Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Sri Lanka regime rejects press freedom bill

AFP | Google News

Sri Lanka's ruling party used its parliamentary majority Tuesday (21) to defeat an opposition-initiated bill to grant greater media freedom, a parliamentary official said.

President Mahinda Rajapakse's United People's Freedom Alliance, which enjoys a two-thirds majority in the 225-member assembly, shot down the Freedom of Information Bill presented by an opposition lawmaker, an official said.

"The combined opposition voted for the bill, but the government overwhelmingly voted against it," the official said citing Tuesday's proceedings in the legislature.

There was no immediate comment from the government which maintains a state of emergency which gives sweeping powers to police and security forces to detain suspects for long periods.

The opposition had presented the bill after accusing the government of trying to stifle media freedom in a country where 17 journalists and media employees have been killed in the past decade.

There is no formal censorship in Sri Lanka, but rights groups say many privately-run media institutions are self-censoring for fear of intimidation from the authorities.

Opposition parties accuse the government of maintaining emergency laws, even two years after security forces crushed Tamil Tiger separatists in May 2009, to suppress political opponents.


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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Sri Lanka's Groundviews back online after takedown

By Bob Dietz | Committee to Protect Journalists

Sanjana Hattotuwa, the founder of the citizen journalism website Groundviews messaged me this morning to say that the site is up and running again after suddenly going down within Sri Lanka

In his message, Hattotuwa said:

'Reports indicate Groundviews, Vikalpa [Groundviews' partner site in Sinhala] and Transparency International are now accessible again through Sri Lanka Telecomm's ADSL network. Could have been a dry run for future action, could have been someone who flipped a switch without being told to do so, could have been a signal to us to shut up. But this was no mistake, or a random technical glitch.'

Transparency International's reporting on corruption in Sri Lanka has longed angered the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and it didn't earn much favor when it honored Attotage Prema Jayantha, better known by his pen name Poddala, with one of its Transparency International Integrity Awards in 2010.

Groundviews is a mandatory daily check-in for anyone looking for a critical but balanced viewpoint on Sri Lankan affairs. I've always been surprised that it has been able to keep running, given what has happened to other sites. Lanka eNews' office was burned to the ground, its editor driven into exile, and its staff still living in Colombo arrested, harassed, and threatened. TamilNet, a news site run by Tamil Sri Lankans living in exile, has been blocked since 2007, though Groundviews does supply a workaround on how to access it.

As one commenter on the Groundviews site said after the announcement that it had been shut down: "It was bound to happen wasn't it?"

© CPJ Blog

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Sri Lankan academics protest for pay increase

Associated Press | The Straits Times

Hundreds of university teachers have marched on streets in Sri Lanka's capital to demand a pay increase.

The protesters carried banners and placards on Colombo's main roads ON Tuesday before a rally at a public auditorium.

Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri, president of the Federation of University Teachers Association, said they decided 'to come to the streets' as authorities have failed to solve the salary dispute.

He urged authorities to take prompt action without crippling the university system.

There was no immediate comment from the government. In recent weeks, officials have said the pay increase demanded by university teachers is unjustifiable as it would lead to further salary anomalies within the state sector.

© AP

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Sri Lanka: Replacing investigations with gossip

Photo courtesy:

By Basil Fernando | Asian Human Rights Commission

There are discussions about Prageeth Eknaliagoda's abduction and disappearance that go something like this: Was he a journalist or was he not a journalist? Was he a great journalist or was he a lesser journalist?

Was he abducted and made to disappear due his activities as a journalist or was the abduction and disappearance unrelated to his journalism?

One wonders what MORAL ISSUE is involved in asking such questions and in making such distinctions.

It appears that some maintain that the abduction and disappearance would be of lesser significance if he was not a journalist, and of greater significance if he was a journalist; lesser significance if he was not a great journalist than if he was a great journalist; lesser significance if he was not abducted and made to disappear for his journalistic activities rather than if he was abducted and disappeared due to his journalistic activities.

The moral issue: Is the abduction and disappearance of a person who is not a journalist less important or less significant than the abduction and disappearance of a person who is a journalist?

If that be the case, what is the scale on which such moral grading might be based?

On the other hand, if there is no such basis to make a distinction about the moral wrong involved in an abduction and disappearance what is this whole debate about?

