by Jim McDonald - On May 4, I wrote on this site about the Sri Lankan government’s announced pardon of the journalist J.S. Tissainayagam (often referred to as “Tissa”), who’d been unjustly convicted and sentenced to 20 years’ hard labor just for criticizing the government’s conduct of the war against the Tamil Tiger rebels. Amnesty International has adopted Tissa as a “prisoner of conscience” since we believe that he was imprisoned solely for his journalistic activities. I was reluctant to start celebrating until details of the pardon had been clarified.
Well, it’s now been 37 days since the announcement of the pardon, and the government still hasn’t issued it! The Sri Lankan Attorney General said in mid-May that Tissa’s lawyers had to withdraw his appeal against his conviction, and then the pardon could be issued in a “couple of days.” His lawyers reportedly withdrew his appeal on May 31 but the pardon has still not been issued.
Why all the delay? Please write the Sri Lankan government and ask that the granting of the pardon be expedited. Let the government know that the world is still watching and that we won’t rest until Tissa’s rights are fully restored.
© Amnesty International
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) returning home from camps in northern Sri Lanka are concerned about access to potable water and slow progress in clearing landmines.
Since the government declared victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in May 2009, more than 170,000 of 280,000 people displaced by the violence have returned to the 7,650 sq km Vanni region, which includes the Kilinochchi, Mullaithivu, Jaffna, Mannar and Vavuniya districts and has a population of about 700,000.
Some resettled residents in Kilinochchi say they have difficulties accessing clean water and sanitation.
“I have to walk over a mile to reach a clean water supply. I have shell shrapnel in my body. Walking just 100m exhausts [me],” said Rasiah Gunanandan, 58, from Kilinochchi.
"Lack of access to proper water and sanitation hinders the normality of our lifestyles. It affects many aspects of day-to-day life,” added father-of-three Gunanandan. “Many of us dig random holes for our toilet needs. I am hoping the situation will get better as time goes on.”
But Hemantha Herath, a senior official from the Ministry of Health in Colombo, the country’s capital, insisted access to potable water was not a major concern.
“People can get water either from wells or from streams,” he said.
A number of “health education programmes are being conducted and health volunteers have been trained to educate people to ensure the quality and the safety of drinking water”, added Herath.
This process will continue until piped water reaches all families, he said.
“On the other hand, people are finding it difficult to get water for agriculture for which larger quantities are needed. We have observed that the majority of reservoirs in the area are getting dry and it’s unlikely there will be rain before the next inter-monsoon season [September-November],” Herath added.
The water supply infrastructure was severely damaged during the fighting, Herath said.
Dangers and challenges
Chamil Jinadasa, an independent health worker in Colombo, told IRIN that while the situation had improved since the war, basic sanitation and water facilities were below par.
“Due to the lack of proper toilet facilities, people use open [land] and river banks for their toilet needs,” Jinadasa said.
Diarrhoea and other diseases are prevalent, although the work of government and NGO health professionals had prevented the situation from deteriorating, he added.
Abdulai KaiKai, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Colombo’s head of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), said: “It is very difficult to put numbers to percentages of resettled people who have access to water and sanitation mainly because the process is still ongoing.”
UNICEF has provided support to the government to help clean 3,000 dug wells and drill 15 new ones. Most water-and-sanitation facilities were destroyed, abandoned and defunct before or during the conflict, according to UNICEF research.
“This is why UNICEF is supporting the efforts of the government by working very closely with the National Water Supply and Drainage Board and the Water Resources Board to clean and upgrade dug wells and drill new wells, installing hand-pumps.”
A joint operation between the government, UN agencies and NGOs has been launched to provide schools and health centres with WASH facilities, added KaiKai.
“The first most important challenge is the amount of funding available. Not much funding is currently available and the future remains uncertain,” he said. “The second most important challenge faced by UNICEF is the rate of progress of the demining process. This has implications for our ability and capacity to undertake assessments and make informed decisions.”
The threat of landmines was evidenced in Kilinochchi in January when a 10-year-old boy was injured by a mine while collecting wood.
“The risk is still there. We need to do more,” Nigel Robinson, country programme manager of the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action, told IRIN in May.
Clearing all known contaminated mine zones could take up to 20 years, or longer if funding dries up. While large parts of the Vanni region have been demined, increased civilian activity means there is still a risk.
© IRIN Asia
Saturday, June 12, 2010
By Sudha Ramachandran - India and Sri Lanka signed an array of agreements across areas including security, power, railways, rehabilitation and cultural exchanges during Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa's visit this week.
The Indian government rolled out the red carpet for the Sri Lankan leader in Delhi. This was even as the visit was marked by black-flag demonstrations in Tamil Nadu and other southern Indian states, where anger against the Rajapaksa government's conduct during the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the high civilian casualties - especially in the final phases of the war - last year is still high.
Rajapaksa's visit saw the two sides agree to institute an annual defense dialogue and increase high-level military exchanges. A Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance on Criminal Matters and an Agreement on Transfer of Sentenced Prisoners were signed. These are expected to strengthen the security and legal framework of the bilateral relationship. Training of Sri Lankan military and police personnel in India is also to be increased.
Cooperation in the energy sector is poised to expand. A memorandum of understanding on connecting the electricity grids of the two countries is expected to provide power-hungry Sri Lanka with around 1,000 megawatts of electricity.
India has taken forward its ongoing restoration of railway infrastructure in the war-ravaged north by agreeing to construct a rail link between Talaimannar and Madhu in the Northern province. The two countries have also agreed to resume the ferry services that had been suspended in the wake of the outbreak of the Tamil secessionist insurgency.
