Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sri Lankan government to evict 66,000 families in Colombo

By W.A. Sunil | World Socialist Web Site

President Mahinda Rajapakse’s cabinet approved a defence ministry plan last week to evict 66,000 families from shanties in Colombo City and suburbs to release land for big business. Nearly half a million people will lose their homes and, in many cases, their livelihoods, as they are forced to move to uncertain alternative accommodation.

Announcing the decision on August 12, acting media minister, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa declared that the families were occupying “very valuable land in the City of Colombo in a haphazard manner”. Initially, the government plans to lease 31.5 hectares at two million rupees a perch (about $US18,000 per 25 square metres) to raise money to develop land for commercial development projects.

According to Yapa, a portion of the funds raised will be used to build houses for the families that have been evicted. Such promises are worthless, as has been demonstrated repeatedly in the past. For instance, according to opposition MP Sajith Premadasa, 11,000 families who lost their homes in the devastating 2004 tsunami are still living in refuges. Overall, there are an estimated one million homeless families throughout the island.

The scheme has nothing to do with “uplifting the poor”. The purpose is to clear land in the centre of the capital to further the government’s ambition to transform Colombo into a commercial hub for South Asia. The plan was originally announced in 1990 but had to be shelved due to popular opposition.

The government has involved the military precisely because it fears its plans will provoke resistance. President Rajapakse took the extraordinary step in May of assigning the Urban Development Authority (UDA) and the Land Reclamation and Development Board (LRD)—two civilian activities—to the defence ministry, which is controlled by his brother, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse.

The defence ministry quickly exploited its new powers. In what was obviously a test case for the broader plans, 2,000 armed police and military personnel were deployed in May to evict 45 families from shanties at Slave Island in central Colombo. As homes were being bulldozed, police and soldiers baton-charged protesters and chased them out of the area. In Sri Lanka, the defence ministry also controls the police.

In July 2008, the police riot squad was used to evict 400 families in an area of Slave Island known as Glennie Passage. While some families have been given houses at Dematagoda, more than 80 families are living in small wooden huts without adequate basic amenities in North Colombo. UDA chairman Janaka Kurukulasuriya has announced that any families wanting to stay within the Colombo city limits will be forced to pay rent.

In another show of force last month, thousands of police and soldiers were mobilised following a protest at a local police station over the arrest and beating of a local youth. Scores of homes were trashed and residents assaulted in northern Colombo. The following day, armed troops rounded up all the adult residents in the area—around 8,000 people—and herded them into an open field where hooded informers picked out individuals allegedly involved in the protest. Many residents had already been issued with a UDA token indicating that they have been targetted for eviction.

Hundreds of families have been given eviction notices: 120 families in Apple Watta and Stadium Village in Colombo North; 500 families who live on the side of the Kelani Valley railway line; and 60 families in the Irrigation Quarters premises at the suburb of Ratmalana. No houses are available for their relocation.

The planned evictions have been accompanied by a vicious propaganda campaign by the government and in the media branding the urban poor as “squatters” who engage in anti-social and criminal activities. Their “unauthorised” constructions were held to be responsible for flooding and the spread of mosquito-borne diseases.

In reality, many families have lived in their shanties for years—in some cases for generations. Their squalid living conditions are the result of the neglect of successive governments, which have failed to provide basic services, including health care and education.

During the presidential and parliamentary elections in January and April this year, the government and opposition parties both promised to provide better housing and improved services in these shanty areas. Residents have expressed outrage at the latest decision to proceed with mass evictions.

A woman from Apple Watta told the WSWS: “If we had a better house in a better place, there would be no reason to live in this hell. But our means of earning a living and schooling for our children are bound up with living here.

“We don’t know where the government is going to relocate us. Why they can’t develop this area for us? Rather than blaming us they could clean these canals and build strong banks with concrete to prevent flooding.” She explained that some of her relatives who had been driven out of Slave Island were not provided with shelter.

A woman from the Dematagoda housing project explained that she and several other families housed there had been evicted in 2008 from Slave Island. They only received a house in January this year and did not have legal ownership. They had to pay 25,000 rupees upfront and another 6,600 rupees to connect the electricity. The rent is 1,000 rupees a month.

“There are 320 houses in this site,” she said. “In some houses there are two families. The size of a house is nearly 400 square feet. This housing project is to be completed in four steps but only the first step has been finished so far. So, what will happen to the latest evicted families?”

