Thursday, November 26, 2009

Manufacturing of a ‘Common Candidate’ and Our Collective Political (Un)Conscious

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.”


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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Left Front's Vickramabahu to contest presidential polls

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

Related Links:
Bahu to contest as Common Left Candidate - NSSP Info

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sri Lankans to go to polls by January

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.

Overseas Aid

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.

© Bloomberg

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

S.Lanka shares extend losses on political woes

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.

© Forbes

Related Links:
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

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

IMF Sells Gold To Sri Lanka

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

Related Links:
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

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Political terrain shifts in Sri Lanka

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

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sri Lanka's promise to free displaced must be followed by concrete action

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

Related Links:
Sri Lanka: Free All Unlawfully Detained - Human Rights Watch

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

"We have seen how dangerous the executive presidency is in the recent few years" - Ex President

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.


elated Links:
Rajapaksa rules out abolishing executive presidency - Deccan Herald

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