Amnesty International is calling on the Sri Lankan government to permanently release civilians who have been illegally detained in camps following the end of the civil war six months ago.
“The authorities must make good on their declared intentions to free some 120,000 people and do so unconditionally,” said Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International’s expert on Sri Lanka.
“A permanent release from camps must be accompanied by assurances that people are not subjected to further questioning or re-arrest in new locations.”
“It’s also critical that the government maintain its responsibility to care for displaced people wherever they choose to go.”
The Sri Lankan government said today that families living in camps for the displaced in Vavuniya will be given a choice about whether to remain in camps, to seek alternative accommodations or attempt to return home.
However, Amnesty International has received information about restrictions on the way in which families can leave the camps. Media reports have suggested that some people may be asked to return to the camps after only 15 days.
Another concern is the lack of assistance for those who have been released so far. A church group has reported that people have been bussed from Manik Farm and simply ‘dumped, left on the road’ at Adampan in Mannar.
The government is giving conflicting messages about the process of return and it is not yet clear whether freedom of movement will also apply to camps in other parts of the country.
As releases and resettlement efforts accelerate, Amnesty International urges Sri Lankan authorities to allow displaced people to make informed and voluntary decisions about return and resettlement.
“The Sri Lankan authorities must alert displaced people to the living conditions in the places they come from so that they can make plans about their future. They should also provide them with clear information about their rights, their legal status and procedures for tracing family members,” Yolanda Foster said.
“Humanitarian and human rights organizations should be given unimpeded access to displaced people. For those attempting to resettle, such organizations should be permitted to monitor their safety and wellbeing and ensure their needs are being met, including that they are protected against further human rights violations.”
“Thousands of people have started to leave camps in the north east but the promise to unlock the camps must be followed up by the protection of the rights of the internally displaced people both within and outside the camps.”
© Amnesty International USA
Sri Lanka must help released war refugees: Amnesty - AFP
Sri Lanka Must Aid Refugees Leaving Camps, UN Says - Bloomberg
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Sri Lankan opposition parties on Tuesday requested the government to allow them to enter the Northern Province to canvass for the forthcoming presidential election to be held on Jan. 26.
Anura Kumara Dissanayake, parliamentary group leader of the leftist JVP or the People's Liberation Front told reporters that at present only government politicians are allowed to go there and it is very unfair during an election period.
The JVP supports former Chief of Defense Staff and Army Commander Sarath Fonseka at the presidential poll and Fonseka is the main competitor of incumbent president Mahinda Rajapakse.
"We urge the government to allow us to do our politics in the Northern Province as it has been liberated from the control of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) terrorists after 30 years. But the government continuously avoids our request. Only the ruling party runs their campaign there," Dissanayake said.
He said the government must also allow local and international monitors to polling booths on the election day of Jan. 26.
Jayalath Jayawardena, a legislator from the main opposition United National Party also asked the government to permit his party to campaign in the north.
About 130,000 Tamil civilians displaced by the final battles between the government troops and the LTTE are still being accommodated in welfare camps in the province's Vavuniya district, about 250 km north of the capital Colombo. But they are free to move from these camps from Tuesday.
Around 140,000 displaced civilians have been resettled to their native places, while over 10,000 former LTTE cadres are being rehabilitated at 17 centers.
Human Rights and Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said those Tamil people should enjoy their free franchise and the government will not block their right in future elections.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Professor Laksiri Fernando - Sri Lanka seems to be going through some unusual times. What appeared as a bright future for the country just six months ago, after defeating the LTTE, is now clouded with doubt, intrigue and uncertainty.
No doubt that the country will come out of this crisis, as it did in previous times, perhaps much stronger. But it will be at an unnecessary cost and strain. But it will be at an unnecessary cost and strain.
A premature presidential election has to be declared to clear the doubts as to who would hold the people’s mandate, the government or the opposition. It will be held on the 26th January. Otherwise, what is due is parliamentary election before April. It is more than intriguing that the apparent contender is the former Army Commander challenging the incumbent President. The tricks of the main opposition, that vehemently opposed the war against the LTTE, and the remaining LTTE rump abroad, are uncertain as they seem to be in unison in destabilizing the country.
