Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Evolving Role of the Sri Lankan Diaspora

By Sanjeewa Karunaratne

The task of putting our mother nation up-right has just begun. When the eyes of the world are glued to the country for the second phase of the “war,” while some Western countries are trying to block aid in order to feed on our miseries— as they have done so successfully for hundreds of years— an enormous responsibly lies with the Sri Lankan Diaspora.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Real Roots of Sri Lanka's Crisis

From today's Wall Street Journal Asia.

Regarding "The Economic Key to Sri Lankan Peace" (op-ed, May 4): The British who ruled Sri Lanka for nearly 150 years applied a "divide and rule," method to control the rebellious majority by providing a disproportionate share of political power to the submissive minority. This is the root cause of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Write to Hillary Campaign

This is Mrs. Clinton's Fax # and her office phone#s.

Phone#-(202)647-9572 or (202)-647-5291

Here is one letter:

Dear Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton:

I am a resident in the U.S.A. and I am appalled by your recent statement about the war in Sri Lanka.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

LTTE’s Era of Sea Piracy Has Ended

By Sanjeewa Karunaratne

Operating the most comprehensive naval networks among the designated foreign terrorist organizations by the U.S., the LTTE’s Sea Tigers were considered, until recently, as "untouchable" pirates who feared no nation. They were one of the leading pirates in the world, though little known, because of their unfortunate targets were often Malaysian, Jordanian, Philippine, Maldivian, Chinese and Sri Lankan ships and the crew often disappeared. At the LTTE’s final hour, let’s look into what could have been a "Nightmare in the Indian Ocean."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Power devolution and good Governance

“People who value democracy, equality and equity, needs to pressure the Sri Lankan state to take immediate action towards a meaningful and just power sharing arrangement. That is the only way to ensure security and the dignity of the peoples of Sri Lanka.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Letter to Mr. Richard Boucher

April 17th, 2009

Phone: 202.736-4325
Fax: 202. 736.4333

Richard Boucher
Assistant Secretary Bureau of South & Central Asian Affairs
SCA/FO 6254
Harry S. Truman Building
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Sir,

We are writing as members of Sri Lankans for Peace, a US-based organization which was formed to coordinate the work of the Sri Lankan diaspora in America to advance the cause of justice in Sri Lanka.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

How the Tamil Tigers have become involved in piracy

By Pam Uher

The Tamil Tigers are not a species of endangered cats; instead they are a notorious band of violent terrorists (acknowledged as such by over 30 countries in the world) that are based in northern Sri Lanka. They originally founded their organization in 1976, as a secessionist movement that seeks to create an independent Tamil state in the north of Sri Lanka [PBS Frontline, 2002]. Today they are commonly referred to as the LTTE or "Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam".

The LTTE are a very well organized militant group known for extremely violent attacks on civilians as well as carrying out assassinations of Sri Lankan and Indian officials. This group is also associated with the recruiting of young children as soldiers and is given credit for being the first to use the "suicide belt" bomb. They are also known to use women frequently as suicide bombers in their terrorist attacks. It has been reported by the media (PBS among others) that LTTE has delivered actual more suicide bombings than many other terrorist groups like Hamas and al-Qaeda.

What does this militant terrorist group have to do with piracy? The structure of this organization has 3 divisions: military, political and monetary. It is a branch of the military division called the "SEA TIGERS", which was started in 1984, that has a piracy connection. This naval branch of the LTTE is said to have over 2,000 troops and is a force to be reckoned with on the high seas near and around Sri Lanka. The Woodrow Wilson School of Politics and International Studies has reported that this elite terrorist naval unit has "destroyed 35- 50 percent of the Sri Lankan Navy. But they also are reported to be engaged in piracy on the open international seas; hijacking various ships or diverse origin since 1995 to the present day.

They especially like to target freighters carrying goods they can make high profit selling on the world "black market". Once they take over these vessels, cargo and crew disappear, often without a trace. Chinese, Malaysian, Jordanian and Indian ships have been the target of the Tamil Sea Tigers during the past 20 years. The LTTE Sea Tigers fear no nation on the high seas, it seems and they have made a grave impact upon trade routes with their acts of piracy.

Once a ship is hijacked this vicious group of terrorists kill the crew, take the goods and sometimes sink the vessel or make it a so called "phantom vessel", incorporating it into their fleet. In the 1990's nations tried to negotiate with the LTTE pirates, but usually to no avail. They are clever and violent using aircraft and speed boats loaded with explosives to pirate vessels of their choice. The Indian press reports new alarming information about their activities that has the American authorities very tight mouthed: reports that within marine wing of the LTTE, they are trying to develop homemade submarines, in order to expand their activities of smuggling and piracy. It is also known several submarine type ships were caught carrying large cocaine shipments from Columbia and Costa Rica to the U.S. mainland in the past several years were manned by LTTE Sea Tigers (2006, 3 tons of cocaine confiscated in international water off the coast of Coast Rica.)

The Sri Lankan military has been actively carrying out operations to shut down the LTTE Pirates and sea bases in northern Sri Lanka. Their success with naval blockages and land attacks on Sea Tiger Base Camps has been documented in the International News Media in February and March of 2009. These military surges, by the Sri Lankan military have captured many Sea Tiger speed boats (used as bomb craft when attacking on the open seas) and submersibles used by the terrorists during the water raids. On February 8, 2009, the SLAF (Sri Lankan Air Force) reported to the Press that the Sea Tiger leader had been killed and the terrorist main sea command post destroyed.
Piracy supports the terrorist agenda for the LTTE through the expansive network of the Sea Tigers military division. No nation is safe from their high seas piracy and terror, for they do not have boundaries on their violent actions. Their mission is clear: pillage, plunder, kill, destroy and create havoc, until they are in control of Sri Lanka. If they ever get control of Sri Lanka territories will their piracy stop then? Probably not, as it has been a very profitable venture over the past 25 years that has funded their terrorism and allowed the leaders to grow rich.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dr. Upasiri Silva's Personal Account of Discrimination in Sri Lanka

Posted by Sanjeewa Karunaratne

I joined the Public Works Department of Sri Lanka (then Ceylon ) in 1956 September 15th. The intake had more Tamils, but only 7 Sinhalese and one Muslim. The then PWD was full of Tamils and Sinhalese comprised not more than 10%. Not only PWD, Irrigation Department, Police Department and Health Department were the other major government departments where Tamils dominated. According to the statistics, the University of Colombo, Peradeniya and the Medical College were completely dominated by Tamils.

Referring to the 1956 Sinhala Only Act, it is a mistaken belief that Tamils got discriminated from that Bill.

1956 Sinhala Only Act was suspended indefinitely, the same day it was passed in the Parliament by PM (late) SWRD Bandaranayke by a special Gazette notification and the use of Sinhala was not systematically used till I left Sri Lanka in 1973. Because the use of Sinhala was suspended indefinitely Tamil Public servants never had any trouble in working in English. 1958 riots were not due to the Sinhala only Act, but due to introduction of Sinhala "SRI" by the Minister of Transport, Hon. Marickkar (a.k.a Sinhala Marickkar). Introduction of "SRI" was never accepted by the Tamils for Vehicle registration.

All Sinhalese Officers were supposed to sit for a Tamil Examination and be proficient in Tamil to get their next promotion and those who refused to sit but got qualified in Tamil got full pension under the Official Language Act. Vice versa, it was compulsory for Tamils also to sit for the Sinhala proficiency examination to continue in the service. Every one who passed these examination were paid Rs. 500 a princely sum at that time. Most Burger Officers refused to sit for these examinations and they got the full pension and migrated to other countries especially to Australia. Most Sinhalese and Tamils also took the full pension and joined the private sector.