The opposition United National Party (UNP) is posturing as a defender of the shanty dwellers. UNP parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayaka has told the media his party was supporting court cases against the eviction of 3,100 families from railway reservations. The UNP, however, has no fundamental difference with government’s pro-market economic agenda. Previous UNP governments have attempted to carry out their own slum clearance programs in central Colombo.

The involvement of the military in urban development is a sharp warning to the working class as a whole of the methods to which the Rajapakse government is turning to impose its policies. The Sri Lankan economy is facing a serious crisis as a result of huge military spending in the course of the government’s communal war, which ended with the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in May last year.

Sri Lanka was also hit hard by the global financial crisis that erupted in 2008, with all major exports suffering. The Rajapakse government was compelled to accept a $2.6 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) last year to avoid a balance of payments crisis. Now the IMF is insisting that the budget deficit be halved to 5 percent of GDP in 2012.

The police-state measures developed in the course of the war are being used against some of the most oppressed and vulnerable sections of working people. The same methods will inevitably be employed more broadly against the working class as resistance and opposition grow to the government’s austerity policies.


Read More

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Customs plays censor, detains 'The Economist'

By Chandani Kirinde | The Sunday Times

The latest edition of the London-based The Economist magazine which contained an article on Sri Lanka post-war recovery titled “Rebuilding, but at a cost.” was detained by the Customs on Friday, according to its local distributor Vijitha Yapa.

He told the Sunday Times the copies of the latest issue arrived on Friday from Singapore but Customs officers detained them saying it would be released only after clearance from authorities was obtained on Monday.

Lakshman Hulugalle, Director General of the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) said last night that he knew about the detention but no copy had been sent to him for scrutiny.

Mr. Yapa said it was a pity that western publications were detained in an arbitrary manner at a time when the country was trying to attract foreign investors. He also pointed out that there was no official censorship in force to impose such restrictions.

Asked what the government policy was in detaining foreign publications, Mr. Hulugalle said if they were “harmful to national security”, they would be disallowed.

The article in The Economist refers to the manner in which land has been distributed in the east for tourism development and to build plush hotels. It also quotes a soldier who complains that “he is forced to salute the likes of Vinyagamoorthy Muralithran, a former LTTE leader who is now the deputy minister of resettlement, whereas “war heroes” like the former army commander Sarath Fonseka, languish in jail.”

© The Sunday Times

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Jaffna: A year since the end of the war

By Dileesha Abeysundera | The Sunday Leader

It has been more than one year since the end of the war and many views have been expressed with regard to getting the lives of civilians in the North back on track as well as the development work. We received an opportunity to listen to the views and needs of various people in the North and to witness the true situation there during a recent visit to the area.

Jaffna was liberated from the LTTE in 1998. Even after the lapse of 12 years, there has been no visible change in Jaffna nor any development in the area. The brunt of the war that continued around was felt mostly by Jaffna, which remained an isolated city in the North.

Many people from the South, Sinhalese, Muslims and Tamil alike, have now received the opportunity of visiting the North following the end of the war.

However, except for a few special attractions, people travelling to the North could only witness the destruction brought about by the war.

Some Tamil families have set up temporary shelters by the side of the A9 highway in areas that have been de-mined.

The false dawn

In the Kilinochchi town, one could witness mostly the remnants of buildings destroyed in the war and several shops that have been set up recently.
Yet, the many advertising hoardings that have been erected on the A9 between Kilinochchi and Jaffna, indicated the entrance of private enterprises as well as investors to the area.

Nevertheless, there are doubts whether the massive development projects have been implemented as stated by the government even a year after the end of the war. It is clear that Uthuru Vasanthaya has not dawned to the North.

The civilians who lived in camps are now gradually shifting towards temporary shelters. They have not received permission to return to their original homes as they are located within high security zones. They live with the hope that the government would return their lands back to them.

Although permission has been granted to the displaced persons to move out of IDP camps, there are close to 40,000 persons still living in the Menik Farm camp. The main reason is the lack of a place and basic facilities for them to resettle. The government says that people have been provided with the basic facilities to be resettled.

Vavuniya Assistant District Secretary, Imelda Sukumar says that the government provides persons who wish to resettle in their own lands, cash, building material like cement, tools and equipment required for cultivation. However, the problem is that these facilities have not been equally distributed among the people. While some of those who were displaced have been provided with rice, flour, dhal, sugar and other essential food items sufficient for a period of one week, some others have not received any aid for about six months. Food for the displaced and other facilities required by people in the process of resettling are being provided by the government in association with NGOs.