Sri Lanka perhaps did not realize fully that it escaped an impending military coup by a stroke of luck a few months ago. The political ambitions that the former army commander has very clearly expressed and the doubts that the government entertained about a possible military takeover are not accidental. It was to circumvent that eventuality that the former army commander was removed from his commanding position in mid-July by elevating him as the Chief of Defense of Staff, with more ceremonial and no actual power. As the facts have become revealed, the army commander has had different views from the government during the last stages of the operations against the LTTE on timing and logistics. Thereafter, his ambition has been to expand the army further, under his tutelage, without recognizing the end of the war or the costs involved. What may appear as a professional aspiration was very clearly linked to political ambitions.
It is not unusual for army commanders to step into politics when a country is in a crisis or when the army is at the helm. Though not unusual, it would be the end of democracy. During the thirty years of war, there were instances when a military takeover was suspected. The lack of proper political leadership or support to fight against the LTTE was the main grievance of the army or the potential spur to takeover. What prevented that eventuality was uncertainty or professionalism. It was uncertain that the army alone could face up to the LTTE, while governing the country, with an obvious opposition in the South. Sri Lanka also has been well known for a professional army. Only few generals have had temptation for politics before, and none of them seemed to entertain the full desire while in the service. The present General apparently is an exception.
The present General undoubtedly was a professional soldier with training, qualifications and experience. He was also a nice gentleman under normal circumstances. He only seemed to lose his cool when disagreeable questions were asked. This was clear when he came before TV interviews. During the controversial ceasefire agreement, he held on to his professional views and advised the government against the adverse effects of the CFA. For that crime, he was disliked by the international peace advisors and the peace nicks alike.
He was of course hated by the LTTE. He was put on hibernation for his views on security matters until the present President made him the Army Commander immediately after his ascendancy to the presidency. That was the General’s ascendancy to virtual power. It was to thwart that ascendancy that the LTTE attempted to assassinate him.
There is no doubt that the General made a major contribution to defeat the LTTE although it is doubtful whether he could claim it all alone even on the military front. There were two other forces, the Navy and the Air Force, and the Police and their commanders or chiefs should be given appropriate credit, if not an equal one. In addition was the Ministry of Defense, not to mention its strategic planning or skillful coordination of all the armed forces involved.
For any independent observer, the political leadership was undoubtedly the crucial. It is also undisputed in military theory. Even at a most recent interview (Daily Mirror, 27 November 2009), the General has claimed the sole credit to him saying, “I led the army to win the war” and castigated “those who sat in air-conditioned rooms in Colombo giving political speeches.”
This is in sharp contrast to all others, including the President, who has given due credit to the army commander without overlooking the other armed force leaders, equal to the army commander or subordinate to him, and the enormous sacrifices that the ordinary soldiers have made. The list of credit might not end there. One may say that the last battle, if not the war, in fact was won by the field commanders on the ground.
War for Prestige
Sri Lanka has apparently become a laughing stock among the outsiders for its unique ‘war for prestige’ after the actual war. In any enterprise, war or not, there is always the possibility of friction or dispute among the key players. There is no recorded history, however, that those disputes were brought into the public life as they have in the case of Sri Lanka. Perhaps it was an element in the ancient history. There is a kind of archaic primitivism in the prestige claim, completely alien to professionalism in any modern profession, let alone the armed forces. The aberration could have been lightly ignored if it had not come from an army commander just after a decisive military victory.
Even before the end of the war, there were instances when the General did step outside his professional limits, making statements on political matters. One instance was when he criticized the leader of the opposition after some unsavory remarks made by the latter on him. More glaring were his repeated comments about the minorities or ethnic communities in the country and the media. By doing so he even tainted the government policy on the subjects of both minorities and the media. What he emphasized was the ‘hegemony of the majority’ and ‘fair treatment’ for the minorities however you interpret it.
The commander or the military spokespersons did have a duty to inform the public on permissible military matters to keep them informed. But there were instances when he went further and made emotional remarks on the need to annihilate the enemy to the extent that even the prisoners of war should not be spared. The caliber of the person could be discernible from those statements and the remarks.
