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The International Centre for Ethnic Studies invited me recently to a seminar which was essentially on the post-conflict situation, though it had a more philosophical title, as is required to attract funding. I was pleased to attend, since I think one should engage with such organizations. Though I felt that for many years ICES had an essentially destructive agenda as far as this country was concerned, that seems to have changed with the appointment of a new Executive Director, who is certainly critical of government, but with I think no partisan agenda but only a commitment to ethnic pluralism as well as fundamental human rights.
This is Mario Gomes, whom I first knew as a protégé of Richard de Zoysa. I was reminded of this (rather sentimentally, a sure sign of advancing age) at the opening session, which I only managed to get to late since I was driving down from Vavuniya. However I managed to hear almost the whole presentation by Qadri Ismail, who was his usual iconoclastic self, demanding a stop to generalizations about identity. I would describe this as a quintessentially liberal position except that he would probably find the term anathema (I think he still sees himself as a socialist, though I can think of no one less likely to fit into any form of collective).
Join us in calling on His Excellency The President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to introduce a Constitutional Amendment to limit the size of the Cabinet to 20, with no more than 20 Cabinet Ministers and no more than 20 other Ministers of Junior Ministerial rank.
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I think it was Aristotle who noted that the roots of injustice lay in treating similar things as dissimilar, and different things in the same way. In line with this dictum we should recognize that the issues which trouble people in different parts of the country are different, and solutions should be specific to the problems under consideration. But, conversely, there are also some common problems, and these should be addressed in a consistent manner. Unfortunately we all tend to look on problems that affect us as particularly serious, and this can lead to injustice.
Thus over the last few years there has been much concern about those who were displaced in the North. Given the gravity of the problem, the indignation of the international community was understandable, though their failure to have addressed this issue when Tamils were being driven along by the LTTE to be used as hostages, as highlighted by Kath Noble recently, raises issues about their actual motivation subsequently. So does the fact that previously they by and large neglected the Muslims driven from their homes in the North. When the issue was raised, it was by hucksters such as Gareth Evans who used their suffering to claim that Sri Lanka was ripe for the implementation of his R2P doctrine. In asserting that ethnic cleansing had taken place in Sri Lanka, he – or rather his sidekick Alan Keenan, for poor Gareth confessed that he had no idea what he had meant by using the phrase about Sri Lanka – implied that this was by government, only to admit that they were in fact talking about what the LTTE had done to the Muslims in 1990.
But in trying to deal with the enormity of what had occurred then, we have neglected the abuse of the Muslims of the East, which the LTTE had been steadily engaging in even before 1990. I was therefore startled, which is a reflection of my ignorance, by the assertions of Muslim leaders in Kattankudy about 65,000 persons deprived of their lands, for whom no remedial action had been taken. They noted that whole villages had been erased from the map, and that they were now confined to a tiny area – which was practically bursting at the seams, as was clear from the dumping of garbage which the Kattankudy Urban Council is engaged in, with no regard for health or safety or the inevitable destruction of water resources that such squalor will result in.
Participants at the meeting were also particularly indignant that the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission had ignored their plight. I wondered about this, given the thorough job the LLRC had done but, in looking next day at the Action Plan, I realized that the despair of the citizens of Kattankudy was understandable. The sole recommendation noted in this regard was to ‘Appoint a special committee to examine durable solutions and formulate a comprehensive State policy on the issue (of Muslim IDPs displaced from the North) after extensive consultations with the IDPs and the host communities’. Read the rest of this entry »
The recent vote at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva was upsetting, and it would make sense for Sri Lanka to assess what happened and work towards ensuring that such a situation does not occur again. However there seems little chance of that, since the same was obvious a year ago, but nevertheless nothing was done, except to sit back and hope disaster would not strike twice.
The only efforts at analysis we saw from the Ministry of External Affairs were leaks to the effect that the vote engineered by the United States had put Sri Lanka back on track to working with what were described as its traditional allies. Dayan Jayatilleka and Tamara Kunanayagam were denigrated as having tried to turn us towards what were described as virtually rogue states such as North Korea and Cuba.
That juxtaposition revealed very clearly where the thinkers in the Ministry of External Affairs, if that is an appropriate word, were coming from. Cuba, loathed by the United States, is a model as far as foreign relations are concerned, and we would do well to try to understand why internationally it gets support from almost all countries in the world except for the United States and its absolute dependants. North Korea is a different phenomenon, and the idea that Dayan or Tamara would advocate getting ourselves into that particular category is absurd. But, as far as the mandarins in the Ministry are concerned, there is no need to make distinctions; as J R Jayewardene advocated when he turned to the West after 1977, we should be even more bitter than the West is in denigrating its opponents.
