Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tamils done with – Sinhalese to be done with

By Kusal Perera | Groundviews

“Then they came for me” an oft quoted poem by German pastor Niemoller, in stressing the need for timely political action in difficult political contexts does have sense today, in its abstract form. Yet what is NOT said is that, Martin Niemoller was a dumb anti Communist who helped Hitler to come to power in Germany. What is NOT said is, his anti Communism supplemented Hitler’s racist ideology in letting lose a holocaust that made his poem irrelevant in Hitler’s Germany.

So it seems for the Sinhala South, after they gleefully established this regime to wage war against Tamil separatism at the cost of human decency and democracy. The JVP is now writhing and wriggling, unable to cope with the battering it is receiving by the Rajapaksa regime, it aggressively helped establish, calling all those who foresaw this tragedy as “traitors” and “Tiger supporters”. The JVP thus helped this Rajapaksa regime in crushing any credible opposition to its warring agenda. Now thrown to the Opposition, the JVP is fast becoming an irrelevant “Niemoller” in every sense.

Stupidly short sighted, the UNP too did not feel comfortable in any way, in opposing human rights violations, abductions, arbitrary arrests and detentions, disappearances during the whole period of the war under Rajapaksa and extension of emergency rule, expecting the Sinhalese to vote them at elections. That stupidity not giving them any worthy recognition at elections, the UNP has now dragged itself into internal squabbles without any sense of what a political programme is, to find its way back to honourable politics. Completely restricting itself to the lobby of a parliament that has no social respect and no intellectual understanding of what this regime is, the UNP leadership, its politically illiterate rebels included, has thus left the Sinhala South in particular, with no sane political Opposition.

That in short, is what this Rajapaksa regime enjoys in rolling up democratic life in Sri Lanka. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution is now law and has pre determined, Rajapaksa would be the President after his second term too, at his own discretion. The argument of those JHU and “Left” sissies, that as long as people would vote, SL would have a popular President and the number of terms would not therefore matter, is simply crap in this country and worst after the 18th Amendment.

What was done in the past as violation of law in prostituting State media, forcible use of State resources and poking the electoral process, would henceforth be lawfully done, with provisions under the 18th Amendment. This new 18th Amendment allows the President to have his own hand picked team running the State as he wants and run elections under a trusted doll like Commissioner, a “Merv” handling the police and a “launderer” running the media. That would not let any outsider to see the inside of the presidential secretariat for even a day.

The bickering and blundering Southern Opposition – the UNP and the JVP – without any political understanding of the evolving scenario and with no political programme to offer to the people, is like a three legged pony running the Ascot. With such opposition politics, if Sri Lanka by 2016, would not have an Opposition candidate to contest, President Rajapaksa would even provide one, as in Islom Karimov’s Uzbekistan.

This life would not be that simple and entertaining as it sounds. While the 18th Amendment to the Constitution paved the way for an unwritten dynastic rule under the accepted Constitution of 1978 with a more muscled and teethed presidency, the Southern social psyche also plays a devastating role in accepting and fostering such rule. It is the Sinhala psyche that matters for now in this land of Gauthama Buddha. Tamils and Muslim minority in the East, are left almost decimated and alienated from the political process of this country. Its the Sinhala South that now provides legitimacy for this Constitution and the Rajapaksa regime, in all its deformed social interpretations.

That thus provides this Rajapaksa regime enough space to carry through its dynastic rule with an agenda that would allow them to be militaristic in running the State and its citizenry. By now the whole of Northern and Eastern provinces are run by the armed security forces. High Security Zones (HSZ) have become part of the agony there, but displacements due to such security measures, have never been taken seriously by any Opposition political party. Sampur is a recent example where over 1,600 families have been displaced for a security cum economic promotion zone. The Indians have walked in with a 520 MW Coal power plant, while no alternate solutions are there for the displaced. With the military brought in for such projects, the Opposition deems it fit to be silent, despite the agony of the people.

