Defence Seminar 2013: Secretary Defence Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s vision for Sri Lanka

Making the keynote address at the 3rd consecutive Sri Lanka Army organized ‘Defence Seminar-2013 on the theme ‘Post-Conflict Sri Lanka: Challenges and Regional Stability’, held from 3rd to 5th September at the Galadari Hotel, Colombo, Secretary Defence Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa delivered a spectacular and visonary speech to the more than 300 participants including 66 foreign delegates from 29 countries.
The 1st Defence Seminar focused on Lessons Learnt by the Sri Lankan Defence establishment in defeating LTTE terrorism.
The 2nd Defence Seminar focused on Post-war efforts to create lasting peace and stability examining steps under 5 areas of Reconstruction, Resettlement, Rehabilitation, Reintegration and Reconciliation.  
Secretary Defence on Sri Lanka’s immediate post-war challenge successes  
1.         Accommodating and ensuring the welfare of nearly 300,000 Internally Displaced Persons
2.         Demining and Reconstruction of Infrastructure/facilities – nearly 5000sq.km of land demined. 
3.         Resettling the IDPs in their places of origin (All IDPs in welfare camps were resettled from October 2009 – August 2012) inclusive of other displaced persons. This achievement took 3 years and 3 months after elimination of LTTE.
4.         Rehabilitating nearly 12,000 ex-LTTE cadres and
5.         Reintegrating them to society.
Independent Surveys 1:
UNHCR survey confirmed Sri Lanka’s resettlement success (Nov 2012-Mar 2013) assessing Sri Lanka against global standard of Inter Agency Standing Committee Framework for Durable Solutions for Internally Displaced Persons – Sri Lanka is mentioned under–
a) access to personal and other documentation without discrimination
b) family reunification
c) access to effective remedies and justice
d) safety and security
e) access to livelihoods
f) participation in public affairs
Note: Only 29% of respondents had negative views on military presence.
Independent Surveys 2:
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Field Mission survey (May-June 2013)
§  ‘remarkable improvement in infrastructure development in many sectors including transportation, communication, roads, railways and health facilities’
§  Survey observed that there was no visible presence of armed military personnel in uniforms that military support was primarily for ‘immediate and development needs of the population’ (building houses, shelter, water, sanitation, scholarships for schools and children, vocational training, organizing tours for people of North to visit other parts of Sri Lanka) – efforts to help civilians return to normal life.
Independent Surveys 3: Foreign Researchers/Dr. Kruglanski & Dr. Gelfland of the University of Maryland
§  LTTE cadres showed reduction in support for violence after rehabilitation program
Other successfully completed post-war challenges:
§  Setting up Livelihood Assistance programs
§  Material Assistance programs – donation of fishing gear, utilities for farming, provision of livestock and seeds for agriculture
Secretary Defence on shifting military from combat with terrorists to cooperation with civilians/society:
§  Gradual reduction of military camps/troops but military will remain for strategic security reasons.
§  Engineering battalions engaged in reconstruction and national development programs
§  Redrawing internal security policies and procedures and expanding intelligence units
§  Handing over to police the maintenance of law and order – establishment of more police stations and recruitment of Tamil speaking police personnel
§  Helping restore civil administration mechanism
§  Disarming former armed groups
§  Civilian properties in the process of being handed over once legal proof of ownership is established.
§  Removing restrictions previously placed for security reasons (movement in high security zones, limitation to fishing, restrictions in trade of classified items) Palaly cantonment is open to all with free access to airport and Kankasanthurai harbour.
§  Releasing detainees for involvement in LTTE activities while a handful remains in detention for prosecution. Database of all detainees available with police. Lawyers, family, Human Rights Commission and ICRC given access to them
§  Repealing of Emergency Regulations in August 2011
Secretary Defence responds to allegations against Military : Number of Civilian Casualties
Number of civilian casualties (during final stage of war) ranged from 7000 to more than 40,000. The allegations were all guestimates without sources and ignored independent and credible sources (Dept of Census & Statistics/UNICEF/LLRC).

If LTTE had 30,000 approximate cadres at the start of the Humanitarian Operation and nearly 12,000 surrendered to the Armed Forces either the remaining had been killed, they are posing as civilians or have fled the country.

It must be also noted that Sri Lanka lost nearly 6000 of its personnel in combat while 20,000 or so were injured. Such a number of casualties in the army could not have happened if the enemy was not engaged in intense battle with the Sri Lankan military during the final stages of the war.

Department of Census and Statistics ‘Enumeration of Vital Events’ in Northern Province (June-Aug 2011) field data collected in July 2011 by 2500 Tamil and Muslim Government servants from North. Report revealed:
a.  7896 deaths due to unnatural causes (Jan-May 2009) included LTTE cadres killed in action,
b.  2635 persons reported as untraceable (parents/next of kin had not recovered their bodies or knew their whereabouts)
c.   Of 2360 cases investigations reveal that 1625 persons had been forcibly recruited by the LTTE.
d.  Only 26 instances of people reported by the next of kin who had surrendered to the Security Forces and subsequently disappeared.
Secretary Defence on reasons for civilian deaths/missing  
§  civilians killed by LTTE trying to escape to Govt controlled areas,
§  civilians detained and killed by LTTE for other reasons
§  civilian deaths from being forcefully used in combat by LTTE
§  civilians deaths from crossfire
§  civilians reported dead but likely to have escaped or illegally migrated overseas. An unknown number of persons have left Sri Lanka and are now living overseas. The countries hosting them have not revealed their details to the Government of Sri Lanka.
§  deaths not occurring during Humanitarian Operation but reported to claim compensation
§  false reporting
UNICEF with Probation and Child Care Commission of North and Government Agent of Vavuniya – Family Reunification Project (confirms and corroborates with Sri Lanka’s findings)
§  2564 tracing applications received by July 2011
§  1888 applications related to missing adults
§  676 applications related to missing children
§  64% parents of missing children claimed LTTE had recruited their children.

Those making allegations against the Sri Lankan military may like to explain how any military should confront a non-state actor using asymmetric warfare strategies with no compunctions to safeguard civilian lives and oft times using civilians as human shields in order to attract external intervention and to once again gain themselves breathing space?

Those throwing stones at the Sri Lankan military may also like to explain why LTTE would deliberately and repeatedly launch artillery and mortar attacks at the military from No Fire Zones/ civilian installations like hospitals and churches which were created for the civilians and not for LTTE to place their weapons and ammunition or take refuge amongst the Tamil civilians?