It appears that the whole aim is to say that there is no point in persisting with the call for a credible investigation into the abduction and the disappearance of Prageeth Ekneliagoda.

However, what is the moral logic involved in this objection? There is none at all.

The demand for an investigation into a crime (in this instance a universally recognized heinous crime), should be the most natural thing, irrespective of the status or the profession of the person. The state bears responsibility for accounting for all persons, irrespective of their job title.

What is the actual moral issue involved?

The state's failure to credibly investigate the abduction and disappearance of Prageeth Ekneliagoda: That is the issue raised by the campaign on Prageeth's behalf led by his wife and family and supported by others.

The continuity of this demand for a credible investigation seems to irritate some persons.

Why should such a demand irritate anyone?

The government's irritation against such a demand for a credible investigation is not difficult to understand as such a demand is a direct criticism of the failure of the state to investigate. It may even imply that the government's is deliberately obstructing the call for an investigation which would support the accusation of the family that the government is responsible for the abduction and disappearance in the first place.

Blaming the wife for calling for investigations into the disappearance of her husband:

The underlying target of those who engage in attacking this campaign is the wife of the disappeared person. It is one of the most basic moral rights of persons who love a family member to demand justice for their loved ones. A society that does not even respect this right is very rotten indeed.

Prageeth Ekneliagoda's disappearance points to one of the greatest moral and legal wrongs in Sri Lanka relating to disappearances. It is a heinous crime under international law but it not a crime under Sri Lankan law. The state refuses to conduct credible investigations into this particular crime, which obviously means that the state has reasons not to investigate this particular crime.

Sri Lankan intellectuals also show no interest in stopping this great moral wrong. Some directly or indirectly support the government in this regard by attempting to stop campaigns calling for credible investigations into allegations about disappearances.

Replacing investigations with gossip

Investigative journalism may be dead in Sri Lanka but gossip journalism thrives. The kind of gossip that is created is cheap; some may argue that gossip is always cheap.

One writes that Prageeth was a pauper and was broke and is therefore in hiding to make up a case for claiming refugee status in a developed country. Another writes that he is a rich land owner with means and therefore not a working journalist.

When Richard Soyza was abducted and killed someone said in parliament that he was killed due to a homosexual problem. It is well known that Richard's mother spent the last years of her life disgusted with the kind of society where justice had no moving power.

This kind of thing is published as serious journalism. Whoever is behind the disappearance of Prageeth must be having what he thinks is the last laugh. Of course, dead men cannot answer accusations and for that very reason greater restraint is entertained in making accusations against the dead. But this is not so in Sri Lanka.

Right to Truth

Prageeth's family and also the public has the right to know the truth. That is not something to laugh at. There is no sense in trying to make a joke out of a disappearance.

There is some kind of a cultural root from which such cheapness arises. It has happened not once, but tens of thousands of times. Everyone knows that there has been tens of thousands of disappearances in the South, North and East but there has been no expression of outrage, only cheap gossip.

What is that cultural root? It is worth examining at one time or another.


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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

'Sri Lanka not isolated' says SL Foreign Minister

By R. K. Radhakrishnan | The Hindu

Despite a sustained campaign against Sri Lanka aided and abetted by some nations, the country did not stand isolated — this was the message sent out from the St. Petersberg Economic Forum, said Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris here on Tuesday.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa had met several world leaders on the sidelines of the forum and they all had assured him of their support for the on-going peace process, said Professor Peiris. He added that Russia and China, two permanent members of the United Nations Security Council who had been steadfast in their support for Sri Lanka, reiterated their commitment to its unity.

When it was pointed out that they could not do much more than voice their protest over the NATO attacks on Libya, he said Sri Lanka and Libya were two different situations and could not be compared.

Concerted campaign

Prof. Peiris said there was a sustained and diabolical campaign by some people based abroad to destabilise Sri Lanka by interfering with the reconciliation process and stopping the President from travelling abroad.

“The object of this campaign is to prevent the President from travelling. The diabolical designs of these elements are to prevent reconciliation from happening,” he said. Referring to the case filed in a local court in the United States against Mr. Rajapaksa, he said an elected executive head who had sovereign immunity should not have been summoned by a court unaware of its jurisdiction.

Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga said Mr. Rajapaksa had met his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev for the second time within a year. The meeting underlined the “unshakable relationship” and Russia made it clear it would stand by Sri Lanka. Mr. Rajapaksa's meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao was the fifth in the last four years. Mr. Hu invited Mr. Rajapaksa to visit China. Both leaders also discussed issues of economic development, now that Sri Lanka was poised to reap the peace dividend.

On Kachchativu

Breaking its silence over a Tamil Nadu Assembly resolution on the State Revenue Department impleading itself in the Supreme Court case on Kachchativu, Sri Lanka said Kachchathivu was a matter related to the Centre. “Tamil Nadu does not have any authority over Kachchativu,” said Prof. Peiris adding there was no need for anyone in Sri Lanka to feel agitated over the Tamil Nadu Assembly resolution. In India, the Constitution provided certain powers for the Centre and certain others for States and this was an issue in the realm of the Centre, he said. Hence, “a cerebral response is required, not an emotional response”. He was quick to add that he had greeted Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa on her assuming office and wanted cordial relations with the State.

© The Hindu

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tamil journalist bound, shot, during Sri Lankan civil war

Committee to Protect Journalists

Video footage of a Tamil journalist apparently executed in the final stages of Sri Lanka's bloody civil war underscores the need for an urgent international inquiry, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

The U.K.'s Channel 4 has screened amateur footage of the body of Tamil news presenter Shoba, indicating that she was shot and killed during the government's final military surge in the northeast. Shoba, who went by one name, also reported under the name Isaipriya or Isaippiriya for the media division of the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), according to Channel 4 and the pro-LTTE TamilNet news website. "Her role was as a journalist rather than a direct fighter," Channel 4 reported.

The footage, shown June 14 in the documentary "Sri Lanka's Killing Fields," shows Shoba's body, half-naked with her hands bound, among the corpses of Tamil Tiger rebels apparently captured, and executed by Sri Lankan government forces. The manner of Shoba's death is not shown, although several point-blank executions of bound prisoners were filmed in the same location. Channel 4 reporter Jon Snow said in the documentary that Shoba's body was found among some that "appear to have been raped or sexually assaulted, and then murdered."

Channel 4 first released extracts of the footage, which it dates to May 18 or 19, 2009, in December 2010. TamilNet reported relatives had identified her as the woman shown. The Sri Lankan government denounced the videos as fake, according to the documentary. "The footage has since been authenticated by the United Nations, though the Sri Lankan government refuses to accept that," Channel 4 says in the film.

"Channel 4 has provided solid evidence that Shoba was murdered and that a war crime may have been committed," said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. "Moreover, Shoba was reportedly working as a journalist. It is essential that an international inquiry make use of this and any other evidence to investigate and prosecute those responsible."

The Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense website lists Shoba as Lieutenant Colonel Issei Piriya, a Tamil Tigers communications leader killed during battle by its 53 Division troops on May 18, one day before the government announced victory.

British war crimes lawyer Julian Knowles told Channel 4 that the tied hands, absence of weapons, and the arrangement of Shoba's body and others found with her undermine that claim. "It's difficult to think of a mechanism how they could have died other than a cold-blooded execution," he said.

Both TamilNet and Channel 4 say that Shoba, 27, was a working journalist. TamilNet posted an excerpt of Shoba's reporting for O'liveechchu, the Tigers' videomagazine. "Shoba remained unarmed and did not take part in combat," the website said, citing its unnamed local correspondent who has since left Sri Lanka. "She never carried a gun and her physical condition did not permit her to go to the battlefield. She always had either a camera, a pen, or a notepad," Channel 4 reported, citing Shoba's colleague. Shoba suffered from a heart condition, according to Channel 4 and TamilNet.

The Sri Lankan government prevented journalists from accessing the conflict zones, according to CPJ research. Some of the footage in "Killing Fields" was obtained by eye-witnesses, usually Tamils in the conflict zones, using mobile phones and small cameras, according to Channel 4. Others were recorded by soldiers as "grotesque war trophies." The documentary put the video of Shoba in this category.


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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Channel 4 documentary: Sri Lanka’s “Killing Fields” and what was the UN doing?

By Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah | South Asian Analysis Group

The film, billed as “one of the most shocking films ever screened by Channel 4” did, true to its word make “a powerful case for bringing those guilty of war crimes in Sri Lanka to justice.” It had an explicit message to the UN and the international community:

Unquestionably the next step to Channel 4’s (C4’s) documentary on ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ is to start the wheels of justice moving. Establishing an independent international inquiry should be the logical and most pressing first step that needs no second thought – decidedly it should be the natural response of every civilized human being, let alone any member of the UN Security Council and Human Rights Council. The UN cannot flounder and fall short of the mandate for which it was created.

The time has come to go after those perpetrators still living the good life after presiding over what is now perfectly clear to be acts of war crimes and crimes against humanity - tantamount to genocide.

Any move by the international community to merely allow Sri Lanka to investigate its own or make an UN sponsored independent inquiry, conditional upon the government’s consent, as Ban Ki-moon said, should be ruled out. And as Sam Zarifi of The Independent said in Sri Lanka: Confronting the Killing Fields: “It would be a sad day for the authority of the Secretary General if he could only authorise investigations approved by the government under scrutiny.” Countries that think that these are viable option must heed these words and take note that the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) appointed by the president has no mandate to probe war crimes.

The “distressing” images of true events in the programme, described as the “most harrowing” some viewers had ever seen, together with the UN Advisory Panel of Expert’s (the Panel) findings should galvanise world powers, to go beyond prejudices and alliances, act decisively, entirely on the evidence and evidence alone. In truth the documentary provided visual evidence and testimonies in support of the Panel’s findings, thereby reinforcing the conclusions of the Panel that “there were credible allegations of serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed by both parties that amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

The documentary was factual as much as it was disturbing; there was no dramatization; there was nothing “fake” about it as the Sri Lankan government may have the world believe. The images were real; the people were real; the dead bodies were real; the injuries were real; the targeted bombardment of No Fire Zones was real; the mass summary executions were real; the torture and abuse were real; the carnage and destruction was real; the state terrorism inflicted on innocent civilians was real; the fear was real; the depravation was real; the hunger was real, the lack of food and medicine was real; the pain, suffering and trauma were real; the cries for help were real; most of all the abandonment of a people by the very organization fated to protect them was real.

Try as it may, there is little the Sri Lankan government can do to redeem it self from this indefensible crime. Its response to the documentary is laughable and insulting to most people’s intelligence.. Its statement said it “is concerned about the distress the images, without any guarantee of their authenticity, might have caused to the viewers,” adding that it was “an exercise...carried out by a small section of international media at the behest of certain parties with vested interests, …and caters only to the interests of separatist forces living outside Sri Lanka... the final objective of which is to push Sri Lanka back to war, by way of lacerating the wounds that the country is attempting to heal.” Accusing Channel 4 of “inciting hatred among the different communities in Sri Lanka, including future generations, and thereby, adversely affect the ongoing national reconciliation processes,”

This was no invention by C4. The reaction of the rest of the British and world media to the documentary is in direct contrast to the Sri Lankan government’s claim in its statement that it was “an exercise carried out by a small section of the international media.”

The gruesome and horrific images of Sri Lankan forces knowingly bombing and shelling three No Fire Zones’ which the government itself designated as safe zones where civilians were encouraged to congregate, attacking hospitals which were clearly marked including make shift hospitals, the coordinates of which were given to them by the Red Cross, would have left no doubt in the viewer’s mind that the crimes were intentional. There were images of terrified civilians including children and infants taking refuge in shallow bunkers to avoid fire; of doctors and medical staff trying desperately to save lives without let, performing amputations without anesthetic; of men, women, the elderly and children slaughtered indiscriminately; of others barely alive with serious injuries and body parts missing; of the obvious trauma of children seeing their loved ones dying in front of them; of the agony of those who could not leave their bunkers to grieve for the dead; of mothers and fathers losing their children; of the depravation of food water and medicine, blood and surgical supplies; of men and women being executed; some naked with their hands bound behind their backs; others tied to trees and shot at point blank range; of more mass executions; of dead bodies of naked women being loaded in to trucks; of young people being taken away never to come back; of a man tortured in the most gruesome manner and then found dead; of LTTE members executed after they were taken prisoner or had surrendered; of Sri Lankan soldiers behaving like psychopaths.

