by Shenali Waduge
by Shenali Waduge
Sri Lanka’s accomplishment story comes after struggling 3 decades of terrorism, loss of near to 80,000 lives, rejection of several nearby and global bids of ceasefires and peace talks, refusal to quit killings of innocent civilians, continuance of child conscription to lastly choose on a military resolution to ending the conflict. It took just 3 years to comprehensive the military elimination of the
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.
Shivshankar Menon, National Security Adviser of India, visited Colombo from 8 – 9 July, 2013 to participate in the 2nd NSA-Level Meeting on Trilateral Cooperation on Maritime Security between India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
Although security conference was the main purpose of Shivshankar’s visit, he also took the opportunity to convey India’s concerns about attempts made by the Sri Lankan government to dilute 13 A by robbing provincial councils powers over land and police. 13A came about through the Indo-Lanka accord in 1987. India is insisting that the 13A was part of a joint agreement and any changes being made should be first discussed by both countries.
At present, Provincial Councils have certain powers over State land. Under paragraph 1:3 of Appendix II of the Thirteenth Amendment, alienation or disposition of State land within a Province to any citizen or to any organisation shall be by the President but only on the advice of the relevant Provincial Council. It may be recalled that in the case filed against the former President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, for transferring state land to Water’s Edge Golf Company, one of the grounds on which the Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Sarath Silva held that the transfer was illegal was that the advice of the Western Provincial Council had not been given. The Government is now considering deleting the requirement of advice and also taking back many other land powers devolved.
Although Police powers have been devolved to a certain extent by the Thirteenth Amendment, Provincial Councils are unable to exercise those powers as the Police Commission Act, No. 1 of 1990 which provides for the establishment of a National Police Commission and a Provincial Police Commission for each province has still not been brought into operation by successive Governments. The government wants to completely take back Police powers.
On 14 November, 1987 the Sri Lankan Parliament passed the 13th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka. It was certified on 14 November, 1987. The Act recognized Thamil an official language and English a link Language and established Provincial Councils. Provincial Council Act No 42 of 1987 laying down the procedure to be followed in Provincial Councils was also passed.
Under the Thirteenth Amendment, if a Bill on a subject devolved on Provincial Councils is to be passed by Parliament, the Bill has to be referred to all Provincial Councils for their views. If all Provincial Councils agree, then the Bill can be passed by a simple majority. However, if one or more Provincial Councils do not agree, then the Bill must be passed by a two-thirds majority if it is to apply to the provinces which did not agree. If passed only by a simple majority, the Bill will be law only in the provinces that have agreed.
The government now wants to amend Article 154 (G) 2 and 154G (3) of the constitution that sets out the procedure for making any amendments to the provincial council’s list of powers. If this is affected, it would make devolution completely meaningless and a mockery.
There are 11 sections to the 154G and most relevant in this respect are Sections (2) and (3).
Section (2) reads as follows:
Article 154G (2) – this provision requires a Bill to amend or repeal any provisions of the 13th Amendment to be referred by the President “to every Provincial Council for the expression of its views thereon”. If “every Provincial Council agrees to the amendment or repeal” such a Bill could be passed with a simple majority. On the other hand, if “one or more Councils do not agree to the amendment or repeal” such a Bill needs to be passed by a 2/3 majority.
Article 154 G (3) is similar to 154G (2); it deals with the Provincial Government List. It is couched in the same mandatory and prohibitive language as Article 154 (G) 2.
Under the heading “Statutes of Provincial Councils,” Section (1) says “every Provincial Council may, subject to the provisions of the Constitution, make statutes applicable to the Province for which it is established, with respect to any matter set out in List 1 of the Ninth Schedule (hereinafter referred to as “the Provincial Council List”). This statute making power is important and without this power the Provincial Councils are not institutions of devolution of power.
The demarcation between devolution and decentralization rests on this matter, if otherwise or without this power the Provincial Councils would be mere instrument of decentralization only.
After holding talks with the government, including President Mahinda Rajapaksa, National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon is apparently returning home empty handed like others before him. The government is in no mood to give any concessions although President Mahinda Rajapaksa during and after the war promised full implementation of 13 A plus. However, he never spelt out what 13 A plus means. While domestically playing the “patriotic card” he continues to dupe the countries that helped him to win the war against the LTTE on devolving power to Thamil people.
Now a concerted campaign of disinformation is carried by the Sri Lankan government to create a fear psychosis among the Sinhalese about provincial council system that has been in existence for 26 years. The LTTE spectre is also resurrected by ultra-Sinhala chauvinists who claim that a Northern Provincial Council controlled by the Thamil National Alliance (TNA) will lead to separation. And what Prabhakaran failed to secure Thamil Eelam through bullets the TNA will do so by the ballots. It is also claimed that the Provincial Council system is a white elephant. All these objections are raised only after the government was forced to conduct elections for the Northern Province Council after a lapse of 23 years!
Hard-line Sinhalese racists also claim that Sri Lanka was forced to sign the agreement under duress without consulting the people (read Sinhalese) following dropping of dhal bombs over Jaffna by the Indian air force fighter planes!
Both during and after the war ended India has repeatedly stressed its expectations that the Sri Lankan Thamil community would lead a life of dignity, as equal citizens. And India would make every effort to ensure the achievement of a future for the community marked by equality, justice and self-respect. But those expectations appear to be in ruins.
According to news reports Mahinda Rajapaksa categorically told Shivshankar Menon that he will proceed with his own agenda. He has told Menon the Parliamentary Select Committee PSC) will deliberate on the proposed amendments, if any and he will abide by the recommendations of the PSC. As for his earlier promise to implement 13 A fully, he said that promise was for the people (read Sinhala) and not for India, UNO and the international community.
In the meantime Mahinda Rajapaksa’s sibling Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development, has spoken his mind in an interview to the government mouth piece the Daily News. Unlike others he does not mince his words. He has rejected devolution and wants the total abolition of 13 A, of course for the wrong reasons. Below is some extracts from his interview:
“…It is nothing but true and correct that in the North and East there must be the same percentage of the majority community. When 78% of this country comprises Sinhalese how does such a vast landmass in the North become 98% Thamil? Isn’t this unnatural? This was forced. Natural growth was prevented.”
“…No I don’t believe in devolution because of the above points I mentioned. If devolution is for administrative purposes that is of course legitimate. But if one thinks that devolution would provide an answer to the national problem that is something that I don’t agree with…I think that’s [the complete repealing of the 13th amendment] the way forward…”
“This again I see as a reaction to some of the claims and things done by the minorities. We shouldn’t let these things come out. Remember the majority community is 78% but if some 8% or 10% of the community tries to bring various issues all the time it creates a suspicion among the majority community. It creates insecurity within the majority community and obviously there will be sections reacting to that. This is what happened…” (‘I Deplore Any Form of Extremism’, Daily Mirror July 4, 2013)
In any other country the open exhibition of such blatant racism by any state functionary would have earned him outright dismissal. But, in Sri Lanka Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is adored as a Sinhala hero by Sinhala extremists! The UNP has openly accused him of financing outfits like the Bodu Bala Sena.
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in his much publicised interview is openly calling for the structural genocide of the Thamil people. Racists like Gotabhaya Rajapaksa are unable to stomach the domination of Northeast by Thamils and Muslims who together form more than 80% of the population. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa wants to change the demography of Northeast. It is he who is behind the accelerated Sinhala colonization of both the North and East, especially the Northern province. To carry out his genocidal grand plan the functioning of the Northern Provincial Council is an obstacle. Hence his call for the total abolition of 13 A.
Mahinda Rajapaksa has stacked the PSC with his puppet Ministers who have openly made statements in support of diluting 13 A. Those Ministers who were against truncating 13 A have been left in the cold. That includes Tissa Vitarana who chaired the All Party Conference (APC) Rajitha Senaratne, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and SLFP strongman and MP Reginald Cooray. These Ministers boldly called the move to dilute 13 A a blatant attempt to scuttle devolution and assert Sinhala political hegemony over the people of the North.
The PSC is being boycotted by all the main opposition parties – the UNP, the JVP and TNA. Even some of the partners of the UPFA coalition like the LSSP, CP and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) are opposed to the exercise. Now, the PSC is largely a cabinet subcommittee of ‘yes men’ appointed to rubber stamp changes to 13A.
The UNP has decided against joining the Parliamentary Select Committee since the government had not clearly set out its stand on the future of the 13th Amendment. Unlike in the past UNP is taking a principled stand on the ethnic issue. It wants full implementation of 13 A.
J.R. Jayewardene is called an old fox for his cunningness. But, Mahinda Rajapaksa is more cunning than J.R. Jayewardene. After finishing the LTTE with Indian arms, radars, intelligence, training etc. he is now biting India’s hands! He thinks he does not need India’s help anymore since China is at his feet! He has signed a defence agreement with China and apparently he perceives India as the enemy country.
It will be interesting to see the next move by New Delhi. India cannot keep on parroting the mantra that “Thamil community should lead a life of dignity, as equal citizens, and India would make every effort to ensure the achievement of a future for the community marked by equality, justice and self-respect” without concrete action.
It is time India acts decisively and backs words with deeds. Soft diplomatic approaches, mostly behind the scenes engagements have failed to domesticate Mahinda Rajapaksa. He is determined to follow his own agenda to impose Sinhala hegemony over the Thamil people and reduce them to the status of third class citizens.
