Monday, December 26, 2011

The LLRC Report: A masterpiece of contortions

By Tisaranee Gunasekara | The Sunday Leader

“… From the very beginning there was a very clear military plan and in parallel…a plan for humanitarian assistance” - Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (Testimony before the LLRC)

“….the Commission is satisfied that the military strategy that was adopted…was one that was carefully conceived, in which the protection of the civilian population was given the highest priority.” (The LLRC Report)

A perceptive analysis of past errors and some judicious recommendations for the future constitute the strongest aspects of the LLRC’s much-awaited report. The Report, for instance, warns against disallowing the singing of the national anthem in Tamil, because such a ban will “create a major irritant which would not be conducive to fostering post-conflict reconciliation”. Its final recommendations argue that “the practice of the National Anthem being sung simultaneously in two languages in the same time must be maintained and supported…”

‘The practice of singing the National Anthem in two languages’ ended early this year; under orders from Colombo, provincial authorities compelled students of Jaffna Hindu College and Vambadi Girls School to sing the National Anthem in Sinhala. That order was a result of a cabinet decision (of 8.12.2010) which banned the singing of the national anthem in Tamil. President Mahinda Rajapaksa justified his ‘Sinhala Only National Anthem’ proposal with the factually incorrect argument that “in no other country was the national anthem used in more than one language”; he defined the practice of singing the national anthem in Tamil as a “shortcoming that must be rectified” (The Sunday Times – 12.12.2010).

Was the LLRC unaware that the ‘practice of singing the National Anthem in two languages’ is dead, has been dead for almost a year? Did the Commissioners not know that this practice was killed on Presidential orders? The Commissioners could not have been ignorant of this reality unless they suffered from collective and targeted amnesia. But acknowledging the truth about the national anthem would have been tantamount to an indirect critique of the President, the Commission’s appointing authority. The fate of Gen. Fonseka teaches that that hell hath no fury like a Rajapaksa opposed/criticised, especially when the dissident is a former official/acolyte. Caught between the rock of reality and the hard place of Rajapaksa ire, the LLRC turned contortionist; it warned of the danger of abandoning the bilingual national anthem as if this is a future pitfall and not a Rajapaksa-wrought fait accompli.

This episode is symbolic of the LLRC and its report. The Commission’s real mandate was to provide the Rajapaksas with a plausible fig-leaf. Last week, President Rajapaksa “…filed motion in the war crimes suit against him in the District Court of Washington DC” (Lanka Standard – 18.12.2011). This is one more indication of the Sibling’s desperate need to make peace with the West, without undermining their project of Familial Rule and Dynastic Succession. The LLRC too was born out of this desire; its job was to deflect international criticism and forestall a UN inquiry. Conscious of this raison d’être, the LLRC seemed to have worked while looking over its collective-shoulders at the Ruling Siblings. The Report faithfully reflects this anxious concern to please the powers-that-be. Minister Professor GL Peiris was dead right; the Report is a ‘true mirror of the humanitarian operation’ because that was what the Rajapaksas wanted it to be.

Most depositions by civilian Tamils mentioned in the Report present a picture which is almost totally at variance with the ‘humanitarian offensive’ myth. They detail the atrocities of the Tigers; they also tell of how No Fire Zones became Free Fire Zones. Tamil after civilian Tamil maintains that they were shelled by both sides. One civilian states that “there were aerial attacks by the air force” on the third NFZ. But true to its real mandate, the LLRC ignores this civilian evidence and embraces the myth of a ‘humanitarian operation’ peddled by its star (and most quoted) witness, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Unsurprisingly; if the LLRC is chary of telling the truth about and apportioning responsibility for something as relatively innocuous as the scrapping of the Tamil language national anthem, will it have the courage to tell the truth about far more dangerous issues, especially if that truth discredits the Commander-in-Chief and his Brother?

