Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tamil prisoners on hunger strike

BBC Sinhala

At least 65 Tamil prisoners in Anuradhapura are on a hunger strike seeking proper protection.

The prisoners have launched a protest after being assaulted by the prison officials on Sunday, former Jaffna district parliamentarian MK Sivajilingam told BBC Sandeshaya.

Most of the prisoners subjected to assault were disabled during the war, he added.

Mr Sivajilingam said jail guards have also destroyed a Hindu Temple built inside the prison with permission.

Superintendant of Police (SP) Tusita Uduwara has held discussions with the prisoners but the prisoners demand a guarantee of their by higher authorities that such attacks would not occur in the future.

Government response

The authorities have prevented a team of lawyers and representatives of We Are Sri Lankans (WASL) organisation from entering the prison, they said.

WASL's Udul Premaratne has told media that it was the first time the lawyers were prevented from visiting the prison to look into an incident.

Prison Affairs Minister Chandrasiri Gajadheera said the incident has occurred as the authorities conducted a search after receiving information that there were plans to commemorate annual Heroes Day inside the premises.

After the search, said the minister, 19 mobile telephones have been confiscated.

He rejected the accusation that the prisoners were ordered to strip naked and taken out while it was raining for the search.

© BBC Sinhala

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Rebellion, Repression and the Struggle for Justice in Sri Lanka: The Lionel Bopage story

By Professor Sisira Jayasuriya | Groundviews

This is a book that documents the life story of Lionel Bopage, who was one of the highest ranking leaders of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP- the Peoples’ Liberation Front) and a major figure in the JVP led youth insurrection of 1971 in Sri Lanka, drawing on a series of personal interviews with him. After migrating to Australia two decades ago, he has remained active not only in Sri Lanka related political activities but in the broader Australian political movements for social justice. The book tracks Lionel’s personal and political evolution over the subsequent four decades, placed in the wider socio-political context of this tumultuous period in Sri Lanka.

In many ways this is a deeply personal and richly detailed memoir, as Lionel looks back over the years and attempts to analyse how and why the party to which he committed himself, and under whose banner thousands of heroic youth fought and died, ended up in as the ardent supporter of a reactionary war against a national minority in alliance with the state machinery and its armed forces – the same armed forces who had butchered its own members and supporters only a few years earlier.

It is at the same time a historical and political analysis reflecting a serious and honest endeavour to objectively understand what happened and to draw the lessons of (often bitter) experience, not a project aimed at self glorification or demonization of his political or ideological opponents. But it is much more than a biographical narrative of a radicalised and idealistic young student, fired by vision of socialist revolution, who organised and led thousands of Sri Lankan youth in an abortive armed uprising against the Sri Lankan government and experienced in full the brutal repressive power of the state. It is, in an important sense, the story of the generation of youth who were drawn into mass struggles throughout the world during the 1960s, from the developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America to the advanced countries of Europe, United States and, indeed, Australia too.

For me, a member of that same generation and Lionel’s contemporary as an undergraduate in the same university in Sri Lanka, reading this book was at one level a trip back in memory lane evoking much nostalgia for lost youth and times past. Reading about Lionel’s personal experience of incarceration revived memories of compatriots who were imprisoned, tortured and in several cases, killed by the police and the military. The book was also a reminder that the way to pay homage to the memory of those who, often at enormous personal cost and sometimes paying with their lives, struggled for a better world is to bring their story and the lessons of both successes and failures of those struggles to the attention of the current generation. In that sense, this book could not be more timely. In Sri Lanka itself the book comes at a time when the JVP, already much diminished in power and influence from its heyday, has undergone a deep spilt that has raised again the many unresolved issues concerning its own history and experiences. Internationally, it comes at a moment when a new global economic crisis is radicalising and propelling into struggle an entire new generation of youth on a global scale. All the issues of theory, history and programme that were posed in the 1960s are posed anew, but in a sharper and much more acute form.