The authoritative statements in the documentary more than substantiate the authenticity and accuracy of the events that took place and culpability of the perpetrators.

The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Christof Heynes verified the new video’s authenticity to the United Nations Human Rights Council while the old one was authenticated earlier by his predecessor. Heynes has also called for an international investigation, after recognizing earlier the video showed evidence of “serious international crimes”.

Further a lawyer with international human rights expertise, Prof William Schabas points out attacking hospitals is a serious violation. “A hospital is totally off limits” he says, and goes on to draw a clear distinction between legal and illegal acts in war: “Combatants in a conflict have a duty not to target civilians and are only allowed to target military objectives. And when they go outside what is purely justified by military necessity, then they are already in the range of illegality.”

Referring to the mass summary executions the Professor said “In what ever form, it’s prohibited by law, it is murder,” adding that in this case there is “strong circumstantial evidence that torture and killings took place.” His final comment that “unpunished crimes leave wounds that return and prevent society from healing and moving forward,” seemed ominous.

Steve Crawshaw, Advocacy Director Amnesty International (AI) spoke of the need to protect civilians at all costs. “One of the absolutely core principles of the laws of war is the need to protect civilians, he said. The constant targeted bombardment of civilian facilities, hospitals and “No Fire Zones” is well documented throughout the film. Video footage of “increased shelling and incursions by Sri Lankan troops bringing death and terror to crowded civilian camps,” is in itself ample proof. The fact that air strikes had been a regular occurrence is corroborated by one of the 8 or 9 UN workers in Killinochchi, former UN staffer Benjamine Dix. He talks about “the number of air raids” that was conducted “pretty much every day, quite often at night time,” even during the time the UN was still there until it was asked to leave by the Sri Lankan government in September 2008.

The documentary meticulously and chronologically has pieced together the events, with the help of video footage and eye witness accounts to show how Tamil civilians had to move from one No Fire Zone to another. It’s by piecing together the civilian movement from supposedly one safe zone to another that one had a semblance of the ever increasing death toll in the final few weeks which the Panel has concluded to be 40,000; which some sources believed to be much higher.

The programme did not fail to point out that the law applied to both sides in the conflict. “The laws of war do of course apply equally to both sides,” said Jon Snow the documentary showing footage of a “government center for displaced persons” where he alleged a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber killed civilians and soldiers: “On the 9th of February a female Tamil Tiger suicide bomber killed a large number of Sri Lankan soldiers and Tamil civilians in this government center for displaced people; and in the No Fire Zones too they defied the laws of war,”

Jon Snow stated, referring to alleged crimes committed by the Tigers that included using civilians as human shields: “We know from available evidence that the Tamil Tigers were killing people in order to stop them from leaving,” Gordon Weiss told the programme. Aerial shots given to C4 taken by the Sri Lankan government showing Tigers allegedly firing on the ground to prevent civilians attempting to leave were hardly visible to the eye.

The documentary raised the issue of “command responsibility” and the fact that the “military command structure in Sri Lanka” went “all the way to the highest offices in government.” This meant “responsibility could ultimately lie with President Rajapaksa and his Defence Minister and brother Gotabaya,” it concluded - the president being the Commander in Chief of the Sri Lankan armed forces.

The documentary reveals the Sri Lankan government’s master plan to get rid of international witnesses. The official UN spokesman at that time Gordon Weiss believes “the Sri Lankan Government’s motive was not the safety of UN Personnel,” when it asked the staff to leave Tiger controlled areas: “The government regarded the UN as impediments to their conquest of the Tamil Tigers. By removing those organizations there were no longer international witnesses to what was coming; their intention was to remove independent witnesses,” stating he personally thought “it was a mistake.”

The documentary begins and ends with the pathetic and heartbreaking images of desperate Tamil civilians begging the UN workers not to leave. The Sri Lankan government had asked the UN to “leave Killinochchi and the Tiger held areas” in September 2008 as they claimed they could no longer guarantee their safety. Th UN’s decision to leave according to Gordon Weiss, “was a mistake” and as The Independent’s Tom Sutcliffe wrote “a move interpreted (in the documentary) as a pre-meditated plan (by the government) to remove inconvenient witnesses.”