Till I left Sri Lanka in 1973, in the Department of Buildings and the Department of Highways (PWD was separated in 1968) most Engineers and Technical officers were Tamils. In the District Hospital at Balapitiya and Pollwatte in Ambalangoda, where I come from, I never came across a Sinhalese Doctor till my departure. My promotion in the PWD was delayed by a Tamil Director for 4 years as he placed Tamils on top of the list as Seniority played a major role in the promotions.

The statement that Sinhalese discriminated against Tamils never happened in SL in 1956, but after 1973 when the Sinhalese people became the majority position holders in the government. But the private sector was still dominated by the Tamils. Even today Tamils have a fair share of the positions in the government sector but their share in the Private sector is more than in the government sector. I am well aware of this as I worked in Sri Lanka from 2005 up to 2007 as a Consultant. Now, in Colombo we have more Tamils than Sinhalese. Sinhalese are the third majority in the Western Province.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Special Forces and Navy Turning the Tide

By Sanjeewa Karunaratne

If you want to defeat a terrorist organization, talk in a language they understand as done by the Sri Lankan government. In civility, it is difficult and seems “war time excess” or even as a violation of “human rights,” of course, scores of innocents daily killed by suicide attacks may not come within the purview of “human rights,” according to some experts. But desperate times call for desperate measures. It is ludicrous for countries harnessing terrorist’s supports to advocate peaceful settlements with single-minded terrorists, who would neither settle nor compromise. SL Government with over twenty five years of experience in warfare understood this simple fact and met eye-to-eye with the LTTE. This is a story about two innovative military tactics that changed the course of the civil war in Sri Lanka.

The deployment of special forces (SF) units by the SL Army to attack the enemy within its territory created chaos in the insurgency. Confronted by an enemy adept at using terrain to mask movement thereby leaving conventional forces blind to their intentions, it was only natural that the military should create a capability to monitor and disrupt deep within the enemy-held territory. From saturation patrols along the de-facto LTTE-held border to near-suicide missions and compromised positions in the always dangerous LTTE heartland, these units unflinchingly “walk the razor’s edge” every day and has became one of the most respected and most feared illusive battalion in the history of the of the separatist war.

Infamously called the Deep Penetration Unit (DPU)—later reformed as the Mahasohon brigade, following a politically motivated exposure—mirrored terrorist’s strategies. When, in the other parts of the country, LTTE was freely eliminating Tamil and Sinhalese leadership, these small, highly-trained, heavily-armed squads took the war to terrorist’s backyard. LTTE leaders such as Charles (head of military intelligence), Amaran (deputy head of sea tigers), Shaker (head of air tigers), Nizaam (head of the LTTE’s Batticaloa-Amparai political wing) and Mano (eastern zone communications chief) were killed, while Balraj (deputy military commander of the LTTE who later died of a heart attack), S.P. Thamilchelvan (political wing chief who was later killed by a precision air strike) and Susai (head of sea tigers) escaped miraculously.

Success of the special forces was the single most reason LTTE resumed peace talks in 2002.

Change is taking place in the Sri Lankan Navy (SLN) as well. Two new units were created: the SBS (Special Boats Squadron) and the RABS (Rapid Action Boat Squadron). Theses are SLN’s elite forces, possessing high levels of physical fitness and advanced training in both land and sea warfare tactics.

New and improved SLN was no match for the LTTE’s sea tigers. In 2006, the SLN had 21 encounters with the Sea Tigers, with up to 30 craft on each side engaged in battles lasting up to 14 hours. A year later, number of encounters had fallen to 11; in 2008 just four encounters with the Sea Tigers were registered by the SLN.

The Small Boats Concept effectively copied the Sea Tigers’ asymmetric tactics (swarm tactics of overwhelming Dvoras by a fleet of smaller suicide boats), but on a much larger scale. The SLN started to use large numbers of small high-speed, heavily-armed inshore patrol craft (IPC) to outnumber the LTTE suicide boats and overwhelm them during battle. Hundreds of indigenously produced armed fiberglass IPCs have been built by the SLN within months to apply this strategy.

Although the Small Boats Concept proved essential in beating the Sea Tiger battle units along the coast of Sri Lanka, a significant quantity of military hardware was supplied to the LTTE by its floating warehouses—ships which had no name, national flag or port of registry. These ships loiter about 1,500–2,000 km from Sri Lanka and then advance to within 300–400 km of the coast to transfer armaments to LTTE-operated fishing trawlers, which were escorted by the Sea Tiger fighting cadres and suicide boats.

Using human and tactical intelligence, the SLN uncovered the locations of eight warehouse ships and engaged them using OPVs (Offshore Patrol Vessels) with improvised weapons. SLN destroyed the first warehouse ship on 17 September 2006, 120 nautical miles east of Sri Lanka. A further three warehouse ships were sunk in early 2007. Operations against the warehouse fleet culminated in a mission that saw an SLN force steam 1,620 nautical miles southeast, close to the Cocos Islands off the coasts of Australia and Indonesia, to destroy three ships on 10–11 September 2007 and a fourth ship, which had escaped the initial action, three weeks later on 7 October. SLN finally got rid of eight floating warehouses and eleven logistic trawler fleet maintained by the LTTE.

With the Small Boats Concept finding success in sea battles against the Sea Tigers, use of Dvora FAC (Fast Attack Crafts) squadrons to gain sea control and deployment of OPVs to attack warehouse ships, the SLN successfully outperformed the LTTE. Says Vice-Adm Karannagoda, “It was one of the major turning points of the war that has been going on for the last 30 years.”

We, as a nation, are grateful to the valiant soldiers of the Army Commando Regiments, Army Special Forces Regiments, the Navy Special Squadrons, the Air Force Special Force and the Police Special Task Force, who went on near-suicide missions to bring peace to the country. All of these are small organizations, full of carefully selected strong, well-trained and resilient men (and a few women) that delivered a serious blow to the LTTE.

Source: Jane’s Navy International

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The forwarded mail-Myth of Tamil Eelam

