Thursday, May 27, 2010

Amnesty's report condemns 'politicisation of justice'

By Caroline Hawley - Amnesty International has criticised the "politicisation of international justice" in its annual report, which documents torture in 111 countries.

The human rights group accuses powerful governments of subordinating justice to political self-interest and of shielding allies from scrutiny.

It expresses particular concern over possible war crimes committed during fighting in Sri Lanka last year.

The report also criticises the UN for its failure to intervene.

Thousands of people were killed during the war, and a UN spokesman described the situation in northern Sri Lanka at the time as a "bloodbath".

But Amnesty says that "power plays" at the UN Human Rights Council led to member states approving a resolution drafted by the Sri Lankan government, complimenting itself on its success against the Tamil Tigers.

"By the end of the year, despite further evidence of war crimes and other abuses, no-one had been brought to justice," Amnesty's Secretary General Claudio Cordone says. "One would be hard pressed to imagine a more complete failure to hold to account those who abuse human rights."

'Landmark event'

In its report, Amnesty also cites the United States and European Union for using their position with the UN Security Council "to continue to shield Israel from strong measures of accountability for its actions in Gaza".

But it says that there have been positive developments over the past year as well.

In Latin America, it notes the conviction of former President Alberto Fujimori of Peru for crimes against humanity, and Argentina's last military President Reynaldo Bignone for kidnapping and torture.

And it hails the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir, on war crimes charges as a "landmark event".

However, it is disappointed by the African Union's failure to co-operate with the ICC, despite a "nightmare of violence" in Darfur affecting hundreds of thousands of people. This, it says, is a "stark example of government failure to put justice before politics".

And it calls on all G20 countries - including the US, China and Russia - to sign up to sign up fully to the ICC.

Pressure on Britain

Amnesty is also highly critical of the previous British government for "stonewalling" on repeated calls for an independent investigation into allegations that UK intelligence officials were complicit in torture, "rendition" and secret detention.

The organisation is also concerned about the UK relying on "diplomatic assurances" when carrying out deportations to countries such as Algeria and Jordan.

Last week, new Foreign Secretary William Hague promised that an inquiry would be held into allegations of complicity in torture. But few details were released, and the Foreign Office says the issue is still being discussed by ministers in the National Security Council.

Amnesty has welcomed Mr Hague's pledge.

"We look forward to an inquiry that is truly independent and looks not only at potential criminal responsibility but also at Britain's co-operation agreements with the United States and other countries," says Mr Cordone. "It should leave no stone unturned."

© BBC News

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sri Lanka Army occupies 80% of agricultural land in North

Sri Lanka Army (SLA) occupies around eighty percentage of agricultural land in Vanni and Jaffna peninsula in the name of High Security Zones (HSZs) and releasing this land back to the owners is the prerequisite to any attempt to explore possibilities of agricultural development in the North, representatives of agricultural organizations in Jaffna peninsula told the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Jegath Pushpakumara, Wednesday in Jaffna Secretariat where he participated in a meeting related to the development activities in the peninsula, sources in Jaffna said.

Deputy Minister Pushpakumara, who is on a two-day official visit to North, had announced in Ki’lonochchi Tuesday that the government is taking steps to reopen the Agricultural Research Centres in Murungkan and Paranthan.

When Pushpakumara spoke on government’s plans for agricultural development in Jaffna district in the above meeting the representatives of agricultural organizations appealed to him to first hand over the agricultural lands in the North occupied by SLA to the owners.

Heated arguments and discussion followed the request but the minister did not assure the release of the occupied agricultural lands back to its owners.

© Tamil Net

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

As Sri Lanka spins, UN silent on why stopped counting the dead

By Matthew Russell Lee - Eighteen hours after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met with Sri Lankan minister G.L. Peiris, Inner City Press asked him how the meeting had gone and what he had said. His associate spokesperson Choi Soung-ah cut in, "We'll get you a read out... We have a read out for today."

But Sri Lanka's Mission to the UN put out their spin on the meeting before eight pm on Monday, four hours after it ended. Why would the UN delay twelve hours and counting?

Perhaps in the nature of a read out, Ban advisor Nicholas Haysom went on the record to say "there are times when, on grounds of safety, you have to make tough calls about whether and when to remove international staff, or even national staff, and yet how to continue to deliver humanitarian aid, and we've had to do this in Afghanistan."

But the question is not only the UN pulling out of Kilinochchi, it is also the UN stopping preparing estimates of civilians being killed, after the government expressed anger at the leak of one such report (to Inner City Press). By contrast in Afghanistan, the UN provides estimates of and statements on the killing of civilians.

If Haysom is going to be providing the UN's response to the International Crisis Group's call for an international -- and independent -- investigation of the UN's role in war crimes, he should come and do a briefing and take questions. More importantly, Ban's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar should at last answer questions about his role. We will await the UN's belated read out.

Update of 2:20 p.m. -- even at Tuesday's noon briefing, no UN read out of the meeting with Sri Lanka was given. Nor, even after eight days, was any response ready to the International Crisis Group report. A question about Mr. Nambiar, however, was asked, and was strangely referred out by the UN.

© Inner City Press

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

War-Affected Women Bewail Their Plight

By IPS Correspondent - Rajini Padamaraj, 32, is burdened with the responsibility of looking after the needs of her entire household, composed of her mother and two younger siblings.

The slightly built woman, who remains unmarried, is of Tamil ethnic origin and originally from the Jaffna peninsula in northern Sri Lanka. She found a job last October as a sewing instructor in a training centre for women funded by a Japanese women’s group.

The salary with which she supports her family – equivalent to around 120 U.S. dollars monthly – is augmented by a small state allowance that her widowed mother receives and occasional extra income that she and her younger sister manage to make sewing for new clients.

Their home just before their current one was located in Kuchaweli, a scenic town on the East that was the site of the heavy fighting between the now defunct Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan government forces. Today, they live on the east coast, where Padamaraj said they want to restart their lives as a family. Never mind that home is a tin shack in Trincomalee, a major town on the east side of Sri Lanka.

"With the war over in Sri Lanka, there are suggestions from various people that we go back to our old home. But we will never do that. Whatever hardships we face, we must start our lives together here, because we need to be safe," said Padamaraj.

Indeed, a year since the bloody ethnic conflict ended in May 2009, research conducted by local women’s groups on the plight of the South Asian island state’s war-affected women shows employment and security are their top priorities as they struggle to rebuild their lives. Many of them lost their husbands to the war, because they were either killed or went missing during the almost 30-year conflict with the Tamil secessionists.

A report compiled by the Association of War-Affected Women (AWAW) in August 2009 following a visit to the Jaffna peninsula and the east coast showed women continued to feel vulnerable and feared the heavy military presence in their areas.

AWAW represents some 2,000 women across Sri Lanka whose sons or husbands were either disabled or killed during the war against the LTTE rebels, who were fighting for a separate homeland for the Tamil minority.

The women surveyed by AWAW also voiced their desperate need for economic stability so they could provide for their young children and elderly parents. Many of them had neither high school nor college education while others were younger women who had gone into computer training but still lacked jobs.

