Archive for November, 2007

Speech by Upali Cooray, at the inaugural meeting of Canadians for Peace

Dear Comrades and friends,

Let me, first of all, thank the organisers Canadian for Peace for inviting me to address this meeting and needless to say that I feel, as a member of the Committee for Democracy and Justice (CDJ) in Sri Lanka honoured by your invitation.

The CDJ was formed in London in the latter part of 1988 to campaign against the human rights violations in Sri Lanka under the Premadasa regime and has continued to campaign for human rights violations regardless of who has been in power.

This is the second time I am visiting Canada. The first was in 1971/72 when I toured Canada campaigning for the release of 80,000 political prisoners that were held in detention in the aftermath of the JVP debacle of April 1971. We did not campaign for their release because we agreed with the political programme or the strategy of the JVP. We did so because we firmly believe that every person, regardless of their political opinions and actions are entitled to human and fundamental rights. Ironically, the JVP itself had repeatedly demonstrated that they themselves are not prepared to respect the human rights of others. In fact JVP is not the only culprit in this regard. Be that it may, that is their problem and not ours. Our commitment to human and democratic rights is not based on their own actions and conduct but on our belief that if we do not stand up for human rights of every single individual, regardless of what they say or do, we will soon revert to a life of savagery and barbarity.

Identity and peace

I am often called upon to speak at meetings and conferences as Sinhalese. I find this label rather uneasy to bear and at least incomplete and inadequate to describe my thoughts and actions. I can remember the first time I applied for a Ceylon passport, as Sri Lanka was then called. There was a section, which asked every applicant to indicate his race. I wrote ‘human’ in that section and gave it to the Clerk who was going to process my application. When he sae the word human, he hit the roof and began to rant and rave at me. He asked me what do you mean you are human? Are you Sinhalese or Tamil? Having checked my name he himself deleted human and wrote Sinhalese. I tried to explain to this stupid man that Sinhalese and Tamil are not races. We are the same race and we all come from the same African mother from where we evolved. This is not only a question of a label. It is the whole approach to life and our conduct. Perhaps the generation that followed the anti-Tamil pogroms of 1977 to 1983 pogroms, whether they me Tamil, or Sinhala may not have had much contact with the other ethnic group. It was quite different in my youth. When I was studying at Aquinas College, we did not think of people as Sinhalese or Tamils. At the time I had 5 good friends of whom 4 were Tamils. I am still in touch with the two surviving friends-both Tamil. My first girl friend was Tamil. She said that I should convert to the Catholic faith or else she would not marry me. I desperately wanted to marry her but I could not become a Catholic because I was stark raving Communist. We are still very good friends. Ethnicity played no part at all in our relationships or in our daily life.

Every human being has many and different identities. We are lawyers, swimming teachers, classical music lovers, bird watchers, human rights activists, socialists, etc. As the Nobel Prize winning Economist Amratya Sen in his new book Identity and Violence explains, it is impossible to reduce human beings into a straightjacket such as Hindu or Muslim, Sinhala or Tamil or White or Black. Nationalists of all hues would like to see everybody through such a narrow and a meaningless framework. Such a tunnel vision inevitably makes us blind to reality and forces us to assess people from a fundamentally flawed point of view. For instance in London some Sinhala nationalists refer to me as an LTTE supporter whilst Tamil nationalists refer to me as an anti-Tamil. I say the first step we must take in order to achieve a just and a durable peace in Sri Lanka is to break with this methodology and to try to understand the multiplicity of identities we have and to recognise that different people prioritize different identities. How we understand other people and their identities is extremely important for the achievement of peace.

Spiralling violence

Every time I attend a meeting about the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka we hear speaker after speaker catalogue the human rights violations committed by the Government of Sri Lanka, LTTE, Karuna Group etc. Each day, each week, each month and each year this catalogue becomes longer and the numbers of dead and wounded, abducted and disappeared, destroyed and ruined increases exponentially. Then we engage in the blame game. Who did what and when? Who massacred first and who retaliated? Who is the aggressor and who is the victim? Who is bragging about their military victories and who is crying foul? I see no purpose in such exercises. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, once you adopt a policy of eye for an eye, there will be a lot of blind or one-eyed people. In my view there is nothing to commend on either side.

The starting point is to understand the reality today. It is clear that, on the one hand, the government of President Rajapakse has, so far, failed to put forward a set of proposal that would resolve the grievances of the Tamil people. While some individuals such as Professor Tissa Vitharana have indefatigably attempted to find a solution based on widest possible consensus, the government has given the impression that it is dragging its feet hoping for a military victory over the LTTE. The LTTE on the other hand, has totally rejected even the most radical of proposals (such as the one drafted by Neelan Tiruchelvam and others) that could have formed the basis of a negotiated settlement. Such intransigence has only led to the strengthening of warmongers and extremists.

Record of failure

The escalation of violence with all its attendant consequences is the inevitable result of such irrational conduct of both parties. Unfortunately, the main victims of this unreasonable behaviour are the ordinary people-often the less well of section of people. Except when they are coerced to participate in mindless demonstrations in support of one party or the other, people have little influence in the decision making process. They are compelled to be onlookers and impotent bystanders. In fact ordinary people are not expected to have any minds of their own. If they seek to express a different view from those who wield power they may soon find themselves in hot water.

Since 1978, various governments in Sri Lanka have promised that they would wipe out terrorism in a month, year, or two years etc. However, they have miserably failed to honour their promises. The LTTE too has promised the people that the final battle is at hand and that people should make their final sacrifice now. They too have failed to deliver on their promises. Neither side is accountable for their failures and blunders. The people on whom they seek support and sustenance cannot do much about it. When the leaders are proved wrong what can people do? As Bertolt Brecht once satirically suggested the answer-The Central Committee has told the people that it has made such and such a decision. The decision has proved to be wrong and unworkable. What is the solution? Dissolve the people! After all the leaders, Central Committees and governments can never do any wrong.