> I had lunch with a certain Mr Arunachalam, an Indian Tamil from Madras .
> The conversation that took place prompted me to write this.
> >
> > Sri Lanka is a place for all of us to live in harmony. If anyone,
> >especially the Tamil diaspora thinks that Sri Lanka should be ethnically
> >divided, then, the following is food for though for you. This is also good
> >for those LTTE sympathisers in our country as well as around the world:
> >
> >Your claim: Sri Lanka is the only place for Tamil Ealam
> >
> >Fact: Sri Lanka is the ONLY place in the world for the Sinhala race and
> >the Veddahs. Whether you like it or not, they have the right to this land
> >before anyone else. Tamils, on the other hand, have the historical right
> >to Tamil Nadu – and that is where the only Ealam Dreamland should be. Or
> >you may consider Singapore , Malaysia , Canada , Germany , England or
> > Australia – they have been pampering you well, haven't they?
> >
> >Claim: North and East are the historical Tamil Homeland
> >
> >Fact: If you think the North and East belonged to the Tamils historically,
> >think twice. Read the history of Sri Lanka – the truth, not the rubbish
> >you teach in Tamil schools in Germany . Visit Anuradhapura and look at the
> >moonstones: Lankan civilisation began in the North (not in the South) and
> >the Buddhists were there before the Tamils. Many places of worship of
> >significant importance for Buddhists still lie in the North and East,
> >including places such as Nagadveepa and
> >Thiriyaya – which is said to have
> >been built containing relics of the lord Buddha.
> >
> >Only during the Polonnaruwa regime that the cow was removed from the
> >moonstone as a result of the Hindu influence. That's the first time ever
> >the Cholas set foot in our island – so how dare you claim that the North
> >and East are the "traditional" land of the Tamils?
> >
> >Claim: Sinhala Buddhists are committing a Genocide in Sri Lanka
> >(Genocide is the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in
> >part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group.)
> >
> >Fact: There were Sinhala and Muslim communities living in the North and
> >East – not so long ago. Where are they now? Who has systematically
> >eliminated them, chased them out of their own homes? Who has chopped the
> >heads off the infants, split opened pregnant mothers, stamped their wombs,
> >killed every Sinhala person in sight and torched their villages?
> >
> >Starting from the Kent Farm and Model Farm, the Tamil extremists have
> >eliminated the Sinhala and Muslim communities from the North (and tried in
> >the East too); they attacked temples and mosques, brutally executing
> >monks, priests and innocent people while they were praying. From
> >Aranthalawa, Dimbulagala and Sri Maha Bodhiya to Kandy , the barbaric LTTE
> >terrorists didn't even spare a temple or a mosque. It's the Tamil
> >terrorists committing genocide in Sri Lanka , not anyone else!
> >
> >Claim: Tamils are discriminated in Sri Lanka
> >
> >Fact: A person from the majority Sinhalese cannot buy a piece of land in
> >the North (prevented by a pact), but the Tamils can buy land anywhere in
> >the country. Statistically speaking, Tamils are occupying more than their
> >share in universities, in the civil service, the government and even in
> >the private sector. From Sea Street to 4th Cross Street , there are
> certain
> >trades and industries that "belong" to the Tamils, and no Sinhala or
> >Muslim merchant can penetrate that. A closer look at the transformation of
> > Colombo and its suburbs will make any pea-brain understand who is having
> a better life and who is being pushed aside from the capital city. From
> >Paskaralingam to Kadirgamar to Muralitharan, there are millions of Tamils
> >who have flourished in this country. It is the Sinhala students who cannot
> >attend the Jaffna University or the Eastern University , while the Tamil
> >students enjoy their rights all over the country, including the Peradeniya
> >University in the heartland of the Sinhala Buddhists. Even in Colombo , a
> >Sinhala student is not admitted to any Tamil school, while all the Sinhala
> >schools accept Tamil students.
> >
> > From education, to civil service, to businesses and private sector, to
> > land-ownership in Colombo – Tamils are enjoying more than their fair
> > share. How would it be possible if there is so-called discrimination
> > against Tamils in Sri Lanka ?
> >
> >Claim: Sri Lankan regime has failed to take care of the North and the East
> >
> >Fact: Jaffna had been almost on par with Colombo at one time, a thriving
> >cosmopolitan – the second capital of Sri Lanka – before the troubles
> >began. There are many provinces and districts that have been forgotten by
> >the ruling parties – North and East aren't at the top of that list. Uva,
> >for example did not even have a university until 2 or 3 years ago;
> >Moneragala district is the most deprived in the entire country. The
> >governments have always favoured the Tamils – in order to keep their
> >votes, and as a result, they have been enjoying better benefits than the
> >others in Sri Lanka .
> >
> >Claim: Tamils get hassled and harassed by the security checks
> >
> >Fact: The Sinhalese, the Muslims, the Burghers – we all get woken up in
> >the wee hours of the morning, during search operations; we all get our
> >bags, baggage and vehicles checked, we all get harassed – that's the price
> >the innocent people pay for the environment the stupid LTTE has created.
> >Anyone who fails to produce valid identification or reasonable evidence
> >for whereabouts would get into trouble – unless you are a foreigner (they
> >are the privileged ones in paradise). There are Sinhala and Muslim
> >informants on the LTTE payroll too, so everyone is a 'suspect' at a
> >checkpoint. We all go through the same hassle, same agony. But then again,
> >you hardly visit Sri Lanka , so what would you know?
> >
> >Claim: Sinhalese Buddhists are at War with the Tamils
> >
> >Fact: Nope, we aren't. If we did, there wouldn't have been any Tamils
> >living outside LTTE-controlled areas. Majority of the Tamil population is
> >living outside the LTTE grip; living amongst the other ethnicities in
> >harmony. Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) is at war with the terrorists,
> >just like some other democracies around the world. Some LTTE propaganda
> >agents substitute GoSL with Sinhalese Buddhists and LTTE with the Tamils,
> >to leverage certain situations in their favour.
> >
> >Claim: Some Sinhala Extremist Parties are spreading Sinhala-only
> ideologies
> >
> >Fact: Yes, there are extremist elements such as Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU
> >trans. National Sinhala Heritage) – which came to being to counter the
> >extremists such as the LTTE under a political mandate. Tamil extremism is
> >over 50 years old in Sri Lanka while JHU isn't even 10 years old. JHU,
> >being an extremist, has almost zero influence on the average civil
> >society. Tamils, on the other hand, have "erased" Sinhala from their areas
> >(only Tamil and English exist on the sign boards from the North – out of
> >sight, out of mind?) while the rest of the country treats Tamil as one of
> >the official languages.
> >
> >Now, who is being extreme and who is breeding extremism in this country?
> >
> >Claim: Sri Lankan Government has no option but to negotiate with the LTTE
> >
> >Fact: Sri Lankan Government did not negotiate with the Sinhala Buddhist
> >uprisings in the early 70's and the late 80's. The Sinhala terrorists were
> >captured, tortured and killed – and their heads decorated the roadside
> >fences. Their burning bodies were seen in almost every street corner every
> >morning, and over 50,000 youth are still missing to date. That was the
> >Sinhala Buddhist government taking care of the Sinhala Buddhist youth who
> >terrorised the country. The government does NOT have to negotiate with
> >terrorists. The Sri Lankan governments have been too nice, and tolerant,
> >to the Tamil terrorists all these years.
> >
> >Claim: The international community has a right to involve in the Sri
> >Lankan situation
> >
> >Fact: The international community has already banned the LTTE – a terror
> >outfit and its sister-concerns. Not even India can ecourage terrorism or
> >division anymore; they too have Mumbai and Kashmir on their agenda. Sadly,
> >it is only a few misguided Tamil businessmen and individuals who support
> >the LTTE around the world trying to lobby a voice for lost cause – they
> >hardly quantify or qualify as the "international community." BBC and the
> >gullible British elements don't qualify either.. You too will soon see the
> >truth and realise that the Ealam dream was nothing but a painful
> nightmare.
> >
> >Claim: LTTE is the only and true voice of the Tamil people
> >
> >Fact: LTTE does not represent the true Tamils of this country. If they
> >did, why would they eliminate EPRLF, EPDP, EROS and TULF? Weren't they
> >representing Tamils too? Why would they kill any Tamil voice that was
> >against the LTTE agenda – no matter how big or small the person was? From
> >innocent villagers who were labelled as "traitors" to great statesmen like
> >Lakshaman Kadirgamar, LTTE has killed thousands of its own kith and kin
> >that they were "supposedly" protecting. In fact, the LTTE has killed more
> >innocent Tamils than the number of LTTE militants killed by the Sri Lankan
> >Security Forces. LTTE is not the true voice or the protector of the Tamils
> >in Sri Lanka . It's just the opposite.
> >
> >Claim: LTTE is protecting the civilians in their area, if they get out,
> >they would be killed by the Sri Lankan Security Forces. (Also according to
> >LTTE and the BBC)
> >
> >Fact: Almost all the Tamils in Sri Lanka – except for the ones who are
> >trapped in the current War Zone – live outside the LTTE influence. How
> >come they are not killed? If over 90% of the Tamils are living outside the
> >LTTE held areas, in harmony with the rest of the Sri Lankans, protected
> >and freely, what are they talking about? They would be killed by the
> >military advance if they DON'T leave the LTTE-held areas soon enough.
> >
> >Claim: Sri Lanka failed to recognise the demands of the Tamils and never
> >offered a political solution
> >
> >Fact: Sri Lanka did, but sadly the Tamils didn't recognise the power they
> >had in their hands. The country switched from a 225-seater parliament that
> >represented an MP per electorate to the Provincial Council System to
> >satisfy the demands of the Tamils. This may not have been perfect, but it
> >was a very good beginning. North and East were combined and offered in a
> >silver platter to the terrorist leader twice, but he refused to enter the
> >political stream. LTTE rejected democracy and took up arms, not once, not
> >twice, but many a times. Every "Cease-Fire" ended in LTTE regrouping,
> >re-arming and murdering hundreds of Sinhalese – the Tamil Diaspora that
> >has never set foot in the island should use their brains to understand why
> >the LTTE were NOT acting for the benefit of the ordinary Tamils.
> >
> > Sri Lanka would have been better off without the high-maintenance
> >Provincial Council System – with a leaner, meaner, accountable and more
> >responsible Parliament. Today we have a white elephant – created for the
> >Tamils, but fed by the rest of the Sri Lankans.
> >
> >We were a resourceful nation in South Asia, ahead of Singapore on the
> >development curve, once upon a time. Thanks to the idiotic ideologies and
> >stupidities of LTTE, the whole country has gone back in time – in to the
> >stone ages. The roads are still the same width as it were 30 years ago,
> >the currency has depreciated from Rs 16.00 to a US Dollar in 1978 to
> >almost Rs 114.00 to a US Dollar today – a whopping 712% in just 30 years!
> >The country is filled with the maimed and the war-victims – a huge burden
> >on the welfare system for the next few generations to come. Emotional
> >scars would take another zillion years to heal; and I could write another
> >million ways the war has crippled our Paradise .