That philosophy underscored his appalling attitude to India. The attitude of the United States to India then explained however our attempts to take on India, even though we should have realized – and the United States indeed make this clear to us – that they would not come to our rescue in the event of conflict. Read the rest of this entry »
1. How do you respond to the ICG report allegations that the impeachment and removal from office last month of the country’s chief justice constituted the completion of a “constitutional coup” which began in 2010 when parliament passed the eighteenth amendment, removing presidential term limits and handing the president responsibility for appointing judges, senior police and human rights officials?
As always, the ICG confuses various issues in its relentless campaign to denigrate Sri Lanka as a whole. The 18th amendment, while not ideal, was an improvement on the 17th, which confused two different constitutional dispensations. In any Presidential system the President does have responsibility to appoint, but ensuring consultation is vital. Unfortunately the consultation mechanism enjoined by the 18th amendment has been nullified by the decision of the 2 opposition members on the 5 member Council to boycott its proceedings after accepting appointment, thus permitting anyone the President suggests for any position to be appointed without question.
I thought the manner in which the Chief Justice was removed was regrettable, but she was certainly flawed, and I hope now I will get better cooperation in areas in the National Human Rights Action Plan in which she was not interested..
2. Has the government shown sufficient commitment to fulfill the recommendations of the LLRC, particularly in relation to investigating disappearances and evidence of child conscription, demilitarising the north and reaching a political settlement that devolves some power to provinces? Could it do more?
The government has done a lot, and I attach the latest report, which is also available on www.priu.gov.lk. Unfortunately the Task Force was headed by someone who did not devote enough time to monitoring and promoting action, though the Civil Servant involved did his best. Now the most senior Civil Servant in the country has been appointed to run things, and there has been a marked difference already in responsiveness to issues that those who want to see quicker action, including myself, have raised. It must though be understood that we have moved much more quickly in some areas than any other countries which suffered similar tragedies.
The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 as well as the full series of Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.
Soon after the New Year, the Human Rights Commission summoned a consultation with regard to the recommendations made with regard to Sri Lanka at the Universal Periodic Review conducted by the Human tights Council in Geneva in 2008. This was a timely move by the Commission, and brought home to me how grossly we had neglected paying formal attention to the recommendations since their inception. We had after all accepted several of the recommendations made, and we had an obligation therefore to carry out our pledges.
The fault is mine even more I suppose than that of anyone else, since having been appointed Secretary of the Ministry of Human Rights in the middle of 2008, I continued in that position for well over a year after those pledges had been made. Though I think I did a little bit, and perhaps more than anyone else would have done, I should obviously have been more systematic. In mitigation however I should note that I had a massive problem with regard to one important area with regard to which there were several recommendations, namely the Human Rights Commission itself. We were supposed to get international assistance for this, but our principal collaborator in this, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, refused to recognize its status.
That this involved deceit and sleight of hand had been clear to me earlier, when I discovered that a UNDP sponsored report on the HRC had been suppressed and not shown to the Head of Capacity Building in Geneva. The line being pushed by critics of the government in Colombo was that the HRC was illegal, and this had been swallowed – if indeed he had not been responsible for propagating it in the first place – by an Australian (yet another to add to the serried ranks of David Savage and Gordon Weiss and James Elder and Peter Mackay) called Rory Mungoven who was in charge of the Sri Lanka desk in Geneva. He had previously been the representative of the High Commissioner in Colombo, and had no affection at all for our elected government.
I tried early on to engage with him, but found him a liar, and sanctimonious at that. When I asked him why he had not supported regional activities of the HRC, he told me that donors were not willing to contribute to the HRC as it was constituted, but a Swiss diplomat who was very helpful while also clearsighted about our shortcomings that should be overcome, told me that the Swiss had provided funds for the purpose, and they had not been used. Rory, I should add, had proconsular ambitions, and was one of those who told me the UNOHCHR could do a better job than the Norwegian led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission at monitoring the ceasefire, on similar lines to Gareth Evans who thought that he would do a better job himself, as head of the International Crisis Group.
Rory’s successor was a much more helpful person but, typically, she was soon taken away and replaced by an American young lady called Cynthia Veliko. Cynthia, like Rory, thought her primary allegiance was to opponents of the government, but she was more gracious, and helped to set up a training session for police trainers, which was I think extremely helpful.
While suppressing the evidence it had commissioned from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Amnesty produced yet another report to denigrate Sri Lanka during the sessions of the Human Rights Council, and has been actively canvassing against us in Geneva. Its normally urbane representative, Peter Splinter, has been scurrying around like a headless chicken, and using language that he would not normally stoop to.