Secretary Defence on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission Report  
§  LLRC concluded that there was No DELIBERATE targeting of civilians by Sri Lankan Military
§  LTTE responsible for violations of international humanitarian law
Secretary Defence on International Commentaries on Post-Conflict
§  Negative feedback on Reconciliation – lacked holistic perspective did not consider ground realities as reconciliation is a process and takes time to accomplish and cannot give overnight results.
§  Negative feedback ignored type of rule under LTTE – people of the North and parts of East had no democratic freedoms – no room for dissent, no alternate views, everyone disagreeing with LTTE were silenced. People living amongst LTTE were taught to hate the Sinhalese and the State. Removing 30 years of indoctrination inspite of resettlement, reconstruction and even rehabilitation is not easy.
Secretary Defence on Democratic Process in Sri Lanka (contrary to the statement by Navi Pillai claiming Sri Lanka was heading towards an Authoritarian rule)
§  Provincial Council elections held in Eastern Province in 2008 before the Humanitarian Operation ended
§  Local Authority elections for Jaffna Municipal Council / Vavuniya Urban Council in August 2009
§  Presidential Election held in 2010
§  General Elections held in 2010
§  Local authority elections held island-wide in 2011
§  Provincial Council elections to be held in September 2013 – the 1st after 1989 elections of merged North-East province through 13th amendment. North-East demerged in 2006.
Secretary Defence on LTTE-fronts continuing to pose threat to Sri Lanka
§  LTTE’s extensive international network remains intact and their propaganda needs to be effectively countered.
§  Extremist elements within Tamil expat community part of this network
§  Their intent is to divide Sri Lanka
§  Strategies used include winning international opinion for separatist cause, increasing international pressure on Sri Lanka, undermining Government efforts for reconciliation and economic development, attempting to resume conflict by reorganizing local militant activities
§  These LTTE-linked groups influence foreign NGOs, foreign parliamentarians and even fund local groups masquerading as democratic
§  The LTTE international network comprises
a.    Tamil Coordinating Committee based in Norway led by Nediyawan
b.    Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam in US led by Rudrakumaran
c.    LTTE headquarter group in France led by Vinayagam
d.    Global Tamil Forum led by Father Emmanuel who coordinates all above groups.
§  Foreign Service and Foreign Ministry despite lack of resources need to counter by communicating the true picture globally.
Secretary Defence on Threats from Extremist Groups (including those involved in previous insurgencies)
§  Groups attempting to mobilize people to take up extreme left wing causes
§  Groups radicalizing students / the public and encouraging them to take to the streets in protest
§  Increase in communalism amongst ethnic groups – increased insularity of ethnic groups may lead to fragmentation of the Sri Lankan identity into ethno-religious lines
§  Some in the Tamil community who identify more with Tamil Nadu than with fellow Sri Lankans.
§  Some foreign groups encouraging Sri Lankan Muslims to identify themselves with global Muslim community distancing them from integrating with other communities
§  Muslim fundamentalism spreading all over the world and in Asia and concerns Sri Lanka’s Law Enforcement agencies and Security Forces.
§  Extremist groups have been in transit in Sri Lanka and may promote Muslim extremism in Sri Lanka
§  Consequence of increasing narrow-mindedness of minority ethnic groups is emergence of hardline groups within majority community which will lead to further tensions and a vicious cycle affecting overall unity.
Secretary Defence on Organized Crime
§  Rise of terrorism and insurrection required state to procure arms and ammunition some of which have fallen into criminal hands.
§  Rise of underworld engaged in organized crime – drugs, armed robberies, kidnappings for ransom, financial frauds, seizing land illegally are a handful of activities that need to be tackled.
Secretary Defence on Media Freedom
§   Legitimate media channels, newspapers, websites freely operate in Sri Lanka
§   Some illegal sources also engage in false propaganda to damage the country’s image internationally.
§   Negative image campaigning will impact on tourism, foreign investment and even trade
§   Media organizations (every citizen and political group) must exercise their democratic freedoms with responsibility – they should not engage in unlawful activity under the guise of exercising their freedoms.
Secretary Defence on India and Sri Lanka’s strategic geographical location in South Asia
§   Continued inter-linking domestic issues between Sri Lanka and India (India’s sensitivity to events in Sri Lanka due to influence of Tamil Nadu state on Tamil issues especially at times of elections)
§   Bilateral issues – increasing incidents of illegal fishing by Tamil Nadu fishermen on Sri Lankan waters
§   India is the most important and powerful country in South Asia, but Sri Lanka is a completely independent sovereign nation which India is aware of
§   Critical that both India and Sri Lanka retain a meaningful and close relationship despite issues arising between them
Secretary Defence on Sri Lanka’s relationship with China
§  China’s involvement in Sri Lanka is purely diplomatic and economic
§  China has been one of Sri Lanka’s foremost development partners contributing richly to key economic development projects.
§  Sri Lanka’s relationship with China should not be regarded as a threat by any other nation.
Secretary Defence on Regional Issues Sri Lanka faces due to Sri Lanka’s geo-strategic position
§  Asian region becoming increasingly important in global affairs
§  India and China increasing economic and military development bring Asian region into global focus
§  Western Governments may attempt to influence Sri Lanka to align to their interests in the Asian region
§  Power politics between nations will affect Sri Lanka’s relations with these nations.
Secretary Defence on Maritime Security
§   Sri Lanka does not have land borders
§   Sri Lanka does need to protect its maritime security and prevent transnational crimes – drugs, smuggling, arms smuggling and human trafficking, maritime assets within Exclusive Economic Zone, safeguarding Sea Lines of Communication against piracy.
Secretary Defence on National Economy
§   War suppressed economic potential and held back Sri Lanka’s growth
§   History reveals that majority of problems were fundamentally economic (insurrections of 1970s, 1980s even LTTE manipulated economic aspect along ethnic /racial lines)
§   Post-war needs to address unequal development / rural underdevelopment and uplift standard of living in rural areas to standards enjoyed in cities.
§   Establishing highways to connect distant cities – reduce travel time.
§   Rural masses must not feel marginalized or feel economic compulsion to move to cities (education, healthcare, meaningful employment without leaving their places of origin)
§   Need to promote tourism, foreign direct investment, industrial development, value addition in agriculture, service economy
§   Retain talented young people and encourage them to remain in Sri Lanka.
§   Keeping with our traditional way of living develop our agriculture, animal husbandry and seek self-sufficiency.
§   Adapt 5-hub strategy to develop Sri Lanka as a Knowledge Hub, Commercial Hub, Naval and Maritime Hub, Aviation Hub and Energy Hub.
§   Hambantota Port and Mattala Airport is a long term plan to derive economic potential to maximize on volume of ships that pass through the sea lines making the Hambantota region as an industrial and transhipment cargo hub.
Secretary Defence on Sri Lanka’s Future
§  Being able to navigate present issues (national security, geo-politics etc) will determine Sri Lanka’s destiny.
§  Looking ahead positively and confidently without focusing on issues inherited from the past
§  People need to develop mentality beyond that of a developing nation shedding Third World Mentality.
§  All Sri Lankans must accept challenge and move forward together into a shared future as one Sri Lankan nation.
Secretary Defence on Safeguarding Democracy
§  Handling subversive elements from using modern communication technology (internet, global news media, mobile phones etc) to attempting to disseminate wrong information and arouse people negatively.
Secretary Defence on future challenges:
1.    Preventing the re-emergence of terrorism
2.    Establishing effective methods to project Sri Lanka to the international community
3.    Suppressing the emergence of other extremist groups
4.    Preventing further ethnic divisions and communal violence
5.    Challenges of maritime security and border control
6.    Curtailing the growth of organised crime, and
7.    New challenges in safeguarding a just and wholesome democracy.
Secretary Defence on way forward:
§  Secretary Defence on a Government obligations:
o   Ensure national reconciliation is achieved
o   Move Sri Lanka into the future together as one nation without fragmentation into groups based on ethnicity, religion, caste or place of origin.
o   Ensure all Sri Lankans have same opportunities and unobstructed access to state services
o   Ensure Sri Lanka is a peaceful, stable and rapidly development democracy.
o   Holding elections after restoring normalcy to North and East provinces
o   Issues delayed due to terrorism must be attended to
o   Economic issues as a result of global economic conditions need to be solved gradually instead of using them as political slogans.
§  Secretary Defence on People’s obligations:
o   People must move forward as a nation – united by what we have in common.
o   People must not stay locked in a post-conflict mentality
o   People must remove from ‘Third-World Mentality’
o   People must understand freedoms guaranteed through democracy must be exercised with responsibility. Ex: right to public assembly – freedom to demonstrate on issues that they feel are important does not give freedom to engage in violent protest, incite violence or act in other undemocratic ways. Then they would have exploited and abused their democratic freedoms. When this happens other people with vested interests use this to turn the situation to their advantage and project a negative image of the country internationally as well as amongst the locals themselves.
§  Secretary Defence  on Politicians/political Party’s obligations:
o   
Political parties must promote the interests of the nation without focusing on one group
o   Political parties must bring all ethnicities and cultures together into one Sri Lankan identity so that the nation can progress.
o   Main political parties must stop politicizing divisive issues for petty political gain
A fine picture of Sri Lanka’s future was articulated in the key note address by the Secretary Defence covering the immediate post-war challenges, the achievements of the armed forces in their new role of capacity building in cooperation with civilians and society. It has heralded a distinctly unique partnership one that combines the value-added logistical capabilities and discipline of the armed forces with the new challenges that face a Sri Lanka journeying towards a future without terrorism and ushering a new chapter in uniting nations of the Asian continent for regional stability, economic growth and overall a shared future.

Shenali D Waduge

Just before The Spectre Of Idiocy Takes Over Sri Lanka

Kamaya Jayatissa

Kamaya Jayatissa

“You only lose what you cling to.” –  Lord Buddha

This piece is a response to Ms. Shenali D. Waduge’s recent article “The Existential Fears of Buddhists in Sri Lanka must be given high priority and addressed without delay” published on August 13th, in Lankaweb. Having read the article and the even more dangerous comments it gathered, I could not help myself but feel outrage at each line, or should I say each word, I had the misfortune to read.

The one and only sentence on which I agree with in Ms. Waduge’s article is when she says that “A spectre is haunting Sri Lanka”. As for the rest of the article, I could only feel disgusted at each argumentative point that was developed in it. According to the author, Sri Lanka is on the verge of getting overrun by Muslims. Sri Lanka is indeed on the verge of getting overrun but not by Muslims. The island is actually about to get overrun by ethno-religious detractors who, instead of talking in their own name, are talking in the name of both the Sinhalese and the Buddhist communities. Unfortunately, one cannot label the author, her article and its like-minded readers as ultra-nationalists or racists anymore because their so-called “existential fears” go beyond any possible form of extremism. In fact, it goes to the extent of becoming pure idiocy; a desperate behaviour that will end up labelling Sri Lanka in the worse possible manner in the eyes of the international community, with repercussions that might last for quite some time –especially among its allies in the Middle East. And, in this sensitive post-war transition, this is the last thing Sri Lanka needs right now. Not to mention that the UN HRC is to meet in Geneva next month; shifting the international focus on Sri Lanka once more before the CHOGM Summit this November.

