodated in the safe zones designated by the government. What is required is transparency of what the government is doing, which is possible if there is freedom of expression by the journalists and also by the international NGOs. Further having been a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the prolonged detention of these people appears to be continuing with slavery, a disgraced act of the 21st century.

The southern politicians should not resort to such low level of committing inhumane acts on innocent Tamils when the government politicians are unable to answer the merits of Federalism with sound reasons. The position of the southern politicians in maintaining Sri Lanka as a Unitary State eventually proved to be a failed State. The maintenance of its unitary character without recognizing the legitimate rights of the Tamils only ended in a heavy loss of lives and property.

In the circumstances, it is time to realize that Federalism can function well in bringing together an ethnically and regionally diverse citizen body (Tamils) within the confines of a single-nation state. Mention should be made that the basic federal formula-shared rule will succeed in striking a balance between unity and diversity and that Federalism is the highest form of decentralization. This is the answer when the Unitary system in Sri Lanka face many challenges to the legitimacy of unitarism. Federalism will out perform unitarism because it provides sufficient scope for regional political group to promote its own interests (not separation) independently without affecting the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Thus Federalism has the force of enhancing the legitimacy of the Unitary system by providing sufficient scope for regional developments desired by the people.

It is a tragedy that Sri Lanka is struggling within the tentacles of Marxist ideologies spread by the leftists and the Tamil Movements. Unfortunately the leaders of the Tamil Movements are also absorbed in the concept of the Marxist policies in their pursuit of their objective, at a time when Tamils were opposed to Marxist ideologies. Marxist ideologies failed to creep into the minds of the Tamils, though the late Kandiah won on sympathetic grounds only once. On the contrary the Communist Party won several seats in the Sinhalese areas at several times and now by the leftist-oriented JVPs which is a curse to the country.

Apparently the foundation of the Tamil Movements was built on the teachings of E.V.R.Periyar whose ideologies are rooted from communist ideologies. It is through violent force the Tamils were subjugated to those ideologies, but at heart they were liberals. The younger generation were brain washed and the suppressing attitude of the Southern leaders also aided the cause of the Tamil extremists. Today the Tamils are maintaining silence through fear because of the threats from the Tamil Movements. The Tamils are always for a liberal economy in view of their perseverance nature. It is a fact that Tamils love to work with the western ideologies.

When there is an available remedy of federalism, the strategy against the freedom fighters to focus on prevention, disruption and offensive action is not required to eradicate them. It remains to consider whether the freedom fighters had crossed the line of being terrorists. If the remedy of federalism is rejected by the freedom fighters and continue to target the non-combatants, State property and violate laws of other countries, deterrent action is unavoidable. The question to be thrashed out whether the LTTE had transformed into liberation movement is a different issue. The vital issue is the plight of the IDPs who were caught between the Security Forces and the LTTE and the guarantee for the safety of the IDPs who are to be accommodated in the so-called secured zones should gain priority.

However, as far as the southern political leaders are concerned they are opposed to federalism in any form. The southern political leaders always have the habit of saying “unacceptable” but their answers are not so sound for the rejection of Federalism to date. As the consistent appeal by India and the International Community has ended in a futile exercise, there is another option to form an Asian Union to tackle the problem of the fundamental rights of the minorities and terrorism in Asian countries. SAARC and ASEAN are regional Associations. Should there be a Continental-oriented Union similar to that of European Union, the prevailing tension can be reduced to a minimum. India, Japan and other countries embracing democracy can lead in forming an Asian Union with the blessings of the United Nations. Asian Union can have a Parliament of its own and also a Financial Institution on the European model so that the Asian Parliament can monitor the activities of a member country and apply pressure where discrepancy is shown and redress it.

How united Ceylon became divided Sri Lanka? What next?

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

Recently, Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama told a news conference at the University of Madras, Chennai in reply to the question whether he approved the military action by the Buddhist rulers of Sri Lanka: "I pray and hope some peaceful resolution is arrived at in Sri Lanka. I think the Sri Lankan government should accept reality." He also reiterated his averseness to the use of force. (Times of India 22 January 2009). Some Buddhist religious leaders and other Sri Lankans detesting violence have also stressed the need to recognize the realities in seeking a permanent political solution to the ethnic problem that is the root cause of the present gory conflict. There is awareness even amongst present political and military leaders that there is no military solution to the underlying problem.