There are many options open to India. One option is to announce boycott of the CHOGM scheduled to be held in Colombo in November this year. That will send a message to Mahinda Rajapaksa that India means business. It can also take over Kachchatheevu ceded to Ceylon in 1974. It must be very clear to India by now that Sri Lanka never understands sane advices.
Prime Minister Mrs. Indra Gandhi understood the mindset of Sri Lankan politicians and read the riot act. But, sadly her successors have failed to follow her bold diplomacy and no nonsense foreign policies.
On July 05, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has issued a proclamation reconstituting the Northern Provincial Council. He had asked the Commissioner of Elections to hold elections for the Northern Provincial Council. The Commissioner of Elections has fixed July 25 – August 01 for receiving nomination and election is likely to be held in September 27, 2013.
As I write the TNA has not nominated its candidate for the post of Chief Minister, but ex-Justice C.V. Wigneswaran is likely the choice. (This article was written two weeks ago)
Mahinda Rajapaksa true to form will use the entire government machinery to win votes. The Sinhala army is already engaging itself in canvassing votes for the ruling party. Appointment of graduate teachers put on hold for years is taking place now. In June this year 1,300 Samurdhi Development Officers have been recruited for all districts in the Northern Province. One hundred Samurdhi Development Officers selected for Jaffna District were given appointment letters by Namal Rajapaksa who is the unofficial MP for Kilinochchi district. A few IDPs also will be resettled in their homes during coming weeks. Other carrots will also be dangled before the voters. However, these gimmicks on the part of the ruling party are bound to fail. There are thousand reasons for Thamil voters who live like slaves under a military dictatorship to vote against the openly racist government. They have been treated like dirt by the Sinhala army of occupation. Their self-respect, dignity and fundamental freedoms have been flagrantly violated.
Sri Lanka never understands sane advices. Late Mrs. Indra Gandhi understood this very well and took appropriate actions. It appears India is running out of ammunition to deal with Sri Lanka.
As stated above, JR was called a wily old cunning fox, but Mahinda Rajapaksa is more cunning than his predecessors. The UNO let him go scot free not once but twice! Not only did he benefit from LTTE’s unofficial boycott to win his election, but also finish the LTTE with Indian help! Now that he has signed a defence agreement with China, Mahinda Rajapaksa calculates he does not need India any more!
‘Rainbow’s End’, 141/5, Galkanuwa Rd., Gorakana,
5th July 2013.
H.E. Kamalesh Sharma, Secretary-General,
The Commonwealth, Commonwealth Secretariat, Marlborough House,
London SW1-5HX, UK
CHOGM – 2013
I am writing to you with reference to a news item published in the Sri Lanka Daily Mirror of 29th June 2013. The story, captioned ‘Commonwealth wants to make practical difference in Sri Lanka’ quotes a letter you have reportedly sent to an unspecified recipient . In the absence of any contradiction or clarification from your organisation, I assume that the remarks are accurate. You are quoted as saying:
“The LLRC report was a home grown roadmap for achieving peace in a multi ethnic nation.The question for the international community is whether to criticise the lack of progress from afar in implementing that report or to offer and to make a practical difference. The Commonwealth has opted for the latter and the Sri Lankan government even now is identifying the areas where we will help. 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.”
The Commonwealth wanting to make a practical difference in Sri Lanka is indeed most welcome. However, for many of us who are living not afar but in Sri Lanka, we find it rather difficult to share your optimism as Sri Lanka seems to be moving away from the values which you claim that the Commonwealth is advancing even now. The day to day practical reality is that Sri Lanka continues to violate with impunity all 16 values of the Commonwealth Charter in varying degrees and we in Sri Lanka experience first hand the present Sri Lankan government’s contempt for democratic values, the rule of law and the sanctity of life.
In fact, Sri Lanka has slipped down to the 29th position in the ‘Failed State Index‘ compiled annually by the Fund for Peace and the Foreign Policy magazine. This year this drop is due to the deterioration of performance in 7 out of 12 categories, notably in the areas of human rights, rule of law, delegitimisation of the state, poverty and economic decline.
The human rights situation in Sri Lanka shows no signs of improvement and as ‘Lawyers for Democracy‘ stated in April, ‘the spate of deaths of persons while in Police custody is alarming. The casual manner in which the death of persons in police custody is being treated by the authorities is an insult to our system of administration of justice.’ The independent inquiry into the cold blooded execution of over 27 prisoners in November last year has also yet to materialise.
While hundreds if not thousands of complaints of serious human rights violations gather dust at the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), the commissioner announced a few days ago that the commission will be probing into rail tragedies at unprotected railway crossings in the country! In the face of such cynicism, the workshop being conducted by the Commonwealth and the HRCSL in Colombo at the moment with the participation of your deputy, I feel, is an useless exercise in mutual deception. By conducting a workshop with the HRCSL you are conferring legitimacy to a human rights institution which has become yet another appendage of the executive since the 18th Amendment of September 2010 . This is in direct contravention of the Paris Principles, which relate to the status and functioning of national institutions for the protection and promotion of human rights. As the Paris Principles stipulates, ‘ the key elements of the composition of a national institution are its independence and pluralism. In relation to the independence the only guidance in the Paris Principles is that the appointment of commissioners or other kinds of key personnel shall be given effect by an official act…..’ However, all commissioners of the current HRCSL have been appointed by the President.
Lattimer House Principles are also being consistently and continuously violated. After the President forcibly excluded the legal Chief Justice, Mrs. Shirani Bandaranayake from her chambers and installed someone else in her place in January, the executive with his hand picked set of judges proceeded to scrap the violated court of appeal order. This order was ignored by the President when he removed the legal Chief Justice after an hurried impeachment trial more akin to the witch trials of the dark ages. The witch hunt against Mrs.Bandaranaike continues and she has been summoned several times to the Bribery Commission which has also now become yet another appendage of the executive arm since the 18th Amendment came into operation.
Today, it is a well known secret that all Judicial transfers and appointments are decided at ‘Temple Trees’, the official residence of the executive, in violation of the Latimer House principle which states that ‘ Judicial appointments should be made on the basis of clearly defined criteria and by a declared process.’
Another Latimer House Principle states that the ‘ interaction, if any, between the executive and the judiciary should not compromise judicial independence.’ Yet the new Chief Justice prefers to demonstrate his devotion and servility to the executive by being a frequent visitor not only to the President but to his brother, the defence secretary.
The judiciary is not the only victim of the erosion of law through disempowered institutions. Even the university administration has been made into useless appendages of the executive. For example, the University Grants Commission has now abdicated its powers and responsibilities under section 34(1) of the act to select and recommend one person for appointment by the President. It has now unlawfully clothed the President with authority to make his own choice of Vice Chancellor.
The Committee to Protect Journalists ranks Sri Lanka as the 4th most dangerous place in the world for journalists to work in. The Criminal Investigation Department continues to raid newspapers which highlight corruption linked to the first family and two days ago,the Editor of ‘Janarela’ – a weekly Sinhala tabloid , was grilled by the CID regarding an article published last year. In the north, un identified militia men have continued their attacks on several independent newspapers. Several media personnel at MTV, a leading private television network, were threatened again recently.
Also, the government which purportedly claims that it values Commonwealth principles, has sought and received Chinese expertise to monitor, hack and block websites which expose human rights violations and corruption. In fact, the Defence Secretary, recently identified social media such as Facebook and Twitter as a serious threat to national security and plans are afoot, according to reliable sources to ban social media as well as to introduce the draconian code of ethics for the media, recently approved by Cabinet, after the summit in November.
Despite the predominantly Chinese funded ‘show’ development in the North, at vastly inflated costs, the plight of the Tamil people has deteriorated and the militarisation continues unabated. A special unit under the Commander of the area has been formed to suppress democratic activities: during a visit to the area some months ago, even a meeting attended by the Leader of the Opposition was attacked by this squad. While the government is reluctantly preparing to hold Northern Provincial Elections thanks to intense international pressure, there are reports that members of this squad are intimidating and threatening candidates who are hoping to seek nomination from opposition parties.
Even other religious minorities are now being persecuted with impunity. There have been over 15 Incidents during this year where Mosques as well as Muslim owned businesses have been attacked in broad daylight while the Police looked on. Two weeks ago, a beef stall owned by a Muslim was vandalised and destroyed while the Police and the PSD (Presidents Security Division) guarding the Presidents Tangalle residence, just a stones throw away, looked on. Many Christian places of worship have also been attacked in recent months. The fact that these fanatical groups can take law into their hands with total impunity is proof enough of the unholy alliance between these purveyors of terror and the powers that be.
Also in violation of yet another Commonwealth value, the government is continuing its witch hunt against members of civil society. The much respected local representative of the Ferdrich Ebert Stiftung was recently apprehended at the airport and questioned about funding a book written on Buddhism and Governance by the Leader of the Opposition seven years ago. She was also questioned by the CID for two days in May after hosting a workshop on Campaign management for Members of Parliament of the UNP. Another woman from an Indian NGO was deported last week for being critical of some development activities in the North. Many other key human rights activists are also subjected to harassment and the bank accounts of some of them have been frozen without a court order.
