Saturday, June 18, 2011

Sri Lanka Tamil MPs' beaten up by troops'

AFP | Arabs Today

Sri Lanka's main minority Tamil political group on Friday accused army troops of assaulting its lawmakers and breaking up a party meeting on the northern peninsula of Jaffna.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) said troops stormed their venue on Thursday evening and attacked members of parliament and party supporters who were discussing local elections next month.

Soldiers used poles to beat up people at the meeting, the TNA said in a statement, adding that others in civilian clothing assaulted the police bodyguards of the opposition lawmakers.

"Several soldiers in full uniform, carrying automatic weapons and long poles in their hands, rushed into the hall and started assaulting the people," the statement said.

"About 30 of them were led by an officer who wore T-shirt and army fatigue trousers and boots."

The TNA has been vocal in its criticism of the Sri Lankan military and accused it of war crimes in the final months of the island's civil war, when troops defeated the Tamil separatists in 2009.

Western nations, neighbouring India and the UN have called on Sri Lanka to probe allegations of war crimes and take steps to reconcile the minority Tamil group with the Sinhalese majority.

Tamil rebels took up arms in 1972 after accusing the Sinhalese-led government of discriminating against Tamils in jobs and education.

The country's armed forces are dominated by Sinhalese, but military spokesman Major General Ubaya Medawela said he was unaware of any military involvement in Thursday's incident, adding police had begun an investigation.

"This has not come to my attention. It is a police matter and police investigations are on," Medawela said.


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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Boycotts and literary festivals

Photo courtesy: bbcworldservice/flickr

By Antony Loewenstein | Overland

‘For thirty years the country [Sri Lanka] went through a kind of hell and endured untold economic and cultural deprivation. Now, with things looking up, we need all the friendly input we can get from well-meaning outsiders. Let the writers and the artists and the goodwill ambassadors come here and brighten up our lives, for Heaven’s sake. We have had enough dark days as it is.’

Richard Prins, The Sunday Times (Sri Lanka), 30 January 2011

A desire for normality is not unusual in a country that has experienced civil conflict. Hundreds of thousands of Tamils and Sinhalese have been killed or maimed in Sri Lanka over the past decades. What better way to celebrate the end of war than the Galle Literary Festival, an annual event that brings local and international artists and writers together for five days of debate?

But cultural events don’t take place in a vacuum. This year, the festival became the centre of a global effort to highlight human rights abuses in Sri Lanka in an episode that highlights the complicated politics of literary boycotts.

In January, Reporters Without Borders and a network of exiled Sri Lankan journalists, Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, issued an appeal signed by a number of prominent figures, including Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, Ken Loach, Tariq Ali and me. It called on participants in the festival to consider the message their attendance sent:

We believe this is not the right time for prominent international writers like you to give legitimacy to the Sri Lankan government’s suppression of free speech by attending a conference that does not in any way push for greater freedom of expression inside that country … We ask you in the great tradition of solidarity that binds writers together everywhere, to stand with your brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka who are not allowed to speak out. We ask that by your actions you send a clear message that, unless and until the disappearance of [cartoonist] Prageeth [Eknaligoda] is investigated and there is a real improvement in the climate for free expression in Sri Lanka, you cannot celebrate writing and the arts in Galle.

The statement did not directly ask writers to boycott the event but instead urged them to reconsider their participation. The hope was that moral pressure would provoke serious thought about the situation in Sri Lanka. The war’s official end had not brought liberation for the Tamil minority; President Mahinda Rajapaksa still rules over an authoritarian state. Colombo recently tried to ban the Tamil version of the Sri Lankan national anthem, and in late December 2010 an education officer in Tamil-majority Jaffna was murdered by Sinhalese thugs for refusing to instruct students to sing the Sinhalese version. Corruption is also rife throughout the health, university and entertainment industries. Independent journalists are routinely snatched from the streets in white vans and often never seen again. Thousands of Tamils remain incommunicado in concentration camps in the north and there has been no war crimes investigation into the many serious allegations against senior members of the government.

For me, the Galle statement was part of an ongoing struggle to insert human rights into a world that I now inhabit: the literary and cultural festival scene. It is too easy to simply visit a city and event, to enjoy the luxurious hospitality and not consider the wider context. Who is excluded and why? Is my presence condoning the actions of organisers or the state (that often partly funds such events)?

I was particularly concerned about Galle after reading reports by Australian journalist Eric Ellis that the founder of the festival, Geoffrey Dobbs, had not fully accounted for money he had gathered after the devastating 2004 tsunami. Ellis expressed scepticism that the ‘Condé Nast Traveller crowd’ who came to the literary extravaganza would see the event as nothing other than ‘marrying the yuppie fervour for exotic foods with a neo-colonial languor and the presumed intellectual glamour of being in close quarters with famous wordsmiths’.

