By LYDIA POLGREEN - The former chief of Sri Lanka’s army formally announced Sunday that he would seek to replace his onetime ally, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in elections to be held in January.
Gen. Sarath Fonseka retired from the army in mid-November after months of tension with Mr. Rajapaksa, who has staked his re-election campaign on the resounding military victory over the Tamil Tiger insurgency in May.
General Fonseka led a tough counterinsurgency strategy that took small teams of fighters deep into the jungles of northern Sri Lanka, striking a mortal blow to a rebel army that had battled the government for more than two decades.
“We have done away with the terrorists,” General Fonseka told reporters at a news conference on Sunday. “But now you can’t leave the country in the hands of a tin-pot dictator.”
After the war was won, Mr. Rajapaksa moved General Fonseka into a largely ceremonial post, and the uneasy alliance between the two men crumbled. A coalition of nationalist and left-wing opposition parties named General Fonseka as its candidate to face Mr. Rajapaksa.
The general has been withering in his criticism of the president since stepping down, accusing him of eroding Sri Lanka’s democracy.
But critics of the general say he oversaw a military strategy that killed thousands of civilians. According to the United Nations, at least 7,000 people died in the final bloody battle against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers, who were fighting for a separate state for the ethnic-Tamil minority in northern Sri Lanka.
Western countries and human rights organizations have accused the government and the Tamil Tigers of war crimes and have demanded an independent international investigation, but Sri Lanka has rebuffed the demands.
When the fighting ended, 300,000 Tamils who had been displaced by the fighting were herded into closed camps, where they were detained in poor conditions for months.
In his resignation letter, General Fonseka criticized what he described as “appalling conditions” at the camps. He promised to shift to Parliament much of the power that comes with the office of the president. He also accused Mr. Rajapaksa of failing to bring Sri Lanka together after the long and bloody war with the Tamil Tigers.
Still, many of Sri Lanka’s Tamils and other minorities remain skeptical of General Fonseka because of his role in prosecuting the war and his strong alliance with the nationalists from the ethnic-Sinhalese majority.
© The New York Times
Monday, November 30, 2009
Monday, November 30, 2009
"We will be compelled to resort to other methods, if the General does not return his vehicles': Army Spokesman
By Munza Mushtaq - Military Spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara yesterday warned that the army will be compelled to resort to ‘other’ methods if former Chief of Defence Staff Sarath Fonseka does not comply with their ‘diplomatic’ pleas to return the vehicles and security he is still using without authority.
“We have written and asked him to hand back the vehicles and troops which he is using unauthorised but so far he has not yet responded to our request,” Nanayakkara said.
He emphasised that because Fonseka was a former Army Commander and Chief of Defence Staff, the military would like to sort out the issue in a ‘diplomatic manner’ even though the army has various ways and means of recovering such items and troops.
“Taking his stature we are trying to resolve this diplomatically, but if he doesn’t cooperate then we will have to resort to ‘other’ methods,” Nanayakkara warned.
His warning came amidst reports that around 50 military police officers and soldiers had tried to force their way into General’s House last week and take Fonseka’s vehicles, however the General had intervened and stopped them from carrying out their orders which allegedly came from Army Commander Jagath Jayasuriya.
According to the Army, Fonseka is currently retaining a total of 103 security personnel and vehicles not authorised for his present use, this includes; four commando officers, 24 commando other rankers, three administration and signal officers, 17 other rankers, 55 cooks, drivers, riders, seven soldiers of the Medical Corps and three cars, seven Land Rovers, a double cab, one bus, one ambulance, four vans and nine motor cycles.
© The Sunday Leader
Monday, November 30, 2009
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema - Leading hoteliers told The Sunday Leader that they were being approached by “associates close to the Rajapaksa brothers” pushing them to purchase large tracts of land at Kuchchaveli in the Trincomalee District. The land is held in the names of companies registered “overnight” they said.
A leading hotelier requesting anonymity told The Sunday Leader that a “bogus businessman” who had received a plot of land in the coastal area of Kuchchaveli had requested him to invest Rs. 5 million to construct a hotel in the area.
He said most of the businessmen who have applied for land in the Kuchchaveli coastal area were either from the Hambantota District or supporters of the Rajapaksa administration.
Collaborating these charges, Eastern Province Chief Minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan said he has objected to a proposed tourism development project in the Kuchchaveli coastal area in the Trincomalee District claiming it did not have the official approval of either the Chief Minister or the Provincial Land Commissioner.
Chandrakanthan told The Sunday Leader that the UDA, Trincomalee GA and the Tourism Ministry had decided the project without receiving the necessary approval from the Chief Minister.
According to the proposal about eight acres of prime land in the Kuchchaveli coastal area are to be distributed among 132 businessmen to develop the area as a tourist destination.
“I objected to it and stopped the project as neither the Provincial Land Commissioner nor I were informed of it. According to the prevailing laws, it is necessary for any project to be launched in the Province to receive necessary approval from the Chief Minister,” Chandrakanthan said.
© The Sunday Leader
Monday, November 30, 2009
Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent - Sri Lanka has been blocked from hosting the next meeting of Commonwealth leaders in protest at Colombo's military repression against the Tamil population earlier this year.
Australia will instead host the next biennial Commonwealth heads of government meeting in 2011 after Canberra and London joined forces to block the Sri Lankan bid.
The decision, made at the summit in Trinidad and Tobago over the weekend, is a victory for Gordon Brown and his Australian counterpart, Kevin Rudd.
Brown faced down advice from the Foreign Office to issue a strong briefing on the eve of the summit last week that Britain would block the Sri Lankan bid.
British diplomats were nervous when the British media, including the Guardian, reported that Brown would tell Commonwealth leaders that it would be unacceptable for a gathering of one of the world's largest collection of democracies to be hosted by Sri Lanka. Officials in Colombo, who had expected to be able to host the 2011 summit after formally submitting a bid in 2007, were said to be alarmed by the strength of the No 10 briefing.
A Downing Street source said on Thursday: "We simply cannot be in a position where Sri Lanka – whose actions earlier this year had a huge impact on civilians, leading to thousands of displaced people without proper humanitarian access – is seen to be rewarded for its actions."
Colombo ended a 26-year civil war this year in a campaign against the Tamil Tigers. Up to 300,000 people were held as they fled the last days of the fighting.
The Australians are expected to hold the 2011 summit in Perth.
Brown and Rudd, who are natural political allies on the centre left, joined forces on a series of fronts at this year's meeting. They worked closely on climate change and persuaded the 53 Commonwealth members to accept a $22.5bn (£13.6bn) climate change finance package.
British officials regarded the blocking of Sri Lanka and the climate change package as triumphs. They were particularly pleased that Stephen Harper, the centre-right Canadian prime minister, who is regarded in London as an "outlier" on climate change, signed up to the package.
But Harper only accepted the package in a one-to-one meeting with Brown, shortly before a banquet on Friday hosted by the Queen. Brown told Harper he should drop his concerns about the cost of funding climate change initiatives in the developing world because it would end up costing more if the $22.5bn package, covering 2010-13, was rejected.
Brown then asked Harper to persuade John Key, New Zealand's centre-right prime minister, who also had doubts. Harper agreed and succeeded.
Britain was also encouraged by support for its proposal to readmit Zimbabwe to the Commonwealth in 2011. Harare will be allowed back if Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party implements a series of reforms.
SL to host CHOGM in 2013 - Ceylon Daily News
Commonwealth 'did itself some good' at summit - BBC News
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Amnesty International has called on Commonwealth leaders to press the Sri Lankan government about the plight of the displaced.
The organization made the call in an open letter to heads of government attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Trinidad and Tobago this week.