Monday, February 23, 2009

Self-immolation, LTTE and contradictions…

Using materials with courtesy and approval of the “Death by Fire” author, Rover
By Sanjeewa Karunaratne

Several hardcore LTTE supporters recently self-immolated: one person in Switzerland and two in Tamil Nadu died, and one man in London was injured. Evidence is not available as to whether these self-immolators were former LTTE suicide cadres. Anyway, these acts were in support of the LTTE who is now facing an imminent military annihilation at the hands of the Sri Lanka defense forces.

There is enormous and constant social pressure from the LTTE leadership toward its members to support the LTTE, and this includes facilitating (or forcing) self-immolation. This too has been prevalent throughout its history. One of the main reasons for the west to ban this organization was the harassment of the Diaspora by the LTTE like this.

One of the most famous acts of recorded self-immolation was when Thich Quan Duc, a Mahayana Vietnamese Buddhist monk burned himself in protest of the mal-treatment that was inflicted upon the clergy by the Ngo Dinh Deim’s government and renouncing the occupation of the U.S. troops in Vietnam. In another case, a University of California (at San Diego) student burned himself in protest of the active presence of US troops in Vietnam. There are numerous cases of self-immolation to express renouncement.

Self-immolation is a very popular Hindu practice of devotion or Sati, where a new widow jumps into the burning pier of her dead husband. This practice has now been banned in India and was never condoned by Mahabarata (a prominent Hindu religious text). In another case of devotion, with the schism of the Russian church, entire villages of the orthodoxy (Russian Orthodox Church) burned themselves and termed it “Baptism Fire.” This is just one example out of many, especially by fundamentalist religious sects, for who practiced mass self- immolation to express devotion.

Self-immolation is also prevalent in India for hard to believe more mundane reasons to do with public figures. For example, a man burned himself when Tamil movie superstar Rajinikanth’s marriage was not doing well in the 1980s. In another instance when Muthuvel Karunanidhi the present chief minister of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu was arrested by his rival M.G. Ramachandran in 1981, eleven Tamil people burned themselves to express devotion to Karunanidhi. Though these men burned themselves predominantly in devotion to the leader, they were also renouncing his arrest - so both devotion and renouncement. Though primitive in nature, the South Indian practice of elevating political leaders, movie stars and cricketers to the level of gods equates self- immolation to blind devotion and makes it a psychological possibility. LTTE exploits the tendency of self-immolation for the leader: the reason Black Tigers get to dine with Prabhakaran as a graduation gift or before an attack.

Curiously, some Hindus and some sects of Christians practice localized immolation to show devotion to their respective gods. A sect of French Jesuits burns parts of their bodies (thigh, foot, palms ect.) in devotion for the pain that Jesus felt when he was crucified. Similarly, devotees of Hindu God, Skanda Kumar walk across burning charcoal to express devotion.

Self-immolation to curse someone: This is little known, but at least two groups of people in India, the Charans and Rajputs self-immolate to bring a curse upon someone who had perpetrated a foul deed upon them (or their people). Both these groups are North Indian Aryan (not South Indian Dravidian) sects that are renowned for their martial abilities. Interestingly, they perform self-immolation only against a closely-related entity faced with a distantly related foe. This character is important in relation to the LTTE. Because unlike the Charnas and Rajputs of India, who are North Indian Aryans, it seems this is the first time that Dravidians have indulged in the practice of cursing through immolation to a significant level. So LTTE is yet again innovative in an unenviable way, in giving the Dravidians a foul name.

The contradictions continue. LTTE supporters self-immolate to a) show devotion to its leader V. Prabhakaran, who has killed more Tamils than the Sri Lankan government b) renounce the government, which has more Tamils under its umbrella than the LTTE c) curse the Sinhalese, who have suffered immensely at the hands of the LTTE and have nothing against the Tamil people.

LTTE pioneered the death by fire by unleashing their trademark suicide attacks; therefore, fire is part and parcel of its modus operandi. Rumors are circulating that the rest of the leaders of the LTTE may self-immolate before being captured by the government forces. As primitive as themselves, as contradictory as their deeds, as cruel as their acts, it is not a surprise if they opt to do so, and it may do some justice to the thousands of innocent civilians who have fried in the fires of the LTTE suicide bombers.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

M.I.A. in the USA: An Oscar for a bin Laden Next?

by Ru Freeman

A few hours ago, two aircraft flown by a terrorist group, LTTE, recognized as such by the US, were foiled in their attempt to attack the Sri Lankan capitol of Colombo. Thought both planes were shot down, two civilians were killed and forty-six others injured.

In an article in the New Yorker, (Jane Mayer, ‘The Hard Cases,' New Yorker, 2/23/09), argues that the Obama administration faces the tough choice of closing Guantanamo Bay and other detention centers holding so-called enemy combatants who have never been charged with a crime, and being accused of going easy on future terrorists. There is the old argument that it is entirely possible to take an ordinary civilian and transform them into a terrorist simply by treating them as such, for what else but revenge might occupy the mind of an innocent human in solitary confinement for five years. But that is hindsight. The task now is to proceed with cautious speed toward justice and that requires the reassessment of definitions of "enemy combatants" and the multiple layers of incarceration, torture and prosecution that defined the Bush era.

But as Neal Katyal, the new Principal Deputy Solicitor General in the Justice Department (i.e. the person authorized to represent the government before the Supreme Court), and the President find their way toward the surprisingly broad line that separates the terrorist from the person or group with a justifiable grievance, there is another issue that Americans as a whole, particularly American liberals, need to confront: their relationship to minorities, particularly as it pertains to the classification of terrorists.

America's checkered past viz-a-viz its own minorities has made it both capable of massive collective goodness (i.e. two and a half years of working toward the election of a man with solid foreign-resident credentials and a name that echoes America's chosen anti-Christ, bin Laden), and equally all-encompassing myopia. Liberal Americans have, for decades, made the usually, but regrettably not reliably, flawless argument that minority status confers upon that minority the right to unquestioned support and a corner on the market on truth. President Obama, himself fairly and squarely a minority, owes his success not merely to the fact that he has done what most minorities have to do in order to achieve the kind of respect he enjoys, i.e. be above reproach in terms of his integrity and intellect, but also to the fact that he has had the courage to disassociate and even condemn those aspects or arguments of a minority group which he finds to be untruthful.