To Ms. Waduge and her followers, I wish to say that, being a Sinhalese and a Buddhist myself, the only time I feared for survival in my beloved country was when it went through a three decade long protracted civil war. A war which tore apart communities that once used to live together, in peace and harmony. A war in which every Sri Lankan lost one of their own –irrespective of their religion or ethnicity. A war that I never want to see happen again because of the narrow-mindedness of a few. And yet, given the recent incidents and hate speeches displayed on the public sphere (especially through the media), I now fear that the peace we have all been longing for will never see the light due to idiotic and disrespectful behaviours such as the recent Grandpass incident; behaviours which I must confess are quite “brilliantly” illustrated in the irrational figures laid out throughout the said article.

In fact, before talking about Buddhism, one should perhaps start to read, learn, and may be even practice its deeper philosophy. If Ms. Waduge did so, she would know that there is no such a thing as “mine” in Buddhism. She would also know that Lord Buddha never claimed Sri Lanka, or any other country for that matter, to be a Buddhist land. Mostly, she would know that what Lord Buddha tried to preach us with much emphasize were universal values such as respect, forgiveness and above all compassion among all living beings. So before blaming other communities and religions of overrunning Buddhism, one should perhaps get his/her own communal and religious values/practices straight. That, for me, would be the most effective way to preserve ones culture, religion and traditions without harming others. But unfortunately, I also know that this perspective of mine might not change the mindset of a few in our society who suffer from an ethno-religious inferiority complex of its own.

According to the author, “The territory and space of Islam is non-negotiable and if Islam is non-negotiable what is wrong with others saying the same?” Well, despite the fact that the said statement does not speak for all our Muslims friends, what is wrong here is to assume that others’ mistakes give you the legitimacy and credibility to replicate the same mistakes. If one wishes to set up a constructive example, one should always think and behave with a stronger sense of rationality; a rationality that does not intent of fulfilling one’s own need to the detriment of others.

I do not intent to comment on the factual examples on which the author naively –or not- bases her theory. These facts, I believe, are not only distorted but also taken out of their context. Indeed, while going through these comparative facts, delivered with quite a level of distortion throughout Ms. Waduge’s article, I could not help myself but wonder how any foreign incident/attack which occurred against the Buddhist community had anything to do with Sri Lankans of Muslim religion. I personally am starting to feel tired of reading this type of idiotic comments that are doing no good to our country and certainly not to our people. Perhaps, it is time for us to mature our own thinking process and start behaving as responsible citizens; citizens who are supposed to be working on rebuilding a nation, not destroying it. Bad people are everywhere, Ms. Waduge. That’s no news to anyone. But one cannot, and should certainly not, generalize a specific mindset or incident which occurred due to the behaviour of a few to an entire community. This will only end up in wrongfully labelling the said community and wrongfully labelling ourselves at the same time.

Correct me if I am wrong but currently, Sri Lanka is facing major concerns –both internationally and nationally. Wasting our time on these idiotic matters only takes us further away from addressing the actual post-war issues faced by our country; such as: access to quality education, lack of an effective foreign policy, socio-economic development, reconciliation, restoration of trust between communities; among others.

Ms. Waduge, from a Buddhist to another Buddhist, let me end up with a quote of Lord Buddha, which I strongly invite you to meditate on: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

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Sri Lanka: Beware Of A Quasi-Military Rule!

Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

The Rajapaksa regime increasingly appears to consist of twin forces within it, one civilian and the other military. The so-called UPFA government or the Cabinet is only a façade for the regime which is based mainly on the military and the bureaucracy. The UPFA even with the old left parties within it only have a decreasing influence on the civilian part of the regime. The Parliament with a feeble opposition appears to supply humour and entertainment to the cynical public these days. These are the culminating results of the presidential system and the recent subjugation of the independence of the judiciary as part of that same culmination. Just recollect how the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) behaved on the question of the impeachment of the Chief Justice. It was farcical and demeaning to the hilt.

The most alarming immediate development is the deployment of military troops in quelling a civilian protest in Weliweriya on 1 August without any justification or the backing of even emergency regulations. In a protest of villagers, asking for clean water, the military intervention has killed 1 civilian and injuring 15 others. The question has been rightly asked who gave the orders. There is no point in asking even the person responsible to resign because that will not happen in current Sri Lanka. A participant in the protest explained the brutal behaviour of the troops equating it to the LTTE attack on the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy in 1988, reminiscent still in the public mind.

The military intervention in civilian life is reported to be a daily occurrence in the Jaffna peninsula very much pervasive and brutal. As the civilians have been so much subdued without much room to engage in peaceful protests like the Weliweriya villagers there has been no much opportunity so far for the military to use its fire power at least openly. One occasion to the contrary was when the university students peacefully engaged in remembrance or heroes day celebrations in December 2012. The harassments and brutality were quite extensive.

What has to be realized in the current context is that the people in the North or in the South are facing the same common enemy and that is the emerging danger of a military or a quasi-military rule in the country destroying all norms of human rights and democracy.
These are developments particularly aftermath of the end of the war and hopefully there would still be possibilities of turning the situation around peacefully and resurrecting democracy with the international good will and even assistance. After all, Sri Lanka is a member of the international community and the United Nations with obligations on human rights, democracy and rule of law. No one should shy away of working towards international solidarity on the Sri Lankan question.

It was understandable when the military strategy dominated the civilian affairs prior to the end of the war in May 2009 and after the LTTE completely broke away from the peace process in July 2006. The country was fighting against a ruthless menace of terrorism. However, as a democratic country, even during the war there were certain international norms that the government and the military should have observed. If the declared ‘zero civilian casualty’ was a genuine proclamation, then after the war that should have been accounted for through independent and reliable investigations of the alleged and obvious deviations from the international humanitarian law. That was not done.

It is a known fact that during the period between 2006 and 2009, the military in the country became doubled in numbers and equipped with high-tech equipment and training. What was obviously neglected was the education or training on human rights and humanitarian law. After the war there was no effort to demobilize the military. Instead it appears that the ordinary soldiers are being politicized and used for other missions. Although in the past the military in Sri Lanka has been a professional army with high professional standards, it is obvious that these have deteriorated especially among the middle and the lower ranks thereafter.

If the government wanted to maintain a disciplined and a professional army after the war, the first thing should have been done to investigate the slighted allegation against any wrong doing during the war particularly between 2006 and 2009 and punish or discipline the perpetrators accordingly. That is the period that matters most for the discipline and the calibre of the military at present. It is also a well-known fact that although the President gave promises to the UN Secretary General on the subject of accountability in May 2009 that promise was not fulfilled for some reason and this reason can be identified as the influence of the military wing of the regime over the civilian leaders.

Weliweriya is not the first occasion that the defence establishment unleashed its strong arm tactics against the civilians in the South not to speak of the much concealed military oppression in the North. In February 2012, the STF was deployed against the protest of fisher folks in Chilaw and killed one, seriously injuring 8 others. The most alarming was the military deployment for the prison riot at Welikada in November 2012 killing 27 and seriously injuring 40 others. It was a gruesome operation violating all international norms on the treatment of prisoners.

There are arguments that the regime or its security establishment is intervening in this manner to maintain and establish law and order in the country. This is not at all a reliable argument. If that is the case, then at least the police should have been intervened in preventing over 75 well- orchestrated goon attacks on religious places of the Muslim and Christian communities in the country during the last three years. At least the perpetrators should have been punished. The newest attack was on 19 July in Mahiyangana. There are all indications that there is close association between the defence establishment and the Sinhala extremist forces that are unleashed against the religious minorities.

These are also the two sectors that have been agitating against the holding of the elections to the Northern Provincial Council. Although the civilian political wisdom has prevailed on the question of holding of the NPC elections for the time being it is not clear in what ways that the attempt would be scuttled by the military wing of the same regime in the future. The most bizarre phenomenon in the current situation in Sri Lanka is that both the civilian and the military wings of the regime are led by the same family! It is most unlikely to perceive a serious split within this family given its past and its kinship cohesiveness.

