A Brief Colonial History Of Ceylon(SriLanka)

Sexual assaults on foreign women on the rise as tourist numbers increase

posted Mar 30, 2014, 7:16 PM by Thavam Ratna

Sexual assaults on foreign women on the rise as tourist numbers increase

The Sundaytimes Sri LankaBy Nadia Fazlulhaq-Sunday, March 30, 2014
Police say a majority of suspects under arrest while 24-hour police tourist units in operation

Recent cases of harassment and rape of foreign women have raised concerns regarding the safety of tourists arriving in the country.
Last week, a former Chairman of the Weligama Pradeshiya Sabha was arrested, produced in Court and remanded for sexually harassing a 22-year-old Swedish woman at a resort in Weligama.
In search of the sun, sea and sand: Is enough being done to protect foreign tourists?
Earlier this month two police constables were arrested at the popular tourist destination Ella, in Badulla district for sexually harassing a 27-year-old German who was holidaying with her boyfriend. The victim was dragged into a three wheeler where she was allegedly harassed. On a complaint, Ella police arrested the two 29 year-old police constables, also residents of Ella.
In another case an Australian University student who was on an educational tour in Ambalangoda was allegedly raped by a tour guide.
According to Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), of the total number of tourists arriving in the country, 44.6 percent are females while a majority of the tourists are from Western Europe. Last year, the country recorded 421,037 tourist arrivals from Western Europe with a majority from Britain (137,416), followed by Germany (85,470) and France (64,388). In 2012 the number of arrivals was 373,063.
Commenting on the recent rise in the cases of harassment, Colombo University’s senior lecturer in Sociology, Dr. Harini Amerasooriya said, although the number of foreign tourists arriving in the country had increased authorities have failed to put into place a mechanism that ensured the safety of female tourists.
“This is an indication of the general lack of law and order in the country. Authorities should ensure the safety of tourists to protect the tourism industry. Unfortunately, at present there is a ‘get-away’ attitude therefore there will be more incidents of this nature in the future. Laws should be strengthened and punishment for crimes against tourists should be severe and the process is expedited,” she said.
Dr. Amerasooriya charged that many suspects had political links and failure by relevant parties to crackdown on local government members have resulted in criminals in certain areas continuing their abusive practices. She said Sri Lanka was once known to be safe for even foreign women to travel alone, but the situation was not so today.
When the Sunday Times contacted the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority they were unwilling to comment. Although an email was sent as requested by them to the Director General Dr. D.S.Jayaweera there was no reply. Following several calls, the Sunday Times was told to contact the Tourist Police.
However, Tourist Police Director Senior Superintendent Cecil de Silva said he could not comment on measures taken to ensure the safety of female foreigners adding that only the police spokesman was allowed to do so.
When Police spokesman Ajith Rohana was contacted he said 99 percent of the suspects involved in rape and sexual harassment cases had been arrested. He said hotel managers have been requested to create awareness and be vigilant of any sexual harassment incidents occurring in their hotels.
According to him 1,000 tourist police officers have been deployed in the 24-hour operation units in Colombo and other tourist areas of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Dambulla, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Kalutara (Moragalla), Galle (Narigama), Ampara (Arugambay) and Negombo 
Posted by

posted Oct 11, 2011, 11:06 AM by Thavam Ratna   [ updated Feb 24, 2012, 4:37 PM ]

posted Oct 8, 2011, 11:18 AM by Thavam Ratna   [ updated Feb 24, 2012, 4:45 PM ]

War Crimes Investigations in Sri Lanka: An Unpopular View

posted Aug 28, 2011, 7:04 PM by Thavam Ratna   [ updated Feb 24, 2012, 4:58 PM ]

Sunday, August 28, 2011

War Crimes Investigations in Sri Lanka: An Unpopular View

http://a0.twimg.com/profile_images/877084884/Groundviews_bigger.jpg *groundviewsjournalism Forcitizens

“In trying to do good, we have been living beyond our moral resources and have fallen into hypocrisy and self-righteousness” — William V. Cannon, commenting on the Vietnam War, New York Times, February 6, 1966
“Conquer the angry man by love, Conquer the ill-natured man by goodness. Conquer the miser with generosity. Conquer the liar with truth.” — The Dhammapada p. 223

Despite the best efforts of the Sri Lankan government, the claim that Sri Lanka is a “Killing Field” is fast becoming a social and political rallying point for diverse interest groups. Allegations of government war crimes outlined in the Darusman Report, the now infamous Channel 4 video, and the case filed by Tamils against Genocide (TAG) with the Department of Justice in the United States, as well as electronic reports published across the world have by now overshadowed the victory over the LTTE. The government’s uncompromising resistance to investigate war crime allegations by any external body could turn out to be counterproductive to national interests. It may invite unwelcome foreign interference, threaten peace, reconciliation, and development efforts, and enmesh the country in colossal waste of financial and human resources. Refusal to hold inquiries may even threaten the stability of the ruling regime.

Allegations of misconduct are not proof of the same. There have been other moments in which the international community was receptive to highly sensationalized claims about war crimes made by the international media and the United Nations. We know those bodies are inconsistent in their treatment of human rights and tend to reproduce the views of powerful, rather than weaker states.  At times, accusations of human rights violations have been exploited by powerful states to control and harm weaker ones, and the intent of some allegations is to promote the selfish economic, political and cultural interests of the accuser, rather than to protect universal human rights.   But the struggle for human rights must not be viewed only as derivative of state and its national interests. The state alone cannot be the sole guardian of human rights and, in cases where violations take place; the state must be held accountable.  A strong state acknowledges malfeasance and punishes wrong-doers, thus promoting the sense in citizens and the international community alike, that it abides by the rule of law and pursues justice.

Many of the current justifications for refusing an investigation are based on unrealistic, exaggerated, and mystified fears. If we handle the allegations intelligently, Sri Lanka will find itself with an historic opportunity to make a tremendous contribution to the protection of human rights globally.  If we cooperate in impartial investigations into war crime allegations, we will not face investigation alone – all global human rights actors will stand trial.   To make the best of the situation, we must be self-critical: Nearly three years after the end of the war, how and why has Sri Lanka reached an impasse in investigating war crimes? What can comparative history teach us about war crimes committed by the State and militant groups? Why do people so far removed and ‘ignorant’ of the context of the Sri Lankan civil war believe we committed war crimes and demand an investigation? Is protection of national interests the only reason the current regime opposes an investigation? What are the social, economic, and political costs of avoiding an impartial investigation? And, most importantly, can a credible investigation guided by a sincere desire to safeguard human dignity yield win-win results for all stake-holders? Can it isolate those who would exploit human rights arguments for selfish gain?  Maintaining a sense of humility while we deliberate these complex questions will help us avoid turning Sri Lanka into a battle ground on which various interest groups seek to exploit human rights in harmful ways.

It is now clear that the euphoria that sprang from Sri Lanka’s victory over LTTE terrorism cannot be sustained in a manner that will overshadow war crimes allegations. The government’s confidence in the power of their victory has led to its failure to make unified, consistent and nuanced diplomatic responses to the charges. Too many politicians, diplomats, and military officials have relied on simplistic explanations and high-flown rhetoric, and these have not been well-received by their audience.  No single institution (not the Ministry of Defense, nor the Foreign Ministry) speaks with an authoritative voice. Government rebuttals and explanations vary and change over time, straining the credibility even those who initially found the allegations suspicious, and leading them to favor an investigation.

The Darusman report was leaked to the newspapers. Neither the UN nor so called allies of Sri Lanka were able to stop dissemination of the report.  After it was released, the Sri Lankan government immediately rejected it as biased and fundamentally flawed. A few days later some politicians said that the government had not received the report. One minister warned that there would be protests, while another claimed, “It is not the Government’s intention to create any ‘mass protests’ and agitation relating to the ‘Darusman Report’ as alleged by some. We are not instigating hysteria nor violence or embarrassment to the UN community and to foreign Missions.”

At the same time some of the protests protest rallies held in Colombo were organized by government ministers, although it is unlikely that they or the majority of the public (including the protestors) had access to the war crime reports or the time to reflect on them.  The protests were sporadic and protesters lacked focus.  Some asked for the removal of Ban Ki Moon, some were strongly anti-UN, and others were trying to separate the UN and Moon from the Darusman report.  All groups distorted the report by ignoring the fact that it accused both the government and the LTTE of war crimes. Protestors raised fears of punitive action against Sri Lanka when the report called only for investigations.  The leader of the opposition simply tried to score points from the situation by saying that it was him who refused to ratify the ICC, while a number of prominent religious leaders were too quick to condemn the report.  They failed in their duty to help the government to find a constructive response.

The UN report notes that there is substantial evidence of war crimes.  But the only action demanded in the report is that our government conducts an impartial investigation.  The anti-investigation lobby gives credibility to the allegations when they claim that those who issued the report are actually punishing Sri Lanka. Punishment cannot be meted out unless guilt is proven. The anti-investigation faction claims that the UN is trying to execute its leaders and impose economic sanctions, and accuses the authors of the report of being jealous of Sri Lanka’s victory against terrorism.  A cynic might say that politicians such as G.L. Peiris actually provide justification for an impartial investigation when he says ‘that justice, fair play and morality should be embedded in international law and it should not be the subject of political interference.  The international community is unreasonable because it expects Sri Lanka to react quickly when Cambodia, for example, took decades to adhere to international standards.’  Ironically, while the government is persistent in its refusal of an international investigation, on the 24th July, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, presided over by Sri Lanka’s Former Chief Justice, Asoka de Silva, convicted former military chaplain Emmanuel Rukundo and sentenced him to 25 years in jail!

Government claims about selectivity and bias, fakery, and technical manipulation were hastily made and lacked professionalism or any pretense to the kind of strategic diplomacy that is required when dealing with powerful institutions. It is useful, in this case, to look at an example that was more judiciously handled: President Bush called the allegations of abuse of Iraqi soldiers in Abu Ghraib “abhorrent” and promised to punish those responsible for them, even after Specialist Joseph Darby, a member of the U.S. Army’s Military Police Corps, delivered a CD full of documentary photographs to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division. U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Antony Taguba’s report of investigations into abuses at Abu Ghraib, internally released March 12, concluded that U.S. soldiers committed “egregious acts and grave breaches of international law.” These acts were “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” and included “keeping detainees naked, pouring cold water on naked detainees, using military dogs without muzzles to intimidate and frighten, and threatening detainees with loaded guns.” Later President Bush issued a public apology to Iraqis and a few soldiers were punished. But the US response was one of strategic diplomacy — it negotiated between its geopolitical interests and the demand for human rights.   This was possible because the US government did not prevent the flow of information to its public and used the media to create a broad-based consensus within the United States, that it should penalize those responsible for the abuses at the same time that it must maintain the good character of its security forces and the promote patriotism. Many argued that the punishment was not proportional to the crimes committed, and that because of its power the US avoided facing public scrutiny of its abuses by the international human rights industry. This may well be true, but it does not detract from the argument that the U.S. handled allegations of war crimes in a sophisticated fashion, as should Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan government’s response to allegations of war crimes was “zero civilian casualties,” a position that is simply not credible.  On 15th June, Government MP Rajiv Wijesinghe noted, “There were several levels of civilians who were killed.  Some of them were put deliberately in the way of the forces by the LTTE.”  Wijsinghe’s response elaborates only on one level and does not comment on the “other levels,” though presumably civilians were also killed in some other fashion.  A recent report issued by the Ministry of Defense makes a clearer admission of civilian casualties. Civilian deaths are inevitable, particularly in a war between conventional and non-conventional armies, particularly when the war is over-determined by the technology. When US and NATO forces bombed civilian targets prohibited by international law, they admitted the truth, made an apology, and conveniently avoided the scrutiny of the human rights lobby and peace movement.  But back-tracking from our government’s absurd initial claim of zero casualties forces even those critical of the UN and Western media to doubt the government’s story.