Another side of his personality is his virtual somersault to enter politics with the political forces that were dead against the war that he claimed to lead and won against the LTTE. Now he has said that “there are no permanent enemies or permanent friends in politics.” This is more than intriguing. It would be interesting to see how his ‘friends and enemies’ change in the coming future. It is possible that he is given a ‘dead rope by someone’ for him to go to that extent.
It might not be unfair to say that he is driven by revenge taking perhaps believing what he does is fighting against personal injustice. It might be the case that he was extremely offended or even insulted by the government, inadvertently or advertently. But that is not a good enough reason to enter politics under dubious circumstances and create confusion and uncertainty in the whole political system. The uncertainty is not so much about whether he would win, but about the choices that the Sri Lankan voters are given with.
The confusion is not created by the General alone but by the two main opposition political parties, the rightwing UNP and the leftwing JVP. For the first time, the UNP has not fielded its own candidate for the presidency, opting for a common candidate with the objective of defeating the incumbent president. The JVP has done a similar adventure by aligning with its former arch rival, the UNP, to take revenge from the incumbent president for splitting its party into two, a strong moderate section joining the ruling people’s coalition in recent times. Both outfits use the same jargon of ‘marching separately and striking together.’ The common striking slogan seems to be the abolition of the presidential system which in fact was introduced by the UNP in 1978. The additional one is the ousting of what they call the ‘family banditry’ by President Rajapakse and his brothers.
At least the JVP seems to be consistent in its near idealistic slogan that the presidential system should be abolished. The party in fact supported two presidents from the same people’s alliance in 1994 and 2005, with the promise to abolish the presidential system. But no steps were taken to make the promise a reality thereafter. What reliability that the JVP has from the General to abolish the presidency is a question. There is no doubt that the presidential system is inimical to parliamentary democracy in Sri Lanka. Linked with the presidential system is the inimical electoral system, and abolishing or changing one without the other is wholly illogical.
The General promises to abolish the presidential system forthwith after his election. This is quite exciting. He obviously has no power to do so even he has the will. The presidential system is entrenched in the constitution. The best option Sri Lanka has had is a democratic president like the incumbent from a democratic party. The power to change the constitution is vested with Parliament subject to a referendum. Parliament requires a two thirds majority to change even a word in the constitution. It is a near impossibility unless a two thirds majority is obtained by a well formed party or a coalition at the next parliamentary election due before April. Under the circumstances, electing a General to the position of the executive presidency is the greatest danger that would pose to the already threatened democracy in Sri Lanka.
The agreement between the General and the UNP specifies that the former should appoint a caretaker government with the UNP leader as the prime minister, immediately after his perceived election to the presidency. This is wholly undemocratic, though imaginary. The majority of the present parliament is with the ruling people’s coalition which will not change until a new election is held or a major crossover is taken place. The agreement does not talk about a cross over.
What can be suspected is an undemocratic maneuvering unless the government and the civil society remain extremely vigilant. The UNP has had previous leanings towards the military, when it was deprived of power for long periods. The 1962 aborted military coup was an example. Even in recent times, the UNP has cultivated some military leaders for political gain. This is a mistake that even the present government has committed. Perhaps less than the UNP, the JVP also has a history of conspiracy. Although not well known, it is a fact that the founder of the JVP, Rohana Wijeweera, tried to infiltrate the army by the name of Tissa. This was when the organization was in the making in the late sixties. Perhaps now the JVP ranks would be the first to realize a military threat to democracy more than the UNP.
The threat or the danger also should not be overestimated or blown out of proportion. It is counter productive. The democratic traditions in Sri Lanka are still in tact and vibrant. The best deterrent should be the people’s involvement in the democratic process and questioning of all the deviations and dangers. After all, the General has come before the ballot box.
What should be finally noted, with exclamation, is what the General said recently about the rumor of a possible coup before he was elevated to the symbolic CDS position. He has said, “I could have sent troops to Colombo if I wanted. There were no such thoughts in my mind.” (The Sunday Times, 29 November 2009). This speaks a mind if not action.