But the rest of America is still catching up, and none slower than its mainstream media, which has been awash with a new found enthusiasm for throwing the word "genocide" at the Sri Lankan government. Sri Lanka, an island off the coast of India, comprises of a Sinhalese majority, and Tamil, Moslem and mixed-race (of European descent), minorities. Sri Lankan schools are required, by law, to teach each child his/her own religion no matter the denomination of the school, and Sri Lankans live, study, work and exist in harmony in the entire island (about the size of Maine), except in a small area controlled by the Tamil Tigers, a separatist terrorist organization. To be absolutely clear, the Tigers (LTTE), are a group of Tamils, but all Tamils are not members nor supporters of the LTTE and 95% of all Tamils live among Sinhalese and Moslems away from the LTTE.

But none of these facts were part of a series of articles in the Boston Globe. Not in the one calling for the Obama Administration to ask for a UN Council Resolution to call for a cease-fire and for Asian powers to stop funding the Sri Lankan government. Nor the one it ran an about an expatriate kid fasting American style (with the help of Gatorade and vitamins), to bring attention to the "plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka." Nor the opinion piece salaciously titled ‘Genocide in Sri Lanka,' by Bruce Fein, a former deputy attorney-general, who claimed that the state department lists Sri Lanka as a "potential as an investigatory target in the Office of War Crimes," but forgot to mention that the same State Department lists the LTTE as a terrorist organization, moved to freeze the assets of LTTE operatives here in the United States, imposed that decision as recently as last week on yet another American front for the LTTE, and, by the way, shut down all funding from Americans and Canadians to the LTTE, all moves which forced the LTTE to suddenly begin peace talks in 2002.

Swift on the heels of all this was a PBS Tavis Smiley segment (he for whom Obama was just not black enough), dedicated to Mathangi Arulpragasam, the niece of Vellupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the LTTE, and daughter of Arula, the leader of a secondary LTTE organization, both criminals and terrorists condemned by the international community. Tavis Smiley ought to have known what was coming, but that would have entailed actually doing some research, and not make the assumptions, as most liberals do, that a person speaking from a minority perspective must automatically be right.

Mathangi Arulpragasam, who goes by the name M.I.A., has been denied a visa to the enter the United States in the past due to her terrorist connections, but is now a resident of Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. MIA was nominated for a Grammy and an Oscar for her song on the current flavor of the month, Slumdog Millionaire which is traveling at breakneck speed toward an Oscar flush. She used her segment on Tavis Smiley to make the statement that she is the spokesperson, the only one!, for the Tamils of Sri Lanka, discrediting the thousands of articulate and frankly more informed and far less dubious Tamils who can speak both for Tamils and Sri Lanka, and, with the connivance of Smiley, continued to accuse the Sri Lankan government of engaging in genocide, that it was "trying to make Tamils extinct," that it had "an army of millions" and that Tamils weren't being "allowed to live" in Sri Lanka. Suffice to say that anybody with a computer and internet access - both of which, I'm positive, aren't denied to Mr. Smiley - could have confirmed the ludicrousness of these pronouncements. The UN, UNHCR and the Red Cross, let alone the Sri Lankan government, have released statements regarding the continued terrorism of the LTTE and its murdering of Tamil civilians before they can cross into the safety zones being maintained by the Sri Lankan government and the Red Cross. UN Human Rights reports regarding its forced recruitment of child soldiers and women as well as international aid workers, are also easily accessed.

Why then did the Tavis Smiley show leave it to Michael Getler, the ombudsman of NPR to make a public apology regarding the conduct of this interview? Why was there no public apology from Tavis Smiley himself but for a forced follow-up segment, thanks to the flood of protests, with the Sri Lankan government? Before the Oscar board decides to take the path of inanity displayed by Tavis Smiley on his show, it might do well to replay the album Piracy Funds Terrorism to which MIA refused to add a disclaimer (regarding her overt support of terrorism), which also contains the song ‘Sunshowers' which refers to suicide bombs ("and some showers I'll be aiming at you") Unless, of course, there's a super-talented rapper niece of Osama bin Laden's singing about killing 2,000 Americans in NYC that they are willing to embrace into the fold.

MIA's music is catchy and should win whatever it deserves. And America is certainly a place where the underdog story, however fictional, guarantees sales. Witness the number of music artists who "authenticate" themselves with borrowed street-creds in order to sell the music they write in nice upper class suburbs. But the idea that the same Hollywood that helped Barack Obama into office is offering M.I.A. the second national platform she said, on the Smiley show, she wants, is to wonder if the America that elected Obama is truly ready for the kind of discernment, self-correction and intelligence that characterizes the man himself.

(Ru Freeman is an author and activist. Her political journalism and cultural criticism has appeared internationally. Her novel, A Disobedient Girl, will be published in English and in translation in July, 2009.)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Genocide in Sri Lanka? Reply to Bruce Fein

Several recent articles in the Boston Globe have loudly and authoritatively alleged that a systematic genocide of Tamil civilians is currently taking place in Sri Lanka. Most notable of these is a recent op-ed piece published in the Globe on February 15th by Mr. Bruce Fein. Given the magnitude and gravity of such accusations –primarily leveled against two central figures of the Sri Lankan regime – it is highly problematic that these damaging claims have been backed with little substance and instead littered with factual inaccuracies and inflammatory language.
The term genocide is remarkably evocative and arouses in people extraordinarily powerful emotions. It is a word that is forever associated with the horrors of Hitler, the unfathomable brutality of Pol Pot and the systematic extermination of the Rwandan Tutsis. As such, the term genocide tends to be used liberally in an effort to indelibly stain an opponent’s reputation and credibility. We believe that the Sri Lankan Government has fallen foul of such a calculated and slanderous campaign of misinformation; hence, we seek to address some of these charges here.
Mr. Fein accuses successive Sinhalese regimes of attempting to make Sri Lanka ‘Tamil Free’. We challenge Mr. Fein to provide evidence of a single case where a mainstream Sri Lankan politician has uttered such despicable claims. We also find such a claim absurdly delusional given that almost half of all Tamils in Sri Lanka reside in areas outside of the region claimed by the separatist LTTE as its ‘homeland’. We can’t help but wonder why so many Tamils would continue to remain in Colombo and other southern cities right in the midst of their alleged exterminators?
Further, Mr. Fein’s article is couched in an ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’ discourse that essentially dichotomizes ethnic relations in Sri Lanka to Buddhist Sinhalese and Hindu/Christian Tamils. But, as any knowledgeable observer of the country would attest, the ethnic landscape of the country is far more complex. For instance, most Christians in the country are Sinhalese. Moreover, there are myriad differences within each community- be they Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim or Burgher- based on caste, occupation and so on.
Mr. Fein claims to have compiled 1000 pages of evidence designed to implicate Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Army Chief Sarath Fonseka on charges of violating the Genocide Accountability Act of 2007. It is also noted that this massive document is based on affidavits and ‘contemporaneous media reporting’. It would be useful for readers to make up their own minds if Mr. Fein were to disclose specific media sources that he has used. To our knowledge, neither any reputable media organization nor any of the countless non-governmental organizations in the country has accused the government of the crime of genocide. As has been documented by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) has certainly been guilty of war-time excesses. However, genocide is not amongst those and we wish to point out that reports churned out by the well-oiled Tamil Tiger propaganda apparatus active in New England and Canada do not constitute credible sources of ‘contemporaneous media reporting’.
We do not seek to dispute the fact that civilian casualties have mounted in recent times. However, what we do seek to dispute is that such casualties are the result of a deliberate and systematic campaign of extermination of the Tamils based on their ethnicity. We wonder if Mr. Fein is aware that most accepted international definitions of the term genocide hinge critically on the ability to demonstrate intent. Thus, it is incumbent on Mr. Fein to prove that the government willfully and intentionally killed unarmed Tamil civilians. What Mr. Fein does not mention- presumably because it does not fit his version of reality- is that most Tamil civilians in LTTE held areas are forcibly held as human shields and forbidden to leave. A report by Human Rights Watch on December 15th amply demonstrates the reign of terror imposed by the LTTE on Tamil civilians and chronicles sharp rises in extortion and forcible recruitment of both children and adults within the last few months. Further, several analysts believe that over the last two decades far more Tamils have been killed by the LTTE than by the government.
Mr. Fein rightly highlights the shelling of hospitals and other civilian establishments in recent times. However, he fails to point out that culpability for these crimes has not been verified with both the GoSL and the LTTE fiercely contesting conflicting claims. Thus, in the absence of reasonable evidence, to impute responsibility for these crimes on the GoSL is irresponsible and mischievous, at best.
In conclusion, we also find it interesting that these charges of genocide are being labeled at a time when the conflict between the GoSL and the separatist LTTE has entered a decisive phase with the LTTE on the verge of outright military defeat. The loud protestations of genocide have to be evaluated with that in mind. Further, we would like to end by pointing out that the term genocide tends to be bandied around too casually these days without a profound understanding of its real meaning. We believe such unabashed prostitution of the word genocide is not only damaging to accused parties but massively unhelpful in fostering inter-group dialogue and consultation in troubled times such as these.