Reports of events are always shaped by deliberate choice of language, are grounded in history, ideology and power relations, and are shaped by social and technological determinants.  The description of an investigation as “impartial” represents a variety of different perspectives while it examines a body of evidence.  “Truth” is found by making space for shared norms and values across different cultures about rights, rather than allowing power holders in a given culture to cover up abuse and escape from external scrutiny.  The emerging global solidarity in the demand for an investigation is a rejection of the tyranny of cultural relativism. The latter politicizes human rights in the name of culturally specific national interests, and refuses to discuss the existence of universal human rights.

The international state system reflects a skewed distribution of economic and political power. Strategic diplomacy requires contentious negotiations between human rights and the particular interest of the states. The tendency is to subordinate the former to the latter, but human rights pose a fundamental challenge to states because human beings universally desire justice and equal rights.  Human rights-friendly strategic diplomacy requires a cadre of foreign policy actors with experience and skills different from those whose loyalties are primarily to the military, business, academy and kinship.  If states are to be held accountable to ‘international institutions’ we must embrace strategic diplomacy and prevent the process from being hijacked by jingoistic nationalists and sub-nationalists groups.

War crimes allegations do not implicate the entire security establishment, but only the individuals who are responsible for them.  The majority of soldiers in most armies are disciplined individuals take great care to avoid civilian casualties and abide by the rules of law.  Some have risked and sacrificed their lives to save civilians, and our justifiable pride in the qualities of our security forces will not diminish even if allegations of war crimes are proven against a few individuals.  The conviction of the commander of the Armed Forces by a military tribunal was not considered an insult to the image of the military.  On the other hand, highly politicized refusal of an impartial investigation does tarnish the military and potentially obstructs its own institutional development.

Militaries are an arm of the state and obey the state’s orders — without unvarying obedience a military is worthless.  The actions of the military need to be understood in relation to the social and political underpinnings of the state, and often allegations against the military are actually allegations against the state.  Modern nation states are the guardians of capitalist interests and do not exist purely to protect the common interest of the population.  Nor are they autonomous from the forces shaping asymmetries of power and wealth.  In the era of globalization, neoliberal institutions rely heavily on the state to discipline and punish those acting contrary to their interests. Sometimes the decisions of the state may force the military to violate the rules of war.  Under these circumstances, state power may not protect national interests, but instead frame particularistic interests as national interests. In such circumstances the national security apparatus is a screen to hide the real agenda.  It is especially difficult to separate these interests while conducting a war because the boundaries between civilian and military institutions are blurred, and the military apparatus itself is often closely allied with private industry (as was evident, for example, in Dick Cheney’s connection to Halliburton).  Under these circumstances military flexibility is limited, and the ‘deadlines’ for military targets are determined by economic and political interests.  In its coverage, the media often fails to make this distinction because media it is also “embedded” in a highly politicized global military industrial complex.

Neither are military personnel entirely free from culturally specific social forces including education, social upbringing, historical consciousness, racism, and exclusive nationalism. When hybrid and cosmopolitan national histories and consciousness are racialised in multiethnic societies, the “war against terror” ceases to be simply about terrorism, and becomes a clash between cultures and an extension of a dominant culture over weaker cultures.  At the same time, history is full of examples of military personal refusing to bow to jingoistic, racialized, and gendered national conscious and acting as whistle-blowers against their own institutions colleagues. When well-meaning military officers resist their own racialized cultural conditioning and chose to strictly obey the rules of war, they run the risk of being branded traitors and are subjected to judgment by highly politicized military tribunals.   Recent uprisings in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries have shown that the conformity of the military with the ideologies of the state (its exploitation of religion, xenophobia, national security, development, and nationalism) cannot be taken for granted, as the military might align themselves with, or turn a blind eye to, anti-state forces or even directly support them.  War crimes investigations can actually protect soldiers, and help place the blame for violations where it belongs.  In the 1980’s Professor, Newton Gunasinghe pointed out the importance of understanding the sociology of security forces in relation to the hegemonic national culture.

Civilian-military relations in the theater of war are complex, and it is impossible to judge such relations entirely in terms of civilian laws.    But we must be cautious when militaries and militant groups justify carpet and suicide bombing, torture (water boarding, stress positions, abdomen slaps, the “attention grab,” the “attention slap,” the cold cell) and recruiting child soldiers in the name of military strategy.  During the hearings conducted by the Citizens Commission of Inquiry on United States War Crimes (Washington DC, December 1-3, 1970) Colonel Oran Henderson, the highest ranking officer to face court-martial for the My Lai Massacre, and others presented US military strategy as a tactical necessity and claimed that actions that could be potential considered war crimes were merely “tragedies” — unintended consequences of military action.  In sanitized language, bombing villagers was renamed “prepping the area.”  The American Lieutenant-Colonel who directed the operations admitted, “We sort of shoot it up to see if anything moves.”  New York Times correspondent R.W. Apple said, “Anything that moves and has a yellow skin is an enemy, unless there is incontrovertible evidence to the contrary,” and that this was based on the general policy of “no villages, no guerrillas.” Prolonged stay in the theater of war causes psychological damage to soldiers and their fatigue, frustrations, and fears can easily draw them to actions that lead to war crimes, just as sometimes civilians go on shooting rampages.

Is it sufficient to dismiss these actions by calling them tragic and an aberration? Do the ends justify the means? Is there no atrocity that is off limits if it serves our ends?  In conflicts in multi-ethnic societies, both ends and means are decided in a complex historical process out of which the conflict was born.  Means used in the war, by militaries and terrorists alike, can also be tactics to create the geo-spatial context for a solution deemed desirable even before the conflict began.  Arguments that ends justify the means do not invalidate human rights discussions.  Assessing the cost of war is still important. Transparency and accountability allows reconciliation after legitimate military ends are achieved by building trust between groups.

The institutional memories of violence in Sri Lanka shape diverse responses to war crime allegations.   Sinhalese memories of LTTE massacres of villagers, young Buddhist monks, and unarmed holiday-bound policemen influenced their support for the war and reaction against the war crime allegations. The memories of Tamil reaction to war crimes allegations must be understood in the context of violence against Tamils and the fact many were driven into Diaspora. They remember the state failed to prevent violence or to hold those responsible to account, and that these events predate the fascist behavior of the LTTE.  Tamils could not possibly forget the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the LTTE.

We Sri Lankans will not have any difficulty coming to terms with whatever is revealed by an impartial investigation because we already know about the murder of thousands of innocent Sinhala youth by the state and the JVP, and the violence against political dissidents and critics by our successive governments, particularly since 1977. But both communities seem to suffer from selective amnesia, invoke some past memories and burying others.  Memories are reconfigured to serve many different interests, and stories pass from one generation to another.  Their potency as a destructive force can be minimized by meaningful reconciliation, empowering people to come to terms with the truth rather than suppressing it.

Lessons cannot be learned, and parties at odds cannot be reconciled unless there is a genuine attempt to know and acknowledge the truth. Burying the past only widens the space for doubt.  Propaganda turns doubts into fears by distorting the truth. A lack of humility and inability to accept the truth can turn selective memory into a vindictive and unforgiving force.  If the world had buried all the horrors of its wars, slavery, racism, sexism, and other oppressions, we would never have made progress in protecting human rights and we would all be closer to extinction.  Genuine commitment to truth democratizes history. When history is no longer a monopoly of the powerful, the past can become an important source in building ethnic harmony.

Reconciliation is also a social-psychological process.   It is about personal and interpersonal healing that involves empowering the people to come to terms with the years of hurts, fears and anxieties, all of which are predicted on commitment to explore the truth.  The top-down suppression of truth is an insult to capacity of the humans to turn their negative memories into a force of peace and justice.

It would rather naïve to suggest that reconciliation automatically trickles down from development, or that an investigation into truth undermines development.  The neoliberal development model is incapable of creating conditions for reconciliation because it is predicated on inequalities on gender, race, and class lines. In fact, neoliberalism has been a major source of conflict around the world as it conquers and plunders resources, and disrupts peoples’ physical environment, along with their symbiotic relationships with identity.   Ethnic reconciliation is essential if we are to oppose such economic forces and build solidarity among all citizens.  Earned trust between communities makes possible just and equitable development.

Those who oppose the war crime investigation make claims about the hypocrisy and double standards of Western countries, the human rights industry, and the United Nations. Many of these complaints are legitimate: some Western developed countries have patronized the world’s most brutal regimes and, as in the case of Chile and Pinochet, the United States maintained deep silence during war crime trials.  The U.S. and other Western nations are notorious for supporting brutal regimes around the world, condemning them only when they are no longer useful or relevant to their geopolitical interests.   The world’s most notorious dictators have been supported by advanced industrialized nations.  Almost all the members of the UN Security Council are large exporters of weapons, and manufacture and trade in arms constitutes a good part of their GNP.  Yet we must also recognize the domestic opposition to human rights abuses by these countries and the existence of space for deliberation of justice, perhaps far more than the emerging supper-powers.

The state has a reasonable desire to prevent the Diaspora from exploiting war crime investigations.  But it is unfair to depict all calls for investigation as conspiracies by the LTTE and the Tamil Diaspora.  There is enormous diversity within the Diaspora.  Tamils who despise the fascism of the LTTE would inevitably join the pro-investigation lobby — they do not see calls for an investigation as indicating support for the LTTE.  For them, the history of the ethnic conflict predates the LTTE, although later that history was revised by the LTTE in ways detrimental to the interests of the Tamils. Nor do Diaspora Tamils have reasons to believe that rejecting an investigation would bring a political solution to the conflict: they haven’t seen evidence of that for last 50 years. In their eyes, the country has gone backward from the federal solution to a simple call for a parliamentary select committee.  While the LTTE lobby is unlikely to push the international community to investigate its own conduct, the government’s compliance with an investigation will help isolate Tamils who are sympathetic towards a settlement within a unified Sri Lanka from the pro-LTTE lobby.  The LTTE lobby may also not be too concerned about the international community investigating the LTTE for war crimes, because none of those who could be held directly responsible for war crimes are alive, except for Karuna and Pilliyan!