"Providing better conditions for women to rebuild their lives as well as giving them a voice in postwar development must take priority as the Sri Lankan government moves into a large-scale resettlement and reconciliation process," said Visakha Dharmadasa, head of AWAW.

Government estimates some 50,000 war widows are living on the east coast, including Trincomalee in the north and Batticoloa and Ampare districts farther south.

Widows usually receive around 250 dollars as a one-time settlement and an extra 100 dollars from the state when they can produce their husbands’ death certificates. On a monthly basis, they also get food rations that barely cover their basic needs.

A majority of the widows are Tamils, followed by Muslim and Sinhalese ethnic groups, and belong to rural farming or fishing communities, where poverty and malnutrition are major problems.

Grassroots groups lobbying support for widows have expressed concern that the 19-member Presidential Task Force on Northern Development appointed by the government in May does not include a single woman.

The task force is mandated to prepare plans and programmes to resettle internally displaced persons, including women, rehabilitate and develop the economic and social infrastructure of the war-torn northern province.

Shanthi Dharmaratnam, the director of the sewing training centre where Padamaraj works, said the slow progress in efforts to empower conflict- affected womenfolk – whether by the state, the private sector or even women’s activist groups whose movements, according to her, are being hampered by stringent security measures on the ground – has made the women feel that they have no one else to depend on but themselves.

"Widows and single women find a cruel word out there," said Dharmaratnam, because they are not getting "financial and psychological" support while looking after their families.

Padamaraj’s mother, Savitri, is scared of losing her daughter. "I am terrified of losing Rajini not only because she is my daughter but because my family would loose our leader who has helped us keep our heads above water."

Padamaraj and co-worker Jothi, a widow with two children, are not pinning their hopes on marriage as a way to escape their difficult situations, saying they are determined to fend for themselves, which they say is the "only way."

"Remarriage is out of the question because a stepfather will not look after my children," said Jothi, 36, whose husband, a farmer, mysteriously disappeared five years ago. The widow suspects he was taken in for questioning by the armed forces and died in custody.

Just when all hope seems lost, women have been encouraged by the election of the Jaffna peninsula’s female mayor – Vijayalkala Meheshwaran – a landmark in a traditionally conservative society, where women are expected to be homemakers and men to engage in politics.

Dharmadasa said Meheshwaran’s election is a reflection of how Tamil women are moving to the frontlines and finding a place in development.

"The road is long for war-affected widows," she said. Yet "the fight for their rights must go on."

© Inter Press Service

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sri Lanka urges US to focus on business, not just rights

Sri Lanka's new Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris on Tuesday urged Washington to seize business and other opportunities in post-war Sri Lanka rather than focus only on alleged human rights abuses there.

Visiting Washington after Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse won a resounding reelection victory in April, Peiris parried criticism from human rights activists and others as he began a week-long visit to push for closer ties.

A year after the end of the civil war, "the circumstances are propitious for a certain strengthening and deepening of the relationship between Sri Lanka and the United States," Sri Lanka's chief diplomat said.

"We are not in anyway resentful of the focus on human rights. That is understandable. We are not complaining about it," Peiris told a gathering hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.

"But we are making the point that the relationship should not be one dimensional. There are many other things that Sri Lanka and the United States can do together," he said.

Rajapakse has come under fire at home and abroad for allegedly violating human rights in the final military campaign against Tamil Tiger rebels and has been accused of suppressing dissent since his reelection.

Representatives from the International Crisis Group and Amnesty International aired some of the alleged abuses in a question-and-answer session with Peiris following his speech about post-election and post-war developments.

Business opportunities abound, according to Peiris, who was minister for international trade in the previous government.

"In particular, as we open up the country, as we rebuild the infrastructure, I think there is a great deal of scope for American companies to come in and participate fully in that exercise," he said.

Peiris talked of a new "mood of optimism" in Sri Lanka, adding the "whole country was coming alive" as foreign tourists begin arriving in large numbers and foreign investors eyed hotel construction.

Peiris said he met earlier Tuesday with US senators and congressmen and planned to hold more meetings with them over the next two days.

He is also to meet with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday after she returns from east Asia.

Clinton's spokesman Philip Crowley last month urged Sri Lanka's new government to use its mandate to pursue a "healing process" as the Indian Ocean island recovers from decades of war.

Crowley said the government appeared to enjoy a "significant mandate" from the election.


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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sri Lanka, no Indian Ocean paradise

Robert Mahoney - Britons are again flocking to Sri Lanka. Tourist arrivals surged 47% last month from a year earlier and sun-seekers from the UK form the largest single group. That's an astounding turnaround for a country that for more than a quarter of a century had been a case study in ethnic warfare, terrorism and brutal repression.

This week the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, buoyed by recent wins in presidential and parliamentary elections, marks the first anniversary of its military victory over the separatist Tamil Tigers.

In the past few months Sri Lanka has been trying to burnish its image as an Indian Ocean paradise. And with some success. In January, the influential travel section of the New York Times slapped a picture of Colombo's colonial-era Galle Face hotel on its front page and put Sri Lanka at the top of its 31 Places to Go in 2010 list.

And a western tourist sipping palm wine on a white sand beach or Ceylon tea in a plantation hill station may agree. The weather's balmy, the people smile, and the price is oh-so right.

What visitors may not notice is that broad swaths of the mainly Tamil north and east of the country are still effectively closed military zones, and tens of thousands of Tamil civilians displaced by last year's army onslaught are still held in camps. Visitors would have a hard time finding independent reporting on these stories in the Sri Lankan media. But not to worry. So would Sri Lankans.

Peace may be bringing a dividend for tourism and other business, but not for free speech. The Tamil press has long been intimidated and is extremely wary of being the first to break news critical of the government or the military. But now the Sinhala and English language press based in Colombo is also under fire. The writing on the wall for those who report critically on Rajapaksa or his extended family, which occupies positions of power and influence throughout the island, came in January last year with the brutal beating to death in broad daylight of Lasantha Wickramatunga, editor in chief of the popular Sunday Leader newspaper.

That still unsolved murder sent a chill throughout the media. More attacks and harassment of reporters followed. Journalists, who already toned down or spiked critical stories, began to censor themselves even more. Several slipped out of the country fearing for their safety. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in its latest report on Sri Lankan media, estimates that a total of 10 journalists have been killed for their work in the past decade, and that more than 25 have fled into exile. The authorities have not secured a single conviction in any of those 10 murders. This has earned Sri Lanka the dishonour of fourth place on the CPJ's Global Impunity Index, which ranks countries that fail to bring the killers of journalists to justice.

Troublesome journalists sometimes just disappear. One such is Prageeth Ekneligoda, a columnist and cartoonist whose wife and two sons have not seen him since he left to cover the presidential election campaign on 24 January. Police seem uninterested in investigating his disappearance. His editor at the online news site Lanka eNews, Sandaruwan Senadheera, has already fled the country.

Sri Lanka is used to having its poor human rights record under the spotlight. Western democracies have lost some of their leverage to effect change as the government in Colombo has turned to Asian countries for arms, aid and investment. China and Pakistan provided much of the weaponry for the final push against Tamil insurgents; Iran is financing the construction of a power station and supplying oil; and China is providing loans and labour for air, sea and rail transport projects.

