Archive for March, 2008

UTHR (Jaffna) Finds Security Forces Responsible for Murder of 17 A.C.F Aid Workers in Muthur

A 29-page report released today by the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) names state security personnel responsible for the summary executions of 17 Action Contre la Faim (ACF) aid workers in Mutur, Sri Lanka on 4 August 2006. The report details the grisly killings, the role of senior police officials in the murders, and the failure of the government to properly investigate the crime.

Eyewitness testimony and other information uncovered by UTHR(J) reveals that the Sri Lankan aid workers were killed by a member of the Muslim Home Guards, and two police constables in the presence of the Sri Lankan Naval Special Forces around 4.30 pm on Friday, 4 August 2006. Evidence suggests that the killers were given the green light to murder the aid workers by police officials in Mutur, who may have gotten the go-ahead from senior police officials in the district capital, Trincomalee. UTHR(J) presents evidence that indicates at least one aid worker was killed by a member of the Naval Special Forces, who were present and did nothing to stop the killings. The report implicates several senior police officers, including Rohan Abeywardene, Deputy Inspector General, and Kapila Jayasekere, Senior Superintendent of Police in Trincomalee, as being complicit in the crime and names Jehangir, a member of the Muslim Home Guards, and two police constables, Susantha and Nilantha, as those who pulled the triggers.

“The evidence shows that state security forces, including police, killed the 17 aid workers and that senior police officials covered it up,” said Dr. Rajan Hoole of UTHR(J). “The killing of civilians during times of conflict is a war crime. The perpetrators and their superiors should be brought to justice for this grievous crime.”

The UTHR(J) report points to the strong link between the killing of the 17 aid workers and the earlier killing of five Tamil students on the beachfront in Trincomalee on 2 January 2006. One of the 17, Kodeeswaran, was the brother of one of the five murdered students. The report gives incidents suggestive of an ominous interest taken in Kodeeswaran by SSP Jayasekere, who was implicated in the planning and cover-up of the murder of the five students. SSP Jayasekere was never prosecuted for the deaths of the five students, despite evidence pointing to his involvement in the murders, but was instead promoted shortly before the killings of the aid workers.

The murder of the 17 ACF workers occurred in the context of an attack on Mutur by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The government has repeatedly blamed the LTTE for the killings, but UTHR(J)’s extensive research shows that they occurred after the LTTE had retreated from Mutur town. At the time of the killings, most of the town’s residents had fled for safety, fearing further fighting. Action Contre la Faim had communicated to the authorities that the aid workers remained in their compound, so there should have been no confusion as to whether they were civilians or fighters.

Rather than seeking the truth and tackling impunity, the Sri Lankan authorities, their experts, the Attorney General and diplomats overseas have covered up the facts of the 2006 killings, along with any potential association between the ACF massacre and the killing of five students in Trincomalee.

“Had disciplinary action been instituted against SP Jayasekere over the killing of the five students instead of promoting him to SSP, the 17 aid workers would probably be alive today,” said Dr. Rajan Hoole. “The Sri Lankan government needs to end impunity to deter more abuses by the state security forces, the LTTE and other armed actors in Sri Lanka’s quarter-century of conflict.”

UTHR(J) said that it hoped the report released today would open a window to lighten the abyss created by high-level cover-ups and official acquiescence in murder. These cases of the 17 ACF aid workers and the 5 students from Trincomalee, given the international concern, remain the most promising means of making cracks in the prison of impunity that grips the nation.

About the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna)

UTHR(J) have been documenting and publicizing human rights abuses in Sri Lanka since the late 1980s and were one of the pioneers internationally, in highlighting the abuses of non-state actors, particularly abuses by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. In 2007 UTHR(J) were awarded the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. UTHR(J) has written extensively on the killings of the aid workers and the five students and this is the first report to shed light on the perpetrators of the killings and also the extensive high level cover-up of the truth.

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Implementing 13th Amendment is Only The First Step

Prof. Tissa Vitarana

We are really gathered here today with the haunting spectre of Kosovo, I think none of us want to see that outcome in Sri Lanka; we have to work a solution to what is almost an intractable problem, avoiding possible pitfalls which await us.

I am glad in choosing the subjects for this seminar; the international dimension also been addressed. As a colonised country we are deeply aware of the policies of divide and rule that were the basis of colonisation. We know that internationally that there are moves to go back to similar types of controls of our economies, this has become deeply evident in this context, and we have to act with circumspection, at the same time with determination to achieve our goals.

[Prof Tissa Vitarana]

As part of the APRC process, I would like to crystallise the issues before us in this way. There was a time when the conflict could have been resolved within a unitary state, without anything more than decentralisation by solving the language problem.

Today, the problem has escalated to the point, where the Tamil speaking people of this country, no longer have confidence in the majority community meeting their needs on their behalf. In fact there is a desire to share power both at the canter and at the periphery to enable them to meet the needs of the Tamil speaking people. We have to recognise this very clearly.

On the other side we have a Sinhala Buddhist majority who are afraid that the process of devolution could be utilised as a legal basis for affecting the separatist agenda.

I myself have found in the APRC process the task is to assuage the fears on both sides and to make people believe that devolution rather than facilitating separation, would be the base for preventing separation.

It is really a process of trying to create the necessary understanding, confidence, mutual respect that this situation demands, that is the APRC process today.

In this context the APRC over a period of one and a half years met on 71 occasions, sometimes five to six hours at a time. I have to acknowledge the cooperation and support of the fourteen political parties, who are in it and acknowledge their active contributions.

I thought the first meeting we had would have been the last, it was so confrontational, but I am happy to say there is now mutual respect and a team effort and also I am also happy to say that we can have a successful completion of our deliberations. Reaching a consensus is a vital part of this process; I must also appreciate the significant contributions of H.E the President has made.

I remember when I was the convener of the National Alliance for Peace, which bought together 147 organisations, trade unions, peace organisations, NGO’s, religious organisations and so forth. And with a team headed by religious dignitaries, the leader was the present Mahanayake Thera of the Asgiriya chapter; we went to Kilinochchi in 1997 at the height of the battle and met most of the L.T.T.E leaders including the late Tamil chelvam, except for Prabakaran.

We were trying to achieve at least a laying down of arms. Their main point was, that having an agreement which the government would not serve any purpose because, since we periodically have changes in government, the new government will not honour an agreement with the previous government. This was the crux of their argument.