The UK government said on Friday that it will oppose Sri Lanka hosting the next Commonwealth summit because of concerns over its conduct in the conflict and its treatment of refugees.
At least 130,000 people displaced by war and living in government camps in northern Sri Lanka are being denied their basic human rights, including liberty and freedom of movement.
Amnesty International has a global campaign, Unlock the Camps, calling on the Sri Lankan government to end its policy of forcibly confining people to camps, which amounts to arbitrary detention.
In recent weeks the government has speeded up releases from the camps. Amnesty International has welcomed the Sri Lankan government's recent promise to lift any restrictions on movement of at least 130,000 people still unlawfully detained by 1 December.
However, amid reports of some re-arrests following releases from the camps, the organization has called on the Sri Lankan authorities to abide by the principles of international humanitarian law and ensure that displaced people are supported to make voluntary and informed decisions about their future.
The open letter also asked Commonwealth leaders to support calls for greater accountability for abuses of human rights and humanitarian law suffered by Sri Lankan civilians.
Click here to read the open letter to Heads of Government attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting
© Amnesty International
UK wants to prevent Sri Lanka from hosting Commonwealth summit - Guardian
Canada opposes Sri Lanka's bid to host Commonwealth - The Star
Saturday, November 28, 2009
A court in Sri Lanka has rejected a police request to order a journalist to reveal his sources regarding a news story.
The Colombo magistrate said journalists cannot be forced to reveal their sources.
The court made the decision after considering a case filed by police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) against the editor of Lankaenews web newspaper.
The magistrate ordered the editor of the website, Sandaruwan Senadheera, to report to the CID and record a statement within two weeks.
The police wanted to know the source for a Lankaenews report regarding the transfers of police officers.
The counsel representing the website, Gunaratna Wanninayake, told BBC Sandeshaya that the CID is "trying their best" to find the source of the story.
"But the magistrate clearly said that my client is not bound by the law to do that," he added.
© BBC Sinhala
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Presidential candidate of the Left Front Dr. Vickramabahu Karunaratne say that he will take up the issue of national unity based on Equality, Autonomy, and the Rights of Self Determination. Announcing the decision by left and democratic parties, organizations and intellectuals Dr. Vickramabahu said that the incumbent president followed the agenda given by the Indian rulers backed by global powers while the terrible bankruptcy in Lankan society is used by far-right militaristic section of the global powers to put forward the former military chief.
Following is the statement issued by the Left Front:
"We are suffering because we have failed to resolve basic problems in our country. We cannot claim to be a free and democratic country unless we resolve the national problem and also stop international global capitalist interference. Mahinda regime used military forces backed by India and global powers to crush the Tamil uprising caused by continuous discrimination and repression. They claim it is a great victory. However our country is devastated. The Tamil homeland is in ruins and people are made paupers drifting here and there. Thousands were killed; thousands disappeared; thousands are disabled, and thousands are made political prisoners. Large numbers living abroad curse the rulers who brought this misery to them. In Sinhala areas too a large number is killed while a larger number are made invalids. The people in general are made poorer. Many young people are unemployed. Cost of living is simply unbearable and the working masses are forced to bear the cost of the war. Continuation of 300,000 armed forces means that they are unable to find suitable jobs for them. On the other hand the war is not over. If this situation continues, and there is no other way out, inevitably youth will take up arms against oppression and discrimination. In the mean time unbelievable corruption exists from top to bottom. Corruption and misappropriation has become the common practice in society. Indian and global companies are gobbling up the economy. We have become vassals of Indian rulers.
Estate worker's powerful strike started a wave of strikes that came to Colombo shaking the regime. The inability of Mahinda to use the military power accumulated during the war, against the workers, created a big hole in the system. The repercussion of this strike wave was a split in the monolithic chauvinist structure. The inability of Mahinda Regime to crush worker's strikes, student's actions and mass protests, made the capitalists to seek an alternative leadership from a military hard liner, General Sarath.
Mahinda followed the agenda given by the Indian rulers backed by Global powers. He is still prompted by these masters to continue their agenda. On the other hand the terrible bankruptcy in Lankan society is used by far-right militaristic section of the global powers to put forward General Sarath. Sarath hails bloody devastation created by the war and stands for strengthening the military, and also for centralization. JVP four points proposal designed to eliminate devolution and crush aspirations of Tamil speaking people is accepted as the common programme of General Sarath. It is no way an answer to the tragedy created by Mahinda Chinthanaya.
It is necessary to condemn what Mahinda regime has done and sharply take up the issue of national unity based on Equality, Autonomy, and the Rights of Self Determination. Democracy and freedom can prevail only if there is state based on national unity. Without this fundamental task achieved, no development could take place, and we will be eternally trampled by Global powers. Therefore on behalf of workers, peasants, fishers and other suffering masses, Left Front with the support of other left and democratic parties, organizations and intellectuals decided to put forward Comrade Vickramabahu as its Presidential Candidate."
© NSSP Info
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Sri Lanka’s Election Commission on Friday announced that the Presidential elections will be held on January 26 next year, with incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa expected to face a challenge from former Army Chief Sarath Fonseka, architect of the military victory against the LTTE.
“Elections will be held on the 26th of January,” Commissioner of Elections Dayananda Dissanayake said. An official statement said that nominations would be accepted on December 17. Sri Lanka has over 14 million eligible voters.
The announcement came four days after President Mahinda Rajapaksa decided to advance the polls by nearly two years.
Rajapaksa and his allies decided to hold the polls by January next year apparently to cash in on the military victory against LTTE, which held one-third of Sri Lanka’s land under its control when he took over as President in 2005.
However, the President is expected to face a tough challenge from Sarath Fonseka, who quit as Chief of Defence Staff a fortnight ago following a spat with Rajapaksa, as he is expected to enter the fray as the common candidate for the Opposition.
Almost all the Opposition parties, including former Premier Ranil Wickremasinghe’s United National Party, have expressed support for Fonseka’s candidature.
Fonseka is yet to formally announce his candidature. However, local media reported that the Army General may formally announce his decision on Sunday.
UNP chief Wickremesinghe had on Thursday announced his party’s support to Fonseka. Earlier, the radical JVP had announced shifting of its support from President Mahinda Rajapaksa to Fonseka.
In his bid to unseat Rajapaksa, Fonseka is also expected to get the backing of regional and minority parties, who have formed an umbrella grouping along with the UNP to contest the elections.
An ally of the United National Front in Sri Lanka has said if Fonseka wins the presidential polls, UNP chief Ranil Wickremasinghe will be made the Prime Minister.
“If Fonseka wins, UNP leader Ranil Wickremasinghe will be appointed the Prime Minister,” Sri Lanka Freedom Party (Mahajana wing) leader Mangala Samaraweera, said on Thursday. He said the government had been spreading rumours that Fonsaka’s victory would pave way for a military rule, the Island newspaper reported.
© Indian Express
Sri Lanka's presidential poll set for Jan. 26 - AP
Sri Lanka to hold presidential poll on Jan. 26 - Reuters
Thursday, November 26, 2009
by Jude Fernando - “The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.” — Karl Marx
“The oppressed, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines are fearful of freedom. Freedom would require them to eject this image and replace it with autonomy and responsibility.” — Paulo Freire
As news of the upcoming election unfolds, I find myself considering the meaning of the notion the “common candidate” in general, and its application to General Fonseka in particular. In the broadest sense, a common candidate is one who represents and promises to fulfill the people’s common aspirations and desires. Whether the General meets these criteria is still open to question, and I think our understanding and our judgment on the matter would be improved through reflection. I find myself, perhaps along with my readers, wondering what is unique about the timing of this “common candidacy,” and what, exactly, is “common” about General Fonseca. Why would he appeal to different constituencies, and what are the consequences for Sri Lanka if he is elected? And, finally, how can we hold the “common candidate” accountable for his claims and promises if he is elected? The way we grapple with these questions will influence the political discourse leading into the next Presidential elections and have far reaching consequences for the future. The purpose of this article is to lay out some broad and tentative parameters to help us explore answers to these questions.