The whole North and East, that is 8 out of the 24 districts in the country, are under ex-servicemen, when they have to be under civil administration. Both provincial Governors are top officers, one an army Major General and the other, a Rear Admiral from the Navy. The Trincomalee District Secretary is also a Major General from the military. These are all top civil positions that have been given over to security officers, without any questioning from the Opposition or by the people.

Such is the plight of the Tamil and the Muslim people. They have been done with. Their Human Rights had been discarded long time ago. Their democratic life is decided by the security forces spread heavily across the provinces, administered by men who are also security officers, with the police too acting as an auxiliary force in security detailing. They are left with nothing “civil” in their life.

It is now the South and the Sinhala people that’s left to be taken care of. The armed forces are still on the roads. Security for politicians has not been relaxed. Militarisation of the society that was effectively done and without opposition, continues, though in a low key. Registration of all residents with the police that was said to be necessary for security reasons during the war and carried under emergency, is now done through the Police Ordinance, without a war.

Within such military overseeing of the South, “Urban Development” is under the Defence Ministry. All cities, suburbs and coastal areas are therefore now under the Defence Ministry. The Coast Conservation Department also listed under the Defence Ministry, completes the take over.

The story of removing Colombo pavement hawkers on the ruse of clearing illegal constructions and underworld activity was only a pilot project to test public sentiments over military interventions. If the objective was actually cleaning up, then there are large illegal constructions used for commercial purposes by big time businessmen and politically powerful men, that not only obstructs pavements, but also traffic on the roads. The purpose of bringing the security forces into play has nothing to do with such issues. It has nothing to do with underworld activities, either. Today the underworld has graduated from pavements to the corridors of political power. They wouldn’t live with petty incomes any more, from pavements.

The actual story is different and serious. The plan to relocate 66,000 from the city of Colombo and the latest decision to relocate “under served” settlements from Kirilapone as well, is clearly about “Prime Land” in the Colombo city and taking them over with least resistance. Its prime land worth possibly trillions of dollars and not rupees. Pilfering and looting in billions and trillions cannot be done as an elected, democratic government, responsible to the people.

The process of governance has to be therefore circumvented and hijacked from its formal traditions and practices. That is why the UDA was brought under the Defence Ministry. The Rajapaksas know quite well and they have had it tested in Colombo. With the war against the LTTE declared won, its the military and the armed forces that can help them run with least resistance, in the absence of real time development and in the presence of big time “commissions”. The Rajapaksas know, military teething for such rule has to be legally effected while the South believes in its “patriotism”.

That is also the reason to plan the abolition of the Colombo Municipal Council, after its 150 year plus existence and bring that under the Defence Ministry. That is also reason why the proposed Colombo Authority will not be an elected local government body. Administered under the Defence Ministry, Colombo could be turned into a virtual HSZ where political posters, banners, protests, pickets and processions will be taboo. Its rate payers would thus have to live as those in the Jaffna peninsula.

After all, Colombo is where all State power is clenched in the fist of Rajapaksa’s. They would not want political agitations in their seat of power. Political activities within the 3 main bridges, Dehiwala, Kirulapone and Grandpass, could therefore come under heavy restrictions by law, with the proposed Colombo Authority left under the Defence Ministry. What if this proposed Colombo Authority is also given over to an ex-serviceman, as the Northern and the Eastern Provinces are ?

For now they would sound too hypothetical and too exaggerated. That perhaps is how the South wish to dream about this very “patriotic” Rajapaksa regime. But for sure, this regime is gradually and seriously treading a militaristic path, through Constitutional and legal provisions. Where there is no provisions, they have proved, they could create provisions.

Where there is political opposition that could emerge as an alternative, they would see it is nipped in its embryonic life. This present Opposition is what it would love to have and tell the world, this is a democratic society. The seriousness is that, this certainly is a politico military process within a Constitutional framework that needs most urgently, a serious and intellectual Opposition. That is only IF the Sinhala South wish to avoid a Constitutionally legitimised, military rule with a smiling President in white sarong and banyan. Of course with his unique “kurahan” satakaya, as well.