© Asian Tribune
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
by Sudat Pasqual - In a one dimensional interview with the Daily Mirror, General Sarath Fonseka outlined his grievances before the people and we got an idea why he is running for the highest office in the land.
It was a litany of personal woes. Just about the whole interview was about what has been taken away from him by the Rajapakse brothers since the end of the war. More specifically, the interview dealt almost exclusively with the issue of reducing his security detail. To give him credit, he knew exactly how many personnel, support staff, vehicles and special forces were involved in providing security for the President, the Secretary of Defense, his nemesis the former Navy Commander, wife of Lakshman Kadiragamar, the current Commander of the Army, one Brigadier and so on. He also knew how long former heads of armed forces had stayed at their official residences after retirement and the diplomatic posts bestowed on them. In between, almost as an after thought, he made a few general statements about the country being corrupt, the need to establish democracy in the country and the importance of freedom of the press.
Well, at least the people will know his priorities if elected the President. He will firstly increase his own security detail; secondly reduce the security detail of everyone else; and thirdly bring in legislation to streamline how long retired commanders of the armed forces can stay in their official residences after the end of their call of duty. And the country will be on its merry way to peace and prosperity.
When the General talked about restoring democracy, fighting corruption and restoring media freedom he sounded vague and less than convincing. According to the gospel of Sarath Fonseka, the country is corrupt. Well, I beg to differ on this. The way I see it, it’s the politicos that are occupying seats of power that are corrupt; not the country. These figures who have been elected (in most cases) by the people to serve the needs of the people have usurped that responsibility and powers bestowed on them for personal gain. The average citizen of SL may be resigned to their unfortunate fate, but he/she is definitely not part of this insidious behavior. The quickest and the most cost affective way to reduce a major portion of that corruption would be to call an emergency session of parliament where all are required to attend; lock the doors and, well, I will leave the rest for your imagination.
On a serious note, the General does not provide specifics on how he will tackle corruption. With regard to restoring democracy and the freedom of the press, he is even more vague. What does he mean by restoring democracy? Abolish the Executive Presidency in favor of an Executive Premier? Scrap the PR system in favor of direct elections to the Parliament a la pre-1978? Bring in spending caps? Public financing of elections and candidates? Strengthening the powers of Provincial Councils? Bring in independent civilian oversight committees?
We don’t know. We aren’t told.
In terms of expanding and guaranteeing the freedom of the media to be open, independent and critical, a President could do much by simply repealing/removing all of the restrictions placed under the guise of national security and the prevention of terrorism. Let the people be the judge of the veracity of the media. Not exactly rocket science or molecular biology, is it?
But, we don’t know what the General means when he refers to strengthening media freedom.
The General did not touch on the economy. I guess he needs to read up on the 25 year plan.
President Rajapakse on the other hand is a seasoned politician with good oratorical skills and a mean and efficient political machine at his disposal. He can most definitely talk the talk. However, outside the realm of overseeing the successful conclusion of the war against the LTTE, he has not walked the walk. His presidency seems a voyage of self discovery and self fulfillment. He has efficiently and calculatedly built up his image by espousing nationalist and religious causes. He has strengthened his rule by creating a cult of personality around himself. He has cowed all opponents by dividing and scaring them into submission. He has elevated the concept of divide and rule to an art form.
Most unfortunately, he has subjugated his vision of a united, self sufficient and peaceful SL to the more self indulgent need to cling on to the Presidency at any cost. He has equated the needs of the country with his personal needs and desires. As a result, the country has been left to lurch on auto-pilot on many fronts. Many of his economic and foreign policies have been purely reactionary. He has failed to translate his vision into the practical realm of governance.
Since 1982 the people of Sri Lanka have been going to presidential polls hoping for a heart of gold and they have ended up giving each president a pot of gold.
