Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Prageeth : Missing without trace

By Charlotte Jansen | The Art Journal

Prageeth Eknaligoda was a renowned and talented journalist and cartoonist. He disappeared a year ago after leaving work on January 4th, 2010, in Colombo, Sri Lanka - and has not been seen since - despite the relentless efforts of his wife Sandya and his son who have committed their lives to finding Prageeth, launching campaigns and working with media and human rights groups around the world. Their story may tragically never be resolved, but Sandya has undoubtedly done a huge amount for raising awareness on an international level about the intrinsic problems with human rights in Sri Lanka, and more widely, questions the relationship between art and politics.

The Sri Lanka government has come under fire for not issuing a thorough investigation into Prageeth's disappearance, and it is widely speculated that he was abducted for political reasons - his cartoons were critical of the government, aligning more with the views of the opposition party the JVP. The Sri Lankan government has a long history of media harassment, indeed Prageeth had been abducted and released previous to his disappearance last year. Dozens of Sri Lankan journalists are now living in exile.

Prageeth's drawings have a laconic kind of beauty; perhaps it's projecting what I know onto what I see, and is therefore being too reductive in doing so, but they seem to be full of sadness of being restrained, at unable to explore his own boundaries as an artist.

Because of this devastating story, Sandya Eknaligoda finds herself now catapaulted into the spotlight of the Sri Lankan media. She was just recovering from illness when I contacted her via the group Journalists For Democracy in Sri Lanka, and she had to painstakingly translate her answers from Sinhala, but I eventually received these fascinating insights into Prageeth's life and work.

How did Prageeth begin working as a political cartoonist?

At the beginning, Prageeth worked as a graphic artist in a advertising firm. Then he started working for magazines and journals. While he was producing cartoons and art he continued to engage to engage in writing on daily basis. He has produced many journalistic pieces and some have been published posthumously. In 1994 Prageeth joined Lake House, a government-owned leading newspaper establishment, as a cartoonist and worked therein for sometime. In 2006 Prageeth joined Lanka e-news. Prageeth is a person with many talents – he was painting and making sculptures too.

What do you find most important about his work?

I mostly appreciate character of Prageeth: the man who lived inside him. To me there are two prominent characteristics in him: 1) kindness and love for the people; he even look back with compassion on the people who intimidated and dispossessed him. 2) sharp cosmopolitan thinking and straightforwardness in action. He possessed a very good power of memory entwined with clarity. Mostly he was with the capacity to convince the other. He is special.

What inspired Prageeth?

His love for democratic practices and ideas is immense. I am saying this because he drew cartoons mostly during the period of democracy at peril in Sri Lanka. For instance, during the period covering 1987 - 1989 he was endangering himself by providing casting a veil over so many personalities who were facing the witch-hunt of the government then in power.

How did his work continue under the Rajapakse regime?

When Rajapakse regime started to bury democratic practices and norms systematically, when it started to treat the ethnic issue in hegemonic manner, Prageeth started to express his vehement opposition. He believed that democratic federal solution is the only way to resolve ethnic crisis in the North and East provinces. When the war and brutal killing started in North and East in 2008, he was openly saying that chemical weapons were using against the Tamil people and he has found evidence to prove it.

What do you believe was the most powerful thing about his work?

In 2009, Prageeth was kidnapped by a group of undercover people who came in a white van; but he was released on the following day. He was bold enough to write about this torturous drama in detail and publish. it Knowing that his phone lines were tapped, and that he was bring followed by plain-clothed policemen, he engaged in his day to day work cautiously and tactfully. During Presidential election campaign he worked for General Fonseca.

How can people here help with your campaign?

Your organization and you can make the Sri Lankan government accountable for this heinous act and interrogate them - interrogate them about Prageeth and his disappearance. I intend to organize an Exhibition of Cartoons in the near future. At present, I have been sacked from my job. I am bounded with debts. I need to continue in this struggle, and anything anyone around the world can do to help, is a blessing.

© The Art Journal

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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Australia left wanting when allegations of war crimes arise

By Gideon Boas | The Sydney Morning Herald

Recent reports of an Australian/Sri Lankan citizen's alleged involved in the commission of war crimes at the end of the Sri Lankan civil war raise once again questions about where Australia stands on the question of war crimes allegedly committed either by its citizens or by people who now live in this country.

Palitha Kohona, a dual citizen of Australia and Sri Lanka, has been accused of assisting in organising the alleged murders of three surrendering Tamil Tigers in 2009. In January, two Tamil organisations operating outside Sri Lanka — the Swiss Council of Eelam Tamils and a US group called Tamils Against Genocide — submitted a request to investigate Kohona for the murder of three surrendering Tamil Tigers to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. Kohuna is said to have been prominent in negotiating the surrender of the victims while serving in the Sri Lankan government, but has denied any involvement in the alleged event. He is now Sri Lanka's ambassador to the United Nations.