© Groundviews

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Censorship 'mistake': Sunday Island editor

Photo courtesy of Indi Samarajeewa

By Charles Haviland | BBC News

A Sri Lankan commission investigating the final years of the war has been told that the government and military made a mistake in largely excluding journalists from the war zone.

It was hearing testimony from one of the country's most senior newspaper editors, who also said he did not believe there should be any 'witch-hunts' looking into alleged misdeeds during the war which ended 16 months ago.

The government often accused foreign and local reporters of being biased towards the Tamil Tigers or LTTE during the war.

On Monday the war commission's chairman put it to Manik de Silva, editor of the Sunday Island newspaper, that the media had played an 'unhelpful' role.


The editor said this perception arose because most reporting had to be based on hearsay as the authorities wouldn't let most journalists go near the war zone, except for a few from state media.

He said that earlier, the Tigers had made life difficult for reporters living in places under their control.

"If they didn't report it in the way that the LTTE wanted it reported, then they were dead," he said.

"Similarly I think that was also true of the military – that when you were there, if you wrote something that was perceived as unhelpful or hostile to the military, you risked retribution."

Mr de Silva said there was no point in conducting 'witch-hunts' regarding who did what during the war.

Instead, he said, the country should recognise the need for healing and the government should make it clear that all citizens were to be treated equally.

In a novel suggestion he proposed that every Sri Lankan should pay a tax to fund measures to normalise the lives of those who suffered in the conflict, both civilian and military.

Manik de Silva also said he fundamentally believed that at grassroots level there was no real ethnic enmity between Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim people.

© BBC Sinhala

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

IFJ Condemns arrest of printing staff in Sri Lanka

Press Release | International Federation of Journalists

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is outraged at the arrest of the owner and staff of a print-shop in Sri Lanka on the eve of an important constitutional amendment debate in the national parliament.

According to the Free Media Movement (FMM), an IFJ affiliate, the arrests followed a police raid on the shop, Sarala Graphics, in Nugegoda town, neighbouring Colombo, on the night of September 7. Eight workers of the print shop, including a woman, were arrested. The police reportedly inquired about the whereabouts of the owner of the print shop, but could not find him on the premises.

At the time it was raided, the print shop was reportedly printing campaign posters opposing the 18th amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution.

A few hours later, around 3 am on September 8, a police party went to the residence of the printer, Jayampathy Bulathsinhala. Finding that he was not present, they arrested his wife and her two younger brothers. Bulathsinhala surrendered before the local police station a few hours later and was remanded in custody. His wife and her two brothers were released on bail that evening.

Bulathsinhala has said he was executing the print order for Sri Lanka’s main opposition, the United National Party (UNP). Mangala Samaraweera, a member of parliament and UNP media coordinator, informed police that the poster was meant for public display as legitimate campaign material, which was not against the law.

According to information from media and other sources, the arrests in Nugegoda cast a shadow over the debate in parliament that followed, when bitter partisanship reportedly dominated. Opposition members who chose to make a stand on issues of human rights, including the right to free speech, were vilified.

The 18th amendment reverses many of the democratic reforms promised under the 17th amendment, adopted in 2001 and never fully implemented.

IFJ affiliates in Sri Lanka have expressed concerns that the 18th amendment could have serious implications for media freedom, as it puts the power to appoint many of the autonomous oversight bodies envisaged for vital sectors of governance in the hands of the President.

“The raid on the premises of the printer and the mass arrests of staff speaks of a growing threat to the free speech right in Sri Lanka,” IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

“This diminishes hopes for an improvement in the overall civil rights environment after the end of the country’s civil war in May 2009.

“The IFJ demands that the local police immediately discharge the printer, Jayampathy Bulathsinhala, and all the others who were wrongly arrested.”


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