Sunday, September 27, 2009

'Home grown solution' for conflict

The ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka will be resolved through a home grown solution, the Sri Lankan prime minister says.

Addressing the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Rathnasiri Wikramanayake said, "the solution that evolves through this process, and which we will offer to all communities must be a home-grown product".

Reiterating the government commitment to resettle the internally displaced people he said Sri Lanka has learnt valuable lessons.

'Not to be forced'

However, "the pace of resettlement must not be forced if it is to be truly safe and sustainable in the long term".

"A total in excess of 54 agencies are actively engaged with us in these welfare villages" he added.

Prime Minister said that the United Nations should not interfere in the internal affairs of States.


"Multilateralism is not about the UN agenda responding only to the demands of a minority of powerful States, but also defending the interest of the powerless majority" he added.

Urging the friends and partners in the international community to be vigilant and continue to take action against the illegal acts of the LTTE in their soil, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wikramanayaka said a global problem such as terrorism requires an effective global response.

He said Sri Lanka is committed to complying with its international obligations in the field of human rights.

© BBC Sinhala

Related Links:
General Debate of the 64th Session - UN
Address by SL Prime Minister

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Election violence on the increase

By Rathindra Kuruwita - The lukewarm attitude taken by the political party big wigs and the Police towards the brazen violations of election law has created a lawless situation in the Southern Province, claims election monitoring bodies.

“Candidates are openly violating the election law and they are encouraged by the fact that there seem to be no consequences for their actions,” said National Polls Observation Centre Convener, Prasanna Adikari. “If the election law is to be properly upheld three parties, the party bosses, the Police and the Department of Elections, should play a very active role. But so far, the party bosses and the police have turned a blind eye to the open violation of the election law,” he added.

He added that so far 23 instances of election law violations have been reported in the three districts. “Ten incidents have been reported from the Galle District, while nine and four have been reported from the Hambanthota and Matara Districts respectively,” he said. “Galle is still the hot spot for violence and some candidates are getting a lot of media coverage for all the wrong reasons,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Campaign for Free and Fair Election (CaFFE) claimed that they have received 37 complaints, 15 from Galle, 12 from Hambanthota and 10 from Matara. “We see that things are hotting up as Election Day grows near. And there is a systematic campaign against the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). Some of their offices have been attacked even yesterday and some party sympathisers have been arrested,” said CaFFE Spokesman, Keerthi Tennakoon.

© The Nation

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

SLA shoots 6 including women, children in Cheddiku'lam camp

Sri Lanka Army (SLA) on Saturday around 6:00 p.m. opened fire and injured six civilians including two women and three children in Cheddiku'lam internment camp, according to initial reports reaching from Vavuniyaa. One 8-year-old child, seriously wounded in the episode, was transferred to Anuradhapura hospital from Vavuniyaa hospital, medical sources in Vavuniyaa said.

The unfortunate group of six is said to have gone for collecting firewood in the surroundings of the camp.

World Food Programme (WFP) has stopped supplying cooked meals from 17 September. The inmates are dependent on dry rations (rice, sugar and dahl), but they lack proper facilities to cook the meals.

Civilians inside the camps are forced to get other materials, firewood, salt, tamarind etc., from external sources.

The civilians who tried to cross over the camps to get firewood were shot by the SLA.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan military officials in Colombo said the SLA opened fire when civilians who tried to 'escape' started to stone the SLA soldiers when they were blocked from leaving the camp. The military officials put the number of wounded civilians at three.

© TamilNet

Related Links:
Menik Farm shooting: 3 wounded - The Sunday Times

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Minister’s secretary abducted in Vavuniya

By Chris Kamalendran - A Coordinating Secretary to a minister was abducted by an unidentified group in Vavuniya on Friday night, police said yesterday. Arumugam Sriranjan served as Coordinating Secretary in Trincomalee’s pre-dominant Tamil areas for Nation Building Minister Susantha Punchinilame.

He was earlier the Jaffna district’s organizer of Sri TELO, a breakaway TELO group. Mr. Sriranjan joined the UPFA in August this year. According to police, the abductors had come in a white van and taken him at gun point while he was at his wife’s residence in the Urban Council quarters.

The abductors had posed off as CID officers, and sped off from the scene after threatening the other members of the household, police said. The police have put out an all-island alert to trace the van and the abductors.