The book is very wide in its scope and requires a much longer review to do it full justice. Without in any way questioning Lionel’s integrity I will make a few critical remarks here about some interpretations and the analytical conclusions in the book – some of these hark back to views that I held as a member of a Trotskyist group that was politically opposed to the JVP while defending it against state repression.

In my view the issues raised in Lionel’s story – including the many debates over issues of programme and orientation – need to be placed not only in the Sri Lankan context but in an even wider global context. (I recognise that the book does not entirely ignore the global context.) The radicalisation of youth in Sri Lanka was an integral part of the 1960s’ international upsurge of militant, sometimes revolutionary, struggles which challenged not only ruling classes and regimes but also exposed the conservatism and reactionary nature of the traditional left leaders and posed the need to build new revolutionary leaderships. As it turned out, building new leaderships that could unite the global struggles and lead to victorious socialist revolutions proved to be too much of a political challenge for that generation, however heroic and self sacrificing many of them were. Even the triumphant achievements of various national revolutionary movements, such as in Vietnam, proved ultimately to be transitory. There became the prelude to re-establishment of capitalist rule and the opening up of national economies to foreign capital and deep integration with the global capitalist system as part of so-called ‘national economic development’. By the 1990s, the national socialist projects that replaced the programme of the Third (Communist) International had led not to the building of socialism in one (or even a number of) countries but to the elimination of even the vestiges of socialism in every country. In looking back at the history of the Sri Lankan left and the JVP, I believe that the impact this had on the intellectual orientation of the radical left needs no emphasis.

Intense debates, divisions and splits characterised and influenced the subsequent evolution of the radical youth movements which emerged during the 1960s. This book documents in considerable detail the nature of these debates within the JVP and gives a sense of the flavour of the times. Youth grappled with issues of enormous historical importance that also had immediate practical relevance for revolutionary practice. In my view, it is important to emphasise that these discussions and debates took place in a global intellectual environment dominated by the triumph of national socialist ideology, where each national revolutionary movement was supposed to formulate their own unique path to socialist revolution. Internationalism was emasculated of its original Marxist and Leninist content and reduced to mutual assistance among ‘independent’ national socialist movements.

This is the international environment that shaped the evolution of the political positions of the Communist Party and the ex-Trotskyist Sama Samaja Party towards the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), ultimately leading to the move by both to join the SLFP dominated government and participate in the butchery of thousands of youth in 1971 and later in the racist wars against Tamils. In the book, the degeneration of traditional left leaders like Colvin R de Silva appear to be attributed primarily to their social background and entrenched ‘elite’ attitudes and personal relationships. I believe that this was a secondary factor. The basic factor was the de facto abandonment of an internationalist revolutionary perspective and its replacement with a Sri Lankan national ‘socialist’ programme. During the early 1950s the LSSP quietly dumped its previous programme that had emphasised links with the Indian working class in favour of a political alliance with the Sri Lankan SLFP. It made absolutely no attempt to support the building of a revolutionary movement in India.

It is said in the book that “in coalition with the SLFP they introduced progressive economic measures and often took an anti-imperialist stance on world issues and local affairs’(p. 418). In my view, the characterisation of the SLFP as ‘progressive’ was a fundamental rejection of the Marxist programme and an indication that even the LSSP – which had earlier vehemently attacked the Communist Party over this issue – was rapidly moving towards abandoning its programmatic insistence on the need for the working class to take power in alliance with the peasantry and moving to adapt itself to the SLFP in a parliamentary setting; it was therefore no mystery that the revolutionary ardour that was generated by the Hartal in 1953 led not to a renewal of the LSSP’s revolutionary programme but to an electoral alliance with the SLFP a mere two years after. The LSSP had shifted from revolutionary politics based on the perspective of leading the working class to take power, to using the influence it had over the working class to pressure the SLFP to grant it some concessions. From then on it was a short step to abandoning all parts of its programme, including the opposition to the Sinhala Only as official language, in its desire to remove obstacles to forming a governing coalition with the SLFP.

