Friday, July 21, 2017

We cannot handle too many things together

 DR.Vickramabahu Karunaratne-2017-07-20

War is a manmade disaster that demolishes civilizations made by unknown generations. In the end what are left are not just death, injuries and destruction, but undying suspicion and distrust.
To heal, it will take time, but great leaders with humanistic ethics could do wonders. They have to stand against plunder and exploitation creating the need for communication, understanding. Faith can be created in the modern world by standing for equality,

autonomy and the right of self-determination; and then only sense of correcting the wrong done to a community is possible. In this venture, the Sri Lankan Government is harassed and beaten by a fascistic majoritist group making it faltering, despite promises to its own people, as well as to the international community. Sri Lanka's three-decade war between basically Sinhala soldiers and Tamil guerrilla military organization arose because the Sri Lankan Government failed to address the grievances of the Tamil speaking people.

It was seen as a conflict between major Sinhala nationality and the minor Tamil nationality. The Tamil clandestine army was named Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the war killed an estimated 100,000 civilians, left many more injured and displaced, and widened a seemingly unbridgeable rift between the minority Tamil nationality, and majority Sinhala nationality.
After an October 2015 pledge to the United Nations Human Rights Council to address justice and accountability, Sri Lanka's Government in 2016 embarked on a nation-wide consultation to find ways to deliver answers. The government entrusted the task to an 11-member Consultation Task Force (CTF), representing a cross-section of Sri Lanka's ethnic, regional, and religious groups. Nearly half the team, including the head of the CTF, was women. The consultation process was a complicated one. The CTF recruited representatives of local civil society, political, feminist, healthcare and religious leaders as Zonal Task Force members (ZTF), who could conduct consultations on the ground across the various districts and provinces. These findings were accepted as valuable to indicate how human rights and social-economic rights should be improved in a new Constitution.

A fair degree of commitment

However, the pressing need was to propose a new Constitution sans executive presidency, but with a substantial devolution giving power over land and police to the provincial councils. This was undertaken by the investigation carried out by the Lal Wijenaike Committee. People participated with many valuable proposals. On this basis under the leadership of the Prime Minister, discussions are continuing in order to bring a proposal for a new Constitution; to be debated in the Constitutional Council. Hence it is incorrect to say that Sri Lankan Government has let the important initiative of the CTF to languish. Officials traveling abroad boast about the consultation process and herald it as a signal of the government's determination to abide by the Human Rights Council resolution.
However, it has to come behind the effort to resolve the Tamil national problem and the problem of Executive President. Government report by CTF is not banished into silence. Meanwhile, many task force members, both national and zonal, are absorbed in the struggle against fascistic Mahinda group. While many joined the effort with a fair degree of commitment, they are aware that the Sri Lankan State had undertaken many commissions of inquiry which in the end led to no redress so far.

A CTF member described both the exhilaration of the process and the attendant disappointment: "The consultations gave way to an amazing non-patronizing community of support...the best thing about the experience is that people had ideas. But by January 2017, I was wondering: "What the hell?" ZTF members, particularly community leaders who have spent years building relationships of trust, feel they are bearing the brunt of public rage over the lack of action. They feel exposed, and are confronted daily by their communities, yet another failed promise, but this time by trusted local leaders. "They are very angry with us, people have lost their faith, even with me," one ZTF member told Human Rights Watch. "And now, I also have lost faith."

This disappointment is due to misunderstanding the political crisis. Sri Lankan Government is struggling against an internal enemy fed by fascistic ideas. There are sabotage actions taking place throughout the country. Some are obvious some are very subtle.

Facing this menace Yahapalanaya is struggling to satisfy UN human rights conditions. The Government of Sri Lanka has publicly acknowledged the findings of the consultation report and ensures that its recommendations are appropriately implemented through robust justice mechanisms. It should be remembered that we cannot handle too many things together.

No need of divisive constitution: Sampanthan

Friday, July 21, 2017
Opposition Leader R Sampanthan yesterday said they did not want a Constitution that would create divisions in the country.
He said they need a Constitution that was aimed at addressing the root cause of the national question and would bring a resolution to the same.
The Opposition Leader made these remarks when he called on visiting Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at the residence of Australian High Commissioner in Colombo yesterday.
Sampanthan said he was confident that if the United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party members in the government work together, formulating the new Constitution can be fulfilled.
“We don’t want a Constitution that divides the country, but a Constitution that will address the root causes of the national question and eventually be a resolution to the same, and we are committed to working on these lines to frame a new Constitution,” he said
Sampanthan briefed the visiting Foreign Minister on the current situation of the Constitutional making process and highlighted that the UNP and the SLFP must work together at this crucial time to overcome barriers and obstacles that are threat to the process.
“The country never had a Constitution based on national consensus. This is an opportunity to frame a Constitution based on national consensus which should not be missed,” Sampanthan said.
He cautioned that if these efforts fail, there will be consequences which will have an adverse impact on the country.
TNA spokesman and parliamentarian M. A. Sumanthiran was present 

Weliamuna’s frank take on the state of the Judiciary

Untitled-1Thursday, 20 July 2017

logoJ.C. Weliamuna, President’s Counsel, Eisenhower Fellow, former Member of the Transparency International Global Board, and Constitutional Law practitioner in Supreme Court for over 28 years, in an interview with the Daily FT shares a frank inside view into the status of the Judicial organ of the State today. Following

are excerpts:
Q: How do you measure the Judiciary after 8 January 2015?