Houses are currently being built for the displaced in Oddusudan and Mullaitivu.
There are about 35 families living in the Kampanai camp in Pandavattai. About ten families earn a living through fishing. The other families have found a livelihood in doing odd jobs.

Expanding high security zones

Nagaraja Thavachelli, who is fisherman, is the head of the Kampanai village and he says that the families have been compelled to live in the camp since their original lands are now located within the navy high security zone.

These families have fled to the Wanni during the war and had returned to this land from Kattupulam about one and a half years back. The land they are occupying currently belongs to a kovil.

“Our land is in the navy camp. We had about two to three acres there. We had land to cultivate. We believe that we will get the land back soon. We came here by ship because of the problems in the Wanni. We are poor people. There are many widows in this village. We don’t have any facilities and live with great difficulty. We live without any freedom since 1992.”

The Sullipuram junction goes under water during the rainy season. The residents in the camps face great difficulties during such times. There are 15 families where widows have to care for children. There are also some who have been disabled during the tsunami.

Fishermen in the area have to get a temporary license from the navy on a daily basis to go fishing. They lament that regardless of the amount earned by them, one-third of their earnings are taken by the mudalali. International organizations like IFAD have provided assistance to these fishermen.

The people in camps get their water requirement from wells. Although they have been provided with wells to get water, the weather conditions that prevail in the area have posed a problem in gathering water.

We witnessed that the lack of proper health care and education facilities have not deterred these families, as they make a great effort in providing a good education to their children.

Recognizing the value of education, they say that although their parents have been unable to provide them with a proper education, they wish to provide the younger generation with the tools required for a better future. The children are educated at the Kattupulam Junior School and Victoria School.

The battle for survival

The women in the North are also engaged in an equal battle for survival. Faced with a life filled with many hardships, the womenfolk in some instances have shouldered the complete burden of survival. While the men in the Kampanai camp are engaged in fishing, the women work as labourers. The menfolk go out to sea at night and the women work during the daytime in onion cultivations and cleaning gardens at a low daily wage of Rs. 150. Since there are a large number of widows in the camp, these women have to work extra hard to fulfill their roles as single parents.

Yet, there are many issues that prevail among these families. The destruction caused by the war is such that there are orphaned children as well as elderly women living alone in the camp. These innocent Tamil women have also become victims socially as well. After losing everything, marriage has now become a dream to them. The reason being the lack of a dowry and cash required to get married. Even in some families, husbands have abandoned their wives and children. However, these people who are living in camps casting aside their personal land, lead very sorrowful lives.

A large number of people are engaged in fishing in Jaffna. Yet, the fisheries industry was at a standstill during the period of the war. Following the end of the war, the fishing restrictions have been somewhat lifted in Jaffna.

The Gurunagar area was opened for fishing recently. While a navy base is located close to the Gurunagar beach, the area has been opened for fishing. The people who lived in this area have lived away in the Wanni during the war, since 1990. Although the people have returned to continue with their livelihood soon after the Gurunagar beach was opened, they are still facing problems. Their houses located in close proximity to the beach have been destroyed by the war.

Houses on New Beach Road in Gurunagar have been severely damaged by the war.
“It is now three days since we have returned. We live in houses that belong to others. The army says that it will rebuild our homes. This is my village. We all want to return and live happily like we used to. We believe that we will get everything in the future,” a fisherman in Gurunagar, M. Duke said with the hope of carrying out his work like he did before the war.

A large number fish of the variety of sea cucumber are captured from this area. The species, considered a delicacy, earns between Rs. 14,000 and Rs. 15,000 per kilo. About seven to eight fishermen go out to sea at night on rented boats.
A large number of houses in the area have been damaged and destroyed due to the shell fire by security forces from the Duraiappa Ground during the war. There had been over 5,000 families residing in the area before 1990, but the current population is around 20,000.

An ice factory was recently opened in Gurunagar. There are 18,000 fishermen who have taken membership with the Jaffna District Fisheries Cooperatives Federation, which include nine fisheries societies from 17 areas. The total number of fishing families in the Jaffna District amount to 25,000.

