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Speech in Parliament – 6 October 2011

Mr. Deputy Chairman of Committees, I had intended to speak on the principles of this Bill, but,  after having heard the speeches before me, it may be worthwhile to spend some time responding to some of the suggestions and the arguments made. I do not think I want to engage in the game of atrocity snap that the Hon. Chief Opposition Whip began, because it would be only too easy to refer to problems with the Police at the time when he was a very junior Member of Parliament who, of course, was not able in those days to protest against the excesses.

But, listening to the speech of the Hon. Member on the National List from the TNA, I think what we are missing is a historical perspective on the role of the Police. I was glad though that he mentioned that the role of the Police for a long time in this country, indeed from the day the Police was set up, was as a tool of Government to oppress the people of the country. That is why I thought that the rather facile distinction he made between the military and the Police was out of place. Unfortunately, we know that the role of the Police, not only in this country but in many other countries worldwide, has contributed to excesses and it is the role of the Government, the legislature and the institutions such as the Police Academy to reduce these abuses as much as possible.

I think we in Sri Lanka have suffered much because of the events of the last 20 or 30 years. Of course I have a certain sympathy for the Hon TNA member because much of the institutionalization of police abuses took place with regard to ethnic tensions, not only in the ’50s and ’60s but most appallingly in the early ’80s. None of us can forget that perhaps the worst instance of Police being used as a political tool was in Jaffna in 1981 with the attacks on Members of the TULF and the burning of the Jaffna Public Library. But, though Police officers were held to be the tools, the actual inspiration came from Ministers in the Government. That institutionalization continued over the next few years because when the courts found against the Police for the violation of human rights, Government had absolutely no qualms whatsoever about promoting the police officers concerned and indeed paying their fines. It made it very clear that with abuses such as in the “Pavidi Handa” case and in the violation of the rights of the mother of the then Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Rudra Rajasingham, Government thought it was perfectly okay that  rights had been violated. Those institutionalized problems are things that we have needed to address, but it has been difficult.

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...a massive belt of oil and gas resources.

In this series of reflections, I have looked at various aspects of Western involvement in the Middle East, and in the Wider Middle East as well. The latter term refers, as Craig Murray defines it, to ‘the Middle East as we understand it, plus the Caucasus and Central Asia, which is of course a massive belt of oil and gas resources.’ Given his stress, it makes sense to include North Africa too in any generalizations of the subject.

I realize of course that my generalizations are just that, simply points to be pondered if we are to make sense of what is going on in the region. I have looked at the moral aspects of actions and reactions, while noting that it does not make sense to expect consistency of outlook or indeed any commitment to principle in the dealings of the various nations concerned.

I have looked too at the historical record, since this is often forgotten. It is important to remember the manner in which various nation states were constituted after the two World Wars, and then how some of them changed governments through revolutions. I referred to the socialist military bent of the most notable of these revolutions, and pointed out how the West, in reacting to these, thought regimes based on religion preferable. Indeed it is worth noting here that one reason for the British desire to see an independent Pakistan (as indicated both by Narendra Singh Sarila and Jaswant Singh in their recent accounts of the struggle for Indian independence) was the view that India would be governed by dangerous socialists, and solidly conservative Muslims were more likely to continue loyal to the West.

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Craig Murray

After Craig Murray had sent his written objections to what he saw as British condoning of torture, which he thought was in contravention of the International Convention against Torture, his objections were addressed at a meeting in London over which Linda Duffield presided. He was told then that using material ‘obtained under torture and subsequently passed on to us… would be inadmissible in a court of law, but that is the only restriction on the use of such material arising from the convention.’ It seemed that the official British government position was that it saw ‘no legal obstacle to our continuing to receive such information from the Uzbek security services.’

I can understand of course that a country in serious danger from powerful terrorist movements might sometimes feel it had to bend the rules.

I am quoting Murray, but obviously what he puts in direct speech in his book can only represent his recollections of what occurred. Still I feel this makes it clear that the British were condoning and endorsing, indeed even supporting, the use of torture. I can understand of course that a country in serious danger from powerful terrorist movements might sometimes feel it had to bend the rules. But such behavior should be carefully controlled, and should certainly not give carte blanche for the type of appalling cruelties Murray thought he had evidence of. Unfortunately once one gets on the slippery slope of tolerating such excesses, it is far too easy to ignore unpleasant evidence. This can lead too to shooting of the messenger as happened to poor Craig Murray.