In my view, this rejection of an international outlook and programme was also the key factor that shaped the debate within the JVP on national rights of the Tamil minority. As Lionel points out the JVP attitude towards national minorities did not at the beginning start from a position of racist chauvinism but in its evolution it led inexorably to a position where the JVP became the most ardent proponent of war against the LTTE and the most consistent support of the Sri Lankan military.

It is my strongly held conviction that in today’s world situation, a nationalist orientation would be even more reactionary and destructive than in the period leading up to the First World War. The 20th century proved to be not only the era of wars and revolutions but also the era of ultimate practical refutation of ‘national socialist’ programmes. The new generation must not get trapped in the same bankrupt and reactionary ideological trap. Recognising specific national peculiarities and circumstances is one thing but giving the national state primacy in terms of political programmes and perspectives is another thing.

I believe that debates over these issues and clarity over political perspectives are essential if a new generation were not to repeat all the mistakes of our own generation. I welcome this book which can be the trigger for the revival of these necessary debates and salute Lionel for maintaining his commitment to social justice and for having the intellectual courage to go over and review his own life of committed struggle. This is not a book that attempts to justify every step of his political life or that of his companions, or to demonise his political opponents on the left, but reflects a genuine attempt to achieve a sober understanding of why so many individuals despite the commitment and personal courage they showed in that early period of struggle and conflict subsequently ended up as contemptible political opportunists and traitors to those ideals and values. This is why, despite my differences of opinion and critical remarks, I wish to reiterate that Lionel and Michael have done an enormous service not only to the new generation of youth in Sri Lanka but throughout the world who are seeking answers to the political challenges that they face in coping with the unfolding global crisis that threatens to dwarf the great Depression of the 1930s by providing a serious – though personal – analysis of the events that shaped the past four decades of history. I look forward to Sinhalese and Tamil translations of the book in the near future.

Sisira Jayasuriya is currently Professor of Macroeconomics in the School of Economics and Finance at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. He is also Director of the South Asia Research Facility. He was the Director, Asian Economics Centre at the University of Melbourne until his move to La Trobe University in 2008. He has to his credit many books and publications mainly in the field of economics research. His current research is on trade, product fragmentation and multinationals; agricultural reforms in India; food security and poverty issues in Asia and the economics of natural disasters. He was a contemporary of Lionel in his days at the University of Peradeniya.

More info on "Rebellion, Repression and the Struggle for Justice in Sri Lanka"

© Groundviews

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sri Lanka storm kills 19, damages 5,700 homes

Agence France-Press (AFP)

A storm packing heavy rain and gusty winds lashed southern Sri Lanka over the weekend, killing at least 19 and leaving 43 fishermen missing, the island's disaster management centre said Sunday.

More than 53,000 people were also forced out of their damaged homes in the southern areas of the country following two days of heavy winds and rain, the centre said in a statement.

It said 41 people who escaped with injuries were admitted to hospitals while the authorities were looking for any survivors among fishermen who were reported missing. About 5,700 houses were also damaged.

Sri Lanka depends on monsoon rains for irrigation and power generation, but the seasonal downpours frequently cause death and property damage.


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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Freedom of Expression on the Internet in Sri Lanka

Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA)

The Centre for Policy Alternatives is pleased to release a new report examining the freedom of expression on the Internet in Sri Lanka. Since 2007, the freedom of expression on the Internet has faced considerable restrictions on account of the arbitrary blocking of websites and pronouncements by the government for greater regulation and monitoring of online content. There have also been concerns about the transfer of technology from countries such as China that may strengthen a surveillance regime and lead to further restrictions on web content. These issues along with a repressive legal framework have a chilling effect on freedom of expression on the Internet.