Pointing fingers at the faults of the “other” as a way of evading an investigation is ineffective.   Once serious accusations of war crimes are made public, especially when issued by legitimate bodies like the UN, the state is under increasing public pressure to respond.  Globally, there is a growing community of people who believe that human rights violations should be investigated and that perpetrators should be punished without regard to the geopolitical, cultural, and economic interests of states.   They believe human dignity does not derive from the state and that the international state system is responsible for safeguarding human rights.  Electronic media makes it difficult to interrupt the flow of information among pro-human rights groups or to prevent the formation of global solidarities.  Events in the Middle East have shown the limits of state use of religion, nationalism, and xenophobia as excuses to prevent global solidarities from becoming counter-hegemonic forces against the state. One flaw of the state-centric analysis of human rights (akin to the fundamentally flawed Realist perspective in international relations) is that it does not pay much attention to the norms and values of transitional communities that share common values and are unwilling to subordinate them to the interests of their respective states.  Just like “whistle blowing” military officers, citizens are not always willing to support the state at the expense of universal norms of equality and justice.

While one cannot entirely dismiss the fear of external conspiracies, conspiracy theories are often counter-productive to the state’s national interests.  If one is to understand foreign policy maneuvering regarding war crimes allegations, one needs to begin by investigating domestic social, economic and political structures.  If we focus only on external threats we will arrive at only a partial understanding, and fail to see the motivation behind domestic responses to international pleasures. Chomsky asks, “Who sets the foreign policy? Whose interest do they present? What are the domestic sources of power?” There exist “propagandists who labor to disguise the obvious, to conceal the actual workings of power, and to spring a web of mythical goals and purposes, utterly benign, and that allegedly guide national policy.”  The propagandist model represents the nation as a universal category that responds to threats to security, order and stability, “by awesome and evil outside forces.”  Atrocities are explained away as unfortunate or tragic deviations from national purpose, the resolution of which does not require external interference.   The resulting culture of fear and its refusal to allow external interferences is really all about centralization and domestication of state power.  Generally, it does not help to mitigate the negative implications of external interferences.

The superficial distinction between Western enemies and non-Western friends makes the anti-investigations lobby optimistic that it can avoid an investigation.  They ignore the fact that the Western and non-Western dichotonomy is used as a screen by the capitalist system to ‘indigenize capitalist development’ and make the management of its contradictions exclusively a responsibility of individual states. This allows capitalist institutions to escape from any responsibility for the crises it generates.  The dichotomy also obscures the close relations and interdepencies between the ruling bloc and Western counties, and so-called Western enemies and non-Western friends, providing an indigenous mask for the ruling block.  We must keep in our minds the remarkable positive correlation between the rise of anti-Western rhetoric and the colonization of Sri Lanka by transnational capital.

The anti-investigation lobby applies the labels of neo-colonialism and conspirators only to selected Western countries, rather than to India and China. China’s reputation as a supporter of the world’s most brutal regime makes its policy difficult to separate from those of Western countries.  Indian involvement in the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict has been far more intrusive than any Western country and Indian and Chinese have no less a neo-colonial relationship to Sri Lanka than Western countries, though perhaps the former could be more debilitating to Sri Lankan interests than the latter.

In a world of unequal power relations between states, smaller states find it extremely difficult to avoid pressures to respect human rights. Smaller states will always be at a disadvantage and will be unfairly treated.    The only way smaller states in economic or geopolitical competition with the accuser states can withstand human rights accusations is by aligning themselves with other states with the same interests. But these alignments always are not free of costs: they always mean significant compromises of a country’s economic, political and cultural sovereignty.

China, Russia and India can afford to play geopolitical games in response to accusations of human rights violations because they command economic and political power.   Sri Lanka cannot take the support of these so-called friendly states for granted — these countries will drop Sri Lanka as soon as it suits them. If Sri Lanka becomes a battleground for geopolitical contests between Western and non-Western Countries, the cost will be far greater to us than the benefits.  If friendly non-Western countries feel that the market for their products in the West depends on improving their image among the Western countries, then they will not hesitate to join the call for investigations.  The same situation could arise if there is a growing constituency in these non-Western countries, including opportunistic politicians, who put pressure on their states to support investigations.

Relying on unpredictable friends also deprives Sri Lanka of the freedom to take a stand on human rights abuses by its friends, even in situations where these “friends” violate the rights of the Sri Lankan citizens and deprive them of control over their own resources.  Is it really worth ceding the high ground in order to play international geopolitical games?

If we proceed with a war crimes investigation, this willingness to take human rights seriously will do more to legitimate our complaints about the exploitation of human rights issues by rich and powerful countries than any act of resistance could do.  We have the opportunity to set a good precedent the human rights movement worldwide.  It is best to approach the question of an investigation from the perspective of truth and justice, and to make sure that we ground our actions in our philosophical and religious teachings, rather than in the rhetoric of nationalism and development. Letting the latter frame the discourse of war crimes allegations is simply an insult to the former!

Jack Layton’s open letter to all Canadians

posted Aug 24, 2011, 11:05 AM by Thavam Ratna

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The StarWednesday, August 24, 2011  Published On Mon Aug 22 2011

Dear Friends,
Statement today from Jack Layton's wife and two children: "We deeply regret to inform you that The Honourable Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, passed away at 4:45 am today, Monday August 22. He passed away peacefully at his home surrounded by family and loved ones. Details of Mr. Layton’s funeral arrangements will be forthcoming."Tens of thousands of Canadians have written to me in recent weeks to wish me well. I want to thank each and every one of you for your thoughtful, inspiring and often beautiful notes, cards and gifts. Your spirit and love have lit up my home, my spirit, and my determination. 

Unfortunately my treatment has not worked out as I hoped. So I am giving this letter to my partner Olivia to share with you in the circumstance in which I cannot continue.

I recommend that Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel continue her work as our interim leader until a permanent successor is elected.

I recommend the party hold a leadership vote as early as possible in the new year, on approximately the same timelines as in 2003, so that our new leader has ample time to reconsolidate our team, renew our party and our program, and move forward towards the next election.

A few additional thoughts:

To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don’t be discouraged that my own journey hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope. Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future. My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer.

To the members of my party: We’ve done remarkable things together in the past eight years. It has been a privilege to lead the New Democratic Party and I am most grateful for your confidence, your support, and the endless hours of volunteer commitment you have devoted to our cause. There will be those who will try to persuade you to give up our cause. But that cause is much bigger than any one leader. Answer them by recommitting with energy and determination to our work. Remember our proud history of social justice, universal health care, public pensions and making sure no one is left behind. Let’s continue to move forward. Let’s demonstrate in everything we do in the four years before us that we are ready to serve our beloved Canada as its next government.

To the members of our parliamentary caucus: I have been privileged to work with each and every one of you. Our caucus meetings were always the highlight of my week. It has been my role to ask a great deal from you. And now I am going to do so again. Canadians will be closely watching you in the months to come. Colleagues, I know you will make the tens of thousands of members of our party proud of you by demonstrating the same seamless teamwork and solidarity that has earned us the confidence of millions of Canadians in the recent election.

To my fellow Quebecers: On May 2nd, you made an historic decision. You decided that the way to replace Canada’s Conservative federal government with something better was by working together in partnership with progressive-minded Canadians across the country. You made the right decision then; it is still the right decision today; and it will be the right decision right through to the next election, when we will succeed, together. You have elected a superb team of New Democrats to Parliament. They are going to be doing remarkable things in the years to come to make this country better for us all.

To young Canadians: All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career, and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. Young people have been a great source of inspiration for me. I have met and talked with so many of you about your dreams, your frustrations, and your ideas for change. More and more, you are engaging in politics because you want to change things for the better. Many of you have placed your trust in our party. As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.

And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one — a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

All my very best,

Jack Layton        Full Story>>>

Wither Independence When Judges Host Parties For Politicians?

posted Jul 22, 2011, 2:06 PM by Thavam Ratna

Friday, July 22, 2011

Wither Independence When Judges Host Parties For Politicians?

Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake
and Former Chief Justice Sarath N.
Silva holds up a copy of the Ravaya

  By Uvindu Kurukulasuriya  
        service exacts from itself a higher standard because it recognizes that the state is entitled to demand that its servants shall nohttp://www.thesundayleader.lk/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/161.jpgt only be honest in fact but beyond the reach of suspicion of dishonesty” – Colvin R De Silva- no confidence motion against Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike
Chief Justice Asoka De Silva recently retired and took up a position as advisor to President Rajapaksa
When one achieves something in life, throwing a party is a normal thing. When a judge is promoted to the Supreme Court, he or she, like any layman, would want to celebrate it. But an unusual celebration took place two weeks ago on Friday July 1st, at the Gregory’s Road residence of the newly appointed judge to the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, Sathya Hettige.
Why unusual? The guest list at Hettige’s party raised some eyebrows. President Mahinda Rajapakse, his brother Minister Basil Rajapakse, and the Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne were all present. Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem was also there, but that is less noteworthy. It is normal practice at functions held to celebrate high judicial office that the Justice Minister is invited, and he is usually the only politician invited.

Plied with alcohol
It was Walter Jayawardana Q.C., Secretary to the Ministry of Constitutional Affairs under Dr. Colvin R De Silva in the 1970s who exposed how judges went homes drunk after parties. Explaining how the politicisation of the judiciary started in post-colonial Sri Lanka, Jayawardana  said the downward slide commenced under then Justice Minister Felix Dias Bandaranaike who invited judges to political parties and offered drinks. That was only one method among many that Felix used to politicise the judiciary. The parties are still being thrown. It’s the host that has changed. Now it is not the politician but the judge who unashamedly invites politicians and ply them with alcohol.

Justice Sathya Hettige
Justice Hettige has pioneered this new tradition inviting politicians to parties even as legal circles had been criticizing him for his improper behaviour. He invited President Rajapaksa to his daughter’s wedding, and  the President signed as a witness and stayed more than one hour at the wedding ceremony. When Sarath Fonseka challenged his Courts Martial in the Court of Appeal, this matter came to light, and Fonseka’s counsel Romesh De Silva P.C., objected to Hettige sitting in the case, since the Courts Martial against Sarath Fonseka was appointed by the President. But the objection was overruled and Sarath Fonseka’s writ applications were also rejected.
The International Bar Association’s minimum standards on judicial independence, at clause 44 says, “A judge shall not sit in a case where there is a reasonable suspicion of bias or potential bias.”

Serious criticism
Hettige has also been the subject of serious criticism over accepting ruling party nomination papers despite alleged procedural errors, and rejecting opposition nomination papers for local government elections. Justice Sathya Hettege must explain why he invited President Rajapaksa to his daughter’s wedding to sign on behalf of their family, it being unlikely Rajapaksa imposed himself as a witness. What is his relationship with the President? Is it appropriate that a Supreme Court judge should continue to have personal and social relations with the executive branch, especially of a government whose behaviour is extremely questionable from the viewpoint of democracy and the Rule of Law?
Conflict of Interest
I have raised serious issues affecting the integrity of the Sri Lankan judiciary. We raised the issue of the

Former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva holds up a copy of the Ravaya newspaper
appointment of retired Chief Justice Asoka de Silva as Senior Legal Advisor to the President. We raised the serious conflict of interest issues relating to the present Chief Justice.
Within the Asian region, the sixth Conference of Chief justices of Asia and the Pacific in Beijing in August 1995 adopted the statement of Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary. Sri Lanka was represented by the Supreme Court Judge P.R.P. Perera voluntarily agreed to the Principles on behalf of the then Chief Justice G.P.S. De Silva.
Principle 38 of the Beijing statement says, “ Executive powers which may affect judges in their office, their remuneration or conditions or their resources, must not be used so as to threaten or bring pressure upon a particular judge or judges.” And principle 39 says, “ Inducements or benefits should not be offered to or accepted by judges if they affect, or might affect, the performance of their judicial functions.”