Yesterday’s men

In my humble view, neither the government nor the LTTE can tell us anything more than that we must tighten our belts, put up with death, destruction and privation again and again. They are offering more of the same. They offer us same bankrupt policies. For over thirty years we had heard this same monotonous tune. They want us do the same for the next thirty years or more.

These yesterday’s men, they are mainly men, cannot resolve this problem. It is no longer permissible for the people stay on the sidelines as onlookers and bystanders. That is why we must intervene directly in the peace process. Fundamental change in society, even as far back as the Spartacus revolt, has always been achieved when people intervened directly in the political and social process. While no one person as an individual may have all the answers to all our problems, collectively we have a wealth of experience and understanding that could be marshalled and utilised to resolve the most intractable of our problems. In any event this is not as an intractable problem as it may seem at first sight.

It is time to sound the tocsin

In my view it is time to sound the tocsin and it is time to call a halt to the war. It is sufficient to give one reason why we must say ‘Peace Now’. In the whole of South Asia, Sri Lanka has the highest literacy rate. Whereas the literacy rate in India is under 60% the equivalent figure for Sri Lanka is around 94%. It is country full of inventive and creative people. They have proved their mettle in every field of science and industry in every part of the world. Yet it is India and China that are racing ahead in economic development and social prosperity. While the rate of growth in USA and UK are in the region of 2% per annum for the lat ten years the growth in India and China have exceeded 9%. Last year China replaced UK as the fourth largest economy. Economic analysts expect China to replace USA as the largest Economy by 2020. Sri Lanka with its highly educated population, must hitch its wagon firmly to the growing economic process in China and India. It is IT Engineers, Accountants and Doctors that we must send abroad and not housemaids. If we waste our human and economic resources in a fruitless war for another 30 years, we will not be able to benefit from this Asian economic ‘miracle’. That alone is a good reason why we must say in unison ‘stop the war now’!

Every crisis is an opportunity

How do we stop the war? Most of us believe that we are powerless individuals. We do not have the money, power and the guns of the government and the LTTE. We must take one side or the other, even though we do not agree with everything they do. That is not true. It is not permissible for us to ignore the atrocities both sides commit because to criticise them would give the other a propaganda advantage. It is impermissible for us to silently approve any human rights violation. As to our ability to influence events, we must remember that governments and armed movements do not operate in a vacuum. It is the silence of good men that permit them to act with impunity. If we unite and if we make our voices heard, there can be no doubt that we can prevail. I am not saying the road to peace is an easy one; but the obstacles on our way are not insurmountable. I recognise that this is a historic crisis; a crisis which appears to be intractable. I am told that in the Chinese language the word Crisis also means an opportunity. We must turn this crisis into an opportunity to find a solution to it.

Devolution of power

The first step is to find a few demands that could mobilise the largest number of people. One such demand is that the government should without further delay put forward its proposals for devolution of power. We in the Committee for Democracy and Justice in Sri Lanka believe that the proposal put forward by Professor Thissa Vitaharana could be a starting point. We do not believe that a perfect solution could be found in one go. If we could agree on a broad framework, then it could be a basis for further negotiation. A broad campaign on such a demand could compel the government to stop dragging its feet on this issue. At the moment only the vociferous extremists of the JHU and JVP are making all the noises. This demand could give a voice to a large majority of people who have repeatedly voted for solution based on devolution of power. The main focus of this demand is the government.

Enter the democratic process

Secondly, if we are to make substantial headway in organising and mobilising a large section of the population around the demand for devolution of power, we must also demand that the LTTE should enter the democratic process. It is not necessary for the LTTE to use proxies. Instead it could directly participate in the electoral process and seek a democratic mandate from the people. They are entitled to seek and obtain procedural guarantees to ensure a free and a fair election. But it must genuinely enter the democratic process and convince the people that they will not resort to violence and intimidation. They must ensure that other political parties are also able to participate in the elections and compete for their party programmes without fear or favour.

Stop all violence

Thirdly, we must demand that all parties must cease all forms of violence and intimidation forthwith in order to create the conditions for a negotiated political solution and free and fair elections.

I do not pretend that tomorrow the government, the LTTE and other combatants will see the light and accept these demands as a new sermon from the Mount. Nor do I put forward the aforementioned demands as a final set of demands that everyone should accept without discussion or amendment. They are merely suggestions that could and would be refined, amended or changed when people begin to mobilise. However, I am convinced that when people begin to move, gather together, raise their voices and make themselves heard, you will see the beginning of a change; change in the way the government will think, speak and then act. Believe me sooner or later their impact would be felt in the LTTE too. When I was first arrested by the Sri Lankan police, rushed from the airport and taken to the CID headquarters, I was questioned by 7 top policemen including SP Wijesuriya, SP Jeganathan and a DIG. They were trying to implicate me in the JVP uprising. I explained to them that my idea of revolution was radically different from that of the JVP. I recalled the words of Leon Trotsky, who delivered his own defence from the dock when he was charged with treason following the failed revolution of 1905. I told the police that ‘revolution is not a situation where of people go out to the street to kill, but where thousands of people go out to the street, night after night, prepared to die, when the physical might of the soldiers is overpowered by the moral might of the people’. I firmly believe that if a substantial number of people make themselves heard, crying unison ‘peace now’, their power will substantially change the political landscape of Sri Lanka.