After a post mortem examination of our visit, it was agreed that the prime task should be to reach a consensus, which must include at least the UNP and SLFP parties, which form successful governments in our country.

At a recent meeting the president had with Ranil Wickremesinghe- Leader of the opposition the understanding was reached whereby in our document agreement was reached on ninety percent of the proposals. It was agreed that I prepare a report on the areas of agreement and hand it over to Mr. Choksy the U.N.P representative and start an unofficial dialogue and give them the completed document to draw them into the process.

The discussions have now covered all areas pertinent to the problem. Regarding the ten percent under dispute, we have identified options for discussion and I hope this will take place in the near future. In my view we have been drawn into this process of trying to fashion out of our discussions an amendment to the present constitution without a 2/3 majority because, the president was under immense international pressure, and the charges were that the government had shifted from a political solution to a military solution.

The government is having difficulty in trying to achieve this task without the necessary stability in the government. This is the dimension we have to reckon with, When former president J.R Jayewardene came out with the 13th Amendment he had a 5/6 majority in Parliament, when there was a Sinhala Buddhist backlash, he gave into that.

By large the situation has improved a lot from the days of J.R Jayawardene, because racists’ opinions were much more prevalent during this time period and the need for a political solution was not adequately appreciated. Now from the public opinion point we are on a better wicket.

In my view, basically it is a process of winning over the Tamil Speaking people, restoring their confidence that within one country the necessary structures will be established to ensure their needs and aspirations would be fulfiled. Anything short of this will not carry conviction.

The 13th Amendment is the first step in the process of restoring confidence of the Tamil people. The government has been trying to promote economic development by politicians elected by the people of the east with the recently concluded local government elections.

We also need to ensure that adequate funding is made available to the provincial council members, which will result in the successful implementation of the 13th Amendment. The process is not going to be limited to the implementation of the 13th amendment; we have to come up with a new constitution that eliminates the short comings of the 1978 constitution.

Finally, touching on the military aspect, we have something to learn from the experience of ache in Indonesia, in ache they had three ceasefires all three were failures. On the fourth occasion the government, in particular the minister of justice, who was chief negotiator, had a year and a half of unofficial secret talks with the leaders of the ache rebels addressing core issues, and only when he felt that sufficient progress had been made, that they went in for open talks. Throughout the whole process there was no ceasefire, the government kept on pounding the rebels and weakening them militarily, during this period their strength had been reduced by 1/3 and at that point there were open public talks.

The government acted sensibly and magnanimously and gave the ache rebels more than what they had dreamt was possible. Previously in ache a very oil rich province, all their earnings were taken by the central government and only a pittance was given to the province, on the table seventy percent of their earnings could be retained in Aceh, therefore, they agreed to lay down arms straight away.

I hope in Sri Lanka. While we approach this problem from all angles, we will act with wisdom and learn from the experience of other countries.

The question of Human rights is also being raised, I don’t know whether similar questions have been raised in Iraq, Afghanistan or in any other conflict for that matter, but it is being raised here. I think I hope I am wrong, that Kosovo is not in mind- lets not leave any openings for that to be exploited.

Once again I thank you all for your support to this intractable problem, which we must solve if we are to forge ahead as a nation.

(Extracts of a Speech given at an International Seminar held on the 26th and 27th of March Titled “Conflict in Sri Lanka: Road Ahead” organised jointly by the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies and the Centre for Security Analysis, Chennai, India)

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Human Rights situation in Sri Lanka: Who is lying?

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

A democratic government that exercises the sovereign power of the people on their behalf has the responsibility to safeguard the rights and freedom of all citizens. The people too have responsibilities to their country and the entire society. The government’s responsibility is wide and specific. It is responsible for the unity, peace, development of all regions and the well-being of all citizens. Good governance, social justice and the rule of law are also its responsibility. Moreover from the standpoint of good international relations which are also essential for the welfare of the country, the government’ responsibility extends beyond its own territory. The difference between the democratic governance in politically stable countries like UK and shaky Sri Lanka lies basically in the lack of responsibility and concern of elected governments in the aforementioned areas. The former has no written constitution but no government tried to undermine minority rights, the Rule of Law and the democratic system. Since independence in 1948, Sri Lanka had three different constitutions for adopting democratic system of governance. But the basic political problems continue to remain unresolved hindering the unity and progress of the country.

Fundamental Rights in Sri Lanka’s Constitution

Chapter 1 of the present Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka states, “In the Republic of Sri Lanka sovereignty is in the People and is inalienable. Sovereignty includes the power of governance, fundamental rights and the franchise”. In the same chapter Article 4(d) states, “the fundamental rights which are by the Constitution declared and recognized shall be respected, secured and advanced by all the organs of government, and shall not be abridged , restricted or denied, save in the manner and to the extent hereinafter provided”. Chapter 3 deals solely with Fundamental Rights. The main fundamental freedoms and rights enshrined in approved international conventions such as the European Convention on Human Rights are also in Articles 1 to 14 of the present Constitution. Briefly, these include Freedom of thought, conscience and religion; Freedom from torture; Right to equality; Freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention and punishment, and prohibition of retroactive legal legislation; Freedom of speech, assembly, association, occupation, movement.

The remedy for the infringement of fundamental rights by executive actions is stated in Article17. “Every person shall be entitled to apply to the Supreme Court, as provided by Article 126, in respect of the infringement or imminent infringement, by executive or administrative action, of a fundamental right to which such person is entitled under provisions of this Chapter”.

Restrictions to fundamental rights specified in Article15 which has 8 sub-clauses are crucial in this study. These withhold the rights specified in the Constitution in those cases stated therein. All that is required is for the government to enact temporary/ emergency laws in the interests of national security or other reasons specified in the Constitution. Thus, fundamental rights may also be denied by temporary law in the interests of racial and religious harmony or national economy or in relation to parliamentary privilege, contempt of court, defamation or incitement to offence. Each sub-clause in Article 15 relates specifically to those freedoms and rights specified in each of the preceding Articles. The ‘law’ in such cases “includes regulations made under the temporary law”. ‘National security’ has been often cited to justify the emergency laws.

Human Rights situation

Like other guerrilla groups, the LTTE showed no respect for the rights and freedom of civilians. The rebel leadership wanted the people to accept their views and obey their orders. Any dissenting Tamil was branded as a traitor to the Tamil cause. The moves to suppress dissent by the present government are similar to those of the militants operating outside the existing laws and established code of conduct. Some may feel terror must be defeated using the same brutal methods disregarding all laws and human rights. They ignore the fact that many victims in the present ‘war against terror’ are innocent civilians. Those who express dissenting views on civilian killings, abductions, ‘disappearances’ and intimidation by security personnel, paramilitaries and thugs operating with the backing of influential members of the government are considered to be LTTE supporters!.