In line with the need to emphasise a rights-based framework when addressing online freedom of expression, the report examines the specific cases and practices that restrict freedom of expression on the Internet with respect to regulation, legislation and arbitrary action. In consideration of international freedom of expression standards, CPA’s report examines the government’s compliance with the broader international best practices and recommendations detailed in the report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, which was submitted at the Seventeenth session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

The report looks specifically at the arbitrary blocking and filtering of web content; criminalisation of legitimate expression; the status of intermediary liability and actions of intermediaries; the potential for disconnecting users from Internet access, including on the basis of intellectual property law due to the broad nature of intellectual property legislation. The report also examines the potential threat that cyber-attacks may present to online freedom of expression, as well as the growing concern over and implications of the lack of substantive legislation for the protection of individual privacy and data. The final consideration of this report is with regard to Internet access and the acknowledgement of government policies with respect to providing adequate infrastructure for increasing Internet penetration in the country.

While the reform of existing legislation and regulatory practices is required in order to address the clear concerns about online freedom of expression, the report proposes national and international advocacy to ensure that the government addresses the issue of reform and adheres to international standards on the freedom of expression. There is also a need for a multi-stakeholder initiative so that the perspectives of users, intermediaries and other resource persons are incorporated into the design of legislation and formulation regulatory standards, thereby ensuring wide deliberation and participation to achieve the ultimate goal of strengthening freedom of expression on the Internet in Sri Lanka.


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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Sri Lankan editor trapped in his office for the last five years

By Andrew Buncombe | The Independent

It is not simply dedication to his job that has led newspaper editor MV Kaanamyl-nathan to not leave his office for five-and-a-half years. In the spring of 2006, gunmen stormed into the building and sprayed automatic fire that killed two employees and left bullet holes in the walls and the table in the conference room that remain to this day.

Since then, two police officers have been assigned to permanent duty outside the building and Mr Kaanamylnathan and his wife have left their three-bedroom home in the city and moved into a small space next to the newsroom. "I don't go out. The only exception is to go and see my doctor, a heart-specialist, once every three months," Mr Kaanamylnathan said. "For that, I have to make to make special arrangements.

The plight of Mr Kaanamylnathan and his newspaper Uthayan, (Rising Sun in Tamil), where six members of staff have been killed in the past decade and many others attacked, threatened and harassed in incidents that continue today, is a frightening window into the world of journalism in Sri Lanka.

Campaigners say reporters and media employees here are among some of the most vulnerable in the world; at least 14 have been killed in recent years and many more forced into exile. Several others are missing and unaccounted for. Among the most high-profile of cases was that of Lasantha Wickramatunga, editor of the often-critical Sunday Leader, who was murdered in January 2009. Nobody has yet been charged with the killing.

The troubles at Uthayan, established in 1986 to appeal to working-class Tamils, did not end after police were deputed to guard the premises. A driver was killed several months later and a talented young reporter – recruited because senior correspondents declined to come to the office anymore – was shot dead the following year on his way to work. Most recently, the paper's news editor, Gnanasundaram Kuganathan, was severely beaten by two men armed with iron bars as he left the office in July.

He has since left Sri Lanka and is staying in Europe. It is unclear when he will return. "It's a miracle that I survived. I was beaten almost to death," he said after the attack.

Mr Kaanamylnathan's newspaper is owned by a Tamil member of parliament. While it insists its news coverage is unbiased, he does not hide the fact that the publication supports the cause of Tamil nationalism. Yet over the years, the newspaper has faced threats from the Sri Lankan military, Tamil militants and unidentified thugs allegedly linked to pro-government paramilitaries.

Between 1990 and 1995, the city of Jaffna, located at the very tip of Sri Lanka, was controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), whose decades-long insurgency for a Tamil homeland was crushed in 2009.

"We have a relationship with all parties, even the military. We carry all the stories and all the statements," said Mr Kaanamylnathan, whose wife pays a weekly visit to the couple's house to make sure all is well. "The government is saying there is no problem, but the opposite is the case."

Campaigners say President Mahinda Rajapaksa has failed to act to protect journalists and in many cases is responsible for a crackdown on dissent. Several journalists have disappeared without trace, among them Prageeth Eknaligoda, a political analyst and cartoonist from Jaffna, who was kidnapped in Colombo in January 2010, just two days before the presidential election. He worked for the LankaeNews website.