I am torn between pessimism and optimism. The public’s desire for a common candidate is founded upon an ideology deeply rooted in the contested narratives of our nation’s history (or histories), particularly how these narratives shape our individual and shared ideas about the ethnic conflict, and economic and political crises of the country. My pessimism finds expression in Marx – that the selection of General Fonseka at this moment, in this election, may very well turn out to be an expression of our desires, rather than a positive action: “the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world…the spirit of a spiritless situation, and the opium of the people.” But I have always chosen to be an optimist, believing that there is good in every human being, In the final analysis, we citizens have the creativity and power to make a blessing or a tragedy out of our choice of common candidate,. To improve our nation, we must reexamine and change our ideas about inclusive citizenship and material well-being, and demand the same changes from our leaders.
If we view Fonseka’s candidacy as the expression of an ideology, we might have better luck in understanding it. Ideologies draw their power from a base of public opinion that naturalizes and universalizes a particular world view, while simultaneously dismissing or excluding other systems of thought. You can think of an ideology as a kind of “social cement” that supports the foundation of a given social order. The ruling classes shape and enforce it through their institutions (media, educational system, etc.), and legitimize their position of power. A strong ideology structures our thinking processes and limits our understanding of how meaning is produced, represented and consumed. But ideology is not always all bad; it can also contain a utopian residue or surplus that can be harnessed to critique society and to advance progressive goals. Ideology creates utopian hopes and fantasies and can bring happiness as well as tragedy to the commons.
Looked at through an ideological lens, the appearance of a common candidate in the current political scene is not an accident. Rather, it is a manifestation of trends in political economy, and a strategic necessity for capturing state power, at the same time it is also a reflection of our yearning for a better future. Our political community is fragmented by intense competition between the elites and their political patrons, all of whom wish to expand and consolidate wealth and power. It has been impossible for a single party to capture state power because no one party can manage the diversity of the Sri Lankan population. Thus, power has been shared among the elites in such a way as to create incoherence in ideology and in policy, and this gives us an opportunity for progressive change. Many see the next elections as a turning point in our country’s history: a true common candidate could help us navigate a way out of economic, political and social uncertainties and insecurities; more importantly, he could bring meaning and stability to our understandings and aspirations as citizens, past, present and future. Our situation is not unique; indeed, it is typical of developing countries struggling to adjust to the demands of a neoliberal economy and to manage the crises resulting from it by negotiating between our population’s class and primordial (e.g. race, caste, territoriality, religion etc.) identities.
Ideology shapes our historical consciousness and vise versa. The past war was not simply a contest of force against force, as some intellectuals and intellectuals-turned-diplomats suggest. The objectivistic position advocated by supporters of the war (who like to call themselves “realists”) is both naive and disingenuous. This narrow and militaristic perception of the state juxtaposed against a group of terrorists fails to to take into account the subjective aspects of state behavior. By subjective aspects, I mean worldviews, ideologies, norms, values, and power relations that shape the relations between state and society. The war can just as well be described as a contest between the Sinhalese and the Tamil sense of “space and place” — a contest, in short, between ideologies and world views, and interpretations of history. In the same way, postwar practices are not simply concerned with peace and development, but also reflect the attempt of both winners and losers to rewrite history and to bring past and the present in line with their respective agendas. This also means that we simply cannot limit our evaluation of the ‘common interests’ of the common candidate’ to his contribution to defeat terrorism. With that in mind, let us turn to the particular candidacy of General Fonseka.
General Fonseka is formidable because he can satisfy the aspirations of many different stakeholders. He already possesses multiple public images. His success in using a clinical approach to defeat the LTTE, despite opposition from Western countries and NGOs, earned him the kind of public accolades accorded to benevolent warrior kings of the past. His war heroics and ideas on relations between Sinhalese and Tamil appeal to ethno-religious nationalist groups–particularly those invested in enforcing a belief in a nostalgic history of Sri Lanka disrupted by colonial powers, missionaries, and the NGOs. Although such groups are a numerical minority, they do exert ideological control over the political discourse, and their narratives are regularly exploited by mainstream political parties to legitimate their respective claims on the state. Fonseka’s own letter of resignation and farewell speech to CDS articulate an additional identity as a champion of freedom of expression, human rights, justice, communal harmony, and democracy. Such image under the current political conditions Fonseka may help Fonseka to muster majority and minority community support for his bid for presidency. Yet another image articulated by a minority of citizens cautions that Fonseka’s leadership would inevitably lead to further militarization of civil society and worsening of ethnic relations. Among this latter group are many Tamils, including those in Diaspora, who are suspicious and cynical about Fonseka’s claim he is committed to peace and democracy with justice. They view him as the military arm of the Sinhala nationalist project. We also have no good reason to ignore the opinion that Fonseka’s popularity is also due to the desperation of politicians driven by their bankrupt political ideologies and lack of committment to principled politics.
The newly elected President, whoever he is, will be forced to aggressively implement neoliberal economic policies and suppress dissent against them. Fonseka’s military credentials will earn tacit support from members of the Unholy Trinity (The World Bank, IMF and the WTO) as well as from Western and non-Western powers interested in disciplining our society to conform to neoliberal rationality. Fonseka could provide economic leadership like that of military-turned-civilian leaders such as Chun Doo-hwan and Park Chung-hee, the Presidents of South Korea who produced the “economic miracle.” Since the beginning of the war, sales of our country’s assets to multinational corporations have increased. These corporations now control areas that public protests had previously closed to them. For them, the war has been a cover to develop the necessary infrastructure to suppress dissent against neoliberal policies. This explains why ethnoreligious nationalism and militarization are importance forces in current global economy. But such forms of neo-colonialism and suppression of dissent do not seem to trouble our so called patriotic leaders, since their narrow notion of sovereignty focus only on the conflict over power sharing between the different ethnic groups within Sri Lanka.
Tamils still hoping for a political settlement to the crisis have plenty of reason to be cynical about promised changes in competitive party politics: whenever one political party proposes a political settlement to the conflict, the others oppose it. The collective experiences of the Tamils in relation to Sri Lankan governments have been mostly of betrayal, violence, loss of life and property. In this election, they see neither domestic nor international incentives for a common candidate to act any differently than his predecessors. Still, many factors compel Tamils to extend their support to Fonseka. The Tamil community in Sri Lanka and abroad is internally divided. The LTTE’s policy of eliminating intellectuals and public officials left a huge vacuum of civil and political leadership. The continuing association of some in the Tamil Diaspora with the symbols and martyrdom of the LTTE has placed Tamils in Sri Lanka in a highly vulnerable and insecure position vis-à-vis the state. Some Tamils believe that the defeat of the LTTE has opened up greater democratic space for their struggles for justice, since during LTTE rule there was no space for freedom of expression for any group opposed to LTTE, nor were such freedoms demanded by the Tamil Diaspora. Many Tamil are frustrated with the alliance between Kurana, Devanadna, Sadagiree, Pilliayan and the government. The average civilian, and particularly the displaced, are helpless and vulnerable; they lack ideological and pragmatic inclination to trust their own politicians. Finally, Tamils in areas under the control of the state apparatus may not be able to exercise their freedom at the polls. Some Tamils think that Fonseka may actually punish and remove from power the politicians who led the war and caused the hardships in their community.