Emboldened by its apologists in the International community, the regime, continues with arrogance to violate the core values of the Commonwealth Charter. It is in the context of these continuing violations that I cannot share your enthusiasm that the “Commonwealth soft power and behind the scenes contribution’ can lead to “real progress in the long term”. From the daily occurrences, some of which I have mentioned above, it is clear that the government is unable to mend its ways and that there is a vast discrepancy between the values of the Commonwealth and the values of its incoming Chairman.
It is certainly true that certain recommendations of the LLRC report need a longer period to implement but if the government of Sri Lanka is sincere and genuine in its commitment to the Commonwealth Charter, there are some changes which could be implemented immediately prior to the Summit in November and in time for the Northern Provincial Elections.
For example, the notorious 18th Amendment to the Constitution, introduced as an Urgent bill in 2010 abolishing the independent Judicial, Elections, Public Services and Police Commissions can be repealed immediately with yet another urgent bill restoring all the independent commissions. This could well be the litmus test on the governments commitment to the core Commonwealth values.
Free and fair elections are an integral part of the Commonwealth charter. In addition to the independent elections commission and independent police commission been in place before the Northern Elections, it also imperative that a civilian governor be appointed to the North and that the army be confined to the barracks , if the election is to be truly free and fair.
If such changes are to be implemented prior to CHOGM in November, all Sri Lankans, I am sure will congratulate and thank you for the ‘Commonwealth soft power and behind the scene contribution’ in restoring the credentials of one of Asia’s oldest democracies. However, holding of the summit without such a proven commitment to the values and principles of democracy would not only call into grave question the value, credibility and future of the Commonwealth, it will also be the granting of the Commonwealth seal of approval to an emerging dictatorship in Asia.
As the CHOGM summit is of immense public interest, I am taking the liberty of releasing this letter to the media.
With best wishes, Yours truly,
Mangala Samaraweera M.P.
I welcome you to this lecture under the National Interest Module of the inaugural MPhil/PhD Programme of the Kotelawala Defence University. The topic of this lecture is “Sri Lanka’s National Security Concerns”. As we all know, Sri Lanka is one of the most peaceful and stable countries in the world today. Our citizens are enjoying the benefits of peace and have complete freedom and countless opportunities to build better futures for themselves. At the same time, it must be understood that as with any other sovereign nation, Sri Lanka faces potential threats from various sources. Guarding against these threats and ensuring the safety of the nation is the first duty of the Government, because National Security is the foundation of our freedom and our prosperity. As such, the Government needs to be fully aware of all the issues that impact the country in areas such as Defence, Foreign Policy, Economic Affairs and internal Law & Order. It must formulate a comprehensive National Security strategy to deal with them.
A viable National Security strategy must constantly align ends with means, goals with resources, and objectives with the tools required to accomplish them. The strategy needs to be aligned with the aspirations of the people, and it must have public support. Ideally, if comprehensive security is to be ensured, it requires the achievement of national cohesion, political and economic stability, the elimination of terrorism, the countering of extremism, and the formulation of effective responses to external challenges. The Government must make every effort to keep aware of a continually changing situation and take appropriate action in response to new developments and challenges. It is only then that the safety of the nation can be assured.
In the course of this lecture on Sri Lanka’s National Security Concerns, I will examine the following areas:
Sri Lanka’s overall National Security context
The primary threats to our National Security at present; and,
The strategies that are being formulated in response to these threats.
The Context of National Security in Sri Lanka
In the first several years after the achievement of Independence, National Security did not need to be a primary concern of the Government of Ceylon. As an independent Dominion of Great Britain, and as a non-aligned nation with excellent relationships within and outside the region, there were few pressing threats that the Government had to deal with. As a result, the attention given to National Security was minimal, as was the emphasis placed on the country’s Defence apparatus. The military was largely ceremonial. It only had to assist the Government on occasions when there were issues such as public sector work stoppages or riots. The need to strengthen law enforcement and the Armed Forces to protect the nation against internal or external threats was not seen as a pressing concern. The attempted coup d’‚tat in 1962 further reduced the attention given to the Defence apparatus by the Government. Due to fears that a strong military would be a threat to democracy, as had been the case in some neighbouring countries during this period, funding for the Armed Forces was drastically reduced and recruitments curtailed.
As a result of the weakening of the military, the country was not in the best position to deal with the first major threat to its National Security when it erupted in 1971. This was the first JVP Insurrection. Although investigations into JVP activities had been going on for some time, cutbacks to intelligence services, including the closure of the Special Branch of the Police in 1970, had left the Government largely unaware of the scale of the insurrection it was facing. The nation’s military was overstretched. In response to the Government’s appeals for help, India and Pakistan sent in troops to secure critical installations while essential equipment and ammunition was provided by Britain and the Soviet Union. Although the insurrection was successfully suppressed within a short time, it had many consequences. One of the most crucial from a historical perspective was that National Security became a much greater concern both for the Government and for the general public. As Ceylon became Sri Lanka in 1972, upholding National Security was one of its foremost priorities.
In the late 1970s, Sri Lanka saw the emergence of the greatest ever threat to its sovereignty in the form of the terrorism of the Tamil separatist groups in the North and East. As the conflict worsened in the early 1980s, particularly after the riots of 1983, the threat of terrorism loomed large not only in the North and East but effectively all over the country. The rise of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and the likelihood of its attacks in public places fostered a deep insecurity amongst the people. There was significant loss of life, loss of property, and countless lost opportunities to achieve economic development. The law and order situation deteriorated as arms and ammunition started to flow to criminal elements in the underworld. By the late 1980s, the second JVP insurrection caused the further deterioration of the security situation throughout Sri Lanka. As a result of the increasing instability and violence, people began to lose some of their freedoms as more and more intensive measures had to be taken by the state in trying to uphold public security.
As the terrorism situation worsened, there was also an increasing involvement of foreign powers and the international community in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs. During the early stages of the terrorist conflict, India trained LTTE cadres in training bases established in Tamil Nadu. Many of the leaders of other separatist groups also frequented that state. It is also important to note that several international Non Governmental Organisations that were based in the North and East first started to cooperate with the terrorist groups active in those areas during this period. In 1985, India facilitated talks between the Government of Sri Lanka and the separatist groups in Thimpu, Bhutan. The talks collapsed due to the unrealistic demands made by the separatists. These demands would have gravely affected Sri Lanka’s sovereignty if granted, and the Government had no choice but to refuse them. Fighting soon resumed. By this time, the conflict transformed into one between the state and the LTTE, which had used the ceasefire granted for the Thimpu talks to destroy rival separatist groups.
As the fighting gained momentum, the emphasis given to National Security by the Government also increased. For the first time, the appointment of a Minister of National Security was seen as necessary. The strength of the military was also significantly enhanced, with larger recruitment drives, the acquisition of better assets, and improved training to counter the growing threats. With its improved capabilities, the military was able to make more and more progress in fighting the terrorism of the LTTE. For the first time, we also saw changes within the structure of the military. The need for a coordinated effort to combat terrorism led to the establishment of a Joint Operation Command to coordinate the three Armed Services, Police and Intelligence Services in counter terrorism operations. The military used battle formations for the first time, and the requirement for a National Intelligence Bureau to coordinate the intelligence services at a national level was also understood and subsequently brought into being.
In 1987, the very successful Vadamarachchi Operation enabled the Government to regain control of much of the North, leaving the LTTE on the brink of defeat. At this point, India intervened directly in the conflict by air dropping humanitarian relief supplies over Jaffna. This led to the abandonment of the Vadamarachchi operation, and the Indo-Lanka Accord was signed in July of that year. This led to the induction of the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) to the North of Sri Lanka, where it got embroiled in conflict with the LTTE. After more than two years of fighting, the IPKF withdrew from Sri Lanka in October 1990, and fighting resumed between the LTTE and Government Forces.
Although there were several periodic attempts at peace talks, the intensity of the war grew during the 1990s and in the early 2000s, with several major battles being fought and much hardship suffered throughout the country. The military was strengthened significantly to deal with this threat. Specialised units such as the Commando Regiment and the Special Forces Regiment of the Army, as well as the Special Boat Squadron of the Navy were developed to deal with the increasing military challenge posed by the LTTE in the North and East. However, in addition to its battles with the military, the LTTE also frequently carried out attacks against civilians in the rest of the country. Large bombings took place in public locations in Colombo, killing thousands. Hundreds more were massacred in vulnerable villages near LTTE dominated territory. Critical installations and economic targets such as the International Airport, Central Bank and the Kolonnawa Oil Refinery were also ruthlessly attacked. In order to contain this very serious threat to national security, precautionary measures had to be greatly increased throughout the country. This led to the visible presence of soldiers on the streets, the widespread use of checkpoints, frequent cordon and search operations, and the constant upholding of the Emergency Regulations, which gave wide-ranging powers to the military and law enforcement agencies. The entire country was effectively on a war footing.
In 2002, the next major development in the conflict was the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement with the LTTE under mediation of Norway. This event can also be viewed as the next major phase in the internationalisation of Sri Lankan affairs as a result of the conflict. The Peace Process that was entered into by the Government of the time was facilitated by Norway, with the support of the representatives of major donor countries, namely the European Union, the United States of America and Japan. Together with Norway, they comprised the four Co-Chairs of the Sri Lankan Peace Process. A Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission was also established, comprising members from Nordic countries, to supervise the implementation of the Ceasefire Agreement. Despite their presence, the LTTE continued to create instability in the country; assassinating its key opponents including Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, and carrying out occasional attacks against civilians.