[HRW Video: Sri Lanka’s Ghosts]

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) report issued on 6 March 2008 on the widespread abductions and ‘disappearances’ in Sri Lanka blamed the government for allowing the unlawful practices to escalate into a ‘national crisis’. The 241-page report, “Recurring Nightmare: State Responsibility for ‘Disappearances’ and Abductions in Sri Lanka,” has also examined the Sri Lankan government’s response to earlier accusations, which the HRW finds them grossly inadequate. It is the culture of impunity that emerged from government’s irresponsible actions and inaction that is threatening the rights and freedoms of the majority of citizens.

HRW has said: “Not a single member of the security forces has been brought to justice for involvement in ‘disappearances’ or abductions”. It also said that Sri Lanka’s emergency laws, which grant the security forces sweeping powers to arbitrarily arrest and detain people without being held to account, have facilitated enforced disappearances. The special bodies set up by the government for monitoring and investigating ‘disappearances’ and other human rights violations have been ineffective. HRW has said this failure is not surprising since at the highest levels, the Sri Lankan government continues to downplay the problem, denying the scale of the crisis and that its own security forces are involved.

HRW has also deplored the Sri Lankan government’s opposition to an international monitoring mission, given that such initiatives have proven effective elsewhere in dealing with ‘disappearances.’ With sufficient mandate and resources, the monitoring mission could achieve what the government and various national mechanisms have failed to do. Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at HRW is reported to have said: “The Sri Lankan government’s rejection of a UN monitoring mission reflects badly on its commitment to human rights.” If the government is not responsible for human rights violations, why is it objecting this proposal, when it too does not deny there have been serious violations? The Sri Lankan government has dismissed the HRW report as biased and untrue. Earlier reports by visiting UN missions critical of the government have also been rejected.

Among those who dismissed the HRW report as biased is the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP). The latter in a Press Release 7 March 2008 stated: “The mandate of the Secretariat to pursue peace remains however and this must be exercised in accordance with the principles and policies of His Excellency the President, to whom, along with the people of Sri Lanka whom he represents, the Secretariat is responsible”. Since there is no peace process but only some other process now under His Excellency’s leadership, the Secretariat is presumably coordinating the latter according to the principles and polices of the supreme leader. When the real process begins it must not proceed according to the whims of one person. Sincere proposals for reasonable political settlement are essential here. The government has been dodging this imperative. Importantly, there must be an associated process of national reconciliation to achieve lasting peace. The SCOPP’s hurried response reveals manifestly Sri Lanka’s political ethos that helps not only those at the top of the power structure but also those who back unreservedly the almighty leadership.

The US State Department Report on Sri Lanka has dealt with actions of all parties that violated human rights following the renewed hostilities between government forces and the LTTE early 2006. The Report says: “The overwhelming majority of victims of human rights violations, such as killings and disappearances, were young male Tamils.” The role played by Tamil Tigers and Tamil paramilitary groups allied to security forces in the abhorrent deeds has also been exposed. The report blames the Tamil Tigers for bombing civilian shoppers in a Colombo suburb and civilian buses in the south. Nevertheless, the harsh comments on government’s role in creating the calamitous human rights situation hurt the Rajapaksa regime. The Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama on the instruction of the President, summoned US Ambassador Robert O’ Blake to express Government’s contentions. A statement issued by the Foreign Ministry after the meeting quoted Minister Bogollagama’s retort to Blake. “The report presents a distorted version of the actual situation in Sri Lanka and is unfortunately a litany of unsubstantiated allegations, innuendo and vituperative exaggerations.” Within hours the US Embassy in Colombo hit back with the statement which said, “The US Government stands by the report.”

A statement issued March 18 at the end of a three-day visit by a six-member group representing the European Union’s current president Slovenia and future president France, as well as the European Commission and the EU Council of Ministers stated that EU has “very serious concerns” about reported human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. The EU group also condemned alleged rights breaches by the Tamil Tigers. Speaking at a media conference at the European Commission (EC) office in Colombo on Mar 18, the EU representatives reiterated their concern over the human rights situation in Sri Lanka and said that “they were looking forward to an ambitious final peace proposal by Sri Lanka during the coming months”. The EU group also noted with concern that the Independent International Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) has decided to terminate its work with the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI) because, in the IIGEP’s view, the CoI does not meet international standards. The EU believes that “the IIGEP, which includes four Eminent Persons from Asia with Justice P.N. Bhagwati, former Chief Justice of India as head, has performed its functions with professionalism and impartiality”. The EU recognized Sri Lanka’s sovereign right to decide its own approaches but underlined the seriousness of the IIGEP and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights decisions. The need to consider their recommendations seriously and to have effective and independent human rights’ monitoring was emphasized.

The group’s statement also reminded Sri Lanka about the Generalised System of Preferences plus-scheme (GSP+) which is benefiting Sri Lanka. “All countries wishing to continue benefiting from GSP+ will have to re-apply by October.” The application will be considered according to objective criteria. This meant the human rights situation could have an impact. Attention was drawn to “the linkage between trade preferences and human rights clearly spelled out in the legal provisions of the agreement”. The visiting EU team wanted to visit Wanni but the Government of Sri Lanka asserted that it was not possible to provide immediate access owing to the prevailing security situation there which is under attack by the military. The government holds the view high-profile visits to Kilinochchi are useless. According to a press report March 20, the President has said, “Sri Lanka is now a rich country. We don’t need any concessions from the EU”!

In a move to discredit the US State Department’s country report for 2007 on Sri Lanka, the Foreign Ministry said that the ICRC had “confirmed a distinct downward trend in disappearances and unexplained killings during the second and third quarters of 2007”. In a press release March 19, Jacques de Maio head of operations for South Asia of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) clarified: “Extra-judicial killings and disappearances are part of a terrible pattern of abuse in Sri Lanka, which must be stopped.” The statement deplored “the Government of Sri Lanka for making misleading public references to ICRC’s confidential findings on “disappearances and unexplained killings,” and for disclosing that U.S. embassy also had access to the confidential reports.” The statement explained that ICRC has an international mandate to protect and assist the victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence around the world and, in its capacity as an exclusively humanitarian organization, it does so in a strictly neutral and impartial manner. On the extra-judicial killings and ‘disappearances’ it said: “The ICRC strives to stop these through its confidential and direct dialogue with the authorities concerned. For this reason, we prefer not to enter into a public debate on the number of disappearances in Sri Lanka.” Incidentally, the acknowledgment of downward trend in rights violations does not refute the fact that serious violations occurred in 2007.

