You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2012.

When the idea of Reconciliation Committees first took root, I had thought in terms of meetings in Colombo, and others in the Districts, where I had been impressed over the last few years by the dedication and understanding of the various Government Agents of the North. All of them had excellent relations with the Special Forces during the conflict and beyond, but they were also acutely aware of their obligations to the people they served.

But more recently I have worked with Divisional Secretaries, since it became obvious that meetings for large areas did not really permit issues of close concern to particular areas to be enunciated. I have therefore over the last few months been to all Divisional Secretariat Offices in the four southern Districts of the Northern Province, and a couple in Jaffna, where of course the problems are very different in scale and in scope.

On the one hand I have been depressed by the failure of our administrative systems to address what are really very simple problems. The very impressive achievements of government in the fields of infrastructure development and basic social amenities will to naught if a few very basic needs are not addressed.

One of these, as expressed also by one of the aid agencies which works very well with government, is the absence of platforms at which citizens can speak out. This I think explains the satisfaction expressed at our meetings, and the wish that they could happen every month. I have explained that I can solve nothing myself, and can only make suggestions, but I think the opportunity simply to express themselves is welcome. Read the rest of this entry »

Presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha MP, Leader – Liberal Party of  Sri Lanka
And Presidential Adviser on Reconciliation to the President, Sri Lanka
On ‘The Global War on Terror: How Do the Liberals Respond?’
At the Seminar on “Liberalism: It’s All About Freedom”
Organized by the Civic Will Green Party of Mongolia
Ulaanbaatar, May 24th 2012

Let me first express my thanks to our hosts, the Civic Will Green Party of Mongolia, for having invited the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats to their country, and arranging this very timely seminar. The Friedrich Naumann Stiftung, which has supported CALD so graciously over the years, was established to promote freedom, and it is this core value of Liberalism that we must see as the bedrock, not only of our own philosophy, but also of equitable and sustainable development all over the world.

Freedom does not, we should emphasize, mean the freedom of the wild ass.

Freedom does not, we should emphasize, mean the freedom of the wild ass. As the former head of the FNS, Count Otto von Lambsdorff said, while Liberalism demands a small state, it also requires a strong state. Thus I believe my colleague who will talk about environmental issues will stress the need for forceful regulation, to ensure protection for vulnerable people and places. That is why true Liberalism, while being committed to a market economy, does not believe that market forces alone should dictate policy. The state must ensure that the vulnerable are protected, that a level playing field is promoted, that development is both balanced and enduring.

It is in this context that we must formulate our response as Liberals to what is described as the Global War on Terror. We are aware that terrorism is now a much greater threat than it was in the past. But we must also recognize that the world should not allow itself to be blinded into seeing terror as somehow connected primarily with Islam, following on the appalling events of September 11th 2001. That was an event that had long been brewing, and I fear that tacit encouragement had been given to its perpetrators over the years, when other priorities suggested to the West that terrorists could be a useful tool against more dangerous enemies – just as the West had believed that fundamentalism could be a useful tool against godless Communism.

The consequence was the apotheosis of the Taleban, guided by Al Qaeda, into the government of Afghanistan, a government that promoted international terrorism. Many have now forgotten that, when the US government first reacted forcefully to Taleban excesses against its own, the bombs it dropped killed personnel being trained to attack the Indian government in Kashmir. But that meant nothing, for over the previous decade, such terrorism had seemed an acceptable offshoot of support for fundamentalist terrorist against the Soviet Union – and in those days the West had seen India as an ally of the Eastern Bloc. Read the rest of this entry »

Those who watched the celebration of our servicemen on May 19th told me the President seemed upset when he had to condole with the families of those who had died. Catching glimpses of the march past, I could understand that. But in addition to sorry for them, and indeed for the Tamils too who had died in the last days of the war, and earlier, I was angry too.

The LTTE had to be defeated, and those who laid down their lives for this did not die unnecessarily. So too those who died because of the brutality of the LTTE, the hostage taking, the assassinations, the horrendous tactics such as electrifying water, were victims of a megalomanic mentality, and there is no point in recriminations about Prabhakaran’s brutality, just as there is no point in recriminations about the destructive power of a tsunami. One simply sorrows, for those who died, and for those who suffered, with perhaps some regret that no one had stopped him earlier.