Ignoring the realities intrinsic to the makeup of the whole nation in far-reaching political decisions is the main reason for the emergence and subsequent escalation of the ethnic problem into a full-scale war. Allowing the problem to remain unresolved for decades has only helped the warmongers. The violent disturbances have turned the serene island acclaimed earlier by foreigners as Paradise on earth into a cacophonous place where the residents feel insecure and visitors cannot travel freely to all parts of the country. The violent uprisings have destroyed over 200,000 lives since the first JVP revolt in 1971. The separatist war has also displaced tens of thousands of families from their habitats and caused immense suffering to many citizens throughout the island; the worst affected people are in the war-torn Northern and Eastern provinces.

Realities ignored by governments

The fact that the island’s population is multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and linguistically divided with the Tamil-speaking people permanently settled for centuries in the North-East and the Sinhalese in the rest of the island was ignored by the Sinhala polity. The determined effort to settle Sinhalese in the historic habitation of Tamil speaking people was cause for concern to the ethnic minorities. The reluctance to formally accept the diverse demography of the provinces, especially the linguistic difference was increasingly apparent after the split in the United National Party (UNP), following the defection of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike who along with his followers in the UNP founded the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

With the support largely of the rural Sinhalese voters, the SLFP defeated the UNP by a wide margin at the 1956 general election and secured the reign. The UNP’s dominance since independence ended after two terms. The promise given to the electorate to adopt Sinhala the sole official language of Ceylon within 24 hours after forming the new government was the key to SLFP’s mammoth victory at the poll. As prophesied then by the LSSP leaders, the one official language policy divided the nation into two Sinhala and Tamil nations. The present euphoria of many Sinhalese following the capture of the territory in the North that was under the control of the Tamil Tigers is similar to that prevailed in 1956 immediately after the SLFP election victory. According to latest reports all towns in the Vanni region, LTTE’s stronghold, are now under government control. The key question now is will the government’s military victory pave the way for peace and unity or sustain the nationally damaging division?

Paradoxically the very same LSSP leaders played a crucial role in drafting the divisive 1972 constitution of the Republic of Sri Lanka. The word ‘unitary’ was introduced for the first time by its architects. It was not in the previous (Soulbury) Constitution accepted by all political parties in 1947, following the assurances given by the then Sinhalese political leaders that the Tamils will have the same rights and privileges as the Sinhalese in independent Ceylon. The 1972 constitution not only specified the structure of the State as unitary but also removed the provision in Section 29(2) of the previous constitution that prevented the Parliament from enacting discriminatory legislation against a particular ethnic or religious group to which all other groups were not subjected. Section 29(2) was, on the whole, an attenuated version of what a bill of rights should be (Prof. A. J. Wilson in his book ‘The break-up of Sri Lanka’). Contrary to this tenet, the Sinhala Only language Act sanctioned by the Parliament in 1956 was included as a proviso in the 1972 Constitution. Buddhism was accorded special recognition in the 1972 and 1978 Constitutions, without depriving non-Buddhists their right to religious practice according to their beliefs and customs in any part of the country. Temples, churches and mosques coexist in all provinces.

But in the case of Sri Lanka’s ‘Sinhala only’ official language in all provinces, it was forced on the Tamil speaking people. The official policy on education not only promoted the ethnic division but was also unhelpful to the future of both the Sinhalese and Tamil students. They had no choice but learn all subjects in their respective mother tongue. English was completely abandoned at all levels of education from the primary to the tertiary. The cost of this blunder not only to national unity but also to the future of educated youth in the modern world has only been realized recently. With Sinhala only as the official language there was no avenue for the youth educated in the Tamil medium to seek secure jobs. There weren’t many employment opportunities in the manufacturing sector. Because of natural constraints not many were able to earn enough for living via farming in the North. The rainy season is relatively short restricted to the North-East monsoon and farmers depend on deep wells for irrigation. The undeclared division of the country along ethnic lines – Sinhala majority and minority provinces - was the underlying reason for neglecting the development of the historic habitats of Tamils and Muslims in the North-East where the Sinhalese are not the majority ethnic group, despite the known potential for national development. The neglect of Trincomalee is a salient case.