But in addition to tourism, Sri Lanka still relies on Europe and the United States as export markets, particularly for apparel. Sri Lankan textiles entering the European Union enjoy low tariffs under the generalised system of preferences known as GSP+. Brussels has said it could suspend that privilege in August as part of a review of the island's human rights performance. Colombo has sought to play down the importance of the GSP+ but the EU accounts for 35% of Sri Lanka textile exports. The loss of that market could jeopardise 200,000 jobs.

Those who care about freedom of expression and the safety of journalists in Sri Lanka have few opportunities to influence the new government in Sri Lanka. The prospect of suspending preferential tariffs gives the EU a powerful tool to extract human rights improvements from Sri Lanka. Brussels should use it.

© Guardian

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sri Lanka and its journalists : A country going wrong

Click here to read CPJ's new report In Sri Lanka

By Bob Dietz - CPJ has launched a new report, In Sri Lanka, No Peace Dividend for Press. It takes a close look at the media in Sri Lanka, one year after the government declared a decisive victory over Tamil secessionists that ended 30 years of bitter, often genuinely suicidal ethnic conflict.

In the years running up to that victory, Sri Lankan journalists who had dared to criticize the government found themselves under serious attack - ten have been killed for their work in the last decade, and many others have been harassed, arbitrarily jailed, temporarily "disappeared," or otherwise seriously harassed. The atmosphere has become so poisonous for journalists that CPJ counts more than 25 in exile. Some of them have asked for, and received, political asylum.

Sri Lanka is one of the oldest democracies in Asia, has never had a military government, and has a popularly re-elected president and parliament brought to power in elections that have been accepted by the international community. In January, incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa took 58 percent of the popular vote. In April, his coalition won 144 of the parliament's 225 seats. While he might not have been handed the two-thirds majority he wanted to pass, wholesale, the constitutional amendments to allow him to run gain for a third term, nstead of seeing a president emerging with a firm grip on power, his critics see a leader with a potential stranglehold on the country's political growth.

At a point in the country's history where it should be poised to emerge from that chaos and move toward a period of reconciliation and rebuilding, Sri Lanka's future seems clouded, not least because of the government's attitude toward the media, or at least the part of the media that dares to criticize it.

A few cases in point:

Prageeth Ekanaliyagoda, a mild mannered but anti-government online columnist and cartoonist whose wife and two sons have not seen him since the evening of January 24, has simply dropped out of sight. His wife Sandhya has not been able to get police to even investigate his disappearance, her letters to the president, justice minister, and members of parliament all go unanswered. His editor at Lanka eNews, Sandurawan Senadheera, has fled the country.

Lasantha Wickramatunga, editor in chief of the popular but, again, anti-government Sunday Leader, was killed in broad daylight in January 2009, on his way to work, at rush hour on a busy street. The magistrate's hearings dragged on for a year, and then got interesting when the government suddenly implicated a political opponent -- former general Sarath Fonseka, who fought and won the war with the Tamils.

Despite a call for them to return home and work out a reconciliation made by Attorney General Mohan Peiris, not one of those journalists in exile has dared to risk the return. The cases of Prageeth Ekanaliyagoda and Lasantha Wickramatunga hang too heavily in the air for them to take the chance.

And those exiles know that those cases are not anomalies: This year, Sri Lanka ranked fourth on CPJ's Global Impunity Index. Ten journalists have been murdered over the last decade for covering the war, human rights, politics, military affairs, and corruption. There hasn't been a single conviction in any of those cases.

On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, under political pressure from the European Union, the government announced that it would grant one of the international banner cases of targeted media, J.S. Tissainayagam a presidential pardon, one that hasn't materialized so far. Tissainayagam was released on bail in January and has lived in seclusion since. The Tamil editor was first jailed in March 2008 and eventually indicted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act in August 2008.

Sri Lanka faces a brutal economic slap from the EU in August, when the preferential tariff agreement it enjoys with European countries allowing for the export of clothing and textiles to the EU at preferential rates will be rescinded. Called GSP+, the agreement includes a broad range of human rights conditions, which the EU decided in October 2009 were not being met. If GSP+ is ended, it could knock as much as 2 percent off of Sri Lanka's GDP and push hundreds of thousands of workers out of factories. That sort of economic imperative seems to be the only way to get the government to address its human rights failures, many of them tied to Sri Lanka's thirty years of internal bloodshed, sad history of ethnic conflict will take generations time to redress.

Those failures are certainly greater than just its abuse of journalists. but the Sri Lanka under President Rajapaksa could begin to reverse the country's course by addressing the unprosecuted killings of journalists, and create an atmosphere in which those of them who have fled their homeland to save their lives felt like they could return to their families and jobs in safety.

Bob Dietz is the Asia Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

© The Huffington Post

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sri Lanka: Relatives of the disappeared protest

Many people have been disappeared in Sri Lanka since the end of the conflict with the Tamil Tigers, human rights activists say.

Convenor of Committee for the Investigation of Disappearances (CID) Chamil Jayanetti told BBC Sandeshaya that the government should reveal the names of nearly 12,000 suspected LTTE members currently detained.

"We don't know what the fate of these disappeared people are. They may be detained, killed of disappeared. If the government announce the names of those detained then the relatives would have a clue," he said.

Mr. Jayanetti was commenting as a group of relatives of the disappeared protested in Vavuniya, displaying the photographs of the victims, calling for the authorities to reveal what happened to their loved ones.

"My husband was kidnapped when he went to the shop. The people at the shop said they didn't know who the kidnappers were," a woman said.

Another woman said: "He was taken when he was on his way to the temple. We don't know whether he is still alive or dead."

Former Jaffna parliamentarian MK Sivajilingam who attended the protest said that the government should come under international pressure as a result of similar protests.

© BBC Sinhala

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Is the U.N. complicit in Sri Lankan war crimes?

By Colum Lynch - Louise Arbour, the head of the International Crisis Group, called for an internal review of the U.N.'s conduct during Sri Lanka's bloody 2009 civil war, telling Turtle Bay that the organization's abandonment of national staff in a conflict zone and its failure to speak up more forcefully about abuses made it "close to complicit" in government atrocities.

Arbour said the United Nations compromised its principles for a lofty goal: to preserve the ability of aid workers to provide humanitarian assistance to those in desperate need of it. But she faulted the U.N.'s acceptance of "absolutely unacceptable" visa limitations on international staff and the U.N.'s decision to withdraw foreign staff from the northern Sri Lanka province of Vanni in September 2008, on the eve of government forces' final offensive against the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, leaving behind "very exposed" local Sri Lankan employees.

Her organization also cited one case from June 2009 in which the United Nations "was slow to react" to the abduction and torture of two U.N. national staff members who were detained on suspicion of collaborating with the Tamil Tigers, and "made no serious protest at their mistreatment."

"The U.N. should look at how it behaved in the whole episode," said Arbour, a former U.N. war crimes prosecutor and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. "I think it's a very sobering moment where the United Nations should reexamine the price it is willing to pay to maintain humanitarian access."

