By M.K.Bhadrakumar | Deccan Herald
The special session is being convened at the request of 17 of the 47 members of the HRC, including Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Britain. Hovering in the background is the United States. It aims at forcing Sri Lanka to face charges of gross human rights violations in its war against the Tamil insurgents. An HRC recommendation to set up an international commission of inquiry would put Colombo in the docks. An HRC special session has been called only on 10 previous occasions.
But Colombo is not browbeaten. The seasoned poker player has tabled a counter resolution titled “Assistance to Sri Lanka in the promotion and Protection of Human Rights” commending Colombo for its victory over terrorism and soliciting funds for reconstruction. The 12 co-sponsors of the resolution include China, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Egypt, Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia. India finds itself in the strange company but is justified in estimating that the HRC move against Sri Lanka is a non-starter. China and Russia will anyhow ensure that the ‘international community’ doesn’t torment Colombo. They have invited Sri Lanka to come close to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. In essence, Sri Lanka is the theatre where Russia and China are frontally challenging the US’s incremental global strategy to establish NATO presence in the Indian Ocean region. The US has succeeded in bringing the NATO upto the Persian Gulf region. The NATO is swiftly expanding its relationship with Pakistan. But it is Sri Lanka that will be the jewel in the NATO’s Indian Ocean crown. Russia and China (and Iran) are determined to frustrate the US geo-strategy. The hard reality, therefore, is that geopolitics is sidetracking Sri Lanka’s Tamil problem. Sri Lanka snubbed Washington by rejecting the US offer to dispatch a naval force to evacuate or provide humanitarian assistance to the Tamil civilians trapped in the war zone. China, Russia and Iran encouraged Colombo to reject the US ‘humanitarian intervention’ in yet another strategically vital region.
There is moral muddiness all around. Simply put, a ‘containment strategy’ on the part of the US towards Sri Lanka becomes unworkable. By helping Sri Lanka to withstand the US pressure, China has secured the status of a ‘steadfast ally.’ Apart from arms supplies totalling $100 million, China has overtaken Japan as Sri Lanka’s number one foreign donor. China gave $ 1 billion assistance last year as compared to $ 7.4 million and 1.25 million pounds by the US and UK respectively.
India views with unease the Chinese inroads into Sri Lanka as part of a broad move into the Indian Ocean. But India faces acute dilemma. Its capacity to cajole the diehard Sinhalese nationalists to compromise with the Tamils for an enduring settlement suffers so long as China extends such no-holds-barred political backing to the Colombo establishment.
But Delhi cannot roll back its substantial political, military and economic support to Sri Lanka, either. The interlocking interests of the two neighbouring countries are self-evident. The lure of Sri Lanka cannot be overestimated. The US would like us to believe that India-China rivalry is the sum total of the geopolitics of Sri Lanka. But this is a dissimulation of the actual great game.
It is very obvious that there is a huge geopolitical backdrop of power plays in the Indian Ocean. The US’s naval dominance is declining and it is “leveraging the growing sea power of allies such as India and Japan to balance against China,” to quote Robert Kaplan, well-known strategic thinker and author.
China’s ascendance feared
Arguably, the US volte face on Colombo’s war (after having been its staunch supporter until recently) stems from the strategic setback it suffered through miscalculation insofar as while American admirals were scared away by Sri Lanka’s civil war, China simply moved in. The West fears China’s ascendance. On China’s part, however, the fuelling station in Hambantota becomes vital for optimally using the series of port facilities it has lined up in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar connecting the southern Chinese province of Yunnan to the world market.
The naval presence in Sri Lanka becomes invaluable for China if the planned canal across the Isthmus of Kra in Thailand materialises connecting Indian Ocean with China’s Pacific coast, a project that could dramatically shift the balance of power in Asia in China’s favour. Therefore, no matter what it takes, the West and China (with Russian backing) will compete for gaining the upper hand in Sri Lanka.
Having said that, the US also has a need for greater cooperation with China. This in turn creates a compulsion for the US to act as a ‘broker’ between India and China. During his visit to Delhi on May 14, the US Pacific Command chief Admiral Timothy J Keating revealed that he declined an offer recently from a top-ranking Chinese naval official regarding a US-Chinese understanding to split the seas East of Hawaii and West of Hawaii between the two navies, while on his part he said he invited China to join the annual US-India naval exercises codenamed ‘Malabar Exercises,’ but China declined and preferred to remain as an observer.