The festival responded with outrage. Curator Shyam Selvadurai told Sri Lanka’s Sunday Leader that he ‘disagreed with the method of using the festival as a platform to voice disapproval’. When asked why a proposed panel on media freedom had been cancelled, he responded that it was simply too difficult ‘because it has to be fair and balanced. You have to give voice to both sides … We stand above all this partisan politics.’

I wondered if he believed that victims of war crimes should be given equal standing to those who commit them?

Selvadurai released a major statement in late January in which he claimed his voice had been ignored by the Reporters Without Borders:

I am Tamil and the festival takes place in Galle, the deep Sinhala south, which has seen some of the worst violence committed against the Tamils [in fact, the worst massacres occurred in the east of the country in 2009, with tens of thousands murdered]. I am, in addition, openly gay, and in fact was the first person to come out publicly in Sri Lanka. This, in a country where homosexuality is still illegal.

His call for dialogue was moving and forced me to seriously consider the purpose of the statement.

I felt comfortable with applying pressure on a festival that was backed by Colombo, an event used as a symbol of the postwar recovery advertised in tourist brochures across the world. Tourism is a massive industry in Sri Lanka. It helps normalise the international image of the nation if people return from the island to talk only about its beauty. When a writer explained in Sri Lanka’s Sunday Times that the ‘infectiously feel-good, let’s-have-a-party character’ of Galle was sufficient enough reason for its success, it became clear that many Sinhalese and white visitors resented having their enjoyment interrupted with the inconvenient question of war crimes.

The aim of the statement was to highlight the world’s silence since the official end of the civil war in May 2009. Reporters Without Borders chief editor Gilles Lordet acknowledged that a boycott was ‘never a constructive solution’ but ‘it is a way to focus attention on a country that has been forgotten … Galle is one of the main tourist towns and you could imagine that everything is fine in the country, but that’s not the reality’.

South African writer Damon Galgut was the most high-profile withdrawal from Galle, declaring his discomfort with Sri Lanka’s human rights record and support of our statement. He was already in the country when he pulled out. Galgut told me personally at the Perth Writers Festival in March that the statement had alerted him to the grim reality of life in today’s Sri Lanka, a country he presumed had returned to semi-normality. Once he discovered the truth, he felt he had no choice but to withdraw.

Sri Lanka-based British travel writer Juliet Coombe praised the petition campaign to Agence France Presse because ‘there is a self-induced fear; not only among journalists and writers … Sometimes negative campaigns like this work. I had people calling from abroad, asking about the festival, about media suppression.’

Sri Lankan-born Roma Tearne also refused to appear. The event would, she said, bring nothing to the ‘poor and the displaced, the bereft and the victims of Sri Lanka’s war’, and ‘celebrity-seeking writers’ should not delude themselves otherwise.

The withdrawal of Nobel Prize-winner Orhan Pamuk and his partner, writer Kiran Desai, was initially reported as a response to the petition but may have resulted from visa complications or other personal reasons. I’d approached them both at the Jaipur Literature Festival in India in late January and Pamuk arrogantly refused to talk about Galle.

Nonetheless, during the festival itself, the human rights situation was debated in ways that would arguably not have occurred without our intervention. A BBC South Asia report by Charles Haviland confirmed that ‘dozens of writers had to make a quick decision on whether to pull out’.

Sandhya Eknaligoda, the wife of disappeared cartoonist Prageeth, was not allowed to present at the festival but handed out flyers to participants about her missing Sinhalese husband. It read in part:

I welcome you to a country where thousands of women and children weep silent tears for a nation of innocent civilians who have been killed or disappeared on account on their ethnicity. Welcome to Sri Lanka.

She alleges that her partner was abducted because he exposed the use of chemical weapons by Colombo in its war against the Tamil Tigers.

A few weeks later, Sandhya Eknaligoda emailed me personally to thank me for signing. It made me feel the petition provided comfort to some people in Sri Lanka who needed it most.

Throughout the Galle controversy, I was a guest at the Jaipur Literature Festival where I spoke about Palestine, Wikileaks and the Middle East. Some of the sponsors were multinationals with dubious human rights records (such as Shell), while Merrill Lynch, a key player in the global financial crisis, sponsored one of my events with the New Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson and the Washington Post’s David Finkel on ‘reporting occupation’.

A counter-statement issued by supporters of the Galle festival pointed out the supposed hypocrisy of people like me being selective in our outrage. What about Indian government abuses in Kashmir? they asked. Why wasn’t I boycotting Jaipur if I felt so strongly about human rights?