I met him as I went to the Palais on the 14th, and he did not stop to speak, understandably so for he had a meeting with the Sri Lankan delegates led by Dr Saravanamuttu of the Centre for Policy Alternatives who have been in the forefront of the campaign against Sri Lanka. Interestingly, when most people in Sri Lanka were positive about the LLRC report, it was CPA which followed the American line of criticism, which sadly the TNA also took up. While Peter was deeply upset about what he claimed was characterization of his friends as terrorists, and this of course is nonsense, the congruence of their agenda with that of the LTTE rump that has now come to the Palais in increasing numbers is truly worrying.
Peter engaged in his own insults when he described the session at which Jeevan Thiagarajah and Javid Yusuf and I spoke about taking Reconciliation forward as a Dog and Pony show. I do not think he intended any particular insult to Mr Yusuf, but it is this type of cultural insensitivity that Amnesty would have been careful about in the old days when people committed to Human Rights without a political agenda, such as Anne Ranasinghe and Javid himself worked for it.
The political agenda is clear in the latest report issued by Amnesty, with its claim that unlawful detention practices continue. In the past I used to think Amnesty was genuine in its commitment to human rights, and I have no objection to it drawing attention to practices it sees as illegal or improper. What I object to is its use of particular instances to engage in generalizations that shore up the impression it seeks to propagate, of Sri Lanka being a militarized state where abuses are the norm. I am sure Amnesty is aware of the vast number of deaths in police custody in Britain in recent years, and I am sure that it will draw attention to these, albeit less dramatically than it does to problems in countries it dislikes – but I do not see it claiming that such abuses in Britain are endemic and indicative of state policy.
The particular instances Amnesty draws attention to in its current assault are largely taken from the past. All case studies as far as I could see were of people arrested in 2009 or earlier, and several of them had been released. While I have no doubt that, like any country under threat from terrorism, arrests sometimes erred on the side of caution, several of the studies indicate that there was good reason for the arrest, ranging from the foreign national who came out to work in an orphanage, as he claimed, and was then recruited by the LTTE (whether forcibly or not is not indicated) to the cadre who had lied under interrogation about his work for the LTTE though he has readily admitted it to whoever interviewed him for Amnesty.
Amnesty also ignores the fact that, whereas we did have large numbers in detention in 2009, those have been significantly reduced. While at the Ministry of Human Rights we would urge that cases be expedited, we could understand that while LTTE terrorism was still an active threat in Sri Lanka, we had to be cautious. Shortly after the war ended however the President appointed a Committee which I chaired to ensure that cases were dealt with, and I had complete cooperation from the prison authorities, the police and the Attorney General’s Department. Though we would complain that this last was slow in dealing with files entrusted to it, the number was halved by the time the Committee ceased to function with the election of 2010.
Since then the Attorney General worked expeditiously to reduce the numbers, and the figure of 2000 cited by Ambassador Godage, cited in the Amnesty Report from the LLRC hearings, is now down to a few hundreds. It should be noted too that ICRC has been visiting such detainees since 2007. I remembered that we used to get reports when I was at the Ministry, but I checked again and ICRC has confirmed that its visits have continued throughout.
Read the rest of this entry »
I have two questions based on the ICG report on women’s insecurity in the North and East:
1. The ICG is critical of the government for not doing enough to address the security concerns of women in the North and East, who face a ”desperate lack of security”. How do you view this?
As yet another exampe of the tendentious nature on the ICG’s interventions on Sri Lanka. You may be remember the desperate efforts made by the ICG head, Gareth Evans, his sidekick in Colombo Alan Keenan and the latter’s old mate Rama Mani to suggest that Sri Lanka was a situation ripe for the doctrine of Responsibiity to Protect to be applied. Gareth declared that there had been ethnic cleansing in Sri Lanka and, when I asked what he meant he asked Alan Keenan to explain (clearly
he had no idea what was meant by the speech he unthinkingly delivered). Alan said – this was in 2007 – that he was referring to what the LTTE had done to the Muslims in 1990. But the speech would have led one to believe that they were referring to what had happened recently with government responsibility.
I think we have to be very careful about what is happening now given that ICES, which was the chosen instrument for R2P, with Radhika Coomaraswamy and her protege Rama Mani pushing it is now going through yet another upheaval, the purpose of which is to
install another Radhika protege Ambika Satkunanathan in the Director’s chair. Even worse than Rama Mani. Ambika had direct LTTE connections, which I brought up with the UN where she worked. They said she had got over them, it seemed to be seen as simply a youthful love affair with an LTTE representative, but I still thought that it was wrong of the UN to have her in an influential position during the conflict. Now if Radhika – who has fallen out with the guy she claimed was responsible for the financial mess, and she only signed the cheques he put in front of her – succeeds in getting her way, we might have even more problems to face in the future, with ICG again leading the way with misleading claims.