Media under siege

Although journalists have been hounded and attacked earlier, the attacks on media personnel reached climax on 27 December 2007 when the thugs accompanying the Minister of Labour Mervyn Silva entered the State owned Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) to assault the News Director T.M.G. Chandrasekara. The violent scenes of the real drama were telecast live. People were able to grasp the culture of impunity responsible for the rise in lawlessness. The moves to intimidate journalists continued even after this obtrusive incident.

The Free Media Movement (FMM) in its latest statement said: “Not a single thug who accompanied MP Mervyn Silva has been brought to book. Not a single investigation or disciplinary hearing on MP Mervyn Silva has been conducted. Promises made by the SLFP Central Committee to hold the alleged deranged MP accountable for his actions have not borne any fruit. The Police have yet to even question the Minister. Enjoying the spoils of the proximity to absolute power, the MP is free to do as he sees fit while journalists today are under threat and in fear for their lives from criminal and underworld gangs in the service of the Minister.” Several violent incidents linked to the one started on December 27 by the Minister have drawn worldwide attention. 6 journalists were murdered last year. Sri Lanka is considered by some as another country not safe for journalists.

There have been some arrests of journalists unrelated to the SLRC incident. The Sunday Times March 23 reported their columnist J. S. Tissainayagam, “continues to be detained by the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) for the 15th consecutive day without any explanation for his arrest. Along with him, B. Jasiharan, a Tamil nationalist writer and owner of a printing press which also housed the office of Mr. Tissainayagam, is also being detained along with his wife”. The columnist Tissainayagam, a political science graduate with a post-graduate degree in International Relations in his fundamental rights petition to the Supreme Court has said that he is being held for some undisclosed reason and “his fundamental rights have been violated and that the said conduct/actions and /or inactions of the respondents constitute administrative and executive action and entitles him to invoke the jurisdiction of the Court under Article 17 read with Article 126 of the Constitution”. Besides working as a columnist for The Sunday Times, he developed a website “Outreachsl” with financial support largely from a German-based organization called “Facilitating Local Initiatives for Conflict Transformation” (FLICT). The International Federation of journalists (IFJ) and its affiliates, the FMM, the Federation of Media Employees Trade Union (FMETU) and the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association (SLWJA), as well as the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF) and Sri Lanka Tamil Journalists Alliance (SLTJA), demand that the authorities make transparent the reasons for the arrests and follow due legal process.

The FMM on March 18 condemned the ransacking of the home of journalist couple Sashi Kumara, a television journalist and Sunethra Atugalpura, a political reporter on March 6 as an act of intimidation. The FMM statement said: “It is the duty of the Government to take immediate steps to create an environment conducive for media practitioners to perform their duty without fear of retaliation. As far as the culture of impunity reigns there will be no end to intimidation of media in Sri Lanka. The Government has willingly or unwillingly failed to establish the rule of law in any single attack on media. FMM is compelled to say that what the country needs today is not presidential statements saying that the country is overflowing with media freedom, but the rule of law”.

In a statement, following a four-member gang allegedly attempting to harm the journalist Priyal Ranjith Perera, the Assistant director News camera, SLRC on February 27 while he was at his residence in Pita Kotte, the FMM said: “The FMM notes with dismay that this is the third and fourth confirmed cases of journalists who have been threatened or attacked after standing up to the thuggery of MP Mervyn Silva”. He was involved in videotaping the infamous incident on December 27, 2007 The other journalist whose residence was visited the same day by a suspicious group on motorcycles “had published critical stories on minister Silva’s intrusion into SLRC” Fortunately, he was not at home when the group came.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) sent a joint letter on March 27 to President Mahinda Rajapaksa voicing the concerns from over 30 journalists’ associations and press freedom and human rights organisations across the globe for the safety of Sri Lankan journalists. The letter demands an immediate change in the escalating culture of violence against journalists. It is said to be the first of a series of actions for the ‘Stop the War on Journalists’ campaign. A global day of action has been called for April 10, 2008. IFJ Asia Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said “Sri Lanka has long been considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, but the situation is becoming ever more serious.” The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries.

The joint letter refers to the meeting the President had with SLRC executives and union representatives, the continuing harassment of journalists and their families and the appointment of retired Major General Sunil Silva to a top managerial post in SLRC. All incidents of attacks, harassments and threats involving journalists in Sri Lanka since the beginning of 2008 are listed in the letter. Earlier March 21, Joel Simon, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) revealed some specific concerns of the media community in the draft letter to the President. There is skepticism amongst journalists on the fulfillment of the promise given by the President at the meeting with Rupavahini staff at Temple Trees to investigate the unusual series of attacks on their fellow members. Minister Mervyn Silva, who was summoned to the meeting by the President, denied any hand in these incidents. ‘The Island’ in its March 19 editorial said the President’s meeting at ‘Temple Trees’ with the aggrieved Rupavahini employees had the trappings of a trial by the Executive.

The appeal to extend the investigation to other incidents involving journalists and/or their families may also be ignored. The CPJ Director has specifically mentioned: (1) The assault on the family members of Tamil journalist Maunasami Parameswary in their home on 14 March 2008 by an unidentified group. A former reporter for the weekly Mawbima, which was forced to close after carrying reports critical of government activities, Parameswary was detained for four months without charge or trial under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Her release on 22 March 2007 came shortly after she petitioned the Supreme Court to declare her detention illegal. (2) The detention of journalist and editor of the Website ‘Outreachsl’ J.S. Tissainayagam and N. Jasiharan, a printing press owner and his wife since March 7. Tissainayagam, who sought to present Tamil concerns and Tamil culture in his reporting, was a known critical voice.

Incidentally, Susanthi Thambirasa who was arrested along with her friend Parameswary near Savoy Cinema in Wellawatte on 23rd November 2006 was freed by the Colombo Magistrate Court on 27 March 2008. At the time of her arrest, Susanthi was a relief announcer at the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and also worked at Sunera Foundation, an NGO.