I asked festival director William Dalrymple about the sponsors and he honestly acknowledged that he simply hadn’t considered the issue but would for future events. I took comfort in a statement made by Naomi Klein when defending her backing of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel: ‘Boycott is not a dogma; it’s a tactic.’

When are boycotts appropriate? Who decides? And what gives an unelected group or individual the moral legitimacy to demand or ask a participant to not appear?

In my view, boycotts should not be a personal protest but a considered position with indigenous support from within the host country itself. Does the event receive government funding and if so, what actions are potentially worth protesting? Are there calls for a boycott – or at least a protest – from citizens of the particular country? How effective will a boycott be? If an individual simply doesn’t turn up at a festival or refuses an offer to attend, a private protest may be pointless. Will the decision receive media coverage, or can the news be broadcast to local media?

Today, the best example of a vigorous cultural and academic boycott movement is that directed at Israel for its ongoing violation of Palestinian human rights. In 2004, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) issued a major call endorsed by the vast bulk of Palestinian civil society groups:

Since Israeli academic institutions (mostly state controlled) and the vast majority of Israeli intellectuals and academics have either contributed directly to maintaining, defending or otherwise justifying the above forms of oppression, or have been complicit in them through their silence … We, Palestinian academics and intellectuals, call upon our colleagues in the international community to comprehensively and consistently boycott all Israeli academic and cultural institutions as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel’s occupation, colonisation and system of apartheid.

Examples abound of Israel making cultural life for Palestinians a daily grind. For example, in May 2009, Israeli troops tried to close the Palestinian Festival of Literature in Jerusalem by shutting a theatre on spurious procedural grounds.

‘We’re so taken aback. It is completely, completely independent,’ said Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif, who chaired the event. ‘I think it’s very telling. Our motto, which is taken from the late Edward Said, is to pit the power of culture against the culture of power.’

The campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is a way to protest these violations.

PACBI has become highly effective in the past few years, applying moral force and practical, non-violent pressure on musicians, filmmakers, academics and writers either planning to visit Israel or receiving Israeli government funding. Musicians who have agreed to cancel appearances in Israel include Elvis Costello, Faithless, Santana, Gil Scott-Heron and Pete Seeger, while Canadian writer Naomi Klein only agreed to publish her best-selling The Shock Doctrine in Israel in 2009 with Andalus Publishing, a small imprint that specialises in Arabic literature. Her tour of the country and Palestine was specifically designed with publisher Yael Lerer to avoid backing any state-funded Israeli institutions.

Costello, arguably the most high-profile adherent to the PACBI call, explained his cancellation of dates in Tel Aviv in May 2010:

I must believe that the audience for the coming concerts would have contained many people who question the policies of their government on settlement and deplore conditions that visit intimidation, humiliation or much worse on Palestinian civilians in the name of national security. Sometimes a silence in music is better than adding to the static.

BDS is now a relatively long-standing and global campaign, supported by those directly affected by Israeli occupation. It’s not something being imposed by outside forces to bully Westerners to comply. BDS against Israel is catching on across the world, including here in Australia, with unions and even a major local council in New South Wales signing up (until the decision was overturned).

It’s sometimes argued that cultural boycotts have little effect. But American journalist Max Blumenthal and Israeli activist Joseph Dana recently explained why BDS was so vital, because it:

disrupt[ed] the apathy that pervades middle class, urban Israeli society. Apathy allows Israelis to live in comfort behind iron walls while remaining immune to the occupation and inoculated from its horrors.

Other common arguments are that engagement with locals can only bring better understanding and that entertainment/sport/pleasure shouldn’t mix with politics. Elton John, for instance, refused to heed the PACBI call on this basis. During his concert in Tel Aviv in June 2010, he told the audience, ‘Musicians spread love and peace, and bring people together. That’s what we do. We don’t cherry-pick our conscience.’

But precisely the same arguments were raised during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Back then, Elton John played (alongside other well-known acts such as Queen) in Sun City, located in Bophuthatswana, a nominally independent Bantustan. As South African critic Peter Feldman told the Brunei Times in 2008, ‘they [the musicians] used to say, “We’re doing it for our fans, we’re not politicians,” but the truth is they didn’t care. They were being paid millions to perform there.’

It is true that many public figures resent being placed under moral pressure. Novelist Margaret Atwood was asked by the Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel to refuse the Dan David Prize for literature from Tel Aviv University. Before receiving the award, she said categorically, ‘We don’t do cultural boycotts. I would be throwing overboard the thousands of writers around the world who are in prison, censored, exiled and murdered for what they have published.’

But a short time later, perhaps feeling guilty about accepting the million-dollar prize, she wrote in Haaretz that Israeli society was becoming less democratic, more intolerant of difference and ‘the concept of Israel as a humane and democratic state is in serious trouble’.