Currently, we have one sure candidate in the sitting president. It’s looking more and more likely that Sarath Fonseka will be the Common Opposition Candidate. If the general throws his hat in the ring, we will have 2 candidates with puffed up chests saying that he loves the country more than the other and that they will protect the country’s Sinhala Buddhist people from real and imaginary evil. Or yeah, both will also take credit for ending Prabakaran’s reign of terror. The General will bare his soul to the nation and tell us how hurt he is by the way the Rajapakses have treated him since he single handedly beat Prabakaran’s terrorists. He will (he has already started the ball rolling on this one) identify all the current and former GOSL officials who have a bigger security detail than him. He has and will pick personal fights with former and present military personnel who do not agree with his assertion that he is the personal savior of the nation. The President on the hand will likely say that he and his brother are the true heroes who single handedly wiped out terrorism from the land and that the General is an egomaniacal imposter. When you read between the lines, you will realize that the President is basically making the point that it is better to go with a tried and tested megalomaniac than an egomaniac in training. That would be the sum of their political platforms.
Sri Lanka’s economy has shown resilience even in a time of global recession. However, that is probably more due to the economy’s relative low exposure to global markets than any policy undertaken by the current regime. Inflation is running at double digits. Jobs with a living wage are hard to come by. Basic services such as garbage disposal are in need of urgent overhaul. The energy sector is heavily overburdened and cannot cope with the growing demands of the populace. The state sector is bloated with patronage jobs and is largely unproductive and a drain on the economy. Law seems to be in the written form only. Order is hanging by a thread. People have lost faith in the Police (look at the number of suspects in police custody who have been killed while trying to “escape”). The independence of the judiciary is severely compromised by political meddling as are the armed forces. Trade unions and student unions are up in arms against government policies or the lack of them. Public transportation cannot cope with the demand of a growing and an increasingly mobile population. The country is disturbingly polarized along ethnic and religious lines. The list goes on and on.
One would think that with such a litany of concerns, all candidates would be dying to share their vision and mission to combat these issues with the electorate. One would also think that the long suffering people of the country would demand the same of their candidates. To the contrary, the rhetoric has been largely limited to the superficial and the people seem to have resigned themselves to a battle of machismo. Maybe we deserve the leaders we elect, but what about the generations to come? How are we going to answer our children and grand children when they ask; “didn’t you care?”
I am going to go out on a limb here and get on a soapbox. Presidential elections should be about leadership and not about aggrandizing or hanging on to power at any cost. It should be about putting the needs of the country before self. Leadership is not about occupying and controlling corridors of decision making so you can feel important and dish out favors to your friends and family. Leadership is not a job; it’s a calling. Leadership is not bestowed on one because of kinship, it must be earned. The President of a country has a sacred duty to act in a manner that serves the greater good and makes all its members feel included. In other words, the President is the patriarch or the matriarch of that society. A President should not choose favorites because everyone citizen is a member of his/her extended family. A leader holds things together; he/she does not sow division among his family to further personal gain.
A country such as ours with a diverse population with diverse views, religions and languages needs a Leader as its President. This is truer now than ever. Sadly, I only see opportunists and timer servers. The choice before the people is between the lesser of two evils.
Maybe my sense of gloom and doom is premature. Nobody would be happier to have been off the mark on this than I, but signs indicate that the next presidential election will be more of the same excrement with one new orifice.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
The former military commander is currently with the Tamil Tigers camp, a senior Sri Lankan government minster has accused.
Transport Minister Dullas Alahapperuma said there could be a threat to Gen Sarath Fonseka's life "from his own camp".
The minister was responding to claims by former chief of defence staff (CDS) that his life is in danger as result of government reducing his security.
'Life in danger'
Gen Fonseka who formally announced his candidacy against incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa at the forthcoming presidential elections, has complained that the security provided to him by the government is inadequate.
Speaking to journalists in Colombo on Monday, Minister Alahapperuma said "friends of the LTTE" and "those who spent all of their life for the LTTE" are in Gen Fonseka's camp.
He told BBC's Elmo Fernando that breakaway LTTE leaders, Karuna and Pillayan who are currently with the government, have denounced violence and joined the democratic process.
The minister added that apart from the last five years, much details of Gen Fonseka's career are not known to the public.
Joining the press conference the Environment Minister Champika Ranawaka warned of an impending violence similar to that in 1993 during provincial council elections.
"Those forces that created the series of murders and counter murders might do the same to stop development process," the minister who is also a senior leader of Buddhist monk-led Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) said.