Wikileaks – 09GENEVA584 2009-07-15 09:23 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Mission Geneva

But there must be anger about those who contributed to protracted delay, and on May 19th I was thinking of those wicked people who supported the LTTE in the last days, in particular those who contributed equipment to enable them to build up huge defences. These led to the taking of Kilinochchi taking much longer than it should have, with many of our youngsters dying in trying to get over the tall barricades. Worse, it gave the LTTE time to plan and ruthlessly execute the hostage taking that they had determined on, in Prabhakaran’s ‘Gotterdammerung’ vision.

The most horrible contribution to my mind was that of the organization called Norwegian People’s Aid, which allowed over 40 of their vehicles to be used. They did not inform us about them, and only acknowledged what had happened when the Defence Ministry asked. Even then they only admitted to a few, and it was only later that they acknowledged the full force of the aid they had given.

Abandoned earth moving equipment – LTTE bund construction.

They lied to the European Union by pretending that this had happened because we had not permitted any Europeans to remain in Kilinochchi. At a meeting of the Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance they had to admit that this was not the case, and they excused themselves on the grounds that it was only a junior person who had stayed, as though such a person could not count the number of vehicles that the LTTE had taken away.

In Colombo, when what had happened was revealed, there was anger against the Norwegians. This was misplaced. There were no Norwegians in senior positions with NPA, rather it was managed by a conglomerate called Solidar, which was headed by British personnel. The leadership of this was pretty suspect, one Britisher called Peter Sunderland I think, another with several passports called Felipe Atkins, and the spider at the centre of the web a man called Guy Rhodes. There was also Mathew Todd, who was in charge of a German aid agency, who I used to think an innocent computer buff, married as he was to a great friend of mine, until he fled Sri Lanka quite suddenly when it seemed further information was emerging about the activities of the agencies that made up Solidar.

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At the Frontline Club discussion on Sri Lanka, I finally came across Frances Harrison. The name had been familiar, for in recent years, whenever I went to England, she used to tweet madly about me, in what seemed to me desperate hysteria, though I soon enough found out that many journalists tweet in that mad fashion. This time round, her fascination with me continued, in that she saw the discussion as ‘Ch 4 vs prof rajiva debate’ as she tweeted an hour before the discussion.

It is possible however that the lady is cunning rather than obsessional, because this was also a way of cutting out the contribution of Arun Tambimuttu to the discussion. Initially it had indeed been meant to be me and the High Commissioner debating Jon Snow and Callum McRae, but Snow dropped out. I thought it was because he was nervous since previously, when the High Commission had asked Channel 4 to invite me for a discussion, they had dodged, except once when we managed to corner them with the help of the BBC Today programme. However it is possible that, as one of his loyal fellow employees said before the discussion, in explaining his absence, he simply says ‘Yes’ to everything, and then changes his mind.

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Roma Tearne

Amongst the most interesting offshoots of the discussion on Channel 4 and Sri Lanka held at the Frontline Club in London was a wonderfully creative piece by the novelist Roma Tearne. Her photograph is that of a very smart young lady, long face set off by bullet shaped ear-rings and long dark hair, with a tasteful fringe on the forehead.

I dwelt the more on this fine picture because aesthetics is clearly important to her, and I suppose if you look like that, it should be. She had described me as having a ‘fine pudding basin style hair cut’ which was flattering since I simply have cheap hair cuts whenever my hair becomes too unruly. The last one cost just over one pound, which must be much less than Roma pays for her superb styling.

The result of my carelessness however gave Roma great pleasure, for she brought it into her article six times. After her first description of my hair, she referred to me twice simply as Pudding Basin, which is the sort of humour which has schoolgirls rocking in the aisles. I could just imagine the joy with which she anticipated guffaws as she then referred to me as PB. Finally, doubtless worrying that the joke was wearing thin, she rallied her troops by twice calling me Pudding Head.