In 2006, increasing provocations by the LTTE culminated in its threatening of a humanitarian crisis by closing the vital Maavilaru Sluice Gate. This was a crisis that affected the right to water of thousands of households, and even affected national food security by preventing the flow of water to many thousands of acres of agricultural land. The Government intervened with a limited operation to reopen the sluice gate, but was met with large-scale attacks by the LTTE on several fronts. This led to the widening of the military campaign into the Humanitarian Operation that ultimately freed Sri Lanka from terrorism.
The Humanitarian Operation required significant strengthening of the military to enable its success. During the ceasefire period, the LTTE had managed to strengthen its offensive capabilities significantly. It had approximately 30,000 cadres in its ranks and a vast arsenal of weapons and equipment that included heavy artillery, mortar, missiles, rocket propelled grenades, and light aircraft. Combating such an enemy that employed guerrilla tactics required the Sri Lankan Armed Forces to grow significantly. Between the end of 2005 and the end of 2009, the number of Army personnel grew from 120,000 to over 200,000; its 9 Divisions were increased to 20; its 44 Brigades expanded to 71; and its 149 Battalions increased to 284. The Navy and the Air Force were also expanded significantly, and given tasks beyond their classic role. The upholding of security throughout the country also required the Police and Special Task Force to be strengthened, and the Civil Defence Force was revamped and significantly expanded.
Because of the internationalisation of the Sri Lankan situation during the previous decades, there was a great deal of foreign scrutiny on the progress of the Humanitarian Operation. By keeping the Indian leaders constantly informed about what was happening on ground, and by skilfully managing our relationships with other nations, it was possible for the war effort to continue unimpeded. Nevertheless, towards the end of the war in 2009, the Foreign Ministers of France and the United Kingdom arrived in Sri Lanka and attempted to intervene in the military campaign, although they did not succeed. Efforts by such parties to end the Humanitarian Operation reflect the tremendous influence that the LTTE’s international network had on foreign capitals. Many in the international community wilfully ignored the fact that the Government of Sri Lanka was duty-bound to protect its citizens from the aggression of the LTTE terrorists. Even after the war ended and peace dawned in 2009, this bias against the Government led to Sri Lanka being taken up at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Although the initial Resolution against Sri Lanka was defeated that year, two more were sponsored by the United States in 2012 and 2013, and successfully passed.
Today, Sri Lanka is a country enjoying the full benefits of peace, and it is engaged in a concerted push to accelerate its economic development and bring prosperity to its citizens. The country has much to catch up on. Three decades of conflict lost us countless opportunities for growth: foreign and local investment suffered due to fears about the war; tourists did not visit the country, and many of our best and brightest went overseas to build better futures for themselves. Countries such as Singapore, which were in a similar economic position to Sri Lanka when we reached Independence in 1948, developed at a tremendous rate during this period. This is because they did not have a major conflict to contend with. Sri Lanka’s prospects on the other hand were greatly curtailed as a result of the war. This is why the biggest responsibility of the Government of Sri Lanka even today, in the post war situation, is to ensure the continued security of the country. Without security and stability, there will be no economic development. The maintenance of National Security is therefore of the utmost importance.
The National Security of Sri Lanka needs to be addressed in context of the history of this country and the realities of its present situation, and most critically from the perspective of several responsibilities of the state. The state must ensure that the Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity of the nation is maintained, and that there are no threats to the safety of our population. Ensuring economic growth so that the people of the country can uplift their standard of living is also critical in order to prevent internal problems recurring in the future. Creating a favourable environment for Sri Lanka internationally is similarly of the utmost importance in keeping adverse external influence at bay. Securing the safety of our physical assets and safeguarding the nation’s democracy are also critical. Considering this overall context, it is clear that National Security must be understood within a unified, single framework that integrates the nation’s Defence, Law and Order, Foreign Policy and Economic Policy. These four areas need to come together in the creation of a comprehensive National Security Strategy. This is essential if Sri Lanka is to consolidate its present peace and stability and fulfil its potential.
Present National Security Concerns
There are several potential threats in today’s context that Sri Lanka needs to be concerned about. These include:
The possible re-emergence of terrorism
The emergence of other extremist groups
The creation of ethnic divisions and communal violence
The challenges of maritime security and border control
The growth of organised crime
Foreign interference in domestic affairs
Non-traditional threats through technology driven new media, including social media.
In discussing terrorism, it is first of all important to appreciate the sheer scale of the problem that the Government of Sri Lanka was confronted with as a result of the LTTE over the past three decades. Since the 1970s, the LTTE grew from a small organisation of armed individuals to a large, sophisticated terrorist outfit with very advanced combat capabilities. At its height, the LTTE had more than 30,000 battle-hardened cadres; access to large stockpiles of modern armaments, ammunition and equipment; a sophisticated naval wing and a fledgling air wing. For a considerable period of the conflict, the LTTE was able to maintain the illusion of a functional state apparatus in the territories it dominated. It also had significant influence in foreign capitals as a result of its extensive international network. Defeating the LTTE required a concerted effort on the part of the Sri Lankan Government. As a result of the unwavering leadership of His Excellency the President Mahinda Rajapaksa, this task was achieved in May of 2009.
In the immediate aftermath of the war, there were a number of issues that needed to be dealt with. First was the problem of nearly 300,000 internally displaced people who had been used as the LTTE’s human shield during the last phases of the war. Then there was the need to demine the North and East so that those areas would be safe for human habitation. This resulted in the recovery of hundreds of thousands of mines and improvised explosive devices laid by the LTTE during its retreat. Infrastructure development and reconstruction of those areas after years of neglect under the LTTE’s dominance was another significant issue that had to be dealt with, after which it was possible to resettle the IDPs in their places of origin. One of the most important issues was dealing with the nearly twelve thousand surrendered LTTE cadres and four thousand detained cadres. The Government took the bold step of rehabilitating nearly all of them so that they could become productive citizens in future. The vast majority of them have already been reintegrated with society.
Amongst other post war achievements has been the disarming of other armed groups that used to operate in the North and East, and the encouragement these groups have been given to contribute to society through democratic processes. The restrictions that used to be in force on movement, fishing, high security zones etc., have all been removed. Democracy has been completely restored, with free and fair elections taking place. Economic growth in the North and East has been truly remarkable in the recent past, and it is clear beyond doubt that normalcy has been restored to the people.
Despite all of these very positive developments, however, the threat of terrorism re-emerging still persists. One of the main reasons for the LTTE’s success during its heyday was its extensive international network, which has been in operation for many decades. Following the ambush and massacre of 13 soldiers in the North by the LTTE in 1983, there was a major communal backlash against the Tamils in the rest of the country. As a result of the July 1983 riots, a large number of Tamil people left Sri Lanka and travelled to countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and parts of Europe. These countries granted asylum to these immigrants, and later granted them citizenship. As such, there is a large population of immigrant Sri Lankan Tamils in other countries. A small minority of this population supports the LTTE even to this day. Extremist elements within this community, together with LTTE agents and operatives, including trained terrorists who fled Sri Lanka at various times during the war, comprise the LTTE’s international network.
After the demise of Prabhakaran, the LTTE’s former procurement chief Kumaran Pathmanadan, better known as KP, took control over this network and indicated that it would continue to work for the separatist cause through peaceful means. However, a breakaway faction emerged almost immediately, led by Nediyawan, who wanted to continue Prabhakaran’s ideology of violence. Nediyawan’s group, was previously known as The Tamil Eelam People’s Assembly or the Tamil National Council and is now known as the Tamil Coordinating Committee, Based in Norway, this group has been working with other international groups to promote the LTTE’s separatist cause in many parts of the world. The Tamil Coordinating Committee has control over most of the assets of the LTTE’s international organisation, including its media networks such as Tamil Net.
Following the arrest of KP in August 2009, Rudrakumaran took over the leadership of the main network and began working towards establishing a “Government in Exile”. This group now fashions itself as The Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam. In the guise of fighting for Tamil rights, its primary objective is to lobby foreign Governments for the establishment of a separate state in the North and East of Sri Lanka. The so-called “Transnational Government” has about twenty “Ministers” and “Deputy Ministers”, and was formed with assistance of an advisory committee comprising prominent pro LTTE activists, including foreigners who have been helping the LTTE for many years. There has recently been a revolt within the TGTE, where one third of its members loyal to Nediyawan, went against the leadership of Rudrakumaran because they wished to engage in more radical action.
Another prominent LTTE-linked group emerged out of the British Tamils Association, which was active since 2001 in supporting the terrorism of the LTTE in Sri Lanka. In 2006, the leader of the BTA, Arunachalam Krishanthakumar, alias Shanthan, was investigated on suspicion of supporting terrorist activities. As a result of these suspicions about the BTA, the British Tamils Forum was formed in 2006 to carry on the same activities in a new guise. The BTF acted as an umbrella organisation that mustered support from the immigrant Tamil community and local British politicians for dividing Sri Lanka. With Shanthan’s arrest by British authorities in June 2007 for providing material support to terrorism and his conviction in April 2009, as well as the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, the role played by the BTF needed to be changed to suit the post-war environment.