A: Major positive changes took place, taking the Judiciary out of the clutches of the politicians. Despite political interference under the last regime, many judges in all courts acted independently but maybe not all. External interference appears to have vanished. All judges are now at liberty to give decisions without external interference. Analysis of judgements and orders given in politically sensitive cases will bear testimony to it. No doubt there are areas to improve without which the Judiciary cannot deliver, most of which are structural.

A ragdoll that cannot be ‘stitched together’ anymore

  • The dilapidated governing model put together on a very opportunist political need carries with it an endemic conflict of political party interests. 
  • Post-election anti-corruption crusade is fizzling off with heavy corruption in Yahapalanaya and accommodating the corrupt, making Rajapaksa a smaller fry.
  • SLFP compelled to decide the role of Rajapaksa. Both the Maithri bloc and the business community still need Rajapaksa and his vote bloc in forming Governments.
Bound by their MoU, they are not formally separated yet. But they may have to. Now, the indications are, PM Wickremesinghe is out to break the jinx, on his string of Presidential Election defeats. 
Perhaps he knows his most cherished project of having the Executive Presidency abolished that was outsourced to self-appointed Colombo Civil Society leaders, is not going to work. UNP is told to begin a fast track, high profile image building campaign of the leader. Meanwhile for now, Wickremesinghe wants the “Unity” Government to continue.
President Sirisena, is being lobbied and advised to revisit his cohabitation with the UNP, with more pressure building up within his own SLFP bloc against cohabiting in Government. With his outburst over hindering investigations on alleged mega Rajapaksa corruption, he seems to be buying time to see if Rajapaksa can be erased from the political map. 
He has thus told his SLFP Parliamentarians to have the safety-catch on in their guns till end December, when something new could happen. 
Speaking at a business forum thereafter, he had said a unique new party was in the offing. He is probably thinking of an SLFP without Rajapaksas.
Meanwhile, the MoU signed between the two parties in this ‘Unity’ Government comes to an end in September. Will the two leaders want the MoU renewed for the next two years?
To have lived together in a Government for almost two years (Counting from August 2015 elections), with no clear political understanding and a mission, by itself is a miracle. 
That ‘miracle’ came about on a sheer opportunistic understanding that for them meant, everything else mattered little if holding onto power was possible. Why then cannot this ‘unity’ continue in Government on the same opportunist understanding?
This dilapidated Governing model put together on a very opportunist political need, carries with it an endemic conflict of political party interests. 
It is, thus a ‘Government of indecision’ and is inefficient too. It has therefore failed in delivering on all and everything it promised at both the Presidential and Parliamentary elections held within nine months.
It has failed miserably from day one in seeking a different path for development to that of Rajapaksa in direction, content and quality. 
PM Wickremesinghe’s idea -of replicating the ‘Port City’ as Megapolis in the Western Province- remains a website story- even after 18 months. In less than one year, the “Yahapalana” economics was everything Rajapaksa- from the Colombo Port City, the Mattala International Airport to the Hambantota Port and economically dependent on China no less.
In a heavily liberated and a wholly corrupt market economy, this Government too has to live with the same business community, who during Rajapaksa era lived with State patronage. 
With that, more and more names and faces of the Rajapaksa era keep emerging in high posts in the bureaucracy and in political circles glued to the Government high command. 
The most recent was the appointment of Bogollagama as Governor, Eastern Province.
Thus all those anti-corruption forums and platforms that mushroomed immediately after elections have either been muffled or have moved to other funding sources. 
In short, the post elections anti-corruption crusade is fizzling off with heavy corruption in “Yahapalanaya” and accommodating the corrupt, making Rajapaksa a smaller fry.
So is their track record on peace and reconciliation. Nothing different has gone North-East other than what the Rajapaksas sent. Or rather, what is still being done in the North-East is not what the people are eager to have. 
President Sirisena is openly against the Government’s commitment given to the UNHRC on war crime probes with PM Wickremesinghe endorsing same. The “Yahapalana” Government’s farce over peace and reconciliation is being exposed with mothers and other relatives of persons missing due to enforced disappearances continuing their agitation for almost 150 days, even without the ITAK leadership around.
Reconciliation this Government talks of is not what Tamil people understand as ‘reconciliation’. UNP MP as Justice Minister rudely refusing to accept UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism Emmerson’s explanations says it all in one shameful episode.
Far worse is the fate of Muslim people, especially in majority Sinhala South. The “Yahapalana” Government is certainly promoting extreme Sinhala groups including BBS and the Ravana Balaya.
The Justice Minister, who is also the Minister of Buddha Sasana, a strange combination of portfolios for a “Yahapalana” Government was very conspicuous in patronising these extremist groups.
So, is the Minister of Megapolis and Urban Development who still is a Hela Urumaya leader standing for anti-Muslim, Sinhala Buddhist extremism. The Muslim community that voted “Yahapalanaya” en bloc is now kept guessing “how safe?”
That defines the emerging differences in the “Unity” Government with President Sirisena’s resentful manipulations turning it into a ragdoll that cannot be stitched together once again.
Within those overtly Sinhala political assertions, the Police have started intimidating Tamil media while a racist Sinhala writer gains unrestricted freedom to name and accuse Tamil media stations as
he pleases. 
That perhaps is “reconciliation” this Government is comfortable with and the ITAK leadership blind to reality, still believe they can manage Constitutional reforms in re-addressing Tamil grievances. All round, the “Yahapalana” Unity Government has failed so badly, even Rajapaksa goes public now, labelling this Government “corrupt, repressive and anti people”. 
He is once again the preferred Sinhala leader, whose political positions are borrowed and re iterated even by the Asgiriya and Malwatte Prelates. 
This Sinhala build up against the “Yahapalana” Unity Government is what now irks its two partners and disturbs their opportunist co-habitation.
It’s the Maithri bloc in the SLFP that has felt the heat most. For them, ‘Rajapaksa’ is a decisive factor with the large majority of SLFP voters still accepting Rajapaksa as their SLFP leader. All elected SLFP members in this Parliament are there, elected on Rajapaksa’s campaigning and not President Sirisena’s. 
In fact, President Sirisena used his powers to ridicule and belittle Rajapaksa, who led the SLFP campaign against the UNP and collected 42.4 per cent for the SLFP led UPFA as against UNP’s 45.6 per cent. Therefore, it is not surprising that SLFP loyalties remain with Rajapaksa and not with President Sirisena. Can President Sirisena therefore push for an anti-Rajapaksa agenda, while claiming to lead the SLFP? 
This in fact is the conflict. President Sirisena’s SLFP bloc in the Government cannot go to their electorates as anti-Rajapaksa men, when they have not delivered anything to the people, who did not vote them to be part of a UNP Government.
Worse is their plight when they cannot sell to their rural voter, what Wickremesinghe tries to sell to the urban middle class. 
President Sirisena’s cry to have the Rajapaksas investigated to a finish, perhaps a formula designed by his mentor Kumaratunga, therefore cannot win the race for him. There is growing frustration and anger out there in the electorate.
Nor would this corrupt free-market allow the corrupt in the UNP to finish off the Rajapaksa factor. The business community will have to keep their options open, while living with the Government. In the absence of Rajapaksa, where will they find their alternative with a Government that is seen tottering and ineffective in public life?
In Sri Lanka, the Sinhala majority do not pin their faith on, nor do they experiment with, a “third force”. To be an alternative, a third force will have to leave the Sinhala bias of the two main parties.  It is written in post-independence history, the SLFP emerged as the alternative to the UNP pushing out the then main Opposition LSSP, by proving they are a Sinhala party for the Sinhala voter. The formation of the SLFP thus gave the Sinhala majority the advantage of keeping a “Sinhala” option in changing Governments.