By toeing the Rajapaksa line shamelessly, the LLRC deals a body-blow to the claim that the Rajapaksas can carry out an unbiased investigation of their own deeds. The LLRC’s pussyfooting approach thus inadvertently justifies the demand for an international investigation. Perhaps aware of this lacuna, the Commissioners juggle desperately to intersperse a largely incredible report with some credible insights and comments. So the Report advocates devolution while carefully refraining from mentioning the term ethnic problem, a Rajapaksa anathema. It is outspoken in its criticism of the EPDP and the TMVP for engaging in rights-violations, but religiously omits to mention that this impunity is granted and guaranteed by the Lankan Forces and the Rajapaksa Siblings. Post-war, these outfits have become key cogs in the Rajapaksa politico-electoral machinery, as symbolised by the transformation of Mr. Iniyabarathy, convicted criminal and alleged abductor, into a Rajapaksa-electoral organiser in the East. His ‘Deshamanya’ title, bestowed by President Rajapaksa this November, is symbolic and symbiotic of this amoral nexus.

Unfortunately the LLRC’s efforts may prove futile. A key witness in the Washington case against President Rajapaksa is reportedly a former Lankan major general who had ‘high security clearance and close contact with some of the army’s most powerful figures’. He had already given a deposition stating that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa passed on “some instructions to a field commander to get rid of those LTTE cadres who are surrendering without adhering to normal procedure…” and that “Mr. Rajapaksa sanctioned the creation of a ‘hit squad’…..” (Daily Telegraph – 18.12.2011).

By vindicating the Lankan Forces (and by extension the Rajapaksas) on all essential counts, the LLRC discredited itself and defeated its own purpose. A less blatantly partisan report could have been more successful at countering international criticism. But such a report would have infuriated the Rajapaksas and, that is a risk none can expect the LLRC to run, given the fate of Gen. Fonseka.

Abduction, Rape and Land-grabbing

19 months after defeating the LTTE and despite a mammoth defence budget, existence remains unsafe, unjust and brutish for many Lankans. This month human rights activists Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and Kugan Murugandan disappeared in Jaffna. In the South the regime is planning the next logical step in its land grabbing exercise. According to Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, “Lands given to farmers under state grants, Mahaweli and Swarna Bhoomi deeds would be acquired if they have not been developed and used productively” (Sri Lanka Mirror – 21.12.2011). The Rajapaksas and their local minions will decide which lands are underutilised – an ideal way of acquiring fertile land for foreign agribusinesses and of threatening/punishing anti-government farmers.

December’s toll of this climate of impunity included a seven year old child who was abducted and raped; “The girl, who is a resident of the Kodikamam area was at her home with her family when she was abducted around 11 p.m. by a group” (Sri Lanka Mirror – 20.12.2011). If we are not outraged by this horror, and undisturbed by the deadly future it portends, will we not deserve that future?

© The Sunday Leader

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sri Lanka: Protest in Jaffna over “disappearances”

Photo courtesy:

World Socialist Web Site

Amid police and military threats, about 200 mothers, wives and other relatives of disappeared persons held a protest on December 10 in Jaffna, northern Sri Lanka, to demand information about their loved ones.

Hundreds of Tamils “disappeared” during the 26-year communal war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), particularly during the military offensive before its defeat in May 2009. Despite their denials, the military, police and associated paramilitary groups are directly implicated in these abductions and murders.

Such disappearances occurred not only in the North and East, but also in other areas, including Colombo. The security forces turned a blind eye as squads of thugs, often operating from white vans, seized people, mostly Tamils. The victims simply vanished and were likely murdered. These methods were bound up with the government’s police-state measures to silence political opponents and critics.

The protest was organised by several organisations, including Right to Life and the International Movement against Discrimination and Racism (IMADR). It was backed by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), a bourgeois Tamil-based party, and several ex-left organisations, including the Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP).

Although the protesters genuinely wanted information about their loved ones, the organisers had their own agenda. TNA secretary Mavai Senathirajah told the gathering: “The UN should inquire into the Sri Lankan government’s human rights violations. These inquiries should be done publicly. Only that way people will have confidence.”

The TNA’s appeal to the UN for an investigation is a continuation of its futile appeals in the final months of the war for the “international community” to ask President Mahinda Rajapakse to end the military offensive. The US and other major powers are not defenders of democratic rights in Sri Lanka, but are using the issue of disappearances and other abuses to advance their own strategic and economic interests.

The TNA is seeking the support of these powers to pressure the Rajapakse government to grant it a role in administering the North and East on behalf of the Tamil ruling elite. The NSSP has stepped in to boost the TNA’s tattered credentials as the TNA seeks to re-establish itself within the Colombo political establishment.