Chief Justice must explain
The Chief Justice must explain how her husband was appointed as the Chairman of Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation, and

Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake
to the Lanka Hospitals Corporation PLC as a member of its Board of Directors along with Defence Secretary and Presidential sibling Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who was Board Chairman. How was he also appointed as Chairman of the National Savings Bank? Has he applied for the job? Was he interviewed? Who were the other applicants? Weren’t there any other qualified applicants other than her husband? She must also explain how these things are consistent with international standards concerning judicial independence. If she cannot, she or her husband must resign. After all, like Caesar’s wife she too must be above suspicion.
There were editors who fought for the independence of the judiciary. Ravaya Editor Victor Ivan, Sunday times editor Sinha Ratnatunga, then Deputy editor now Lakbima News editor Rajpal Abenayaka and late Lasantha Wickramatunge. Sadly, since the Rajapaksa came to power, we can’t see any of these acts of misconduct discussed in the Sri Lankan media. The editors who fought for the independence of the judiciary are sleeping, or converted to the Mahinda Chinthana or they can’t write because of media suppression. What is sadder is that these editors say there is no media suppression in Sri Lanka or simply not fighting against media suppression.

When Sarath Silva was controversially appointed Chief Justice by then President Chandrika Kumaratunge Ivan’s Ravaya newspaper printed a black front page with a picture of the oath taking ceremony published upside down.

Change of heart
How did these journalist and activists who once stood for democracy get into this blind alley? Lasantha Wickrematunge fought to the death. But of  Victor Ivan, who was once on the side of democracy and truth fighting alongside Lasantha? It was Ivan who wrote hundreds of articles about this very same issue and later published a book titled  ’An unfinished Struggle’.

Sarath Silva and Victor
When Sarath Silva was controversially appointed Chief Justice by then President Chandrika Kumaratunge Ivan’s Ravaya newspaper printed a black front page with a picture of the oath taking ceremony published upside down. When Shirani Bandaranayake was appointed as a judge to the Supreme Court, Ravaya attacked her appointment week after week, headline after headline. Since President Rajapaksa came into power in 2005 Victor Ivan has remained silent on the burning issues now facing the judiciary.


Kumar Sangakkara steps forth like Young Ceylon

posted Jul 13, 2011, 11:09 AM by Thavam Ratna   [ updated Jul 24, 2011, 9:35 AM ]

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Kumar Sangakkara steps forth like Young Ceylon

 groundviews journalism For citizens

Kumar Sangakkara’s Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture for the MCC this summer was the antithesis of that presented within the same portals in 2006 by Martin Crowe.[i] Where Crowe returned to the medieval archaic within the field of cricket and displayed the sentiments of a caveman, Sangakkara was forward-looking and stepped boldly beyond the confines of cricket to the socio-political dispensation in Sri Lanka.

In doing so Sangakkara broke the code of conduct enjoined on him by his contract with Sri Lanka Cricket. He was therefore intrepid. This was boldness in a good cause, the greater cause of the cricketing order in Sri Lanka (and beyond) on the one hand and, on the other, the vital cause of reconciliation across the fractured political formation in Sri Lanka.

There are missing dimensions and some sweeping comments in his survey of Sri Lanka’s cricketing history in the last twenty years that call for caveats, issues that I will address separately elsewhere. The focus here is directed towards his erudite and passionate venture into the field of Sri Lankan politics and his insistence that the cricketing arena provides one path towards ethnic reconciliation.

He and his wife Yehali had already ventured on this path: first, when they joined Muralitharan and others in the work of tsunami relief across the breadth of the island in early 2005; and, more recently, in April immediately after the World Cup, when both of them visited St. Patrick’s College in Jaffna town and were feted there. The latter event was not widely publicized as far as I know. It was pure fortune that I received a set of photographs illustrating the visit from an old Trinitian, Sangakkara’s alma mater.[ii] This felicitous and symbolic move towards ethnic amity gains in significance from two little facts: (1) the visit was not to Trinity’s ‘natural partner’, the Anglican venture, St. John’s College, but to a Catholic school; and (2) Kumar was accompanied by Yehali (though, for obvious reasons, their twins did not join them at the school).

Peter Roebuck has gone so far as to assert that Sangakkara’s presentation was “the most important speech in cricket history.” Deploying his awareness of the Sangakkara visit to Jaffna, he then went on to state that “only those with empires to protect will resent his words. Only those blighted with the curse of nationalism will deny him his voice. He spoke as a patriot, a higher calling altogether.”[iii]

Thus, Roebuck drew a distinction between the concepts of “nationalism” and “patriotism.” I welcome the direction he is pointing towards, but have grave doubts whether this differentiation will be understood by many readers. It is a difficult distinction to sustain when the two concepts overlap and when ultra-patriots can be much as much a virus as ultra-nationalists. After all, the Sinhala ultras include those who bear the badge of dēsa prēmi (those who love their country, namely “patriots”) boldly on their foreheads.

For this reason I prefer to move in the same direction and laud Sangakkara’s speech as the profound expression of an ecumenical nationalist. What can be more ecumenical than the stirring lines with which he concluded his classic peroration: “Fans of different races, castes, ethnicities and religions who together celebrate their diversity by uniting for a common national cause. They are my foundation, they are my family. I will play my cricket for them. Their spirit is the true spirit of cricket. With me are all my people. I am Tamil, Sinhalese, Muslim and Burgher. I am a Buddhist, a Hindu, a follower of Islam and Christianity. I am today, and always, proudly Sri Lankan.”[iv]

In this presentation of self, Sangakkara subsumed his being as a Trinitian, a radala Govigama, a Kandyan and a Sinhalese within the encompassing identity of being a Sri Lankan, a multi-ethnic and multi-religious collective being. This sentiment, this understanding, I call an ecumenical being, the ecumenical Lankan.

Forerunners and Pathfinders

Some 160 years before, at the point when the British colonial dispensation was bustling forward in capitalist growth, a small group of young “Ceylonese” (as they were known then) stepped forward in the same erudite and ecumenical spirit as young Sangakkara. Inspired by the literary currents of European romanticism as well as the political currents of nationalism,[v] these men – and at least one woman, Eleanor Lorenz (nee Nell) – started a journal called Young Ceylon in 1850 and sustained it till September 1852.

These young men were mostly educated at the Colombo Academy, which later transformed into the prestigious Royal College. The key personnel were Charles Ambrose Lorenz, Frederick Nell and Louis Nell, all from the Burgher middle class in the emerging town of Colombo. They were assisted by Charles Ferdinands, John Prins, Dandris de Silva Gooneratne, James de Alwis, T. A. Pierez, Edward Kelaart and others. Their choice of title was obviously drawn from the “Young Italy” movement associated with Mazzini and the Italian Risorgimento as well as the Young England movement associated with the young Benjamin Disraeli.[vi]

Young Ceylon dedicated itself “to the spirit of inquiry which [it regarded] as the distinguishing feature of the present age.” Its editors chose as its motto the lines from the German Romantic Ludwig Tieck’s dedication to a fellow man-of-letters, Schlegel: “Wir für Kunst und Wissenschaft vereignigt lebten, und une in mannigfalten Bestrebungen begegneten” – We live united for Art and Knowledge, and emulate one another in various competitions (emphasis theirs).

As critically, some few years later, some of these personnel mustered the capital to purchase the Examiner, one of the existing bi-weekly English newspapers owned by an Englishman, the lawyer John Selby. They formed a syndicate for the purpose and it is of some consequence that three Sinhalese lawyer friends, James A. Dunuwille, James de Alwis and Harry Dias were among those who invested money in the enterprise.[vii]

It would be wrong to treat this little circle as an elitist cluster with no links with the lower strata of society and the indigenous vernacular. In 1862 they offered guidance to the Sinhalese personnel who launched the Lakminipahana, the first newspaper printed in the Sinhala language.[viii]  CA Lorenz himself was something of a folk-hero in the Colombo locality so that at least one or two working-class families christened their young boys with his name.

Set thus in their context, it is of central implication for the thesis voiced here on ecumenical nationalism that the raison d’etre of the Young Ceylon circle was a sturdy resistance to the colonial airs of superiority displayed by the dominant British ruling class. This was quite clear in the anti-colonial motifs inscribed within a pamphlet penned in 1853 by the pseudonymous “Henry Candidus” (probably Lorenz) under the title A Desultory Conversation between Two Young Aristocratic Ceylonese (Colombo, The Examiner Press).[ix] These leanings were then embodied and disseminated in the subsequent outpourings in the Examiner newspaper from 1859 onwards.[x] In a private letter Lorenz clarified the goals of this early act of Ceylonese nationalism through reportage: “we shall prove that Ceylon after all has arrived at a position when her children can speak for themselves; and that in doing so they can exercise the moderation which even English journalists have failed to observe” (letter to Richard Morgan, 14 March 1859).[xi]

Here, then, were the first Ceylonese nationalists standing tall in questioning aspects of British rule, albeit constrained from calling for the eviction of the British because of the pragmatic limits arising from the circumstances of their time. It was from within this context and from the nomenclature adopted for the island peoples that, in my conjecture, a new adjective was introduced into the Sinhala lexicon as a translation of the adjectival “Ceylonese,” namely, the term “lānkika” – denoting a person of and from Ceylon.[xii]

Charles Ambrose Lorenz and Kumar Sangakkara, therefore, straddle several centuries in standing forth as ecumenical Ceylonese/Lankan nationalists. The term “ecumenical,” of course, has a Christian ring to it and refers to forms of Christian worship that are interfaith and non-denominational. It is a word that has such synonyms as “comprehensive,” “inclusive” and “cosmopolitan.” To broaden its import for those unfamiliar with this Christianized vocabulary, let me bring in an Asian figure who sustains the same image. I refer to the Mauryan Emperor of the third century BCE, Asoka. He may be widely known to Sri Lankans as the cakravarti figure who introduced the Buddha Dhamma to Siri Laka or Heladiv. However, in my understanding, with all the limitations of one who is a not a historian of ancient times, I believe that Asoka’s religious philosophy was a tolerant one that allowed for diversity and embraced all forms of religiosity under one parasol.[xiii] He became the epitome of the Asian ecumene.

Note, however, that he moved to such a position only after the cataclysmic and gory War of Kalinga. It was a perspective born out of suffering. Since Sri Lanka has been through several horrendous wars in recent times, the story of Asoka and his new-found compassion and tolerant encompassing political philosophy is a good moral to link with the ecumenical sentiments in which Kumar Sangakkara was nurtured from his childhood.