As a result of this, the Global Tamils Forum emerged in February 2010, with many of the same members as the BTF. The head of the GTF is the so-called Father Emmanuel, a Priest who was once hailed by Prabhakaran as “a freedom fighter who has given leadership to a movement committed to setting up the homeland to Tamil Eelam”. Father Emmanuel has been engaged in a propaganda campaign against Sri Lanka for many years, targeting Tamil expatriates, Foreign Governments and International Organisations. He is known to have visited LTTE strongholds in Sri Lanka in mid-2000 to conduct training for selected youth who were earmarked to take up overseas appointments for fundraising and propaganda for the LTTE.
Under Father Emmanuel’s guidance, the GTF has successfully influenced a number of politicians from various political parties in European countries as well as the United States, Australia, Canada, and India to support the separatist cause. In addition, the GTF has courted officials within international organisations such as the United Nations, the European Union and various international non-governmental organisations to obtain their support. Part of the success of the GTF in these activities can be attributed to the involvement of influential pro-LTTE foreigners in it. These include Mrs. Joan Ryan, a former British Parliamentarian who has become the Head of the GTF’s Secretariat.
Yet another group that is active internationally in supporting the separatist cause is the LTTE Headquarter Group, which is based in France and headed by Vinayagam, a senior intelligence cadre who managed to escape during the final stages of the war in Sri Lanka. This is a group that is known to engage in Human Smuggling, with some of its past operations including the sending of the “Sun Sea” and “Ocean Lady” vessels from South East Asia to Canada in 2009 and 2010. The members of this group generally maintain a low profile and their movements are kept to a minimum as most of them have been issued Red Notices by Interpol for their involvement in criminal activities. They also keep their distance from both Nediyawan’s and Rudrakumaran’s groups, but maintain links with the GTF.
All of the LTTE-linked groups are coordinated by the GTF and united by one overarching objective. Their unwavering intent is the division of Sri Lanka and the establishment of a separate state for Tamil Eelam. There are several strategies through which they will try to achieve their objective. These include:
The winning of international opinion for the separatist cause,
Increasing international pressure on Sri Lanka in various areas; including pushing for international investigations into war crimes and claims of genocide, and by encouraging international monitoring of the national reconciliation process,
Undermining all efforts of the democratically elected Government of Sri Lanka to create a better future for its citizens through reconciliation and economic development, and
Continuing to push for the resumption of conflict through reorganizing local pro-LTTE elements within Sri Lanka.
Some of the efforts of these LTTE-linked groups have been successful to a certain extent in that despite the war having ended four years ago, the internal affairs of Sri Lanka have been kept at the forefront of the UNHRC’s Sessions as well as at the top of the agenda of several prominent international NGOs even in the recent past. It has to be noted that many of those who create this pressure by claiming to be human rights activists and victims of state repression are actually trained LTTE cadres and operatives who are now fully engaged in propaganda activities. It is very important to understand that their attempts to put pressure on the Government through international bodies such as the UNHRC and non state actors such as international NGOs is designed to strengthen those who work against Sri Lanka’s interests.
In this context it is important to realise that there are groups even within the democratic mainstream in Sri Lanka that obtain funding from the LTTE’s international network and pro-LTTE elements overseas, which more or less openly talk about achieving the very same objectives that the LTTE had. Though they appear to have a democratic face, their actions and remarks clearly show that the extremist separatist ideology has not yet disappeared. Their ultimate objective is achieving the division of Sri Lanka. As a result of their actions and statements, it is very much a possibility that certain radical elements will feel empowered to once again attempt to take up arms in the name of separation. This is a major National Security threat that needs to be taken with the utmost seriousness.
In addition to the threat of terrorism, Sri Lanka also faces a potential threat from other extremist groups. These are the remnants of the radical groups that were involved in previous insurgencies. Some of these groups are trying to reorganise within Sri Lanka and mobilise people to once again take up their extreme left wing causes. There is information that some of these groups have started to link up with the LTTE-linked groups to create further problems in Sri Lanka. Some of their activities include radicalising students and encouraging them to take to the streets in various protests. Though such activities are still in their early stages, they pose another serious National Security concern that we need to be vigilant of.
Another growing concern in the post-war environment is the increasing communalism amongst ethnic groups, which if left unaddressed, could result in the rise of ethnic tensions in the future. During the period of the war, it was not only the Sinhalese and Tamil communities that were affected by the terrorist separatism of the LTTE, but also the Muslims. After the LTTE started engaging in ethnic cleansing in the North in the early 1980s, it expelled the Sinhalese community from Jaffna and soon after turned its attention to the Muslims. Several massacres were carried out at Mosques in the East, and in October 1990, the LTTE expelled more than 75,000 Muslim residents from the North. This was followed by further brutal attacks on Muslims in vulnerable villages near the territory dominated by the LTTE. In this environment, the Muslims also started to organise themselves for their own protection against the LTTE. After the LTTE’s defeat, some of these groups have begun to engage in activities that stem far beyond self-protection. There is some information that some of these groups have even tried to link up with the global Islamic terrorist movement. This is a situation that requires careful monitoring.
On a broader scale, it also has to be acknowledged that one of the consequences of the terrorist conflict Sri Lanka endured for thirty years has been the increased insularity of ethnic groups. Rather than identifying themselves on the basis of nationality, the communities of Sri Lanka have begun to identify themselves on the basis of their ethnicity or their religion. Instead of calling themselves Sri Lankan, they identify themselves as Sinhalese or Tamils or Muslims or Buddhists or Christians. This fragmentation of the Sri Lankan identity is most unfortunate, because activists within these communal groups seek minority rights or ethnic rights rather than working within the framework of a common national identity.
The cross-border links that can arise as a result of such insular ethnic or religious identification is also very troublesome. It is clear that there are some in the Tamil community who identify themselves more with the Tamil community of Tamil Nadu than with their fellow Sri Lankans. This has been encouraged by some parties overseas who wish to promote the idea of a greater Tamil Nation. Similarly, it has been observed that there are some foreign groups that wish to encourage Sri Lankan Muslims to identify themselves more with the global Muslim community, thereby reducing their integration within Sri Lanka. This trend has been particularly prevalent in the post September 11 world, in which there has been a tendency among certain groups to try and influence the global Muslim community towards religious extremism has become visible.
The increasing insularity and cohesion amongst minority ethnic groups has also led to the emergence of hard line groups from the majority community: the popularity of certain political groups and movements can be viewed as being largely a response to this trend. In turn, the emergence of hard line groups in the majority community causes further tensions amongst other communities, which leads to a vicious cycle of greater fragmentation of the Sri Lankan identity. Sri Lanka had enough divisions in the past that ultimately led to conflict; we must learn the lessons from our past and ensure that history is not repeated. This is therefore a very serious National Security concern at the present moment.
The maintenance of maritime security is another serious National Security Concern that the Government needs to be vigilant about. As an island, Sri Lanka does not have land borders to worry about, but maintaining maritime security is a serious challenge. In the past, the only maritime security issues that had to be dealt with was the illegal movement of Indians into Sri Lanka and the smuggling that took place between Sri Lanka and South India. Preventing these threats was one of the foremost duties of the military in the 1950s and the 1960s. However, with the development of the LTTE and other terrorist groups in the 1970s and beyond, maritime security became a major concern to Sri Lanka.
For example, it is a well-known fact that the LTTE acquired a vast arsenal of weapons and equipment including artillery, missiles, mortars, armoured vehicles and even light aircraft. None of these items were produced in Sri Lanka, but were brought into Sri Lanka through the sea. In addition to military supplies, the LTTE’s cadres were initially trained at bases in Tamil Nadu. Given the recent activities of LTTE-linked organisations outside Sri Lanka and particularly in Tamil Nadu, this is very much a current threat even today.
The organised trafficking of persons or human smuggling is another significant maritime security issue. Organised groups, some of which are connected to LTTE-linked organisations, have lured many people seeking better economic prospects into this lucrative illegal operation. During this year alone, more than 440 such people have attempted to leave Sri Lanka illegally. Having sold their properties and handed over all their wealth to the operators of these schemes, the victims of human trafficking find themselves trapped on board unsafe vessels along with hundreds of others, travelling to countries that will most often refuse them entry. In order to make a compelling case for their acceptance by border control authorities abroad, such economic refugees often concoct stories about being persecuted in Sri Lanka, thereby damaging the country’s reputation. Furthermore, the mechanisms of human trafficking have enabled trained terrorists to escape justice in Sri Lanka and flee abroad to safe havens, from which they may once again attempt to cause problems to the country through other means.
A further consideration with regard to maritime security is the protection of our maritime assets. One of the problems Sri Lanka has faced in the maritime domain after the defeat of the LTTE has been the increasing incidence of pirate fishing in Sri Lankan waters by South Indian fishermen. These fishermen use illegal practices such as bottom trawling to maximise their catch. This causes serious damage to the healthy fish stocks in Sri Lankan waters, and also adversely affects the livelihoods of our own fishermen. These fishing boats that enter Sri Lankan waters illegally have also been known to engage in other criminal activities including drug smuggling. Protecting our waters from these fishermen, as well as from others who might seek to exploit our other oceanic resources including oil and gas, will be one of the key maritime security challenges for Sri Lanka in the future.