Confidence building measures

In order to mobilise people and build their confidence we must undertake a number of measures that would empower them and enable them to become self-reliant and self-confident. I have no time to give detailed account of measures we can adopt. They range from assisting plantation youth to improve their examination skills to helping fisher folk in Batticaloa to preserve their fish catch. Those of us who live in affluent societies could make a few sacrifices in order to provide assistance to less well off communities and help them to organise themselves, bring different communities together and avoid hardship. We must encourage all the people regardless of the language they speak, their beliefs and their ethnicity to work together, engage in recreation al activities together and interact with each other on a regular basis.

Get up stand up, Stand up for your rights

Our task today is to speak to the people, convince them and mobilise them. We have to find new and innovative means of bringing people together and provide them the courage and self-confidence to stand up to their convictions I could only conclude my words by repeating Bob Marley’s song-

Get up stand up; Stand up for your rights!
Get up stand up-Don’t give up the fight!
Stand up for your rights. Don’t give up the fight.
Don’t give up the fight.
Don’t give up the fight.
Thank You

Upali Cooray

Comments (13)

Terrorism, Violence, and Reconciliation

by Bob Rae

Over thirty years ago I flew standby from Belfast to London – and the plane made an emergency landing in Manchester. All passengers were taken to a hangar and interviewed at length by the Central Intelligence Branch of Scotland Yard. We were told at that time that a bomb had been found on board. Many years later I read an account of this incident in a book on the history of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. It turned out that one of the passengers on the plane was heading to Buckingham Palace to be honoured by the Queen. It also so happened that the pin meant to conduct the charge from the timer to the bomb had been covered by a single coat of paint, and thus the bomb failed to explode.

A couple of weeks ago I met with Gerry Murphy, a former leader of the IRA who is now a member of the Northern Ireland cabinet. I told him this story, and he expressed scepticism and disbelief about it – he explained that he was in jail at the time, and it was not IRA policy to attack planes in this way. I told him that I could only tell him what happened, and the explanation I had seen in what was by all accounts a reasonably objective history of the RUC.

If the bomb had gone off, it would have preceded the Air India bombing by a dozen years. As fate would have it, I spent nearly a year of my life studying that atrocity and writing about it in “Lessons to be Learned”.

That meeting, the experience with Air India and the subsequent talk I gave to a Sri Lankan peace group in Toronto prompts these thoughts. The use of violence against civilians to further a political cause is the simplest definition of terrorism. As a tactic it is meant to strike fear in an opponent as well as intimidation in the civilian population. It is deplorable because it is so brutal, so random, so hurtful. Less understood is that the tactic itself is only possible when the terrorist group is convinced that the cause justifies the awful means, that there is no other avenue for success, and that the sacrifice of life ( in the case of suicide bombing, the life of the perpetrator) is sanctified and made more holy by the loss of blood.

But the use of the label should not lead us to the conclusion that only a military victory will lead to the end of terrorism. So it is that that the Irgun group in Israel was eventually absorbed by the Likud, the PLO changed its charter, the African National Congress abandoned the military struggle in favour of peaceful political change, and Gerry Murphy of the IRA can tell me over a cup of tea that Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley are working well together in Stormont Castle in Belfast. Change can happen, and effective diplomacy and politics can trump terrorism. It is a terrible thing, and an awful tactic, but if politics can be creative and decisive enough it can be abandoned. “Once a terrorist, always a terrorist” is ironically not true.

Bob Rae visits the Church Wellesley Village, Mar 16th 2007 –

The leaders of Northern Ireland should be going around the world explaining how it can be done. Sri Lanka is once again in the grips of a terrible violence – from all sides – which has at its roots a belief from both the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the government of Sri Lanka that guerilla and military activity are in fact the only way to “resolve” the conflict. But wiser voices know that won’t happen. Deep change on both sides, and a willingness to accept the legitimacy of the other are at the heart of any successful political dynamic for peace and reconciliation. No one should under-estimate how difficult it is, but neither should anyone accept the alternative, which is more killing, more loss of life, more destruction, more pain, more suffering. And the desert that remains will not be called peace, because the underlying sources of the conflict will have gone unresolved. There is nothing stable about oppression.

The Law and Society Trust (, an NGO in Sri Lanka put out a recent document which numbered the killings and disappearances in Sri Lanka from January to August 2007 at 1212 people. This includes 23 humanitarian workers and 8 media personnel and averages 5 people per day. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced from their homes in the most recent fighting, which has in the last couple of years included the assassination of the Foreign Minister, the deputy head of the Peace Secretariat in Colombo, and the Political Director of the LTTE. I knew each of these last three – all Tamils of great distinction and very different points of view.

Denouncing terrorism, and putting in place measures to deal with it, are both essential. None of us are free from its consequences. But that in itself is not enough. We also have to work for the changes that will lead people to abandon violence as a tactic. To those who say it can’t be done, the answer is look at the countries that have managed to put this behind them, and the political leaders that have abandoned violence because other routes were ultimately more productive.

There are lessons here for Afghanistan as well, but of that more later.

[Bob Rae was Ontario’s 21st Premier, from 1990 to 1995. He has experience at the highest levels of government in Canada and was an active participant in some of the most the important constitutional talks of the day. Most recently, Bob Rae ran for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada in 2006 –]

Comments (9)

TRO, UNICEF and due process

By Jeevan Thiagarajah

Much has been said recently of the ban of TRO in the US and subsequent announcement of a ban in Sri Lanka. A further casualty has been UNICEF. We attempt to bring together some pieces.

I/NGOs are registered by the GoSL under the Voluntary Social Services Act. TRO became one, it so registered in 2002. It became a key actor in a tripartite relationship as determined through the peace talks held following the CFA.

It envisaged: Firstly, recruitment of children under the age of 18 must stop completely; secondly, funding needs to be secured for all the components of the Action Plan, including those which address poverty and lack of educational opportunities that contribute to increased child rights violations; thirdly, families and communities need to be aware of the Action Plan as a mechanism to resolve child rights violations and need to be encouraged to report cases of child labour, under-age recruitment and other rights violations to relevant local authorities and international organisations such as UNICEF.