Therefore, while the regime and with it the ruling politics will oscillate between civilian and military directions from time to time, the general course until the regime is democratically changed would be more and more towards a quasi-military rule in the country.

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Facing Death Threats Ahead Of Check out To Commonwealth Meeting

Callum Macrae

Callum Macrae

When you announce that you are going to apply for media accreditation for a routine international political event like the bi-annual Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) you don’t normally expect a rash of death threats – or to find a senior diplomat from the host country threatening on twitter that he will “make sure you don’t get a visa”.

But this year’s CHOGM is no ordinary event.  It is being held in Sri Lanka – whose government is accused of some of the worst war crimes of this century.  A country marked today by increasing repression of its Tamil minority and a brutal clamp-down on any government critics, particularly among the press and the judiciary.

When David Cameron controversially announced that he would be attending CHOGM despite calls for a boycott, Alistair Burt, the foreign minister with responsibility for Sri Lanka, went on record to say:  “We will make it clear to the Sri Lanka Government that we expect them to guarantee full and unrestricted access for international press covering CHOGM”

The omens for that “guarantee” do not look good.

I have now directed three films looking at the events of the last few months of the civil war.  The first two were commissioned and broadcast by Channel 4, building on the work of Channel 4 News.  The latest, effectively the culmination of three years of investigation, is No Fire Zone: the Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, a 93 minute feature documentary, supported by C4, BRITDOC and others. The films have had a huge impact, winning a number of awards, being cited by the UN and even seeing the team nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In No Fire Zone we use some of the most disturbing video evidence ever recorded, to chronicle how, just four years ago, the Sri Lankan government announced a series of grotesquely misnamed No Fire Zones, encouraged hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians to gather there for safety – and then systematically shelled them, also denying them adequate food and medicines.  Perhaps 40,000, perhaps – as one UN report suggested – 70,000 or even more civilians died, most killed by government shelling.  The predicament of the civilians was made worse by the Tamil Tigers who also stand accused of  committing war crimes and of preventing civilians from escaping the No Fire Zones.

It is fair to say the government of Sri Lanka does not like me – or others who have reported the truth from Sri Lanka, including C4 News foreign correspondent Jonathan Miller or former BBC Sri Lanka correspondent Frances Harrison, author of a book of Tamil survivors stories.

But when I revealed that I intended to apply for accreditation to CHOGM (as I did when it was last held in Australia in 2011), it provoked an astonishing series of attacks.  Comments published online included a series of clear death threats. One of the mildest, in response to my remark: “I trust the Sri Lankan Government will welcome me” read: “Absolutely white van is waiting at the airport.”  White vans are notoriously used in the abduction of government critics and are seen as a weapon of terror associated with extra-judicial killings and disappearances.

Another comment said I was welcome in Sri Lanka “only to go back in a coffin”.  And another said: “Callum Macrae – do not come to Sri Lanka. You will be abducted in a white van, and sent to meet Lasantha Wikremasinghe (sic).”  Lasantha Wickrematunge was the editor and founder of the Sunday Leader – a respected newspaper critical of the Rajapaksa regime.  He was shot and killed by unknown assassins in January 2009.

Then – a week ago, as I was touring with the film in Australia – Ambassador Bandula Jayasekara, a senior Sri Lankan diplomat in Sydney and former Chief media advisor to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, issued a series of threatening tweets in which he said he would “make sure you don’t get a visa” and accused me of being “hired by (Tiger) terrorists as a full time propagandist for the blood thirsty terror group overseas”.

Indeed, far from condemning the death threats against me, he seems almost to be encouraging the climate of hostility and suspicion which lies behind them.   Then last week the Sri Lankan government’s own media minister echoed his words saying: “press freedom… cannot be something that can be framed inside aiding terrorism or being a propagandist for terrorism. So, we will be 100 per cent cautious about who comes to Sri Lanka for CHOGM.”

As I write this the Sri Lankan government has issued a rather more conciliatory statement, suggesting that they will issue visas to those given accreditation by the Commonwealth Secretariat.

We shall see – and the world’s press will now, I hope, be watching very carefully.

*Callum Macrae – Director – No Fire Zone: the Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, www.nofirezone.org Twitter: @nofirezonemovie

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Gehanu Gathiya And Pirimikama: Desegregated Gender Relations In Rural Sri Lanka

Arjuna Seneviratne

Arjuna Seneviratne

Over the last nine years, as a facilitator, activist and developer working with rural communities in Sri Lanka on systemic environment management, agriculture, fisheries, rural climate response, rural disaster prep and mitigation, aid effectiveness and development sustainability through civil, government, private, media, academic organizations and  trade unions, I had, for quite some time, been looking for a rather elusive link. As each year slid into the next, I began to feel the same type of frustration as scientists searching for the missing link between man and African tree frogs whose DNA apparently most closely resemble ours. I also began to lose hope. Until that is, I realized I was searching for the wrong thing in the wrong place.

This particular Dodo I was after is so deeply entrenched as being real in the minds of people that its existence has almost been taken for granted. It’s called masculinity and femininity and their classic associative links to males and females respectively. You see, a whole barrel load of development paraphernalia from funds to expertise to beneficiaries to goals are supposed to even out real or imagined disparities and inequalities and equip human beings to acquit themselves equitably. One of the more vociferously articulated differences was supposed to be those between men and women with women generally assumed to be sitting on the lighter end of the balance due to the said associative links and the power dynamics that supposedly arise from it with men snarling and drooling like tigers over women who were cowering and whimpering like rabbits beneath them.

Now, since its existence is so universally taken for granted I should have at the very least been wading knee deep in the stuff if not actually drowning in it.

However, the fact of the matter is that I walked the length and breadth of rural Sri Lanka over a decade without coming across any evidence of it at all. This, to put it very mildly, was a cause for great concern on my part. That I, and many kindly, well meaning and completely silly donors and experts were fighting a mirage was not only obvious but also the least of my issues.  I was more worried that that sort of shadow boxing against an invisible or even unreal opponent could do some serious damage to a very large number of very real human beings completely innocent of the desire for differentiation, contention or outright war over an artificially enforced schism. This Hutu-Tutsi-itis or Blueeye-Greeneye  Syndrome or whatever silly else one wishes to call it, was downright dangerous so I explored the  actual dynamics of male-female relationships in rural communities in the country to find out how their heads were wired or disengaged with respect to their specific anatomies and the way those anatomies interacted with each other in socially cohesive groups.

Well, simply put, masculinity and femininity, matriarchies and patriarchies as they have been classically defined have little or no meaning in Sri Lanka.

Instead, what we have here are two qualitative factors “pirimikama” (positive attributes associated with the male principle) and “gehanu gathiya” (negative engagement strategies associated with the female principle). Both arise not from cultures or traditions or as resultants of interactive modalities but rather from Buddhist-Hindu karmic theory. Two very important facts that need to be noted here are a) that there is no concept of “gahanukama” (positive attributes associated with the female principle) or “pirimi gathiya” (negative engagement strategies associated with the male principle and b) that “pirimikama” and gehanu gathiya” are used when talking about the characteristics of both males and females with no tying of “pirimikama” to men or “gehanu gathiya” to women.

The conclusion is quite clear: Men and women are just that. Men and women. There are no classic attributes tied into the specific anatomies. The female and male principle as yielded up by karmic theory is applied without favor to both anatomical males and anatomical females with respect to individual occurrences of each entity. I must stress this. The application is individual – not collective. In the minds of rural communities, every human being displays specific trait combinations and the composite determine the personality of the individual, the type of strengths and weaknesses they have, the types of abilities they can use as a community and failings that need to be understood as a community. These types of individual dynamics shape the way in which the community optimizes the use of their individuals for the sustenance of the community which in turn is supposed to sustain the individuals that constitute that community. Rather than blanketing a specific set of SWOT results to an anatomical division, they SWOT the individual against the requisites of the community and the weightage of the composite male-female principles perceived in each individual that the community have to work with.

Does this essentially mean that rural societies are free-for-alls akin to urban communities where anyone can be anything in any situation with respect to anyone? Not at all. While attributes are not specific to gender, responsibilities and roles are and these are classic.  The two most important are based on the principles of protection and equity which are the core drivers of social cohabitation in rural communities and they are primarily passive in nature.  These have morphed into security and equality for urban communities and are primarily aggressive in nature. The one leverages individual strengths for collective good and the other leverages legislative mechanisms for individual good.

The responsibility of protecting the family socially and economically is assigned to men and the responsibility of protecting and educating the children to young adulthood is assigned to the women.  Men earn and women utilize what is earned. Women support men in their livelihoods and men as a group takes communal decisions on advisement from the women as a group. Responsibility of educating young males in livelihoods is for the men and educating young females for marriage is for women. Men do not attempt to look after the young and women never take on the task of protecting other women since both of these are considered beyond the innate skills sets of men and women respectively.