Kohona is not just an Australian citizen; he was also employed, according to Hansard, as a senior official with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The allegations of his involvement in war crimes, therefore, come as an added embarrassment to the Australian government.
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Looking at the submission from the Tamil groups to the ICC prosecutor, the factual case itself has problems and complexities. Areas untested before the ICC relating to certain kinds of criminal participation raise question marks, even were the prosecutor prepared to investigate and seek Kohona's prosecution.

However, substantive legal matters aside, the prosecutor is highly unlikely to investigate a case in which three surrendering combatants were believed to have been killed. The prosecutor's office receives many such submissions and requests, only a fraction of which can, and will, ever be investigated — even fewer will be prosecuted. This is because of its policy of prosecuting only the gravest of crimes, and only then when other limiting factors are satisfied.

Which brings consideration of this case back to Australia and the interest — if any — of Australian authorities in either prosecuting or facilitating the prosecution of Kohona for war crimes.

Sri Lanka is not a party to the statute of the ICC and the court has no jurisdiction over its citizens or crimes committed on its territory, unless the United Nations Security Council authorises it. One exception to this limitation is where a perpetrator is a citizen of a country that has ratified the court's statute. The Tamil groups' submission to the ICC states that Australia, as a signatory to the court's statute, has an obligation to assist such an investigation.

Australia is indeed obliged either to prosecute or extradite to the ICC a person who falls under the court's jurisdiction. So far the only response from the government is a general statement that it will support any action by the court. There is no suggestion that the government might itself consider seeking the extradition of Kohona back to Australia for investigation or prosecution here — either under the Commonwealth criminal code or the Geneva Conventions Act.

This is understandable for several reasons. For a start, the facts in relation to Kohona's involvement are vague, there is only, at this stage, the suggestion of an anonymous witness who can put him in the picture and, as a serving ambassador of Sri Lanka, he may be entitled to diplomatic immunity (although where war crimes are concerned, and because he is an ambassador and not a minister, this argument is challengeable).

But beyond that, since the trials of three accused Nazi war criminals living in Australia in the late 1980s and early 1990s Australia has been reluctant to engage in investigating and prosecuting alleged war criminals even where they reside under our noses — let alone where we would have to seek their extradition in such a challenging legal and political environment.

Take the recent case of Dragan Vasiljkovic, the Australian Croatian Serb finally sent to Croatia to face war crimes prosecution only after the High Court ordered his extradition (and after Australian Federal Police managed to recover him from hiding in New South Wales). There was a strong case for us prosecuting Vasiljkovic, an Australian citizen, under the Geneva Conventions Act, but this appears never to have been seriously considered.

In other cases, we have been prepared to facilitate extradition but never to prosecute ourselves. While our legislative framework certainly renders some of these cases complex, the reluctance goes far beyond purely legal considerations. We have a great anxiety about the resources involved in such prosecutions and an even greater anxiety that the Australian public does not really support prosecuting people who committed crimes — even war crimes — in other countries.

While Kohona's case is far from a great example of our reticence in this area, it highlights just how far we are as a country from taking our place as good international citizens; from talking seriously about what to do about alleged war criminals residing within our community, and from having an evolved policy on how to deal with them.

Dr Gideon Boas is an associate professor in the Monash University Law School and was a senior legal officer at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

© The Sydney Morning Herald

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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Sri Lanka: April uprising and the 1978 constitution

By Basil Fernando | Sri Lanka Guardian

April 5th has significance to Sri Lanka due to the JVP uprising of 1971. The word uprising has been used for this event by way of an exaggeration. The exaggeration came mainly from the then-government and its propaganda machinery, supported also by UNP, who were the main opposition party, in unleashing unrestrained repression to suppress whatever that was taking place. It is this massive suppression that is being justified by the use of the word ‘uprising’ for what happened in 1971.

The events of 1971 do not compare in significance in any way with the 1953 hartal, which was in fact a mass uprising in which most of the population directly or indirectly participated. That uprising came as a result of a call by several political parties, led mainly by the Lanka Samasamaja Party, as a protest against the increase of the price of rationed rice by the UNP government, whose Minister of Finance was JR Jayawardene.

The 1953 uprising virtually shattered the political arrangements of the country and the impact of this great event has not yet been properly grasped. As compared to this, what happened in 1971 was a few activities by groups of young rebels who were loosely organized and who believed in taking up arms against the state. However, between the idea of making an armed uprising and the actual performance, there was a vast gap. Perhaps that was due to the exposure of the attempts to make hand bombs in a few places. The government, which was alerted, immediately went into action, granting license to kill anyone who was suspected of having any kind of a connection with the JVP.