The largest fishing community is recorded from Gurunagar. Permission has been granted for people to resettle in an 8-9km stretch near the Gurunagar beach.
Fishermen in the area stopped all fishing activities about 20 years ago, as far back as 1990. The fishermen use 40 feet long multi-day vessels for fishing.
President of the Jaffna District Fisheries Cooperatives Federation, S. Navaratnam explained that they received permission from the navy to fish in the Karainagar area about five to six months earlier.

“Security restrictions on fishing have been somewhat lifted. Yet, we do not have the necessary facilities to carry out our livelihood. The fishermen in Jaffna are faced with a great problem. The problem is that Indian fishermen encroach into our seas and forcibly take away resources of our fishermen. About 2,000 Indian fishing boats enter our waters at one time. Our fishing activities came to a standstill during the war. The Indian fishermen have poached in our waters for about 20-30 years. When fish become less in their waters, their officials have themselves asked them to come to our waters. They did it for 20-30 years. Not only the fish, but the natural resources in our waters have also been destroyed. These resources cannot be replaced. It takes a long time for them to develop. The Indian fishermen are continuing with it. No one is taking any measures to stop it. This is one of our biggest problems,” he said.

One of the main issues of the Northern fishermen is the encroachment of Indian fishermen in to Sri Lankan waters and they are hopeful of some resolution to the matter.

For about five years, the Northern fishermen were permitted to do fishing only during day time. Although the boats belonging to the society could be used for fishing, they do not have any other facilities. The anchor boats do not have the necessary facilities as well. They do not have radio facilities.
During 1983, there has been an excellent reserve of fish in the Sri Lankan coastal line amounting to about 48,000 metric tons. However, it has now been reduced to about 5,000 metric tons.

Rising unemployment

Simultaneous to the development in the North, are the problems faced by the youth in the area. Unemployment is one of the key issues faced by the youth in Jaffna. There are over 4,000 unemployed graduates in Jaffna. Although the unemployment problem in Jaffna is similar to that experienced in the South, the youth in the North, who were trapped by a war that lasted several decades, are not equipped with technical, IT and English knowledge that are now a pre-requisite for gainful employment.

When the government offered 42,000 graduates with employment in 2005, 6,000 graduates from the North were also granted employment. There are currently close to 1,000 students who graduate from the Jaffna University.

Since 2001, there is a large number of unemployed graduates in Jaffna. Although there are several private sector companies who have opened up in Jaffna, the companies have opted to employ people from the South rather than from the North.
The annual general meeting of the Jaffna Unemployed Graduates Association was held on the 6th of July.

Head of the Association, Thyagaraja Dhanam said that the Association has decided to inform the government of the exact number of unemployed graduates in Jaffna and to launch a joint campaign with the Unemployed Graduates Association in the South.

“We graduated with the greatest difficulty amidst a 30 year long war. Yet, our futures have not changed. We are hopeful of being employed in the state sector. We don’t have a proper knowledge in technology, computers and English. Since we managed to get our degrees amidst great difficulties and a war, we could easily get the necessary know how within about two months. Although private companies come to Jaffna, they bring their people along with them. We ask that our people be employed and get their services as well without just taking away profits. We didn’t have electricity during the war. But now we can operate computers and follow courses, but none of us have the money to do that. There is no communal issue here. It is a problem about knowledge. The number of students who have graduated from Kilinochchi are less than in Jaffna. Even if there are vacancies in that area, people are not employed from here. Although there are a large number of NGOs, they do not offer us jobs because they fear we will be given government jobs.”

Most graduates now earn a living by working as labourers. Some graduates are married with children, but are still unemployed. The Unemployed Graduates Association expressed displeasure at how some public officials continue their jobs in the state sector even after the age of 60, when there is a large number of unemployed youth. About 65% of the unemployed graduates are women and 35% men.

The unemployed female graduates in Jaffna are faced with social issues as well.
Gunaratnam Wimalaramathi said that most young women who are unemployed in Jaffna have been compelled to stay home single, as they are unable to get married without a proper job or a dowry.

“Although development programmes have commenced in the North, we cannot see that they are carried out with great speed. Plans have been made to construct the A9 road with six lanes. Yet the resettlement programme is ongoing. We hope that amidst the development work, the needs of people who are living amidst great difficulties would be addressed.”

Trading in Jaffna is on a high scale these days with visitors from the South and foreign countries purchasing goods from jaffna.

No 'free life'

However, the people in Jaffna cannot be considered to be living a free life due to the fear to express their thoughts. Although a similar situation prevails in the South, the influence of various political groups and security forces has brought about such a situation in the North.