British writer Ian McEwan faced similar criticisms in 2011 for accepting the Jerusalem Prize and attending a ceremony with Israeli President Shimon Peres. He refused to boycott and Palestinian writers refused to meet him during his stay. During his speech he condemned the ‘nihilism’ of both Israel and Palestinians, as if both sides were occupiers.

Closer to home, the case of the Melbourne International Film Festival illustrates how the growing BDS movement forces consideration of issues around Palestine. Festival director Richard Moore, whose son served in the IDF, received money from Israel in both 2009 and 2010 to pay for an Israeli director to visit Australia. In 2009, British filmmaker Ken Loach was outraged to find out his film would screen in a festival that received backing from a nation that brutalised Palestinians. In a letter to Moore, Loach mentioned the ‘illegal occupation of Palestinian land, destruction of homes and livelihoods’ and ‘the massacres in Gaza’ as reasons behind the boycott. Last year the makers of an Iraqi-set feature film Son of Babylon wrote to Moore after discovering the Israeli connection, demanding he not show their film.

Moore refused both requests but his decision led to pro-Palestinian pickets outside cinemas during the festival.

In my view, the BDS call against the Melbourne International Film Festival was wholly acceptable, a legitimate way to question the acceptance of money from a state that desperately wants to use culture and art as a distraction from its rapacious policies, just as the campaign around Galle was. South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said, ‘If you choose to be neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’ It’s a responsibility that artists should feel, whether in Palestine or Sri Lanka.

© Overland

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Sri Lanka's Killing Fields displays UK complicity in arms sales

Campaign Against Arms Trade | Press Release

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has called for a government embargo on arms sales to Sri Lanka and an examination of its past record on arms exports, especially during the period of "ceasefire" between the government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) from 2005 to 2008. During these four years the UK is recorded as having approved arms export licenses worth a total of £18 million.

In 2005, the first year of the ceasefire, the UK approved arms exports of £4 million to Sri Lanka. In 2006, this rose to £8.5 million, falling to £1 million in 2007, and rising again to £4.5 million in 2008. The weapons exported during this period included armoured vehicles, machine gun components and semiautomatic pistols. The UK continues to licence arms sales to Sri Lanka. In 2009, the UK licensed arms sales worth £700,000 and in 2010, around £1 million.

On Tuesday 14 June, Channel 4 screened Sri Lanka's Killing Fields, a film which graphically depicted scenes of summary executions, rape, torture and bombing of hospitals and sheltering civilians in April-May 2009. In August 2009, the cross-party Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) said that it could not guarantee that UK weapons were not used during the onslaught.

The UK arms exports were heavily criticised by CAEC which said the UK should review its policy on arms sales to Sri Lanka. The then chairman of CAEC, Roger Berry, said that the UK "must assess more carefully the risk that UK arms exports might be used by those countries in the future in a way that breaches our licensing criteria." That criteria includes not exporting arms to countries in conflict or who are likely to use arms in internal repression.

Roger Berry further called for a review of all existing licences and recommended that the government assess what UK weapons were used by the Sri Lankan military against the LTTE. To CAAT's knowledge this recommendation has not been adopted.

In 2009, the then Labour government revoked eight arms export licenses to Sri Lanka, including licences for components for aircraft military telecommunications equipment, components for military communications equipment and components for military parachutes.

Kaye Stearman for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) said:

Sri Lanka's Killing Fields has cast a spotlight on the slaughter of 2009. David Cameron and the UK government are calling on the Sri Lankan government to investigate the atrocities but we also need a proper investigation of the UK government's own complicity in selling arms to Sri Lanka, despite knowing how they were likely to be used. UK arms sales confer support and legitimacy on the Sri Lankan government, just as they do on Middle East governments who use UK arms against their own people.

For further information or an interview please contact CAAT's Media Coordinator, Kaye Stearman on 020 7281 0297 or mobile 07990 673 232 or email


1. Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) works for the reduction and ultimate abolition of the international arms trade. Around 80% of CAAT's income is raised from individual supporters.

2. The arms export licensing process is carried out by the Export Controls Organisation based in the Department of Business Innovation and Skills, with input from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), with reports published quarterly by the FCO. The report for the fourth quarter of 2010 was published in the week of 18 April 2011.

3. The government's arms sales promotion unit is UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO). UKTI now employs 160 civil servants to sell arms, which represent only 1.5% of exports. There have been meetings between UKTI/DSO staff and Sri Lankan officials in last two years.

4. The 2009 CAEC report, section on Sri Lanka, contained the following statement: The Minister for Business and Regulatory Reform confirmed that the Sri Lankan armed forces have been supplied with UK military communications for a number of years. However, again due to lack of information, he indicated that it was not "possible to confirm the extent to which communications equipment was used in the conflict, so we cannot state categorically that it was not". He concluded that due to this uncertainty and the escalation of the conflict, the licence for military communications equipment was refused and all extant licences of a similar nature were revoked.