© Deccan Herald
Friday, March 02, 2012
Friday, March 02, 2012
Photo courtesy: Tamil Net
Channel 4 News
This footage featured atrocities committed on both sides but its most disturbing finding was of a series of war crimes perpetrated by victorious Sri Lankan government forces including evidence of sexual assaults on female fighters, the execution of bound prisoners and the shelling of civilians in what were supposed to be safe ‘No Fire Zones'.
Screened at the UN in Geneva and New York and also shown to politicians at the House of Commons, the European Parliament and key figures in the US Senate, Sri Lanka's Killing Fields prompted comment from leading political figures around the world, including Prime Minister David Cameron. Yet these war crimes still have yet to be properly investigated or those responsible brought to account - despite UN sources suggesting the Sri Lankan government forces killed up to 40 thousand civilians - perhaps many more in this period.
This powerful follow-up film, also presented by Jon Snow, presents damning new video evidence of war crimes including contemporaneous documents, eye-witness accounts, photographic stills and videos relating to how exactly events unfolded during the final days of the civil war. It investigates who was responsible - the results point to the highest levels of the Sri Lankan government and complicity at the top of the army.
Sri Lanka's Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished forensically examines four specific cases and investigates who was responsible. The cases are: the deliberate heavy shelling of civilians and a hospital in the ‘No Fire Zone'; the strategic denial of food and medicine to hundreds and thousands of trapped civilians - defying the legal obligation to allow humanitarian aid into a war zone; the killing of civilians during the ‘rescue mission' and the systematic execution of naked and bound LTTE prisoners - featuring new chilling video footage of a 12-year-old boy who has been brutally executed.
Despite pressure from human rights groups and the report by a UN-appointed panel of experts which called for a thorough international investigation into alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, the Sri Lankan government's internal inquiry, ‘The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission' published in December last year, failed to conduct any kind of rigorous investigation into the allegations of war crimes. It specifically denied that any civilians were knowingly targeted with heavy artillery. Sri Lanka's Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished explores the reasons behind the apparent international inaction at the time, in calling the government of Sri Lanka to account.
Sri Lanka's Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished presents shocking new video footage and evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity which trace ultimate responsibility up the highest echelons of the chain of command. This film asks questions of those who still hold the reins of power in Sri Lanka - President Rajapaksa, commander in chief and his brother Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaska - and two former army chiefs who have landed prime diplomatic posts since the war ended and immunity from prosecution.
With the England cricket team set to tour Sri Lanka once again this month and Sri Lanka now confirmed as the venue for the next commonwealth heads of government meeting in 2013, this film is a stark reminder of the terrible suffering of a people who have been failed and forgotten by the international community.
Director: Callum Macrae
Exec Prod: Chris Shaw
Prod Co: ITN Productions
Comm Ed: Dorothy Byrne
© Channel 4
Friday, March 02, 2012
Asian Human Rights Commission
Mr. Kumara fears for his life and has entered into hiding. Although his organization, the NFSM (National Fisheries Solidarity Movement) has filed an official complaint with the Pannala Police Station, the police have not taken any steps to investigate the complaint. This case is yet another illustration of the exceptional collapse of the rule of law in the country.
According to information that the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received Mr. Wijetunga Appuhamilage Herman Kumara of Sandalankawa, Irabadagama In Kurunegalle District, the Secretary General of the World Forum of Fisher People (WFFP) and head of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NFSM) of Sri Lanka, a widely known human rights organization, is facing a potential threat to his life as he fears an imminent abduction. Mr. Kumara has helped organize protests by local fisherman who demonstrated in response to the government’s fuel increases, and received death threats for this work. The NFSM has filed an official request to the Sri Lankan authorities to assure Mr. Kumara’s safety but they have not responded to his request; the officers of the Pannala Police Station have yet to take any steps to investigate the complaint. The complaint made on this regard to the Pannala Police Station and it was recorded with reference as, CIB (1)/241/490, by the wife of the Herman Kumara, Ms. Shrini Kumuduni Pradeepika Adihettie.
Herman Kumara was one of the founding members of the Platform for Freedom in Sri Lanka. He collaborated with more than 160 civil society organizations and trade unions across the country to create an organization which would respond to the needs of the people. The Platform for Freedom gave voice to those who wanted to express disagreement against oppressive government policies. Mr. Kumara is also on the Board of Directors for the Women for Development Alternatives of Sri Lanka (SASTHRI) and participates in the development of a number of other civil society organizations in Sri Lanka. He is a well-respected human rights defender, activist and civil society moderator who has been operating in these spheres of Sri Lankan society for over 30 years. During this time, he has made a number of significant contributions to international human rights campaigns and the overall wellbeing of Sri Lanka.