In the first days that followed there were large numbers of killings after arrest and the usual conservative figure that is mentioned is around 10,000. Some even give the figure as 21,000. Due to the intervention of many persons, the government was persuaded to declare an amnesty for those who surrendered. Literally thousands of young persons surrendered, mostly at the encouragement of parents who just wanted to ensure that they would be kept alive.

At the inquiry before the Criminal Justice Commission, the Attorney-General stated in court that the existence of the uprising will be taken as a presumption, and that therefore there was no need to prove the existence of an uprising. The defence did not challenge this position. Perhaps it was to the advantage of the JVP leaders to appear as leaders of a great uprising. Some of the JVP leaders cashed in on this, comparing themselves to the heroes of the 1918 and 1948 rebellions.

What the 1971 uprising in fact showed was a great discontent spread throughout the country, particularly among the younger generation. Large numbers of youths showed willingness to support a call for rebellion, even without any convincing theory or practical, organizational structure to convince them of the validity of the political thought and strategy of the JVP. In fact, there was hardly any kind of political thought, going by the famous five lessons and the lengthy answers given by the JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera during the interrogation relating to the April 5th events. That long document that consisted of his statement to the Criminal Investigation Division showed enormous confusion about a strategy for Sri Lanka, but also about the history of revolutionary movements, and particularly about Marxist thought and history.

The repression of the JVP in 1971 had its impact felt on the political events that were to follow later. All who took to arms in the south and in the north and the east expected the worst by way of repression and therefore were themselves willing to take to the most brutal forms of violence. The nature of the violence that took place in the 1980’s and after in Sri Lanka can only be fathomed by understanding the nature of the repression that was unleashed in 1971.

The greatest advantage of 1971 fell on the United National Party and its leader, JR Jayawardene. This party had had an ignominious defeat in 1970, when the coalition parties won a massive electoral victory with more than 2/3 majority in parliament. This was to be reversed in 1978, when the United National Party won over 80% of seats in the parliament. One of the major reasons for that victory was the political confusion that followed the 1971 April events.

JR Jayawardene, one of whose main ambitions in life was to crush the labour movement in Sri Lanka, utilized this event to maximum use by supporting the coalition government to take whatever repressive action without posing any limits as an opposition party. He saw that his aims would be best served at this point by supporting the coalition government rather than by opposing it.

With the easy victory won in 1978, JR Jayawardene proceeded to displace the basic democratic system itself by giving himself powers and legally destabilizing the system of checks and balances. It can be said that the greatest beneficiary of the 1971 events was JR Jayawardene. His political scheme was to displace the country’s rule of law system and the notion of the separation of powers. When such a drastic change was proposed in form of 1978 constitution there was hardly any serious discussion within the country. The nation is still trapped by this political scheme and all attempts to escape from it have failed. Subsequently, JR Jayawardene’s own party fell victim to Jayawardene’s scheme.

The way the repressive forces within Sri Lanka used the 1971 April events needs far closer study and analysis.

Basil Fernando is executive director of the Asian Legal Resource Centre, based in Hong Kong. He has held several United Nations-related posts, including appeals counsel under the UNHCR for Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong, officer-in-charge of the Investigation Unit under the U.N. Transitional Authority in Cambodia and chief of legal assistance at the Cambodia Office of the U.N. Center for Human Rights. He is the author of several books on human rights and legal reform issues.

© Sri Lanka Guardian

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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

IMF approves seventh tranche of Sri Lanka loan

By Ranga Sirilal | Reuters

The International Monetary Fund late on Monday approved disbursement of the seventh tranche of a $2.6 billion loan to Sri Lanka, saying its economic growth was strong while warning of the risk that excess liquidity could stoke inflation.

The impact of crop damage caused by flooding in January and February will be limited owing to the size and strength of the economy, the IMF's executive board said in a statement.

The sixth tranche of the loan is worth $218.3 million, part of a loan programme approved in July 2009 after Sri Lanka's government emerged victorious in a quarter-century separatist war.

© Reuters

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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Cricket and politics in Sri Lanka

By Namini Wijedasa | The Saudi Gazette

The Sri Lankan team lost the 2011 Cricket World Cup to India but were welcomed home like winners. Was this politics or the true Sri Lankan spirit of embracing losers as equally as they would victors?

Cricket in Sri Lanka is increasingly a political affair. While sports ministers are known to dabble freely in the affairs of Sri Lanka Cricket, it is the country’s president who recommends members to the interim board of this administrative body. Why interim? Not since 2004 have elections been held to Sri Lanka Cricket, earlier called the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka. A small clause in the law allows the relevant minister to appoint an interim committee to administer the sport but he takes recommendations from the president. Since elections cannot guarantee members whose sympathies lie with the regime, an interim committee has become the norm rather than the exception.