All efforts thereafter in forging a new alternative have failed. Having failed to elbow out the SLFP, the two main  Leftist parties tagged behind the SLFP with breakups and splintering on the way.
The popular breakup in the SLFP that led to the formation of the SLMP with Vijaya and Chandrika Kumaratunga, could not make any serious dent on mainstream politics. 

Not because its charismatic leader Vijaya Kumaratunga was assassinated, but because it was not seen as a “Sinhala” party. The rest is history with Chandrika Kumaratunga re-entering the SLFP on a “mother’s sympathy”.
Thrown out of the party by President Premadasa, the two new leaders groomed by President Jayewardene forming their own DUNF, also was not accepted as an alternative in the mainstream. After the assassination of Lalith Athulathmudali, the DUNF folded up with Gamini Dissanayake trekking back to the UNP once again.
The new political party, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna launched by the Rajapaksa loyalists is not projected as an alternative in politics. It is retained as a fall back option for those who may not find accommodation in the SLFP, if the crisis within it now, ends up with serious expulsions.  Rajapaksa thus remains in the SLFP and says nothing about leaving it. Nor is he expelled even after his May Day rally that defied all party decisions.
As much as the SLFP bloc with President Maithri wants Rajapaksa for his vote bloc, the business community needs him too as their alternative, if and when they have to choose one.  The SLFP will thus be compelled to decide the role of Rajapaksa for the future. In other words, both the SLFP Maithri bloc and the business community still need Rajapaksa and his vote bloc in forming Governments.  That defines the emerging differences in the “Unity” Government with President Sirisena’s resentful manipulations turning it into a ragdoll that cannot be stitched together once again.

