Sunday, November 21, 2010

‘Bitterness Towards The LTTE Has Not Translated Into Goodwill Towards The Government’

‘Bitterness Towards The LTTE Has Not Translated Into Goodwill Towards The Government’

By Sergei DeSilva Ranasinghe

Dr. Muttukrishna Sarvanathan and Ramachendrum, 34 and Pangagem, 29, pictured inside their temporary one-room shelter, in the village of Adankulam, near Thunnukai, March 2010.

Along with the rest of their family, the couple were displaced for more than three years by the conflict. Photo: DFID – UK Department for International DevelopmentDr. Muttukrishna Sarvanathan is the principal researcher at the Point Pedro Institute, which is a not-for-profit think tank that provides analysis and advocacy on political and economic issues afflicting the Sri Lankan Tamil population in the North. In an exclusive interview conducted in mid-October, Dr. Sarvanathan speaks to Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe about a range of current and contentious matters related to post-war stabilisation and nation building in Sri Lanka and how they have impacted on Sri Lanka’s indigenous Tamil population.

Q: Tell us about what has happened with regard to the implementation of the Tamil language in the North and East of Sri Lanka since 1987, but especially since the end of the civil war? Where has it been implemented successfully and where is it lacking and why?
A: Though Tamil language has been made an official language (in addition to the existing Sinhala language) in 1987, the implementation of that provision has been weak. The implementation of the twin official language policy remains weak even after the end of the war. Tamils receive official communications in Sinhala language not only in the North and East, but in other parts of the country (including Colombo) as well. Although the public administration within the North and East by and large is conducted in Tamil language, police stations in these areas record statements from the public in Sinhala language due to dearth of Tamil speaking police officers.
The reason for this slow progress in implementation is lack of bureaucratic and political will to do so; because if the government could spend almost USD 2 billion for defence (this year’s budget allocation) why cannot it fund the implementation of the dual language policy? In fact, I would argue that if the dual language usage is fully implemented, there could be significant cut in the annual defence expenditure. Nowadays with automatic translation software, it wouldn’t be a big administrative problem to implement it. But, unfortunately, there does not seem to be any urgency on the part of the bureaucrats and politicians.

Q: Many commentators say that since the civil war ended, that the original inter-ethnic problems that started the discord between Sinhalese and Tamils since independence remain. Is this an accurate reflection of reality or have some things changed?
A: The original inter-ethnic discords in Sri Lanka were due to language and land rights, disenfranchisement of the hill-country Tamils in 1948 and the introduction of quota system for university admissions in 1972. While the last two grievances have been addressed to a large extent, the first two (language and land rights) stubbornly persist. Besides, there are additional grievances as a direct and indirect result of the protracted armed conflict since the early-1980s.