5. Members of the government have aggressively promoted arms exports. Peter Luff, Defence Equipment Minister, has said: "There will be a very, very, very heavy ministerial commitment to (arms sales). There is a sense that in the past we were rather embarrassed about exporting defence products. There is no such embarrassment in this Government." Gerald Howarth, International Security Strategy Minister, said in November 2010: "This government has been very clear from the outset and so have I: we are proud to support the biggest defence exports drive in decades." David Cameron was accompanied on his visit to the Middle East in February by the representatives of eight arms companies but insisted the UK "has nothing to be ashamed of."

6. Foreign Officer Minister Alistair Burt visited Sri Lanka in April. During his two-day visit he met with the Secretary of Defence, together with other politicial figures. After watching the Channel 4 documentary on 15 June, he urged Sri Lanka to initiate an "independent, thorough and credible investigation" into allegations of war crimes.

7. The annual report of the parliamentary Committees on Arms Export Controls published on 5 April 2011 was highly critical of the government's arms export policy and stated that successive governments had "misjudged the risk that arms approved for export to certain authoritarian countries in North Africa and the Middle East might be used for internal repression." It also posed the question of how the government: "intends to reconcile the potential conflict of interest between increased emphasis on promoting arms exports with the staunch upholding of human rights."


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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Alleged Sri Lanka war crimes committed with British guns

By Paddy McGuffin | Morning Star

The British government continues to license millions of pounds in arms to the Sri Lankan regime despite suggestions that they may have been used in war crimes, campaigners claimed yesterday.

New evidence of alleged atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan state in its purge of a Tamil Tiger stronghold in 2009 emerged this week in a Channel 4 documentary.

Both the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan government have been accused of committing atrocities during the conflict which is estimated to have killed up to 40,000 civilians.

Earlier this year a panel of experts convened by UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon reported that it had found "credible allegations" of war crimes on both sides.

The film, screened on Tuesday night, included footage of apparent extra-judicial killing of prisoners by Sri Lankan government forces, the aftermath of targeted shelling of civilian hospitals and the bodies of female Tamil fighters who appear to have been sexually assaulted.

It also examined alleged atrocities carried out by the LTTE, including the use of human shields and a suicide bombing in a government centre for the displaced.

In response to the film the Foreign Office called on the Sri Lankan government to launch an urgent investigation into the allegations.

But Campaign Against Arms Trade (Caat) said the government must also look to its own possible complicity in the atrocities and has called for an embargo on arms sales to Sri Lanka and an examination of its past record on arms exports.

In particular the group said that arms sales during the period of the 2005-8 "ceasefire" between the government and LTTE must be scrutinised.

During this period Britain approved arms export licences worth a total of £18 million for armaments including armoured cars, machine-gun components and semi-automatic pistols.

Britain was accused of licensing arms sales worth £700,000 in 2009 and around £1m in 2010.

The cross-party committee on arms export controls said that it could not guarantee that British-licensed armaments were not used during the Sri Lankan government attempt to eradicate the LTTE.

The committee heavily criticised the arms exports and said Britain should review its policy on arms sales to Sri Lanka.

Caat spokeswoman Kaye Stearman said: "David Cameron and the UK government are calling on the Sri Lankan government to investigate the atrocities but we also need a proper investigation of the UK government's own complicity in selling arms to Sri Lanka, despite knowing how they were likely to be used.

"UK arms sales confer support and legitimacy on the Sri Lankan government, just as they do to Middle East governments who use UK arms against their own people."

© Morning Star

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Channel 4 "Sri Lanka Killing Fields": Is the US war on terror responsible?

By Anissa Haddadi | International Business Times

"We strongly condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever and for whatever purposes, as it constitutes one of one of the most serious threat to international peace and security", this UN resolution was adopted in 2005 and set international background in which the Sri Lankan civil war was fought.

Following the diffusion of the Channel 4 documentary on the Sri Lankan civil war, the UK called for the Sri Lankan government to launch an investigation following allegations of war crimes. However, looking back on the conflict, it becomes clear that the horror that slowly unfolded in Sri Lanka only became possible because of the silence that surrounded it. In the last phase of the civil war, which was the most violent and brutal, there was almost no reporting in the mainstream international press of what was really taking place there.

Looking at the different statement made by the former Foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar it looks as though the Sri Lankan government extensively used the propaganda of "the war on terror" as a cover up, by insisting on the need to defend democracy while civilians were getting caught up in the war and killed on a daily basis.