There are many reasons to worry about the political stability of the country under Fonseka. Interest groups are now pursuing charges of genocide against him, making him vulnerable to manipulation and blackmailing. The increasing politicization of, and possible divisions within, the military itself (owing to the conditions under which Fonseka resigned) raise questions about his ability function as the Commander-in-Chief. We must understand these facets of politicization of the security establishment in relation to the ideological control of ethnoreligious nationalism(s) over the social, economic and political processes of the country. Militarization, combined with ethno-religious nationalism, can be lethal: the latter practice normalizes the former, and allows those in power to characterize criticism as unpatriotic and sacrilegious. We have no way of knowing how Fonseka, once a hero to both the military and ethnonationalist groups, will engage with them as a civilian.
It reassures some people that Fonseka’s is entering the contest as the common candidate for the United National Alliance (UNF) and he is willing to negotiate with some minority Tamil parties. They view the alliance between Wickramasinghe and Fonseka as good for the common interests of the country, believing that they complement each other. Wickramasinghe is an experienced and mature civilian leader full of new ideas, but he has not yet proven himself as a strong leader who can connect with the interests of the common people. On the other hand, Fonseka’s strength in the face of stiff opposition against the war by powerful international actors and media outfits, has already earned him a reputation as strong leader.
The media have reported that Fonseka is expected to satisfy ten conditions in order to qualify as the common candidate of the UNF, but these points bring us nothing new. For now they are no more than the rhetoric we could hear from any politician. The UNF offers nothing concrete, nor any reason to believe that they have the political will to implement new policies. At the moment, we have no clue about Wickramasinghe’s and Fonseka’s intention to engage with the interest groups that have caused disruption in the past, nor about their commitment to policies that sought political solution to the ethnic conflict. Though small in number and unlikely to capture any significant number of voters, these groups influence people’s perceptions all out of proportion to their size. In Noam Chomsky words, what appears as the ‘common interests of the common candidate’ may very well be parochial interests of these groups manufactured and forced to masquerade as common interests of all Sri Lankans!
In the midst of the war, Fonseka’s public assertion that “Sinhalese should rule the country as they are the majority,” wearied those still longing for a just political settlement to the ethnic conflict. Though apologists have called this statement a slip of the tongue, to many they sound like a threat. Despite the hypocrisy and contradictions in Western human rights policy, if a Western politician had made such a statement, it would have resulted in acrimonious debate and jeopardized his or her political career. A public apology would have been required and perhaps even withdrawal from public life. Sri Lankan society lacks examples of its leaders expressing remorse, asking forgiveness, being penalized or suffering tarnish to their political careers tarnished when they utter baldly racist statements. But critique of racism or secularism is not a popular theme in our country’s political discourse, and it has not been a standard used to evaluate the character of public officials. There are no compelling incentives for politicians to renounce racism or secularism; quite the contrary, since these expressions can make a politician a hero in their respective communities. These are the reasons for my skepticism about the argument that the end of war has brought changes in our collective perceptions of justice and equality (or what constitute as common interests and common candidate) that are partly responsible for the war in the first place. (The UNF under Fonseka and Wickramasinghe could very well be the Sri Lankan version of colonial justice and courageous leadership narrated in Joseph Conrad’s novel Lord Jim!)
I would still like to be an optimist. As J.R.R. Tolkien (author of the Lord of the Rings) noted that there are many tragedies in the midst of a story before it finally leads to the ‘happily ever after’ at the end. There are even good (or useful) catastrophes, which Tolkien called ‘eucatastrophies.’ Sri Lanka may well be at the point of eucatastrophy. World history provides examples of both the successes and failures of leaders like Fonseka. The military may instill positive qualities necessary for good leadership, just as the consensus for justice may not always be possible under democratic rule. I would like to give Fonseka the benefit of the doubt, as he could very well honor the promise that the defeat of the LTTE was a precondition for peace with a just solution to the ethnic crisis. People are always capable of doing good, and it is not always fruitful to be dogmatic about judging their future potential with respect to past actions.
If we vote for Fonseka as common candidate, however, we must first reflect on our assumptions, and on our expectations. The ideology of the common candidate is seductive to the extent that it allows us to remain unconsciousness and ignore the subjective, human dilemma. We must be vigilant in engaging with our ideals, considering our actions and reflecting on their effects. I am talking about praxis, by which I mean the ideas, disciplines, and actions that dominate our ethical and social life, and are instrumental in our efforts to bring freedom with justice. A common candidate could usher in freedom and democracy only if he and the society have the will to embrace paradigms of our nation’s history and economy that are radically different from the ones that shaped have shaped the conflict since Sri Lanka’s independence. Our population must have the will to hold our candidates, and our politicians, accountable. This endeavor is within the reach of Sri Lankans, if we remember that all our communities (perhaps with the exception of Veddahs) and our respective religions are foreign to this country, and that they all have an illustrious history of “doing good” against all odds.
History is not about the past, but about the present—how we make sense of and justify our actions. Oppression of all types can lead to freedom if we transform our consciousness. Our unwillingness to challenge received historical “wisdom” stems from the fact that we suffer a duality long established in our innermost being. On the one hand, we want to be part of an inclusive and just Sri Lankan identity. On the other hand, we feel pressure to align with the very forces that undermine that identity, and that work against equality. But we cannot achieve justice if we oust the oppressor by ousting him and then simply occupy his position, preserving inequality. Changing our President does nothing to bring about radical change in our economic aspirations or in racial relations if our political participation ends the moment after we vote. In the final analysis, we the people decide the specific goals of common interests and how they are fulfilled by our leaders.
We are capable and free to make changes that bring us closer to the good, and to the creation of a just and equal Sri Lanka. But we are prisoners of the human dilemma best described by Paulo Freire, and I would like to end this essay with his words::
“The conflict lies in the choice between being wholly themselves or being divided; between ejecting the oppressor within or not ejecting them; between human solidarity or alienation; between following prescriptions or having choices; between being spectators or actors; between acting or having the illusion of acting through the action of the oppressors; between speaking out or being silent, castrated in their power to create and re-create, in their power to transform the world.”
Thursday, November 26, 2009
The Left Front has decided to field Dr. Vickramabahu Karunaratne as its candidate at the upcoming presidential election.
At a media briefing in Colombo today (Nov. 25), Dr. Karunaratne said that his mission would be to create national unity, without which no development could take place.
With the support of other leftist and democratic forces, the Left Front leader said, he would take up the fight on behalf of the working class and the suffering masses.
Dr. Karunaratne alleged the regime of president Mahinda Rajapaksa was backed by India and global powers, while Gen. Sarath Fonseka was the alternative of the far-right militaristic section of global powers.
© Colombo Today
Bahu to contest as Common Left Candidate - NSSP Info
Thursday, November 26, 2009
By Shamim Adam and Anusha Ondaatjie - Sri Lanka’s presidential election is likely to be held in the middle or end of January with a final date to be announced in about a week’s time, Deputy Finance Minister Sarath Amunugama said today.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa three days ago called an election for 2010, two years before his mandate expires, seeking to capitalize on the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels in May.
“There is absolutely no doubt that the president is going to win and get reelected,” Amunugama said in an interview in Singapore. “We are targeting a 70 percent vote for him.”
Rajapaksa will face former military chief Sarath Fonseka in the ballot. Fonseka, who led the army in the last years of the war, will be the candidate of two opposition parties.
The election will allow voters to go to the polls in the northern region formerly controlled by the LTTE, Rajapaksa said this week. He called on Sri Lankans to help rebuild the island nation after the government “succeeded in liberating the motherland from terrorism.”
The opposition Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, or People’s Liberation Front, and the United National Party, have said they agreed on fielding a common opposition candidate.
Parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held before April. The government on Nov. 3 presented spending estimates for the first four months of 2010 in lieu of a full budget, ahead of the parliamentary vote.