UN staffer Benjamine Dix was choking with emotion when he shared his feelings with C4 about the UN leaving. “For me that was personally the worst moment of my life. It seemed like their greatest hour of need; there was an army sitting at their door step waiting to take the town and we drove out; that was a very difficult time for us, a real sense of abandonment of these people,” he said, pointing particularly to one girl in the crowd amidst waving hands.

On 15th Sept 2008 when news that the international staff were leaving spread, a crowd had gathered, “please don’t leave, they cried, pleading not to go, I ran my camera along the waving hands and there was one girl at the end she wasn’t shouting or chanting but there was real sadness in her face – I was quite emotional - her face captured the real emotion at that point. The Brahmin laid it on the line – we don’t care about our food, shelter and water, we’ll take care of ourselves we need international eyes on the ground to see what’s happening here. If you leave we will all die – the knife is at our throat.”

“Those pleas fell on deaf ears at the UN” Jon Snow said.

The documentary referred to the Panel’s conclusions on the UN leaving: “The UN report now acknowledged the removal of their staff left virtually no international witnesses in the area – which meant a path was opened for the Sri Lankan government forces to launch a final offensive in to the Tiger held areas for the next four months where hundreds of thousands of civilians would be bombed herded and corralled; into an ever decreasing area of land and in these killing fields where tens of thousands of them were destined to die targeted by deliberate government fire,”

Jon Snow said leaving viewers feeling outraged that the slaughter could have been prevented. The part played by the UN in the abandonment of these hapless Tamil people was plain to the eye and seemed inexcusable. As I wrote earlier in my article Acid Test for UN and the International Community, it’s abundantly clear the UN had failed in its duty to protect civilians. I mentioned the Panel’s criticism of the UN’s political organs and bodies “for failing to take action that might have protected civilians,” chiding the UN for lack of transparency for not releasing casualty figures and quoting the report’s conclusions: “In the Panels view the public use of casualty figures would have strengthened the call for the protection of civilians while those events in the Vanni were unfolding.”

And so the documentary asks “will anyone be brought to justice for these crimes?” putting the onus on the UN and the international community. C4 believes that would “depend a great deal on the international community and the UN itself. “The tens of thousands who were killed beg the question of the UN – what was it doing at that time and was it enough?” Gordon Weiss thinks “it wasn’t enough.”

“Quite recently the Security Council voted unanimously for Libya to be referred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague,” Steve Crawshaw of AI said, adding, “contrast that and the complete and utter silence and inaction on scores of thousands dead in Sri Lanka (the difference) is absolutely striking. I think it is inexplicable and morally quite indefensible.”

In all this the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon’s actions need examination. “He has rejected his own committee’s recommendations that he set up” Jon Snow said. “If he has no authority then the UN Security Council itself must implement the call,” he stated.
The UN has a duty to clear its name of complicity and restore its credibility.

The entire Channel 4 team of ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ must be congratulated. Jon Snow, the presenter must have been mindful of the task at hand. Summing up his experience as the team ventured to “piece together an account of what happened in the closing weeks of Sri Lanka’s civil war,” he spoke of his involvement in events affecting history. “Once or twice in a reporter’s lifetime, a journalist is allowed by events to participate in a project that can affect history,” he said calling ‘their’ efforts “a painful, and complex team achievement.”

The apparent faith the team had in their mission to expose the horrific crimes that took place is reflected in those words. They know the sheer gravity of the responsibility they owed to the public to reveal what they knew, the need for seeking the truth and for justice to be served. C4 has made a powerful case for bringing those guilty of war crimes in Sri Lanka to justice. They end with one nagging question: “The survivors are looking to the international community for justice, will they be failed again?”

The ball is now in the international community’s court!” Hope justice prevails.

Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah is an expatriate Sri Lankan Tamil based in Canada.


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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Sri Lankan scandal

By Andy Bull | The Guardian

Disgrace. What a tediously familiar word; stripped of significance by its overuse, shorn of force by its frequent repetition. Read it again. Roll it around your tongue. Feel its heat and taste its weight, because I am about to use it and I do not want to do so lightly. In the next seven days England are due to play two games against Sri Lanka which will be used as valedictory matches for Sanath Jayasuriya, who has been recalled to the squad at the age of 41. Jayasuriya's selection is a disgrace and the idea of playing cricket against a team that includes him is a disgrace.