India's already substantial role in the reconstruction of Sri Lanka's war-ravaged north and east is poised to increase. In July last year it extended US$100 million for rehabilitation of internally displaced persons and lines of credit worth $800 million for railway and other reconstruction projects. India pledged to construct 50,000 houses for the displaced families. It will also renovate a harbor and airport. Projects for the rehabilitation of widows and vocational training for youth are also on the anvil.
The slew of bilateral agreements signed during the visit notwithstanding, there is "some disappointment in India with the Sri Lankan government's reluctance to find a political solution to the ethnic conflict and its dragging its feet on signing the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with India," an official in India's Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) told Asia Times Online.
Economic cooperation between India and Sri Lanka has grown remarkably in recent years. A free-trade agreement (FTA) has been in operation for a decade and trade has expanded. Proponents of CEPA in both countries were hoping that it would be signed during the presidential visit.
CEPA will cover services and investment. Its signing has been put off repeatedly since 2008. Last month protesters took to streets once again, calling on the president to refrain from signing CEPA.
"Opposition to CEPA in Sri Lanka is on nationalist, rather than economic grounds," said Sumanasiri Liyanage, who teaches political economy at Peradeniya University in Kandy. "There are some industrialists and businessmen who fear that they will lose their share in the Sri Lankan market if CEPA-led imports from India come to Sri Lanka. There is concern that Indian imports will flood the domestic market and that will be costly to domestic producers.''
Similar concerns preceding the signing of the FTA have been belied by the fact that FTA has led to an increase in trade volume and benefited both countries, he said.
Drawing attention to opposition from political parties like the Sinhala nationalist Janata Vimukti Peramuna and the Jathika Nidahas Peramuna, Liyanage pointed out that "their positions on CEPA stem from their old perception of India as an imperialist power".
Some in Sri Lanka's media refer to CEPA as an 'Indian economic pact being pushed down Lankan throats'', according to the MEA official. ''It is not. It benefits both countries,'' the official said. The reason for the delays in signing is ''the Rajapaksa government sees gains from CEPA but wants to be seen to have engaged in hard bargaining over it."
As for a political solution to the ethnic conflict, with the LTTE defeated and Rajapaksa having consolidated his position considerably over the past year, India was hoping that he would act to find a political settlement to the conflict. "But that has not happened yet, despite India's urging," the official said.
Not everyone is convinced that India is pushing the Lankans hard enough on the matter.
"India doesn't seem really interested in a political solution to the ethnic conflict," said Soosaipillai Keethaponcalan, senior lecturer at Colombo University's department of political science. Although it calls on Colombo from time to time to pursue a political solution this seems aimed more at placating Tamil political parties in India and at pressuring Sri Lanka to concede its demand on other issues, rather than to find a just solution to the problem, he said.
In Delhi, Rajapaksa spoke of his "determination to evolve a political settlement acceptable to all communities" and India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stressed the need for "a meaningful devolution package for the Tamil-dominated North and East provinces."
These are words the two governments have articulated repeatedly.
India's solution to the conflict is the "13th Amendment and beyond". The 13th amendment to the constitution provides for devolution to Northeastern province. This is a package it brokered over two decades ago. India is now calling on Colombo to go beyond the 13th amendment. It is regarded by India and sections in Sri Lanka as the best possible solution.
Critics of this solution say it is a non-starter. Northeastern province doesn't exist as a unit any more, the east having been severed from the North by a judicial ruling a couple of years ago. The Sri Lankan government is unlikely to merge the provinces again. By talking of 13th amendment and beyond, India then is "talking about a political solution in the abstract", Keethapocalan argued.
Indian officials dismiss allegations that India is not pressing the Sri Lankan government hard enough on finding a political solution. They blame Rajapaksa's government for not having the political will to pursue a political settlement.
Post-LTTE, Rajapaksa and many Sinhalese are unwilling to heed counsel from abroad. Their response to international criticism of Sri Lanka's human rights abuses has been extremely prickly. They are unwilling to take suggestions emanating from outside on how to resolve the ethnic conflict. In part, this stems from the triumphalism and arrogance evident in post-LTTE Sri Lanka. Moreover, many in Sri Lanka believe that with the defeat of the LTTE the conflict is over. There is nothing left to resolve.
Importantly for India, while its profile in Sri Lanka in projects and rehabilitation is growing, its influence over the government is on the wane. China's growing presence in the island could have something to do with that. With Chinese help on offer, the Lankan government seems to be in a position to pick and choose. And India's help, which comes with conditions, seems less attractive in the circumstances.
Sudha Ramachandran is an independent journalist/researcher based in Bangalore.
© Asia Times
Saturday, June 12, 2010
By Charles Haviland - Police in Sri Lanka say they have started a campaign to remove what they describe as indecent advertising on film billboards and posters in Colombo.
They say this includes images of scantily clad women.
They say that their initiative will spread to other parts of the country to protect women and children from harm.
Earlier this week it emerged that the police had arrested nearly 200 young couples for behaving intimately in public places.
The latest initiative has come from a police department, the Bureau for the Prevention of Abuse of Children and Women.
Sources told the BBC that their new campaign would target what they called indecent material and "bad pictures", starting with advertisements and movie hoardings but moving on to newspapers.
The sources said it was hoped that the internet would be more tightly controlled, too, after the recent banning of pornographic sites on mobile phones.
The bureau itself would decide what constituted "decency".
According to the sources, in due course legal action is to be taken against newspapers and magazines carrying offending material, with a possible punishment of six months' imprisonment.
The bureau said the move is prompted by the sense that the younger generation of Sri Lankans do not show sufficient respect to women and that modern culture treats them as commodities.
But a human rights campaigner, Sunila Abeyesekera, described the initiative as "scary and arbitrary" and alleged that the state was engaged in moral policing of people's lives.
She said existing laws were not effectively protecting children from things including labour exploitation and sexual abuse.
© BBC News
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