In a press conference Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon responded angrily to suggestions that the U.N. shared responsibility for the violence. "I totally reject those allegations." He said he would move forward with the establishment of a panel of advisors to counsel him on how to hold perpetrators accountable for crimes during the decisive final months of the decades-long war.

Arbour's remarks follow the release last week of a report by her organization alleging that the Sri Lankan military may have killed more than 30,000 civilians during its 2009 military conquest of the country's Tamil rebels. The report also alleges that the Tamil Tigers, one of the world's most brutal insurgent movements, also committed massive war crimes, forcing hundreds of thousands of civilians to serve as human shields, and murdering those who sought to flee to safety.

Arbour called for an independent investigation into war crimes by both government forces and the Tamil Tigers, warning that lingering bitterness fueled by the conflict will serve as an inspiration to future insurgents. She also faulted the U.N. Security Council for failing to use its powers to constrain Sri Lanka, and the Human Rights Council for issuing a statement praising the government at the end of the conflict for defeating one of the world's most ruthless insurgencies.

"U.N. agencies allowed themselves to be bullied by the government and accepted a reduced role in protecting civilians, most notably with their quick acceptance of the government's September 2008 order to remove all staff from the Vanni," the ICG report stated. "The Human Rights Council chose not to defend humanitarian law, but instead passed a resolution praising the conduct of the government. All of this has eroded further the standing of the U.N. in Sri Lanka and elsewhere."

Arbour's views hold particular weight at the United Nations, where she served in Ban's cabinet and worked alongside many of the officials she is now criticizing. Her remarks echoed her contribution to a 1990s debate on the U.N.'s role in war crimes in Bosnia and Rwanda.

The U.N. is "not a gigantic evil machine but I think there were probably some who made judgment calls that were overly cautious or prudent," Arbour said. "My own suspicion, knowing some of the players in the environment, is it's always for a good reason. It's always not to aggravate the government or make sure they can stay in the game as long as possible. That's exactly why it's so important to look at the facts and start asking are we getting to a point where we are almost complicit with the government in our desire to maintain the delivery of services."

For Arbour, the Sri Lankan war constitutes a defining moment for the United Nations and for Secretary-General Ban, who has faced criticism from rights groups for failing to push earlier for an outside investigation into possible war crimes during the conflict. Arbour said while she welcomed Ban's plan's to set to a panel of experts to explore how perpetrators might be held accountable, she wished he had done so immediately after the conflict.

She also criticized Ban for meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka and failing to press for an independent investigation. Ban traveled to Sri Lanka after the conflict ended and signed an agreement with the Sri Lankan leader that placed responsibility for ensuring accountability for war crimes with the Sri Lankan government. The deal was struck just as the U.N.'s high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, was pressing the Human Rights Council to establish an independent inquiry into war crimes in Sri Lanka.

"The fact that the secretary-general went and stood with the president at the very end of the war when some of us had been for months screaming about what was happening in Sri Lanka -- I don't want to say it was disappointing," Arbour said. "Well, let's put it this way: I would have preferred an immediate call for accountability. I wish that what we're talking about now was a conversation that had taken place this time last year, immediately after the conflict."

U.N. officials defended Ban's response to the crisis, saying he publicly urged, and worked tirelessly to persuade, Rajapaska and the insurgents to observe a pause in fighting to allow the release of hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped between the warring camps. They say that the U.N. is frequently required to rely on local staff to deliver assistance as a last resort, noting that they have done so in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and other conflict zones.

"The U.N. actually supplied the people with humanitarian assistance, at great risk to its staff," said Nicholas Haysom, Ban's political advisor. "There are times when, on grounds of safety, you have to make tough calls about whether and when to remove international staff, or even national staff, and yet how to continue to deliver humanitarian aid, and we've had to do this in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

Haysom said that Ban was among the "most vocal" leaders in the international community raising the alarm about events unfolding in Sri Lanka. "He was one of the first to do so."

U.N. diplomats and observers said that Ban was raising concerns about the violence, both publicly and privately, but admitted that his heavy reliance on quiet diplomacy had little impact on Sri Lanka's behavior.

"He put a spotlight on what was happening in Sri Lanka," said John Sawers, who was then Britain's U.N. ambassador. "So it's not perfect in Sri Lanka; far too many civilians got killed and there is still an outstanding problem with the civilians in the [Internally Displaced Persons] camps. But I believe Ban's engagement made the situation less bad than it would otherwise have been."

Hasyom said the secretary-general has little power to enforce his views on a sovereign government, particularly when he doesn't have the full backing of the Security Council. "If the council is not backing you, you only have so much independent leverage or power."

Arbour said that the failure to confront the excesses of the Sri Lankan conflict now may lead to further abuses later. The so-called Sri Lanka option -- brutal military counterinsurgency combined with a total disregard for the laws of wars or international condemnation -- has been gaining currency in countries faced with threats from insurgencies or militants. Her agency cited reports that the Sri Lanka option has seeped into the political debates in countries dealing with militants or insurgents, including Burma, Colombia, India, Israel, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Thailand.

"I understand the rationale," Arbour said, referring to the U.N. decision to maintain its humanitarian operations in the face of compromises. "It's the only way we're going to get humanitarian deliveries," said Arbour, noting that Sri Lanka should prompt a full reevaluation of U.N. humanitarian policies. "But there must come a point where you really have to ask: Are you now paying a price that is so high that you become almost complicit in terrible actions by governments?"

© Foreign Policy

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Evicting poor in Colombo: Defence Ministry's new role

On the 8th of May, the Sri Lankan defence ministry deployed police and the army to evict 45 families from central Colombo and demolish their houses. Over recent days, police also have been mobilised to remove thousands of street hawkers in Colombo and its suburbs, in Kandy in the central hills and in the southern city of Galle.

Hundreds of people at Mews Street in Colombo’s Slave Island area were confronted by police officers, including the riot squad, who had been mobilised to evict them. The families’ houses were located beside a school for the children of military personnel. When people refused to leave their homes, police dragged them away. Soldiers were deployed around the area. Bulldozers were brought in and started demolishing houses while local people looked on.

When residents refused to leave the area, arguing that they had a legal right to housing, police riot squad members brutally beat them with batons and chased them away. Army personnel deleted photographs of the bashings from journalists’ cameras.

These attacks are a part of the re-elected government’s broader plans to evict the poor from the country’s main cities and release the real estate for big business developers. Just a few days after the new government was established following last month’s general election, President Mahinda Rajapakse placed the Urban Development Authority (UDA) under the control of the defence ministry. Defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse, the president’s brother, has been appointed UDA chairman.

Placing the defence ministry in charge of urban development marks a further militarisation of Sri Lankan society. It is another demonstration that the repressive military methods used against the Tamil population in the north and east during the war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) will increasingly be unleashed against working people throughout the island.

Successive governments tried on a number of occasions since 1977 to remove Colombo’s street vendors but backed away in the face of opposition. By placing the cities under the defence ministry, the government hopes to utilise the security machine built up during the war to forcibly clear the poor from areas it has earmarked for corporate ventures.