It was in the early 1970s when the then SLFP-led coalition government introduced media-wise standardization of marks for admission to universities. This is not to be confused with the subsequent adjustments for the disparity in the facilities available for students in different districts. As a result, students from the backward districts with relatively low marks were able to enter the universities. The former was straightforward racial discrimination. The Tamil parents were denied the freedom to educate their children in the medium of their choice. If there was an option, many would have opted for the English medium. But this was politically undesirable to the Sinhalese leaders since the Tamils would have had a better chance to prosper. The denial of opportunities for higher education and employment was a major factor that gave rise to the violent protests by distressed Tamil youth in the North. These turned into a rebellion after the 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom. The widespread sense of hopelessness following the sense of futility of non-violent protests against the denial of equal rights, opportunities, security and dignity to the ethnic Tamils, the need for an armed struggle against the State to establish self-governing Tamil homeland in the North-East was increasingly felt, especially by the distressed Tamil youth.

Besides the neglect of the realities, the inability to take up a bi-partisan approach to resolve the conflict by mutual consent of the government and the opposition parties sustained the destructive process and the division of the country along ethnic lines. The main opposition party continuously opposed the political moves of its rival in government to amend suitably the lopsided system with the view to make it assuring and acceptable to the ethnic minorities. This drawback kept them permanently marginalized away from the center of power.

Rise and fall of Tamil Tigers

There were several Tamil militant groups campaigning for independent Tamil Eelam (homeland) in North-East Sri Lanka when open war broke out in 1983, following the July 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom and the provocative statements of President J. R. Jayewardene. He made it clear that he was not concerned about the Tamils, who were at the receiving end of the violent onslaught. He even said openly that the more he ignored them, the greater support he would get from the Sinhalese electorate. He was conscious that his political future depended on their votes. This awareness amongst Sinhalese politicians is not uncommon and has been one main reason for the failure to build a unified nation. Political leaders preferred to take the easy path to power, instead of leading the people along the right path. Provocative actions such as the outrageous burning of the Jaffna Public Library in 1981 by thugs brought from the South with the connivance of ministers close to the President was another factor that bolstered the Tamil campaign for autonomy.

With India’s direct involvement in the resolution of Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict, following the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord, the Tamil militant groups were asked to accept the agreed devolution plan, disarm, abandon violence for good and join the democratic mainstream. The devolution of some powers to the provinces with the Northern and Eastern Provinces merged as one administrative unit was rejected by the Sinhala nationalists. President J. R. Jayewardene agreed to the deployment of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in order to stop the spiraling violence in the North-East by disarming the Tamil militants and restore normality in the unsettled region. Initially the LTTE along with other militant groups agreed to disarm but later its single-minded leader Velupillai Prabhakaran rejected the devolution scheme and the Tamil Tigers started to attack the Indian soldiers (Peace Keepers). This was the initial sign of the overconfidence of the LTTE leader in the fighting strength of his outfit. It is important to mention here that the LTTE soon had the support of the government under President R. Premadasa in their guerrilla warfare against the IPKF.

President Premadasa who was the Prime Minister during President J. R. Jayewardene’s reign was also against the Indo-Lanka Accord and the Provincial Council system established under the 13th Amendment. The LTTE found a useful ally in their move to sabotage India’s approach to political settlement. The ultimate aims of the new partners were totally different, as the LTTE leader wanted nothing short of fully independent Tamil Eelam. After India’s intervention, other Tamil militant groups in the North-East realized the futility of aiming for this separatist Eelam goal and opted to settle for a reasonable degree of self-rule within one unified State. Like the Sinhalese political leaders, the LTTE leader too was unwilling to accept reality.

The fourth phase of the Eelam war was started early 2006 by the Tamil Tigers thinking the long waited opportune time had arrived when their preferred candidate, Sinhala Buddhist nationalist Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected as Executive President in November 2005. The latter let the world know that it was the LTTE who started the war. He very effectively turned it into the ‘war on terror’. What followed later showed the fatal miscalculation of the LTTE leader. The Tamil community in Sri Lanka is in a weak position now than it was any time after the July 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom. The opportunities that came with the 2002 ceasefire brokered by Norway were also not seized, because of the absolute confidence of the LTTE leader in his chosen strategic plan to achieve the vowed Eelam goal.