I presume this type of prose is what goes down well now in England, since the lady’s first novel, the incisively titled ‘Mosquito’, was shortlisted for the 2007 Costa Book Awards First Novel Prize. She is now a fellow at Oxford Brookes University, which suggests intellectual distinction of an admirable sort.

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The more extreme elements in the Ministry of External Affairs have at last put their cards on the table in the form of an article by the wife of one of its rising stars. The same young lady kindly gave me an opportunity to engage in a strong critique of the viewpoints she represented, when she gratuitously attacked me some weeks back.

What is astonishing is that this article is based on the premise that countries like Cuba and Venezuela are anathema at present to Sri Lanka. I suspect it will be news to President Rajapaksa that Cuba is a  failed state and that a positive view of Chavez ‘fundamentally undermines everything Sri Lanka has stood for since it inherited a liberal democracy post 1948’.

Certainly those countries have weaknesses which is why they should not be absolute models for us. But the same applies to the countries to which we are supposed to subscribe without question, if the article is accurate in suggesting that Sri Lankan policy will now focus on its ‘relationships with its traditional liberal democratic allies’, ie the West. It is claimed that this new departure is the reason that Tamara Kunanayakam and Dayan Jayatilleka are being sidelined, while ‘a career diplomat with proven ability to engage the West’ is now being sent to Geneva.

Oddly enough, the article completely ignores the fact that the attack on us as developed by the United States focused on what were seen as inadequacies precisely with regard to what Tamara and Dayan also noted. Their commitment to a pluralistic society with greater attention to Human Rights has never been questioned. It should also be noted that they have both consistently stressed the need for both Reconciliation and truth telling. It was not they who attacked me when, three years ago, I noted that there had been civilian casualties, a position about which supposedly more ‘liberal democratic’ colleagues were in a state of denial.

What this latest policy statement of the Ministry of External Affairs suggests is that its denizens have no understanding at all of foreign policy. The West basically has three reasons for its continuing assaults on us over the last few years.

The first and the one publicly proclaimed was the argument that Sri Lanka was violating Human Rights consistently, and this had to be prevented.

The second was the pressure applied by the diaspora, which exercises a disproportionate amount of influence on some governments.

Finally there was the desire to bring Sri Lanka into its sphere of influence, and in particular prevent China from gaining a strong foothold here.

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The following remarks had been prepared in the belief that speakers would have about 10 minutes each. However, speakers were only given a few minutes for a few introductory remarks, the rest of the 45 minutes for the opening section being devoted to answering questions from the Moderator. 

Unfortunately I had no chance to make my introductory remarks since I was asked to respond to what Callum McRae said. I thought this required some analysis, in the time he had taken, but it seemed I was expected to respond only briefly, and then make my introductory remarks. This was made clear only after I had responded, but I suppose Stephen Sackur was doing his best to have debate from the start and could not then give me another chance to put forward some points for response myself. 

So here they are now -

I am grateful to the Frontline Club for this opportunity to engage with at least half the Channel 4 team responsible for such effective attacks on Sri Lanka. I am sorry that Jon Snow dropped out after he heard that I would be attending this event, but I am used to that by now, given the manner in which Channel 4 has consistently refused to engage with me, except when the BBC kindly allowed me to highlight their pusillanimity on the Breakfast Show. The interview that followed I think made clear the sleight of hand in which Channel 4 had indulged, which explains why repeated requests for further live discussion have been turned down.

… the motivations of Channel 4, given the Mutual Friendships that in a more just world would have been identified as conflicts of interests.

What should have been a lively discussion then on media manipulation and media ethics, or the absence of them, has now been transformed. We have only the commercial side of Channel 4, the Golden Dustman adept at turning rubbish into lucre. Interestingly enough, Dickens provides yet another clue to the motivations of Channel 4, given the Mutual Friendships that in a more just world would have been identified as conflicts of interests.

Siobhain Mcdonagh’s Researcher

I am not talking only of the political motivations of Shirani Sabaratnam and Stuart Cosgrove, who actually voted in a preposterous LTTE rump election in this country. I am talking also of the researcher for Siobhain McDonagh who claimed to have supplied Channel 4 with video evidence, who changed his mind about sending me this evidence, doubtless because it would have been obvious that it was tainted. Instead he sent me another video that is so clearly manipulated that he was roundly scolded for engaging with me by his mentors. Much of the information about this is available on http://www.youtube.com/reconcilesrilanka and on my blog www.rajivawijesinha.wordpress.com at the time of the meetings covered in those videos[Part 1, Part 2, Part 3].