I conclude, therefore, with an emphasis on the worth of an ecumenical Asokan nationalism for Sri Lanka as it stands today. This is the approach and the foundation required for the massive tasks of re-building and reconciliation we Sri Lankans face in the immediate future. It is not retribution, “truth” or “justice,” nor the thamil-wolf of retribution posing in the sheep’s clothing of truth & justice that is the need of the hour. It is, to repeat, the spirit and substance of an ecumenical Asokan Lankan that is the paramount requirement NOW.


Looking at Sangakkara’s speech from governance perspective

Sri Lanka Nets Session - 2011 ICC World Cup

Image courtesy World Cup Cricket 2011 Photos

The former Cricket captain Kumar Sangakkara, in his great Sir Colin Cowdrey speech at Lord’s,  spoke of a shared fanatical fashion and collective joy and ambition of the Sri Lankans, when he  found something in common in the form of cricket.  He spoke of diversity of our society and how cricket brought together a divided nation during 1996 world cup victory. Nobody disputes the fact that Sangakkara played a celebrated captain’s inning at a crucial juncture of Sri Lanka at the Lord’s lecture. So much is spoken about this speech and much was written about it. This article attempts briefly to discuss seven governance points worth elaborating  in the backdrop of the contemporary governance realities of the country.

Firstly, the message was very clear and strong. Sangakkara referred to the decay of the Cricket Board and the individuals who run it, directly or by proxy. He says “to consolidate and perpetuate their power, they open their doors to of the administration to partisan cronies that would lead to corruption wanton waste of Cricket Board finances and resources”. This is the stark reality of  our administration in general in all public establishments. I cannot think of a single public institution, including regulatory bodies, public corporations, defense authorities, sports administrations, diplomatic positions   and state media institutions, which escaped this harsh truth. All those institutions have lost credibility and integrity due to cronies so appointed. Ultimately, the public and the country as a whole have to pay. Who is guilty? I believe both the appointer as well as the appointee – because both have vested interest in such ill appointments.  The Cricket Board too suffers from the same governance problem.  For a country to progress, public institutions need autonomy and independence form unfair and unwarranted interferences, particularly from partisan political interests.

Secondly, a sportsman can be a great whistleblower of a corrupt administration, not only on the sport where he/she is engaged but also beyond.  Sangakkara’s exposure of vested political and partisan interests and lack of transparency of cricket administration is not unknown.  But when he says it from within, it becomes an exposure in the caliber of whistle blowing, warranting actions both to address the issues and to protect the whistleblower himself. World over, the whistleblowers are given special protection by law in order to protect the institutional integrity, because not all individuals have capacity or courage to raise issues of corruption.  The gravity of this must be viewed with the Sports Minister’s response. The Minister is moving to inquire into Sanga’s speech, which seems to have embarrassed him. The Minister’s proposed action is not at all surprising to me.  This shows intolerance, indiscipline and quality of the Ministers himself.  If you closely analyze the backgrounds of most of the politicians, their criminal background is swept under the carpet thanks to the impunity exists today. But, they do not tolerate a speck of   criticism and this is the general attitude from top to bottom in the political hierarchy. Some of the whistleblowers have disappeared, some lost their positions/employments and some have ended up in trouble.  This reminds us of the need to have a whistle blower protection in our legal system.

Thirdly, the fact that the government in general was not at all happy with the speech is quite expected for many reasons. Beyond all, our politicians from top to bottom of the day suffer from a kind of megalomania. They do believe that they have the monopoly of good ideas. They believe that it is they who will bring in reputation to the country and they want to be thanked for all achievements, including the sports achievements. Sanga did not thank the any politician (the President or the Minister) except former Minister Gamini Dissanayaka for his contribution to achieve Test status for the country.  More than anything else, this would certainly have been the issue for them to get annoyed.  The politicians have not begun to think this way overnight. For many decades, Sri Lankan politicians were given much more recognition – far more than they deserve, in every aspect of life. Media dominates politicians; they become chief guests in all events in the country. Without them there cannot be even a petty school event, a public or religious gathering. They in fact demand their presence to exhibit their leadership and power. They have lost the basic value of being a representative or the servant of the voter; rather they manipulated the system to be the masters. Naturally they are upset when a great speaker does not thank the political masters of the day. For the establishment of governance in this country, it is imperative that the politicians are recognized only to the extent they deserve and nothing more.

Fourthly, what is the role of the Minister of Sports? All decent constitutional democracies recognize that the Minister is only involved in policy issues and not in administration.  To the contrary, we see, for several decades, the Ministers getting involved in every phase of the activities of a ministry, from policy to administration & contracting, recruitment to disciplinary matters. Why do the Ministers get involved in administration? My conclusion is that direct administration is where they get opportunities, directly or indirectly,   to come within reach of the coffer. This is where they could use their power over the voter and the officials and to demand public respect, without earning them. The purported argument of many politicians is that the Minister is responsible to Parliament and thus he/she should have control over everything. This statement is not accurate in Sri Lanka. Unlike many other democracies, the Ministers are not called upon before the finance committees such as the Committee of Public Enterprises or the Public Accounts Committee. It is the Secretary to the Ministry, who is called upon before the committees, in his/her capacity as the Chief Accounting Officer of the Ministry. Unlike the Sangakkara’s view on collective passion, a collective joy or ambition to mark a foot print in cricketing history, there is no collective passion on the part of the Cabinet (or even parliamentarians for that matter)  to be more accountable,  transparent or discipline,  let alone being intolerant of criticism.

Fifthly, the power of the Minister to dissolve the Cricket Board has always been abused in Sri Lanka, like many other powers vested in Ministers and the President.  Sports Law No. 25 of 1973 was introduced during a period where the  politicians wanted to control everything including the judiciary. Sports became yet another victim of this capture.  There is no independent body, which cannot be manipulated by the government in power, through the minister. We have seen in the past the best players in different games were dropped arbitrarily. School teams were changed due to interference and talented players gave up their passionate sports.  All governments have abused the law to such an extent that elected bodies were all dissolved and handpicked henchmen were then appointed to interim committees by the Minister under Section 33 of the Law.  Everyone knows how elections are conducted for the sports bodies. As Sangakkara described, “vote buying, rigging, brandishing of weapons and ugly fist fights have characterized Cricket Board elections”. In my view, this is possible only if this is the acceptable norm at main elections in the country. Certainly, almost all our elections for many years have been marred by violence, malpractices and abuses of state resources. Whether it is Parliamentary Elections, Presidential Elections, cooperative society elections or sports body elections, we have lost integrity of electoral process.  Abuse of power is the core issue here.  In governance terminology, when power is abused for personal gain (or for their group, party or clan) it becomes corruption.  Sports Law to all laws governing elections and how the law is put in practice  perpetuated this corrupt business.

Sixthly, as Sangakkara points out, there is uniqueness of Sri Lankan cricket and in its achievements. It was introduced from the West but had its success after we found our own identity. This extremely vital observation speaks volumes of many other values.  Parliamentary Democracy, English language, modern technology are among few diverse values that were introduced from the West. There is a blend of our own with them later, for the benefit of the public. An organized judicial system and a legal system to protect public resources were also introduced by the West, though it was modified later form time to time. The point I am making is that despite the modifications, the core values of the game did not change. Like the game of cricket, in the guise of changes, we did not make “an out” a “not out” or did not get rid of umpires.  We brought additional values to uplift the spirit of the game. Sanga has correctly suggested that, though we have the strength to find the answers ourselves, the International Cricket Council (ICC) should take action to “suspend member boards with any direct detrimental political interference and allegations of corruption and mismanagement.”.  A practical suggestion, which is not contrary to democratic values or the spirit of the game.  It is time now to reflect on this reality for many other areas such as governance, democracy and human rights. In a democracy, we have a collective duty to protect the essence of those values and uplift them rather than introducing self-saving changes to undermine the core values of those principles.  In every working democracy changes to a system come not to benefit the rulers (or their advisers) but to the public, in whose benefit the power is vested in the rulers.  Sanga spoke about the need to have transparency in sports administration; despite the government’s opposition to right to information, the core values of the democracy demands recognition of transparency in administration in general.

Finally, Sangakkara displayed his vision for the game and beyond; leaving before us unquestionable truth that a person of captain material can be a self-made great visionary.  This country is full of self- proclaim pseudo-visionaries, due to their political power, connection to a family or  securing an electoral victory.  For a country to progress, in sports and in all other fields, we need more and more free thinkers.   After all Sanga’s speech has enough and more for the young and uncorrupt to learn and improve their thinking – because he “spoke”.  Free speech is a core principle in a democracy, which we have unfortunately failed to protect up to its expectations in recent times. The speech is the seed for thinking and change that this country needs to re-establish even the right to speak.  It is a basic tool to fight corruption and establish good governance. It is now for others to speak up to make it a signal for the masses  to achieve  shared fashion of democracy, even at great personal risks. By this, the country can think of a collective joy and ambition – a representative society and true democracy.

Sri Lanka's Killing Fields:

posted Jun 21, 2011, 4:28 AM by Thavam Ratna   [ updated Jun 29, 2011, 4:38 AM ]

Sri Lanka's Killing Fields:

Video playback not available during search
Watch this episode now on 4oD 

Latest Episode

Sri Lanka's Killing Fields (50 mins) [S]

11.06PM Tuesday 14 Jun 2011 Channel 4
With disturbing and distressing descriptions and film of executions, atrocities and the shelling of civilians
To explore the issues further go to the website at channel4.com/srilanka

Giving the middle finger: Sri Lanka’s conflicting responses to war crimes allegations

posted Jun 5, 2011, 12:22 PM by Thavam Ratna   [ updated Jun 29, 2011, 4:39 AM ]

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Giving the middle finger: Sri Lanka’s conflicting responses to war crimes allegations

http://a0.twimg.com/profile_images/877084884/Groundviews_bigger.jpg *groundviews journalism For citizenS