The Test series between Sri Lanka and England was played out to the sound of protests from London's expatriate Tamil community. During the Saturday of the Lord's Test they picketed the ground. Nothing epitomised the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil attitude of the cricket community so well as the fact that the protestors were hemmed in behind metal barricades on the far side of the main road, shouting their slogans at a 10-foot tall red brick wall. On the other side business at Lord's went on as usual, with the brass bands blaring away in Harris Garden all but drowning out the distant catcalls.

Only a fool thinks that sport and politics do not mix. But I can understand the desire to try and keep the two things separate, to stick your fingers in your ears and insist that the worries of the real world should not intrude of the field of play. Sport is supposed to be escapism, after all. But Jayasuriya is not a sportsman any more, he is a politician. His selection is an intrusion of a politics into sport, and means that isolation of the two is not an option.

In April 2010 Jayasuriya was elected as the MP for Matara in southern Sri Lanka. He represents the United People's Freedom Alliance, the party of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Jayasuriya's recall was ordered by Rajapaksa's government. It is an overtly political decision. Kumar Sangakkara's recent comments on the unique difficulties of captaining Sri Lanka - "it is a job that ages you very quickly" - were a thinly veiled reference to this kind of political interference in team selection. It was a sentiment echoed by stand-in coach Stuart Law in the wake of the last Test, when he said he was learning that the job was about "more than just cricket matters".

There is no convincing case to be made for recalling Jayasuriya. It has been two-and-a-half years since he scored a century in any kind of cricket, and the fact that he has said he will play only in the first of the five ODIs against England is testament in itself that he is not coming back because he has the interests of the team at heart.

But even if there was any cricketing logic to his inclusion, his selection would still be unacceptable. Jayasuriya is an elected representative of a government who, according to a United Nations report published this April, could be responsible for the deaths of 40,000 Tamil citizens during the final campaign of the civil war in late 2008 and early 2009.

"The number [7,721] calculated by the United Nations Country Team provides a starting point, but is likely to be too low," the report states. "A number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths."

Last Tuesday Channel 4 broadcast the documentary Sri Lanka's Killing Fields, a film which detailed the crimes committed against the civilian Tamil population by the Sri Lankan army in excruciating detail. It used nauseating mobile phone footage shot on the ground to substantiate allegations of the systematic rape and murder of Tamils and the direct targeting of civilian hospitals and medical facilities in no-fire zones. Gordon Weiss, a former UN spokesman in Sri Lanka, reported that by May 2009 there had been "roughly 65 attacks on medical facilities that were treating civilians" and that "the no fire zone was taking significant amounts of shelling from the government and it was killing civilians."

This is an extremely emotive issue. When I wrote about the Tamil protest at Lord's, I was emailed by one reader demanding to know whether I had "asked the protestors for their opinion of the use of child soldiers, suicide bombings and human shields by the Tamil Tigers?" The UN report confirms that atrocities were committed by both sides on the civilian population, who were ushered into supposedly-safe 'no fire zones' by the army and then held there at gunpoint by the Tigers. In the words of Weiss, the army "systematically denied humanitarian aid in the form of food and medical supplies".

In a recent interview with the BBC's Sinhalese service, Jayasuriya explained that "the world should realise that the Sri Lankan government has stopped one of the worst terrorist organisations in the world. I am 41 years old. Thirty years of my life, we went through a terrible time in Sri Lanka. Anybody can come into my country now and walk anywhere without fear," Jayasuriya continued. He added that the world should be "happy" at what the government had achieved.

David Cameron has called for an independent investigation into what happened in Sri Lanka, something Rajapaksa's government, Jayasuriya's government, has refused to allow. According to the UN report, there are "reasonable grounds to believe that the Sri Lankan security forces committed war crimes with top government and military leaders potentially responsible".

The English players once blanched at being made to shake hands with Robert Mugabe. This Saturday they will be expected to play against a man who is a direct representative of a government accused of war crimes on a horrific scale by the United Nations. The politics of the matter is not outside the ground or behind a metal fence any more. It is right there in the middle of the pitch and it cannot be ignored.

© The Guardian

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