Q: Tell us about the general situation faced by Tamils in Sri Lanka since the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009? What has been achieved in terms of restoration of normality? What’s the general sentiment of the civilian population towards the LTTE and to the GoSL?
A: A great deal of normalcy has been established gradually since the end of the war; e.g. (i) several hitherto closed roads have been opened-up for public use (A9 highway being the prime example), (ii) security check points have been drastically reduced both in the North and rest of the country, (iii) areas under high security zones have been cut back, (iv) security restrictions on certain vocations such as fishing have been lifted, (v) although the restriction on travel to Colombo (and rest of the country) from Jaffna (by way of obtaining a pass from the army) has been done away with, the registration of household members at the local police station has been re-instituted in Colombo since May (after the general elections).
Despite the positive trend noted above, certain negative aspects of the LTTE-era stubbornly persist in the North (particularly in Jaffna) with a new role-player, albeit at a much smaller scale than that of the LTTE. The Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), a pro-government militia cum political party headed by a cabinet minister Mr. Douglas Devananda, has filled the boots of the LTTE in certain illegal activities such as extortion, kidnapping for ransom, poaching Hindu temples and monopolising the supply of sand for construction purposes. The Maheshwari Nithiyam (Maheshwari Foundation — NGO arm of the EPDP a la Tamils’ Rehabilitation Organisation of the LTTE) monopolises the supply of sand for construction purposes within the peninsula (one customer who asked for refund due to unexplained delay in the supply of sand was threatened with death by the ‘pulanaivuthurai’ — intelligence wing — of the EPDP). Cable television service providers in the peninsula are illegally taxed by the EPDP.
Few school children were kidnapped for ransom in the run-up to the parliamentary elections, which were suspected to be by the EPDP but has ceased since then. In the same way the LTTE took over the management of several Hindu temples in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia through proxies to extort the financial resources of those temples (Kanaka Thurkkai Amman Temple in Ealing, West London, being one such temple where Sockalingam Karunalingam was/is the proxy), the EPDP is currently attempting to take over the management of certain temples in the peninsula that have high revenue. My hunch is that EPDP’s illegal tax collection amounts to about ten per cent of what LTTE used to collect during the ceasefire time.
Besides, foreigners (including Sri Lankan diaspora) visiting the North beyond Omanthai require Ministry of Defence pass, which is antithetical to normalcy. Permissions are usually granted for air travel only (costing Rs. 18,600 or USD 175 for an adult round-trip ticket) thereby unfairly taxing visitors to the North from abroad in the same way the LTTE levied a special tax on diaspora people travelling through the A9 highway during the time of ceasefire.
There is deep resentment towards the LTTE, among significant share of the population, due to their callous disregard for human life, recruitment of children and the immense misery that befell the general population during the final stages of the war. However, the bitterness towards the LTTE unfortunately has not translated into goodwill towards the government, partly due to pampering of terrorists turned criminals such as Douglas Devananda and the remnants of the LTTE hierarchy such as Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan (alias Karuna Amman), Kumaran Pathmanathan (alias KP), Velautham Thayanithi (alias Thaya Master), et al, by the government.
Thaya Master is apparently working as a news compiler for DAN TV (satellite television network of the EPDP) and is building a brand new home reportedly worth over Rs. 5 Million (USD 50,000) in his native Thambasetty village, Point Pedro. “Where did he get this money?” is the question asked by his fellow villagers. Most likely this money is part of the loot from Tamil civilians by the LTTE in the Wanni before its extinction. Thaya Master’s wife, a graduate teacher, is teaching at a nearby girls’ school called Vadamarachchi Hindu Girls’ College and positioning herself to become the principal not due to merit but through the newfound political influence of her husband, by aligning with Douglas Devananda and the government.
While bulk of the IDP returnees live in squalor and some are expected to be given Rs 500,000 at the most under the World Bank’s North East Housing Reconstruction Project (NEHRP) or the Indian Government’s 50,000 houses project, those who were complicit in crimes against humanity (such as recruitment of child soldiers, forcible displacement of civilians and conscription, killing of civilians attempting to flee the clutches of the LTTE, etc) are pampered and living in relative luxury. ‘What justice is this?’ is the thought lingering in the minds of the population.
Foregoing are some of the main reasons for the civilian population’s negative feeling towards the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL). In many respects the journey is ‘continuing’ rather than ‘beginning’ (as claimed by an EPDP election campaign poster).

Q: Since fishing is a major livelihood in the Northern province, to what extent has the fishing community and industry revived after the civil war? What has the government done to assist the restitution of their livelihood? And, to what extent does the Indian Tamil fishing community pose a problem to the livelihood of Sri Lankan fishermen in the North by illegally fishing in Sri Lankan waters?
A: The government has lifted the time and distance restrictions on fishing in most parts of the North; apart from that there is hardly any assistance from the government. Certain coastal areas are still classified as High Security Zones (HSZ) and thereby barred for fishing; Mylitty to Kankesanthurai in Valikamam North, certain areas in Vadamarachchi East, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu are still no-go areas for fishing.
Nevertheless, the lifting of security restrictions have increased the fish catch significantly in the Jaffna peninsula and Mannar island, which in turn has revived the transport of fish for sale outside the respective districts (particularly to Colombo).
Poaching by Tamil Nadu fisherpersons in the Northern and Gulf of Mannar waters remains a serious threat to the livelihoods of fisherpersons in the North. Sri Lanka Navy is reluctant to take serious action to prevent poaching because of the political sensitivities between the two countries. A dialogue between the fishing communities of Northern Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu should be facilitated by both the governments to arrest poaching. Northern fisherpersons do not have multi-day boats or trawlers like the Indian fisherpersons to take advantage of deep-sea fishing, which also gives a competitive advantage to the latter.