© The Sunday Times

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sri Lankan PM at Asia Society Faces Pre-Screened Softball Questions

By Matthew Russell Lee - Sri Lanka's prime minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake spoke Thursday night at the Asia Society on Park Avenue in Manhattan, facing pre-screened softball questions gently raising the internment camps and freedom of the press. Even so, Wickramanayake responded testily, drawing partisan applause from the otherwise silenced auditorium.

Several facts were plainly misrepresented. The Asia Society's questioner -- who multiple times and accurately said, "I am by no means an expert on Sri Lanka" -- asked if the International Committee of the Red Cross has access to all the IDPs. Yes, Wickramanayake replied. But the ICRC has complained of no access to at least 10,000 people.

Then Wickramanayake said that two ICRC staffers were found to have "direct" ties to the LTTE and were arrested. Presumably he was referring to the two UN system staff, a question that Inner City Press wrote on a note card that was never read out by the moderator. Nor was a question about the GSP Plus tax benefit in Europe, which Sri Lanka stands to lose for human rights violations.

The evening got off to a surreal start with the present of the Asia Society, Ms. Vishakha N. Desai, saying without qualification that the Sri Lankan government means well. Then Wickramanayake delivered a sort of speech. He said "our country is nourished by Buddhism." He spoke of opportunities for investors, tourism on Eastern beaches.

Then the Asia Society's Executive Vice President Jaime Metzl took a seat and began lobbing softball questions. He said, let's turn back to Sri Lankan independence, to 1948. Wickramanayake became testy, and not for the last time. "Let us forget the past," he snapped. We want to look to the future.

EVP Metzl ever so gently raised the issue of the IDPs. Wickramanayake said the only problem is demining. "We were going it manually," he said, "until quite recently." He said now some machines have arrived. "It would have taken years," he said.

So what did Mahinda Rajapaksa's commitment to Ban Ki-moon in May, to resettle 80% of the IDPs by the end of the year, mean? One of the two is dissembling.

Metzl read out a question submitted only, "anonymously," he pointed out. took issue with why anyone would be anonymous. He said there are no problems of freedom of the press. When an audience member shouted out, "twenty years of hard labor," they were shouted down by a person sitting up in the front, in the reserved seat. Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the UN was observed up there. In front of the Asia Society, a fleet of blank four by fours were parked, with the Sri Lankan flag on their windshield. Entourage!

As Wickramanayake pontificated, about former LTTE supporters put in charge in the East, EVP Metzl nodded and said, as if involuntarily, uh huh, uh huh, while nodding his head. He let slip that he had just returned from Afghanistan, and that his father was an IDP for ten years after World War II. He named El Salvador as a country with a past of ethnic conflict. (Actually, there it is social class, we'll cite Roque Dalton.) Metzl's high point, he let the audience know, was getting an empty commitment from Wickramanayake that the Red Cross could contact his office. "And the Ministry of Defense," Wickramanayake quickly added. Of course.

The questions got more and more lame, culminating with "what do you pray for every night?" Wickramanayake answered, testy to the end, "I don't want to disclose that." Then the Asia Society whisked him and his entourage through a door, presumably to a reception, and the audience filed out.

Inner City Press felt a duty to come and hear, even paid to do it. In other circumstances, a refund would be in order given the weakness of the questions, and not allowing the audience or Press to ask any questions. The Asia Society created it own protest free General Assembly, and changed twenty dollars a seat for it.

© Inner City Press

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sri Lanka promises to resettle war refugees

Click 'play' to listen to the report

A UN human rights official arrived in Sri Lanka today, where some 300,000 civilians displaced by the war are currently detained. Most of them belong to the Tamil ethnic minority.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse has promised the UN that his government will resettle these refugees within the next four months, following criticisms from the UN and human rights organizations about their treatment. The government says it has to detain people until it is certain none of them have any connections to the Tamil rebels. FSRN´s Ponniah Manikavasagam has the story.

© Free Speech Radio News

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sri Lanka: 120 attempted suicides a day

By Raisa Wickrematunge - An average of 12 people commit suicide a day in Sri Lanka, and there are 10 times more attempted suicides, according to Director of Sumithrayo Sri Lanka, Surangi Gunawardena.

However Gunawardena said that the suicide rate has actually declined since 1995.

In 1995 Sri Lanka had one of the highest suicide rates, with around 47 suicides per 100,000 persons. Now, Gunawardena estimated the rate at about 20 suicides per 100,000 persons.

“The rate has declined, but it is still too high.” Gunawardena said.