The government has planned several projects in major cities, including Colombo, to attract foreign investment and tourists. According to the UDA, Colombo will become the “Core Area” and will dominate in “port-related activities, banking, financial and insurance sectors” on the basis of a “revised zoning plan”. The government is planning to relocate administrative offices in Sri Jayewardenepura-Kotte, nearly five kilometres from the Colombo city centre. Existing industries in Colombo will be located in free trade zones away from the city.

Gotabhaya Rajapakse declared the government’s wider intention to remove street hawkers and demolish the houses of the poor while touring the former northern war zone last week. He told the media in northern Kilinochchi that slums and other “illegal structures” were “eyesores” and would be removed from Colombo. The occupants would be provided with new houses to make the city attractive to the tourists, the defence secretary claimed.

According to government statistics, nearly 54 percent of Colombo’s residents are slum dwellers. They occupy nearly 1,000 acres of prime land “illegally”. Authorities have accused the poor of draining the resources of the city and causing “serious nuisance to citizens and impeding development”.

To justify the removal of Colombo’s pavement vendors, the government and the media claimed the action was pedestrian-friendly and necessary to eliminate crime. Friday’s editorial in the state-owned Daily News commended Gotabhaya Rajapakse for his “no nonsense” stand of rejecting “the pleas of politicians on behalf of these criminals and ordering all unauthorised structures be removed”.

When WSWS reporters visited Slave Island yesterday, hundreds of people remained there on the roads or in near-by buildings. Police personnel had been deployed, and army troops stationed at the junction. Residents angrily recounted that the UDA had called them a week ago and announced that their houses would be demolished on May 8.

One resident explained: “Many of us earn a living as street hawkers. We were asked to go to temporary huts about 4 kilometres away. There are no toilets there and the huts are not suitable for living. A UDA official said they had orders from ‘higher up’ to demolish our houses.

“I think this area is being cleared for the defence school. We were given 5,000 rupees (about $US45). But we refused to take that money. They say these buildings have been constructed illegally. That is a lie. Our people have lived here for about 80 years. We have legal documents.”

Another resident said: “The defence secretary has started this. This is only the first step.” He asked: “Is this the ‘wonder in the Asia’?”—referring to President Rajapakse’s claim to make Sri Lanka an economic wonder in Asia. He added: “Here Sinhala, Muslim and Tamil people were living peacefully. Is this the way the poor are treated by this government?”

A schoolboy told us: “Yesterday I saw tractors come and break our houses. I can’t go to school for months. My school bag and uniforms are under the debris. My sister is facing the same situation. I am crying, and my mother is also crying. Don’t demolish my mother’s and grandmother’s house!”

Many street hawkers expressed their outrage. One declared: “How can we live without our businesses? How will our children eat and go school? This is very unjust. We need a fair solution. Most pavement vendors supported the government in the elections, but since winning the elections the government doesn’t care about us.”

Amid rising anger, President Rajapakse held a meeting with a delegation from the payment hawkers’ association in Colombo’s Pettah area on May 4. He promised land in the area for 1,000 small stalls and offered to pay 2,000 rupees per day to vendors for two weeks until the construction was completed. Street hawkers do not trust this face-saving move, and fear that they will be eventually evicted from the new area as well.

There are about 20,000 hawkers in Colombo alone, drawn from the poorest sectors of the country’s population, including the rural poor and plantation families. Some of them have been engaged in their small businesses for decades.

Sugath and his father Piyasiri have been selling clothes in front of Colombo’s Fort Railway Station for more than 15 years, since arriving from Midigama village near the southern city of Matara. Sugath thought that the cleared area would be allocated to government supporters.

He said: “My uncle’s son also works as a pavement vendor. I have three children, all in school. Without doing our job, how can we feed our children? We don’t know any other job.”

Vendors contemptuously recalled the government’s election promises. One declared: “We are poor people. During the election, the government said that if it won, it would not forget us. But what has happened now? We have been pushed into the underworld.”

A vendor selling clothes in Borella, another Colombo neighbourhood, said he was taking a risk after the vendors were chased away because he had no other means to live. He added: “I have to send my children to school. The cost of living is very high. I spend 300 rupees for my daily meals. We earn different income each day, but it is just enough to live. We don’t have enough money to buy goods to sell, so we borrow money and have to pay high interest daily. The government decision is very unfair.”

The government’s offensive against the poor must be taken as a warning to the entire working class. Working people will be treated in the same brutal manner when they resist the austerity measures that the government is currently drawing up to meet the terms of last year’s $US2.6 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.

© Socialist Equality

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sri Lanka: Floods recede, affected continue to suffer

By Ishtartha Wellaboda - The torrential rains and the ensuing floods have now begun to recede, but those affected in the disaster continue to suffer.

According to the Disaster Management Centre 20 lives were claimed during last week’s rains and floods, while 546,247 others were affected by the floods.

Meanwhile, 15,361 people have been displaced with their houses being washed away. Currently, the displaced are being facilitated at 78 centres around the country. The DMC also reports that 493 houses were fully destroyed by the floods while another 2,496 houses had barely survived.

Though it was reported that Hurricane Laila passed from the Bay of Bengal towards India, DMC reports that the hurricane’s effects caused some damage to property and people in the Jaffna Peninsula. The effects of the Hurricane destroyed 27 houses in Jaffna while causing damage to another 524 houses. Over 2,216 people in Jaffna were affected by the hurricane.

Gampaha District appears to be the worst struck area due to floods with eight deaths and 193,330 people affected. Colombo District is the second worst affected area. Though no deaths were reported 153,342 people in the district were affected by floods.

Two families in the Kothmale area in Nuwara Eliya and a family in Dehiowita were also harmed by landslides. However, no one had sustained any serious injuries. Meanwhile, two people were killed by drowning in flood water in Habaraduwa and Elpitiya.

© The Nation

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Rs. 202,220 mil for Sri Lanka's defence in 2010

According to the appropriation bill for 2010, the highest allocation continues to be reserved for the Ministry of Defence.

With recurring expenditure amounting to Rs. 191,290 m and Rs. 10,930 as capital expenditure, the total expenditure stands at Rs. Rs. 202,220 m.

The second largest allocation, Rs. 113,260 m, is reserved for the Ministry of Provincial Councils and Local Government.

© Colombo Today

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sri Lanka: Kokilai nature reserve 'bulldozed'

A nature reserve in north eastern Sri Lanka is being bulldozed for development and for resettlement after the war, environmentalists say.

Sri Lanka Nature Forum (SLNF), said that over 40 acres of Kokilai nature reserve has been bulldozed during April-May this year.

"It is sad that authorities keep quiet and many environmental problems will emerge as a result of this destruction in an area which is home to herd of 35 elephants," it said.

It warned that the large parts of Kokilai lagoon might soon be filled as a result of this destructive action.

The wetlands surrounding Kokilai lagoon is the habitat of hundreds of birds including migrants. The lagoon itself is renown for its marine life.

SLNF Project Manager Sajeewa Chamikara who recently visited Kokilai told BBC Sandeshaya that a huge area with mangroves was affected by the bulldozing.

"The area adjacent to the bulldozed nature reserve is also destroyed by the fire" he said.

He added that the government has failed to appoint either forestry or wildlife authorities to look after the nature reserve in the north.