No rocket science here.

It is all pretty common knowledge except for the fact that there is a naiveté amongst urban segregationists who firmly “believe” that it is the men who exclusively control the family purse, that it is men who exclusively determine the course of a community and that inequality is equivalent to inequity. All three are observations that have arisen in the minds of people in the process of urbanization and despite their validity with respect to urban communities they are fallacious when applied to the rural populace.

Seems pretty cool but  does this mean that rural populations are a benchmark, a baseline, a valuable real-o-meter to measure sustainability or stability of social groupings?

Emphatically no. No on two counts. One, it is just one system and not the only system. Two, that system, like all systems fails as well under specific circumstances.

That the rural system, which has withstood centuries of internal and external impacts and upheavals, is under serious threat, shuddering and breaking apart at its seams is a fact. Climate, energy, food and money crises and their packaged outcomes – conflict and war have had rather charming impacts of the stability of these communities. None of these were of their making. Like gender segregation, all of that can also be laid squarely on the shoulders of urbanites that haven’t lifted a finger to plant a cucumber or catch a mackerel but have eaten their way through almost all of that which was produced by rurals and pastorals. Be that as it may, restabilizing it would require using its own system of checks and balances – not external interventions. The core silliness is to attempt to apply the rules of one social system or order to right the wrongs of another system. This where this imposition of alien ideas such as masculinity or a femininity to Sri Lankan rural cultures fails and fails miserably.

Where then lies the problem with rural communities? While there are many issues that are internal (such as migration, loss of resources, destabilized environments, loss of livelihood options etc.) and external (war, consumerism, development initiatives, resource capture etc.) arising out of the multiple crises that cause those communities to destabilize, going by the testimony of the Afghan woman in my previous post, chief among them is the weakening of the ability of men to fulfill their roles and responsibilities.

Clearly, there is recognition amongst women in rural communities of the mediocrity of their men these days. Maybe it’s gambling, non-traditional enforcement of monogamy, alcoholism… whatever… but the lessening of the man has put a lot of unfair and uncalled for pressure on the woman. Additionally, and dangerously, when a woman steps into the shoes of a man who is weak it makes that same man react in accordance with his frailty, spitting and foaming at the mouth, kicking and screaming, condemning, judging, manipulating, subjugating, raping, murdering, revealing his inadequacies in naked, inglorious silhouette for the world to see and condemn. However, it must be noted that the fact that this occurs, at least for rurals and pastorals in Sri Lanka results less in a sense of emancipation and more in a sense of tragedy. It is not a situation that calls for women to overtake men but one that calls for both sorrow for their lot and shame for the lot of their men. For these people, a weak man is not to be condemned, ignored or marginalized but rather, to be worried over … and over… and over. Reading between the lines of that brutally honest Afghan woman warrior, the reversal of this tragic situation is laid squarely on the shoulders of men. If they are strong in their maleness the women can be equally strong in their femaleness resulting in resilient, united, strengthened, sustained societies.

That, is a tough ask for both men and women given the spectrum of issues that assail them these days in rural Sri Lanka. However, it is when it is darkest that there arises the highest qualities of human beings amongst such societies. For example, it is when such a resurgence or re-enabling of a man is impossible to engineer that there rises in Sri Lankan rural communities the “dhiriya katha” (courageous woman) who takes on a large number of the attributes of “pirimikama” because the men have been overtaken by “gehanu gathi”.  Or, it is when the entire system is compromised that there rises the “yugapurusha” (the man of the era). This particular phenomenon is highly lauded in rural communities and the “diriya katha” is awarded the same level of recognition as a “yugapurusha” and both of these have historically led their communities. That leadership is vested in them for the qualities they depict and the enabling energy they bring towards stabilizing their communities and ensuring its protection and equitable interrelationships – not for the type of anatomy they possess.

Again, there is nothing very special here. Everyone knows all of this.  The danger lies in the fact that such dynamics are in the process of being forgotten to the detriment of the country as a whole.

In a recent news item the Speaker, Chamal Rajapaksa stated the following to the women’s parliamentary group:  “Women taking the lead sometimes obstruct work in progress. This is not something I am saying. When women take the lead there is a tendency to not listen to anyone else. It is like this in a lot of places. It becomes difficult to work. If a woman is in charge of a District Secretariat or Divisional Secretariat or any other high office, they have a tendency to exert their authority over that place. So because of that, sometimes justice is not done”.

What the Honorable speaker says it correct.  Over the last nine years, I’ve seen examples of this nauseating condition in many females hailing from all sorts of social settings from urban to rural and all sorts of institutions from international donor agencies, academic institutions, CSOs, PSOs, TUs etc. and their chief victims have been other women. However, I have seen it more these days among men in high office in all institutions both state and otherwise. One doesn’t need to be the coming genius of the 21st century to clearly understand that the men in positions of power in Sri Lanka these days obstruct work in progress, do not listen to anyone, exert their authority over a place and make it difficult to work. Also, their chief victims are women as well. While it is convenient and fallacious to attribute such mindsets exclusively to women, what the Honorable speaker should remember is that in Sri Lanka, there are many “pirimi” (men) with “gehanu gathi” controlling many of the socio-economic aspects of the nation and the reduction of the potency of Sri Lankan society as a whole could very well be tagged to this state of the collective national psyche.

*This post is somewhat of an anecdotal exposition of continuing research into gender relationships in Sri Lanka. I need to also thank my wife, Manju Dharmasiri, who earns four times as much as I do and is the chief breadwinner of the family who contributed invaluable insights into gender realities in Sri Lanka and whose insistence on not taking high office in her workplace and  her rationale for it that started this line of inquiry on my part

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Sinhala Colonisation: What is Rama’s Relationship With Seetha?

S. V. Kirubaharan

S. V. Kirubaharan

After listening to the Ramayana epic all-night long, in the morning, who will ask : “What is Rama’s relationship with Seetha?”

Those who have studied deeply and listened diligently will never speak Foolish words, even when they have wrongly understood a matter. – Thirukkural 417 

The title of this article is a Tamil expression. Years ago, the late Sivaram Taraki wrote an article in Tamil, under the same title, explaining how every Singhalese politician since 1948 has viewed the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka and gradually changed their position to deny Tamils’ rights. In fact, this popular article was translated and became available in English as well.

  •  The armed struggle started in 1983, came to a complete halt after Mullivaghzal in May 2009.
  • Since Mullivaighzal, when we look at websites, especially those published in Tamil, we find news items covering – arrests, torture, killings, rape, disappearances, Sinhala colonisation, new Buddhist temples, military camps and also destruction of churches, temples and mosques.
  • Former combatants and the people are in detention centres and internment camps
  • Majority of the Singhalese in the South and the Rajapaksa regime publicly say that there is no ethnic conflict as such, in Sri Lanka. They don’t want even a Provincial Council governed by the Tamils.
  • The international community continuously reminds us that they are in favour of a solution within a united Sri Lanka.
  • Presently Tamils are divided into many organisations and groups. Therefore, there is clearly no unity.

Ignoring all these realities – certain diaspora organisations and some individuals say that they will not accept anything other than a separate or independent state. This is like asking in the morning, “what is Rama’s
relationship with Seetha?” after listening to the Ramayana epic all-night long.

Considering the realities and facts given above, every Tamil should earnestly realise their duty to do something to save our people and our hereditary land. If we fail to do this at the earliest, in another few years, there will be neither an ethnic group nor a nation known as ‘Tamil’ in the island. We will end up like the Tamils completely eliminated in Burma! Is this our intention?

What is our position today?

There is no doubt that since 1948 about 80-85% of Eelam Tamils have supported the idea of an independent state. Like other oppressed peoples, it is not necessary to give up this ideology. For nearly three decades, we had parity with every Sri Lankan government. We were in negotiations on an equal basis, cease-fire agreements and other documents were signed as a legitimate party in various peace processes. But today, does the Sri Lankan government recognise us as a people or as a nation? or even as an ethnic group? On the so-called victory day speech on 19 May 2009, President Rajapaksa clearly said that there is no minority in Sri Lanka!

No-one can deny Sri Lanka’s formidable ‘diplomacy’, allowing President Rajapaksa to remain in office successfully, even without granting the so-called home grown solution to the Tamils, promised to the international community.

The Parliamentary Select Committee – PSC is an eye wash, designed to deceive the international community. It was well predicted that this time-buying tactic would continue until the successful completion of fully fledged Buddhisation, Sinhalisation and militarisation in the Tamil hereditary land.