Sri Lanka: President Accusing media of criticizing government

by Latheef Farook-
( July 20, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Accusing the media of criticizing the government, President Maithripala Sirisena stated recently that media personnel had forgotten the sufferings they underwent during Rajapaksa regime. He claimed that it was his government that freed the media and had given the freedom now enjoyed.
Of course, it is common knowledge that there are plenty of Rajapaksa stooges all over including in the media . The talk has been that there are plenty of Rajapaksa mercenaries, stooges and ghost writers exploiting every possible opportunity to discredit the government.
However, the media in general is telling home truths for which the government is fully responsible. Media today is reflecting the mood of the people who voted for the government in the hope they would bring to book all those who brought the country to the misery.

Almost every organization is mismanaged and the island today is one of the most mismanaged countries in the world despite all its natural blessings but turning more disastrous than ever heard of before.

People and the media which supported the government alike remain deeply disappointed with the government’s dismal failure to fulfil its pledges to prosecute those responsible for high profile fraud, corruption, crimes, murders, looting of nation’s wealth and the list continues. If we are to go by reports in the media, the so-called patriots only developed themselves under the guise of developing the country.
These include Hambantota port, Mattala airport, stadium, conference hall, Colombo port and the so called financial city projects which virtually sold out the country to foreigners. These projects increased the country’s debts beyond its financial capacity to repay. Country was financially mortgaged to foreign countries. This is one among many of the reasons why the Rajapaksa government was thrown out.
Now what has been going on under the present government has caused deep disappointment as they do not want the collapse of the government. Now the question is why is the new government which came to power on the slogan of good governance not taking firm action to deal with all those who ruined this country?
Most responsible media personnel who do not want the return of Rajapaksa government point out that the media is not trying to topple the government. Instead highlighting the government’s failure to ensure that even at this late stage the government wakes up, fulfil its pledges and avert any potential disaster which could bring unpredictable consequences.
Unfortunately, the current policy of doing nothing has resulted in people losing confidence in the ability of the government to deliver on their pledges to the nation. This means the government, willingly or unwillingly, playing into the hands of those who are suspected of plotting and conspiring to topple it. This is what the media does not want and thus highlighting burning issues in the hope that the government would wake up to the realities.
The often-raised question in almost every social gatherings and functions is that why can’t the government arrest the rogues, thieves, frauds and looters who flourished under Rajapaksa government. Why don’t the government bring to book those who committed crimes such as the suspected killing of rugger player Wasim Tajudeen and those from the media, whose soul would continue to haunt not only those in the previous government but those in the preent government too.
To cite an example time and again, the media raise questions about the wisdom behind government approving millions of rupees to import cars for parliamentarians at a time when the almost bankrupt country’s economy is run by International Monetary Fund with foreign debts exceeding $ 60 billion, almost 83% of the GDP, while the people are being subjected to immense problems and hardships in their day to day lives.
People are fed up of empty slogans such as turning Colombo into a financial center between Singapore and Dubai. Sri Lanka was more than a financial center in the early 1950 when late Singapore prime minister Lee Kwan Yew said that he would make Singapore a Sri Lanka and Dubai then was an unknown desert strip used for drying fish.
Almost every organization is mismanaged and the island today is one of the most mismanaged countries in the world despite all its natural blessings but turning more disastrous than ever heard of before.
They point out the need to sort out problems such as the dispute between doctors and the government over SAITAM issue. This issue coupled with repeated students protests caused immense hardships to people. These are issues which need to be sorted as early as possible. However, that was not done. Instead the government leaders are travelling worldwide signing bilateral agreements which so far failed to bring any fruitful results including foreign investments. Yet up to date neither the president nor the prime minister thought it fit to visit to Gulf states which provides employment to around a million Sri Lankans whose annual remittances is more than seven billion dollars helping to sustain the economy from collapse.
There was a time when decent and responsible elements in the bureaucracy kept the corrupt politicians in check. However, in the recent past especially during the Rajapaksa regime politicians and large section of the bureaucracy joined hands to plunder the country and ruin several vital establishments.
For example, during Rajapaksa regime there were reports of politicians and bureaucracy jointly looting around $ 3.5 billion tsunami aid while tsunami victims continue to live even today in temporary shelters.
The situation is such Is that seven decades after the independence the country couldn’t find a solution to dump its waste while an airline is almost grounded due to mismanagement.
The government came with a pledge to stop the hate crimes and bring about reconciliation within divided communities. However, when racist thugs began attacking mosques and Muslim owned businesses the government remained indifferent with many accusing it of giving a free hand.
This is the reason why the media and the people alike are critical of the government and it is time for the government to wake up from slumber and save the country and save the government itself.
The 2016 Foreign & Commonwealth Office report on Human Rights and Democracy was presented to the UK Parliament by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
According to the report published yesterday, in 2015, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) designated 30 “Human Rights Priority Countries” (HRPCs) including Sri Lanka. The other HRPCs areAfghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Burma, Burundi, Central African Republic, China, Colombia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Libya, Maldives, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Yemen and Zimbabwe.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson
“We designated HRPCs following careful consideration against three separate criteria: the human rights situation in the country; the country’s human rights trajectory; and the UK’s ability to influence change. The purpose of selecting HRPCs was to help us prioritise our efforts. This is not to say that we do not work on human rights in many other countries in the world, and indeed through multilateral fora. HRPCs have been treated as priorities for funding from the Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy. The cut off point for this report is 31 December 2016. At https://www. you will find our latest assessments of human rights in the HRPCs.” said the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
“Our Annual Human Rights Report reviews developments over the last twelve months. This year it paints a stark picture of continued human rights violations and abuses in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and many other countries across every continent. However, the picture is not unremittingly bleak, and the UK has been instrumental in promoting and protecting human rights in many areas around the world. For example, a landmark Human Rights Council Resolution at the UN, co-tabled and driven forward by the UK, successfully encouraged the Sri Lankan Government to continue making progress on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights, in line with its commitments.” said the Minister for Human Rights, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon.
“Supporting reconciliation and reform in Sri Lanka remained important throughout 2016. In June the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein provided an update on implementation of HRC resolution 30/1 on Sri Lanka. The UK will continue to support the Government of Sri Lanka in its fulfilment of resolution 30/1, encouraging determined political leadership and inclusive consultations with all communities.” the report highlighted.
We publish below the relevant section on Sri Lanka:
The human rights situation in Sri Lanka saw some improvement in 2016. The Government of Sri Lanka made progress against some of its commitments reflected in UN Human Rights Council (HRC) Resolution 30/1, but much remains to be done. The UK welcomed the passing of legislation establishing an Office of Missing Persons. This was an important step towards reconciliation, although it is yet to come into operation. A constitutional reform process is underway. It is hoped that this will address issues of devolution and introduce a Bill of Rights. The Sri Lankan Government is committed to repealing the much criticised Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and is drafting new counter-terrorism legislation which it intends will be compliant with international human rights standards. These would be important steps in removing historic grievances and strengthening human rights and the rule of law in Sri Lanka.
The government announced further land releases in 2016. While the military maintained a significant presence in the north, the lower profile it took was generally welcomed. The UK has consistently called for the acceleration of land releases and the demilitarisation of the north. Some prisoners held under the existing PTA were released, though many remain in detention without charge. Reports of surveillance, intimidation and harassment by the security forces continued in the north and east, although at much lower levels than under the previous government. Intercommunal tensions remained an area of concern. Tensions were fuelled by hate speech by members of extremist nationalist groups. Sri Lanka continued to engage with the UN and invited a number of UN experts to visit the country, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. He reported full cooperation by the government, but raised concerns about the standard of detention centres and continued cases of torture.
Discrimination against LGB&T persons remained a problem, with a report from Human Rights Watch highlighting that transgender people, and others who did not conform to social expectations about gender, faced discrimination, abuse and mistreatment.