The journalist's wife, Sandya, said there had been no news about her husband and no apparent progress with the case. The police claimed they were still investigating but did not appear to be very interested, she said. She has written to everyone from the President to the country's human rights commission but, she said,no one had offered help.

"I have two children and both of them know that their father is missing. But we [are trying] our best to find him," said Mrs Eknaligoda. "We know he is alive somewhere. I urge the government to find him. We are suffering because now we don't have any income."

More recently, the news editor of The Sunday Leader, Frederica Janz, was threatened after giving evidence in the court case of former army chief Sarath Fonseka, who was last week jailed for three years after being convicted of accusing the President's brother of committing war crimes during the final stages of the war to defeat the LTTE. "We will not spare you," said a handwritten note sent to her home in the capital.

Campaigners say that since his re-election Mr Rajapaksa appears to be tightening his grip on dissent. In recent weeks, the government has blocked access to websites, including that of the main opposition party, the UNP. A statement issued at the time by the Ministry of Mass Media and Information said a survey it carried out had revealed that certain websites were in violation of laws designed to protect against defamation and character assassination.

"We saw no 'peace dividend' after the end of the war, and what we've seen since is a crackdown on media that seems aimed at consolidating political power in the President's office and his circle of advisers," said Bob Dietz, Asia programme director at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). "The situation looks quite bleak."

The moves by the government to try to control online media, a recently new development, were addressed in a report by the Centre for Policy Alternatives, an NGO based in Colombo. "The censorious attitudes towards media freedom and the freedom of expression more generally are increasingly evident in the online sphere," it said.

"The insidious attempts to regulate online content; block websites; the attacks on journalists...and repeated statements from government officials threatening those who provide alternative and dissenting views do not bode well for the future of online freedom of expression in the country."

The minister for mass media and information, Dr Keheliya Rambukwella, could not be reached for comment, but the government has always adamantly denied any involvement in attacks on journalists. Among the goals of its national media policy is to "safeguard the right of all citizens to express their views via any and all media and to receive, provide and gather information required for the proper functioning of society".

After the attack on his office in 2006, Mr Kaanamylnathan took a decision not to repair either the bullet holes in the yellow walls nor the plastic-topped table, around which the senior journalists gather every afternoon do decide what stories will appear on the following day's front page. He said: "We have kept it like this because if we did not, people would not believe us."

Ongoing conflict

A government-appointed body set-up to look into the civil war has reportedly concluded no state should be asked to "suspend military operations aimed at rescuing civilians forcibly held by a heavily armed terrorist group".

The Island newspaper, known to be close to the government, said the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) had noted that while humanitarian law prohibits the targeting of civilians, it permits com-bat operations to rescue "hostages". The report is not yet public.

A UN panel concluded there were "credible allegations" both government troops and the LTTE committed war crimes. It said tens of thousands of civilians may have died and called for an independent inquiry. The government dismissed the claims and established the LLRC.

© The Independent

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tracing Sri Lanka's missing children

Photo courtesy: AFP

By Mel Gunasekera | Agence France-Press (AFP)

Two and a half years after the end of Sri Lanka's bloody ethnic conflict, hundreds of families displaced by the war are still engaged in a fraught, exhausting search for missing children.

Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tamil civilians were caught up in the chaos of the military's ferocious final assault on cornered Tamil Tiger rebels in the jungles of northeast Sri Lanka in April and May 2009.

As the offensive intensified, Usha Devi Selvaratnam said goodbye to her teenage son, Sivakajan, having sold a gold chain to buy him passage on a rebel-controlled vessel bound for the relative safety of the northern Jaffna peninsula.

She never saw him again.

"There is no trace of him... just a big hole in my heart," she told AFP in Vavuniya where huge numbers of refugees were interned in the months following the end of the war.

Sivakajan left home with just a backpack, containing clothes, identification papers, as well as textbooks and school attendance records to prove that he was not a fighter with the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Usha heard that her son had been taken in for questioning by the military with other passengers when the boat docked in Jaffna. But since then, nothing, despite countless requests to the authorities for information.