Amunugama said the government will rely on its own funds and overseas aid to rebuild areas in the island’s north and east liberated from the LTTE.
All Sri Lankan ethnic Tamil civilians held in camps since the end of the civil war are free to return to their homes, except for about 10,000 held for crimes, he said earlier in a speech in Singapore
The government says its resettlement program has allowed more than half of the 280,000 displaced civilians to go home and aims to have the remaining 137,000 returned to their towns and villages by the end of January.
Rajapaksa’s administration must ensure there are no arbitrary detentions once the civilians are allowed to leave the camps, Human Rights Watch said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
By Shihar Aneez - Sri Lankan shares closed 0.29 percent weaker to an over two-week low on Thursday as pre-poll political uncertainty weighed on the investor confidence.
The All-Share Price Index of the Colombo Stock Exchange closed 8.31 points down at 2850.23, its seventh straight fall and lowest since Nov. 10.
'Still investors are on a 'wait and see' approach due to political uncertainty,' Hussain Gani, associate director at Asia Securities, told Reuters.
Sri Lanka's main opposition said on Thursday it will support former army chief Sarath Fonseka's candidature for presidential poll in mid-January, in the most serious challenge to President Mahinda Rajapaksa's bid for re-election.
Fonseka is yet to make a formal announcement on entering politics and challenge his ex-commander-in-chief.
Analysts and traders said investors were concerned over the latest political developments and uncertainty as Fonseka was now seen as a candidate who could challenge Rajapaksa in the poll, which was earlier expected to be won easily by the incumbent.
Investor confidence in the island nation's bourse, still one of this year's best-performers in the world with a 89.6 percent year-to-date return, has been on the decline after the government on Oct. 13 announced it will hold elections by April.
The bourse has fallen over 9 percent since then.
Analysts also said investors were waiting to see the impact of divestment by Galleon hedge fund after its founder was last month charged with insider trading in the U.S.
The island nation's Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday said investors should not be worried about political uncertainty ahead of the 2010 elections or hedge fund Galleon's divestment of assets in the island nation.
Sri Lanka should come 'very close' to meeting 2009 revenue and budget deficit targets agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in return for a $2.6 billion loan, a central bank official said on Thursday.
Sri Lanka's top private lender Commercial Bank of Ceylon , which has been divested by Galleon Fund, fell 1.61 percent to 168.25 rupees.
Total turnover was 267.4 million rupees ($2.33 million), well below last year's daily average of 464 million rupees.
The Sri Lankan rupee closed flat at 114.40/50. It fell to a near two-week low on Monday due to importer demand for dollars.
Sri Lanka's Deputy Finance Minister Sarath Amunugama said on Thursday the local currency had stabilised and aimed to maintain it at 114 to 115 to the U.S. dollar.
The interbank lending rate or call money rate edged up to 8.882 percent from Wednesday's 8.859 percent.
Sri Lankan government calls early presidential poll - World Socialist Web Site
Joint Opposition Of Sri Lanka To Back General Fonseka - Ground Report
Sri Lanka opposition endorses ex-general for president - Reuters
Thursday, November 26, 2009
The International Monetary Fund on Wednesday said it has sold 10 metric tonnes of gold to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. The lender said the sale was conducted on the basis of the market prices prevailing on November 23, with the sale proceeds equaling US$375 million
The sale is part of the total sales of 403.3 metric tonnes of gold approved by the IMF Executive Board in September. Sri Lanka is the third purchaser of gold from the IMF, after the central banks of India and Mauritius. Thus far, the lender has sold a total of 202 metric tons.
Gold surged to a record high again on speculation of more central bank buying. The advance was also underpinned by a declining U.S. dollar.
© RTT News
Sri Lanka Buys 10 Metric Tons of Gold - The Wall Street Journal
INTERVIEW-Sri Lanka says will come close to IMF deficit target - Reuters
After India, Sri Lanka buys 10 tonnes of IMF gold - Commodity Online
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Feizal Samath - The run-up to Sri Lanka’s next presidential elections, expected to be held in mid-January, has created many twists and turns and the possibility of the country’s having its first leader with absolutely no political experience.
Sarath Fonseka, the former army commander credited with leading the army to victory over Tamil separatist rebels in May, is pitting himself against Mahinda Rajapaksa, the incumbent, who on Tuesday called elections two years before completing his six-year term.
Government ministers announced the snap poll on Tuesday. Mr Rajapaksa made the decision to hold early elections to earn a stronger mandate to take the country into a new development phase now that the 30-year war was over.
Political analysts have said the decision, taken some months back, was actually made on the premise that the president’s current popularity might not last two years.
Mr Fonseka, who retired last week from the post of chief of the defence staff, a position he took after relinquishing duties as army commander, said this week he foresaw entering politics but stopped short of saying he would be a presidential candidate. “I will make an announcement on these plans in a day or two,” he told reporters at a business function on Tuesday. In recent months, he has been a popular speaker at business events, giving lessons on leadership and strategy. Reports say he is still in consultations with opposition parties on how to bring all opposing forces together.
Representatives of the People’s Liberation Front, the country’s third largest political force, and the United National Front, a coalition of opposition parties led by the United National Party (UNP), said on Tuesday that they would support Mr Fonseka as the common opposition candidate against Mr Rajapaksa.
The issues at this election, which could also see five to six other smaller and largely ineffective contestants from smaller parties in the fray, are how quickly Sri Lanka’s northern region would be rebuilt after 30 years of destruction, how the country as a whole can develop in a post-war scenario, and restoration of law and order in a society where serious violations of human rights and media rights have taken place.
“It is good that General Fonseka is contesting. He can bring some discipline to the country and stop this corruption,” said Arjuna Sampath Silva, a taxi driver in Colombo.
For the first time, both candidates are expected to use the same strategy to win the poll.
“Both consider themselves war heroes and how they won the war would be their campaign plank,” said a Sinhalese journalist, who declined to be named.
He said the Sinhalese vote will be split between the two candidates with Mr Rajapaksa having the edge by virtue of his political experience.
Jehan Perera, a political commentator for the Island newspaper, said people living in rural areas generally feel the government is in position to deliver on its promises whereas the general is an unknown quantity.
S I Keethaponcalan, a political scientist at the University of Colombo, said the general could be a spoiler for the president. “The Sinhala vote is always divided and that would be the case this time too with the minorities providing the decisive vote,” he said, adding that Tamils have traditionally voted for the UNP and thus may support Mr Fonseka.
The 500,000 or more votes from Tamils living in the northern region could be the deciding factor. At the last presidential poll, in November 2005, Mr Rajapaksa won by 180,000 votes against his closest rival, Ranil Wickremesinghe from the UNP, polling 4.8 million votes against Mr Wickremesinghe’s 4.7 million. The deciding factor then was that the Tamils in the northern rebel-held territory urged Tamils to boycott the poll, saying elections will not solve their problems.
With Mr Wickremesinghe seen as more conciliatory to Tamil demands for more administrative powers in areas where they live and for launching a peace process when his party ruled between 2001 and 2004, it was widely expected that if the Tamils had voted, he would have won.
Losing no time in garnering this crucial support, Mr Rajapaksa moved swiftly last Saturday, deciding that more than 100,000 Tamils displaced by the violence and living in camps without freedom of movement would be allowed to move out by December 1. The government also announced that the settling-in allowance was being increased to 50,000 rupees (US$438) per family from 25,000 rupees. The camps once housed more than 250,000 people.
The government also said it would reduce prices of such staples as sugar and milk powder and provide an extra allowance to soldiers and government officials. Yesterday it ran a full-page advertisement offering jobs to unemployed university graduates.