However, Resettlement Minister Milroy Fernando told BBC Sandeshaya that government has no need to destroy a nature reserve to resettle war displaced.

"It is not done by the government," he said.

The minister pledged to investigate the accusations when he visit the north on Monday.

© BBC Sinhala

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Probe war crimes in Sri Lanka: Boston Globe Editorial

At this time last May, the Sri Lankan government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared total victory over the secessionist Tamil Tigers. Since then, the outside world has received credible accounts of war crimes perpetrated on a large scale by Sri Lankan security forces as well as by the Tigers. Human rights groups are now calling on the United Nations to authorize an international investigation of humanitarian law violations in Sri Lanka. President Obama, who has drawn criticism for soft-pedaling human rights concerns in Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere, should insist that Sri Lanka’s government be held accountable for shelling civilians and hospitals and murdering fighters who surrendered on the battlefield.

The case for an international inquiry is not based solely on an abstract ideal of justice. If there is impunity for the horrors inflicted on civilians in Sri Lanka, other states confronting civil wars or secessionist rebellions will assume there is no price to pay for copying the Sri Lankan blueprint. This is a formula for scorched-earth repression, banning the international press, denying all charges of misconduct, and pretending the killers can conduct a disinterested investigation of their killings.

Sri Lanka needs a peaceful way to move beyond its ethnic tensions. While the country’s Tamil minority has legitimate grievances, the tactics of the Tamil Tigers were often brutal. The Sri Lankan government showed a willingness to take draconian steps to defeat the separatists. Beyond serving the cause of justice, an international war crimes inquiry may also promote a reconciliation between the Rajapaksa government and the minority Tamils of that island nation.

© Boston Globe

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sri Lanka: War crimes defense tour begins behind closed doors

By Matthew Russell Lee - Sri Lanka's war crimes defense tour has begun. Sunday evening in Manhattan's Waldorf Astoria hotel, new Minister of External Affairs G.L. Peiris held interviews with selected reporters in the presence of the country's Permanent Representative to the UN, Palitha Kohona.

One reporter upon leaving his interview with Peiris told Inner City Press, "Well, he made his defense."

Often when foreign ministers or even heads of state come to the UN in New York, they hold press conferences open to all media. At such recent events, Inner City Press has put questions as simply two examples to Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Georgia's foreign minister. Perhaps, some wondered, G.L. Peiris is not ready for prime time?

Despite having covered Sri Lanka more closely than any other correspondent at the UN for the last two years, when Inner City made a formal request to the Sri Lankan Mission, then directly to Palitha Kohona, to pose questions to Minister Peiris, the requests were neither granted nor even responded to.

Rather, several journalists who have never written about Sri Lanka much less seen the internment camps at Vavuniya were invited, some to be wined and dined and told that all is well in Sri Lanka. There is more to be said on this.

Peiris is slated to meet with UN Secretary General on May 24, then fly to Washington. He will meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He will also meet, in New York or Washington, with US Permanent Representative to the UN Susan Rice.

When Inner City Press sought clarification from the US Mission of Ambassador Rice's praise of Mahinda Rajapaksa's "Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission" which includes his Kohona's predecessor Ambassador Palihakkara, who defended the "bloodbath on the beach" in real time, none was received for two days, until Inner City Press managed to ask the question at a stake out.

In the interim, Inner City Press had sought clarification from Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake. We can now report that his office called back and said he declined to speak on the matter, to continue to seek answers either from "US UN" -- the Mission -- or the State Department's war crimes office. Watch this space.

© Inner City Press

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mixed response to Sri Lankan panel

By B. Muralidhar Reddy - The decision of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa last week to appoint an eight-member Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission on the the events ranging from the aborted ceasefire pact in 2002 to the military defeat of the LTTE in May last year has evoked mixed reaction.

While the government has said the Commission could provide the much-needed healing touch in the post-war nation, a section of the activists within and outside Sri Lanka have expressed reservations on its effectiveness.

The announcement has coincided with the first anniversary of the military defeat of the LTTE and followed demands from some quarters for an impartial inquiry particularly on the last phase of the conflict. IRIN, a news agency which functions under the aegis of the United Nations, in a report quoting local activists in a report, said the Commission might not complete its mandate to investigate events during the last phase of a civil war between 2002 and 2009 — claiming that several short-lived commissions in the past two decades have failed.

There has been a big gap between the words and deeds of the government where it concerns issues of human rights, good governance and accountability,” Jehan Perera, director of the National Peace Council, an NGO in Colombo, told IRIN.

The mandate of the Commission announced on May 17 is to report on the lessons to be learnt from the events from Feb 2002 to May 2009, their attendant concerns and to recommend measures to ensure that there will be no recurrence of such a situation. It has been asked to ascertain whether any person, group or institution directly or indirectly bears responsibility for the events and report on measures to be taken to prevent the recurrence of such concerns to promote national unity and reconciliation among all communities.

© The Hindu

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Apologia for the persecution of journalists

By Emil van der Poorten - As if the outpourings of the Dayan Jayatillekas and Malinda Seneviratnes don’t adequately fill the bill for “apologia” for the Rajapaksa regime’s campaign against those critical of it, an English daily with pretensions to objectivity and non partisan journalism cuts loose its Political Correspondent, with two days worth of piffle about the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda wrapped in a tissue of trivia, inclusive of suggestions that Mr. Eknaligoda’s wife and Sunanda Deshapriya (another journalist) are party to some scam of significant proportions.

The exercise appears to be intended to prove that Eknaligoda has not, in fact, been “disappeared” but is hiding somewhere pending his departure to a life of leisure and luxury in some foreign clime where he will be accorded all kinds of perks by virtue of his being a “persecuted journalist from Sri Lanka seeking asylum” in some bastion of Western democracy.

The problem I have with this piece and one I will refer to later in this column is not in the matter of basic content – it is fair comment, I suppose in this country, to suggest that a journalist whose whereabouts have become a matter of public conjecture for several months is in hiding with a view to seeking political asylum in another country. However, when this is spun out and pitched in the manner this particularly laboured narrative is, then it certainly raises suspicions of an attempt to twist reality to project something that the available information does not support.

To begin at the end, let me suggest that the spinner of this tale is either supremely naive about the conditions under which refugees live or is guilty of deliberate prevarication. Western democracies do not provide a bed of roses to new arrivals at the best of times, leave alone to those arriving as refugees — I have worked with refugee and immigrant populations in Canada for a significant length of time and I would suggest that I know a bit more about this kind of stuff than the author of that piece on Eknaligoda who, in a fashion typical of Sri Lankan “experts,” has sought to impose his opinion on a readership that, by and large, doesn’t have a clue about the conditions facing refugees in places with inhospitable populations, inhospitable climates and the potential for providing significant cultural shock, among other challenges.

To suggest that any Sri Lankan journalist could walk into some kind of cossetted existence in a society alien to them and ply their trade no sooner their feet touched the ground is nothing short of unmitigated nonsense.