Q: There have been reports that thousands of Tamil speaking police officers have joined the police in the Northern and Eastern Provinces? To what extent do Tamils in Sri Lanka have confidence in the restitution of law and order and good governance in Sri Lanka after the civil war?
A: According to my knowledge, 500-600 Tamil speaking police officers have been recruited from the Jaffna peninsula this year and are currently undergoing training in Kalutara Police Training College, which is commendable. In the Eastern Province this has been going on for a while, but I do not know the number.
This does not mean that law and order situation or the governance in general has improved in the North (read the answer to question one as well) or beyond. Deteriorating law and order and poor governance have been hallmarks of the Rajapaksa regime in the past five years throughout the country, which continues unabated even after the end of the war. For example, a journalist went missing in Homagama (suburb of Colombo) few days before the presidential election and remains ‘disappeared’. One Batticaloa Municipal Council member belonging to the Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP) political party (a constituent of the ruling alliance) is reported missing since late-August.
In spite of the public appeal by the chief minister of the Eastern Province for his release, police have not been able to trace this person. Couple of months ago, two young married ladies (resettled IDPs) were gang raped by uniformed army personnel in Visvamadu (Mullaitivu District). Though the local police has apprehended the culprits and produced in court, the military police has been trying its best to get the suspects released on bail. A high profile Deputy Minister tied a public official to a tree for coming late for a meeting in Kelaniya in August, but no legal action has been taken against the Deputy Minister.
The foregoing examples are hardly reassuring to the people (in the North and beyond) as regards restoration of law and order or good governance in the aftermath of the civil war. Should I say more?

Q: As there seems to be differences of opinion among Tamils in Sri Lanka and the diaspora, how reflective and accurate is the commentary expressed by pro-LTTE supporters in the Tamil diaspora on the general situation experienced by Tamils in Sri Lanka?
A: Some diaspora propagation about the situation back home is true, most are exaggerations and some are blatantly false.
A small fraction of the Tamil diaspora has been the scourge of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. I regard this small minority of Tamil diaspora as scum of the earth. From the early-1970s, a small proportion of the Tamil diaspora spread throughout the world (three prominent personalities were Elayathamby Ratnasabapathy and Arular Arulpragasam of the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students (EROS) and Anton Balasingham of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), all of whom were British citizens – Arulpragasam still lives in the UK and the other two are deceased) has misled the Tamils in the North and East promising a mythical Tamil state; while these scoundrels lived happily in their adopted homelands, the people of North East Sri Lanka had to pay enormously with their blood and sweat.
It is this tiny (but hyperactive and effective) diaspora that misled Pirapaharan until his death by giving him false hope that the international community through the UN (or otherwise) will rescue him and the LTTE. The rest is history.
All along the past 40-years, Tamil diaspora has been a huge liability to the collective political interest of the Tamils in Sri Lanka; though at individual or household level remittances from the diaspora has hugely mitigated the impact of the civil war (particularly in Jaffna – the most populous district out of the eight districts in the North and East).
History teaches us that if the Tamils in Sri Lanka let the diaspora chart its political future, the Tamil community is doomed. I am confident that the Sri Lankan Tamil community is well aware of this fact. The goon squads in the diaspora still naively believe that foreign countries can win them political independence in Sri Lanka and therefore courting certain fungible politicians in their adopted countries. Again, history has taught the Tamils in Sri Lanka that direct involvement of India and Norway on their plight has been disastrous to their collective political interests. I do not think the Tamils in Sri Lanka will again fall prey to the wishful thinking of the tiny minority among the diaspora. Pirapaharan and the LTTE might have been treacherously misled by the diaspora, but the Tamils cannot be.

Q: What do you think are the causal factors which have led to the continued outflow of Tamils seeking asylum overseas?
A: Enduring human insecurities in the North, East and beyond (some of which were pointed out in the answers to questions one and three) and the absence of political resolution of the protracted ethnic conflict could be identified as the two prime reasons for the continued outflow of refugees from Sri Lanka to the West.
Two of the high risk categories of people who would want to flee the country illegally or migrate lawfully are ex-combatants and supporters / sympathisers of the LTTE. There are media reports and anecdotal evidence that some released ex-combatants and resettled supporters of LTTE are re-arrested or harassed by law enforcement authorities or pro-government militias. EPDP, for example, has recruited some ex-combatants and LTTE supporters (Thaya Master being the most prominent one) for whatever purpose. Some of these people join the EPDP (or any other pro-government militia such as PLOTE or TELO) not as a choice, but as a necessity, because it would provide them security from continued harassment by law enforcement authorities or these same pro-government militias. Some others may decide to quit the country either legally or illegally.
Hence, one of the preconditions to stem the outflow of refugees abroad is for the law enforcement authorities and pro-government militias to stop harassing ex-combatants or sympathisers.
In addition to the foregoing, a survey undertaken among youths in 2009 throughout the country (including the North and East) revealed that about 50 per cent of the youths wish to go abroad for good; unfortunately the reason for this urge was not explored by the survey.
Thus, right across the country (irrespective of ethnicity), there is a craze among Sri Lankans to migrate abroad. There appears to be a crisis of confidence among younger generation of Sri Lankans about their homeland.