Apparently, many local journalists think that the top post in Rupavahini was specially created for the former military commander Major General Sunil Silva. According to local press reports, “Silva’s appointment will logically give Rupavahini journalists pause before reporting any news that might upset the Sri Lankan government”.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

The preamble to the Covenant (ICCPR) states that it is in accordance with the principles proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, giving recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family which is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. It also recognizes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 1 of the ICCPR recognizes the right of all people to determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. Article 2 states: “Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

Article 9, inter alia, states: “Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law. Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him”.

Sri Lanka is a Party to the ICCPR. President referred the ICCPR Act to the Supreme Court for consideration, whether the provisions therein were fully adhered to within the legal and constitutional framework of Sri Lanka. A five-judge Bench heard the arguments on March 17. The Island on March 19 published a brief report on the main submissions made by the lawyers. P. A. Ratnayake PC, who appeared for the Attorney General, said: “The fundamental rights chapter, the statutes and the common law of Sri Lanka, guarantees human rights, in all respects. He explained that Equal protection Rights are made justiciable through the Courts, the Human Rights Commission, is bound to report to the President and the Parliamentary Commission for Administration will report to the Parliament. Self determination and Sovereignty in the people are enshrined in the Constitution. Chapter (3) of the Constitution provides for right to life. In Sri Lanka no person could be punished with death except by an order of a Court. Article 11 of the Constitution prohibits torture. Issues such as slavery have been abolished since 1844. Arrest without warrant is permitted only under very special circumstance. A reason for the arrest should be told according to the criminal procedure followed in Sri Lanka. Freedom of movement, expression and franchise are enshrined in the Constitution, through fundamental rights.”

As mentioned earlier in this paper, the core problem in Sri Lanka is the wide divergence between what is officially written or pronounced and their adherence in practice. The work of official Commissions and Committees appointed to look into the abuse of power by state officials have been hampered by various drawbacks in the politicized system. Recent reports indicate key witnesses in the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) have been threatened. They have been warned of dire consequences if they divulge the truth. If and when the reports are made public (usually after long delay), the findings and recommendations remain dormant without any serious follow-up. Some occasions lame excuses are given as seen recently in the government’s stated position that there are no restrictions on media because the government has not imposed any press censorship!

The Island report also stated: “Constitutional expert Dr. Jayampathy Wickramarathne referred to seven inconsistencies between the Sri Lankan Constitution and the ICCPR. Among them he referred to the derogation limited in the Constitution, and the non derogatory state in the International Convention, even in terms of public emergencies. In the Sri Lankan Constitution, Article 15 (7) restricts fundamental rights, for public order, health, and morality.” Attention has been drawn earlier to this Article which states: “The exercise and operation of all the fundamental rights declared and recognized by Articles 12, 13(1), 13 (2) and 14 shall be subject to such restrictions as may be prescribed by law in the interests of national security, public order and the protection of public health or morality, or for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others, or of meeting the just requirements of the general welfare of a democratic society”. The irony is the decision-makers are mostly egoistic power greedy politicians whose idea of “morality” and commitment to “general welfare of democratic society” are questionable. Dr. Jayampathy Wickramarathne also explained that if fundamental rights are violated by the existing law in Sri Lanka, there is no remedy. He also referred to the immunity vested in the President under Article 35. There are also some close to the President whose decisions have his full upport. If the President accepts responsibility for these then they too can indirectly benefit from this immunity?

What is important here is not whether the existing laws and declarations in principle conform to the various provisions in international covenants ratified by Sri Lanka but whether in practice these are being observed. What matters in the end are the ways people are treated and the rights and freedoms they really have under the political system. An objective review will also tell to want extent the system is functionally democratic. Given the fundamental drawbacks in the present system only those having neither special interest nor the obligation to uphold it can give a realistic judgment.

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

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Democracy or Demoncracy?

By: Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

While the word ‘Democracy’ has only one meaning, in practice it has come to mean many things to many people. ‘Demos’ in Greek means ‘Common people’ and ‘Democracy’ is the rule by the common people. Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as, “The government of the people, by the people, and for the people”- a definition that cannot be surpassed for its precision, brevity and beauty. In countries such as Sri Lanka, what is practiced in the name of democracy should be more aptly termed ‘Demoncracy’. Demons as we all know are evil spirits. ‘Demoncracy’ thus becomes, ‘A government of the demons, by the demons, for a foolish people’.

Diane Ravitch writing about democracy says, “When a representative democracy operates in accordance with a constitution that limits the powers of the government and guarantees fundamental rights to all citizens, this form of government is a constitutional democracy. In such a society, the majority rules, and the rights of minorities are protected by law and through the institutionalization of law.” Further, a USINFO publication states,” But the rule by the majority is not necessarily democratic: No one, for example, would call a system fair or just that permitted 51% of the population to oppress the remaining 49% in the name of the majority. In a democratic society, majority rule must be coupled with guarantees of individual human rights that, in turn, serve to protect the rights of minorities- whether ethnic, religious, or political, or simply the losers in the debate over a piece of controversial legislation. The rights of the minorities do not depend upon the goodwill of the majority and cannot be eliminated by majority vote. The rights of minorities are protected because democratic laws and institutions protect the rights of all citizens.”

It further says, “Democracy is more than a set of constitutional rules and procedures that determine how a government functions. In a democracy, government is only one element coexisting in a social fabric of many and varied institutions, political parties, organizations, and associations. This diversity is called pluralism, and it assumes that the many organized groups do not depend upon the government for their existence, legitimacy, or authority.” In a democracy, the people are ‘Sovereign’; the government has to have the consent of the governed; the majority in terms of the will of the people rules; minority rights and basic human rights are respected; free and fair elections are held; there is equality before the law; due process of law is entrenched; there are constitutional limits on government; social, economic, and political pluralism form the foundations of national dialogue; and values of tolerance, pragmatism, cooperation, and compromise underpin governance.

All the above concepts of democracy are to ensure that the people are justly governed. This essential aspect of democracy-‘Just rule’- was not strange to us as a people. While many Sinhalese take pride over the victory of the Sinhala Prince ‘Dutu’ Gemunu over the reigning Tamil King, Ellalan (Elahara), they also celebrate the ‘Justness’ of Ellalan. Tamils too celebrate the ‘Justness’ of King Manu Neethi Cholan. Both are believed to have installed a bell at the entrance to their palaces that could be rung by any citizen in distress. When this bell was rung by a cow, whose calf was killed in a road accident by a chariot driven by the Prince, the King – in each instance-ordered that the Prince be also killed in a similar manner! This is the rule of law! Every Tamil child is taught the story of Manu Neethi Cholan. Under the rule of these ‘Just’ Kings not only, any citizen in distress had the ‘Right’ to seek justice directly from the ‘Sovereign’; but the ‘Right’ was also extended to animals! Justness involved human rights, as well as animal rights, at an age that preceded ours by several hundreds of years. These are the lessons we are supposed to learn from our history, to make us more human than we are.