 4 Jun, 2011

Mr. A Nawan, Deputy Solicitor General of Sri Lanka
This symbolic screen grab is from a short video on Channel 4′s website, on the occasion of screening in Geneva a one-hour documentary into the denouement of the war in Sri Lanka. As Channel 4′s website notes,
“Disturbing footage in the film includes the apparent extra-judicial massacre of prisoners by government forces, the aftermath of targeted shelling of civilian hospitals and the bodies of female Tamil fighters who appear to have been sexually assaulted. Also examined in the film are atrocities carried out by the Tamil Tigers, including the use of human shields, and footage depicting the aftermath of a suicide bombing in a government centre for the displaced.”
The Deputy Solicitor General of Sri Lanka notes in response to the screening of the documentary,
“We have already made a preliminary investigation on the video and we have scientific material established that this particular video is not authentic.”
Clearly he knows something our Attorney General Mohan Pieris does not. Just days before, speaking to the same gathering of people in Geneva, our Attorney General noted,
“…the Government had been precluded from making a full assessment of the Channel 4 video because of the blurred quality of the images”
This fiasco again captures so well the Sri Lankan government’s deranged diplomatic and domestic responses to serious war crimes allegations. Our Foreign Minister contradicts himself daily and as we have carefully documented has no coherent response to the UN Panel’s report. Worse, he seemingly lies in and misdirects parliament. The government organised seminar on how to defeat terrorism, but didn’t address serious human rights concerns captured most recently by the UN as well as in the explosive book by former UN spokesperson Gordon Weiss, The Cage. Plus there is the no civilians killed party line. Finally, there are even those who believe that even if the Channel 4 video is true, it is “unrepresentative and irrelevant”.
We didn’t in fact publish the video Channel 4 first broadcast it in 2009. It was too gruesome for a start. The shock factor for British and foreign audiences would have been tasteless and counterproductive to feature on a site read mostly by those who are no strangers to violent conflict. Secondly, it was when first broadcast, by Channel 4′s own admission, unauthenticated video. While Channel 4 and Journalists for Democracy may have had good reason to believe the video was true, we had no way of ascertaining this since no one else had seen or examined it. We did however have some extremely interesting debate and discussion around the video at the time. A video of shame and outrage: Responses, positions and clarifications captured some of the best comments. At the time, because Channel 4 said that they could not verify the authenticity of the video, many commentators like Observer parroted the line of the Sri Lankan government as well the High Commissioner in London, calling the video “an unbelievable fabrication”.
The government hasn’t changed its tack, but the video continues to haunt it. It refuses to go away because in 2010 and again this year, under two consecutive UN Special Rapporteur’s on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution, the authenticity of the video has been established. In 2010, Philip Alston’s investigation held the video was authentic. In 2011, the investigation into the longer version of the video by Professor Christof Heyns concurred. Back in 2009, the government tried and failed to convince OFCOM to take action against Channel 4 for broadcasting this video. Human Rights and Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said in September of that year that the Government would call for the retraction of video from Channel 4, as comprehensive investigations and analysis conducted by four experts commissioned by the government had provided scientific evidence to prove that it was a fake and a heavily tampered video. Minister Samarasinghe also said legal action against Channel 4 was being considered.
Is this the scientific evidence being quoted now by the Deputy Solicitor General of Sri Lanka? But if the Attorney General is to be believed that the video is too blurred to assess accurately, what then of this ‘scientific evidence’? What happened to the legal action against Channel 4? Where are the government experts, two in fact from the Sri Lankan army, today?
The government’s response (or more accurately, conflicting responses), much like the Deputy Solicitor General’s involuntary yet hugely symbolic gesture, is sadly very far removed from what even some of its most senior diplomats suggest is a better way forward. Truth, it seems, is not just a casualty of war, but remains hostage to our government’s notion of peace.

Sri Lanka's army- In bigger barracks --A victorious army keeps busy despite the lack of an enemy

posted Jun 2, 2011, 12:33 PM by Thavam Ratna   [ updated Jun 5, 2011, 12:23 PM ]

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Review of a history of oppression: The Tamils of Sri Lanka

Danielle Sabaï

In February 2011, the President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, celebrated the 63rd anniversary of the island’s independence. In his speech, he stressed the necessity of “protecting the reconstructed nation”, as well as protecting “one of the oldest democracies in Asia”, its unity and its unitary character.

This speech came nearly two years after the end of the war on 19 May 2009, between the Sri Lankan state and the "Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam” (LTTE). The military command of the LTTE was decimated in the last two months of a merciless war which had led to tens of thousands of deaths since the early 1980s.

Some thirty years of civil war have transformed the Sri Lankan political landscape. Once an island characterised by a developed social policy and high development indicators, Sri Lanka is today ravaged by state violence, the militarisation of society and an authoritarian state.

The end of the war has in no way opened a period of peace and still less settled the Tamil national question. The Sri Lankan government, whose powers are concentrated in the hands of Mahinda Rajapaksa and brothers, has not sought to remedy the structural causes which led to the civil war. The state remains Sinhalese nationalist and racist in its essence and rejects any devolution of powers which would allow the different communities to envisage the future together.

The President is at war against his people. State violence is also exerted against Sinhalese, journalists and political activists who oppose him but also against workers as a whole. Despite the end of the war, the government has maintained the Prevention of Terrorism Act which allows it to muzzle its opponents. All communities suffer from the collapse of the rule of law. No peace can last if it does not rest on any political will to settle disputes.

The history of Sri Lanka is rich in lessons. It illustrates to what point attacks against minorities are the premises of more general attacks against workers whatever their ethnicity. They lead inevitably to a weakening, if not a collapse, of democracy. It is important and necessary to review the historic roots which are at the base of the formation of this specific state having led to the emergence of two antagonistic nationalisms: Buddhist Sinhalese nationalism and its reaction, Tamil nationalism.

The germs of inter-communal dissension

Sri Lanka, Ceylon until 1972, has been profoundly marked by several centuries of colonisation. The strategic position of the island in the Indian Ocean explains its successive conquest by the Portuguese, Dutch and British.

The main communities of the island, the Sinhalese and the Tamils, originate from successive migrations from India. The first took place in the 6th century BC by migrants coming from the North West of India and practicing Buddhism [1]. They slowly melted with other groups coming from southern parts of India to form the Sinhala community [2]. This was followed around 300 years later by a smaller migration of Hindu Tamils from the south of India. The Tamil migration continued in the north of the island for several hundred years and at the end of the 12th century, the peninsula of Jaffna constituted a separate state with a culture and language different from Sinhalese.

Neither the Sinhalese nor the Tamils can claim to be the first to have peopled the island since when they arrived, Ceylon was already occupied by a hunter gatherer people, the Veddah or Wanniyaletto, who are today almost completely assimilated in the different communities.

The different social formations which would emerge on the island were however not compartmentalised. In the kingdom of Kandy, for example, the Nayakkar dynasty emerged from the Vijayanagar Empire of southern India. Although the dynasty had been Tamil and originally Hindu, they converted themselves to Buddhism and were fervent promoters of it.

Under Portuguese and then Dutch colonialism, the coastal regions of the island were integrated into world trade in agricultural products from the early 16th century, facilitating the rise of a merchant capitalism. The coastal population was in its majority Sinhalese and Buddhist but trade exchanges made it a place of interconnection where Arabs, Sinhalese, Tamils and Burghers mingled [3].

In the peninsula of the North, which was poorer, only the missionaries ventured, converting a minority of the population, previously mainly Hindu, to Christianity. Social relations of a feudal type, in particular a rigid caste system, persisted.

Upon their arrival at the end of the 18th century the British extended foreign domination to the interior of the island in the kingdom of Kandy. They developed big plantations there, imposing a new mode of production, plantation capitalism. They grabbed the communal lands previously devoted to pasturing of herds and the forests where the peasants practiced slash and burn cultivation, characterising them as “waste lands” to better resell them at a derisory price to British colonists. They would develop infrastructures which would allow the direction of the products of the plantations onto the world market.

Even if it only partially destroyed the pre-capitalist modes of production, plantation capitalism imposed itself rapidly, coming to dominate the island’s economy from the beginning of the 20th century.

The dominant classes of the pre-existing formations became almost naturally the comprador bourgeoisie [4]. Whether of Sinhalese, Burgher, Muslim [5] or Tamil origin, they found a common interest with the nascent bourgeoisie of the planters. Imbued with the colonial culture, they would send their children to study at Oxford and Cambridge, so as to ensure a place alongside the colonial aristocracy.

Numerous members of the Ceylonese bourgeoisie owned their own coconut, coffee or rubber plantations. Thus, unlike neighbouring India, in Ceylon a national bourgeoisie fighting for independence did not emerge. The latter did not play a motor role in the first movements of agitation against the colonial power at the end of the 19th century. Opposition first took the form of Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim religious movements who fought against the privileges of the Christian minority (made up of both Sinhalese and Tamils) and against Western culture.

The British colonial power, which feared a coming together of the interests of the Tamil and Sinhalese bourgeoisies, played upon division to the hilt. Specific and community-based interests became paramount. The Tamil elites demanded favourable treatment in exchange for their loyal service in the colonial administration. For their part, the Sinhalese built networks of communal associations, the Mahajana Sabha, resting on the rural Sinhalese elites – ayurvedic physicians, Buddhist monks, schoolmasters and so on.

The Ceylonese workers’ movement emerged at the same time as plantation capitalism. The Ceylonese workers were mainly Sinhalese peasants expelled from their ancestral collective lands by the colonial power to work in the construction of roads and railways and in the docks. They maintained a toehold in the rural world however. Meanwhile, to ensure work was carried out on the plantations and in the towns, the British colonist had called on Indian Tamil workers from Tamil Nadu who they kept apart from the local workers. The workers’ movement was thus divided from its birth.

Although there were in the early 20th century several workers’ struggles involving workers of all origins and confessions, the nationalist and xenophobic discourse of the Sinhalese nationalist leaders had a profound impact on the working class of Sinhalese origin.

In the 1920s, new workers’ struggles allowed the development of an urban working class which was more unified, defending its own class interests beyond the castes which had survived and community based identities. A trade union confederation and a political party modelled on the British Labour Party emerged under the leadership of A.E. Goonesinha. The political control he exerted, both on the party and the trade union, was however fatal to the workers’ movement. During the great depression of the 1930s, Goonesinha did not hesitate to brand the Tamil plantation workers as being responsible for high unemployment and to accuse Indian merchants of dispossessing small Ceylonese landowners. The use of Sinhalese chauvinism was an easy and rapid means of constituting an electoral base which allowed him to win the parliamentary elections in the Sinhalese constituency of central Colombo. This was a fatal blow to universal suffrage - which had just been granted in 1931- by an unscrupulous politician who deployed it to electoralist ends.

The constitution of a Sinhalese nationalism

Nationalist and racist themes were subsequently regularly used by the ruling politicians for electoral ends or to implement a class policy. Thus, the first law adopted by the first independent Ceylonese government [6], the Citizenship Act, rendered stateless the Tamil “Indian” workers who had been settled for three of four generations in the island, under the pretext that they could not prove that they were Ceylonese by parentage or by naturalisation. The second law withdrew the right to vote under the pretext that they were not Ceylonese!

These laws took the vote away from all the plantation workers of the centre and south, or a tenth of the electoral body. That allowed the ruling UNP to eliminate a million votes, much of which have previously gone to the Left parties and the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), the main Ceylonese workers’ party. [7]. This party had been created in the 1930s by young intellectuals who had been won to Communist ideas during their studies in Britain and the United States of America.

The Tamil workers on the plantations would not find much help from among the North-Eastern Tamil members of parliament. Most of the latter voted for these retrograde laws. A dissident group led by S.J.V.Chelvanayakam founded the Federal Party [8]

This was a fatal blow against the Sri Lankan workers’ movement which became divided along ethnic lines. This major political defeat was a portent for the future. The use of nationalist appeals against a part of the population, considered wrongly as foreign, was soon applied to other ethnic minorities and in particular against the Sri Lankan Tamils from the north and east of the island. From 1949, the UNP government of DS.Senanayake put in place a policy of attribution of land to Sinhalese peasants who had been deprived of it. This policy was applied in the east of the island in a Tamil majority area. The arrival of these peasants modified substantially the demographic and therefore electoral composition of the constituencies concerned and thus gave a fiefdom to Sinhalese politicians who had lacked one.