Independent media personnel in the North confirm this situation. They are faced with many challenges when reporting news and it was the journalists in the North who headed the list of media personnel assassinated during the war. The number of Tamil media personnel killed during the war amounts to 36 and this has instilled a certain fear among journalists in the North.

At a discussion held at the SIKARAM media institute in Jaffna, they observed the lack of facilities required for media reporting. These media personnel said that they were committed to keep people informed even amidst difficulties.

We consider it a great fortune to be able to visit the North in a peaceful environment. The people in the North are happy to see their visitors from the South. They are also hopeful of being able to live in peace with their needs being addressed.

© The Sunday Leader

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Three months on the MV Sun Sea: Tamil migrants describe their journey

By Petti Fong | The Star

The days and nights on board the MV Sun Sea seemed endless but for some of the women on the cargo ship heading toward Canada, there were hopeful signs that their voyage had a destination in sight.

Their daily water ration of a quarter litre per person never changed during the months at sea, which gave them hope that their journey was organized and the Sun Sea was well-stocked.

“We made tea with rainwater and we used salt water to bathe,” said one of the women, now in detention in Burnaby. “The water was not clean. We have lots of scratches from bathing in sea water.”

The women and children were in the top and upper decks of the vessel and slept in tents; the men slept in hammocks below. When the weather turned bad, as it did frequently during the voyage, everyone had to move inside the ship, according to the woman, who spoke through an interpreter.

Most of the passengers were often seasick.

Despite the cramped quarters, there was no fighting between the passengers. Everyone, she said, just wanted to arrive safely.

One week after she and the other 491 men, women and children aboard the Sun Sea arrived under escort at CFB Esquimalt, detention review hearings were held throughout the Vancouver area as each migrant learned whether he or she must remain in secure facilities.

Forty-four children and 25 women are being held at the Burnaby detention centre. A minor who arrived without a parent is being cared for by an adult migrant.

All 492 migrants were ordered held for another week as Canadian Border Services agents and Immigration and Refugee Board members verified their identities.

The Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has said all the migrants — some of whom he identified were terrorists and or human smugglers and traffickers — are making refugee claims.

In a letter to the Star, some of the women pleaded to be allowed to stay: “We are not terrorists. If you think we are terrorists, please consider this: Can the children, pregnant women and seniors who came with us be terrorists? No.”

Speaking from the detention centre, the women said they had lived in prosperity in their native land but were forced to move by the Sri Lankan army at loss of property and lives. Under a publication ban imposed by the Immigration and Refugee Board, neither the women nor their villages can be identified.

Some described having to leave wounded family members to die because they couldn’t reach them in the unending rocket launches and gunfire.

“We cannot write our deep sorrow and anguish,” said the women.

In a new poll by Angus Reid Global Monitor, nearly half of respondents believe the Tamil migrants who arrived Aug. 13 should be deported.

The online survey of just over 1,000 Canadians, which has a margin of error 19 times out of 20, found that 48 per cent of those polled would deport the passengers from the Sun Sea. That’s even if the refugee claims are found to be legitimate and there is no discernible link between the migrant and a terrorist organization. Thirty-five per cent of those surveyed would allow them to stay in Canada as refugees if their claims are found legitimate.

Three in five Canadians believe the ship should have been turned back and not allowed to reach the country and more than 70 per cent of Canadians believe more ships will arrive in the next few months.

The migrants who arrived on board the Sun Sea must remain in detention for a week when the next mandatory review by the IRB begins Aug. 24.

Last October, 76 migrants claiming to be Tamil refugees arrived in B.C. on board the Ocean Lady. Following their second round of detention reviews, some were released. Eventually all were released and most are in Toronto waiting for their refugee claims to be processed.

The RCMP say the investigation is continuing into the alleged smugglers who organized the Ocean Lady’s voyage but no arrests have been made. A new investigation into the alleged smugglers for the Sun Sea is in its preliminary stage.

© The Star

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The quick dying of democracy in Sri Lanka

By Kishali Pinto Jayawardene | The Sunday Times

Last week, we had a retired judge advising the media, in the pages of this newspaper, not to cringe before authority. Eminently valuable as this advice may be (and one is not being irrepressibly sarcastic in this regard), this same exhortation should be directed towards judges and retired judges themselves as well as law enforcement officers and those serving in academia. For whatever it is worth, journalists have been beaten up, killed without compunction and threatened in many other ways.