Under-age recruits

The TRO were responsible for the care and maintenance of transit centres. These centres were to provide temporary care and accommodation for under-age recruits released by the LTTE. The children were to stay in the centres for a maximum of three months prior to returning to their homes and joining education or vocational training opportunities. All three transit centres were to be co-managed by the Tamils Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) and UNICEF.

The Transit Centres initiative is part of a larger programme for Children Affected by War in the North and East. It is an outcome of the Action Plan developed and implemented jointly by the LTTE, Government of Sri Lanka, TRO, and UN agencies such as UNICEF, ILO, UNDP and NGOs to address the needs of children affected by war. This plan addresses a wide range of issues including child rights, education, health, psychosocial needs, vocational training, income generation and other issues of children and their families.

Banning an association

This was not a lone ranger project of the UNICEF. This is the history of the recent TRO/UNICEF relationship which has led to special audits and the like by UNICEF.

The ban of the TRO raises another set of issues. Why and how do you ban an NGO? Even if a fatwa were to be issued, there is no earthly possibility of banning an association of persons working on a specific set of social issues. They can be denied access to an institutional bank account and be denied a registered name and identity.

An NGO has to satisfy specific criteria to be registered. Equally there are conditions which govern the registered NGO. E.g. Bank supervision by the Central Bank did monitor NGO funds. In the process TRO funds would and should have been monitored.


It is understood that bank supervision staff visited Kilinochchi to inspect expenses. During a 16 month period from August 2006 investigations have been conducted but light has not been shed on wrongdoing by TRO in terms of use of finances. Wrongdoing would have led to fines being imposed given the 75 million rupees lying frozen.

It is true that the organisation lost several of its staff while suffering physical attack and damage. The loss of lives clearly needs answers on the perpetrators. D.B.S. Jeyaraj laid his finger on the perpetrators some months back.

If the TRO had indulged in mismanagement, the VSSO Act provides for the reconstitution of the top management; it is a remedy which remains not utilised. In the worst case scenario the Registrar of NGOs simply de-registers the organisation. In this case we have resorted to what is known as a ban which procedurally does not make sense. It is so easy to publicly vilify but that much harder to do so within prescribed due processes, a necessity nevertheless.

Comments (5)

Going Forward To Genuine Democracy or Slipping Backwards To Dictatorship?

by Rohini Hensman

When fifteen high-ranking former commanders of the armed forces have to meet the President to discuss the grave military and political situation in the country, we can only conclude that the country is facing a crisis of political leadership. According to a news report, ‘The former service chiefs made it clear to the President that their move was completely non-partisan, and that they were only worried that even after facing a challenge from terrorism for 30 years, the country was still to get united and draft and implement a national plan to eliminate terrorism and bring about a political settlement.’ They are absolutely right: there is still no implementation of a national plan that can eliminate terrorism and bring about a political settlement. And that is entirely due to the failure of political leadership in Sri Lanka.The President and the SLFP

President Rajapaksa seems to have put all his eggs in the military basket, which is a dangerous thing to do in the midst of a war where eggs can easily be shattered. The most optimistic characterisation of the current situation, as the former military chiefs recognised, is that it is a stalemate. Both the government and the LTTE can win some battles, but neither can win the war. We need only look at Iraq and Palestine, where two states with overwhelming military superiority (the US and Israel) are unable to quell the Iraqi and Palestinian insurgencies, to realise that a purely military strategy in Sri Lanka will never defat the LTTE. So long as Tamils are embittered by the daily humiliation, privation and bereavements they are forced to suffer, there will always be some who are ready to undertake suicide missions like the attack on Anuradhapura Air Base in October, or terrorist attacks against innocent civilians. The LTTE will always have new recruits to replace their dead.

Who was responsible for the debacle at the Anuradhapura Air Base, in which, according to Iqbal Athas, eight aircraft and two Unmanned Aerial Vehicles were destroyed and many more aircraft damaged? We must remember that this was not a terrorist attack aimed at unarmed civilians, but an attack on a legitimate military target in the midst of an ongoing war, so the LTTE cannot be blamed for it although the LTTE leadership can be criticised for sending their cadre on a suicide mission.If the President and Defence Ministry claim credit for the victory at Toppigala, they must also accept blame for this defeat, in which the lives of several military personnel were lost, along with destruction and damage costing well over $ 30 million. It would not have occurred if they had given priority to defending the installations and territory controlled by the government instead of embarking on a reckless adventure in the North.

Who will pay the cost? The people of Sri Lanka, of course. Inflation has been described as a way in which the government robs the people, and that is indeed what is going on in Sri Lanka. At a 20 per cent rate of inflation, a wage will be worth one-fifth less at the end of a year than it was worth at the beginning. That is one way in which the government funds its war. Borrowing money at high rates of interest – which, again, the people will have to pay – is another. Meanwhile the garment industry – Sri Lanka’s biggest foreign exchange earner – is going down the drain. Workers are demanding a wage increase of Rs 2500 and there are tens of thousands of unfilled vacancies because inflation has cut into real wages so badly. At the same time, hundreds of factories have closed, and employers are complaining of ruinously high costs, due to the same sky-high inflation. To add to the economic problems, Sri Lanka could lose European Union trade incentives because of its deteriorating human rights record.

Yet the government adamantly refuses to accept the help offered by the UN to improve protection of human rights. Politicians carry on their profligate spending, the elite continue to enjoy their expensive life-styles, corruption is rampant at the highest levels of government, and those who report on it are penalised. Votes and political support are openly bought and sold. The President hands out political posts to family members and supporters like a feudal ruler rather than the leader of a modern democratic nation; indeed, many feudal rulers cared more for the welfare of their subjects than the president cares for the welfare of workers and the poor in Sri Lanka. In this context, COPE chairman Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe’s demands that ministers and top officials found guilty of corruption should be fired, that the allocation of Rs 23.6 billion for the president and his ministers be cut to 5 billion and the rest of the money used to improve health and education services, and that there be transparency and accountability in government spending, sound like eminently reasonable demands for good governance and democracy.