The author of the anti-Eknaligoda tirade is probably too young to remember the man considered by many to be the greatest political cartoonist produced by Sri Lanka, Aubrey Collette. That worthy was considered on a par with the famed David Low of, if I remember right, The New Statesman of that time. However, subsequent to his migration to Australia, Collette never achieved the eminence he had in Sri Lanka. Prageeth Eknaligoda, by any description, is (was?) no Aubrey Collette.

I would suggest that none of the journalists who have been forced to seek new residences in the English-speaking countries of the Western world, leave alone Continental Europe or the Scandinavian countries, can ever achieve anything close to the degree of acceptance of their professional skills that they had in the land of their birth. I would venture to guess that very few, if any of them even work in the journalistic professions once domiciled in the First World. To suggest otherwise is stretching credibility more than a little bit.

Very importantly, what the writer fails to indicate is that if Prageeth Eknaligoda is such a non-entity why he has devoted two whole pages of a broadsheet to a discussion of his whereabouts.

I do not believe that the value of a person’s life — and that is what we are talking about here – is dependant on his “importance.” The burden of the treatise I refer to seems to suggest otherwise and, given that fact, why does the author bother with this nonentity? The most obvious explanation is that this is an attempt at (yet another) cover-up for someone being “disappeared.”

Perhaps, this whole discussion can be brought to a conclusion by one of the plethora of state security agencies finding this man and prosecuting him for even suggesting that our simon-pure forces of law and order might have something to do with his disappearing from public view for such an inordinately long time.

The author appears to be yet another conspiracy theorist, in this case with regard to people (potentially) seeking the protection of the now-infamous “international community.” He appears to suggest that the Western democracies are waiting with bated breath for the appearance of the Eknaligodas of the Third World so that they may clasp them to their collective bosoms and accuse poor little Sri Lanka of yet another dastardly crime in the area of human rights.

All of this is absolute piffle and the dead giveaway is the author’s description of the Nirvana that awaits runaway Sri Lankan journalists.

Suffice it to say that there is no Nirvana awaiting any escapee from places like Sri Lanka in the Western world. The process of accultaration and adaptation to a new world took a lot of blood, sweat and tears even 40 years ago and is even more stressful and difficult in countries where the influx of “foreigners” is stretching their resources significantly. And I do not know of one single Sri Lankan journalist who has entered any of the so-called ‘émigré havens’ in recent times and secured employment in journalism leave alone become a significant contributor to their new country’s electronic or print media.

That they will find societies where they have the “luxury” of the rule of law prevailing and laws that preclude the worst of racial and other prejudices is, perhaps, a quantum improvement over dear old Sri Lanka, but to suggest that people who’ve plied the wordsmith’s trade in this country could walk into high-paying journalistic niches is nothing but balderdash.

No, it seems that this focusing on some minor journalist’s disappearance has been little but an exercise in exculpating the current regime from what has become the reality for anyone having the temerity to question or criticise its conduct – harassment, threat and the ultimate in penalties.

Another journalist in another English Sunday paper has recently expounded at length on the subject of what faces journalists critical of the current regime. His argument, if nothing else, is novel. It is that journalists in this country who, he freely admits, have been subjected to harassment of many kinds including being assassinated, are not too badly off because none of them, with the exception of Mr. Tissainayagam, have been prosecuted under the (draconian) emergency laws that this government continues to impose on its citizenry!

That this attempt at sophistry is applied to a matter as serious as the right to democratic dissent in a country that claims to be a democracy perhaps defies description. However, I cannot end without, at least, a passing comment:

What this journalist is saying, is that intimidation, mayhem and murder of all kinds is okay as long as those disagreeing with this government are not prosecuted under existing provisions of the law.

In conclusion, suffice it to say, that these two senior journalists have, obviously, unwittingly exposed the awful underbelly of the status quo in a manner that its critics would have found difficult even if they had been prepared to take the attendant risks that doing so would have entailed.

© The Sunday Leader

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sri Lanka: 250 acres of forest land cleared for Mullaitivu resettlement project

The government has sanctioned the clearing of 3,920 acres of jungle in the Mullaitivu district to make way for a large-scale resettlement programme, under the Uthuru Wasanthaya (Northern Spring) programme.

Resettlement Minister Milroy Fernando said the land had been set aside for 1,500 Mullaitivu families who were forced to leave the area because of the conflict, going back to 1985.

“The government is responding to appeals from people who fled the area and who now want to return to their original homes,” he said.

Meanwhile, the large-scale forest clearing operation is ringing alarm bells in environmental circles.

More than 250 acres of forest land have already been cleared, according to State Timber Corporation General Manager, P. G. Kumarasinghe, who says the corporation is acting on the instructions of the Mahaweli Authority.

Hundreds of valuable trees, including ebony, satinwood, teak, palu and weera, have been felled to clear land in the Halambawewa area, close to the Kokilai Lagoon.

Environmentalists say the tree-felling is illegal, pointing out that the Central Environmental Authority has not issued an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on a project that requires the clearing of thousands of acres of virgin forest.

The State Timber Corporation’s Mr. Kumarasinghe, however, says the Mahaweli Authority has the power, under the Mahaweli Authority Act, to go ahead with the project. Environmentalists also say the felling of trees is being conducted in an irregular way, and that valuable timber is being sold at “firewood prices.”

Acting on a tip-off from one environmental group, the Forest Conservation Department seized five lorries transporting timber out of the area. The drivers were produced before the Kebithigollewa Magistrate and fined Rs. 10,000 each. The Magistrate has ordered the suspension of the felling of trees until investigations are completed.

Meanwhile, the Central Environmental Authority chairman Charitha Herath said the CEA has received no complaints so far about forest clearing in the North.

© The Sunday Times

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sri Lanka: Attorney General under the president

By Kumar David - Peter the Great is widely thought to be the man who transformed Russia. Before him it was a backward landmass that Europe ignored if not despised. He dragged old Muscovy, kicking and screaming, out of barbarian medievalism into modernity and empire. He transformed country and culture, industry and army; in popular imagery he created the Empire and is Russia’s greatest emperor. When cruel winter ensnared powerful Sweden’s greatest soldier, Charles XII, Peter scorched the earth, and nature and Emperor conspired to defeat Charles’ invading army in 1709 at Poltava.

Europe had to wake up; a new great power had arrived. The Chinese are arriving differently, by exporting containers jammed chockfull of durables and inviting the whole world to come ogle the 2010 Shanghai Expo!

However, there is another side to Peter which is less known; he was a man of energy and drive, but also ruthless determination and cruelty. Did you know that he had his son, heir to the throne the Tsarevich Alexis, lashed with a whip that cut flesh to the bone, on charges of treachery? Alexis died a prisoner in his father’s fortress in 1718; and more strangely, did you know that Peter himself acted as prosecutor and judge at that trial? In modern times this is like placing the Attorney General’s Department directly under the President! Three hundred years ago absolute monarchies were indeed absolute, but we are said to have moved on a bit, are we not? Well, clearly not when an electorate bestows absolute power on incumbents.