A week or so ago, I wrote what I thought would be an entertaining but also instructive article about the way efforts were being made to resuscitate the terrorist Tiger movement. I used the Harry Potter stories to make my point, given the similarity on the one hand between the death of the LTTE leader in Sri Lanka and the death of the villainous Lord Voldemort, on the other between the existence of LTTE operatives abroad and the devotion of the Death Eaters to Voldemort.
In both cases the point was that those who remained wanted to resurrect terror. Some of those who helped to bring Lord Voldemort back to life were devoted adherents of his cult, others began by playing with fire and were then consumed. There were also those who were basically resentful of anything different from themselves, including those jealous of Harry Potter’s heroic status in having been the instrument of Voldemort’s undoing, and in therefore opposing the forces of good they played right into Voldemort’s hands.
The comparison was helped by J K Rowling’s brilliant conceit of having Voldemort divide his soul up into seven parts, which all had to be destroyed before the world was safe from him. This had obvious similarities to the enormous skill of the Tigers in setting up wings all over the world. But even more interesting to me was the human angle, the way in which vanity and single-mindedness could lead people with no essential commitment to terror to end up fulfilling an evil agenda. Read the rest of this entry »
David Miliband as Peter Pettigrew
Navanethem Pillay as Dolores Umbridge
Gareth Evans as Gilderoy Lockhart
Jon Snow as Rita Skeeter
Alan Keenan as Nagini
Joan Ryan as Bellatrix
Ban Ki-Moon as Prof Severus Snape
In May 2009 we thought the Terrorist Tigers had been vanquished. Mr Prabhakaran was dead, along with many of his fighting cadres, and most of the rest had surrendered. It was true that some had got away in the preceding months, and a few more managed to escape, but these by and large made their way out of the country. Sri Lanka itself seemed free of terror and terrorist activities. Though the remnants of the LTTE abroad continued to stick to their original agenda, it seemed that resurrection of the movement that had wreaked so much damage was unlikely.
Recently however there are signs that the movement feels it has got a new lease of life. Taking advantage of what it sees as the vulnerability of the Sri Lankan government to international pressure, it has also endeavoured to convince the majority of the Tamil people abroad that the LTTE agenda can be revived. Most worryingly, it is also trying to stir dissension amongst Tamils in Sri Lanka, who would much rather work together with the rest of the country to ensure rehabilitation and reconciliation.
The strength of the old LTTE identity in other countries struck me, watching the one but last Harry Potter film, as arising from the dividing up of the LTTE persona in the way in which the evil Lord Voldemort had divided up his soul and stored the parts in seven horcruxes all over the world. While the list may not be exhaustive, we can see then the way in which LTTE rumps, in Britain and France and Canada and the United States and Australia and South Africa and India, have tried hard to make sure that their destructive agenda dominates discourse in those countries.
Once one realized how similar the LTTE was to Voldemort, the parallels flowed thick and fast. We have for instance Navanethem Pillay, who behaves exactly as Dolores Umbridge did, who was supposed to teach students to defend against the Dark Arts in the fifth Harry Potter book. What she did instead was to bully the decent people in her class, making them for instance torture themselves by a gruesome form of self confession, carving an admission of guilt into their own palms. So too Navenethem Pillay, instead of worrying about terrorism and real evil, uses her position as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to humiliate those who provided the best defence against terror.
And, just in case it might seem that I am upset about Dolores Pillay because of her relentless attacks on Sri Lanka, let me quote what one of the brighter Australians I know said – ‘Any denunciation is welcome of the preposterous Pillay woman. She’s just been in Australia denouncing us as a Syria-like human-rights abuser. Her ignorance and lack of proportion is breath-taking, matched only by her arrogance and self-righteousness.’ Read the rest of this entry »
In trying to understand the extraordinary performance with regard to Sri Lanka of the present and the last UN High Commissioners for Human Rights, I am reminded constantly of what I was told by the previous Indian Ambassador to the Human Rights Council. When we were discussing the excessive number of UN employees from the West, he noted that, apart from that community of interests, they most of them came from the same sort of background. Thinking in terms of the interests of the Non-Governmental Organizations in which most of their work experience lay, they were unable to understand the basic principles on which the United Nations were founded, which gave primacy to the sovereignty of its member states. Read the rest of this entry »