Last but not least, the only measure initiated by the president that could lead to the final defeat of the LTTE – the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) process to formulate proposals for political reform – has been delayed and sabotaged time and again by none other than the president himself and his party, the SLFP. The latest obstacle put in the path of the process was their demand for a unitary state. His claim that this was the will of the majority of the Sinhalese people simply does not hold water. On the contrary, a poll sponsored by the National Peace Council and carried out by the Marga Institute in May/June this year showed that 70 per cent of the respondents, who did not include Tamils, were ready to support a three-tiered system of devolution which came close to a federal system and certainly could not be described as unitary. It is time the president stopped passing off his own bigoted views as the views of the more enlightened Sinhalese majority.

Mahinda Rajapaksa came to power courtesy the LTTE: without its enforced boycott of the presidential elections in the North and East, he would not have been elected. He and his hardline Sinhala chauvinist allies within the SLFP, JHU and MEP have repaid the favour many times over. Prabakaran wanted war because he cannot survive a just peace, and President Rajapakse has given him what he wanted; the LTTE needs human rights abuses and a refusal to implement a just political solution to justify its call for a separate state, and there, too the president has obliged them. It looks as if he were willing to go on doing so until tens of thousands more are dead and the economy of Sri Lanka goes bankrupt. It would be easy to conclude that it is time for a change of government, but before coming to that conclusion, we need to look at the alternatives.

The UNP and its Leader

Does the UNP under its current leadership offer a viable alternative? While in Opposition, Ranil Wickremesinghe repeatedly sabotaged earlier efforts, especially in 1995 and 2000, to implement political reforms that could not go through without the cooperation of his party. If those reforms had been implemented, the war might have been over by now, and thousands of lives might have been saved. Even during the period he was Prime Minister, there was little progress towards a political solution. His declaration, along with Balasingham, of support for a federal solution to the conflict was a courageous move. But it lost steam when Prabakaran quickly denied LTTE support for such a solution, and he made no effort to pursue discussions with other representatives of minority parties. The ceasefire did provide a breathing space to a war-weary population, yet the provisions of the CFA and the way in which it was implemented made it inevitable that war would break out once more.

More recently, his attitude to the APRC process, which held out the promise of bringing about a political solution to the conflict, has been opportunistic in the extreme. It is understandable that he was piqued by the SLFP poaching UNP MPs and offering them Cabinet posts in violation of the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the two party leaders, but to respond by undermining the APRC process was childish and shortsighted.

In fact, the SLFP’s thoroughly unprofessional proposal, making the district the unit of devolution and contradicting itself on the subject of the executive presidency, gave him a chance to upstage it by making clear the UNP’s support for the consensus that was emerging in the APRC, thus demonstrating greater political maturity than the SLFP. Instead, he first took the UNP out of the APRC discussions on the pretext that a final consensus had not emerged within the deadline he had given it, and later back-tracked on his earlier support for a federal solution. That in itself would not have been a problem, since the minority parties had agreed to a state that was neither federal nor unitary, but his silence on this issue led to speculation that he was contemplating an alliance with the JVP which, of course, was insisting on a unitary state. His failure to contradict such rumours suggests a leader who is totally devoid of all principles. His economic policies were as callous towards the majority of the population as those of the current government, and his record of human rights violations in an earlier UNP administration still hangs over him. Hardly an alternative that inspires confidence!

It is a pity that the SLFP rebels chose to align themselves with a political outfit that is so unprincipled. Their decision to split from the SLFP was understandable, but they have undermined their own credibility by the alliance.

The TNA and JVP

The TNA MPs have discredited themselves by being representatives of the LTTE rather than of their own constituents, who have not had an opportunity to vote in free and fair elections for a long, long time. They cannot be seen as part of a democratic alternative so long as they remain bound by the fascist politics of their LTTE mentors. The JVP, on the other hand, can claim to have been elected democratically. It has also been reported that in a finance committee meeting chaired by President Rajapakse, two JVP MPs had protested against political appointments to state banks that bypassed standard qualifications for these positions. After the meeting, the President told the MPs that these types of appointments were a necessary way of rewarding ‘apey minissu’, and invited them to forward the names of their supporters for appointments as well. Much to their credit, they resisted the all-pervasive culture of nepotism and corruption, and declined the offer.

However, the politics of the JVP are as dishonest and hypocritical as those of the SLFP. They claim to defend the living standards of workers, yet they are at the forefront of the demands for a military solution to the conflict which entails an endless war, which in turn slashes workers’ salaries due to inflation; thus they must share the blame for falling real wages. They claim to be anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist, yet they collude in the divide-and-rule policies of capitalists and imperialists with their Sinhala nationalism and refusal to defend the rights of Tamil workers. Worst of all, they claim to oppose the LTTE, yet their consistent opposition to human rights monitoring and a democratic political solution acceptable to Muslims and Tamil moderates sustains the credibility of the LTTE and its effort to divide the country. So long as Tamils are not treated as equals in a united Sri Lanka, the demand for a separate state where their democratic rights will be respected has legitimacy, and the JVP is at the forefront of those who provide legitimacy to the LTTE and their demand for a separate state. Thus, they support the LTTE in a different way from the TNA, but support it nonetheless.


We can conclude that an election at this point in time would be a colossal waste of time and money. Whether the same government comes back to power or is defeated,we would end up in the same mess that we are now. Going through an expensive exercise that will inevitably be accompanied by violence and possibly even bloodshed just in order to come back to our present position is not a good idea at all.