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UK may submit its diplomatic cables to hybrid court

Hybrid courts to heal Sri Lanka’s war scars
By Shamindra Ferdinando- 

The UK is willing to consider submitting uncensored wartime dispatches sent by its High Commission in Colombo to London to the proposed hybrid war crimes court.

Last week UN Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson, QC, at the end of a five-day visit, declared that he had received an assurance from Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe regarding the setting up of an Office of Special Prosecutor to bring criminal charges against those responsible for serious atrocities committed on both sides.

Asked by The Island whether the UK would submit or consider submitting the relevant uncensored documents to proposed war crimes court set up in accordance with Geneva Resolution 30/1 to inquire into accountability issues here, a British High Commission spokesperson said: "The UK cannot comment on its approach to court proceedings that have yet to be established. Once such a court is established, we will decide on the release of documents in response to requests from the court, as appropriate."

The Island raised the issue with the BHC in Colombo in the wake of Lord Naseby’s failed attempt to obtain Colombo based defence attache Lt. Colonel Anton Gash’s dispatches which dealt with the situation on the Vanni front during the period from January 1 to May 2009.

The war ended on May 19, 2009. Pointing out that some of those who had been strongly opposed to the implementation of Resolution 30/1 believed British documents would certainly facilitate efforts to ascertain the ground situation during Jan-May, 2009 period, The Island also queried whether the BHC would recommend giving proposed hybrid court access to British documents.

One-time Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, who is familiar with the Lord Naseby’s attempt told The Island that British authorities had released the military official’s dispatches with some sections blacked out after having initially sought to withhold them.

Lord Naseby has sought information from the British before Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) adopted 30/1 to enable a hybrid war crimes court.