Gunawardena said the highest suicide rates were among the younger age groups, particularly tho

se between the ages of 18 and 30. The rate also increased after the age of 60, according to the Director.

Gunawardena added that it was usually a combination of psychological and social reasons, which lead to a suicidal situation. The three main factors, she noted were “inability to cope with difficult situations, mental health problems, and drug or alcohol abuse.”

It was noted that social and peer pressures were leading factors for teen suicides. However, even children as young as seven or eight have been known to attempt suicide.

There are also differences according to gender. More women than men say they have contemplated suicide, although more men have taken their own lives.

Gunawardena noted that media reports, which sensationalised suicide and gave details about the methods used often lead to “copycat suicides.”

Gunawardena noted that the current rate of 120 attempted suicides a day was worrying.

Meanwhile, Sumithrayo Sri Lanka, in a press release recently said that as attempted suicide was no longer considered a criminal offence, the majority of attempts were unrecorded. Gunawardena attributed the rising number of attempts to a lack of knowledge about resources available to the depressed.

Sumithrayo Sri Lanka has been operating for around 35 years, as a suicide prevention organisation. Their services are offered free of charge. They claim to “provide emotional support to people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those that may lead to suicide.”

Globally, one person commits suicide every 40 seconds, while there is an attempted suicide every three seconds.

© The Sunday Leader

Related Links:
Watch for signs: Depressed teenagers turning to suicide - The Sunday Times

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tissainayagam: A travesty of justice?

By Michael Hardy - Seventeen months after being arrested, and almost three years after writing two articles the government claims were meant to incite “communal disharmony,” journalist J.S. Tissainayagam was sentenced to 20 years of rigorous imprisonment on August 30 by the Colombo High Court.

Tissainayagam’s conviction drew worldwide condemnation, with Amnesty International declaring him a “prisoner of conscience,” and Reporters Without Borders calling the sentence “shameful.” Almost overnight, Tissainayagam became a symbol of government repression and a martyr for freedom of the press. To many observers, Tissainayagam’s treatment cemented Sri Lanka’s reputation as a totalitarian state in the making.

How did Tissainayagam go from being a humble columnist for The Sunday Times to being mentioned by American President Barack Obama as an “emblematic example” of persecuted journalists?

The story began in February of 2008, when he wrote an article about child recruitment for The Sunday Times. Soon afterward, Terrorism Investigation Department (TID) officers were dispatched to arrest Tissainayagam’s publisher, N. Jasikaran, and his wife Valamarthi. When Tissainayagam inquired about Jasikaran’s whereabouts on March 8, he too was arrested, along with the staff of his website, (The staff members were later released).

The only problem was that the TID had neither a detention order nor anything to charge Tissainayagam with. Fortunately for the government, a search of Tissainayagam’s house turned up about 50 back issues of Northeastern Monthly, a now-defunct magazine with a small circulation that Tissainayagam then edited. Although they couldn’t read English, as was revealed during Tissainayagam’s trial, the TID officers confiscated these magazines, and the TID later used them as a convenient pretext for Tissainayagam’s arrest and prosecution.

Strange delays

Tissainayagam’s imprisonment was a travesty of justice from beginning to end. When he was finally allowed to see a lawyer, two weeks after first being arrested, he could only do so in the presence of the Officer in Charge (OIC) of the TID. The same condition held for meetings with his wife; Tissainayagam has never met his wife in private since his arrest. Since he never received an explanation for his imprisonment, Tissainayagam quickly filed a Fundamental Rights petition challenging his incarceration.

On March 27, 2008, during Tissainayagam’s first court hearing, the state counsel said they didn’t have the detention order in their possession, so High Court Judge Deepali Wijesundara ordered it to be produced. Later that afternoon, the order was delivered to Tissainayagam, backdated to March 7th. Strangely enough, the detention order was signed by Wijesundara’s sister. Although this is not technically illegal, the defense could have asked the judge to recuse herself from the case given this incident’s strong appearance of impropriety. (Wijesundara’s sister was later promoted to the High Court.)

On May 8, 2008, Tissainayagam’s lawyers finally received the OIC affidavit and a copy of Tissainayagam’s statement translated into Sinhalese. Crucially, however, the state withheld Tissainayagam’s original statement, which he wrote in Tamil. The defense would only get a look at the original confession during the cross-examination of the superintendent of police, who witnessed Tissainayagam writing it. According to the Emergency Regulations of 2005, detainees must be produced before court every 30 days to ensure that they haven’t been tortured, but the state disregarded this law time and again for Tissainayagam.