© The National
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Amnesty International has welcomed the government of Sri Lanka's promise to lift by 1 December any restrictions on movement of at least 130,000 people displaced by the war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE).
"Now the Sri Lankan government needs to demonstrate that it will provide the displaced with necessary assistance such as shelter, food and security as they re-establish their homes," said Madhu Malhotra, deputy director of Amnesty International's Asia Pacific programme.
Hundreds and thousands of Tamils who escaped the war have been detained in camps under military control for the past six months, deprived of their freedom of movement. Many of them survived months of difficult conditions as they were forced to travel with retreating LTTE forces who forcibly recruited civilians, including children, and in some instances used civilians as human shields.
The Sri Lankan government has agreed to give people a choice about whether to remain in camps to seek alternative accommodation or attempt to return home.
"For months vulnerable people have been held in inadequate conditions in camps lacking adequate sanitation facilities and clean drinking water. If the Sri Lankan government follows through on its promise to allow thousands of people to return home, it would be the first step in the long struggle ahead for people rebuilding their devastated lives," said Madhu Malhotra.
Amnesty International stressed the continued need to protect the rights of internally displaced people both within and outside the camps.
The organization also urged the Sri Lankan authorities to abide by the principles of International humanitarian law and ensure that displaced people are supported to make voluntary and informed decisions about their future.
"Humanitarian and human rights organizations should be given unimpeded access to displaced people and those attempting to resettle to monitor their safety and wellbeing and ensure their needs are being met, including that they are protected against further human rights violations," said Madhu Malhotra.
Since the war ended in May, an estimated 12,000 displaced people (including children) suspected of links to the LTTE have been arbitrarily arrested, separated from the general displaced population and detained by the authorities in irregular detention facilities, such as vacated school buildings.
Amnesty International said it is concerned about lack of transparency and accountability in that process, which is conducted outside of any legal framework and the increased dangers to detainees when they are held incommunicado.
The organization said that persons arrested on suspicion of links to the LTTE and accused of crimes should be charged with legitimate offences, tried and prosecuted in accordance with the law.
© Amnesty International
Sri Lanka: Free All Unlawfully Detained - Human Rights Watch
Thursday, November 26, 2009
As the process of Presidential Elections in Sri Lanka gets underway, there is growing clamour among politicians to shift to Indian Parliamentary system of democracy, with the former president Chandrika Kumaratunga joining the chorus of supporters.
Describing the existing system of Executive Presidency as "dangerous", Kumaratunga has come out in open support in shifting to Indian Parliamentary system or the British Westminster pattern.
She said during her tenure she had considered shifting to this system, but she could not do so in the absence of two-thirds majority in Parliament.
"The Executive presidency that has been created in Sri Lanka is extremely dangerous for democracy and freedom. The sooner it is abolished the better," she said.
"We have seen how dangerous it is in the recent last few years," Kumaratunga who has differences with her successor President Mahinda Rajapaksa told the Private TV Channel 'News First'.
"If a true democrat becomes a President, then it could be controlled but very often especially in our country ,where politicians are people today who believe that politics is the most lucrative business existing and nothing else, it is not the service to the people," the former president said.
"It is essential to have true democrats and clean politicians serving the state, specially in our country where politicians are people who believe that politics is the most lucrative business," she said.
Rajapaksa rules out abolishing executive presidency - Deccan Herald
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
The United Nations has welcomed the decision by Sri Lanka's government to announce the release of the remaining 130,000 Tamils kept in detention camps for the last six months.
About 250,000 people fled the final bloody phase of the civil war between the government and separatist Tamil Tigers.
They were ultimately housed in government-run camps in the district of Vavuniya.
Hundreds of thousands of Tamils' have been displaced in the fighting and are now living in hastily put together refugee camps that have been largely shut off from the outside world.
More and more Tamils have been risking their lives - spending weeks on the oceans - in the hopes of reaching Australia.
Al Jazeera's Step Vaessen, in Valaichchenai, Sri Lanka, reports that a new group of asylum-seekers are said to be preparing to board boats on the island's southeastern coast and sail directly to Australia's Christmas Island.
Irene Khan, the secretary-general of Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group, says the international community should be more involved in finding a safe home for Sri Lanka's Tamils.
"These people are in search of protection, the international community is doing very little," she told Al Jazeera during an interview on Sunday.
"There isn't any resettlement of refugees taking place, refugee protection is very weak and, therefore, people are taking the situation into their own hands to desperately find a place where they can have safety.
"It is not people smuggling. I would call it a flow of asylum-seekers."
According to Khan, asylum seeking is a growing trend.
"The numbers of people seeking asylum are going up precisely at a time when borders are closing, which creates a very serious humanitarian situation," she said.
"For example, these people on rickety boats are putting their lives at risk to find safety. If they are not rescued at sea many of the boats will flood, if they are rescued at sea, they are then stranded as a lot of bargaining goes on as to where people can be disembarked."
Khan said the Australian authorities should speed up the processing of refugees for resettlement in the country and increase the number.
"There is a lot of fear and negative propaganda about refugees and asylum-seekers - that these are people looking for a better life, when really, in effect, they are fleeing to save their lives," she said.
"There has to be a change in public opinion. Political leaders, and governments in particular, need to take charge to change the way in which refugees and asylum seekers are viewed - these are desperate people in need of protection and it should be provided to them."
Interviewed on the same topic, Chris Lom, a regional spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration, told Al Jazeera: "Sri Lanka has been going through a very bad period over the last 30 years of conflict that has impacted the economy quite seriously.
"Consequently, not only have there been a diaspora of Sri Lankans travelling to other countries around the world, but there's also been a fundamental lack of jobs and lack of economic growth that, we hope, will come to an end with the end of the civil war earlier this year."
In contrast to Khan, who says this is not a case of people being smuggled but a case of flow of refugees, Lom believes "this is a mixed flow of genuine refugees and economic migrants who are coming for a variety of reasons, but primarily economic reasons such as finding better jobs; supporting their families; getting better education for their children - which are all things they they expect to find in Australia.
"But what they don't necessarily take into account when coming to that decision is that the streets of industrialised countries are not necessarily paved with gold and that they are probably taking serious risks by putting their lives in the hands of people smugglers".
At least 9,612 Sri Lankans applied for asylum in developed countries last year.
However, they are part of a far wider problem. The UN says more than 839,000 people worldwide went through legal channels to gain refugee status in 2008.
By contrast, an estimated four million migrants resorted to smugglers and traffickers, according to AI.
In Asia-Pacific, Australia is a prime destination for asylum-seekers - at least 13,000 refugees from across the world re-settled in the country last year.
That is an increase from just over 10,000 in 2007 - owing to conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka.
More than 4500 asylum-seekers arrived by air and were granted temporary status, which allowed them to live in the community while their applications were processed - compared to 161 people who reached Australia by boat.
Immigration figures suggest "boat people" are the ones with more genuine claims to refugee status. But in the period their claims are under consideration, they are kept in detention.
© Al Jazeera
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Two black-helmeted persons arriving on motor cycles Tuesday around 7:00 p.m to the offices of Yaazh Thinakkural, Uthayan and Valampuri Tamil dailies in Jaffna issued a letter threatening the lives of their journalists and officials for publishing false news about ‘terrorists’, causing confusion among the residents of Jaffna peninsula, sources in Jaffna said. The letters signed, ‘Alliance Protecting Tamils’, accused the media and its reporters in Jaffna for reproducing Indian media released photos of Pirapakaran and Pottu Ammaan taken in 2002 and warned them of drastic consequences if they continue in the same manner, the sources added.
“We will not just continue to issue warnings,” the threat letter said.
This threat has been issued in an atmosphere of fear among the media persons in Jaffna after witnessing thousands of copies of Tamil dailies published in Jaffna publicly burnt by another group calling itself ‘Alliance Protecting the Country’ on 25 June, media sources in Jaffna said.