Prof. Wijesinha said that having strongly backed hybrid court to inquire into accountability issues the UK shouldn’t hesitate under any circumstances to assist efforts to establish the truth. Lt. Col. Gash’s assessment could shed light on the Vanni situation where the LTTE extensively used human shield to delay ground forces advance into its rapidly shrinking territory. Prof. Wijesinha pointed out that Lord Naseby had raised the possibility of a section of the dispatches relating to the situation in Sri Lanka being withheld by authorities.

Lord Naseby has complained that there had been only two disclosed dispatches in April and May in spite of those being key months towards the end of the war. Lord Naseby pointed out that there hadn’t been a dispatch soon after the conclusion of the war on the morning of May 19, 2009.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has confirmed Lord Naseby raising the possibility of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office depriving him of required information though it asserted such concerns were unfounded.

Wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told The Island that military dispatches from Colombo-based Western diplomatic missions, including the BHC, Indian High Commission, UN, UN agencies and ICRC could be really useful in verifying unsubstantiated allegations. Rajapaksa emphasised that it would be necessary to provide uncensored diplomatic documents without being selective in releasing them to the public domain.

"BHC military dispatches are of pivotal importance against the backdrop of Labour Party alleging in UK parliament in Sept 2015 40 civilians and 60,000 LTTE cadres lost their lives during January-May 2009."

BHC has declined to answer a query by The Island regarding Labour Party MP Siobhain McDonagh’s claim some time back.

Rajapaksa said that British military dispatches could be compared with those of the Americans whose military attache Lt Col. Lawrence Smith in June two years after the conclusion of the war questioned the very basis of accusations in respect of the army not honouring an internationally backed agreement to accept surrendering LTTE cadres.

UK Parliamentarians and academics discuss ethnocratic nature of Sri Lanka in Houses of Parliament

20 Jul  2017
British parliamentarians and academics discussed Sri Lanka’s ethnocratic nature at a book launch in the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday.  
Government and Politics in Sri Lanka: Biopolitics and Security, authored by Dr Sriskanda Rajah was released at the Houses of parliament to a fully packed parliamentary committee room.
The book, which focusing on Sri Lanka’s post-colonial policies and democratic structure argues  that Sri Lanka functions as an ethnocracy leaning on authoritarianism, was discussed amongst a panel of academics and Members of Parliament.
Speaking at the event the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer John McDonnell stressed the importance of discussing the characteristics of the Sri Lankan state that allow for the oppression of Tamils adding that Tamils must be allowed to determine their own future.
Liberal Democrat MP for Kingston & Surbiton Sir Edward Davey questioned wither Sri Lanka could be classified as a democracy given it failure to protect the rights of all communities. He added that the new Sri Lankan government had tactfully improved international relations whilst failing to deliver on justice and return of appropriated lands.
Labour MP for East Ham Stephen Timms, drawing upon the damning exit statement of UN Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson’s visit to Sri Lanka, called for renewed international pressure for an international independent inquiry and justice process.
Labour MP for Ilford North Wes Streeting reiterated calls for renewed pressure on Sri Lanka as it was faltering on its commitments to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Chairing the event Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh said a prerequisite to sustainable peace in Sri Lanka was credible truth and justice.
A representative of the Kurdish regional government also contributed to the event, stating that Kurds and Tamils had been subject to torture and abuse by successive governments, adding that the Kurdish people fully supported the Tamil right to self-determination in Sri Lanka.
Speaking on the book, its author Dr Sriskanda Rajah argued that Sri Lanka’s democratic institutions they were organised along ethnological lines. The author added that Sri Lanka is better understood as a Sinhala Buddhist ethnocracy than a liberal democracy.
Dr Maung Zarni recalled his existentially difficult experiences of being a Buddhist in Burma and observing the systemic oppression of the Rohingya Muslim community.  He further added that both Burma and Sri Lanka were on a similar path heading towards an authoritarian ethnocracies.
Lecturer in Comparative Politics and author of Tamils and the Nation: Comparing India and Sri Lanka, Dr Madura Rasaratnam said the book shows ethnic violence can be pursued through peace and how it was being carried out in post-war Sri Lanka. Dr Rasaratnam further stressed that Sri Lanka continued to manage the Tamil people by inflicting economic, social and physical pain on a path towards slow extinction of the Tamil nation.
The event ended with a Question and Answer session chaired by Associate Lecturer and PHD Candidate at SOAS University of London Vino Kanapathipilai

The Gloves Are Off: Reactions to Ben Emmerson’s Statement on Torture, Counterterrorism

Featured image courtesy Colombo Gazette


On July 14, 2017 the Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, Ben Emmerson released a statement at the end of his visit to Sri Lanka, where he met with detainees, activists, and the Attorney General, the Chief Justice and High Court Judges.

Following his visit, there was some coverage in the media, with Daily Mirror and Sunday Timesreporting on his statement. However, almost immediately, Minister of Justice and Buddhasasana Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe lashed out in response, saying Emmerson lacked “diplomatic qualities” and displayed an ‘army commander like’ approach. It was this statement that got significantly more coverage.