Monday, February 9, 2009

What the Government has to say about civilian plight

The interview done by CNN with the Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary Dr. Palitha Kohona: Click here

The interview done by CNN with the Sri Lankan ambassador to UN, Mr. H.M.G.S. Palihakkara: Click here

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Conflict Levels and Dynamics

By Asoka Kumara

Defining Conflict“A struggle over values and claims to scarce status, power and resources” (Lewise Coser )

“Any situation in which two or more social entities or ‘parties’……perceive that they possess mutually incompatible goals.” (Mitchell)

Conflict is always not a negative thing. Most people associate negative words or ideas with conflict

War, violence, anger or hurt feelings but, Peace building assumes that conflict is a natural part of human existence and that the goal is to transform the destructive ways we deal with conflict to lead to more constructive outcomes.

Conflict levels
 Intra - personal conflict: this refers to conflict occurring with in a person. Usually people need to work on their own inner struggles and issues in order to be constructive in social conflict
Ex.Nelson Mandela (South Africa)
 Interpersonal conflict: Conflict occurring between individuals or small groups of people
 Intra-group conflict: Conflicts that happen in a particular group, whether it is a religious, ethnic, political or other type of identity group.
 Inter-group conflict: occurring between large organized social or identity groups

Challenges in working at conflict
1. Communicating with “the enemy" without being viewed of a spy or traitor
2. To change national structures. Social, political and economic systems often need to change in order to achieve peace that is grounded in justice
3. Influenced by global economic and political systems national institutions and structures do not operate in a vacuums. They are influenced by other countries and actors (EU,ASEAN,IMF,WB)

Stages and Dynamics of Conflict
Conflicts are not static, they change over time sometimes increasing in intensity and some times decreasing. Conflict like fire, goes through a number of stages that have particular elements that make it unique

Stage one - Gathering materials/potential conflict
In the early stage, materials for the fire are collected. Some of these materials are drier than others, but there is no fire yet. However, three is movement towards fire and the materials are readily available
Ex.Donoughmore Reforms – 1931
Soulbury Reforms -1947
Official Language act no 33 of 1956
Citizenship Act

Stage two - Fire begins burning/Confrontation
In this stage, a match is lit and the fire begins to burn
Ex. Killed 13 solders in July 1983
Black July incidents

Conflict stage three- Bonfire/Crisis
The fire burn as far and fast as it can, burning wildly out of control. This stage, the conflict reaches a crisis and, just like the fire conflict consumes the materials fuelling it.
People purposefully do harm, maim of kill others and usually, both sides end up losing something.

EX. Killing and destruction occurred during 1983 – 2001

Conflict stage Four- Coals/Potential conflict
At some point, the fire abates, the flames largely vanish and just the coals continue to glow as most of the fuel is burn up. At this stage, conflict can either continue to burn them out or, if new fuel is added, can re-ignite. If peace accords are signed, then the violence usually decreases
Ex.CFA between GOSL and LTTE (22nd Feb 2002)

Conflict stage Five- Fire out/Regeneration
The fire is finally out and even the embers are cool. At this stage, it is time to focus on other things besides the fire and to re build and help regenerate what was lost.

Peace building Activities
Each stage of conflict has a unique element therefore peace building activities need to design carefully some activities for each stage are
Stage one & two: Transforming Material and preventing Fire
 Prejudice reduction
 Conflict resolution training
 Non-violent advocacy
 HR education
 Economic and agricultural development
Stage three: Limiting What Ignites and Preventing the Flames from Spreading
 Non violent advocacy & training
 HR education and training
 Encouraging local capacities for peace
 Economic & agricultural development
 Use media & communication
Stage four: Cooling the Coals
 Economic & agricultural development
 Trauma counseling
 Media and communication
 Demobilizing soldiers
 Peace education, mediation, interfaith dialogue
Stage Five: Regeneration
 Trauma healing
 Reintegrating IDPs
 Reconstruction
 Micro-finance and agriculture projects
 Reconciliation

Reference : Caritas Peace Building Manual

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Tamil People have Rejected Tamil Self-Determination in Favour of Ethic Integration

Source: Sri Lanka Guardian

“The Tamil Elam struggle failed to achieve anything politically; even what they called “Ghandian” ways failed. Peace talks also failed and the war is also failing them. By going to war and supporting it, Tamil separatists essentially accepted the outcome of the war, victory or defeat. It is not possible to back down from it now when things don’t go in their favour. They may still try it, but, the war will seal the fate of Tamil Elam, the state that was never to be.”
“The Tamil Elam struggle failed to achieve anything politically; even what they called “Ghandian” ways failed. Peace talks also failed and the war is also failing them. By going to war and supporting it, Tamil separatists essentially accepted the outcome of the war, victory or defeat. It is not possible to back down from it now when things don’t go in their favour. They may still try it, but, the war will seal the fate of Tamil Elam, the state that was never to be.” Full article at: http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2008/12/tamil-people-have-rejected-tamil-self.html

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sri Lanka’s Path to Victory: A Story of Leadership, Tactic and Sacrifice.

By Sanjeewa Karunaratne

No one would have believed in their wildest dreams that the Sri Lankan military had the capability of defeating the number one terrorist organization in the world, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). A well-organized, heavily-funded and deadly terrorist outfit that ran a mini state in the northern parts of Sri Lanka has lost its last stronghold: Mullaitivu. The only terrorist organization to have an infantry, a naval force and an air wing was responsible for the largest number of suicide attacks in the world, has used state-of-the-art weaponry, including surface to air (SAM) missiles. Nevertheless, President Rajapaksha and his government have taken its “war against terrorism” to the very end as the LTTE is fighting an existential battle.

Strong military and political leadership and focus underlined this accomplishment, something, Sri Lanka lacked for many years. Not in a slightest moment did the political or military leadership shy away from its objective of defeating the LTTE, which boosted the morale of the forces to the highest level in 25 years. The creation of an independent office of the Defense Secretary, headed by a retired army colonel, Gotabaya Rajapaksha, a U.S. citizen, was a key factor in the concerted war efforts. An army officer, who almost captured LTTE’s supremo twenty years ago, took a hard-line stand against the terrorists, and together with his one-time classmate, Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, provided a stanch leadership for this humanitarian mission. (They also shared rare fortunes of surviving suicide attacks.)