Q: Describe the relationship between the military and the Tamil civilian population in the North? What are the negative and positive attributes of this relationship? What has the military done to alleviate the plight of the Tamil civilian population since the end of the war?
A: The relationship between the civilian population and the armed forces (including the police) in the North has improved tremendously since June 2009 because security check-points have been drastically reduced and high security zones cut back. Having said that, very young armed forces personnel on the streets of North and East still pose a real and perceived threat to young women; the scale of sexual violence against women has reduced but remains high.
The negative effect of scaled-down security check-points is the increased criminal activities of the pro-government militias (such as EPDP, Karuna Group, PLOTE and TELO) and common criminals. In fact, the pro-government militias are outdoing the goodwill built-up between the armed forces personnel and the civilians. Disarmament and disbanding of the pro-government militias is sine qua non for winning the hearts and minds of the civilian population in the North and East.
The army is actively involved in clearing landmines and building homes for the displaced population both in Jaffna and the Wanni, inter alia. In the business world it is said that it could take a longtime to win a customer, but it would take just a second to lose a customer. In the same way, the army may do one-hundred good things for the welfare of civilians, but one horrific incidence like the rape of women in Visvamadu, has the potential to obliterate the entire goodwill built-up over the months/years with the civilian population. Aforementioned business principle should be inculcated into the hearts and minds of the armed forces personnel for posterity.

Q: Describe the process of demilitarisation that has taken place in the Northern Province since the end of the civil war? What has happened thus far?
A: To the best of my knowledge not much is being done towards demilitarisation in the Northern Province, except drastic cuts in the security check points in the Jaffna peninsula and scaling-down of high security zones in certain areas. I do not think there has been any reduction or increase in the number of armed forces personnel stationed in the North. There are few instances where withdrawal of armed forces personnel has been filled by pro-government militia/s. I do not foresee demilitarisation to any significant extent until the Rajapaksas are in power. Militarisation is indispensable for the perpetuation of the Rajapaksa dynasty.

Q: What has the GoSL done to develop the Northern Province since the end of civil war? What has been planned and implemented so far? To what extent is India financing, assisting and developing the Northern Province?
A: Several roads in the North (especially in the Jaffna peninsula) are rehabilitated or upgraded by the Road Development Authority or the provincial administration with Asian Development Bank (ADB) loans. Power supply is being restored in Jaffna and the Wanni. Telecommunications expansion (both fixed line and mobile) is taking place at a fast pace. Thus, economic infrastructure development is taking place rapidly. However, very little private investment is taking place.
Several other development programmes are implemented under the regular annual departmental or ministerial plans, but packaged as initiatives of the Uthuru Vasanthaya (Northern Spring) programme of the government (three-year post-war public investment programme for the North).
India has committed a lot (>USD 800 million) for the development of the North and East, but very little has materialised on the ground so far. India signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for constructing a coal power plant in Sampur or Nilaweli in the East as early as January 2008; though almost three years has passed, construction has not commenced yet. Moreover, India has committed to reconstruct and upgrade the Palaly airport and the Kankesanthurai seaport in Jaffna. India did provide building materials (asbestos sheets and cement bags) to resettled IDPs in the Wanni early this year. It has also committed to build 50,000 houses to resettled IDPs in Jaffna and Wanni.
Identification of beneficiaries is currently underway under a pilot housing project in the North. Each beneficiary is likely to get Rs. 500,000 (INR 200,000) in installments but the beneficiary family is responsible for undertaking the construction or subcontracting to a builder. India’s involvement in post-war reconstruction in Sri Lanka is a continuation of its post-war reconstruction initiatives in Afghanistan and an expression of its economic might.