The story of Kannagi (worshipped as Pathini Deviyo by Sinhala Buddhists) –the heroine of the Tamil epic Silapathikaram- once again demonstrates how the concept of justice underpinned governance in ancient times. When Kovalan- her husband- accused of stealing the Queen’s anklet was put to death, an outraged Kannagi argued Kovalan’s innocence before the King. The King stung by the injustice he had meted, dropped dead in shock. The unabated anger of Kannagi set the city of Madurai on fire! During the Chera, Chola and Pandiya rule in South India, the rulers were held to a straight and narrow path by public opinion expressed through poets. The poets were the media and civic institutions of the day! Their poetry defined principles of governance that remain valid to this day and will remain so into eternity. ‘Seng-Konmai’- Just Rule- was considered an adornment for Kings. Those ruling and are aspiring to rule in Sri Lanka, whether Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims- do not care for the fundamentals or spirit of democracy, or the concept of ‘Seng-Konmai’.

Our President, Mahinda Rajapakse, at the ceremony held at his official residence in Colombo to swear in the members recently elected to the local government bodies in the East- unprecedented-spoke glowingly of democracy taking root in the East and said,” The country could now demonstrate to the entire world that we are a Nation that respects democracy. Very soon we will be ready to grant the same rights, freedom and the franchise enjoyed by the Eastern population to the Northern populace too.” His brother ‘ Strongman’ Basil Rajapakse has also been quoted as expressing confidence that the TMVP and many other parties will contest the forth-coming elections to the Eastern principal Council under the symbol of the UPFA alliance led by Mahinda Rajapakse.

How democratic the local government elections were, are debatable, considering the circumstances under which they were held and the nature of the participants. While it could be justifiably argued that a beginning had to be made to re-establish the principles of elective governance in the East- however flawed it may be- the counter-argument would be that it need not have been flawed to the extent it was. The neutrality of the process that governed these elections is questionable. The fundamental flaw is that the TMVP does not represent the pluralism required in a democracy, but is a grouping funded, armed and sheltered by the government. It depends on the government for its existence, legitimacy and authority. The national government has engineered a result that it desired. A sterile seed has been planted and it will be impossible for it to take root and become a flourishing democracy, as claimed by the President. Further, the adjective ‘Strongman’ increasingly being used to describe Basil Rajapakse, is not only untenable with democracy, but also bodes ill for the forthcoming elections for the Eastern provincial Council, to be organized and supervised by him. The results of course are likely to be predetermined and quite predictable. The results would be what the government wants! This will not be the democracy or the type of rights Tamils have demanded and sacrificed much for! This seems to be a replay of the District Development Council elections conducted by the Jayawardene government in the North and East! History seems to be repeating itself in short cycles in Sri Lanka. We also seem incapable of learning the right lessons from history. Winning an election is no longer dependent on the people’s free will, but on how efficiently they are manipulated to deliver victory to an individual or political party, through guile, violence and threat of violence.

How democracy can be re-established in the East now and the North soon, by the Rajapakse government, which has undermined the essentials of democracy in the rest of the island in the past two years in a rather cavalier manner, is a question that should be seriously examined by the people. A government that refuses to respect the constitution governing it, tolerates and instigates the climate of impunity and breakdown of the rule of law, justifies the violation of human rights, shelters men who break the law and indulge in criminality, uses its powers to withhold security from those facing serious danger to their lives, harasses journalists and the media, is unaccountable to the people as never before, debases institutions of governance non-chalently, lacks financial prudence, nourishes Sinhala-Buddhist extremism, has involved Buddhist temples and monks in its fight against terrorism, and is insensitive to the travails of the people, cannot be an instrument capable of re-establishing democracy in the North and East. President Rajapakse’s proclivity to talk through his hat, belying blatantly visible realities and to deliberately make ‘Sincere sounding’ misleading statements has earned us a ‘Pariah’ status internationally. Nationally, the results are becoming increasingly palpable- hopelessness, poverty, malnutrition, starvation and violence.

President Rajapakse has ‘Imperialized’ governance in Sri Lanka during his two year rule and has taken the process begun by J.R. Jayawardene, but held in abeyance some what since, to an extent that should be of serious concern to our people. Imperialism is unanswerable to the people, is insensitive to their wishes and involves exploitation of the worst aspects of human nature and corruption on an unprecedented scale. When such imperialistic tendencies are combined with sectarian nationalism, they can only ring the death knell for democracy. Imperialism and democracy are mutually exclusive. We cannot have an ‘Imperial democracy’, desired by our politicians-our ‘Uncrowned Kings and Queens’- if we are to progress as a nation fit to be in the 21st century.

The utter disdain our politicians hold for the principles of democracy and minority rights was displayed by W.D.M. Lokubandara, our current Speaker of Parliament in 1981, following the torching of the Jaffna Public Library housing 96,000 books and thousands of other documents- the historical and cultural treasure of Sri Lankan Tamils- by policemen and thugs guided by senior cabinet Ministers, when he asserted in parliamment,” If there is discrimination in this land which is not their (Tamil) homeland, then why try to stay here. Why not go back home (India) where there would be no discrimination. There are your kovils and Gods. There you have your culture, education, universities etc. There you are masters of your fate—-. If the sleeping Sinhalese wake up to see the Tamils trying to establish a Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka, then they will not be quite calm. It would be advisable for the Tamils not to disturb the sleeping Sinhala brother. Everyone knows that lions when disturbed are not peaceful.” Such thinking and attitudes have given rise to the Tiger-phenomenon and ensured its survival. This man is now presiding over the citadel of democracy in Sri Lanka- the Parliament. He was also at one time our Minister of education, who pontificated on the merits of filial respect expressed in the traditional manner! There are many of the same mindset in the Rajapakse government and those supporting it today. Can such men seed democracy in the North and East?