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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.

The Consultation with responsible government officials we convened last week, to expedite implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan, would I thought be easy, since the subjects to be discussed were not at all contentious. In one sense this turned out true, because there was no disagreement at all about what needed to be done. However we also realized the enormous slowness with which government departments have been acting and I don’t suppose it will be easy to ensure swift responses.

The first area we looked at was that of Labour Rights, where our record is relatively good. One area we must do better is ensuring protection of children from hazardous occupations, for which obviously there needs to be better coordination between the Police, the Labour Ministry and the Child Development Ministry and its relevant agencies. Similarly, we must ensure conformity with regard to legislation concerning compulsory schooling, employment, and the right to join trade unions. At present there are some discrepancies, which could lead to children who are employed, albeit legally, being exploited.

All that is needed for the above is commitment and action by the responsible agencies. More complicated will be the issue of delays in settlement of Industrial Disputes. Despite alternatives being available, we have wasted much time and effort in confrontational approaches (unsurprisingly, given that that is the culture in the country generally) whereas better recourse should be had to mediation and arbitration. Ensuring a level playing field between employers and trade unions is also essential, and the Plan recognizes that sometimes unfair practices are associated more with trade unions than employers.

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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.

A couple of days after government had held a consultation about implementation of the Human Rights Action Plan with regard to Women and Children, the Sri Lanka Girl Guides Association convened a General Assembly on the topic of Violence against Women and Children. It seems that the World Association had thought this a matter of urgency to have ‘a wide spread campaign of stopping violence against women around the world’, and the Sri Lankan Association had taken the matter up through a very effective mechanism, namely asking each Province to examine a particular topic and make recommendations.

I had to be away for a couple of hours, so I missed some presentations, but I was privileged to hear the Northern, Southern, Central and Wayamba Provinces talk about Child Abuse, Child Labour and Rape. I was told too that Uva had made an excellent presentation, so I talked to the young ladies concerned over lunch and indeed found them aware of the scope of the problem, and full of ideas about how to resolve it.

All groups spoke of the need for greater awareness, and noted that not enough of this was given in school. This had come up in the government discussions too, as well as in the Civil Society consultations held at the Reconciliation Office, and also at a special session I had convened about children through the Task Force. Sadly – and I must take some responsibility for this, since the change was made when I chaired the Academic Affairs Board of the National Institute of Education – what is termed Life Skills is no longer compulsory at the crucial stage, namely Grades 10 and 11.

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Speech of Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP in Parliament 

Mr Speaker, it is an honour to speak in this debate on the report of the Committee on Public Enterprises, given how much it has accomplished. Thanks to the indefatigable efforts of its Chairman, the simple but brilliant idea of dividing into sub-committees given the amount of work, and the dedicated commitment of the three chairs of sub-committees, COPE last year was able to cover more ground than any previous Committee. I was reminded, given my idealistic view of Parliaments before 1977 when a sense of public responsibility was paramount, of the incisive work of Bernard Soysa, the then Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, which covered also public enterprises such as have now been hived off to COPE. Bernard Soysa was a Trotskyists, which taken in conjunction with the performance of the current COPE Chair, suggests that the old Marxist parties were strong proponents of Parliamentary responsibility as well as financial probity, however unfortunate their vision of an all-encompassing State was.

That vision, Mr Speaker, continued by President Jayewardene in spite of his claims to have liberalized the economy, lies at the heart of the problems we still face. The combination of a statist vision with the authoritarian practices entrenched by colonialism has led to a situation where the State still provides services in a bureaucratic fashion which others can do better. As a result, what  should be its primary role, of regulation as well as intervention on behalf of those who are disadvantaged and find advancement difficult in a market economy, suffers. Rent seeking replaces concentration on the essential services required to ensure a level playing field. The provision of employment without matching it with productivity destroys the more important goal of ensuring that employment opportunities are generated more widely.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

May 2012
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