Local media and their reporters publish false news confusing people while failing to bring out true news, the letter of threat further said.
News released by the Tamil Diaspora praising ‘terrorists’ creating an appearance as if they continue to be active, in their websites are being published in the local dailies destroying the self-confidence of the people, the letter pointed out.
“We continue to watch the news published by the local dailies giving prominence to ‘terrorists’ and we had issued severe warnings several times before. It is evident that our threats have been ignored,” the letter said.
The activities of certain persons abroad are being published as news in the local dailies without any evidence at all. Jaffna dailies should publish the news published in the other dailies published in Sri Lanka, it further said.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Sri Lanka's former military chief, General Sarath Fonseka, will challenge his ex-boss President Mahinda Rajapakse in elections next year, a key leftist opposition party announced Tuesday.
The JVP, or People's Liberation Front, which had earlier backed Rajapakse, said they secured agreement with Fonseka, 58, to stand against Rajapakse.
The president on Monday called a snap vote, which is due between January 11 and February 1.
"We came to an agreement last night (Monday) that he will be the common opposition candidate," JVP lawmaker Anurakumara Dissanayake said. "We will ensure his victory and the downfall of President Rajapakse."
He added: "He has accepted to be the 'apolitical' common candidate who will work towards the abolition of the executive presidency within six months of coming to power."
He said the JVP was confident that Fonseka would deliver on his promise, unlike previous presidents who also pledged to scrap the all-powerful presidency, which concentrates all executive power in the head of state.
Fonseka resigned as chief of defence staff last week following a rift with Rajapakse over who should take credit for crushing separatist Tamil Tiger rebels in a government offensive that ended in May.
A close aide said Fonseka, considered a war hero for his role in the defeat of the Tigers, was planning to secure broad opposition support before announcing his plans.
Fonseka declined to comment on the JVP announcement.
"I will tell you in two to three days," Fonseka told reporters when asked about his plans.
The JVP said they believed Fonseka was able to defeat Rajapakse, 64, who called the snap election to benefit from the government's popularity following the end of the military campaign.
Dissanayake said Fonseka had agreed to dissolve the current cabinet and appoint an interim government to conduct parliamentary elections, which are due by April.
The JVP as well as the main opposition United National Party have said they will support any move to oust Rajapakse, who has been accused of granting key state positions to family members and of wanton corruption.
The president's younger brother Gotabhaya Rajapakse is the defence secretary, who also played a key role in crushing Tamil Tigers and ending Asia's longest running ethnic conflict.
However, the Rajapakse brothers and Fonseka fell out after all three competed to take credit for crushing the rebels.
Sri Lanka general to mount poll bid - Al Jazeera
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Anthony Main - On Friday November 20th I had the opportunity to visit the Tamil refugees in Merak. Prior to my visit I had been in regular phone contact with the refugees but to see the deplorable conditions on the boat first hand was indeed a shock.
The port has been in lock down for more than a week, even the media have been denied access. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) have also withdrawn their services. Clearly there is a joint attempt by the Australian and Indonesian governments to deny these people basic necessities in the hope that it will wear them down and force them off the ship.
I was able to visit the boat as part of a delegation that included members of the Confederation Congress of Indonesian Union Alliance (KASBI), the Working Peoples Association (PRP) and a human rights lawyer. We were also accompanied by an official from the Indonesian Human Rights Commission.
These asylum seekers are all from the north and east of Sri Lanka. They include children, pregnant women and the elderly. All have been affected by the brutal war and have experienced their own hardships as a result of the oppression of the Tamil minority. As one women told me “We all have our own individual horror stories”.
On October 11th, on route to Australia, their 30 metre boat was intercepted by the Indonesian navy. It has been no secret that the Australian government pressured the Indonesian authorities to act before the boat made it into Australian waters. One man commented that “Kevin Rudd calls this the Indonesian solution, how can it be a solution if we are facing deportation or jail?”
As soon as we arrived at the boat people started to come out one by one. This old wooden ship is built to carry about 40 – 50 people, but more than 250 are crammed onto it. The first people to approach me were children. A girl of about 7 years old told me that she had written a letter to the Australian authorities. It was written in Tamil but she asked me if I could get it translated and show it to them. Several other children had also written letters, one of which was in English. (See text below)
After being in isolation for more than a week it was not surprising that the people on board the boat were desperate to hear news and discuss the dispute. One man, Nimal, started asking me some questions about the Australian Governments attitude to asylum seekers. Within seconds I was surrounded by dozens of people who all wanted know why Rudd would not allow them safe passage to Australia.
After a brief discussion with the refugees’ spokespeople Alex and Kumar, I was taken on board the boat. The tour of the boat took some time because in every corner of the vessel I met with people who wanted to tell me their stories. One of the first families I met had with them a baby who was only 6 months old. The father said to me “We have been here 50 days now. This child has spent more than one quarter of her life in these terrible conditions”.
Most of the people on the boat are sick in some way. Many have diarrhoea and some have Malaria. There are also 15 diabetics on board who have had no access to insulin for weeks. On several occasions people have needed urgent medical assistance which has been denied by the Indonesian authorities. There is also only one toilet on the boat, meaning people have to line up at all times of the day.
The weather in Merak is dreadful. The rainy season has begun, which means it is wet, windy and humid. The boat is covered by tarpaulins but in many areas these covers are torn and when the rain is heavy the decks get covered in water. This means people are sleeping in wet areas, often without enough clothes and blankets to keep them warm.
The Indonesian Navy keeps a close eye on the ship and they are responsible for delivering food and water several times a day. The food is of very poor quality and many say it is making them sick. They have no hot water and the fresh water they have runs out before the end of the day.
While the conditions are horrendous, most people were less interested in complaining and more interested in discussing the politics of the dispute. After being shown around the boat, as many people as could fit sat down on the main deck where we conducted a meeting. We discussed many issues including the political situation in Sri Lanka, the attitude of ordinary people in Australia to refugees and how to best build support for their struggle.
I started by telling them that while there are polarised views in Australia about refugees, there are many people who are supporting them. As well as the Socialist Party there are many progressive groups in the region who are campaigning for their rights. I reported about actions and protests that had already taken place and those that are planned in the next few weeks. I also told them about support that had come from trade unions in both Australia and Indonesia.
A few days prior to my visit it was reported that the Indonesian government was looking to deport the refugees back to Sri Lanka. But the day before my visit the Sydney Morning Herald was reporting that the Indonesian government had changed their mind and they would now allow them to be processed by the United Nations. Unfortunately no one on board had been made aware of this. Even if it were true it would not guarantee them safe passage to Australia.
All on the boat were fully aware of the deal that the Rudd government had done with another group of Tamil refugees who were on board the Oceanic Viking. While the situation for the refugees in Merak is slightly different, because they are not on an Australian vessel and were not intercepted by the Australian Navy, they are adamant that they should be afforded, at the very least, the same treatment.
“We are all fleeing the same persecution” one man said “We are all refugees, we should all be treated equally”. Another man said “We believe Kevin Rudd has both a legal and a moral obligation to take us. He is a signatory to the UN refugee convention. Indonesia is not. If he believes in human rights how could he possibly let us go to an Indonesian detention centre?”
“We are resilient people, we have escaped war, we have lived in camps. All we are asking is that we are treated as human beings. If we go back to Sri Lanka we will not be treated as humans. We will go to jail, be killed or just disappear” he said.
Only a few hours after I left the ship one of the refugees sent me a text message saying that they had just received news that a relative of one of the asylum seekers had been kidnapped by the Sri Lankan Army. A 19 year old man was pushed into a white van and has not been seen for several days. It is quite possible that, along with hundreds of others, he will never be seen again.