Despite this, many in the print as well as electronic media still try and uphold the virtues of impartial comment and reportage. Contrasted to this, if one looks at other areas of functioning, it would seem that the extent of resistance has been far easier to erode.

During the past decade, for example, the walls of Sri Lanka's judicial institution crumbled in many respects with least resistance from those in judiciary, academia and the professions. The effects of this crumbling are still evidenced.

Attacks on parliamentarians

Two matters in this regard warrant serious concern in the current environment. First is the complaint of the former Army Commander and Sri Lanka's serving four star general, (who has now been stripped of all these glories amidst the satirical gaze of the world), that he is being prevented from attending meetings of consultative committees, prevented from attending parliamentary discussions abroad and deprived of his privileges in manifold other ways.

This is quite apart from his being indicted on an increasingly bewildering array of charges. Secondly, the assault and beating of members of parliament belonging to the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) by police officers inside the precincts of the Galle Police Station with the superior officers standing by, when they went to make a complaint in respect of the tear gas attack and baton charge of protestors demanding that the former Army Commander be released. Position these acts within the general framework of deterioration of the rule of law in this country and we have further significant markers in regard to the quick dying of democracy in Sri Lanka.

The right to protest peacefully

For those of us who are not unduly concerned about parliamentarians and their privileges or for retired army commanders who take to politics, all this may not be any great matter. However, attacks such as these have a greater significance quite apart from our distaste for politics or for politicians. The Galle incident is remarkable of and by itself. Countless judgments from the Supreme Court have upheld the right of peaceful protest. In the seminal Ratawesi Peramuna Case ([1994] 1Sri LR 01) for example, the petitioners were participants in a "movement" called the Ratawesi Peramuna formed in November 1991 and were arrested under Emergency Regulations prevalent at that time on the basis that they were engaged in a conspiracy against the government after police officers had eavesdropped on their discussions exhorting citizens to topple the Government. The arrests were held to be unconstitutional, violating the rights of speech, expression and association.

The Court, in a strongly affirmative judgment by ARB Amerasinghe J relating to the right to protest, observed that '….as a matter of law, merely vehement, caustic and unpleasantly sharp attacks on the government, the President, Ministers, elected representatives or public officers are not per se unlawful….. '

It was pointed out that 'Members of the public must be free to influence intelligently the decisions of those persons for the time being empowered to act for them which may affect themselves. Every legitimate interest of the people or a section of them should have the opportunity of being made known and felt in the political process.

Freedom of speech ensures that minority opinions are heard and not smothered by a tyrannizing majority. It is the only way of enabling the majority in power to have an educated sympathy for the rights and aspirations of other members of the community." This injunction is still one of the most powerful pronouncements made by the Sri Lankan judiciary in this context in the past decade. However, in reality, such judicial precedents are not worth the paper that they were written on, in this day and age.

The police and fabricated cases

The correlated facet of the Galle incident relates to the failing of fabricated cases against the opposition members of Parliament. This has not been, by any means, a new development. There are an increasing number of cases where the police file fabricated cases against victims of police torture, in an attempt to intimidate them into withdrawing cases that they have lodged in respect of the torture that they have been subjected to. Reasons are not given for arrests and it is only later that the victim finds the nature of the fabricated charge against him/her. In this respect, cringing before authority is taken to most sophisticated levels indeed.

But what action can be taken against such offenders of the law in police uniform? Can we expect the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to act in all sincerity? Sri Lanka's constitutional stipulations regarding reform of the police service have now been suspended in mid air. The 17th Amendment, when setting up the National Police Commission (NPC), did not give it the powers of appointments, transfers and disciplinary control of police officers only. It also mandated, by Article 155 G(2), the establishing of meticulous procedures regarding the manner of lodging public complaints against police officers and the police service. The NPC was directed to recommend appropriate action in law against police officers found culpable in the absence of the enactment of a specific law whereby the NPC can itself provide redress.

These procedures were meant to hold both the police officer concerned and officers of the NPC accountable so that both will act in strict compliance with the law. What we had however was a complete non-implementation of these procedures by an NPC beset with problems over police promotion schemes and the like. Later, though the NPC in its second term put such a Procedure in place, it was not implemented satisfactorily. Now the NPC itself is non-functional, to all intents and purposes.