I can do no better here than cite other passages from his book which underline the appalling hypocrisy of the New Labour government. I can only hope therefore, as I have mentioned in an Adjournment Motion I have proposed for our Parliament, that the current government makes clear its abhorrence of such practices, and that the current leadership of the Labour Opposition makes sure that such practices are not repeated. Read the rest of this entry »

Daily News 30 June 2011 –

David Miliband with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Apr 29th 2009 in Colombo

I found reading Craig Murray’s ‘Murder in Samarkand’ extremely disturbing. I had of course known before that to expect international relations to be conducted on the basis of morality was absurd. However I was not prepared for what seemed the total lack of principle that seems to have governed New Labour in its relations with the world.

I must confess to some prejudice in this regard, for I had realized that the British government was totally amoral in its approach to Sri Lanka. I do not mean the government as a whole, for I have the highest regard for most British officials, and I believe the Security establishment worked positively with us to eliminate terrorism. Yet even the police, when dealing with demonstrations in Britain that contributed to rousing public opinion against us, behaved with an indulgence that suggested a lack of concern about how terrorism gains strength.

This could not have arisen from their own judgments, for I felt the senior police officials whom I met once with our High Commissioner knew very well the implications of their failure to deal firmly with the demonstrations outside the House of Commons. But it was clear that they would be allowing the organizers a free hand, and I have no doubt that the decision in this regard was a political one.

David Miliband

It was obviously meant to send a conciliatory message to Tiger sympathizers. We realized why this was being done, and we must be grateful to Wikileaks, and to the more clearsighted Americans, for making clear David Miliband’s desire for votes, that led him to behave so callously towards us. Had he succeeded in his efforts, there is no doubt that we in Sri Lanka would still be living under the shadow of terrorism. He would have cared nothing, not for the obvious victims of bombs, not for the poor youngsters forced into brutality and death on a battlefield they did not understand by a ruthless Tiger leadership.

Joint Forward Interrogation Team (JFIT) which operated in Iraq – used illegal "coercive techniques" and was not answerable to military commanders in Iraq.

But that he should have done this, and dared to preach to us about human rights, while part of a government that had knowingly connived at torture, seemed to me to have pushed cynicism beyond acceptable limits. I should note that my comments here are based on Murray’s book, and it is possible that he has exaggerated. I have tried to get the views of the Foreign Office on this, as I was advised to do by Linda Duffield, a former British High Commissioner here, but I have not as yet received a response. This is not surprising, given that their information desk must be occupied with disseminating information, and possibly disinformation, about Libya, but meanwhile I can only proceed on what seems plausible in Murray’s account.

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Daily News 28 June 2011 –

Palestinian militants from Hamas

I used to wonder about how the United States could possibly support Israel so excessively , to the extent of blocking UN resolutions which even the Europeans supported. Surely they must understand that what seems such blatantly unjust partisanship will continue to upset the Muslim world, and contribute to increasing radicalization of all those with political or moral understanding. And while many people, even though they feel a burning sense of injustice, will think that nothing can be done, and keep quiet, those with devout religious fervor will feel obliged to act. What they do might be appalling, but they will excuse themselves on the grounds that they are not acting but reacting.

A bright if somewhat cynical British friend provided one explanation when he said that American politics is dominated now by what he termed Premillenial Dispensationalists. These believe that the end of the world foretold in the Book of Revelations requires that Israel expand massively, after which we shall be visited by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The world as we know it having been destroyed, God will then resurrect the Chosen, though according to my friend this will not include any of the Jews, since they have not accepted Christ.

Right-wing Israeli extremist Baruch Marzel (C) leads a provocative march with flags March 24, 2009

The theory seemed to me quite potty, but he assured me that, while possibly even the most extreme Israeli politicians would be content simply to take over all of Palestine, the American extremists wanted them to conquer much more of the area, extending downwards into Africa too. Their aim would ultimately lead to the destruction of the Jews, but meanwhile they needed extremist Israelis, who were quite happy to go along with them, if not only for the ride.

Dotty though all this sounds, I found what I can only describe as a more nuanced version of this approach when I read ‘Murder in Samarkand’ by Craig Murray, who had served as British ambassador to Uzbekistan. He was sacked for his pains, largely he believes because he objected to British connivance in gross human rights abuses by the regime. The book he published in 2006 suggests that this was largely because the Blair government had fallen in completely with American policy in the region, and that the Americans, and because of them Tony Blair himself, were actively involved in his dismissal.