Not only the political ambition of the LTTE leader was unrealistic but also the methods used in seeking it were counterproductive as evident from the international condemnation of the outfit as a bunch of terrorists and approving the military offensives of the present government as necessary to wipe out terrorism in the island. India was the first country to ban the LTTE following the thoughtless assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 on Indian soil. This is the biggest blunder made and the consequences are felt even at this critical time. Ignoring the rejection by the international community of LTTE’s goal and the abhorrent methods, the LTTE continued the armed struggle for Tamil Eelam along the same violent path

The rebel leader’s strategy was to speed up the division of the country started by the Sinhalese leaders after independence by promoting racial prejudice and animosity. Even a repeat of the 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom would have been welcomed. The uncompromising stand of the Sinhala nationalists on the ethnic issue was considered helpful to the LTTE’s cause. It is the moderate Sinhalese who are regarded as the obstructionists impeding the division of the country. The blind Sinhala nationalists rely mainly on the self-assuring word ‘unitary’ to prevent division while their utterances and actions have the opposite effect!

The method to establish the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil people was from the very start autocratic. Tamil politicians and intellectuals advocating a different approach to the resolution of the ethnic conflict were considered traitors and eliminated. Nothing useful to the Tamil cause has come from the killings of civilians including intellectuals, politicians, national leaders and moderates seeking peace and harmony through constitutional reform. On the other hand, the lack of forward thinking and the will of Sinhalese leaders to solve national problems have denied peace and prosperity to the people. National development was also severely hampered by these drawbacks. The leaders have not learnt anything useful from past mistakes that damaged the unity and hindered the general welfare of the population. The present government’s strategy to talk about a political settlement without making serious effort towards sensible settlement seems to follow this line.

Among other reasons for the set backs of the LTTE, the following are significant. The defection of Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan aka Karuna from the LTTE in 2004 affected badly the LTTE’s fighting strength. The army received useful help from the renegades in their campaign to oust the LTTE from the East. After the revolt, Karuna also sent home a large number of cadres who were under him in the East. This is said to have adversely affected the morale of the remaining fighters. The forcible recruitment of civilians, especially underage children by the LTTE had caused widespread resentment internationally and within a section of the Tamil community who had lost their sons and daughters in the battle field. It is significant the Tamil community as a whole, particularly the diaspora turned a blind eye to this practice.

The LTTE lost heavily the weapons and equipments in their possession following the successful operations of the Sri Lankan Navy in the high seas and the destruction of LTTE’s fleet of vessels. Sri Lankan government also got the support of the Indian authorities to stop the smuggling of weapons, fuel etc through Indian waters. India also supplied ‘defensive’ weapons to Sri Lanka for defeating ‘terrorism’. Not only transportation but also procurement of weapons became difficult as other countries also intensified surveillance over Tiger operatives in their countries. The Tamil Tigers underestimated the combined strength of the Army, Navy and Air Force. Unlike in the past the military leaders prosecuted the war independently without the interference of political leaders.

The ascent of the LTTE despite the objectionable practices like the killing of innocent civilians and forced recruitment of children is due largely to the felt need of many embittered Tamils for a powerful force to challenge the Sinhala majority rule. Many Tamils in the Diaspora seem to have a grudge against the past governments because of the discrimination, personal losses and indignity sustained in their motherland. The attitudinal difference between the Tamils in Sri Lanka and the expatriates is understandable given the prolonged ordeals and trauma of those who remained in the island.

Countering terrorism

Jegan Vincent de Paul in the guest opinion column ‘What matters’ of the Alumni Association of MIT, Massachusetts, Cambridge, USA has opined: “The LTTE has been condemned the world over, because its tactics of war have concurrently been appropriated by ideologically driven religious groups to attack the West. The identity of the LTTE has been consequently corrupted with its stated goals for nationhood systematically subverted and recoded to neatly align with a fabricated global ideology of terror—one being actively constructed by the United States and fully exploited by the Government of Sri Lanka”.