On the other hand, continuing to slide inexorably towards bankruptcy and the kind of barbarism that gripped our country in the late 1980s is not an acceptable option either. So what is the alternative?

The two biggest parties need to listen to the former service chiefs, and make it a priority to arrive at and implement democratic political reforms that address the legitimate grievances of minorities. Once this is done, the LTTE leadership will lose support very quickly, and the war can be ended. Unless Mahinda Rajapaksa follows their advice, he will face increasing popular anger and hatred as the war drags on, the death toll mounts, and living standards plummet. Unless Ranil Wickremesinghe follows their advice, he faces political oblivion; if he wants to have the hope of winning an election in the future, he needs to demonstrate a capacity for statesmanship now. It is in the interests of both leaders to put aside their egos for the moment in order to save the country, not by forming a national government but by both pledging support for the APRC proposals. If they are too selfish to do this, their supporters should serve notice on them that they will withdraw support unless they do the right thing.

The government in addition has to restore the rule of law, which is all but non-existent thanks to its own lawlessness. Restoring democratic rights and freedoms would also be a good idea if it wishes to continue claiming that Sri Lanka is a democracy – a claim that is becoming increasingly laughable every passing day. It is already facing huge embarrassment for breaking both Sri Lankan and international law by giving Karuna a fake passport and obtaining a British visa for him under false pretences. A week ago, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said in an interview with the BBC that members of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka had been appointed directly by the President in violation of the Constitution, and its international accreditation could therefore be withdrawn, bringing further shame on our country. She repeated her public request that the government of Sri Lanka consider allowing her own office to have a presence in Sri Lanka. Perhaps, the government should accept her offer in order to avert further embarrassment. If it holds itself in such contempt, how can it expect anyone else to have respect for it?

The people of Sri Lanka and civil society organizations, too, have a role to play. They need to make it clear that they reject the Sinhala nationalist allies of the LTTE in the JVP, JHU, MEP and SLFP, who advocate policies that help to divide the country. The deliberative poll conducted by the Marga Institute is a model that should be followed more widely, since it seeks an informed opinion from its respondents and provides them with the information that is required for such an opinion. An interesting finding of this poll was that when Sinhalese people realised that devolution could bring government closer to the people – i.e. that it could promote democracy – they supported it. A three-tier system of government combined with a Right to Information Act like the Indian one could be a potent weapon against corruption as well as an instrument of democracy that would serve the interests of all the people of Sri Lanka. We have to go forward to genuine democracy or slip backward into dictatorship: that is the choice facing us today

Comments (19)

JVP and Anandasangaree Must Take Correct Political Path

by C. Wijeyawickrema

One way to explore the ‘meaning of life’ is to observe it as a continuous process of conflict resolution. Just likes waves in the ocean hitting the shore one after the other, we are engaged, on a daily-hourly-minute basis, in a decision-making process between at least two alternative choices. Just think of Prof. Sarachchandra’s drama, Maname. The princess faced a genuine conflict, if we look at it from a modern-day perspective. In the old world she had no choice; the sword must be given to her husband as ordered. But if we were to treat her not as one who came out of the ribs of Adam, then was she not entitled to contemplate the correctness of the prince’ decision? Rather than killing the prince, the Vedda king sent his people away from the scene and decided to fight the prince alone. That was why the princess faced a dilemma.

The JVP pretends it is also in such ‘to be or not to be‘ dilemma regarding the budget vote on December 14th. The likes of a JVP party is guaranteed at least according to the Bible. Jesus said, “Poverty will always be there.” Therefore, just like the LSSP in the 1930s and 1970s, if not this JVP there will be another form of ‘JVP’ in Sri Lanka. But in human life things happen (resolution of conflicts) because of fate, karma, accidents or by deliberate mental exercise. We are different from animals because we have libraries. We have history–a record of our past actions–to not repeat the old mistakes.

Prior to forming a coalition government (on June 11, 1964), the LSSP was divided into three groups. The NM-Colvin-Chumley G group wanted to expand their playing cricket with Anura at the government mansion in N’Eliya into a marriage partnership with his mother’s party. There was the Bala Tampoe- Merril Fernando-Edmond Samarakkodi group who did not believe in the theory of dissolving the SLFP by joining it. The saint-like Leslie G was in the middle undecided. It was Vivian who pulled Leslie into the NM-Colvin camp and the rest was history (I heard this story then from a person who attended the LSSP meeting held at Ratgama). When a Lake House-engineered conspiracy, led by CP de Silva, toppled the government in December 1964 Phillip G made another fateful error by voting against the coalition. His one vote would have changed the history of the country as well as his own future as a possible prime minister of Ceylon. He vented his anger against the “Radala Ammandi.” Ironically when the MEP was formed in 1956 LSSP did everything to sabotage that government. In 1964 Phillip thought he could kill two birds with one stone.

Despite its past misdeeds in 1971 and in 1988-89 new JVP leaders made it a live political force. A former UNP PM once said that JVP made the UNP and SLFP leadership “avalangu kaasis” (worthless money). JVP won several court cases against anti-national arrangements made by the UNP-SLFP leadership. Only a JVP minister was on record for not allowing a World Bank agent to bully him. Above all in 2005 JVP made sure that a rural man becomes the new president. Otherwise, by now all those sites of Buddhist ruins in the Northern and Eastern Province that the Ven. Ellawala Medhananda Thero has cataloged during the past forty years would have been razed to the ground. But the world does not allow a mother to kill a child because she gave birth to him. Apparently, the JVP thinks it is above this rule.