In the run-up to the April 2 final with India, this was much debated within Sri Lanka’s acrimonious, divisive political arena. The row started with a comment made by Arjuna Ranatunga, who captained the team that won the 1996 World Cup. Now an outspoken opposition MP, Ranatunga was asked by an Indian TV channel what advice he would offer the Sri Lankan team. He replied that he no longer counsels the cricket team as President Mahinda Rajapaksa has assumed that role.

If Ranatunga had meant to goad the government- and the president - into a backlash, he succeeded. The state media honed in on the remark, accusing him of destroying team morale and discrediting Sri Lanka internationally. This continues even after the Cricket World Cup in what seems to be an attempt to somehow link Sri Lanka’s defeat with Ranatunga’s ill-advised, politically motivated statement.

That is politics in Sri Lanka. And that is cricket. On the one hand, there is a clear nexus between the two in the presence of former cricketers in parliament. Ranatunga is one while Sanath Jayasuriya, called the “Master Blaster” for his batting prowess, is another. The out-of-form Jayasuriya had aspired to be included in the 2011 team but was dropped from the side. Had he got his wish, Sri Lanka would have had a parliamentarian on the team.

There is also indirect political involvement in cricketing matters, apparently prompted by a keenness to be associated with a rich and powerful sport that has enormous public following. It is not unusual now to find a sports minister summoning or chairing press conferences related to cricket or its administrative body. And a Cricket World Cup, particularly one at which Sri Lanka performs well, is a windfall for politicians.

On the day of the final, Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror newspaper wrote in an editorial: “Even before the winner of today’s match is known, the politicians in true Sri Lankan style will be sharpening their spurs to ride on the Sri Lankan team.”
After the event, the same newspaper questioned whether Sri Lanka will now change “a corruption-ridden cricketing establishment” and prepare for the 2015 World Cup by, among other things, earmarking a captain. “Who will be the next set of administrators we don’t know,” its editorial read. “But kissing goes by favor and to expect changes in a country like Sri Lanka is also like expecting the sun to rise from the West.”

When Sangakkara’s men lost to India, Sri Lankan politicians were constrained to forego the rich personal benefits accruing from a victory. Many had waited in the wings to take the credit for or to (at least) bask in the glory. With defeat came the realization that runners-up status could only bring them limited mileage.

The team returned on April 3, the day after the match. Bizarrely, they were welcomed at the airport by the minister of labor and labor relations. They were garlanded, escorted a short distance by dancers and drummers and taken to Independence Square in a government-organized motorcade that was originally to have been a victory parade. The only other ministers and officials present at the airport were those who returned from watching the match on the same chartered flight the team took.

At Independence Square, the players were treated to a brief, government-organized reception during which they were praised as runners-up. In attendance was the minister of foreign employment promotion and welfare. Indeed, a larger number of cabinet members were present at Temple Trees on Monday when President Rajapaksa felicitated the cricketers on reaching the final. Had Sri Lanka won the cup, ministers and officials would have been jostling to be in the picture wherever - and whenever – the opportunity presented itself.

Contrast this, however, with the generous response of the public. On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people turned up at various venues where giant screens were installed, cheering the boys on. Their exuberance suffered as victory slipped away, replaced by a twisting, gut-wrenching disappointment. By Sunday morning, however, they had recovered. By Sunday morning, they were once again proud of their team.
Sure, there are recriminations. The question is being asked why four changes were made to the team that played the final. Fielding was sloppy, a crucial catch was dropped, a run-out was fumbled and bowling was abysmal. And who shoved Chamara Kapugedara into the team? There are even rumblings of “match-fixing”.

But for the most part, the team remain heroes. “Absolutely nothing wrong in welcoming the team back with a bash, in my view,” said Kanchana Peiris, a lawyer and cricket fan. “Heck, they did us proud so it’s the least we can do to show them our support and appreciation.”

“Needless to say, however, I abhor the mileage politicians would have tried to make of this victory,” he added, “and deeply wish that Sri Lankans would see our politicians for the shallow, transparent, power-hungry leeches that they (mostly) are. In a perfect world the welcoming party would be done for the right reasons, but who are we kidding? We don’t live in that world.”

Sri Lankans love their cricket. Cricket does not unite everyone in this fractured nation. Many Tamils are still deeply hurt after thirty years of war and feel there are vastly more important issues to focus on than cricket. Many others do not appreciate the dominant, sword-brandishing lion symbol in the national flag that represents the Sinhalese and find it offensive to see it waved at cricket matches. But cricket does unite more people in Sri Lanka -Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese - than anything else has ever done.

And so, men, women and children stood on either side of the road on Sunday, flourishing Sri Lanka flags and gazing adoringly as the team passed by. Many more gathered at Independence Square to express solidarity with the tired, red-eyed cricketers. They gained nothing from being present. They just wanted to be there.
Politicians clearly gained nothing from being present either; that’s why they didn’t turn up.

© The Saudi Gazette

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