Q: There have been unsubstantiated reports that the GoSL or the military have built new Buddhist temples in the Northern Province and have changed several Tamil place names to Sinhala names and sponsored Sinhalese colonisation of certain areas in the Wanni. How accurate are these claims and can evidence be provided to support them?
A: Only one new Buddhist temple have I noticed along the A9 highway somewhere between Kilinochchi and Paranthan. I have not visited the interior Wanni yet and therefore do not know what is happening there. However, I have noticed numerous new Buddhist statues along the A9 highway and within the Jaffna peninsula. These stand-alone Buddhist statues are projected as Buddhist temples either due to ignorance or willfully by vested interests. I do not think there is any official policy of the government to build these Buddha statues by the roadside; it is done by local army personnel on their own accord presumably to seek divine protection from harm (around certain army checkpoints in the North I have also noticed statues or pictures of certain Hindu deities such as Kali and Hanuman).
However, any new religious statues/symbols/pictures in public places should be displayed in accordance with the existing local government (municipal and urban council and pradeshiya sabha) laws and with due permission from relevant authorities. The arbitrary way in which these religious sites in public places established by armed forces personnel, religious dignitaries, or common citizens should not be tolerated by law enforcement authorities.
Buddha statues have also become the ultimate line of defense for squatters (especially along the coast), shanty dwellers, underworld communities, unauthorised three-wheel taxi stands and illegal payment hawkers, especially in and around the city of Colombo. Whenever there is threat of eviction of the foregoing by the Urban Development Authority or the police, they tend to hastily erect a Buddha statue in the hope that it would deter their eviction. Therefore, there is a systematic abuse of Lord Buddha throughout the country (not only in the North), which genuine Buddhists should desist.
Likewise, I noticed only one name change of a place in Jaffna peninsula – ‘Kantharodai’ (in Tamil) has been changed to ‘Kathurugoda’ (in Sinhala). This is an archaeological site near Chunnakam with very short Buddhist dagobas like the ones found in South East Asia. Although the name boards are changed, local people continue to refer to the Tamil name of that area. It is analogous to the change of street names in the capital, where since the early-1970s most English street names are changed to local ones (mostly in memory of a famous or infamous personality), but majority of the people still refer to the old English street names.
I have not seen any colonisation of Sinhalese in the Wanni so far; but as I said before I have not visited the interior of Wanni yet. The army in the Wanni is in the process of building cantonments to provide accommodation to armed forces personnel on duty and their families, which may be projected as colonisation. I do not see anything wrong in building cantonments because most Tamils (including myself) want the army to vacate the private properties they occupy in Jaffna and Wanni so that lawful owners could return. Therefore, the armed forces personnel need alternative permanent housing, which is what the government is doing. What’s the fuss about? Moreover, building of cantonments and army personnel living with their families will help reduce violence against civilian women.
Those who cry foul of such military cantonments are the ones that vociferously seek the army occupation of private properties to end. They cannot have both ways. Of course they may want the army to be withdrawn from the North, which is premature to me. Any hasty withdrawal of the army in the North would lead to mafias such as pro-government militias and common criminals taking over the reins of power, which is very dangerous to the future of the local communities. During the run up to the presidential and parliamentary elections early this year, the army cut back its visible presence on the streets of Jaffna peninsula; the results have been rise in burglaries, chain snatching along the streets and kidnapping for ransom by pro-government militias and common criminals.
To my knowledge, nobody has provided credible evidence by way of pictures or testimonies to the effect of “mushrooming” Buddhist temples, name changes of places, or settlement of ordinary Sinhalese people in the Wanni.

Q: How would you describe and differentiate between Tamil grievances and aspirations since the end of the civil war? How important is a political settlement and what form do you think it should realistically take?
A: Tamil grievances in terms of human security, selective discrimination, lack of use of Tamil language in public administration, etc, persist in the aftermath of the civil war. However, political settlement does not seem to be the priority for the Tamils in the short term (as reflected in the very low turnout at the presidential and parliamentary elections early this year); instead, economic emancipation appears to be the thirst of Tamil people in the immediate future.
Such economic emancipation does not mean just rebuilding their homes and livelihoods, but also includes non-interference by Colombo or the national government as regards the type of economic development activities they would like to undertake. Local governments and provincial governments should be empowered to take decisions through consultations with the local communities. An equal opportunities law should also be enacted to outlaw discrimination in terms of gender, ethnicity, religion, caste, or place of origin like in countries such as the United Kingdom or Australia (this was proposed by the government in the late-1990s under President Chandrika Kumaratunga and then withdrawn due to opposition by vested interests). In addition, an affirmative action programme could be instituted for a limited period of time to increase the representation of minority communities (gender as well) in public administration and services in proportion to their population share.
In the medium and long term, economic and political power sharing between the centre and the provinces is indispensable for establishing durable peace in Sri Lanka. My hunch is that economic freedom (as mooted by me in the following publication and an equal opportunities law (in the short-run) will satisfy 60 per cent of the aspirations of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka and political power sharing (in the long-run) will satisfy the remaining 40 per cent. But the Rajapaksa government does not seem to be interested in any of the foregoing. Instead, the government is very keen to see that no single political party (headed by Tamils) dominates politics either in the North or East. As part of the divide-and-rule grand strategy of the Rajapaksas, while the EPDP is given a free reign in the Jaffna peninsula, Kumaran Pathmanathan is promoted in the Wanni; in the East, while the TMVP is pampered in Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan is allowed to have bases in the Ampara District.