Mr. Kumara arrived in Sri Lanka several days ago following an international conference in Rome, Italy. Shortly after his arrival, he noticed that he was being followed by a group of people in a van with the registration 301-2865. The suspicious behavior of the group of people led him to believe that he was in danger of being abducted. He is currently in hiding. He suspects that they were looking to abduct him as he said "if I had actually done anything wrong, I would have been arrested at the airport." He added that if he had committed a legal offence, he was ready and willing to face legal action. Shortly after he entered into hiding, members of the group in the van visited his hometown and asked where Mr. Kumara and his family resided.
In February 2012, the Sri Lankan government increased fuel prices; a decision which caused public protest. Soon after, electricity prices were increased by 40% and public transportation fees by 20%. This led to violent protests across Sri Lanka. In one protest, a fishermen was killed by police officers in a town on the west coast. There were protests and road blockades in the western fishing town of Chilaw where large boats depend on the fuel whose price has dramatically increased.
Shortly after the protests, two senior government ministers, Rajitha Senarathna, Cabinet Minister of Fisheries & Aquatic Resources Development, and Wimal Weerawansa, Cabinet Minister of Construction, Engineering Services, Housing and Common Amenities, critiqued Mr. Kumara and the work of the organizations he is involved with in Parliament and on state-sponsored media outlets. They accused civil society organizations (presumably the NFFSM) for mobilizing the general public in protest.
Mr. Herman has emphasized that he will continue his work as a human rights defender and civil society activist. He calls on the government of Sri Lanka to uphold his rights enshrined in the Constitution and immediately ensure his protection.
The Asian Human Rights Commission has reported innumerable cases of abduction and disappearance in Sri Lanka, which are illegal under international and local law. In a large number of cases that the AHRC has observed, individuals were abducted by people in white vans. The fate of these victims remains unknown. Two weeks ago, an individual was abducted at the Colombo High Court while he was under the custody of the Prison Department.
The Inspector General of Police and his Department is supposed to initiate prompt investigations into every complaint of a crime. The Attorney General of Sri Lanka is supposed to file indictments in cases where credible evidence has been found against perpetrators.
The Asian Human Rights Commission has urged the government of Sri Lanka on several occasions to carry out prompt, efficient and accountable investigations against reported cases of serious human rights violations. These suggestions appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
Friday, March 02, 2012
By Dr Kumar David | South Asian Analysis Group
It is clear that the government is very frightened. I do not know what Maria Otero and Robert Blake did or said to Lanka’s political leaders but they seem to have pressed on all the panic buttons; the behaviour of GoSL has changed dramatically since this January visit. What has been publicly said by the Americans is that they will move a resolution at the UNHRC calling on Sri Lanka to implement the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’s (LLRC) recommendations and follow up on the accountability issues that the LLRC pussyfooted around with. (Accountability is a euphemism for alleged human-rights violations and alleged war crimes by the Lankan military).
Is there more than meets the eye?
True, if such a resolution is carried by the assembly (it is by no means clear whether this will happen) it will be a slap in the face for the Rajapakse siblings, but not for the country. What’s wrong with implementing excellent LLRC recommendations or probing the bloodletting in the Vanni in the final stages of the war? There could be other reasons for the government to get into a funk; perhaps incriminating personal evidence, perhaps broad economic threats. There are two ways in which the West can cripple Lanka’s economy; enforcing an embargo on imports of Iranian oil and imposing trade sanctions. The EU and US are our biggest export markets accounting for 50% between them.
An oil embargo is quite frightening because 93% of Lanka’s petrol, diesel and kerosene are derived from Iranian crude and our only refinery (Sapugaskanda) is designed for that type only. Alternative supply lines for similar crude have proved difficult to source and Lanka has a line of credit with Iran which it can forego only at a cost. Newspapers are talking of petrol rationing, but fuel supply disruption will be curtains for the haulage fleet, public and private transport, industry and tea factories. It is unlikely to come to this since Lanka’s leaders will capitulate before the precipice unless they intend to set off on a xenophobic, isolationist and militarist strategy in the belief that it will stir waves of mass support. But this is a very dangerous option. Washington and Delhi are unlikely to countenance military rule by an erstwhile China embracing Lankan regime.
An interesting side show is that the US State Department has brushed New Delhi aside and taken control of the international ‘Sri Lanka desk’. Priority is now reversed; Delhi is number two and follows at a respectful distance. The US had no option, given Delhi’s monumental blunders in handling the Sri Lanka issue in recent years when it was assigned the lead role. The latest gaffe was when Indian External Affairs Minister Krishna pranced on the Colombo stage six weeks ago attributing various promises to President Rajapakse ; four days after he waltzed away the President all but called him, in effect, a downright liar. From Delhi since then: Dead silence!