The Executive Prosecutor

There has been a report in a local newspaper that moves are afoot to move the Attorney General’s Department under the president, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), an organisation for which I have much respect, issued a statement describing the prospect as a further attack on the rule of law. The crux of the AHRC’s position is as follows:
“Since 1978 the institution of the Attorney General’s Department has been subjected to serious undermining. This has been documented by observers and human rights organisations in considerable detail. However, despite of this undermining the institution has remained an independent entity and to a greater degree the officers of the institution have tried to maintain the old traditions which go back to about 125 years. The previous attempts to undermine the institution have seriously damaged its credibility and particularly the office of the Attorney General himself has lost public confidence. However, this new move will damage the institution substantially and above all it will damage the image of the institution as it will be seen as one directly controlled by the executive president.
For reasons of presentation the AHRC has, rhetorically, retained the fiction of an AG whose portfolio “remained an independent entity”, but no honest observer familiar with its track record from Brace Girdle, the disenfranchisement of plantation Tamil workers, to the Sarath Fonseka sham, will buy that fiction. That however is not the punch line of the AHRC statement which is that the takeover will one more nail in the coffin; one more step on the road to consolidation of despotic government in the Island.
If and when the president takes over the AG’s Department expect the following.

(a) The prosecution of crooks loyal to the president and the regime will cease; today’s charade will become tomorrow’s norm.
(b) AG’s advice to the executive on constitutional matters will become an “insider trading” sham; the AG will be instructed what advice to tender.
(c) Pardons, withdrawal of cases and such like will become presidential political gambits; miscreants from drug peddlers to politically useful villain will get away unscathed.

I do not take offence at readers who yawn at these comments. It is now the norm and the usual rejoinder is “face the facts, this is reality, accept and live with it, there is nothing you can do about; this is modern Sri Lanka and if the regime wants to screw you, as did Peter the Great the Tsarevich Alexis, nobody will lift a finger.” Thanks to the overwhelming mandate bestowed by the people on the regime, the only force that could have pushed back dictatorship, the people, has instead been co-opted into service.

The tip of the iceberg

Shoving the AG’s Department into the presidential toolkit is only the start; the real deal is the constitutional sham on its way. True enough the current crop of pro-government left leaders are intellectual lightweights lacking the gravitas of the NM generation, but at one time even they did bawl their heads off about the “dictatorial JR Constitution”. Now they unabashedly cheer the extension of constitutional bonapartism to naked authoritarianism. And what’s on this menu? The Thirteenth Amendment will stay in limbo (no police or land powers) though what terminology will be agreed with the Indians so that the latter can continue to pretend that they are being hoodwinked remains to be seen. Tissa Vitharana’s APRC Reports will remain at the bottom of the presidential wastepaper basket.

The main course on the menu is a third term for Rajapaska, or the complete removal of term limits through the device of an executive prime minister. The Seventeenth Amendment will be castrated to turn elections, police and other commissions into name boards. What’s wrong with removal of term limits you may ask; if the people have confidence and desire to re-elect him, so be it you may say.

Mark my words, as sure as night follows day, once term limits are removed the next and subsequent elections will be shams, frauds, fixes; that’s how the system will work. We are headed for Gotterdammerung, the Twilight of the Gods. Those rigged elections in six years time will make Marcos blush like a Mother Theresa! With the death of democracy, maybe some day people will have to pursue those other ways in which illegitimate governments are removed. Maybe, but for now, weep not for the people; their mandate was the executioner’s certificate.

© Lakbima News

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sri Lanka: As flood waters recede, threat of diseases looms

By Nadia Fazlulhaq - Health officials warned yesterday of an outbreak of infectious and water-borne diseases in the coming days as water levels started receding in the Gampaha, Colombo and Kalutara districts. The warning came as the death toll in floods was placed at 20 while the number of people affected was around 600,000.

The Health Ministry’s Consultant Epidemiologist Anura Jayasinghe said typhoid, hepatitis A, diarrhoea, dysentery, cholera, chickenpox, viral flu, rabies, dengue and rat fever (Leptospirosis) were among the diseases that could hit the people in the aftermath of the floods.

According to him an increase in food-and-water-borne diseases especially through contaminated water is common during flood situations. Fever, fatigue, headache, constipation or diarrhoea, red spots on the chest, frequent passing of faeces with blood and/or mucus, abdominal pain, nausea, weight loss, jaundice and depression are some of the main symptoms of the common diseases. Those who are suffering from such symptoms should seek medication.

“Due to flooding, garbage pollutes fresh water sources, making them contaminated. Wells, lakes and streams are highly vulnerable. We can’t totally rely on direct pipe-borne water as the chlorinating process would have been affected due to frequent interruption of electricity,” he said.

Dr. Jayasinghe said boiled and cool water should be used for drinking purposes especially for children. He said that an increase in mosquito breeding might take place after the floods receded as containers that held water would be ideal breeding sites for mosquitoes.

Dr. A. Balasooriya, consultant community physician attached to the Health Education Bureau, said green leaves should not be eaten during these days as they might be contaminated and the people should be conscious of cleanliness aspects when buying meals from outside.

He said that leptospirosis (rat fever) could be transmitted by many animals including rats. The people should be watchful while travelling in flood hit areas as there was an increase in snake bite cases.
The Western Province was the worst affected by the torrential rains that continued for more than a week with Gampaha district having the highest number of displaced people.

Gampaha District Secretary J.J. Ratnasiri said that although the rain had eased, the flood waters were receding only at a slow pace in some of the worst affected areas such as Kelaniya, Mahara, Ja-ela and Katana. He said cooked meals were being distributed in 46 camps for the displaced people.

According to the Disaster Management Centre National Coordinator, Pradeep Kodipilli, 20 deaths were reported and a total of 606,072 persons or 141,586 families were affected by the floods.

“Around 466 houses were fully damaged due to floods, eartslips and gusty winds while 1,943 houses were partially damaged mainly in Galle, Gampaha and Kalutara. There are 14,634 persons in 69 IDP camps in Gampaha, Colombo, Kalutara, Puttlam, Ratnapura, Galle and Matara. Among them 9,925 are from Gampaha”, he said.

In Gampaha district, Divulapitiya, Attanagalle, Biyagama, Ja-ela, Dompe, Gampaha, Wattala, Minuwangoda, Negombo, Mahara, Katana, Kelaniya were the worst affected areas.

In Colombo district areas in the Colombo city, Kollonnawa, Moratuwa, Kesbewa, Piliyandala, Kotte, Rajagiriya, Padukka, Homagama, Ratmalana, Dehiwala, Maharagama, Seethawaka and Kaduwela went under water.

In the Kalutara District, Horana, Bandaragama, Matugama and Palinda Nuwara were the worst affected with several instances of landslides.

A senior official of the Meteorology Department attributed the floods to the pre-monsoon conditions, atmospheric disturbances in the Bay of Bengal, effects of cyclone Laila and the establishing of the South West monsoon.

30 snake bites

At least 30 people including children were admitted to hospital after being bitten by snakes in flood-hit areas, mainly in the Gampaha district, hospital officials said.

Most of the victims were bitten when they re-entered their homes to collect essential belongings, Dr. Teja Perera of the Ragama hospital said adding that most of the victims were bitten by cobras and russell’s vipers. Dr. Perera said none of the victims was in a life-threatening condition as they were treated in time.

© The Sunday Times

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