The protest was held near the Jaffna central bus-stand and involved people from various parts of Jaffna Peninsula, Kilinochchi, Mullaithivu and Vavuniya, as well as Colombo. The army set up checkpoints at several junctions to harass and intimidate people going to the venue. People travelling the 30 kilometres from Point-Pedro to Jaffna had to pass through eight checkpoints.

Police vehicles patrolled Jaffna town. A squad of riot police was stationed about 75 metres away from the protest. Dozens of police and military intelligence officers were seen watching the area. Police had been mobilised at the bus-stand to threaten protesters and tried to drive them away. People refused to leave, arguing with police that they had the democratic right to conduct the agitation.

Police arrested Socialist Equality Party (SEP) member M. Kamaladasan while he was distributing an SEP statement on its campaign to demand the release of all political prisoners. He was kept at the Jaffna police station for more than one hour and only set free after SEP General Secretary Wije Dias spoke to the officer in charge and insisted on the party’s democratic right to campaign. Police also tried to harass journalists covering the protest.

Participants chanted slogans, including “Release our children, Release our loved ones. Where have they gone?” They displayed pictures of the disappeared persons.

SEP member Nadarajah Wimaleswaran, 27, and his friend, Sivanathan Mathivathanan, 24, disappeared in the Velanai area in Kayts while travelling from Punguduthivu Island on March 22, 2007. All the evidence pointed to the involvement of the Sri Lankan navy, but the military, police and judicial authorities covered up the crime.

The response of the security forces to the protests underlines the government’s fear over the mounting anger among Tamils to the continued military occupation of the North and East. During the final months of the war, the military’s air and artillery bombardment killed thousands of civilians. Around 300,000 men, women and children were herded into military-run detention centres and held without charge for months before being “resettled” into tents or makeshift shelters with little or no financial assistance.

There have been several protests in recent weeks. Jaffna university students boycotted classes for one week demanding the arrest of military personnel who attacked student leaders, including the student union president. Volunteer teachers have held a demonstration to demand permanent jobs. On December 6, unemployed graduates picketed outside the provincial governor’s office calling for jobs.

The WSWS spoke to several of the participants in the latest protest. A mother of three children explained her plight: “My husband went to obtain a pass to travel to Colombo in January 2007. At that time, the army unit stationed near the Sinhala College issued the passes. My husband did not return. I came to know that my husband was seized by the army there. I still search for him, going from one place to another. I am demanding his release. I work as a housemaid and struggle to bring up my children. We are terribly poor and helpless.”

One mother held up a photo of her daughter, Nadarajah Navaranjini, who was 27 years old when she disappeared in the Vanni area of northern Sri Lanka in 2009. The weeping mother made a desperate appeal to know her daughter’s whereabouts. The former was held at the military-controlled Manik Farm camp, where more than 250,000 civilians were incarcerated after the war. Now she lives as a refugee in Jaffna.

Another woman said: “On May 18, 2009—the final day of the war—we surrendered to the army at Vattuvaikkal in Mullaithivu with a group of other people. My husband, Mahendran Murugathas, 33, was arrested by the army. When I begged for his release, the soldiers said they would free him after an inquiry. They asked me to go to the camp. In front of my very eyes, the army took my husband, along with 40 others, onto a bus. I wandered to several camps in search of him. Still I have no news about him. The army arrested him. They should release him.”


Read More

Bookmark and Share

Monday, December 26, 2011

Searching for the boy with the violin

By Priyath Liyanage | BBC News

In the last months of Sri Lanka's civil war, nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians - driven out of their homes with the retreating Tamil rebels - were trapped in a small strip of coastal land in the north of the country.

While some people were released, others escaped. There was no choice but to walk through the raging battle towards the advancing government forces. It is still unclear how many people were killed in the shelling and crossfire.

This stage of the country's prolonged war was fought without independent witnesses. The story of these civilians who reportedly became a human shield for the Tamil Tigers is largely untold.

The only news of their plight was through the reports filed by embedded reporters of state media. Independent and foreign media, along with most international aid agencies, were removed from the battle zone.

One night, as I was going through reels of footage, I caught a glimpse of a young boy picking his way across the battlefield with a violin case slung over his shoulder.