"The whole problem here is not between the Tamil people and the Sinhala people or the Muslim people. They still very much live in harmony and don't forget a large number of Tamil people live in the Western Province and the Central province and elsewhere, they get on perfectly well with their brothers and sisters of other communities. This is not a people's problem at all. it is not a civil war..." Lakshman Kadirgamar, fthe ormer foreign minister of Sri Lanka said about the war.

At the UN in 2005, following the adoption of the new resolution, the Sri Lankan minister declared: "There can be no questions that terror in all its manifestation must be fought relentlessly and globally. Gone are the days when a country affected by terror as my country has been for decades, can be told by the international community: we are sorry about what's happening in your land but there is nothing we can do to help because we have no laws to combat terror".

While the government insisted its aim was only to defeat the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a group listed as a terrorist organisation in 32 countries, and is even classified as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT), organisation by the U.S since 2001, reports emerging form the island were completely different. Many accused the government of working on the principle that every Tamil is a terrorist unless he or she can prove otherwise. During the war, civilian areas, hospitals and shelters were being bombed and the whole country quickly turned into a war zone.

Meanwhile, while the international media were covering the establishment of several "welfare villages" to house displaced Tamils in Vavuniya and Mannar districts, civilians were instead calling them concentration camps.

At the time, Mangala Samaraveera, a former foreign minister, told the Telegraph: "A few months ago the government started registering all Tamils in Colombo on the grounds that they could be a security threat, but this could be exploited for other purposes, like the Nazis in the 1930s. They're basically going to label the whole civilian Tamil population as potential terrorists."

The Sri Lanka government never hid its objective to "wipe out" the LTTE, which it considers as a terrorist organisation, and surely it rapidly understood that the international context surrounding the war as an asset.

With the US and more generally the West going on a crackdown against terrorism, killing in the name of security was legitimate. At the time, states throughout the world were encouraged to fight off terrorist groups in order to bring about a "better and a safer world." The problem however with the war on terror, was that it gave far too much power to the governments; it enabled an increase of state sovereignty but diminished the need for accountability at the same time.

In 2008, during a meeting between former Sril Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake and his Israeli counterpart Ehud Olmert, the two leaders discussed, terrorism and the common threats their countries both faced. The press widely reported at the time that Mr Olmert told his the Sri Lankan politician: "Do not give in to terrorism because it will only bring destruction to your country. Terrorism must be fought; one must not capitulate to it", which was then not seen as a cause for concern.

Mr Olmert's position was not controversial at the time, especially since fighting terrorism was the new crusade, one in which innocent people will have to die in the name of peace. That is exactly what happened in Sri Lanka and it becomes then clear why the International community did not react more harshly toward the Sri Lankan government. The war on terror served as a justification for the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, two countries which ten years latter are still shattered and fractured, with a rather bleak future. It seems that it has, under the eyes of the International community, also been used as a cover up for a conflict that was nothing more than a racist war.


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Saturday, June 18, 2011

UN denies Sri Lankan copter offer, Killing fields moved out of UN

By Matthew Russell Lee | Inner City Press

The UN on Friday denied it has received any offers for helicopters from Sri Lanka.

After air force spokesman air force spokesman Andy Wijesuriya was quoted that “we have offered our aircraft” -- Ukraine-manufactured Mi-24 helicopter gunships as well as Chinese-made Y-12 fixed-wing transporters -- Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky how the Panel of Experts' report on war crimes would impact the UN's review of the offer.

Four hours later Nesirky's office sent this response to Inner City Press:

Subject: Your question on Sri Lanka
Date: Fri, Jun 17, 2011 at 4:24 PM
From: UN Spokesperson - Do Not Reply [at]
To: Matthew.Lee [at]
Cc: Martin Nesirky [at]

Regarding the offer of gunships, DPKO's Force Generation Service has not yet received any formal offer from Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan air force was involved in what even UN under secretary general John Holmes called the “bloodbath on the beach” in 2009, most recently depicted in UK Channel 4's “Killing Fields” documentary.

This was to be screened inside the UN in New York on June 21, just before a vote is taken in the General Assembly on Ban Ki-moon getting a second five year term as Secretary General.

But now the screening has been moved outside of the UN, to the “Church Center” across the street. Sri Lankan Ambassador Palitha Kohona told Inner City Press he was going to attend the screening if it was inside the UN. Apparently, he will not attend across the street. Of the scenes of extrajudicial execution, he said one cannot prove who is Sinhalese and who is Tamil. There is, of course, a sound track.

© Inner City Press

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

UK 'has Tamil blood on its hands'

Belfast Telegraph

The British Government is complicit in the torture of the Tamil people by the Sri Lankan authorities as it continues to deport many seeking asylum in the UK, a Labour MP has said.