In 1951, Bandanaraike [9], motivated by personal ambition, left the UNP to found the Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP). It rested on the Maha Sabha [10], one of whose main objectives was to promote Sinhalese-Buddhist culture throughout the island. The SLFP was constituted on the basis of the Sinhalese petty bourgeoisie giving it support among the rural masses neglected both by the comprador bourgeoisie of the UNP and by the LSSP whose base was rather among the workers (even though it represented also paysants in some rural constituencies).

1956 constituted a major political turning point for the island. A year of presidential elections, 1956 also represented for the Sinhalese Buddhists the 2,500th anniversary of the death of Buddha as well as the anniversary of the “peopling of Ceylon” and the origins of the Sinhalese people. The electoral campaign was the opportunity for Sinhalese chauvinist outbidding.

Bandanaraike campaigned on the slogan “Sinhala Only” and proposed that Sinhalese replace English as the sole official language of the island. In the 24 hours following his investiture, the measure was decreed. This law was all the more unjustified in that before independence in 1944, the legislative council had voted by a very large majority for a law adopting Sinhalese and Tamil as official languages for education, examinations and parliamentary debates, recognising the importance of the equality of the languages.

The Sinhalese community was not however homogeneous. It was itself divided by lines of caste, class and regional differences. The state identified itself with Sinhalese nationalism but not with the Sinhalese community as a whole. It was the middle classes and the Buddhist clergy, through the Maha Sabha, who would contribute to the dissemination of Sinhalese nationalist ideology. This petty bourgeoisie was convinced that this chauvinist policy would bring it jobs by reducing the opportunities of the Tamil minority.

The renunciation of the left parties

Founded in 1935, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), Ceylonese section of the Fourth International from 1940 onwards, was the first party to demand the independence of the country against British imperialism. From its foundation, it developed significant work in the mass movements and trade unions. The second biggest party on the island in terms of size, the LSSP was the main workers’ party and also the main opposition party in parliament until the emergence of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

A multi-ethnic and multi-cultural party, it included among its members militants of different languages, religions, genders and castes. Its activists fought attacks on workers whatever they were as well as the inter-communal divisions of the working class. Thus, when after independence, the first UNP government voted through the Citizenship Act rendering the plantation Tamils stateless, the LSSP was one of only two parties which opposed it. The party denounced a racist decree, directed against the working class and damaging to democracy.

However, in 1956, the internal situation of the party had qualitatively evolved. Internal struggles and a first split in 1945 had weakened the party. The divergences mainly concerned the question of the construction of the party: branch of a South Asian party or party in the national framework. In 1950, after several years of political conflicts fed by personal rivalries and generational divergences, Philip Gunawardena, main founder of the LSSP, left the party and founded a new one, the Viplavakari - LSSP (LSSP-Revolutionary). A third of the party joined the VLSSP following the political reverse by the LSSP during the general elections of 1952. During the presidential election of 1956, the VLSSP allied with the Bandaranaike’s SLFP to form a coalition, the People’s United Front (MEP), which came first in the elections. The VLSSP openly betrayed the workers by voting for the "Sinhala Only Act” with all the majority parties. Only the Tamil minority parties and the LSSP opposed it in parliament. The leader of the LSSP, Colvin R. de Silva, presciently observed that this law, which made Tamils second class citizens, rested on a disastrous logic: “two languages, one nation; one language, two nations”.

The passing of the "Sinhala Only Act” in 1956 was followed by strong protests from the Federal Party. In 1957, the SLFP in government and the Federal Party signed the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam agreements promising a regional autonomy to the provinces of the North and East. Tamil, in particular, became the official language of the administration of these two regions. But the Sinhalese chauvinist forces organised by the Buddhist monks, on whose support Bandaranaike had relied to gain power, launched a virulent campaign against this agreement. On April 9, 1958, the United Front of Monks (Eksath Bhikku Peramuna-EBP), an organisation of reactionary and racist Buddhist monks, besieged the residence of the prime minister. The same afternoon, one year after having signed it, Bandaranaike renounced the pact. Subsequent Tamil demonstrations in Jaffna were severely repressed by the police. In Colombo and other regions Sinhalese nationalists launched pogroms against the Tamils leading to criminal arson and murders organised in complete impunity by Sinhalese hooligans and thugs. The violence unleashed soon escaped any control but Bandaranaike refused to intervene for fear of upsetting the Sinhalese nationalists. In vain. In 1959, he was assassinated by a member of the EBP.

The Buddhist monk making vows of abstinence and poverty gave way to a much less spiritual monk who used his traditional position to exercise power. Bandaranaike had utilised Sinhalese nationalism to come to power but he was incapable of detaching himself from it after he had succeeded in his aims. The Pandora’s box was opened, and it was impossible to contain the Sinhalese nationalist racist forces unleashed.

The LSSP could have been an important element to oppose this nationalist and racist drift. Its strength rested in its ability to organise the masses at the rank and file. It has shown this during the organisation of an immense hartal [11] against the UNP government in 1953 which paralysed the country. Overwhelmed, the government took refuge on a ship. But when it was in a position of strength, the LSSP did not push the struggle to its advantage. [12]

This positioning prefigured the capitulations to come. The working class base of the party shrunk under the pressure of the inter-communal conflicts and the electoral successes of the SLFP destabilised the leadership of the LSSP. Defeat in the elections of 1960 disoriented the party. N. M. Perera, the main organiser of the LSSP’s mass work, proposed forming a coalition government with the SLFP which was rejected by the majority of the party, but the LSSP parliamentary group supported the vote of confidence in the newly elected government against the “main enemy” of the UNP which had continuously ruled Ceylan since 1948 [13]. In 1964, Perera engaged the majority of the party in a coalition government with the SLFP and the Ceylon Communist Party [14], the government being led by Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the widow of the prime minister assassinated seven years earlier. The earlier political demands of the two left parties in favour of equal rights for the plantation Tamils and parity of status between Sinhalese and Tamil languages were put aside. In the same year, the LSSP was expelled from the Fourth International which saw entry into the SLFP government as a political treason.

A minority group around Bala Tampoe and Edmund Samarakkody continued to defend the traditional positions of the LSSP in a new party. But the only mass political party which had defended workers regardless of their ethnic origin had betrayed, leaving a political vacuum in the working class and strengthening Sinhalese nationalism. [15]

In 1968, the SLFP, LSSP and CP formed the United Front which won the 1970 elections. The LSSP and CP, definitively converted to parliamentarism, justified this alliance by the desire to oppose the UNP, “the party of foreign and Ceylonese capitalist interests" whereas the United Front campaigned for a policy of industrialisation through import substitution, the development of social protection and the nationalisation of the Bank of Ceylon, transport and the tea plantations.

The policy of this government was however less progressive than it appeared. It was Sirimavo Bandaranaike who pushed further the political logic of discrimination against North_Eastern origin and plantation Tamils to satisfy her electoral clientele. That had significant repercussions on the economic policy pursued. In a difficult economic conjuncture owing to the first generalised world recession in 1974-75, with an unprecedented increase in unemployment, the UF government sharpened discriminatory policies which were already in place and invented new ones: the “Sinhala Only Act” was used to exclude Tamils from the police, army, courts and governmental services in general; the policy of colonisation of Tamil areas was accentuated; the plantation Tamils were voluntarily or forcibly repatriated to Tamil Nadu. Standardisation of access to universities, which was deeply discriminatory against part of the Tamil community, was imposed. This racist policy was implemented by parties who identified themselves with the workers’movement. How could the coming generations of young Tamils still have confidence in the Left parties?

All these discriminatory policies had the goal of transferring resources to the Sinhalese to the detriment of the Tamils. In 1971, however, the government faced a very significant insurrection from the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), a group made up of young Sinhalese living in the south of the country, mainly rural and members of the petty bourgeoisie. Such an uprising of youth, supposedly the main beneficiaries of the political measures taken, show how much the discrimination against the Tamils did not benefit the majority of Sinhalese and did not alleviate poverty and unemployment. The ruling coalition responded with a terrible repression. Several thousand youths were killed by the army and the police and more than 10,000 were jailed [16]

The emergence of the Tamil national question

In the early 1970s, the crisis in relation to the Tamil minority deepened. In 1972, Colvin R. De Silva, the former historic leader of the LSSP and then minister for constitutional affairs, drew up a new constitution which, among other things, gave Sinhalese the status of sole official language, established Buddhism as virtually the state religion. It removed section 29 of the 1947 Soulbury Constitution that guaranteed certain protection clauses for ethnic and religious minorities. It also introduce a new fundamental rights chapter that was applicable to North-eastern Tamils but not to those plantation Tamils who were stateless because it only protected citizens.

At the economic level, the policy of the government was profoundly discriminatory with respect to the Tamil community. The nationalisation of the plantations was accompanied by a redistribution of land in favour of the Sinhalese majority. The linguistic policy of the government deprived young Tamils of jobs after their studies. The new standards of access to the university were perceived by middle class youth as one discriminatory measure too far with respect to their community. This measure mainly affected the young Tamils of Jaffna, who were more educated. It did not affect the youth of the East, from Vanni and the plantations of the centre who for the most part did not go to university. It was nonetheless the detonator for big mobilisations and the entry into politics of a new generation of Tamil youths.

The Federal Party and the Tamil United Front (TUF) [17] began to distil a nationalist rhetoric which proclaimed the unity of all Tamils beyond class and caste inequalities. At this time, the notion of Tamil identity was real but it was not the substance of the Tamil community. In everyday life, belonging to a caste and a village constituted the main vectors of identity and dominated social relations.

The battles of the FP and TUF did not go outside of parliament, leaving a vacuum occupied by these young Tamil militants in Jaffna. Since independence, the attempts at political negotiations with the different parliamentary parties (SLFP and UNP) and the campaigns of Satyagraha [18] of the Federal Party had brought no solution to the Tamil cause. The refusal of the state to accord a minimum of autonomy and devolution led these young militants to reject the policy followed by the traditional Tamil political parties.

The young Tamil generations no longer believed in the possibility of developing their rights by democratic means. Only a separate state seemed to them to guarantee their linguistic, religious and cultural rights. Thus the question of a separate Tamil state emerged as the sole alternative and the means of winning it could rest neither on parliamentary battles or traditional campaign of agitation.

A major event marked the beginning of a cycle of violence [19]. In January 1974, a literary meeting to celebrate Tamil language and culture was organised in Jaffna. It was supported by the TUF. The coalition government led by Sirimavo Bandaranaike did not like it but did not dare to oppose it directly. When a final meeting attracted nearly 50,000 participants, the riot police attacked the crowd leading to the death of seven people. Following this event, the TUF and FP accentuated a campaign against the mayor of Jaffna [20], launched from 1972, accusing him of being a "traitor". These vicious attacks ended with him being assassinated on July 27, 1975 by a member of an organisation formed in 1974, the Tamil New Tigers. This new organisation changed its name to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1976.

No less than thirty groups engaged in violent actions of which the assassination of the mayor of Jaffna was the symbolic beginning. Among these groups, some like the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) and the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) were left-wing organisations. The LTTE for its part was situated on a nationalist and pragmatic terrain. But they were above all fashioned by the origin of most of the founder members, educated young students from the Jaffna middle class and rather high caste.