Q: How would you describe the conditions and treatment of Tamil civilians who were placed in IDP camps at the end of the civil war? What were the problems and how were they alleviated over the last 12 months? How many are currently remaining in IDP camps?
A: The conditions and treatment of Tamil civilians in the IDP camps were pathetic. Sri Lankan public services or the NGOs were/are not capable of handling such a large number of IDPs at any one place. Although I would blame the LTTE for instigating such a huge internal displacement, my view is that the government need not have brought them all to Vavuniya or Mannar districts. The government could have allowed the IDPs from Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar and Vavuniya to go to their places of origin within a month after the end of the civil war. The problem of landmines has been overplayed to my knowledge and had been used as an excuse to delay the release of civilians from welfare camps.
While innocent civilians languished in squalor in welfare camps, many people with money and/or influence (including LTTE and TRO personnel) got out of the camps and fled abroad (to India for instance). I know of at least two cabinet ministers and many armed forces personnel involved in making big money out of the misery of the IDPs. Overcrowding and lack of bathroom and toilet facilities were the longstanding problems in the camps. Food supply was also inadequate at times.
Currently there are about 36,000 IDPs remaining in camps throughout the North according to government statistics; the actual number could be more. These remaining IDPs do have freedom of movement – i.e. they could go out of the camps and return.

Q: Tell us about the sentiment of Tamil civilians who escaped from the LTTE in last five months of 2009? To what extent is there bitterness against the LTTE due to its harsh treatment of civilians in the final stages of the war?
A: There is a lot of antipathy towards the LTTE, which will last for a long time. The LTTE forced the civilians to flee along with them (as human shield) right up to the beaches of Northern Mullaitivu. Once the civilians vacated their homes, the LTTE cadres looted the household goods and building materials such as asbestos sheets, roof tiles, window and door frames, etc (in the same way as during the enforced exodus of civilians in the Jaffna peninsula during late-1995 / early-1996). Civilians (particularly women) were forced to part with the jewellery they were wearing (General Sarath Fonseka revealed in parliament in August, that during his tenure last year about 200 kilograms of gold belonging to the LTTE were unearthed in the Wanni and more after he retired from service and he does not know what has happened to it).
The young and old were randomly conscripted to work for the LTTE; either to fight or do subsidiary duties such as manning sentry points, carrying arms, ammunition, and cargo. For the first time, the LTTE deployed male and female cadres together in the same bunker that had resulted in underage pregnancies. There are numerous underage single mothers in the North as a result. The LTTE sucked money and blood out of civilians right up to the end. For example, it was charging Rs. 1,000 (USD 10) per minute of satellite telephone calls to kith and kin in government controlled areas and abroad from the Wanni. Unfortunately, the Rajapaksa regime has failed to capitalise on the resentment of the Tamil civilians towards the LTTE. The priority of the Rajapaksas was consolidation of political power rather than winning the broken hearts and minds of northern Tamils. Rajapaksas were more interested in pampering to the parochial euphoria of the majority community (playing to the gallery) rather than bonding a fractured nation. If you remember what King Asoka in India did after the epic victory in the battlefield and compare it with President Rajapaksa’s behaviour in the aftermath of the civil war, you could distinguish between a genuine Buddhist and a fake Buddhist.

Posted by transcurrents on November 7

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The UN Democracy Fund or UNDEF, is offering fresh funding for NGOs to promote the rule of law and human rights, media and democracy among six areas.!!

Who will receive grants from ‘Democracy Fund’ to propagate ‘UN values’?
Post-war UN funding for NGOs to promote ‘rule of law’, HR, media freedom
November 9, 2010, 10:16 pm

By Shamindra Ferdinando.........ISLAND.LK

The UN Democracy Fund or UNDEF, is offering fresh funding for NGOs to promote the rule of law and human rights, media and democracy among six areas earmarked for financial support for 2011. The Sri Lankan NGOs are among those expected to apply for grants which may go up to as much as $ 500,000 per project for a duration of two years.