Returning to the 17th Amendment

Despite this dismal state of affairs, informed and committed public opinion needs to be expressed in regard to the deterioration in the rule of law. Public agitation around the 17th Amendment needs to be broadbased. The reconstitution of the CC and the independent commissions should not been seen as a question affecting an elite layer of public opinion only. A well functioning NPC benefits most, those people who do not have easy access to privileged levels of governance. This is the challenge presently before the Sinhala and Tamil media which needs to take this issue directly to the people.

The preeminent role of the judiciary

On its own part, the judiciary in this country needs to be aware of the fact that 'with no constituency, no purse and no sword, the judiciary must rely on moral authority.' The upholding of such moral authority cannot come from harsh verdicts alone or from arbitrary rulings in contempt of court cases.

In the democratic constitutional order, the judiciary is an independent pillar of state, constitutionally mandated to exercise the judicial authority of the state fearlessly and impartially. It has a vital function as the interpreter of the Constitution, the arbiter in disputes between organs of state and, ultimately, as the watchdog over rights protections guaranteed in the constitutional document.

We need to see public opinion demanding that this role is restored to its pristine state before this country descends into constitutional anarchy.

© The Sunday Times

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sri Lanka: North-bound travel not totally free

By Franklin R. Satyapalan | Sunday Island

Travelling to the North via the key Colombo-Jaffna highway still remains taboo for all foreign passport holders, including tourists and journalists, a senior defence official said.

All foreigners are permitted to travel to Jaffna peninsula only by air, Military Liaison Officer to the Ministry of Defence, Maj. Gen. Palitha Fernando said.

"They are not allowed to use the land route without prior clearance from the Defence Ministry", he said. "Only civilian traffic is permitted on the A9".

He said that Sri Lankans with dual citizenship domiciled overseas also need prior clearance.

"Defence Ministry sanction also applies to local journalists who want to visit the North", Maj. Gen. Fernando said. "They should apply to the Media Centre for National Security for clearance".

Asked why the travel restrictions are still enforced, he snapped, "You should know" and dropped the phone.

© Sunday Island

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Rajapaksa – All’s fine but nothing’s right

By Kusal Perera - The Sunday Leader

Last week saw the issue of war crimes committed in Sri Lanka hitting international headlines, despite the Sri Lankan government’s effort in answering them with its own “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission” (LLRC) that sat down to hear major actors interpret the 30 year war.

Two heavy weights in Bernard Goonetilleke and Austin Fernando, before and after the powerful Defence Secretary of this Rajapaksa regime hit headlines in a seemingly organised manner, giving their opinions on the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) of 2002.

This heavy triumvirate was set to prove the longest held cease fire between the GoSL and the Tamil Tigers from 2002 February was a futile effort in making peace. They pictured the Norwegians and also the International community as pro Tiger interventionists and Norwegian facilitation as over stepping to push the government into awkward situations. Austin Fernando in particular who claimed “My Belly is White” 02 years ago was all strength to this Rajapaksa strategy, answering the Chairman of LLRC, the good old pal of President Rajapaksa, he is. They thus threw open the issue of going to war as the only option, which Gota took time to prove as successful, with a supposed “zero civilian casualty” approach.

This laboured position and arguments for war brought forth by the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa at the LLRC hearing, in claiming it was a humanitarian operation is what the 57 US Congressmen and the most surprising and latest entry into the fray, the Deputy Chief Minister of Penang State of Malaysia, Prof P. Ramasamy challenged up front and without hesitations. The Congressmen who signed a letter addressed to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on 09 August 2010, opened their letter raising 02 issues.

They made it abundantly clear, they don’t believe the LLRC is a sincere attempt by the government for seeking peace and reconciliation. Their first concern was on alleged war crimes committed and then secondly, the post conflict situation. They therefore want an independent, international investigation, ruling out the LLRC thus. "We believe that Sri Lanka’s past efforts to investigate severe human rights abuses through Commissions of Inquiry – even when supplemented by an international element such as the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) – have not been successful and do not inspire confidence that the current national mechanism would be any more successful, transparent or credible."

Adding to that US Congressional call for war crimes investigations, Deputy General Secretary of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) of Malaysia, Prof Ramasamy, also hits out hard at how the same issues are handled. He minces no words accusing the Indian leaders, PM Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Minister Chiddambaram, of war crimes committed in Sri Lanka, for their supportive role in the war. Ramasamy is also calling for a total boycott of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi’s family business for cheating and misleading the SL Tamil civilians who were caught in the war.