© BBC Sinhala
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Sri Lanka's president and the former army general who is attempting to unseat him in January elections opened their campaigns on Monday with visits to separate Buddhist shrines.
President Mahinda Rajapakse and Sarath Fonseka have been at loggerheads over claiming credit for the military's victory against the Tamil Tigers in May, which ended decades of ethnic bloodshed on the island.
Rajapakse received blessings at temples in the historic town of Anuradhapura, while Fonseka visited the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy.
Fonseka confirmed weeks of speculation on Sunday by declaring he would run in the January 26 vote against his former commander-in-chief.
He said he was moving into politics because corruption was preventing Sri Lankans from benefiting from the success that military forces had secured under his command.
Fonseka quit the military after accusing the government of sidelining him and falsely suspecting him of trying to stage a coup.
The government called the election hoping to take advantage of its popularity following the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, who had waged a long and bloody fight for an independent Tamil homeland.
Analysts say Fonseka's bid may split Rajapakse's Sinhalese nationalist voter base.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Sri Lanka Tamils may have been freed from camps because of the politics surrounding upcoming elections as much as international pressure.
By Mian Ridge - Sri Lanka's government freed hundreds of thousands of Tamils from vast internment camps in the north of the island Tuesday – prompted as much by upcoming elections as concerns over human rights, say analysts.
In May, when the Army finally routed the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) from their northern stronghold, much of the population of that area – close to 300,000 people - was imprisoned in overcrowded camps. Tuesday morning, fewer than half that number were thought to remain.
As conditions deteriorated, international pressure mounted, along with warnings that continued detainment would make reconciliation between the island's Tamil minority and Sinhalese majority increasingly elusive. That ethnic conflict was the root of the LTTE's long war against the government.
But internal politics are likely to have done more to secure the freedom of the northern Tamils than foreign pressure.
"[For] the first time in a long time, the government has been forced to focus on the minorities," says Jehan Perera, executive director of the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, a nonpartisan advocacy group.
That change was ushered in last month, when Sri Lanka's Army chief, Gen. Sarath Fonseka, stepped down as head of the military and announced he would run as the opposition candidate against President Mahindra Rajapakse in general elections in January.
President Rajapakse had called an early election to take advantage of the popularity garnered by his historic defeat of the LTTE. But analysts say General Fonseka's bid threatens to split the president's Sinhalese voter base – forcing Rajapakse to court the vote of the Tamil minority.
Fonseka, an ardent Sinhalese nationalist, has also sought to play to Tamil and moderate sentiments, voicing concern over the current situation of the refugees. In his letter of resignation as head of the Army, he criticized both the "appalling conditions" in the camps and the president's failure to reconcile Sri Lanka's Tamils and Sinhalese.
Mr. Perera says it is questionable whether minorities will back Fonseka, who led a brutal military crackdown on the LTTE in which thousands of civilian Tamils were killed, although "my own belief is that they will be prepared to back someone new," he says.
"His standing for the polls is good for the country, because he has strengthened the opposition," he adds.
Freed Tamils: tough journey home
Many of the newly freed Tamils face a difficult task returning to their villages hundreds of miles away from the camps in which they have lived for months.
Mr. Perera said their journeys home would not be as easy as the government had suggested, as roads were blocked and there was little public transport. He added that the government's handout of 5,000 rupees ($43) per household was entirely inadequate for people returning to homelands decimated by war, with ruined buildings and patchy sanitation.
Experts also say that with much of the north still dangerously mined, many Tamils will choose to remain in the camps for now.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka's government still has to prove that it is serious about bringing lasting peace by giving Tamils some form of political autonomy.
Over the weekend, Sri Lanka was blocked from hosting the next meeting of Commonwealth leaders in protest of Colombo's military repression of Tamils during the last phase of fighting.
Australia and Britain united to block Sri Lanka's bid for the 2011 summit, which it had formally submitted in 2007. That meeting will now be hosted by Australia.
© The Christian Science Monitor
Sri Lanka opens up war refugee camps - AP
Sri Lankans in Camps Allowed to Leave - New York Times
Sri Lanka opens Tamil camps - Al Jazeera
Sri Lanka lets war refugees move freely - Reuters
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