If there is a conflict, then JVP, as a political organism, has every right to resolve it in any way it wishes. But is there a conflict with the budget vote? Or was JVP getting into a prison of its own with imaginary or impossible demands? If JVP wants to finish Prabakaran then the only alternative it has is to help Mahinda R for at least one more year with their vote on the war budget. Any other behavior by JVP at this stage is no different from it joining with the UNP camp to protect Prabakaran.

This decision by JVP and its leader’s statement praising the cruel dictator Stalin takes us back to the way he escaped from death just yards away from the place where Wijeweera was captured. It has to be more than the fact that his sister had connections with the government ministers. It is a mystery how India secretly helped him to escape when his movement was killing Indians. It is true that London was an oasis for political dissidents including Karl Marx, but not for leaders of underground movements who murdered people in the hundreds. Recently, Russia accused London of harboring and training ‘dissidents’ as agents of western imperialism. The JVP leader’s stay in London cannot be compared to CBK’s exile or that of Prins Gunasekara’s. If the JVP is the symbol of truth and justice in present day Sri Lanka, it has a public duty to tell the whole story of its leader’s past to the people now and not after his death.

Mahinda R is not a saint and cannot be a saint. He had to fight an election against all odds and against local and foreign money. Those who helped him with funds cannot be ignored by him without giving some favors. But he is almost like Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln had a cabinet made out of most of his political rivals. Lincoln had a choice while Mahinda R had no choice. The bahubbotha vyavasthava (a death trap for Sri Lanka) of the late A.J. Wilson (a political science professor and the son-in-law of SJV Chelvanayagam) created a system in which the president could end up being a prisoner in the hands of MPs who become MPs under a unique chit system by the party bosses. Thus, JRJ, who boasted that he can do anything except make a woman a man, had to obtain a blank letter signed by his MPs as a protective measure. RP, it was rumored had to bribe MPs and resort to black magic to derail the impeachment plan. CBK did not even know about the 2002 CFA signed by the PM and Prabakaran and she could not even chair the Cabinet meetings because it was alleged that she carried a hidden camera in her purse! MR had to bribe the MPs with ministerial posts to keep the government running. Under such circumstances was JVP reasonable or realistic in demanding MR to reduce the cabinet to 30?

The JVP cannot perform a Yama maha perehara blowing hot and cold air. It cannot play a double game. Yes, people are suffering but by defeating the war budget people will suffer more and longer. If JVP thinks that people cannot understand this simple fact it is still in 1971, when it tried to overthrow a popular government months after it came to power. It is unbelievable that JVP is entering a jungle when the path is so clear. It may be hard for them to understand that MahindaR is like the King Valagamba in hiding with the wisdom of the old woman already in his head on how to eat the hot milk rice. Why the JVP does not want to give Gotabhaya a few more months to destroy Prabakaran’s bunker takes the JVP into the backyards club of US Senators Patrick Leahy, Hillary Clinton, UK ambassador Chilcott and the million-rupee salaried Colombo peace lobby.

MR came to power despite a conspiracy by the local anti-nationals and foreign INGO forces (5,000 of them in Sri Lanka today!!) wanting to keep Prabhakaran alive and well and the military demoralized. MR disproved the “war is not winnable” theory by a simple non-act (omission not commission) of allowing the army to take care of military affairs. Military is now run by military professionals and not by former election commissioners or arm-chair political generals. Why cannot JVP understand that the end of Prabhakaran is nearing and any vote against the budget at this moment could adversely affect the war effort? Are they prepared to waste all their past work at the 2005 election making it a case of throwing wood into the river (gangata ini kapeemak)?

No one denies that the real war in Sri Lanka will begin after the end of the Eelam war. Waste, corruption, crime and the hopelessness of civil administration have become antho-jata-bahi jata problems during the past 30 years. It is unreasonable and unfair to expect that MR has a magic wand to even begin eradicating them from a Sri Lankan society where the situation now is parents selling children or children selling parents for dollars. MR cannot touch this problem on a systematic basis until the war is over. Why the JVP is not willing the benefit of the doubt to MR on this issue is problematic.

MR, JHU and JVP benefited from Ven. Gangodawila Soma’s efforts. Ven. Soma came forward when laymen were afraid of talking for fear of death. It was the Lalith A-Gamini D- Gen. Kobbakaduwa syndrome. No one knows for sure who really killed them. Monks waited on road sides to tie pirith nuul on the wrists of JVP walkers because JVP was linked with Ven. Soma’s vision. The JVP should learn from history that the common man and woman are watching their behavior from an Ehi Passiko perspective – come and examine, not come and believe.

The JVP will have no monopoly control over people’s poverty issues to take them on for a ride. The JVP can begin a campaign to grow more food on its own at the GSN unit level if it cares about the people’s hunger. It has time to re-think and vote with the government on Dec 14th.

For example, if Mr. Anandasangaree was an MP he would have voted for the budget without any doubt. His recent letter to 60 million Tamils in Tamil Nadu asking them not to make a historical blunder (about the killing of Thamilselvam and supporting Prabhakaran) was a courageous act by a long-suffered Tamil man about his people. It was an act of wisdom which the late Amrithalingam could not think of as the Leader of the Opposition in 1978. There are two clear paths awaiting in Sri Lanka to be taken by two entities: one is Mr. A’s TULF publicly declaring that there are no homelands in Sri Lanka; the other is if JVP does not want to be another LSSP in 2007-2008 it should vote for the war budget now. The choices are clear and concrete.

Comments (13)

Why isn’t the south demanding federalism ?

By Kusal Perera

It wasn’t “once upon a time” that one member of the 17 member dissident UNP group peeled off the Opposition leader layer by layer, as the worst politician one could come across in today’s politics. Yet, just three days after the vote on the budget, the DM came with the news that the “Karu” group, or the self proclaimed democratic group of the UNP is proposing a National government with Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister. It’s the same Opposition leader whom this member; a leading spokesman of the group discarded as a total failure, not once but many a times in the most recent past, who is now being proposed to head the much talked of National government.