On Tuesday, it was reported that President Sirisena’s main concern was on who had permitted Emmerson to meet LTTE detainees. This statement again received coverage in the mainstream media.
However, concerns have continually been raised over ongoing torture and police brutality as well as the draft Counter Terrorism Act by civil society.

Groundviews spoke to a cross-section of people in order to unpack the statement and its implications.
Human rights activist and Attorney At Law Nimalka Fernando said she was not surprised by the Special Rapporteur’s message. “Has the mandate holder stated something that any ordinary person in this country does not know?” she asked. Speaking further Fernando said there needed to be political will to expedite security sector reform, and address longstanding rights violations, including torture and prolonged detention. Acknowledging the Minister of Justice’s statement, Fernando pointed out that the UN Rapporteur was only reporting what had been expressed by directly affected people. “The General Assembly in its resolution 59/195 reaffirmed that States must ensure that any measure taken to combat terrorism complies with their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law,” she said. As such, Sri Lanka should lead by example and fulfil the international obligations they had agreed to.

“Every single report I have read from experts and those visiting have identified the same inadequacies and violations affected communities have shared with us. These reports are not false nor exaggerating. They speak of the pledge given to the people, promising reform,” Fernando said.
However, a rights activist who met with Special Rapporteur (and requested anonymity) said they were ‘pleasantly surprised’ at the tone of the statement given that their meeting had been challenging. “It wasn’t clear to us that he fully appreciated the gravity of the torture problem and the role of admissible confessions in the problem of systemic torture. I also got the impression that he was more interested in quiet engagement with the government at the expense of public criticism,” the activist said.

The shift in position, they asserted, was likely due to the reported testy exchange between the Special Rapporteur and the Minister of Justice. “The strength of the statement and its forthright criticisms are probably a direct outcome of that meeting. The Justice Minister seems to have turned a carefully choreographed diplomatic victory for the government into a stunning defeat,” the activist said.
Human rights activist Ruki Fernando said that the Special Rapporteur’s announcement that the Government – and specifically Ministry of Foreign Affairs – had agreed to consult with the Rapporteur’s office within two weeks, was welcome. However, given the recent announcements by the Minister of Justice, it remained to be seen whether this was actually a commitment the government would keep. The Special Rapporteur had also not commented on the secrecy with which the various drafts of counter terrorism legislation had been produced, nor the lack of consultation with the public on the process, he added.

“The SR also doesn’t seem to have highlighted overarching concerns of counter-terrorism mindset towards reconciliation and rights. The fact that even PTA detainees that are released continue to be harassed and subjected to surveillance and intimidation. That several activists, including me, continue to be investigated under the PTA, more than 3 years after being arrested and conditionally released,” Fernando said. The priority given to counter terrorism efforts was so strong that just a few weeks before, a military officer in the North had spoken of extensive surveillance being conducted, as justification for the continued delays in release of military occupied civilian lands. In Mullaitivu courts, just this May, the police cited the PTA in court as a justification for stopping remembrance ceremonies held by Tamils for those lost in the conflict.

Worse, some of those who met with the Special Rapporteur had suffered severe consequences, Fernando said. “I was alarmed to hear of a person who met the Rapporteur being subjected to threats and the family member of another person who met him being subjected to beating in detention few days after. It is imperative that the SR and the UN country team, as well as the government follow try to follow up these reports, ensure remedies and ensure no such reprisals happen,” Fernando said.
“The SR’s preliminary findings are nothing new. They are concerns that have been highlighted for decades by Sri Lankans and others. At least now, I hope it will ring alarm bells within the government and all Sri Lankans.” Emmerson’s comments could be used as input towards a more humane, rights oriented approach to deal with terrorism concerns. ‘I hope the SR will continue to engage with the government and people of Sri Lanka, in the lead up to the presentation of the full report and findings next year and beyond,” Fernando said.

Executive Director for the Centre for Policy Alternatives, Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu said he felt Emmerson’s statement reflected the current situation. “The issue is the extent to which it will be perceived to lend credence to the accusation that the government is susceptible to encroachments on national sovereignty and taking dictation from outsiders, especially from the West,” Saravanamuttu said. As such, the international community faced a challenge in getting their message across strongly without risking the political embarrassment of the government.

Constitutional lawyer and civil rights advocate Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena meanwhile said that the Special Rapporteur’s characterisation of PTA detention, particularly as it was based in most cases on forced confessions, as an ‘industrial scale injustice’ was apt. His recognition of the State having access to, as he termed it, a “well-oiled torture apparatus” was also accurate, she added,
“The truth is, of course, that the use of torture is endemic both in relation to emergency detainees and suspects implicated in ordinary crimes. And the contradiction between assurances given by the Government and actual progress has been noted,” Pinto-Jayawardena said. For instance, there had been sparse information on recent official statistics provided to the Special Rapporteur – only 71 police officers had been proceeded against for torturing suspects since available records began. The countries abysmal record of prosecutions under the Convention Against Torture (CAT) Act was also worth noting, she added.