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The Island 9 June 2011

In looking at the Middle East in terms of the attitudes and actions of the range of countries that are involved in patronage, assistance and intrigues in the area, there is an element that needs to be addressed seriously, but never will be so long as American politics continues to blend populist democracy with brilliant manipulation of public opinion by well organized interest groups.

This is the issue of Israel, which has contributed so strongly to the bitterness of many Muslims towards the West. This is eminently understandable, because the West has not hesitated to make it clear that its primary allegiance is to Israel, and that the rights and wishes of other countries in the area count for little in comparison.

Quite simply, from the Arab point of view, the creation of Israel was an appalling injustice. We are told of the need in Sri Lanka to ensure that grievances are aired and recompense made to those who have suffered, but the West that preaches to us refuses absolutely to look into the question of the way in which Arabs were deprived of their lands to provide a homeland for immigrants from the rest of the world, predominantly from Europe.

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The Island 25 May 2011

In the decades when the Cold War raged, or simmered, or whatever, several major countries in the Middle East turned to socialism. Except in the case of Aden this was not extreme Marxism, but as time passed the variations became more extreme and with little concern for democratic practice.

It has been argued that this is a necessary characteristic of socialism, but the practice in South Asia belies this. Mrs Bandaranaike and even more so Mrs Gandhi may have been imperious in their approach to government, but they were firmly convinced that their programmes were what the people wanted. Accordingly they held unarguably democratic elections, and were soundly defeated.

Mohammed Mossadegh, Iran's ousted prime minister, during his trial in the wake of the CIA-MI6 orchestrated coup that overthrew his elected government in 1953. Photograph: AFP

The Middle East had no such luck. Unfortunately the first experiment in socialism through the ballot box was traduced, when the West got rid of Mossadegh in Iran, and established the autocracy of the Shah. What had been presented as a battle between free and restricted politics turned into a battle between free and restricted economies, and the West made no bones about its preference for political restrictions provided economies were capitalist. These were not necessarily free, but it took Cold Warriors a long time to realize that free economies could not really develop under authoritarian rule.

So, at the height of the Cold War, we had dictatorships all over South America, encouragement of authoritarian rulers such as Ayub Khan and Marcos and Suharto in South Asia (to say nothing of Generals Park and Chiang Kai Shek in East Asia), and the overthrow of African leaders who had achieved independence by right wing military regimes in Africa, most notably those of Mobutu and Idi Amin and the chap who got rid of Nkrumah in Ghana. Fortunately some of these characters were so preposterous that the West tired of them, but many lasted for unconscionably long period.

In the area in the Middle East carved up by the West after the First World War however, though three major countries had left leaning military regimes – which were indeed linked together briefly through the Ba’ath Socialist Party – the hereditary rulers of the other states that had been established continued to exercise authority. The most important of these was the largest, Saudi Arabia, named thus after King Saud got rid of the former Sharif of Mecca whom the British had initially installed as King.

That had been a brilliant stroke, to use someone with religious authority as the figurehead of the revolt against the Turks, but the Sharif’s family was in fact comparatively secular in its approach to politics. Not so the Saud family, which embraced the more fundamentalist Wahhabi form of Islam, and made Saudi Arabia a solidly Islamic state. They also used their resources to proselytize for their particular version of Islam, but doubtless this seemed to the West a good thing in those days, since it was a forceful alternative to godless Marxism.

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Text of a lecture by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha Adviser on Reconciliation to HE the President given at the panel discussion on Reconciliation arranged by The Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies’ Reconciliation and Development for Peace Section – December 15th 2011

We must love one another or die

Auden’s reminder of the need for togetherness to avoid annihilation, which he expressed in ‘September 1939’, evoking the horrors of the war that caused such destruction in Europe, is of particular significance in Sri Lanka today. We have got over the horrors of the terrorism that plagued us for two decades and more. We have also got now to get over the bitterness and suspicion that prompted that terrorism.

What happened in Post-War Europe can perhaps provide object lessons for us, especially when contrasted with the settlements following the First World War, which led not to peace and reconciliation but to continuing confrontation. The victors of 1918 were determined to rub in their triumph, and engaged in self-aggrandisement of horrendous proportions. The pretext that they had fought for freedom was nullified by the even more oppressive controls they imposed on Asia and Africa and the Middle East. In the last named area, with continuing catastrophic effects on the world at large, exploitation of resources by the victors of 1918 replaced the comparatively benign and economically inclusive control of the Turkish Empire. The fierce competition to plunder Africa, sanctified by the preposterous carving up of the continent in the 1884 Treaty of Berlin, was refined by the elimination of Germany, and the incorporation of Tanzania and present-day Namibia and other entities into larger empires. And India saw the extraordinary spectacle of refined repression, combined with an insidious policy of sowing division and dissension through the presentation of the oppressor as the only hope for minorities – a game that continues to be played, to the finish as Noel Coward might have averred, in so many theatres of potential conflict around the world today.