His choice intrigued me: at a time when people were in fear of their lives and took the one thing they could carry, why was his instrument so precious? I wanted to know his story.

So, armed only with a blurry photo of this boy, I went back to Sri Lanka determined to find him.

I began in Vavuniya, a border town 160m (258km) north of the capital, Colombo. A major checkpoint there once divided the former rebel-controlled area from the rest of the country. More than two years after the war's end, the checkpoint is still active - the identity of every visitor is diligently checked.

From there I travel up to Jaffna, Sri Lanka's northernmost city and the centre of its Tamil community.

The best lead I have is a tip from a former music director who lost all his instruments during the war, and now works at a school. He doesn't recognise the boy in the photograph, but identifies the well-groomed man walking with him as a musician called Sri Khugan.

But all attempts to contact Sri Khugan fail. He doesn't want to speak and has switched off his mobile phone.

With its heavy military presence, some describe Jaffna as an "open prison".

The Tamil rebels didn't tolerate any dissent and although the power balance has changed, people are still afraid of the consequences of careless talk.

'Total impunity'

Well-known film director, R Keseverajan is open about the intimidation in the north.

"Only politicians say there is normalcy," he says. "We still have wounds in our hearts, those are not healed.

"A man who lost a leg at war will think of the war every time he tries to walk."

With his extensive contacts in the arts industry, Keseverajan suggested that the man in the picture could be Veera - a presenter on rebel TV. Disappointingly, this was another dead end - Veera was also reluctant to talk and after many attempts to get in touch, we heard he had left the north.

Keseverajan wasn't surprised. He told me about a recent attack on a university student. A young man was assaulted by masked motorcyclists in broad daylight - right in front of a military checkpoint.

"People are scared. There is total impunity here," he says.

I try my luck with another artist, Parvathi Sivapatham, a concert singer with a huge fan base and once engaged to sing propaganda songs for the Tamil Tigers. I imagined a musician of her stature to be living in a mansion but her home was a tiny house with a tin roof. She lost everything during the war - including her books and instruments.

"We are artists. What could we do but sing songs? In those days I sang songs for the Tamil Tigers," she says. "Now I sing traditional songs. I don't even think about those other songs. Life has to go on."

Like so many others, she too was wounded on her journey from the front and was able to save only one instrument.

"I managed to bring this shruthi box [a kind of harmonium]. I carried it in a little bag," she recalls. "Bullets were flying everywhere, but I was determined to bring it.

"It was the closest thing to my heart. I don't think I had any choice."

The boy with the violin remains elusive, but it is possible he could be one of the 7,000 people still held in the Menik Farm refugee camp. However, the defence authorities do not allow us in. People there are still waiting to be allowed to return home.

I meet Siva Ruben, a musician who had been a refugee in Menik Farm, but he doesn't recognise the boy or the man next to him. Siva now lives in a tiny tin-roofed shack with his wife and one-year-old daughter; he lost many of his family members during the war. His journey through the battlefield was traumatic.

"My sister got left behind in the crowd. I never saw her again," he tells me. "We had to leave many of the wounded to die. We walked over so many dead bodies. You can't choose who to help.

"I got shot in my arm, and was carrying my friend on my back - he had lost his leg. With all that, I still took my nadeswaram [oboe]. I left all other instruments behind. I only brought this. I can make a living playing this."

Our last attempt to identify the boy in the photo was to try an orphanage, home to hundreds of children who had lost parents during the fighting.

There we found a boy with a violin, but not the one we were looking for. He remains a glimpse on a newsreel.

The search for him took me across the north of the country. Along the way I met many musicians who came through death and mayhem.

More than two years since the end of war, the wounds in Sri Lanka are still fresh. When the music ends, what is left are laments they have inherited from the pain they have suffered.

© BBC News

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Monday, December 26, 2011

Rights group: Sri Lankan Tamil women exposed to sexual violence, trafficking after war

By Associated Press | The Washington Post

Ethnic Tamil women in Sri Lanka’s former war zones face abuses including sexual violence, trafficking and forced prostitution, an international human rights group said Wednesday.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group said there have been credible allegations of sexual violence against women in those areas at the hands of both security forces and men from their own communities.

The group said many cases go unreported in the country’s north and east, where a 25-year civil war ended in May 2009 when government troops defeated separatist Tamil rebels.