"We want to know what happened to our children. I believe my son is still alive. If he died, I need proof. I think all families with missing children have a right to know, to bury the past, to enjoy freedom after war," she said.

Uncovering the fate of the missing like Sivakajan is extremely complex.

Some parents fear their teenage children may have been picked up by the LTTE and forced to fight in the rebels' final stand.

Others believe they are being held by the authorities or that they managed to escape overseas but have been unable to contact their families.

In the case of younger children, there are concerns they may have fallen foul of traffickers or even been adopted by families unwilling to give them up.

The underlying fear is that they were simply killed in the final offensive that the United Nations estimates cost up to 40,000 civilian lives.

"Tracing missing children is a very sensitive issue," said Brigadier S. Galgamuwa, a consultant for the Vavuniya-based Family Tracing and Reunification Unit.

Run by the government with assistance from the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the unit is currently trying to trace 370 boys and 327 girls who have been reported missing since the conflict ended.

Officials acknowledge that the actual number of missing children is probably far higher, with most cases not being formally registered.

So far 49 children have been traced by the unit and contacts re-established with their parents and relatives.

But the work has been hampered by a lack of reliable documentation, especially relating to the movement of families in the final, chaotic weeks of the fighting.

"It is likely that some of the children reported as missing may actually have died in the conflict -- the knowledge of which may help to bring some kind of closure to the families," said UNICEF child protection specialist Saji Thomas.

However, confirming the fate of those on the list is "very time consuming" and requires input from multiple sources including health officials and law enforcement officers, Thomas said.

In some cases, the period of separation has been so long that children do not even recognise their parents or other relatives.

"In these instances, government probation officers intervene to help build trust between the children and their care givers so that they are comfortable enough to return to their families," Thomas said.

For some like 19-year-old Kaushy, who was rescued by the military from the LTTE-run orphanage where she grew up in northern Mullattivu, there are no relatives to be reunited with.

"I have no family. The only families I've seen are in Hindi films," she told AFP as she watched other orphans at the Don Bosco children's home in Vavuniya play hopscotch in the garden.

Sister Pettilda Fernando, who runs the home, said many orphans like Kaushy had been "brainwashed" by their LTTE minders, who co-opted many to fight in the rebels' ranks or train as suicide bombers.

Erashakumar, 19, says the only father figure for most orphans like herself was LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran, who was killed in the final days of the military victory over the separatists.

"People say uncle (Prabhakaran) died fighting. Yes, we miss him," Erashakumar said.

The government has published pictures of the orphans in the Tamil press, but nobody has come forward to claim the children.

"They may never trace their families. But they are also God's children. They need love and understanding," said Fernando.


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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

China, Sri Lanka's top lender

Lanka Business Online

China has emerged as the top lender to Sri Lanka in the nine months to September 2011, in terms of money actually disbursed and loans committed for new projects, finance ministry data shows.

Up to September 2011, China has disbursed 599.9 million US dollars out of a total of 1,573.9 billion US dollars.

Japan came second with 239.4 million US dollars of which 11.9 million were grants and India third with 179 million US dollars, a finance ministry report said.

Asian Development Bank disbursed 171.8 million US dollars of which 12.5 million were grants and the World Bank 166.2 million dollars of which 4.7 million were grants.

Japan has traditionally been Sri Lanka's largest source of foreign financing. Though the financing is given at concessionary rates, the rising yen has increased the cost of past borrowings.

China is giving loans at near commercial terms through mainly from its Export Import Banks to finance Chinese project goods and construction services.

Sri Lanka has increased procurements from export import banks in recent years from other countries as well.

China also committed the most money to new projects in the nine months to September accounting for 784.7 million dollars out of 1,802.09 million dollars.

Japan came second with 520.48 million US dollars. ADB was third with 231.1 million dollars and World Bank third with 103.5 million US dollars followed by UN agencies with 79.52 million US dollars.


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