Ethnic tensions worsened throughout the 1970s but the armed Tamil groups remained marginal until the mid 1980s. In July 1983 a second major rupture took place. Following an ambush in which 13 police officers were killed by the Tigers, Sinhalese nationalists unleashed a pogrom in Colombo and its surrounding areas. Several thousand Tamils were killed, houses burned, shops looted. That led to a significant wave of immigration of Tamils to the north of the island and abroad. Following this tragic event thousands of young Tamils joined the armed struggle and the guerrilla struggle turned into civil war.

No progressive organisation was in a position to offer a political alternative. Sri Lankan democracy had been profoundly sapped for too long a time. In 1977, Junius Richard Jayawardene, elected Prime Minister following the victory of the UNP against the United Front, again changed the constitution, concentrating powers in the hands of a super President. He had created the National Union of Workers (Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya – JSS), in fact an organisation of hooligans used to intimidate, indeed kill his opponents, break strikes, and attack Tamils. The Sri Lankan working class was more than ever divided according to ethnic lines. The main left parties, the LSSP and the CP, had been contributors to this situation having for a long time renounced their convictions and political principles in exchange for ministerial posts. Everything was in place for a civil war which would lead to new massacres and precipitate the retreat of the workers movement as a whole especially after the defeat of the July 1980 strike movement.

The 1980s and the domination of the LTTE

On the other said of the Palk Strait, India was not indifferent to the pressure exerted by the 50 million Tamils living in Tamil Nadu and sympathising with the Lankan Tamil cause. During the 1980s, certain Tamil groups were militarily trained, armed and financial supported by the Indian state’s intelligence arm, the Research and Analysis Wing – (RAW).

Following the Indo-Lanka accords of 1987, India intervened directly in the north of the island. It deployed a “peacekeeping force”. The agreements, signed in July 1987 by the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the Sri Lankan President J. R. Jayawardene, sought to establish a certain autonomy in the North and East where Tamils were in the majority, the fusion of its two provinces (fusion which should be validated by a referendum) and the recognition of an equal status between the Tamil and Sinhalese languages.

But despite a common reference to the Thimphu Declaration [21] which aimed to present a unified and common basis for the many Tamil groups, the political divisions and personal antagonisms remained. Among them, the LTTE would emerge as the dominant group. From the early 1980s, the Tigers organised the brutal killing of the main leaders of the other armed Tamil groups, in particular those organisations identified with Left and therefore mass-based politics

Moderate Tamil activists, pro-Indian activists, and democrats not supporting the objective of a separate Tamil state were forced into exile or killed. The TULF was considerably weakened politically by the LTTE’s assassination of its main leaders, A. Amirthalingham and Yogeswaran. By eliminating or forcing into exile the main leaders of the other organisations of struggle, the LTTE destroyed all democracy inside the Tamil national liberation movement. They did not seek to unite the different Tamil-speaking communities of Sri Lanka. On the contrary, in 1990, they were guilty of ethnic cleansing, notably by the expulsion of almost 100,000 Tamil speaking Muslims from Jaffna district in the space of 48 hours. In a certain way, the LTTE shared with the Colombo government that they fought the same criminal conception of an ethnically pure society, rid of every minority.

In the early 1990s, the Tigers no longer had any real opposition. They could then present themselves as the “sole legitimate representatives of the Tamil people” and seek external political support. Their objective of a separate Tamil state became the sole proclaimed objective, separating it from the question of the rights demanded by Tamils and mortgaging any democratic resolution of the civil war.

Some lessons from the history of an oppression

This historic recapitulation of the Tamil question in Sri Lanka allows us to draw valid political lessons for other continents and other struggles which give it a universal scope.

The organisations of the workers’ movement should never abandon a part of their own. One cannot claim to emancipate the workers from exploitation while allowing a minority among them to become the victims of vindictive racism, indeed worse, directly participating in their oppression. Discrimination and violence exerted against an ethnic minority will return later against the workers as a whole and their organisations. Sri Lanka is the sad illustration of it. The Sinhalese workers have gained nothing from the oppression of the Tamils and the LSSP and CP, in allowing them to fall, precipitated their degeneration.

So far as the Tamil Tigers are concerned, full scale militarisation and maximalism were fed by the negation of the democratic rights of the Tamils themselves and thus the possibility of self-organising struggles. No socialist and democratic society can be created by organisations which justify murder in the name of the necessities of the armed struggle.

In all fights against national oppression, or against the oppression suffered by certain ethnic groups, there is the need to recognize the right to self-determination. The only progressive solution is the defence of equality between citizens, whatever their origin, sex or religion. Today the material and political conditions for the exercice of self-determination rights do not exist. Since Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state, its minorities should be granted rights including political, cultural and linguistic rights, to reverse historical oppression or discrimination.

Today, there is an urgent need to address justice and reparations for the Tamils and Muslims who were displaced and dispossessed during the war and for the Hill-country Tamils who are still economically disenfranchised. Rather than so doing, the current government of Sri Lanka has profited from the military “victory” over the Tamil Tigers in 2009 to restrict still further democratic liberties, block any opposition and on this basis attack all workers whatever their ethnic origin. The new trend in economic development further causes uneven development and inequality for the majority of the Sri Lankan people. Therefore, there will not be any progress toward social justice and democracy without linking the political settlement of minorities’ demands with the class struggle of all workers for social justice and redistribution. In that perspective, devolution of state power could be an important step to empowering local communities and minorities against this authoritarian and centered State.

-Danielle Sabaï a member of the NPA and the Fourth International. She is one of IV’s correspondents for Asia.


[1] Buddhism, which emerged in the 6th century BC in India, was originally an interpretation of Hinduism based on tolerance and moderation. Its main divergence with Hinduism rests on the rejection of the caste system. Ceylon is the only place where Buddhism developed by maintaining the caste system

[2] See, Meyer Eric Paul (2009). The Specificity of Sri Lanka: Towards a Comparative History of Sri Lanka and India.Economic and Political Weekly

[3] Descendants of mixed marriages between Dutch or Portuguese and Ceylonese

[4] The word “comprador” designates a bourgeoisie in a developing country drawing its wealth from foreign trade rather than a bourgeoisie having interests in the production of national wealth

[5] In Sri Lanka, Muslim identity does not rest only on religion but has developed as a specific ethnic identity. Although most Muslims speak Tamil, they do not consider themselves as "Tamil Muslims” but as Tamil-speaking Muslims

[6] The first independent government in 1948 was led by D.S. Senanayake and his party the United National Party (UNP).The UNP was the party representing the interests of the comprador bourgeoisie. It won power at independence without ever having led the struggle against British imperialism

[7] For more details on the LSSP refer to Pierre Frank, The Fourth International: The long march of the Trotskyists published by Ink Links, London, 1979, pp 112-117. Ervin, Charles Wesley. "Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and Sri Lankan radicalism," in The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest Ness, Immanuel (Ed). Blackwell Publishing, 2009. Blackwell Reference Online. 07 May 2009

[8] The Federal Party was a party of parliamentarians representing the interests of the Tamil bourgeoisie. The Tamil name of the Federal Party was the Lankan Tamil Self-Governement Party. However, its programme was not addressed to the Tamil workers of the plantations who fought for their political rights but to the Sri Lankan Tamils originating from the North and East of the island.

[9] Solomon Bandaranaike was a rather distant relative of Senanayake in the hierarchy of the UNP, the party of “nephews and uncles”, too distant to hope to come to power .This is what led him to set up his own party, the SLFP, to ensure himself as rapidly as possible an electoral base. There were Tamils among the founders of the SLFP but they left the leadership once the party became aggressively Sinhala Bouddhist. Nevertheless the SLFP always had Tamil members and supporters including in Jaffna and the East even during the years of war

[10] A Sinhalese association defending Sinhalese culture based on the Mahajana Sabha which grouped the rural elites

[11] A general strike and a complete cessation of any activity

[12] For a critical analysis of the position of the LSSP following the hartal of 1953, see: Sivanandan Ambalavaner. Racism and the Politics of Underdevelopment. Race & Class- XXVI-1, and Hensman, Rohini; The Role of the Socialist in the Civil War in Sri Lanka.

[13] The Fourth International publicly disavowed this vote as well as the budget vote the same year

[14] The Ceylon Communist Party was formed in 1943 after the expulsion of the Stalinist current of the LSSP in 1940. This current refused to lead the struggle against colonialism because of the alliance between the USSR and British imperialism during the war

[15] Up to 1985, the RMP (Revolutionary Marxist Party), led by Bala Tampoe, was recognized as the Sri Lankan section of the FI. Another prominent RMP leader was Upali Cooray. Following a division in this organisation in 1981 there was not de facto a functioning section until 1991 when the World Congress recognised the Nava Sama Samaja Pakshaya, although Bala Tampoe and the comrades around him continued as individual members.

The origins of the NSSP are in a Left or "Vama" tendency that emerged inside the post-1964 LSSP. This tendency, leaders of which were expelled by the LSSP in the early 1970s, developed around students and lecturers in Peradeniya University then broadened to include working class members of the LSSP as well as more radical older leaders of the LSSP. The Vama tendency became an open organisation in 1977, after several years of maintaining an inside/outside relationship with the LSSP and took the name of Nava Sama Samaja Pakshaya (New Socialist (or Social Equality) Party). The NSSP was banned in 1983 after the July pogroms and only legalised again in 1985. Some of its leaders and members were killed by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) during the 1987-1990 insurrection and also by the LTTE in the same period. The NSSP is one of the few parties that has consistently defended the right to self-determination for the Tamil people.

The Vama tendency had come into contact with the Militant Tendency (Ted Grant) through its supporters who went to Britain to study. They became affiliated with the Militant international current but developed ideological differences as well as strategic differences on Sri Lanka. The NSSP broke with the Militant tendency in 1988-89 and developed relations with the Fourth International.

[16] The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna was a revolutionary movement but since its beginning it had xenophobic tendencies, regarding Hill-Country Tamil workers saw as fifth-colomnists for india expansionism . It became an unbridled Sinhala chauvinist Party.[[For more on JVP see Skanthakumar, Balasingham. “People’s Liberation Front of Sri Lanka (JVP)” in The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest, Ness, Immanuel (Ed), Blackwell Publishing, 2009. Blackwell Reference Online. 07 May 2009.

[17] Coalition formed in 1972 comprising several Tamil parties including the Tamil Congress (ACTC) and the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) and which became the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in 1976 after the Federal Party had joined the coalition

[18] Peaceful mobilisations of the type advocated by Mahatma Gandhi

[19] On this subject see UTHR (J) – Chapter 2.

[20] He was elected as an independant but supported the SLFP

[21] On July 13, 1985, the different Tamil groups, meeting in the capital of Bhoutan Thimphu, agreed on three key points: recognition of a distinct Tamil nation and its right to self-determination, the guarantee of the territorial integrity of an independent Tamil state, the safeguarding of the fundamental rights of Tamils outside of their state

Other recent articles:

Sri Lanka

No holds barred to establish Sinhala chauvinism - April 2010
Posted by Thavam

UN Experts: Sri Lanka Tamil Genocide Video is Real


1-10 of 31