‘Demoncracy’ will destroy us as a nation unless we revolt. The ‘Demons’ that asserted themselves with how our minorities were dealt with, have now grown strong enough to overwhelm our governance as a nation. It is not only a problem affecting the Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, Hindus and Christians any more, but a problem affecting the Sinhala-Buddhists too. The demons haunting our democracy are in the present, but draw their sustenance from a past- as perceived by them- that has become our curse. Michael Roberts, the Sri Lankan born Anthropologist of considerable renown, rather poignantly wrote the following in 1999, “It is rather a puzzle to me that the staunch Sinhala activists today argue that devolution will divide the country. They do not seem to recognize the stark division one faces in Sri Lanka today. So they must be referring to the final, legitimized, judicial division. But this is perhaps to put a rational veneer on their thinking. In other words there is something deeper here, something that is not easy to understand. But understand it we must. And, speaking rationally, I also ask: How is it that these protesting voices do not see that in the recent past, a past they are fully cognizant of, the regular failure to grant concessions only pushed the Tamils further down the track towards separatism and worsened the situation for the Sinhalese. Retrospectively, this should be self-evident. But it is not recognized.”

We have to have a mass ‘Thovil’ –exorcization- ceremony to get rid of our curses from the past and the demons from the present. Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Christians- as a people should come together to exorcize our democracy from the demons that have taken it over. These demons encompass both persons and phenomena. These demons should not permitted any space or corners to exist in our nation, whether in the form of persons or in the form of Sinhala extremism, Tamil extremism, terrorism of all kinds- militant and state, bribery, corruption, nepotism and disregard for the rule of law. These demons are haunting us as a nation as never before. They are haunting all of us- Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. Sri Lanka should not be permitted to go any further down the slippery slope of ‘Demoncracy’, as countries such as the former Yugoslavia, Zimbabwe and Burma, to name a few have done.

[The original version of this article was published in the ‘Colombo Post’ of 25th March’2008]

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Newly resettled IDPs dream of life without war

The last 18 years of Kanavathipillai Thangarasa’s life have been in constant flux. The 62-year-old man and his family have been displaced from their home on numerous occasions since 1990 by fighting in eastern Sri Lanka between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

[Children in front of the shelters they live in in Ichchanthivu, Batticaloa District]

In 1991, his 15-year-old son disappeared while travelling to the capital, Colombo, 330km from his native village Vavunathivu in Batticaloa District. The strain of those years shows on Thangarasa’s face, which is dominated by wrinkles and heavy-set eyes.

“All we have ever wanted is peace, to live like anyone else without fear of having to run in our night clothes,” he told IRIN. Like many in his village and thousands of others in eastern Batticaloa District, Thangarasa hopes the latest phase of eviction and resettlement is the last of his lifetime.

Thousands fled and returned to villages like Vavunathivu and Vakari, further north of Batticaloa town, within a span of six months in 2007 when fighting flared up. They remain nervous about their economic futures.

“A year ago I was either living my life in a bunker or running from shell fire,” Nalathambi Shanthi, a 23-year-old woman from Vakarai, said. “Today, I am living in a house but still unemployed.”

Resettlement plans

Signs of over a decade and a half of fighting are evident. “There are still big holes in the walls of my house,” Thayabaran Premila, a 29-year-old mother of three from Uriyankettu village in Vakarai, said.

The last harvest was one of the first in recent times that allowed farmers in the newly resettled areas to cultivate without fear of war. “The last crop was good because we could sell the paddy at a high price,” 29-year-old Sinnathambi Wimalendran from Vavunathivu said, noting that rice prices were high throughout the country.

[Villagers in Vakarai stand in front of their home, which still bears the marks of fighting-pic: Sanjaya Nallaperuma]

When fighting broke out between government forces and the Tigers in early 2007, thousands of civilians fled villages like Vavunathivu and Vakarai, which were then under the control of the Tamil Tigers, to the relative safety of government controlled parts of the district.

By June 2007, government forces had chased out the Tigers from areas they held in the eastern district and a massive resettlement drive was launched. According to the Ministry of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services, 31,200 families (104,000 people) have been resettled in the district, with 27,000 of them, including the Thangarasa family, returning to Vavunathivu.

Lagging behind

Despite the mass resettlement, areas like Vavunathivu still lag far behind the rest of the country in development, according to economist Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, the author of the recent study Economy of the Conflict Region in Sri Lanka: From Embargo to Repression, published by the East West Center, in Washington, DC.

[A bicycle repair shop in Ichchanthivu, Vavunathivu which is doing brisk business due to a lack of public transport-pic: Amantha Perera]

“Newly settled areas have a long way to go,” he told IRIN. “They lack basic amenities and infrastructure such as proper houses, roads, electricity, water supply and telecommunications. Further, human resource development is at a very low level.”

“It is very important that jobs are created to ensure long-term sustainability of these areas,” Thandi Mwape, the head of the Batticaloa sub-office of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

Several international organisations have launched programmes targeting people involved in fishing, home gardening and food crops in the newly resettled divisions of Batticaloa.

Roads need repair and houses, most of which still bear the tell tale signs of a protracted war, need rehabilitation.

Kick-start development

Mwape said the UN and other agencies provided transitional shelters during the resettlement and that government agencies were looking at ways to reconstruct permanent houses.

The government hopes the successful completion of elections on 10 February for nine bodies in the Batticaloa District, including those overseeing Vavunathivu and Vakarai, will kick-start localised development projects.

Each of the councils was allocated Rs 2.5 million (about US$23,000) by President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the 20 March swearing-in ceremony in Colombo. “You now have to find solutions to their (voters) problems,” he told the newly elected members.

The Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP), a breakaway faction of the Tamil Tigers, won control of all nine councils at the election, the first held since 1994.

The newly resettled families are eager to get back to normal productive lives. “My village is still overgrown and looks like a jungle,” Thangarasa said. “With half broken houses, flooded roads and people still living off handouts . . . it’s time for all of this to change.” [irinnews]

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‘We are better off without the LTTE’

S C Chandrahasan is the son of Samuvel Selvnayagam, a Tamil leader who was known as the Mahatma Gandhi of Sri Lanka. After the island-nation’s ethnic conflict began in 1983, Chandrahasan founded the Organisation For Eelam Refugees’ Rehabilitation.

[S.C. Chandrahasan]

OFERR works in Sri Lanka and India, and has offices in all the 104 refugee camps in Tamil Nadu. It also works in the north and east of Sri Lanka, two regions badly affected in the conflict.

The soft-spoken leader slams both the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam for the mess in the island state.

He spoke at length to rediff.com’s Special Correspondent A Ganesh Nadar:

What was the position on the ground at the time of the ceasefire and peace talks in 2002?