Scores of Tamil women live alone, or with young children or elderly parents because their husbands are dead or in government detention.

“The fear of sexual violence in the home is widespread in part because the military’s access is unfettered and women often have no choice but to interact with them,” the group said in a statement.

“There are also alleged incidents of sexual violence when women go to the security forces for information about their detained husbands. These cases are especially difficult to corroborate, perhaps in part because these victims would put their husbands at risk if they came forward.”

Military spokesman Brig. Nihal Hapuarachchi said he has been monitoring events in the former war zones but has not come across any such incident.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

© The Washington Post

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Monday, December 26, 2011

Insurance penetration low; not seen as an investment: Fitch Ratings

Sunday Times

Fitch Ratings Sri Lanka has said that insurance penetration in Sri Lanka is low in relation to other Asian countries particularly because insurance is viewed as ‘a risk management tool rather than an investment vehicle’.

Another reason is that Sri Lanka’s relatively low per capita income. Total premiums/GDP is 1.2% versus a regional average of 6.2%3. The number of life policies/population was 10.9% at end-2010, and is rising.

It said the availability of a pension scheme for state employees has resulted in a lower appetite for insurance (investment policies) from this segment. However, investment-linked policies are gaining popularity, and the second-largest insurer in the market for life generated over 50% of its life premiums in 2010 from unit-linked products.

These comments came in the agency’s overview of Sri Lanka's life and non-life insurance sectors which it said is stable, indicating that most ratings are likely to be affirmed in the next 12-24 months.
This reflects the sound operational and financial performance of the insurers rated by Fitch, as well as their healthy capital position, while taking into account the challenges in maintaining market share and underwriting profitability in the non-life segment, the ratings agency said in a press release.

On improving capitalisation, Fitch said industry capitalisation should strengthen in the medium term; with capital requirements set to increase for existing companies, and mandatory listing requirements.
On intense competition in the motor sector, Fitch noted that as in most countries, price competition remains high in the motor segment, and new entrants have been eating into the market share of the larger, more established companies. As such, underwriting profitability remains under pressure, with many companies posting combined ratios1 of over 100%.

Aside from a contraction in non-life premiums in 2009, the sector has developed steadily over the preceding six-year period. In Fitch’s view, this growth is likely to be sustained due to the potential in the life segment. Life is still relatively under-penetrated, and prospects will brighten for the non-life segment with a sharp increase in new vehicle registrations – as well as overall economic prospects for the country.

On weaker capitalisation or solvency, the agency said a sharp decrease or sustained weakening in capitalisation or solvency ratios could lead to the outlook being revised to negative. On motor profitability, it said intensified competition in the motor segment which could further weaken underwriting profitability – owing to higher claims ratios – could be negative for ratings. Healthier competition with reduced pricing pressures and fewer concerns over market share, could be ratings positive.

Fitch said it believes that higher premium growth in 2010 and H211 is sustainable over the medium term given improving lapse ratios and growth potential in the life segment, as well as higher vehicle demand and trade activity supporting non-life growth prospects. Fitch’s forecast for GDP growth in 2012 is 7.5%-8.0% for 2012.

It said the Sri Lankan insurance market has seen steady (albeit slow) growth over the 2006-June 2011 period, with the exception of a contraction in 2009. Non-life premiums shrunk by 3.1% in 2009 owing to a weak macro economy, a slowdown in vehicle demand and weakening of import/export segments. However, with improved growth prospects since the end of the Sri Lanka civil war in mid-2009, lower interest rates and higher disposable income supported growth in both segments in 2010 and 2011.

It said in most countries, the motor segment is fiercely competitive – with competition mainly in price form. As such, underwriting profitability has come under pressure and claims ratios in this segment are the highest – averaging 64% in 2007-2010, with companies relying on investment income to compensate for underwriting losses. Investment income increased in 2009-2010, but is unlikely to be maintained at similar levels in 2011-2012. So pricing would need to improve to enable the sector to maintain non-life operating profitability at the current levels. Prices could stabilise as companies attempt to focus on a more service-oriented approach, and compete on other aspects of the product.

© Sunday Times

Read More

Bookmark and Share
© 2009 - 2014 Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  © Blogger template 'Fly Away' by 2008

Back to TOP