The Delhi-Colombo relationship has become a Jack and the beanstalk story. Brave Jack has felled the beanstalk with a mighty made in China axe and the giant is splayed in a thin paste all sputtering on the ground. Obviously Indian policy makers are foxed by what to do in Geneva; not even a hint of a leak creeps out. A tough line backing Washington will reassert authority but the current Indian Administration has timidity stamped all over it. Hence I am not taking bets.
The panic in Colombo is objectively justified. Even a best case scenario: Defeat of the US resolution and an Indian abstention (can India vote against a pro-LLRC, pro internal accountability resolution without making itself irrelevant to Lanka once and for all?) will only buy time. Old father clock is grinding forward with determination and the Rajapakses are with their backs to the wall. Its do or die time, so will they swallow the bitter medicine and ‘do’? The alternatives are suicidal.
Empty pocket goes to market
The way in which the Sri Lankan government mishandled the February price hikes is incomprehensible folly. It removed a fuel subsidy that had been in place for years, raising prices of diesel and kerosene by nearly 37% and 49%, respectively; it let the rupee float (fallen 5% already, probably settling 10-15% lower next month); imposed an 18% annual credit growth curb on banks (credit growth has been bounding along at nearly 40%); raised domestic electricity prices by 25% to 40% depending on consumer category, and upped central bank benchmark interest rates by 0.5%.
Justification or otherwise of these steps apart, isn’t this all-in-a-day big-bang a manifestation of suicidal inclinations? And there was an IMF team in town with euthanasia kit ready to hand. I cannot see how the government can avoid mass confrontation when inflation will soon soar to high double digits (despite manipulation of statistics). Has it decided it is ready for a show down and will crush unrest? The military in Sri Lanka is ruthless, so is the hegemonic core at the centre of state power; on the other hand the SLFP, the ruling party, is known for its populism and enduring soft relationship with a large mass base. It’s not that I can’t predict what will happen between the options of retreat and repression; this time it is inherently unpredictable. At times there is a Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in politics as well; intrinsic unknowability.
There was much pressure on the exchange rate of the Lankan rupee (LKR) but only because of gross mismanagement by the Central Bank (CB). The country’s foreign reserves have fallen from $8.3 billion in August 2011 to about $5.2 billion at the time of writing. Why? Because CB depleted the reserves desperately fighting to shore up the LKR (sell dollars and buy LKR) and hold it at 114 to the dollar. But why such a big demand for dollars? Because the government relaxed import controls on luxury items, especially cars, which came flooding in (Colombo’s streets have become a driver’s nightmare), the trade deficit rose to the sky ($10 billion in 2011), and the tottering LKR rapidly lost value concealed by the CB pumping in dollars to buy it.
Now to continue in layman’s terms- this turned into a witch’s brew of recycling nightmares. The credit boom of the last two years was not because industry was borrowing for productive investment; no the chattering classes were borrowing and importing everything from luxury SUVs to simple Nanos by the boatload, not to mention stacks of consumer durables. Borrow and eat; recipe for disaster. When the CB soaked up LKR selling dollars, it had to find ways of getting LKR back into the market for circulation and economic activity, hence the low interest rate regime. “Come on banks, borrow from me and re-lend” said uncle CB. This is the story of Sri Lanka’s self-inflicted devaluation.
The petrol price story is another tragic-comedy. It is true that fuel prices have been subsidised for some years and the situation was not permanently sustainable. Well this is not quite true, petrol was marked above cost price to cross-subsidise kerosene (used for lighting and cooking in the tea plantations and some rural areas where firewood is short) and diesel (because of the haulage fleet and public buses). The subsidy was also spread over electricity prices and the Ceylon Electricity Board is a permanently loss making institution due to no fault of its own. The CEB does not pay its fuel bills, therefore the Petroleum Corporation is permanently ill-liquid, and somewhere along the line the government (the citizenry) picks up the tab. Oil prices have been hovering in the $100 per barrel region for a long time now and the government should have gradually adjusted the prices to market levels over the years. No, it did nothing for three years and then the Big-Bang; it removes in one fell sweep a subsidy so that the price of the fuels that most affects the subaltern classes rise by 40% to 50%! This is why I said suicidal tendencies.
Devaluation, jacked up fuel prices, rising interest rates and a credit squeeze all at once, all together, will mean not only high inflation (and visible instant anger on the street) but also a decline in GDP growth rates. The government claimed that real annual GDP growth in 2012 would be 8.3%, but that was before these fireworks. My personal estimate now is that it will be more like 6.5%; still not bad, but not enough to hold back anger because of great inequity of distribution, complicated, much more than in India, by corruption, because of a greater lack of transparency. This in turn is a consequence of much lower public civic consciousness.