This is where some of the diaspora organisations and individuals are making mistakes. Statements they make about political solutions are widely circulated to the international community by the Sri Lankan embassies with the intention of proving that Tamils reject any form of reconciliation other than independence.

Presently, there is no genuine socio-economic, cultural or political empowerment for the people who have been living in the North and East for generations, centuries and millennia. The people are managing their lives without any institutionalised help from the diaspora.

Those who are for independence should understand that we are at the edge of a mountain. If we don’t act wisely or don’t call on our neighbour to help us, it will be the end of our political struggle which lasted for more than six decades.

Security Council and the referendum

In the past, I have explained and written a lot about the referendum that some of us are demanding. Once again, any referendum for independence, especially within a country in conflict has to be decided by the UN Security Council. This was the case with Eritrea, East-Timor and South Sudan. We should also remember that China and Russia are two permanent members of the Security Council. Do any of us believe that China and Russia will support our demand to have a referendum?

Scotland and Quebec are two completely different issues. The Scottish referendum is going to take place in accordance with the British government and Quebec had two referenda, both conducted by Canada itself.

Therefore we should not waste time and energy on something sprouting from our ignorance. There are some people who claim to be strong supporters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – LTTE and its leader Pirabaharan, but who never paid attention to his speeches, statements on the Indo-Lanka accord, his respect and friendship with both India and the international community. If they wish, they can still find these speeches, especially what LTTE leader Pirabaharan stated in the Suthumalai declaration of 4th August 1987 and in Heroes’ Day speeches on 27th November 2002 and 2008. Also his press conference of 10 April 2002.

Those who are familiar with Palestinian issues will not gamble our lives and the land. The Palestinians are openly supported by the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation – OIC which consists of 57 Islamic states. There have been numerous resolutions in the UN Security Council, General Assembly, Human Rights Council and various other Inter-governmental bodies supporting the Palestinians. Despite this massive and widespread support, Palestinians have been unable to achieve their goal as yet.

Consider the Palestinian question – do we have the support they have, of any single state? On the contrary, we have disastrous disunity among us.

LTTE on the Provincial Council

If anyone has doubts about the LTTE’s position on the Provincial Council, I advise them to read the book, “Will to Freedom”, written in 2001 by Adele Balasingam, wife of the LTTE advisor Anton Balasingham. The subject is clearly mentioned on pages 256 to 258 (“LTTE Strategy and Premadasa’s agenda”). Indeed, it is true that the LTTE had a pre-condition within their stance towards the Sri Lankan government, that the 6th amendment should be withdrawn. This should not deter anyone from seeing the positive value put on the Provincial Council.

Also we should consider the reasons why the LTTE registered a political party known as “People’s Front of the Liberation Tigers – PFLT” in 1989 and took part as an observer in the All Party Conference – APC organised by the Sri Lankan government.

Those who do not know these realities and facts are misleading the innocent people. These individuals promote their own selfish thinking as the political aspiration and policy of the people of the North and East. This is opportunism, taking advantage of a political vacuum.

Those who eliminated LTTE

During the recent “Delhi conference”, I got a chance to understand more realities about the present politics of the Tamils. This is really interesting and provides food for thought. However we cannot gamble our present situation.

It is obvious that the LTTE was successfully eliminated by a well co-ordinated and calculated strategy engineered and operating from various corners in different colours and shapes. One important factor was the anti-LTTE Tamil organizations, leaders, academics and intellectuals. These organizations have colluded and collaborated closely with successive Sri Lankan governments. They helped create the reality today : the LTTE is no more on the scene and Rajapaksa says that ‘there is no ethnic problem’ in the country, humiliating the international community and India, who recognize the existence of the ethnic problem.

Some diaspora Tamils say that those who collaborated with the Sri Lankan government in eliminating the LTTE should convince Rajapaksa’s regime of the need to respect equal rights and obtain whatever is possible for Tamils. This position may be based on emotions, anger and frustration.

The crisis proves that the Tamil National Alliance – TNA, should be strengthened and internationalised. No-one but Rajapasa’s supporters will be against this idea. For further objectivity, the TNA should extend their invitation to important personalities like retired Judge Mr. Vigneswaran and other Tamil intellectuals and academics.

When we talk about the TNA, some people panic and over-react. Some say that the TNA should be registered immediately. Even this appears to be a difficult issue, if we consider  the circumstances in which the TNA was established. The TNA is an umbrella body, however those who stood in the elections used the ‘house’, which is the election symbol of the Federal Party (Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi).

Is it necessary to register TNA?

The majority of the people who want the TNA to be registered as a political party, were not initially members of the TNA. In fact those members or organizations were with the Sri Lankan government, notably, the TULF – Tamil United Liberation Front and the PLOTE – People Liberation Organisation of the Tamil Eelam. Now it is believed that these two parties which never won any elections in the recent past, are eager to contest future elections on a TNA ticket.

It is obvious that the TNA was born due to the reluctance of the TULF. The LTTE which co-ordinated the forming of the TNA, wanted to have a multi-party organization, rather than registering the TNA as a single political party.

Therefore the present dilemma is that, if the TNA is to be registered, those parties who were with the government in the past may become office bearers of the TNA. Then there is no guarantee that these members will not twist their position and rejoin the government.

In such a scenario, what is the way forward? At the time of the “Delhi Conference”, we were able to gather another piece of valuable information. When the diaspora organizations and some individuals were invited to participate in this conference, they told the organizers that, if the TNA participated in this conference, they too would participate. This shows the popularity of the TNA among the people locally and internationally.

These facts further prove the urgent necessity of internationalising the TNA. The TNA has to materialize this at the earliest. There are more than 700,000 Tamils from the North and East abroad. The TNA could bring unity among the majority of the diaspora Tamils.

As a first step, the TNA should establish branches in every country and give the responsibility to the right people with the right qualifications – popular figures among the people with wide experience in politics. This will enable the TNA to hear the voice of the diaspora Tamils and have close contacts with Ministry of Foreign affairs in each country. This will give an opportunity to the TNA to feed the right information on local politics and the realities of the people, to the international community. This will also prevent every Tom, Dick and Harry giving false, unrealistic and confusing information to the international community.

Internationalising the TNA doesn’t mean isolating the diaspora organizations which are already in existence. They can continue their usual tasks that they have mastered for years – lobbying, demonstrations, solidarity, Tamil education, cultural programs, sports meets and observing Heroes’ Day and other important days.

Once the political task has been started through the TNA, elected by the people, it will prevent brain-washed individuals who are under the surveillance of the security forces, from harming our political aspirations, locally and internationally.

Also we should be acutely aware of the present task undertaken by the Sri Lanka government representatives. Presently, Prof G. L. Peiris travels around the world, working hard to ban the LTTE in countries where it was not banned and recruiting propaganda experts and companies in an attempt to counter the Tamil lobby.

This shows that there is no guarantee that the year 2007 will not be repeated among the diaspora. Here I recall that in 2007, many Tamil activists were arrested and tried in Europe and other countries.

Considering all these factual and impending realities, the TNA should take the leading role locally and internationally. Activities led by other organisations will be easily countered by Sri Lanka.

In conclusion, since 1948, we Tamils have been gradually losing our fundamental rights, land and properties. This erosion has been systematically carried out by all Sri Lankan governments, and to some extent with the help of Tamils. Let us not make the same mistakes again and again.

“When wicked dogs bark at the luminous Moon, what can the Moon do?”

“Dogs bark and the Moon continues to be luminous”

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Commonwealth Need to Make sure Media Access For CHOGM

Joel Simon

Joel Simon – Executive Director – CPJ

Kamalesh Sharma

Secretary-General

The Commonwealth Secretariat

Marlborough House

Pall Mall, London SW1-5HX

United Kingdom

Fax: +44 (0)20-7930-0827

Email: [email protected]

July 10, 2013

Dear Secretary-General Sharma:

The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about press accreditation procedures for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting that will be held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in November. At past meetings, the Commonwealth’s Communications and Public Affairs Division has been responsible for issuing permission to journalists to attend the meeting. And, as you know, the visa application process will soon be under way.

But press reports from Colombo have indicated that the Sri Lankan government intends to enforce stringent background checks on any foreign journalists covering the meeting, with the apparent intention of denying them permission to enter the country. A document recently released by the Sri Lankan government said that the authorities reserve the right to “exclude any person … and impose additional conditions of entry to Sri Lanka … regardless of whether or not that person is accredited.”

Journalists will be issued accreditation by a task force, which is a division of the Sri Lankan Ministry of External Affairs. The ministry has stated that credentials may be “withdrawn, suspended, or deactivated for any reason at any time.”