This focus and momentum propelled recruitment in the Armed Forces—3000 or more in every month since 2006 (The Army recruited 4,000 in December 2008 alone). Consequently, the Army increased its roaster from 115,000 to 180,000. Over 50% hike in troop numbers gave Army Commander a free hand to dispatch its military. He directed attacks in multiple, wider fronts as the LTTE showed a considerable lack of fighting power in the absence of its former commander, Colonel Karuna Amman, and his eastern cadres.

The defection of the LTTE’s, then, second-in-command, Karuna Amman, who is a member of the parliament now, was not an isolated event or a coincidence, but the result of years of intelligence work involving Sri Lankan military and regional intelligence agencies. It was a turning point in the quarter-century war. This defection weakened the LTTE, enabling forces to quickly recapture the eastern province and march toward their de facto capital, Killinochchi.

The contribution of the intelligence community, highlighted by the breakaway of “Karuna faction,” was a key feature in this counter-insurgency measure. Sri Lanka Police spearheaded the spying efforts by thoroughly investigating leads and previous attacks to uncover terror cells. Explosive laden trucks, cashes of C-4 plastic explosives that are used in suicide vests were discovered. Revitalized Civilian Protection Force—government more than doubled its numbers from 19,000 to 42,000—with the help of vigilant civilians apprehended key LTTE operatives and spotted time-bombs, some within minutes of its trigger.

Military tactics have changed too. Small commando units were established to engage in rapid raids behind enemy lines to support the advancing troops. However, the real shock came from the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) units viz., the “Deep Penetration Unit” and “Mahasohon Brigade,” which were deployed to conduct covert operations inside the enemy territory. These highly trained and well-equipped detachments proceed deep into the terrorists’ held area and attack. They were responsible for eliminating top-brass LTTEers such as Charles (head of military intelligence), Shankar (head of the air tigers) and Amaran (deputy head of sea tigers), and targeting, though unsuccessfully, Soosai (head of sea tigers). These units have taken the war to the terrorists’ backyard delivering chaos within the insurgency.

The coordination between Army, Air Force and Navy was impeccable.

The Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) supported the ground troops while maintaining the “Zero Civilian Casualty Policy” by skillful maneuvering and using advanced equipment. Shouldering a mammoth task of targeting terrorists like a needle in a haystack, who used civilians as a shield, Air Force provided an example to the world and bolstered the confidence of the internally displaced persons (IDP) in the government for their protection.

The efforts of the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) were phenomenon in restricting LTTE’s weapon supplies pouring through the 30-mile Polk Strait, which separates Sri Lanka from India. To block this vital supply route and spot LTTE’s “floating armories,” unmanned surveillance drones were deployed and powerful radar stations were installed. By this time, Navy had broaden its capabilities to go after these vessels as farther as 1800 nautical miles into the deep sea —one by one Navy destroyed all ten cargo vessels operated by the LTTE to smuggle weapons into the country.

Navy had to overcome another hurdle—LTTE had been inflicting heavy damages on naval ships and transport vessels by using suicide boats. To counter this threat, Navy locally developed smaller fast attack crafts (FAC) to intercept LTTE suicide boats and shield larger vessels. A fleet of FACs cordons the ship making it impossible for suicide boats to penetrate. This strategy proved to be very effective: since the new phase of the war started in 2006, LTTE could not sink a single naval ship using suicide boats.

Realization of this unprecedented success is mainly attributable to the sacrifices made by the Armed Forces. Marching many miles in unfamiliar thick jungles infested with snakes and disease carrying mosquitoes; withstanding stiff resistance and booby traps from the enemy; bearing heavy monsoon rain that filled boots with water and created knee high puddles, government forces showed a remarkable dedication and commitment. And many of them paid the ultimate sacrifice—since the new offensive began, forces lost over 3700 of its valiant soldiers.

At present, eyes of the world are glued to Sri Lanka to witness the unfolding of a historic victory of humanity over insanity. A country, plagued by decades of war had found a cure in the form of a military campaign after a number of attempts for a negotiated settlement failed. LTTE’s imminent defeat opens up the most fertile land with the largest limestone and mineral sand deposits and the best beaches in the country. The government has already started to rebuild Sri Lanka’s only cement factory, chemical, paper factories and infrastructure that had been destroyed by the terrorists. Government’s efforts have been noticed: when security exchanges around the globe are declining, Colombo Stock Exchange is recording considerable gains. Future looks bright for Sri Lanka as it prepares for a journey of unity, understanding and nation building.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Congratulations President Barack Obama

Barack Obama, Sri Lankans for peace congratulate your assumption of the president’s office of the United States of America. We are happy and hopeful because you are a man of judgment. You gave a new meaning to the power and importance of the democratic values to change the world towards better directions. And we are thankful for saying that violence is not the way to achieve political aspirations, and that the unity among Americans is derived from the will for freedom and justice for all, not by their blood, religion, or race. We need people like you to help us to counter violent means taken by the LTTE in Sri Lanka to win a mono-ethnic state that occupies 2/3 of the coast and 1/3 of the landmass of Sri Lanka for 6% of the population (Tamils living in the North and the East of Sri Lanka). Moreoever we are looking forward to collaborate with American people to empower and protect the lives of moderate minority representatives so that they can come to power and serve the legitimate aspirations of all communities through democratic traditions.

Sri Lankans for Peace Blog team

Monday, January 19, 2009

Corruption, Governance and Judiciary, A Case Study Based on Sri Lanka

By Dr. S.W.S.B. Dasanayaka
E-mail: sarath.iba07@gmail.com


There are very many strong evidences available for corruption and bad governance in Sri Lankan society. Today this endemic issue is so widespread and it renders many consequences for whole society especially it very much harms the poor and in most cases powerful rich and ruling elites and their supporters and regime loyal bureaucrats are main beneficiaries of this. Sri Lanka is generally considered as the world’s largest inefficient government with over hundred cabinet, non-cabinet and Provincial Council ministers and highest number of per-capita government employees. Some of these become very corruptive within a very short period. The Transparency International always ranks Sri Lanka as the bottom level country where the corruption is tolerated and informally legalized. Especially from authorities no visible actions are taken to control it. The Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) revealed that the country had lost colossal amount of wealth due to financial malpractices of many state institutions and departments. According to the latest (2008) corruption ranking, education, police, health, defense and judiciary are the most corruptive institutions in the country. In this context, this paper assesses the corruption and governance aspects of Sri Lankan society with special emphasis on judiciary. Many strong evidences exist regarding the abuse of entrusted power for private gain by undermining justice by the judiciary of Sri Lanka. On the one hand it denies victims and the accused the basic human right of a fair and impartial trial and on the other, it has a far reaching negative implication for whole Sri Lankan society and its main socio-economic and political fabric. These implications can be erosion of the ability of the international community to tackle transnational crime and terrorism, diminish of trade, economic growth and human development and finally it denies citizens impartial settlement of disputes with neighbors or the authorities by loosing confidence of the law of the land. Especially, if judicial system dishonored by bribery and corruption undermine confidence in good governance across all sectors of government by giving a blunt message: corruption is tolerated and legalized in this society and people must find alternative ways of justice. It has many negative impacts for sound less poor people in Sri Lankan society. The bad governance in Sri Lankan judiciary starts from political interference in judicial processes by the executive or legislative branches of government to bribery and nepotism, etc. The Sri Lankan judiciary has very many provisions to improve its checks and balances, transparency and accountability aspects. But practical implementations of these are not happening due to very many reasons explained in this paper. Therefore most institutions related to judiciary are out of the equation of good governance and personnel and political agendas are the day of reality. This paper concludes that Sri Lankan Judiciary need full reforms with decentralization of courts system with introduction of very tight good governance framework by empowering independence with high quality human resources in apex and auditing bodies. Furthermore, the judiciary should be more open to civil society and international norms to improve its governance, transparency, accountability and quality aspects.