“The proposed draft Counter-Terrorism Act (CTA) has been stringently critiqued in reference to the continued admissibility of confessions to the police and the unacceptable over-breadth of the proposed offences. The CTA draft is also problematic in its ‘chilling of expression and information,” Pinto-Jayawardena pointed out. “Certainly the grim realities of the PTA regime, as sketched in these preliminary findings of the Special Rapporteur and reflected in studies for decades, will be increased a hundred-fold if the draft CTA is enacted. At least at this stage, this danger must inform further watchful interventions and scrutiny.’

Research Director at Verité Research, Gehan Gunatilleke also agreed with the Special Rapporteur’s assertion that the PTA had fostered the endemic and systematic use of torture, adding that statistics provided by the Human Rights Commission post 2015 confirmed this.

“However, he chooses to use the word ‘uncorroborated’ when describing confessions – as if to mean admitting ‘corroborated’ confessions is acceptable. I believe this is a dangerous distinction to make, as you will be incentivising the use of corroborating witnesses to justify the use of confessions secured through torture.” This was in line with the idea that the presence of legal counsel during an interrogation could make confessions to police officers admissible. This could invite collusion between police and lawyers, and lead to the violation of a suspect’s fair trial rights, including the right to be presumed innocent, and the right not to incriminate oneself. However, the Rapporteur had said that confessions to police officers should be excluded altogether in the proposed CTA draft, a position Gunatilleke endorsed.

The Rapporteur had not adequately addressed ‘very significate weaknesses’ in the current CTA proposals. Gunatilleke noted that the Law Commission produced a set of proposals in 2016 which was comparatively more compliant on human rights issues compared to the current CTA proposals. “Those proposals abolish confessions to police officers, and contain a definition of terrorism that is more consistent with international standards – both problems that the SR identified in terms of the current CTA proposals. Contrary to the idea that the current CTA proposals contain ‘significant improvements’ – which I think is an overstatement – I believe the current proposals are unsalvageable. The only reasonable option left is to abandon these proposals and return to the Law Commission proposals,” Gunatilleke said.

Founder of the Mannar Women’s Development Foundation, Shreen Saroor noted that Emmerson was the first UN mandate holder to state that the transitional justice process had virtually halted. However, she added the President’s  questioning Special Rapporteur’s  interaction with PTA inmates was revealing. “It implies that the President has forgotten the mandate on which he was voted in on 8th Jan 2015.”

Equally revealing is the fact that a few of those who met with the Rapporteur were threatened and in one case, beaten for speaking out. It remains to be seen whether Emmerson’s statement will result in any concrete action.
Readers who enjoyed this article might find “The Global Context of Counterterrorism: Strategy, Ethics and Sustainability in Sri Lanka’s COIN Experience” and “Continuing abuse under the PTA: Abductions, Arbitrary Arrests, Unlawful Detentions and Torture” enlightening reads. 

A constitutional change is needed

-Prof. Rohana Laxman Piyadasa-2017-07-21

Professor Rohana Laxman Piyadasa, a lecturer of mass media, reflected on the SAITM issue, unrest in universities, the forming of a new constitution and the act proposed by the government to control media. Here are excerpts of the interview. 
  • If there are obstacles in the path to their education, it becomes a social issue
  • Are there parents in our country who can spend Rs 15 million for their children’s education?
  • I hold the view that Universities should be independent
  • I notice a downfall in the Trade union culture of Sri Lanka
  • There are more than one hundred thousand parents who have lost their children
QAt Present there are crucial issues connected with the Universities. The Universities were closed due to student unrest, SAITM, and the spread of epidemics. Now Katubedda University has been closed suddenly. Why is this?  

The country’s youth student population is categorized as a generation of intellectuals that will one day take over the future of a country. If there are obstacles in the path to their education, it becomes a social issue. In an undeveloped country like ours, students continuing with their higher education face sicknesses, contact viruses, experience epidemics and other economic constraints. When any one of this happens its a pathetic sight. Elders of a society should intervene and manage such a situation.


Image: Mothers of the disappeared march in Colombo supporting the OMP act exactly one year ago. (c)s.deshapriya.

Sri Lanka BriefPresident Sirisena signed the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) Act a short while ago, the President’s Media Division said.

Tweeting at the end of the event the President said ‘I signed the Office of Missing Persons Act today. This marks another step forward in Sri Lanka’s path to sustained peace.’
I signed the Office of Missing Persons Gazette today. This marks another step forward in Sri Lanka's path to sustained peace.
Sri Lanka introduced a bill to establish the OMP on the 22nd of May and the Bill was gazetted on the 27th of May 2016.

On June 21, the Office on Missing Persons Bill, presented by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, was passed unanimously in Parliament.

In signing the OMP Act, the President passes into law the first of four specific mechanisms towards transitional justice adopted by the consensus Resolution ‘Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka’ adopted at the United Nations Human Rights Council, in 2015.
– DN