Ceylon Today reported that on Saturday, Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said authorities would be “cautious about who is coming” because some journalists have attempted to tarnish the country’s image under the “pretext of media freedom” and that they were a threat to the “national security of the country” and would be scrutinized before they are issued visas.

You are well aware, of course, of Sri Lanka’s abysmal press freedom record and the high level of impunity for those who attack or kill journalists. Even though the number of deaths under the current government has subsided, many Sri Lankan journalists have told us of continuing intimidation, and many admit to self-censoring their work in order to not fall afoul of the authorities. Others have told us of coming under threat because of their ethnicity.

Secretary-General Sharma, you have resisted calls for the Commonwealth to change the venue of the November meeting. You said in a June 29 letter published in the Sri Lankan Daily Mirror that the question for the international community was whether to criticize the lack of progress in Sri Lanka from afar or to make a practical difference. The paper quoted you as saying that the Commonwealth had opted for the latter option. You said, “We are active in Sri Lanka in advancing Commonwealth values, including human rights, the media, the judiciary and building mutual respect and understanding in communities.”

While we understand the value of engagement, if the Commonwealth cannot assert its own authority in asking for full media access to such an international event, the future for positive engagement looks bleak.

We ask you to ensure that the Sri Lankan government, which is widely known for its aggressive anti-press stance, does not prohibit access to foreign and local journalists who seek to cover the events surrounding the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Such an effort on your part would go far to show your commitment to advancing Commonwealth values of media freedom.

With best regards,

Joel Simon

Executive Director

CC List:

Commonwealth Director for the Communications and Public Affairs Division Richard Uku

Minister of External Affairs Gamini Lakshman Peiris

Minister of Mass Media and Information Keheliya Rambukwella

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Sinhala-Buddhists Vs Buddhist Moderates

Sharmini Serasinghe 1Colombo Telegraph

Sharmini Serasinghe

In Sri Lanka today there are two types of Buddhists- the Buddhist Moderates who identify themselves as Sri Lankans and those who identify themselves as Sinhala-Buddhists which they regard as their nationality!

As a Sri Lankan (a Sinhalese and a Buddhist by faith) I have lived and worked amidst the strange practices of Sinhala-Buddhists in Sri Lanka. As such I have observed closely what a Sinhala-Buddhist is as opposed to a Buddhist Moderate.

The following are my observations.

Buddhist Moderates (Sri Lankans) – This group identifies themselves by their nationality- Sri Lankan. Their ethnicity and faith are on a need-to-know basis, usually for official purposes. Moderates understand and respect Buddhism as a philosophy and quietly practice their faith in daily life to the best of their ability. Therefore they respect the religious beliefs and ethnicity of the ‘other’ (Hindus, Christians, Muslims etc) and treat them all as equals.

The Sinhala-Buddhist- This group carries a double-barreled identity; ethnicity first followed by the faith- Sinhala-Buddhist. As such they wear their identity on their sleeve with unfounded pride. This group has heard about the Buddha’s teachings- the Dhamma but don’t practice it. But they do practice a ‘religion’ which they call Buddhism that is diametrically opposed to the Dhamma. To these Sinhala-Buddhists the noble teachings of the Buddha are akin to casting pearls before swine!

The Sinhala-Buddhist regards Buddhism as a ‘religion’ and not as a philosophy and a way of life, as advised by the Buddha. Therefore they regard the Buddha as a God and practice their ‘religion’ by worshiping and venerating Buddhist symbols and objects; totally against the Buddha’s teachings.

Unlike Sinhala-Buddhists, Buddhist Moderates regard the Buddha as their noble teacher and Buddhism as a way of life. They don’t worship Buddhist symbols like Sinhala-Buddhists do, as for them Buddhism is not a religion. The Buddhist Moderate has the highest regard for the Buddha and respects his teachings by striving to live according to those noble teachings unlike the Sinhala-Buddhist label bearer.

Therefore these two groups- the Buddhist Moderates and Sinhala-Buddhists practice Buddhism in two extremely different ways. In today’s context the latter reeks of bigotry, hypocrisy and chauvinism in the extreme. To the Moderate Sri Lankan Buddhist, what the Sinhala-Buddhist practices as ‘Buddhism’ is a type of heresy of the Dhamma!

The Good Buddhist

The Sinhala-Buddhist’s idea of being a ‘Good Buddhist’ is confined only to one day of the calendar month- Full Moon (Poya) day. This day is dedicated to worshiping symbols and objects. As the ‘done’ thing they visit the temple, worship and heap flowers opposite the perceived image of the Buddha, light oil lamps and drench the roots of an over hydrated Bo tree within the temple premises. Then they parrot off the five-precepts with no intention of abiding by them. Most don’t even understand the meaning of them.

All this is done because it is the ‘done’ thing or with the foolish and selfish motive of gaining perceived ‘pin’ (merit) to counteract the ill-effects (or so they believe) of the crimes they commit. It never crosses their minds to question how a tree, clay, concrete or stone object could pardon them or grant them merit. But it is the ‘done’ thing so they do it, though they do not know why they do it. For them this is practicing ‘Buddhism’!

Also on Poya Day, the usually carnivorous Sinhala-Buddhists refrain from eating fish, meat and eggs. This is another ‘done’ thing which has nothing to do with the Dhamma. However some of these ‘Buddhists’ believe that refraining from consuming animal flesh is the ‘Buddhist’ thing to do, therefore bestowing more merit on themselves.

It must be said that all these acts are harmless in themselves if not for the hypocrisy involved!

There is a popular misconception that the Dhamma prohibits followers from consuming animal flesh. In fact, the Buddha did not ‘prohibit’ his followers from doing so, if it is offered by a person in good faith. But he did advise his followers against seeking it and destroying life for it. Buddhist Moderates who refrain from consuming animal flesh do so either for health or ethical reasons.

So in typical Sinhala-Buddhist style, commercial establishments are banned by the State from selling meat on Poya Days. This applies to the sale of alcohol as well. But on the days preceding this ‘sacred’ Day, one may store as much animal flesh in their refrigerators as required and sufficient alcohol  to see them through the days of prohibition.

Most often Sinhala-Buddhists are the first customers at meat stalls and taverns before the day of ‘prohibition’ dawns. So, for whose benefit and for what purpose are such prohibitions imposed? Who is trying to fool whom? This is Sinhala-Buddhist state-sponsored hypocrisy!

Also on Poya Day a few even try to refrain from consuming alcohol, lying, stealing, sexual misconduct or murder/killing- the five precepts. But this is all confined only to Poya Days. Convinced and content that they have accumulated sufficient ‘pin (merit)’ to see them through all their misdeeds in the future, life returns to normal the rest of the month!

Insecurities of Sinhala-Buddhists

The average Sinhala-Buddhist suffers from an acute inferiority complex which is often mistaken for a superiority complex. This could be attributed to a lack of substance in the superficial ‘religion’ they practice by worshiping objects and symbols and a lack of knowledge of the Dhamma.

Besides wearing their identity on their sleeve, a relatively recent ‘fashion’ adopted by Sinhala-Buddhists is the way in which they wear the ‘Pirith Noola’ (Pirith blessed thread) on the right wrist. Instead of the customary three folds of white cotton thread, we now see them ‘exhibiting’ on their right wrist what looks more like ‘Pirith bandages’. This is usually observed amongst Sinhala-Buddhist political VIPs.

This new phenomenon could either be to draw attention to their Sinhala-Buddhist identity and superiority over the ‘other’ or to ensure foolishly imagined ‘divine protection’ as they carry on accumulating negative ‘karma’ through their hypocrisy. In some cases it also could be a combination of both.

Sinhala-Buddhists live in constant fear of their ‘concrete/clay/stone made’ religion which they call ‘Buddhism’ being destroyed. As is obvious to any right thinking individual, all material objects, including Buddhist symbols are vulnerable to natural phenomena and destructive humans.

To the Buddhist Moderate, such fear is unfounded as their faith is strong. It lives and grows within them therefore it can never be destroyed either by destructive humans or natural phenomena. Buddhist symbols don’t carry any weight with the Buddhist Moderate except for the archeological value of some.

Insecurity harbored by Sinhala-Buddhists is nothing new to Lanka. It goes back to ancient times of the Cholas and more recently to pre-independent Ceylon when the British introduced Christianity to the island. The likes of Anagarika Dharmapala (a Sinhala-Buddhist personified) claimed that Buddhism was being destroyed by the British and Sinhala-Buddhists were being forced to convert to Christianity!