Mitcham and Morden MP Siobhain McDonagh accused the Government of "painting targets on the backs" of those they were deporting while the UK Border Agency (UKBA) had shared files on Tamil deportees with the Sri Lankan government.

Many Tamils faced detention and torture, she said, while at least two had committed suicide to avoid deportation.

She told MPs the UKBA was due to deport another 40 asylum seekers on Thursday, despite them facing arrest and torture on their return to the Commonwealth country. Amongst the latest deportees are her constituent Jenach Gopinath, a former Tamil politician, who has previously been arrested by the Sri Lankan authorities.

Proposing an emergency debate in the Commons, Ms McDonagh said: "There is evidence of continuing abuses against Tamils, including torture and extra-judicial killings.

"The president of Sri Lanka (Mahinda Rajapaksa), a probable war crimes suspect, has taken on enormous powers over the judiciary and policing.

"The British Government is supposed to be one of the leading forces in the Commonwealth. Yet it is not only turning a blind eye, it is sending planeload after planeload of Tamils back."

She added: "The people on these planes, like Mr Gopinath, have identified themselves as Tamil and against the Sri Lankan Government. Britain is flying them on specially chartered flights.

"It's not like they're arriving incognito. Even worse, the UKBA has actually shared documents about the passengers with the Sri Lankan authorities. We might as well paint targets on their backs.

"I think Parliament needs to say whether we want our country to continue with these miserable deportations, and to continue to have Tamil blood on our hands."

© Belfast Telegraph

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Sri Lankan who attempted suicide wins reprieve

By Jonathan Miller | Channel 4

Nagendrarajah Suthakaran tried to hang himself early on Thursday morning at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre near Heathrow airport, in a desperate bid to avoid being deported back to Sri Lanka.

He was revived at Hillingdon Hospital and just hours later transferred to the waiting chartered aircraft to be flown back to Colombo. With just two minutes before the deadline at the Royal Courts of Justice, his lawyer obtained an injunction, preventing his removal.

He was already in his seat on the aircraft, seatbelt on. Mr Suthakaran, who is 31 years old and has a young child and a wife who is a German citizen, was removed from the plane and taken back to Harmondsworth. Tonight, Channel 4 News conducted an exclusive interview with him by telephone.

"If I had gone back," he said, "there was no guarantee for my life and I know they would torture me and kill me. I received a death threat on my phone [on Wednesday] and that is what tipped me over the edge. What was I supposed to do?

Mr Suthakaran had told me, when I interviewed him inside Harmondsworth detention centre on Tuesday, told me that in March this year he had been on hunger strike for 25 days before attempting suicide in order to avoid being placed on an earlier removal flight.

He claims that when his parents died, when he was a child, he was brought up by members of the Tamil Tiger guerrilla group and that asylum application papers in which he had stated this had been passed to the Sri Lankan authorities in Britain by the UK Border Agency. The UKBA denies this.

Tonight he gave his account of what happened yesterday.

"After I attempted to commit suicide, I fainted. I was not aware of my whereabouts. I was not aware that I was put in an ambulance but at about 12 noon, I became aware that I was in hospital. I found that they were rushing to transport me back [to Harmondsworth] to ensure I was on the flight. I was taken back again in a wheel chair.

"After all of this, and my suicide attempt, I cried and I pleaded with them not to send me back. But between 10 and 13 people forcibly removed me. Everyone was wearing either reflective jackets or white uniforms. One of the people was saying to the rest of them to be careful with my neck because of my suicide attempt.

"But they were putting force on me, holding my head down. I was handcuffed and I tried to resist but there were too many of them. Both my wrists were bleeding."

"I don't feel any animosity towards anyone but I can't understand why the British authorities saved my life only to send me back to where I will be killed."

Mr Suthakaran's lawyer is applying to have his client released on bail, with his brother, who lives in the UK, providing surety.

Mr Suthakaran originally claimed asylum in January 2005 and exhausted his appeals in August 2007. He absconded and a year later was arrested and charged with fraud, for forging a work permit document while attempting to open a bank account. He was convicted and served six months in prison.

Subsequent applications for asylum, in light of his marriage to a European citizen, failed. Mr Suthakaran was married in a Hindu temple in Ealing, London, in November 2006.

© Channel 4

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Fears for Tamils sent back to Sri Lanka from UK

By Andrew Buncombe | The Independent

More than two dozen Sri Lankan asylum seekers arrived back in Colombo yesterday after British authorities deported them despite warnings about possible threats to their safety.

The group of 26 people, consisting largely of ethnic Tamils, were flown to Sri Lanka and met for questioning by the authorities. A police spokesman told reporters the individuals were being questioned by officers from the criminal investigations department.