This is the reality of life for Tamils in Sri Lanaka. But despite their concern about the future, the one thread that ran through all of the discussions was that they are prepared to stay on the boat as long as it takes. This brave stance should be acknowledged by all workers and poor people in the region. As one man said to me as I was leaving “We are just ordinary people, not different to people in Australia. We did not start the war, we are the victims. All we are asking for is support.”
The Socialist Party and our sister parties in the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) will do all we can to build support for this group of Tamil refugees and to campaign for the rights of all workers and oppressed people in Sri Lanka.
Socialist Party National Organiser Anthony Main is currently in Indonesia. On Friday he visited the 254 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees currently moored at the port in Merak.
© Tamil Solidarity
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
By Basil Fernando - Gerald became a friend of mine through unfortunate circumstances. He was the victim of torture at the hands of an Assistant Superintendent of Police and a group of policemen attached to the Wattala police station.
Further misfortune was to follow. The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, presided over by late Justice Mark Fernando, granted him all the relief that he claimed by holding against all police officers and awarding a recorded sum as compensation in a fundamental rights case.
It was only at this stage that Attorney General’s department thought of launching a criminal investigation against the police officers, which finally led to the filing of an indictment under the Convention Against Torture Act.
A short while later, a week ahead of giving evidence before the High Court of Negombo, he was shot dead while travelling to work at the harbour.
One of the accused police officers in the torture case, together with an accomplice, has been charged with the murder. Other accused officers have been made witnesses. His wife attributed the death to delayed investigation.
Does one murder case matter in the sea of murders washing across Sri Lanka? Rationally, it is impossible to say that it does not matter; however, if we are honest with ourselves then we must conclude that in reality it no longer matters.
I am trained as a lawyer. I recall that in my first year of training I and other students spent many weeks studying the Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code by concentrating mainly on the offence of murder. Take away murder from the statute books and there would hardly be any point in studying the criminal law.
No one has removed murder from the statute books. It is there as before. But it has lost its significance. With it, the criminal law has also lost significance.
If the criminal law still had some significance then Gerald's case would be highly publicized and treated as extremely strange, as a blot on the system.
That is because the police officer most responsible for his death, the ASP who gave the order for his arrest without having any evidence, has never been held to account or even questioned.
The ASP was fishing for evidence of a triple murder for which he had been assigned six officers. After ten days he had not come up with any leads. He went after Gerald because of mistaken identity.
To find Gerald, the police took his wife into custody with a child. They forced her to telephone her husband and have him come for her. They arrested him on arrival and took him to Wattala police station, where they hung him from a beam and beat him with iron and wooden polls, hoping that he may divulge something.
At this stage, the police got a telephone call, which seemed to communicate that they had got the wrong man. They took him down and kept him till next morning, when they released him with full knowledge of the ASP. The family took him to hospital, where he entered a coma, only to recover after 14 days.
If the criminal law had any significance in Sri Lanka then it would be remarkable that throughout the criminal inquiry into this incident, no one questioned the ASP. Apart from the actual perpetrators of the torture, this ASP knew more than anyone about the events. He should have been made an accused in the case, as the CAT Act is broad enough to have accommodated him.
However, it is not in our legal culture to bring officers above the rank of OIC to be questioned, let alone indicted. As a result, this case has dragged on farcically over the last five years, to the present day. There are many other cases like it that similarly have been reduced to absurdity.
So long as higher ranking of state officers cannot be brought to justice for murder and serious crime, realistically, one more murder is nothing; neither is the Penal Code or the criminal law of which it is a part anything of significance.
© Sri Lanka Guardian
Sri Lanka: A Young Man Under Life-Support System After Tortured by Police - AHRC
Witness killed before case against police - BBC Sinhala
Monday, November 23, 2009
The Chief Editor of "Lanka Irida Sangrahaya" Chandana Sirimalwatte has been directed to call over at the CID head quarters at 2.00 pm Today in connection with a story published in this week’s issue of the newspaper. Mr. Sirimalwatte said he got this directive on the telephone from a person who identified himself as Inspector Ranjan.
The story related to an alleged plot to assassinate former Chief of Defence Staff General Sarath Fonseka, who is likely to be the common opposition candidate for the Presidential Election.
Police spokes person I. M. Karunaratne said his office had not been informed of this matter and therefore he did not wish to comment.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
In Haiti on November 10, UN peacekeepers fired live ammunition resulting in injuries to civilians. Inner City Press asked spokesperson Michele Montas about the incident, and about UN peacekeepers using live ammunition instead of rubber bullets.
Ms. Montas replied that after an emergency landing, "some Haitians entered the helicopter." She said a person in the helicopter fired and a cartridge hit a civilian. She also said that "a person in the plane.. shot in the air." (This is reminiscent of the incident in 2008 during the Security Council's visit to Goma in the Congo, where a UN security official shot his weapon in the plane to try to show that it was empty, triggering an all night bus ride by Ambassador to Kigali, Rwanda.)
Inner City Press asked if it is UN protocol to shoot live ammunition in the air. Shooting in the air is the protocol, Ms. Montas answered.
Later on November 20, Inner City Press spoke with a senior UN peacekeeping official, who explained that UN Formed Police Units have rubber bullets, but that in this case is was "military people."
Reportedly, these were Sri Lankan soldiers, in all probability previously involved in the conflict in norther Sri Lanka in which the U.S. and others have found presumptive war crimes.
Meanwhile the UN has still refused to disclose the outcome of its repatriation from Haiti of over 100 Sri Lankan peacekeepers on allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation. It's said that in the future, aggregate data will be reported, either by Peacekeeping Mission or Troop Contributing Country, but not both.
© Inner City Press
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Sri Lanka says people held in special camps since the end of the conflict with Tamil Tiger rebels will be allowed out for short periods from next month.
An aide to the president also confirmed a pledge to close the facilities, which house more than 130,000 people.
They were set up in the country's north for Tamils fleeing the final stages of the civil war, which ended in May.
Sri Lanka has drawn strong international criticism for holding people in the camps against their will.
The latest government announcement was made by the special adviser to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his brother Basil, on a visit to the largest camp, Menik Farm.
On Thursday UN humanitarian chief John Holmes urged Sri Lanka to allow them to leave, following a visit to the camp.
Addressing a group of displaced people, Mr Rajapaksa said that from 1 December the camps would no longer be closed sites. People will now be free to leave them for a day or two at a time, to visit friends and relatives, for example.
Although they will not be able to leave permanently, he reiterated the government's pledge to resettle those displaced by the end of January.
About 300,000 Tamils fled the war zone during the government's final offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) earlier this year.
Those displaced - many of whom had been held as human shields by the rebels - were forced into hastily built camps.
Criticised for keeping them there against their will, the government insisted that incarceration was necessary while the refugees were being screened for possible links with the rebels.
It has also said that more than 1.5m mines must be cleared and basic infrastructure needs to be in place to allow people to return home.
The UN, diplomats and charities have criticised the screening process, saying it is not transparent.
The barbed-wire enclosures are run by the military, and many of those displaced had complained about poor food and sanitary conditions.
Opposition parliamentarians in Sri Lanka have also protested about not being allowed access to the camps.
The BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo says the government had been sensitive to the criticism, and within the past month has markedly stepped up the pace of releases.
Many people are returning to devastated villages in depopulated countryside, much of it mined, our correspondent adds.
In May the Sri Lankan army defeated the Tamil Tigers, who had been fighting since the mid-1970s to carve out a separate nation in the Sinhalese-majority island.
© BBC News
Sri Lanka to free war-displaced civilians - AFP
Sri Lanka to release 136,000 war-displaced Tamils - AP
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