At the time of the ceasefire some areas were controlled by the Sri Lankan government and others were under the control of the LTTE. There were some hazy areas where both the LTTE and government troops moved around.

What is the position now?

Currently the LTTE s presence in the east has been cleared.

Why did Colonel Karuna go against the LTTE?

The people in the east did not appreciate the way the LTTE leadership shared the facilities that came by because of the ceasefire. There was a committee to oversee development activities. Not a single person from the east was on that committee. They did not give enough positions in the administration to the people in the east. That hurt them. Karuna objected to this.

What is the composition of the people in the east?

In the east, the majority are Tamilians, then Muslims and Sinhalese. The Muslims speak Tamil but of late they want to be classified separately and not be bunched with the Tamils. So they are being classified that way. But they are Tamil speaking and culturally Tamil. The Tamils and Muslims did have a good rapport, but with the ethnic conflict, and the divide and rule policy of the government, there has been some friction.

Do you work in the east too?

We are working in the east and we work with all three communities. We like our work to be balanced. Our work in the peaceful area is easy. On the battlefront it is difficult. There both sides (the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Army) are armed, and the hapless people are caught in between.

What is happening in the east now?

After the talks broke down, the army has moved forward slowly. In the east they have cleared the area and the LTTE is not visible there anymore in a meaningful way. They are moving around there but no longer in command.

Which areas have been cleared?

Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara districts have been cleared. Mannar and Vavuniya and some places in the north are still under the LTTE’s control.

With the increase in fighting there, why has there not been an influx of refugees to India?

There are places where civilians can still move around and find alternative residence. But people usually move as a last resort after the fighting starts and it becomes dangerous. It is also difficult to get boats to India and therefore there has been no heavy influx of refugees.

There is a belief that when you have to move it is still better to remain within the country than cross the border — then you lose everything. We work in Mannar too. We advise people to remain there. Only as a last resort do they cross over to India.

Also the climatic conditions are not conducive to crossing. Also the navies of India and Sri Lanka and the Coast Guard are patrolling the sea.

Any other reason?

Another thing that has changed now is the approach of the army. Earlier, in the eighties, they used to attack Tamil civilians. Now civilians are not attacked.

But human rights violations are occurring. When they suspect that you are connected to the LTTE or an informer or you give wrong information, you are in trouble. People have been summarily executed. People continue to disappear. The number of deaths and disappearances are unacceptably high. According to latest reports the highest number of disappearances are in the government-controlled area in the north.

How can that be stopped?

Enough public opinion has to be built up to stop that. Once people are taken we do not know what happens to them. The government has to correct that.

What is the difference between life in a government area and an LTTE area?

In the LTTE areas, civilians were secure. Their only fear was forceful recruitment and taxes. The LTTE’s taxation was highly arbitrary.

When fighting breaks out civilians are in great danger. After the fighting, life does not get better in the liberated area. There is a screening process and the army keeps an eye on the people. Commodities are not allowed to come in as the army fears that it will fall into LTTE hands. So the civilian population is put to great hardship even after the government gets back control.

Has the LTTE helped in getting justice for the Tamil people?

The LTTE coming into the picture has two phases. Earlier they were not killing innocent people. Then they started internecine fighting and started killing innocent people and other Tamil leaders. They have become a problem rather than the solution.

What is the alternative?

Some of us who believe in the non-violent process know that the struggle will go on until justice is achieved. It will go on much more effectively if the LTTE is not in the picture.

Tell us about your father’s role in the struggle?

My father S A V Selvanayagam was the leader of the Tamil people from 1948 to 1983. He was the leader of a federal party. He believed that a federal solution was possible. If people would have accepted that solution there would have been no problem now. It was a non-violent struggle. He was very firm that we must not use violence, that we must convince people. It was Gandhi’s method that he adopted. Then the militants went and hijacked the process and could not sustain it.

The problem started in 1948. They brought in an act in Parliament whereby half the Tamil population lost its citizenship. The act took away the citizenship of all Tamils of Indian origin who were working in the plantations. That was the basic cause.

At that time my father said, ‘What is now happening to the Indian Tamils will happen to us tomorrow’. People did not believe him and in the 1952 elections he lost. In 1956 people realised that what he had said was right.

People who returned to India at that time say that the Sri Lankan Tamils supported the government in chasing out the Indian Tamils?

One Tamil leader did go along with the Sinhala government and that gave us all a bad name. My father said that any act that is discriminatory should be opposed. They began the struggle at that time. Only one percent of the Tamils driven out at that time were business people. Most of them were in the plantations.

Then began the process of colonisation. The majority Sinhala people were sent into the Tamil areas with free land, money and equipment. The locals did not get anything. Then came the language act. That was the last straw. They said anybody seeking government employment had to be fluent in Sinhalese.

What happened to the non-violent movement for justice?

The movement gathered strength and in 1960 we paralysed the entire government machinery in the northeast without any violence. Unfortunately with violence spreading in the south in the seventies infecting other areas, the Tamil youth started reacting.

What did the government do next?

The violence on the Sinhala side increased. They first started recruiting more Sinhalese in government service. If you take the police in 1977, 99 percent were Sinhalese. The army is still worse. When you have two large ethnic communities and you fill the security forces with one side, it is a big mistake. Now it is a bit late to do anything about it.

What about the influence of the LTTE on the Tamils?

The LTTE has a hold on about 10 percent of the Tamils. That also is the fault of the government. When someone in your family disappears in a white van, there is bitterness and a desire to support the LTTE. The activities of the Sinhala government and its troops have been encouraging militancy. Tamil militancy is reactive.

Otherwise people would have gone the non-violent way. The influence of the Gandhian movement in India had a tremendous effect on the island. The actions of the army, including indiscriminate firing on civilians in the eighties, encouraged militancy.

You feel that it has changed now?

Now that has changed. There is no indiscriminate firing. Also there is a sizable population among the Sinhalese who say ‘We must live together’. That is a qualitative change.

What is the position of the LTTE today?

Unfortunately, the LTTE factor is a problem. The LTTE not being in the picture will strengthen the Tamil side. It will facilitate India coming in a very meaningful way.

We had a two-day discussion in Tamil Nadu among representatives of the refugees. Everyone agreed that we should not take an LTTE-centric view of everything. The LTTE view will show everything going wrong. But if you don’t look it at that way, there are other means. The struggle will go on till justice is achieved.

If the non-violent movement had continued after 1977 we would have got our rights by now.

[courtesy: Rediff.com]

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