The question arises here if anyone could be ‘forced’ to change their faith/religious belief for whatever reason if the person is strong in her/his belief? But that is another subject altogether.

Sinhala-Buddhist Politics

Usually Sinhala-Buddhists practice their ‘hypocrisy’ amongst themselves without causing too many problems for the rest of society. They denigrate those of other ethnic groups and religions behind their backs, but are sweet as honey to their faces. This is only until a Sinhala-Buddhist political regime takes over and starts whipping up ethno-religious emotions for their own political gain. It happened with the late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and it is happening now!

Today, in place of Anagarika Dharmapala and S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike we have Sinhala-Buddhist Warlords to carry on the tradition!

This malaise has now brimmed over to extreme proportions. We now have Sinhala-Buddhist saffron-robed thugs masquerading as Buddhist monks denigrating the Buddha and his noble teachings in every possible way. Sinhala-Buddhist parents and teachers are encouraged to teach their young how to denigrate those of other religious faith from an early age. These saffron robed groups appear to be paramilitaries of the Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinistic State who use the sacred Saffron robe as a weapon over the ‘other’- those of other faiths.

Strangely this phenomenon burst forth post 2009 and today Sinhala-Buddhists see ‘demons’ everywhere threatening Buddhism in Sri Lanka!

This could be attributed to the political environment we live in today which is besieged by insecurities of various forms. After the successful elimination of LTTE terrorism, our warlords seem to find it necessary to create another ‘monster’.

This could be to keep the voter on edge and in constant fear and, therefore,  to keep them reminded that only ‘they’ and ‘they’ alone have the ability to keep the country safe from the likes of Prabhakaran and other such ‘monsters’. This they believe is the surest way of keeping the Sinhala-Buddhist voter terrified and forever grateful to the Warlords for keeping them safe.

So today we find new concrete ‘Buddhist symbols’ sprouting like mushrooms throughout the country, especially in areas populated by the ‘other’ (Hindus, Christians and Muslims). This is the Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinistic way of claiming superiority over the ‘other’. Not stopping there, they go on to destroy places of religious worship of the ‘other’.

The Buddhist Moderate looks on in horror and revulsion as these acts go totally against the Buddha’s teaching of sympathetic understanding and respect for other religions!

So today while overtly paying lip-service extolling the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha and religious harmony, the Sinhala-Buddhist Warlords covertly give full reign to terrorizing the ‘other’.

All this ugliness takes place in this so called thrice-blessed Buddhist country Sri Lanka!

*Sharmini Serasinghe was Director Communications of the former Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) under Secretary Generals Jayantha Dhanapala and Dr. John Gooneratne. She counts over thirty years in journalism in both the print and electronic media.

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Sri Lanka: Winning The War But Not The Peace

275px-Ishtiaq_Ahmed

Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed

The 30-year-old ethnic conflict in the Sri Lankan state, an essentially Sinhalese majoritarian preserve, and the uncompromising and relentlessly violent Tamil leadership claiming a separate state, Tamil Eelam, on behalf of the Tamil minority of north and east Sri Lanka, culminated with a comprehensive military defeat of the Tamil Tigers at the hands of the Sri Lankan military and paramilitary forces. However, it also turned out to be a terrible example of collective punishment for the Tamil minority. This is the tragedy that the political scientist, former political activist with a strong Marxist-humanist commitment and a Sri Lankan diplomat, who till recently was serving the UN in Geneva and France and UNESCO, analyses with courage and insight.

After the British transferred power in 1948 virtually without a freedom struggle being waged against them, the ruling elite, Sinhalese and Tamil, initially adhered to the pluralist model bequeathed by the British based on liberal constitutionalism. However, that did not last long and Sinhala ethno-nationalists, lay and clerical, began to assert a majoritarian Sinhalese-Buddhist identity and ideology that sought to marginalise the Tamils. The adoption of the Sinhala only bill in 1956 as the sole national language literally rendered the hitherto more advanced Tamil intelligentsia illiterate.

The moderate Tamil leadership failed to dissuade the majoritarian Sinhalese nationalists to accommodate the legitimate interests and concerns of their group. As a result, disappointment, frustration and despondency spread among the Tamils. The leadership then passed into the hands of extremists, and the Tamil Tigers, led by Velupillai Prabhakaran, emerged in 1976 as the most uncompromising and ruthless protagonists of Tamil separatism and secessionism.

Long-War-Cold-Peace

Book Review: Long War, Cold Peace: Conflict and Crisis in Sri Lanka Author: Dayan Jayatilleka Publisher: Vijitha Yapa Publications, Columbo; 2013

Jayatilleka convincingly demonstrates that in the armed conflict that ensued, exclusive ultra-nationalism took up uncompromising positions on both sides. However, whilst the Tigers never relented, the Sri Lankan government on a number of occasions sought a compromise granting autonomy/devolution within a formally unitary state. He especially regards President Ranasinghe Premadasa as the leader who was most forthcoming to accommodate Tamil concerns including those related to the national language. He was pitilessly assassinated by the Tamil Tigers, who rejected all such overtures as their goal was to create a sovereign and independent Tamil Eelam. The Tigers also assassinated Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and several Sri Lankan ministers and politicians including Tamils.

The author is at his masterly best when he applies his vast theoretical and conceptual knowledge, including normative political theory, to distinguish a freedom fighter from a terrorist. He defines terrorism as deliberate policy to target innocent civilians. In this regard, the review of Marxist theory and practice associated with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara is especially instructive, because although they resorted to armed struggle they considered it a necessary evil. Prabhakaran made a virtue out of violence and terror and personified that cult.

He reveals the psycho-ideological mindset of Prabhakaran as intrinsically fascistic. We learn that the leader of the Tigers actually hero-worshipped Hitler and kept a copy of Mein Kampf by his side, and like his hero extracted complete submission from his followers to his whim and caprice. Moreover, the Tamil Tigers showed no mercy to dissidents within the party or the opposition within Tamil society, or to innocent Muslims and Sinhalese. Their record of carrying out assassination attempts and suicide bombing predates by many years similar trends in South Asia.

Jayatilleka rejects the right of national self-determination to mean an absolute and automatic right to secede through the use of force and terrorism from an existing state. He asserts that secession from an existing state is not to be confused with liberation from colonial rule. Such an interpretation is an accurate understanding of the norms upheld by international law.

The author then examines the right of the state to wage war against an intransigent terrorist group in the light of classic just war doctrine and concludes that the Sri Lankan state had no other choice but to wage a war against the Tamil Tigers. It did so, but with such overwhelming force and ruthlessness that hapless non-combatant Tamils wholesale became its victims. It shocked the world and the United Nations expressed its concerns in no uncertain terms.

The author warns that a triumphant, vindictive, majoritarian Sinhalese mindset cannot win the peace. It is important to heal wounds and win back an estranged, defeated and humiliated minority. Currently a cold peace prevails that isolates and alienates the Tamil minority. He pleads for a just peace, which guarantees substantial autonomy, economic, political and cultural, equal rights for all citizens, and respect and acceptance of ethnic identity. To the Tamils his recommendation is to abandon secessionism and seek fair and equitable treatment within a pluralist, decentralised but unitary Sri Lanka integrated in a power-sharing framework. He argues that neither neo-liberal capitalism nor neoliberal conservatism can serve as the basis for building peace, which he argues has three important dimensions: the North-South axis; the rich-poor axis; and the country-world axis.

In my book, State, Nation and Ethnicity in Contemporary South Asia, London and New York: Pinter, 1996; 1998, I propounded a theory to analyse within a comparative framework a number of separatist movements in South Asia: Khalistani and Kashmiri in India; Sindhi and Mohajir in Pakistan; Chakma Hill Tribes in Bangladesh; and Tamils in Sri Lanka. I predicted that secession was doomed. The modern state is too well-armed vis-à-vis separatists. Moreover, international law and praxis is biased heavily in favour of the integrity of the state. Only when powerful neighbours or global powers support a challenger to the state can the balance of power possibly be tilted in favour of secessionism (pages 69-76). In the final showdown neither India nor any global power backed the Tamil Tigers: their extermination became inevitable. Seventeen years later Jayatilleka’s authoritative case study on Sri Lanka verifies the soundness and relevance of that theory.

*The reviewer is a PhD (Stockholm University); Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University; and Honorary Senior Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. Latest publications: Pakistan: The Garrison State, Origins, Evolution, Consequences (1947-2011), Karachi: Oxford Unversity Press, 2013; The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed: Unravelling the 1947 Tragedy through Secret British Reports and First-Person Accounts (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2012; New Delhi: Rupa Books, 2011). He can be reached at [email protected]

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