According to the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) in Colombo ‘civil society organisations’ could submit their project proposals on-line from Nov 15 to Dec. 31, 2010. The UNIC says funding is also available for projects to promote community development, youth and women ‘issues.’ The UNDEF set up during the tenure of Ban Ki-moon’s predecessor, provides funds for countries ‘coming out of prolonged conflict. UN watchers say the post-conflict Sri Lanka could be an ideal place for the UN Democracy Fund to financially back ‘civil society organisations’, some of which have been campaigning against Sri Lanka at various international fora.

Sri Lankan armed forces defeated the LTTE in May last year prior to the presidential and parliamentary elections on Jan. 26 and April 08, respectively. Some of the NGOs are supporting the Opposition, which has taken on President Rajapaksa’s government.

The UNIC says the UNDEF supports projects that strengthen the voice of civil society, promote human rights, and encourage the participation of all groups in democratic processes. Most of the UNDEF funds go to local civil society organisations — both in the transition and consolidation phases of democratisation. In this way, UNDEF plays a novel and distinct role in complementing the UN’s more traditional work — the work with Governments — to strengthen democratic governance around the world.

This is the Fifth Round of Funding to be launched by UNDEF initiated in 2005. In four Rounds of Funding so far, UNDEF has supported more than 330 projects in 115 countries at a total amount of US$ 93 million. Among the recipients is Saviya Development Foundation, which received $ 225,000 for ‘civil society empowerment project to promote democracy.’

Testifying before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), headed by former Attorney General C. R. de Silva recently, UPFA National List MP Dr. Rajiva Wijesinha emphasised the importance of a comprehensive study on overseas funding received by various NGOs operating in Sri Lanka. Wijesinha told The Island that overseas funding had to be scrutinised to ensure that unscrupulous elements didn’t exploit such projects for their benefits. The MP said that he had informed the External Affairs Ministry of the need to review foreign funding received by INGOs and NGOs active in the country.

Since April 2010, the Defence Ministry has initiated a programme to monitor NGOs to counter anti-Sri Lanka propaganda abroad.

Copyright © Upali Newspapers (Pvt) Ltd.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

SINHALA Govt’s priorities:The massive mismatch in the govt’s budget for 2011 which allocates Rs 215 BIL to DEFENCE! 1.7 B TO TAMIL IDPs RESETTLEMENTS!

Tuesday November 2nd 2010

Still awaiting the break with the past

By Jehan Perera

Last week there were two important events organized by civil society organizations. One was the 20th anniversary of the establishment of Families of the Disappeared. This organization was formed during the period of the JVP insurrection in 1988-89. During that period tens of thousands died, with many thousands simply disappearing. Nearly all of them were Sinhalese people. Along with the killings and disappearances associated with the JVP insurrection, the separatist campaign of the LTTE led to other killings and disappearances, also in their tens of thousands which continued in large numbers until the end of the war last year. The other event that was organized was by the Erukkalampiddy Renaissance Society and the All Ceylon Muslim League Youth Front. They were commemorating the 20th anniversary of the expulsion of the Muslim population of the North by the LTTE.

Of the two events both commemorating tragic incidents, the Muslim event was by far the more hopeful one. Present on the occasion were Muslim ministers of the government such as Rishard Budurdeen and civic activists and university academics such as Dr. S. H. Hasbullah. Giving hope was the presence with them of young schoolchildren who, while being children of those displaced, were now performing well in their schools and had won prizes for their efforts. Also present was the Iranian ambassador in Sri Lanka who expressed his country’s solidarity those who had been displaced, with the larger Muslim community in Sri Lanka, and with the country as a whole, to whose economic development Iran was contributing substantially. The ambassador’s speech was gracious and he made a token demonstration of Iran’s commitment by gifting school equipment and a financial contribution to the schoolchildren of Erukkalampiddy.

But these hopeful aspects of the commemorative ceremony apart, the ground reality is that only a relatively small proportion of the displaced Muslim population has been able to go back to their original places of residence. The end of the war a year and a half ago has opened the door to the resettlement of those people but it is also the case that the majority of them still do not feel capacitated to go back to their homes. Those who go back need to be able to deal with property disputes that will invariably arise from their absence from their homes for so long. They also need resources to reconstruct their homes, which are shells of what they once were. All of this requires the resources and commitment of the government. The commemoration event highlighted these and other unresolved problems that the displaced Muslim population continues to suffer from.