Somewhat farther afield, the threat of international piracy is also a concern for Sri Lanka’s maritime security. Many of the world’s most important Sea Lanes of Communications are located in close proximity to Sri Lanka, and both the newly built Hambantota Port as well as the Colombo port are ideally situated to service the hundreds of vessels that cross these lanes on a daily basis. The reach and sophistication of the pirates originating mostly from East Africa has been increasing in recent years. This factor undermines the security of these Sea Lanes and could pose a serious problem to shipping in the region in the future. This will have an impact on the country’s economic security as well, and is therefore another challenge that needs to be monitored.
With regard to border security, one of the concerns Sri Lanka has is the possibility of the country being used as a transit point for transnational crime. The arrest of certain elements connected with extremist regional terrorist groups in India and Pakistan have shown that they have used Sri Lanka as a transit point from which to coordinate their activities. Some who are known to have been temporarily sheltered in Sri Lanka by an International Organisation after claiming refugee status in the west, are known criminals who engaged in illegal activities such as credit card fraud, drug smuggling and counterfeit currency printing abroad.
Organised crime in Sri Lanka is another issue that needs to be addressed. As a result of the rise of terrorism and the insurrections Sri Lanka experienced over the last forty years, and the response required from the state, a considerable amount of arms and ammunition inadvertently fell into the hands of criminals. This led to the rise of the underworld, which is now engaged in a number of organised criminal activities including drugs, armed robberies, kidnappings for ransom and financial frauds. There are also groups that engage in seizing land illegally. Tackling the challenges posed by organised criminal groups is another priority for the state.
In today’s environment, the possibility of foreign interference in our internal affairs remains a significant National Security concern. With the involvement of countries like India, Norway, and the United States of America in Sri Lanka as a result of the terrorist conflict, matters relating to this country’s internal affairs have gained increased visibility within the international community. India in particular is very sensitive to what is going on in Sri Lanka because of the large Tamil population in its influential southern state of Tamil Nadu. Especially during the elections cycle, Sri Lanka figures large in its power politics. In the recent past, we have seen even the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu attempting to pressurise the central government into opposing Sri Lanka internationally. This is a serious threat to Sri Lanka’s security, and perhaps even its sovereignty.
Furthermore, as a result of the rapid economic and military development of countries like India and China in recent decades, the entire Asian region has become increasingly important in global affairs. Because of Sri Lanka’s important geostrategic position within the Indian Ocean region, a great deal of attention is therefore placed upon it in the present era. There is a possibility that some western powers wish to have a Sri Lankan Government that is closely aligned with their interests, and will seek to influence Sri Lanka’s destiny so that it cannot pursue the independent course it is following at present.
A third factor that has led to Sri Lanka’s increasing importance in the international arena involves regional power politics. The issues between India and Pakistan, and the issues between India and China are particularly sensitive in this regard. With the rise of China as a world economic leader, there is a widespread belief that India feels insecure and is seeking to align itself with the other powers that seem similarly threatened by China’s ascendancy. The likelihood of the United States showing more interest in the region and aligning more with India is a factor that may affect Sri Lanka. Further, its establishment of a base in the Maldives is also changing the complexion of the region. These are developments that need to be monitored from the point of view of Sri Lanka’s national security.
The final threat to Sri Lanka’s National Security that I will highlight during this lecture is the emergence of technology driven new media including social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and other websites on the Internet. We have seen the potential of this new media to destabilise nations and affect serious change in the case of countries like Tunisia, Libya, Egypt etc. Although the likelihood of events such as the Arab spring transpiring in Sri Lanka is minimal as a result of it being a democratic nation with an extremely popular political leadership that enjoys a very large electoral majority, this is yet another threat that needs to be monitored. Particularly due to increasing Internet penetration and computer literacy in Sri Lanka, many of our youth are familiar with social media and use it as a tool to gather information as well as propagate ideas. Those with vested interests can exploit social media to cause problems in Sri Lanka by propagating certain ideologies online and mobilising and organising people. This can be done with a minimal physical presence, and therefore forms a threat that is difficult to contain through the traditional tools of national defence.
National Security Response
Considering the foregoing threat assessment, it is clear that despite Sri Lanka being in a post-war situation in which most people are only concerned about economic development, National Security remains very much a core concern for the Government. In addressing the challenges discussed above and developing a comprehensive National Security Strategy, it is important for the Government to take a holistic view and incorporate many of its elements into a single policy framework.
In terms of internal security, the best response to most of the threats that we face is the development of the Intelligence Services. Sri Lanka has two primary intelligence arms: the State Intelligence Service and the Defence Intelligence, which comprises the Directorate of Military Intelligence, Directorate of Naval Intelligence, and Air Intelligence. In addition, the Police maintains the Special Branch, while the Special Task Force also has its own Intelligence Division. Furthermore, the Terrorist Investigation Department and Criminal Investigation Department of the Police also work closely with the other Intelligence agencies on matters relating to National Security.
In the past, the lack of strength and coordination amongst these various intelligence services used to be a serious issue. It is essential that they work together under a unified command structure in order to improve coordination and enhance capabilities. Towards this effect, one of the efforts undertaken by the present Government has been to bring these intelligence services under the Chief of National Intelligence, who reports directly to the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. This has streamlined coordination and improved cooperation amongst the intelligence agencies.
Another important development in this regard has been the augmenting of resources allocated for the Intelligence function. After the war, the number of military intelligence units have been increased and each Security Force Head quarters now has its own Intelligence Unit. The Intelligence personnel are being afforded more and more training in order to enhance their capabilities and capacities, and as Sri Lanka moves forward, it is hoped that the Intelligence agencies will be able to keep track of and contain domestic National Security concerns.
Furthermore, although the requirement for offensive military operations no longer exists in Sri Lanka, it is of the utmost importance that our security measures are not relaxed. Although the military is not engaged in law enforcement activities, and although their visible presence has been greatly reduced, it is essential for the military to be placed in strategic locations throughout Sri Lanka. Particularly in the North and East, where we know that there are still potential threats to National Security, it is essential to have a significant though unobtrusive military presence. Some recent efforts of international elements to reorganise pro-LTTE elements in the North underscores the need for this. For example, the recent arrest of some youth in Jaffna and Chennai who had been recruited by a Chennai based LTTE-linked group funded by the LTTE’s Europe based network, shows the utmost need to remain vigilant in this regard.
It must also be underscored that as a Sovereign nation, Sri Lanka has every right to place its security elements in any part of the country it so chooses. While some in the international community talk about the so-called militarisation of the North and East, and some political parties in Sri Lanka decry the presence of the military in these areas, it must also be understood that the people of the North and East mostly have a very cordial relationship with the military. Since the end of the war, the military has been involved in a great deal of reconstruction work, and they have also supported the people of the area to resume their livelihoods. They have provided equipment and material for agriculture, fishing and various types of assistance for small business development. The increased attention given to Civic-Military affairs also helps National Security because it helps the Armed Forces to win the hearts and minds of the people in the former conflict areas.
With regard to the work of the Defence services in the post-war environment, it is also essential to expand the responsibilities of the Navy and the Coast Guard. The protection of Sri Lanka’s maritime borders is of the utmost importance, and there is a great deal of responsibility on these two institutions to safeguard our seas. The Exclusive Economic Zone Sri Lanka enjoys needs to be protected, as it is a vital economic asset. The Navy needs to get more naval assets so that it has the ability to patrol or dominate the blue seas. It is also important to improve the Navy’s surveillance capabilities through augmenting its Radars and adding a new air surveillance capability. The Air Force, too, needs to improve it capabilities with regard to surveillance operations.
Another aspect of internal security that needs to be mentioned is the rectification of weaknesses that we used to have with regard to the national identity system. Because it was a manual, paper-based system, criminal and terrorist elements could very easily obtain forged identity cards. This enabled the terrorists to operate throughout Sri Lanka under various names and aliases; this is why the threat of suicide bombings and other attacks in the rest of Sri Lanka was such a pressing problem during the period of the war. To address this critical weakness, the Registrar of Persons Department was brought under the Ministry of Defence & Urban Development, and a new identity card system that uses biometric information will be introduced shortly. Similarly, the problem of people coming into Sri Lanka and staying here illegally under false pretences will be addressed through the introduction of a proper border control system in which biometric information will be incorporated into the passport and international standards used for identity verification.
From the point of view of domestic security, perhaps the most critical aspect will be the achievement of national reconciliation and the forging of a common Sri Lankan identity. Economic development is an absolute necessity in this regard. The fact remains that unless people enjoy a reasonable standard of living, peace and reconciliation are very difficult to achieve. This is why the Government has spared no expense or effort to develop infrastructure and build up the North and East to a high standard. This will enable the benefits of peace to flow down to the people of those areas. When people know that they have the opportunity to achieve a better future for themselves, it is highly unlikely that they will waste their time on violent ideologies. The achievement of economic development and national reconciliation are therefore two of the key areas of focus of the Government in the present national context.