On May 12, 23, and 26 of 2008 Tissainayagam was scheduled to be produced at the Magistrates Court, but mysteriously failed to turn up. He was finally produced on the 27th, when the TID legal officer told the court that he needed more time to investigate. The magistrate ordered Tissainayagam to be produced on June 6, after his 90th day of detention.

Unsurprisingly, the state was unable to produce him on that day either, managing to delay his court appearance until June 13.

Tissainayagam charged

Ultimately, Tissainayagam would have to wait for over five months before he was charged, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), for inciting racial violence and communal disharmony by writing two editorials in 2006 for Northeastern Monthly. The first article, published in July 2006, criticized the government for failing to protect the northeastern Tamils, who Tissainayagam argued were being forced to seek protection from the LTTE.

The second article, published in December of the same year, accused the army of deliberately bombing and starving Tamil civilians in Vaharai in an attempt to clear the area for military operations. In a statement to the court, Tissainayagam defended his writings: “I was and am still an advocate against terrorism,” he said. “I have criticized terrorism in whatever objective was to generate non violent means of resolving the conflict.”

The indictment consisted of three charges: (1) that Tissainayagam printed and distributed the Northeastern Monthly with the intention to “cause the commission of acts of violence or racial or communal disharmony and bring the government into disrepute”; (2) that Tissainayagam wrote the two above-mentioned articles, excerpts from which were reproduced in the indictment; and (3) that to fund the Northeastern Monthly, Tissainayagam collected money “for the purpose of terrorism.”

The state claimed during the trial that Tissainayagam had confessed to accepting funding from the LTTE. Tissainayagam has always maintained that the “confession” was dictated to him and that he was forced to sign it under threat of torture. He believed the TID’s threats because he had heard his publisher, Jasikaran, being tortured in a nearby room. (Jasikaran recently testified about his torture during his own trial, which is ongoing.)

Despite the dubious circumstances surrounding Tissainayagam’s “confession,” Judge Wijesundara ruled on December 5, 2008 that it was given voluntarily. The defense chose not to challenge this ruling, not knowing what was in Tissainayagam’s original statement.

Mysterious alteration

When the defense finally got a look at the original document, during cross-examination of the superintendent of police, it quickly became apparent that the statement had been doctored. In the statement, Tissainayagam admits that LTTE officials contacted him three times in 2006 to offer money to the Northeastern Monthly, but that each time he had refused. “However,” he wrote in Tamil, “I later discovered that Rs. 100,000 had been deposited in my bank account from an anonymous donor.”

But where Tissainyagam had written that he said “no” to the LTTE for the third time, his words had been crossed out and replaced with “I said yes,” making it sound like he had accepted the LTTE’s money. The change to the statement was made in a different colour of ink and in different handwriting than the original statement. Unlike the many other changes to the statement, Tissainayagam had not signed in the margin to approve this alteration.

As the defense pointed out, after the alteration the statement no longer made sense. Why would Tissainayagam, after admitting he had agreed to receive the money, then be surprised to find it in his account? Why use the word “however,” which implies that he had turned down the offer? When the defense brought these irregularities to Wijesundara’s attention, she said that she had already ruled the statement voluntary, and therefore couldn’t throw it out.

She also disputed the defense’s claim that the document was altered. This decision paved the way for Tissainayagam’s ultimate conviction. As Wijesundara notes in her judgement, “once the confession is voluntary, the accused could be convicted on the confession alone.”

In her judgement, Wijesundara also mentions that one of the defense’s witnesses, Kulasiri Hemantha Silva of the Human Rights Commission, contradicted what Tissainayagam wrote in his second article. On cross-examination, Silva stated that he had not seen the bombing and starvation of civilians in Vaharai. However, the defense later got Silva to admit that he had traveled to Vaharai two months before the article was written, and therefore wasn’t able to say what was happening at the later time. Silva also admitted that he had heard news of a Vaharai hospital being bombed by government forces around the time Tissainayagam was writing.

In his statement to the court, Tissainayagam said that he grew up in Colombo with friends from every ethnic group, and that throughout his career as a journalist and human rights activist he has “always agitated for justice for the oppressed.” He concluded his statement by saying that by writing the two controversial articles he “never intended to cause violence or communal disharmony and no such thing ever occurred as a result of those articles.” The whole world, with the obvious exception of the Colombo High Court, now stands with Tissainayagam in agreement and solidarity.

© The Sunday Leader

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