I will close my story of the second drama in Colombo with some remarks about how the opposition to the government’s economic policies may develop. First I must remark, however, that the effort to divert attention by turning xenophobic anger in 150 orchestrated demonstrations starting 27 February to be sustained for the duration of the Geneva sessions did not get off to an impressive start. On the first day public servants (my friends) were told that they can depart from office, without taking leave, and join demonstrations. Marine Drive Colpetty, near the US Embassy, was a vast parking lot for vans in which protesters were bussed in. The Colombo demonstrations were moderately large but friends who had driven in from Tangalle in the deep south had seen nothing and the suburbs of Colombo stayed sleepy. I think there isn’t much enthusiasm and interest seems to be flagging from day-one. Turning attention away from economic concerns is not working.
The mood against price increases is building up in three sectors; fishermen from Chilaw (one life has been lost there in police firing) to Moratuwa and in Colombo City, in the trade unions, and more slowly but more ominously in the upcountry plantations. There is a possibility of Tamil fishermen in the north and east throwing in their lot. There is visible activity but it is not possible to say for sure whether a natural groundswell, apart from mobilisation by trade unions and the political opposition, is building in a big way. The next few weeks will show the shape of things to come.
Friday, March 02, 2012
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)
MSF made numerous requests to the government for access to the battle zone in northern Sri Lanka and these requests were repeatedly denied, despite MSF’s extremely serious concerns about the fate of civilian populations who were trapped in the heavy fighting.
In this interview published in India on February 6 and reproduced in the Sri Lankan media, Sri Lankan secretary of defense secretary. Gotabaya Rapjapaksa is purported to have said that MSF-France teams were present in the battle zone during the fighting.
“ . . . Mr Gotabaya said international agencies, including the French MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières ) and the Indian medical team, were present in the battle zone to receive survivors and surrendered militants.”
Ahead of the final offensive, in September 2008, along with most other international organizations, MSF was given a government directive to leave Kilinochchi.
Thereafter, MSF repeatedly requested permission to enter the battle zones to provide medical care to the civilian population. Permission was sought from numerous ministries, including the Ministries of Health as well as Defense, but at no point was this request granted during the final stages of the conflict in late 2008 and 2009.
It is only after the end of the fighting in May 2009 that MSF was able to provide medical assistance to the victims of the conflict in North Vavuniya, and this was outside the battle zone at the Omanthai checkpoint.
MSF provided surgical support in Vavuniya hospital and in addition established an emergency field hospital for the displaced population living in camps in Menik Farm.
Again, all of this activity was outside the battle zone.
In 2012, MSF-France remains committed to working alongside the Ministry of Health to support the district general hospital of Mullaitivu and develop assistance in mental health care in Mullaitivu District.
Friday, March 02, 2012
AFP | Yahoo! News
"After 30 years we are now coming out of a state of war and we want to engage with the Tamil diaspora," Sri Lankan human rights envoy Mahinda Samarashinghe told the heated meeting.
He and other Sri Lankan government officials reiterated that there was no justification for a US-backed move to censure the country over its investigation into alleged war crimes.
Some Tamils said they had been photographed during the meeting by a person with Sri Lankan government accreditation and they complained to UN security officials about intimidation.
At the opening session of the human rights council on Monday, Britain's minister of state for foreign affairs, Jeremy Browne urged Sri Lanka to implement the recommendation made in the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).
"Where states fail, institutions of the UN should act to make change," said Browne.
Samarashinghe said Sri Lanka has taken steps to act on the recommendations and also referred to a five-year national plan of action for the promotion of human rights that was presented at the meeting.
"We resent deeply being told how to run our house," said one member of the Sri Lankan delegation who also attacked Western NGOs.
But he was countered by Tamils who said government reconciliatory promises were never kept.
Amnesty International Sri Lanka expert Yolanda Foster challenged the Sri Lankans to make public their findings on killings and disappearances saying the government has not come clean on its promises to victims of violence.
Sri Lanka has faced strong international criticism over the bloody finale of its civil war in 2009 but has avoided censure at the Human Rights Council amid hopes overseas that the government would come up with a domestic plan.
Human rights groups estimate that up to 40,000 civilians perished in the final months of the government's military campaign to crush the Tamil Tigers, who waged a bloody decades-long campaign for a separate homeland for the Tamil minority.
The UN estimates some 100,000 people died during Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict between 1972 and 2009.
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