Finally, with regard to external threats, it is of the utmost importance that Sri Lanka maintains cordial relationships with its allies. Despite the present pressure from Tamil Nadu, it is essential to maintain a strong and healthy relationship with India. Relations with the many countries that helped us in the past, both in economic terms and through political support, should be strengthened further through skilful diplomacy and further development of mutual ties. It essential to further strengthen the existing cordial relationships with powerful nations such as China and Russia, which have permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council and can influence any international action on Sri Lanka more significantly than other nations. In this overall context, it is very important that the foreign policy of Sri Lanka needs to be realistic. It is essential for Sri Lanka to have close ties with certain powerful nations in the international community in order to safeguard its National Security interests.
During the course of this lecture I have outlined the overall context of Sri Lanka’s National Security concerns; identified our most pressing threats and discussed the broad outlines of the Government’s strategy to deal with all these issues. Ultimately, the best way to ensure that Sri Lanka remains safe and strong in the future is for all of us to put aside the differences of the past; unite as Sri Lankans, and work towards a better future for ourselves and for each other.
The suicide by a Buddhist monk who set himself on fire in Sri Lanka to protest the slaughter of cattle has been hailed as an act of great self-sacrifice and compared to acts of self-immolation by Tibetan Buddhist monks protesting China’s repression in Tibet. Nothing could be more ill-informed. In fact, it is one more step by Sri Lanka’s chauvinist Sinhala-Buddhists to undermine the Muslim political base.
The monk, Bowatte Indraratne, who had been campaigning against the Muslim halal method of slaughtering animals, was also a politician. He was a former elected member of a local government body representing the extreme Buddhist political party Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU). JHU’s leader Champika Ranawaka lost no time in exploiting the incident to advance the party’s agenda. He said the government should bring in legislation to ban the slaughter of cattle, and religious conversion. Christians have come under pressure from Buddhists for proselytising, a charge they deny.
The campaign to stop the slaughter of cattle and instances of violence against Muslims are not isolated events in Sri Lanka. These are steps to politically disempower Muslims are uncannily reminiscent of the way the Sinhala establishment tries to destroy the Tamil power base.
Persecution of Muslims is taking a particularly virulent form today. But in the past too Sinhala leaders viewed Muslims with suspicion, as they did Tamils. The control they exercised was a blend of coercion, political manipulation of Muslim elites and the policy of divide and rule.
Coercion of Muslims by Sinhalese was applied mostly through violence and intimidation. In recent memory are rampaging Sinhala mobs targeting Muslims in Mawanella (2001) and Beruwela (2002). Other disputes occurred over land, like Deegavapi in 1999.
Political manipulation of the Muslim elite compelled them to take decisions detrimental to their community. In 1956, Muslim politician and diplomat Sir Razik Fareed campaigned with Sinhala leaders to deny Tamil as an official language of the State, despite a large majority of Muslims being Tamil speakers.
Adopting a policy of divide-and-rule, Sinhala leaders forced Muslims – especially in the East – to view Tamils as enemies, which led to Tamil-Muslim clashes. The Sinhala-dominated military used Muslim home guards to target Tamil civilians in the East. The rift was magnified by the LTTE expelling the Muslim population in Sri Lanka’s North.
With the military phase of the conflict with the Tamils coming to an end in May 2009, Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists realised they now had the luxury of investing more resources in suppressing Muslims. Further, with President Mahinda Rajapakse intent on consolidating power, extreme nationalism was a good vehicle.
The government has made no secret of its connections to extremist civil society groups. Relations between government officials and the principal vehicle of Buddhist bigotry, the Bodhu Bala Sena (BBS), are so fraternal that Gotabhaya Rajapakse, the hawkish head of the Ministry of Defence and brother of the country’s president, graced an important occasion of the organisation. The BBS plays a similar role as the Shiv Sena does to the pro-Hindu regimes in India.
As mentioned above, the objective of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism is to demolish Muslim political power in Sri Lanka. It is no different from efforts to destroy the Tamil power base in the country from the 1950s. The three examples below demonstrate the similarities.
The BBS has opposed the certification of food as ‘halal’ and Muslim women wearing the hijab. These cultural practices are important markers of Muslim identity. The BBS’s campaign is not only to demolish what distinguishes this group’s identity, but also the power its members derive from that identity. For the Tamils, the primary marker of identity is language. That is why Sinhala nationalism sought to undermine Tamil by denying it official language status and placing obstacles to Tamil-speakers’ access to higher education and State employment.
Second, mosques and Muslim-owned businesses have come under assault. It is important to note the significance of both in the political lives of Muslims. The mosque is a forum for political mobilisation. The strength of metropolitan Muslims in Sri Lanka is their success as a merchant community. And they have used their wealth to buy political power. Therefore attacking mosques and commercial establishments is a way to undermine the Muslim power base. In the case of Tamils, assessing that their political base was territorial concentration in the country’s North and East, Sinhala leaders took to dismantling it by settling large numbers of Sinhalese in those areas.
Finally, let’s look at the government’s use of counterinsurgency laws to stifle freedom of speech and political opinion. On May 2, Azath Salley, a well-known Muslim leader, was arrested (and later released) under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). He was detained for an interview he gave to an Indian magazine where he said that Muslim youth should take to arms. But the reasons appear deeper than that. Salley openly criticised the government for anti-Muslim racism. But more than all else, Sally heads a political party which advocates Tamil-Muslim political dialogue to resolve mutually important issues. This, by definition, excludes government and the Sinhalese.
The government arresting and later releasing Salley is reminiscent of the then government criminalising Tamil parliamentarians who even advocated democratic secession. This legislation – the Sixth Amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution – suppressed democratic dissent and left armed rebellion as the only option to give effect to Tamil demands.
Therefore, the self-immolation by Bowatte Indraratne protesting cattle slaughter had a sinister motive. It used religion as a weapon to undermine the political base of a minority community in Sri Lanka. If steps are not taken to check this trend, Sri Lanka’s Muslims could be facing a future of persecution and violence.
*J. S. Tissainayagam, a former Sri Lankan political prisoner, was a Nieman Fellow in Journalism at Harvard and Reagan-Fascell Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy in the United States. This article is first appeared in Asian Correspondent
“….establishing a complete series of methods which will allow the controlling oligarchy……to get people to really like their servitude. This is the, it appears to me, the ultimate in malevolent revolutions”. –Aldous Huxley (The Ultimate Revolution)
In the course of his current Ugandatour, President Mahinda Rajapaksa was reportedly enchanted by the servile conduct of the Ugandans he came into speak to with. According to the political column of last Sunday’s Rivira, the Lankan President asked his Ugandan counterpart, “When we appear at them (Ugandans) it is clear that they have a very obedient nature. How did you handle to make them so obedient?” President Musevini’s response was that this servility was a relic of the Colonial ethos, when White Masters kept their Black and Brown Subjects in total subjugation.
In a democracy uncritical obedience is a unsafe vice. Despotic rule can’t survive without uncritical obedience. Colonial rulers treated colonised peoples as political infants incapable of handling independence. Tyrants too regard their subjects as eternal political-minors, incapable of dealing with freedom.
Foremost amongst the freedoms considered unsafe by actual and nascent despots is the appropriate to info, the freedom of the individuals to know what is happening in their personal nation. Over the years the Rajapaksas have managed to subdue most of the print media. At present, websites are their major targets. In this month alone, de facto banns were imposed on numerous web sites which includes Gossip Lanka and Lanka Eagle.
The Rajapaksa worry of a free of charge and critical media is comprehensible. The Siblings have a lot to hide.
Take land grabbing. At present this is a major dilemma confronting not just by the Tamil individuals of the North but also by the Sinhala people of the South. Parallel to the stealth campaign of demographic reengineering in the North, the Rajapaksas are conducting an even more secretive operation of class and partisan-political reengineering in the South. Their ultimate aim is to create a new demographic which will render tough any democratic/electoral resistance to Familial Rule.
In the North, private lands are getting expropriated to create new army camps and military cantonments. For instance, according to Parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran, the regime is utilizing the Land Acquisition Act to expropriate 6,400 acres of land to build a military cantonment in Jaffna: “….the notice says that the claimants are not traceable! The owners of these lands live just outdoors the so known as illegal Higher Safety Zone, in camps maintained by the government itself. They have lived there for over 25 years. And although their title to these lands were checked and cleared by a Committee appointed by the Supreme Court in 2006, they were not permitted to go and resettle on the false assertion that de-mining was not comprehensive. That it is false is demonstrated by the sight of soldiers cultivating these lands….. Now abruptly, the government has shown its true face: these lands will be taken and given to other folks to occupy, who will turn into voters in the North. Equivalent notices have been issued in the Kilinochchi Distrct also. In the Eastern Province, guidelines have gone out to obtain all the land that the military deems needed for its purposes”[i].
These cantonments and military bases are getting superimposed on a Tamil terrain to break the current ethnic contiguity of the North, thereby to render devolution not possible and to maintain Tamils in a continued state of subjection. Its other – and no significantly less important goal – is to make it possible for the Rajapaksas to win elections in the North, with a minimum quantity of violence and malpractices.
Most Sinhalese are indifferent to the situation of land-grabbing due to the fact they see it as a Tamil dilemma. The Rajapaksas would want this ignorance – and the consequent indifference – to last as lengthy as achievable. The plight of Colombo’s poor, who are facing the danger of becoming evicted from their houses en masse, has received some interest but the plight of the Sinhala peasants of Ampara who have been chased away from their classic lands is virtually unknown. In 2011, the Lankan Navy grabbed far more than 1,200 acres of land close to the tourist hot-spot ofPanama consequently thousands of Sinhala villagers of Shasthrawela, Ragamwela, Ulpassawela, Horowkanda and Ella lost their properties and their signifies of livelihood. A comparable fate has befallen the fisher-folk of Kalpitiya.