That card had proved useful in the destruction of the great land empires of Europe. But while the creation of small nation states by the dismembering of Germany and Austria could have been justified by the burgeoning nationalism of the areas they had previously controlled, no such indulgence can be granted to the triumphalism that screwed down the nails on the coffin of German aspirations. The result was Hitler and September 1939, following on the swallowing of Austria and Czechoslovakia, where the race card had been played in reverse.

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On the votes of the Ministry of National Languages and Social Integrations – December 9th 2011

I am grateful, Mr Speaker, for this opportunity to support the budget allocation and the work of the Ministry of National Languages and Social Integration amongst others. In fact my one complaint is that not enough has been given for the work of this extremely important Ministry. In his budget speech the President made clear the seminal contribution to national development of the activities associated with this Ministry, and I can only hope that its work does not suffer from a shortage of resources.

In one sense limitations on the funds allocated to the Ministry should not be a problem, because its work should be conducted by other Ministries too. For instance, with regard to National Languages, a greater responsibility lies with the Ministry of Education. Given the continuous failure of our Education system over the years to promote bilingualism, let alone the trilingualism that His Excellency requires in fulfillment of his vision for a prosperous, pluralistic and united Sri Lanka, there is also need for more work by the Ministries of Higher Education and of Vocational Training.

Given the need for better coordination in this regard, I hope very much that the recommendation in the Committee deliberations on the Ministry of Human Resources, to establish both a Consultative Committee and a Coordinating Mechanism between the various Ministries concerned, will bear fruit. It should be noted that the Ministry of Public Administration should also be involved in this, given the important role that the Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration should play in this regard. Some years back, when I first got involved in public life in an executive position, as head of the Peace Secretariat, I noted to my line management that there would be no possibility of sustainable peace unless we developed a much more effective administration, with better skills of communication as well as planning, than we had. Every day that passes convinces me of this more and more, and unless we develop appropriate skills, and initiative, in middle management as well as elsewhere, the excellent proposals in the budget will come to naught. I hope that the Ministry of Public Administration, as well as the Ministry responsible for Public Sector reforms, will fast forward plans in this regard and ensure effective implementation.

To return to the particular question of communication skills, since we have so many Ministries to work in this area, it might be argued that we do not in fact need a Ministry of National Languages and Social Integration. But it is precisely because those Ministries have not effectively pursued practical programmes in this regard that we need a Ministry like this to propose innovations and ensure at least pilot programmes. It could for instance ensure the development of new teacher training models, given that in the near seventy years since J R Jayewardene moved his fatal motion that straitjacketed our students in monolingualism state institutions have failed to produce sufficient teachers of the national languages. Of course it is our rural schools and our rural children who have suffered most from this.

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Undoubtedly the greatest challenge in Sri Lanka at present is the restoration of trust. On the one side there is fear that a separatist agenda has not been abandoned, on the other there is fear that unity will be enforced by subordination of minorities to a dominant centre.

Connected with this latter fear are fears about demographic change and militarization. Conversely, the other fears of the majority are in fact distinct from the fear of separatism. They relate to worries about domination by a minority through disproportionate influence on governance.

I will look first at the challenges represented by these last worries, since they are the easiest to assuage. They spring from two sources, the first being the high number of Tamils in positions of importance in government in the period leading up to and just beyond independence. This factor arose however simply because of the better educational facilities available in the North, as well as the commitment to education evinced by Northerners, in view of the paucity of other opportunities in the area.

Overcoming any imbalance caused by this is easy, since it only requires ensuring that good facilities are available islandwide, and that students all over the country are committed to education that will develop good administrators as well as entrepreneurs. At the same time it should be recognized that the earlier imbalance was based not on race but on geography, and that there are minority areas with appalling education systems, just as there are many majority areas that have good facilities. Reforms in the education system must be based on equity on a national basis, and the ideal outcome would be employment relating to governance that ensures equitable representation of all communities.

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Rajiva Wijesinha


December 2011
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