The DAP in Malaysia, is no ethnic political party as the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) is. MIC was established to support Indian independence and thereafter to carve out a role for Indians in independent Malaysia with around 2.1 million Indians. Much different to the MIC, the DAP that came into politics with the independence of Malaysia, campaigning for a secular Malaysia for all Malaysians, was firmly grounded on Social Democracy since its founding in 1966 and is a member of the Socialist International (SI). It is therefore clear that its stand on the Sri Lankan conflict, quite different to the MIC, is based on its commitment to democratic principles, rather than on a Tamil bias.

Being the second largest Opposition party in the Malaysian parliament with 29 elected Members, DAP has considerable influence across ethnicities, in a country that runs on a federal constitution. Therefore Ramasamy as Deputy CM in one of the most influential States, the Penang State, making a public call for investigation of war crimes in Sri Lanka, tying up the Indian ruling hierarchy as well, provides both Tamil Nadu Dravidian politics and the Tamil Diaspora with new vigour, while also pushing the pro Tiger Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora into a quandary.

The SL Tamil Diaspora caught in this Malaysian created dichotomy can not afford to hurt the feelings of the Indian ruling elite, wanting a buffer as strength to pressure the Rsajapaksa regime, leaving aside the role of the Indian government as a discomforting ally. Most in Tamil politics, even within SL, wish to cajole Delhi to see if Rajapaksa can be influenced to accommodate Tamil political aspirations in post conflict SL, where Tamil politics on its own strength have almost no role, in deciding national politics.

Rajapaksa has created fissures in every political platform, including that of the Tamil Diaspora. He has with him the most elite of the known international Tamil Tiger leaders, Selvarajah Pathmanathan, better known as “KP”, carving out a strong niche in the Tamil Diaspora in support of him. He has all the Tamil groups except the whole TNA, firmly tied to his North – East development projects funded by India, China, Japan and the US. He is enjoying the personal clashes within the UNP, consciously promoting Wickramasinghe, while keeping watch for possible cross overs. He has pushed the JVP into a tight corner, leaving them to defend a war hero, who is being gradually discredited.

What more would Rajapaksa want, with the media now under control and backing the Rajapaksa regime on its politics ? Politically, this media provides all what this regime wants. For the media therefore Gota is many day’s priority and Gota is “Sri Lanka”. The caption therefore is “Sri Lanka defends war conduct”. For this media, the tragedy of those Tamil civilians in Vavuniya who lost their beloved sons, fathers and husbands and testified in front of the LLRC, was no priority. They are not “Sri Lankan” as Gota is and they don’t get many centimetres to cover their plight in the war.

The Rajapaksa regime with all such local consumption, has not gained any substantial political advantage in terms of national reconciliation and peace, despite the war being declared over an year and 03 months ago. It is in that context the Malaysian call for war crimes investigations, adds on to its woes. The DPA in Malaysia has put Rajapaksa and Delhi on the same bloc as responsible for large scale deaths of civilians. Ramasamy’s media release says, "The serious violation of human rights leading to killings of thousands of Tamils in Sri Lanka was not confined to the actions of the Sri Lankan security forces above……..such an untold violence would not have taken place without the concurrence of the political leaders in India, both at the national and state level."

His is a call that draws Malaysian businessmen, accused for white washing the Rajapaksa regime seeking mere profits. This call for business boycott that targets Tamil businessmen both in Malaysia and Tamil Nadu is one, the Rajapaksa regime would be sensitive about.

It would also give strength to the pro Tamil campaign, the Tamil Nadu government is presently trying to suppress. EAM Secretary Rao’s visit to Chennai in providing Karunanidhi some legitimacy to speak on the SL Tamil polity, would thus be seen as washing each others dirty linen. The DAP decision to have their own Committee to investigate SL war crimes would now be an addition to the advisory panel of UN SG Ban Ki-moon, studying the SL conflict. DAP campaign with the Committee of Inquiry, would certainly galvanise TN sentiments and parts of the Diaspora around it. That would keep the Rajapaksa regime on toes and India ruffled. Malaysia can not be called imperialist, Western, or even pro American by Sinhala extremists nor ignored by Delhi diplomacy. This certainly is a headache, Rajapaksa would not have accounted for.

© The Sunday Leader

Read More

Bookmark and Share
© 2009 - 2014 Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  © Blogger template 'Fly Away' by 2008

Back to TOP