When the state requires more than private land for development purposes, it is obligated to provide the owners with either compensation or alternate lands. This is how successive governments in Sri Lanka carried out themselves, by and large. The Rajapaksas have developed a different method land grabbing is becoming carried out, added-legally, making use of the military. The situation is hence ‘militarised’ and garbed in the protective-attire of ‘national security’. This way the owners can be threatened at will, the Sinhala-language media silenced and environmental laws and archaeological regulations ignored. For instance, in Ampara, “though sanctions have been imposed by the Forest Department, Archaeological Department, Coast Conservation Department and Central Environmental Authority on carrying out any improvement operate on forestlands, the Sri Lanka Navy claims that such formalities are entirely discarded when the Defence Ministry approves their projects. Speaking on the construction work carried out by the Navy in Panamain the Ampara District, Navy Spokesman Commander Kosala Warnakulasuriya stated that they have not followed any of these procedures nor would they require permission from the mentioned institutions as the building is becoming carried out on Defence Ministry land. ‘This is a Defence Ministry land and there is no necessity to get approval from any department to carry out any of our improvement function,’ claimed Warnakulasuriya[ii].
The Defence Ministry and the military are the law, not just in the Tamil-North, but even in the Sinhala-South. The ultimate objective of these acts of dispossession is to fill the Rajapaksa coffers, buttress the Rajapaksa dynastic project and render hard any powerful national resistance to Rajapaksa rule.
The Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim victims of land-grabbing have a issue and an opponent in common. Therefore coordinating their different acts of resistance into a single struggle tends to make perfect sense. However, rather of this essential and possible national campaign – ideally with the participation of the opposition parties – resistance is fragmented along regional/ ethnic/class lines.
The Siblings do not want the Sinhalese to understand that they are not immune to Rajapaksa-injustice. The Siblings do not want the Sinhalese to realise that the military, far from becoming ‘our boys’, are Rajapaksa tools (just as the Tigers served not the Tamil folks but Vellupillai Pirapaharan). The Siblings do not want their Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim victims to uncover the typical ground and mount a coordinated resistance. The Siblings want to atomise Lankans along ethnic, religious and class lines, to avoid a united opposition to familial rule from coming into getting. The only Sinhala-Tamil-Muslim unity they want to market is a unity in apathy and indifference.
The Rajapaksa project aims at the psychological reengineering of the Lankan people. They want an ignorant nation which equates distinction with danger. They want a men and women more concerned about hemlines or eating habits than land-grabbing or kid abuse. They want a nation seeped in mutual-suspicion and habituated into obedience.
They want a nation which, unconsciously, cooperates in its own subjugation and undoing.
[ii] The Sunday Leader – 12.five.2013
‘We have already commenced the battle against them in the international sphere and are committed to continue it’. President Rajapaksa said so at the ceremonial passing out parade of Cadet officers at the Sri Lanka Military Academy (SLMA) in Diyatalawa
today (21 Dec).
We are now at a significant phase in the humanitarian operation. Our endeavour is to win hearts and minds after freeing the people and lands from terrorism. The humanitarian operation includes de-mining, resettlement and providing basic requirements among other tasks. All development programmes carried out in the North and East are part of the humanitarian operation, the President stated.
He stressed that this humanitarian operation will not stop until the painful memories of terrorism and all thoughts of separatism are
removed from people’s hearts.
‘You pass out today to contribute to this noble humanitarian operation’, the President told the Cadet officers.
A person does not excel through talent and knowledge alone. Instead, the most important element is the love for one’s country, he pointed out.
‘The government not only lined up the security forces for the humanitarian operation but also organized the people against terrorism.
The government received tremendous support from the people in eliminating terrorism’, he said.
‘The highest tribute to these people is to ensure that terrorism does not raise its ugly head’, he emphasized.>> Full Story
The A9 highway that bisects the Northern Province and leads to its capital of Jaffna would be the best advertisement for the government in its election campaign to win the provincial council elections scheduled to be held in September. The dramatic improvement in the highway and the network of roads that connect to it have enhanced the quality of life to all who make use of them, be they the businessman or landless labourer, northerner or southerner. But the A9 highway, which was once called the highway of death on account of the thousands of lives it consumed during the war, also shows why the government cannot win those forthcoming elections unless there is a change of course.
The huge military checkpoint at Omanthai, which was once the border between government and LTTE-controlled territories in the north, still stands like an ageing dinosaur. All vehicles traversing the road at this point have to stop to be checked. At the best it means getting out of one’s vehicle and giving one’s identity card and vehicle number to be written down in a register. But sometimes it can mean having one’s bags poked and opened for inspection. Passengers in private vehicles are usually spared the hassle of getting down to be checked, but those travelling by bus have to disembark and line up to be checked. This war-time practice serves as a reminder of the war and the division of the country.
A police officer who flagged down our vehicle and requested a short ride was present when this exercise took place. He explained that the roots, or is it seeds, of militancy still remained in the people of the North and needed to be guaded against. The visible surveillance serves as a reminder to them that the government is watching and it is better to keep out of trouble. Viewed from the other side the visible presence of the military in the North is a constant reminder to the people that they are mistrusted and being treated differently. It also sends a harsh message that the North is still not fully integrated with the rest of the country, remains a potential threat, and hence it is under a state of military occupation, even if largely benign.
The large military presence in the Northern and Eastern provinces, even after the war, has been a source of grievance to the people living in those parts. The issue of the military presence has re-emerged in full force due to the government’s decision to acquire over 6000 acres of prime land in the Jaffna peninsula to set up a regional military headquarters. It is reported that as many as 25 Grama Niladari divisions (which means more than 25 villages) will be affected. Thousands of people will be affected, with an estimated 29,000 still in camps for the displaced. The military has said that this land is being acquired under relevant law, and this is done in other parts of the country also. But given the large territory and population that will be affected, and the lack of transparency in military affairs, it has also given rise to fears of army-sponsored Sinhalese settlements in the North.
It is noteworthy that the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission has recommended the de-militarisation of the north and the full restoration of civilian administration. The two resolutions passed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2012 and again in 2013 call upon the government to implement the constructive recommendations of the LLRC. The LLRC was very specific on this issue, especially in regard to land issues, which is at the heart of people’s sense of belonging and security. The LLRC said that many people who were displaced in the war had lost their title deeds and other documents proving their ownership or rights to use the land. It recommended an expert and civil administration to restore to the people what had been theirs. It also said that land policy should not be used to effect artificial changes in demography and the ethnic composition of the population.
The refusal of the military authorities to permit the Leader of the Opposition and a delegation of opposition parliamentarians from entering the area to see the situation for themselves is bound to send an adverse message to the Tamil people and to the international community about the ground realities in the north. It highlights the lack of transparency that accompanies military affairs, which is why the military is unsuited to engage in civilian affairs. Unfortunately the indications of a shift in government policy towards the demilitarization of the north are bleak at the present time. The government has recently added a second compulsory checkpoint in the North in addition to the one at Omanthai. This is one at Elephant Pass at the entry/exit point of the Jaffna peninsula. This latest checkpoint was announced a few days ago in the context of the sudden upsurge of politically motivated violence in the North which saw events organized by opposition parties broken up allegedly by security personnel in civilian attire.
The acts of violence that have started taking place against opposition activities in the North, as occurred with the Uthayan newspaper and TNA meetings, can be a harbinger of things to come. The government’s determination to win the Northern Provincial elections reflects the government’s concern that it will pave the way to political and international challenges with the establishment of an opposition Tamil-led administration with a democratic mandate. So far the government’s chief response to its local and international critics has been that it is the sole elected authority in the country entitled to speak on behalf of all the people. Every time it wins an election it reminds its detractors that whatever they may say, it has the democratic sanction of the people. An opposition and Tamil led provincial administration in the North would have a corresponding legitimacy to speak on behalf of the people who elected it.
Already two constituent parties of the government have expressed their opposition to these elections being held. The All Ceylon Muslim League headed by Minister Rishard Bathiuddin has objected to the elections being held until all war-displaced Muslims are resettled in the Northern Province. The National Freedom Front headed by Minister Wimal Weerawansa has stated that these elections can lead to an outcome that is detrimental to the country’s unity. He has also said that the system of provincial councils should be scrapped and replaced by district councils. Interestingly, President Rajapaksa himself articulated this vision of district-based devolution several years ago until local and international pressure caused him to withdraw from this position. It is possible that views such as these are being floated to justify a postponement of the elections.
However, too much is at stake for the government to now seek to either abolish the provincial council system or postpone the promised September elections. The President’s promise to hold the elections by September this year is noted in too many international documents, such as the joint communiqué signed by the Prime Minister of Japan and President Rajapaksa following his visit in March to Japan, and also in the UN Human Rights resolution on Sri Lanka which was also passed by a large majority of countries in March this year. With the provincial elections to be held in September, there is still time for the government to make the shift that would make it more attractive to the northern voters. De-militarisation of the North would come as the first priority accompanied by the resettlement of displaced people in their own lands.