The Different priorities

government’s priorities, however, lie elsewhere. The massive mismatch in the government’s proposed budget for 2011 which allocates Rs 215 billion to defence and a mere Rs 1.7 billion to resettlement highlights one aspect of the problem. Another aspect of the problem is that both the government and international community have focused their attention on the much worse plight of the displaced Tamil population who were caught up in the midst of the last battles between government forces and the LTTE. Some of these people were displaced on multiple occasions. The plight of those displaced people is urgent and immense as they try to fend for themselves in temporary shelters in rural areas that have turned into jungle where they are now resettling with very limited resources. While the displaced Muslim people can understand this situation, it does not lessen their own problems or desire for their own resettlement. The end of the war that seemed so promising in terms of the peace dividend it could bring to them, still remains to be realized.

Unfortunately, the plight of those who have disappeared and their families who are left behind is even worse. The commemoration organized by the Families of the Disappeared was a more sad and somber one led by human rights activists of long standing such as Britto Fenando, Nimalka Fernando and Ruki Fernando. There were no powerful speeches nor were there children with a future to look forward to with brightness in the eye. Instead there were testimonies by mothers who had lost their sons and wives who had lost their husbands. One of those who spoke was the wife of a missing journalist, whose disappearance just prior to the Presidential election sent a chilling message to all public commentators of what their fate could be, and how the system of impunity could rise above the system of police and law and order. Videos were also shown of relatives of the missing trying to locate their loved ones and the tears of children awaiting the return of their fathers.

There were no government members at this commemoration and no foreign ambassadors who spoke or even present. This was ironic, as during the 1988-89 phase when a wave of disappearances affected the Sinhalese people, President Mahinda Rajapaksa was a doughty champion of the disappeared as an opposition parliamentarian. Sri Lanka can be justifiably proud of the actions of its human rights activists, including President Rajapaksa twenty years ago, to have contributed to the global effort to prevent disappearances and to compensate those who have been victims. A booklet released at the event highlighted the option presented by the International Covenant for the Protection of All Persons against Enforced Disappearance, which is part and parcel of that effort.

Ratify Covenant

The Covenant against Enforced Disappearances makes a blanket prohibition against them and declares that widespread or systematic use of disappearances is a crime against humanity. It states that no circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or threat of war, internal political stability or any other public emergency may be invoked as a justification for enforced disappearances. It declares that states are responsible for investigation, prosecution and reparations when its citizens disappear. It also calls on the state to put in place the legal and institutional reforms necessary to fulfil its obligations to justice and provide information and redress to the families of victims. Due to the seriousness of the problem, in 1992 the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the UN Declaration for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. This was upgraded in 2006 by the UN General Assembly into a Convention that will have the status of legally binding states that ratify it. Although over 80 states have signed it, 20 states need to also ratify it as part of their law for the Convention to enter into force.

The comprehensive defeat and elimination of the LTTE and associated terrorism would seem to be the best opportunity that Sri Lanka has had in a long while to put its grim and violent past behind it for all time. In 1989 when the JVP was defeated, it did not mean the end of terrorism and war, for that continued with the LTTE. This made it difficult for successive governments to close the chapter on repressive security focused laws and violent means of conflict resolution as these were necessary to cope with the LTTE’s challenge to the Sri Lankan state and its people. However, today, neither the JVP nor the LTTE exist as armed and militant forces. The government takes justifiable pride that the LTTE is completely destroyed on the ground, while the JVP has eschewed armed militancy for the past two decades and instead devoted itself to democratic politics. In today’s context, therefore, there is the real possibility to close the chapter on the past and to move on. There is no more need for the country to be governed by Emergency Regulations which have to be ratified on a monthly basis in Parliament or resort to anti-terrorism laws.

In addition, the country is in a position to devote much more of its resources to compensating and rebuilding the lives of all its people, Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim, who have suffered from the failure of successive governments to provide them with a safe and law abiding environment in which they and their children could live. The resettlement of all the war displaced and ascertaining the fate of all who went missing can be done to heal the wounds of the past. The material and psychological damage suffered by people belonging to all of Sri Lanka’s communities can be dealt with on a priority basis now that the war and terrorism is over. The sittings of the Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation appointed by President Rajapaksa can go part of the way in this healing direction. The government could also consider signing the UN Convention of Enforced Disappearances and ratifying it as a sign that the past is over and a new future in which conflicts are resolved through political and democratic means is assured.