This by no means should surprise the people with some common sense. It’s quite possible that none of them, crossed over to the government benches on actual political issues. Every one of them is reported to have had very personal reasons to leave the UNP, but those would never be publicly said. This was more than evident as all of them had many political differences with and accusations too against the government, Mahinda Chinthanaya, the PA leadership and also against individuals who matter in the government. None of it changed for the better on the government side. Why do they now want the very person whom they jettisoned as a failure to join a National government as its Prime Minister ?

This needs to be said clearly and precisely. Every crossover negates the core essence of representative democracy in a proportional representative system where the voters have to first elect the party. With that said, it should now be said the proposal for a National government is only a short cut to accommodate all who want to cross over. A comfortable attempt to look decent in being part of “centralised” political power without the consent of the people. Cross-overs and jump-overs in the present parliament only denote a power struggle between two contending power blocs in the South, relevant to the South and affecting the South to partake in centralised power. These political manoeuvrings may have their impact on Tamil politics in deciding how soon a “separate state” would finally evolve and only on that. The TNA is out of all this political jugglery, perhaps wondering how they are still in the same parliament with these Southern politicians.

The attempts at crossing over and proposals for coalescing “nationally” do not in any way discuss, nor do they ever take into consideration the issue of “DEVELOPMENT” in a democratic South at least. All through almost six decades of centralised political power since independence, the issue of “development”, to put that in terms of Tamil politics, the right to decide the fate of our people had never been a serious issue in the South. This most important aspect of politics is being pushed into an unholy compromise as a war with those who kept asking for their right to develop their own area. It’s projected as a patriotic war. A National government at that, again with centralised power that distracts all issues of development though the talk is of nationalism. In all these years of centralised power, “development rhetoric” delivered absolutely no results despite colossal amounts pilfered and wasted.

Take a look at what has been left in the South with such centralisation of power in the hands of our patriotic politicians over the past decades. According to the Department of Census and Statistics that released the survey, Poverty In Sri Lanka – Issues And Options / Year 2006, [quote]”….with all the governmental interventions to reduce poverty, analysis of surveys conducted by the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS) shows that substantial poverty and under nutrition among children still remains, though there is gradual reduction. With all the welfare programmes that have been implemented during the last few decades by the successive governments, Sri Lanka could have done better.” (page / 06) [unquote] There is more that needs to be added from the same source. [quote] “… certain Districts, outside the Western province, such as Hambantota, Badulla, Monaragala, Ratnapura and Kegalle the percentage of population below poverty has remained more than 30 percent during the 12 year period covered by the three surveys.” (page / 14) [unquote] Which means there has been no development during the last 12 years. Not that there had been any before.

The quality of education and the benefits derived by the population through education is very clearly written into this quote in the same survey by the DCS as follows. [quote] “In-depth analysis shows that in the poorest Divisional Secretary Divisions, around 75 percent of the Heads of Households are engaged in own account work, mainly in agriculture or related activities and around 90 percent of Heads of Households in these Divisions have not reached even G.C.E.(O/L) education.” (page / 27) [unquote] It also says inadequacy of water and more so drinking water is a major problem in the dry zone areas.

On the other hand, if one calculates the amount of money that is spent by these politicians annually, it is staggering. Take for instance the district of Hambantota where the people elect 07 MPs at every election. Each of them spends Rs.05 million every year from the Decentralised Budget, supposedly for development. Which means in Hambantota district every year, Rs. 35 million is disbursed for supposed development work. From year 2002, they have spent Rs.210 million. Let’s not forget that there are other allocations too for a district through State institutes and also through other special development projects funded by agencies like ADB, UNDP, JICA, GTZ, USAID etc. How many billions would have been spent during these past 06 years alone in Hambantota district, not counting the Tsunami rehabilitation work ? How many billions more would have gone down the drain or to some unknown bank accounts, where 25 MPs in the 03 Southern districts spent Rs. 125 million every year over the past 06 years ?

One should not forget that this centralised system carried through foreign funded Integrated Rural Development Programmes (IRDP) from 1974 July onwards in 19 districts that left out the North and definitely swallowed up hundreds of billions of rupees. What rural development they achieved is more a tragedy than a joke. The worst is, this centralised system does not even have the capacity to utilise funds allocated and in all IRDP’s the funds utilised have not exceeded 31% from the committed total.

With all that and for all those reasons, there is substantial poverty and under nutrition among children. Poverty remains more than 30 percent. In the poorest Divisional Secretary Divisions, around 75 percent of the Heads of Households are engaged in own account work and around 90 percent of Heads of Households in these Divisions have not reached even G.C.E.(O/L) education. Water is scarce.

Is it not better therefore, for the South to leave this centralised governing system, a failure in every sense and ask for a federal system of governance within which the Southern polity could have a say over development planning and finances in their own poverty ridden areas ? A system that would make governance more participatory instead of this failed representative democracy ? Our representative democracy is a proven farce in this society. Once a political representative is elected, people lose the right to question his or her role thereafter and the very meaning of representation is lost. That is what the present parliament is all about. A parliament sans the sovereignty of the people.

The opportunity to have political power in close quarters with a participatory system was created for the South by the Tamil people when they campaigned for power sharing rejecting centralised power. If the South was willing to be part of that discussion to design a new system of governance in a single country where power could be provincially utilised for provincial development, Rs 125 million that is spent through the decentralised budget every year in the South would be enough money to raise many worthy development projects along with all other allocations that also go waste.

Unfortunately for the poverty ridden South, they opt to fight the very people who provide an opportunity for them to plan and design their own development. So, may the triple gem bless them patriots. [Courtesy:]

Comments (12)

« Previous entries Next Page » Next Page »