The decision to deport them took place despite a staunch campaign by human rights campaigners and opposition MPs. They pointed out that while the UK Border Agency claimed there had been an improvement in the situation in Sri Lanka since the end of a civil war two years ago, just this week the Government had expressed concerns about human rights violations.

"In the light of what we know, was it wise to send these people back?" asked Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh, who had raised the plight of the Sri Lankans in Parliament.

A number of those who were returned had told the BBC's Tamil service they were concerned for their safety. One man who was due to be returned reportedly tried to kill himself this week after receiving threats. A solicitor for the man was able to obtain an emergency injunction blocking his removal and the individual is still at a British holding centre.

Amnesty International said that although the decades-long civil war had come to an end in May 2009, when the remaining fighters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were crushed, failed asylum seekers still faced risks if they were returned to the country. Hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans fled during the war.

Yolanda Foster, a researcher for Amnesty International, said immigration barristers believed that several young men who may have been associated with the LTTE were due to be deported. The UK Border Agency did not provide a list of those who were actually forcibly removed.

"It's appalling the UK would deport people who genuinely fear persecution," she said. "The Government is aware there are cases of people being tortured after being returned to Sri Lanka."

The deportation follows the broadcast this week of a documentary by Channel 4 of what it said were war crimes committed by Sri Lankan forces during the closing stages of the military operation to defeat the LTTE. Images showed bound and naked rebel fighters apparently being summarily executed.

Following the broadcast, Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt renewed Britain's demands for an independent investigation into the final stages of the war, when thousands of Tamil civilians died. A recent UN report said there were credible allegations that war crimes were committed.

The Sri Lankan authorities have dismissed the findings of the UN report and suggested the footage in the Channel 4 documentary may not have been genuine.

© The Independent

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Deafening Indian silence on Sri Lankan war crimes docu

Express News Service | The New Indian Express

Two days after a British TV channel telecast its documentary “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields” which had shocking visuals of the final days of Eelam war IV, India’s political class is yet to offer any soundbytes. In contrast, the British government has given Sri Lanka till the end of the year to launch a “credible investigation” into the allegations of war crimes.

From September 2008 when the last UN workers left Kilinochchi, the Channel 4 documentary pieces together a damning narrative based on videos shot on mobile phone cameras and eyewitness accounts, that shows the Lankan army systematically shelled Tamil civilians, especially medical points within the No Fire Zone (NFZ). It includes an eyewitness account of gangrape by soldiers. While pointing out LTTE atrocities, the film takes the stance that the Tigers’ acts did not justify the government’s actions.

One key eyewitness is Vany Kumar, a British Sri Lankan Tamil, who had been visiting family when fighting intensified. The biomedical technician helped doctors in the shifting temporary medical centres. She speaks of regular shelling of the makeshift medical centres beginning with an attack on January 26, 2009. At this time, there were an estimated 3-4 lakh people in the NFZ.

The documentary includes mobile camera footage of the aftermath of a shelling in the Puthukudiyiruppu hospital where at least 15 were killed. One patient says her legs were injured in the shelling. Vany says shellings were followed by army fire that mowed down anyone standing. Eyewitnesses add the army would shell a location, wait for 10 minutes for people to reach the injured, before shelling again, ensuring maximum casualties. An eyewitness says, they were forced to leave the injured till the shelling ended by which time they would have bled to death. When the NFZ moved to Mullivaikal, the International Committee of Red Cross workers visited the hospital to take GPS coordinates that could be provided to the Army to avoid shelling. But soon after, the hospital was shelled, Vany believes, deliberately. Gordon Weiss, then UN spokesperson for Sri Lanka, believes there were at least 65 targetted attacks on medical centres.

By May 2009, with about 1.3 lakh people still in the NFZ that had shrunk to 1 sq mile, the new hospital was severely short of medical equipment. Vany says a six-year-old who survived the shelling of a food queue had to have his leg and arm amuptated without anesthesia. On May 12, the doctors were forced to shut down the hospital leaving behind the wounded. Those “rescued” by the Army were not safe though. An eyewitness who escaped with her daughter, says she and her daughter were stripped and gangraped. The younger victims were taken away. “I heard screaming and then shots,” she says, “I did not see them again.”

War Trophies

The second section of the film includes videos shot by Lankan soldiers on mobile phones. These videos include the execution of a bound naked man, to the sound of giggling in the background. In another instance, they refer to trapped and bound LTTE fighters as “state property.” During the execution of three bound individuals, of which one appears to be a woman, a man says, “is there no one with the b***s to kill a terrorist?” The documentary says videos of naked female corpes indicate women, in this case, Tamil Tigers, had been sexually assaulted. Soldiers are seen posing with corpses. While dragging naked female corpses into a trailer, comments like, “This one has the best figure,” are heard.

© IBN Live

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