In this backdrop, the government’s strategy to exploit the global ‘war on terror’ and weaken the LTTE paid off. The intense shelling and aerial bombing were said to be to counter terrorism. The government’s approach to achieve its objective has some similarities with LTTE’s. It has been successful on two fronts besides the capture of territory. The support of the Sinhalese electorate to the government has jumped sky high, despite the economic hardships endured by them. The government has also been successful in its propaganda campaign. Curtailing media freedom without formal censorship was possible to some extent using selectively the emergency regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act. With the assassination and arrest of many journalists, Sri Lanka is considered by international organizations as the most dangerous place after Iraq for journalists. There was a time when the LTTE forced the closure of journals published by Tamils that criticized their extreme militant activities. Like the LTTE the government too conceals negative or unfavourable facts. The public does not know the total losses incurred by both sides since the war resumed in early 2006

The inhuman ways the civilians both the escapees as well as those held captive inside the conflict zone have been handled by both sides are equally deplorable. The LTTE cadres have opened fire at those trying to escape and many including children have been killed or injured. On the other hand, those who managed to escape and enter government controlled areas are detained in the so-called ‘welfare camps’. These are nothing but internment camps and the welfare of the detainees is not the main concern of the authorities, according to HRW personnel and others who spoke at the US Senate Foreign Relations Sub-committee (Near Eastern South and Central Asia) hearings. The detainees are not allowed to leave the heavily guarded camps with barbed wire fences and also denied visitors including close relatives. With the declared ‘war on terror’ the culture of impunity has grown.

For listening the video recording:

http://www.senate.gov/fplayers/CommPlayer/commFlashPlayer.cfm?fn=foreign022409&st=1050

Also United Nations Webcast:

[UN Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs & Emergency Relief Coordinator Sir John Holmes briefing to the UN Security Council on his findings about the IDP camps in Vavuniya, which he visited on 20 February 2009.]

When SL Government ordered all staff attached to UN agencies and NGOs to leave the LTTE-controlled areas and denied reporters access to the region, it was not only helping to conceal the excesses of its military but also LTTE’s. Both warring sides have violated international humanitarian law and committed some other crimes; the difference is in the degree and the violation period.

What next?

Rajan Philips in his exposition of Tamil standpoint in Sri Lanka (Sunday Island 1 March 2009) has said: “Among the Sinhalese, there is jubilation over the outcome of the war and the victories of their soldiers. President Rajapaksa himself has led the celebrations, setting an atavistic tone that has done little to dispel the dominant perception that Sri Lanka is Sinhalese and the Sinhalese are Sri Lanka. This unfortunate and outdated perception is second nature to many influential Sinhalese politicians but anathematic to all others including large numbers of Sinhalese who positively support a plural Sri Lanka.

On the other hand, many Tamils, not all, are dejected by the defeat of the LTTE. Almost all Tamils, even those who are not supporters of the LTTE, are concerned that the Rajapaksa government will use the defeat of the LTTE to deny them their equality. Sri Lankan Tamil politics has never been as rudderless as it currently is. Nor has it been as existential – their land has been scorched, tens of thousands of civilians are caught in the crossfire, and several more are living in a virtual state of nature in the North and East”. This mixed feeling for the LTTE in the Diaspora is seen from the mass demonstrations in foreign countries calling for immediate ceasefire.

The difficulty in securing durable peace without foreign intervention is increasingly clear. Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka in his suggestion to find a middle way between the recognition of reality and striving for balance has rightly given importance to powerful neighbour India, particularly to Tamil Nadu. Although he is currently Sri Lanka’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, he has been expressing often his personal views on the national problem.

To quote: “Given the demographic reality of an ethnic group that cross cuts the borders of India and Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka’s Tamil issue is not only a domestic problem for Sri Lanka, it is a domestic problem for India as well. It is for Sri Lanka, an internal problem with an external dimension while for India it is an external problem with an internal (Tamil Nadu) dimension. An unresolved problem with Sri Lanka’s Tamils can and probably will jeopardize Sri Lanka’s relations with India, while a bad relationship with India will deprive Sri Lanka of one of the instruments which can help safely regulate our relations with our Tamil minority. Given our aloneness on India’s doorstep, we cannot afford to sustain a negative strategic relationship with India. For this reason too, we have to resolve our problem with our own Tamil minority” (TamilWeek - Posted by transCurrents on February 14, 2009).

The post war challenge is to find a way to unite for good the divided Sri Lanka. Neither separation nor ethnic majority-minority division within a unitary state that is associated with Sinhala majority rule will bring peace to the island. The time has come to be realistic and shun imagined fears and unrealistic aims. The Sinhala nationalists who are against devolution because of the fear of weakening the Sinhala majority rule which they consider necessary to safeguard the future of the race given the existence of some 65 million Tamils in adjacent land across the narrow Palk strait do not realize the promotion of the solidarity of Tamils in the two countries is counterproductive to their very aim.

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