Key words: Corruption, Governance, Judiciary, Sri Lanka.
JEL Classification: K4, H11.

1) Introduction

The legal system of Sri Lanka is a highly complex mixture of English common law, Roman-Dutch law, Muslim law and customary laws. The basis of criminal law and procedure is the English common law. After Sri Lanka was colonized by the British Empire, British laws were gradually applied throughout the nation. Sri Lanka has an adversarial system of justice. The Attorney-General is the principal law officer of the state. The District Attorney and state counsels in his department conduct prosecutions. However, the bulk of prosecutions in minor cases are instituted in the Magistrates' Courts by the officer in charge of a police station. This may be the start of bad governance and corruption in all judiciary. However, due to the unsatisfactory nature of the existing criminal laws, which led to a state of uncertainty, the Penal Code of Sri Lanka was first enacted in 1883. It was based on the corresponding Indian law. The Criminal Procedure Code of 1898 was established and then replaced by the Administration of Justice Law of 1973. This was later replaced by the Code of Criminal Procedure Act of 1979 and the Judicature Act of 1978 as amended by the Judicature (Amendment) Act of 1979. The hierarchy of the judicial system is as follows: the Supreme Court in three courts in session, the Court of Appeal six or seven courts in session, 25 High Courts, 77 District Courts, 92 Magistrates' Courts and 18 Primary Courts. All these courts have around 220 judges and over 3000 court employees. The criminal courts of first instance are the Primary Courts, Magistrates' Courts, Combined Courts, and the High Court. Cases may be appealed to the Court of Appeal and further review may be sought in the Supreme Court. The High Court is the court of first instance for all prosecutions initiated with an indictment. The court of second instance is the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court exercises final appellate jurisdiction as well as special jurisdiction for alleged violations of fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. The Judicial Service Commission has responsibility for the appointment, promotion, discipline, transfer and dismissal of all judges except those in Court of Appeal and supreme court. During the last few decades the integrity of the whole judiciary was been questioned by very many researchers (Marga Institute, 2001, Ivon.V, 2002) and openly debated by many international bodies. Most of the reported stories regarding the integrity and bad governance of the Sri Lankan judiciary start with political interference in judicial processes by either the executive or legislative branches of government and various forms bribery and other human evils due to very many reasons. In this context this paper ascertains the corruption and governance aspects of the Sri Lanka with special emphasis on the judicial system by using questionnaire survey supplemented by the literature survey and interviews with various stakeholders in the judicial system.

2) Objective

The main objective of this paper ascertains the corruption and governance aspects of Sri Lankan society with special emphasis on the Judiciary.

3) Methodology

A comprehensive literature survey was carried-out to find the situation of other countries and the works done in this field of Sri Lanka. A structured questionnaire was administered to conduct interviews with various stakeholders in the whole judiciary system. This structured questionnaire was carried-out at lower and upper level courts in the Western Province of Sri Lanka. But most of the times judges and senior lawyers declined to respond to the questions due the fear of contempt and defame of court and very many other excuses. In addition to this series of interviews were undertaken with key lawyers, legal sector managers, and important officers in the court system and justice Ministry decision makers.

4) Key Issues in Sri Lankan Judiciary
  • Many recorded and un-recorded strong evidences are existed regarding the abuse of entrusted power for private gain undermining justice by the judiciary in Sri Lanka. This is happening in lower level to high courts in various forms (Ivon.V, 2003; Marga Institute, 2002).
  • On the one hand it denies victims and the accused the basic human rights of a fair and impartial trial and on the other, it has a far reaching negative implication for whole Sri Lankan society and its main socio-economic and political fabric.
  • Sri Lankan judiciary mainly understands their duty as to settle disputes between different citizens and their organizations. Judiciary is very weak in settling disputes between state and the citizens.
  • This can lead to erosion of the ability of the international community to tackle transnational crime and terrorism, diminish of trade, economic growth and human development and finally it denies citizens impartial settlement of disputes with neighbors or the authorities by loosing confidence of the law of the land.
  • Dishonored judicial system undermine confidence in good governance across all sectors of government by giving a dull message: corruption is tolerated and legalized in this society and people must find alternative ways of justice or get used to live with corruption. It has many negative impacts for sound less poor people in Sri Lankan society.
  • The main forms of bad governance in Sri Lankan judiciary starts from political interference in judicial processes by the executive or legislative branches of government to bribery and nepotism, etc.
  • The Sri Lankan judiciary has very many provisions to improve its checks and balances, transparency and accountability aspects. But practical implementations of these are not happening due to very many reasons.
  • Judges form only one part of the ‘judicial system’ in Sri Lanka. They only operate after the police, prosecutors, lawyers and other court personnel have entered to the scene. Therefore, judges alone can not be achieved so called good governance without proper stakeholder integration in the whole chains of Judiciary.

5) Reasons for the corruption and bad governance in Sri Lankan Judiciary
  • The failure to appoint judges on merit, which can lead to the selection of corruption-oriented judges.
  • Appointing judges with a bad record and misconduct for senior judicial position gives a bad example for the whole Sri Lankan society.
  • Poor salaries, bad working conditions and lack of training makes judiciary personals vulnerable to bribery.
  • Unfair processes for the removal of corrupt judges, which can lead to the politicization of judge transfers and removals.
  • Complex and outdated court procedures that can make it difficult for the media and civil society to monitor court activities.
  • Insufficient resources and backlogs of cases.

6) Concluding Remarks
  • The Sri Lankan Judiciary needs full reforms with decentralization of courts system with introduction of very tight good governance framework by empowering independence with high quality human resources in apex and auditing bodies.
  • Special attention should be given to improve governance in lower level courts system.
  • Furthermore, the judiciary should be more open to civil society and international norms to improve its governance, transparency, accountability and quality aspects.
  • Delayering also may be good. It involves a radical redesign of an organization’s structure to take account of late 20th-century developments in information technology, education and consumer demand, and other socio-economic and politico changes.
  • Among the benefits claimed for the delayered organizations are the following: it needs fewer managers, it is less bureaucratic, it can take decisions more quickly, it encourages innovation, it brings judicial managers into closer contacts with the organization’s customers and it produces cross-functional employees.
  • Very recently the country’s highest court improved its credibility by giving very controversial judgments regarding high powered politicians and senior bureaucrats. Removal of Country’s powerful Finance Ministry Secretary and Chairmen and Minister of Oil Corporation, interrogation of powerful former President and many more…..These judgments improved Chief Justice’s past bad image and improved people’s trust and respect to upper level Judiciary.

7) Policy Remarks
  • Non-existence of a good mechanism with proper checks and balances to improve transparency and accountability of whole judicial system is the main factor responsible for lower level of governance with corruption in Sri Lankan judiciary.
  • Actually there should be some promotional campaign to get the best talented people into this legal profession. At the moment in many countries good quality talents are not in the door-steps of law colleges.
  • Formulation and implementation of good Information and Communication Technology (ICT) framework may improve the efficiency in whole judiciary in a very transparent and accountable manner.
  • Introduction of many ethics and value based soft sciences into law curricula may be a good way to start the inculcation of these good practices into the legal professional’s minds at early stages.
  • There is no magic set of guidelines, formula or mechanism to completely eradicate the judicial corruption in Sri Lanka. Case by case approach necessary taking into consideration of each and every court system’s special operational circumstances.
  • It can start with formulation of the minimum standards for developing and maintaining integrity, accountability and transparency in whole judicial system.
  • The critical question is that in a country where each and every sector is highly corruptive how only the judiciary can be expected to be non corruptive.
  • Actually the extent of corruption and bad governance in judiciary is a reflection of the society which it operates. It is less likely in societies where there is board adherence to the rule of law, transparency, trust, good codes, good perks and job security and independence for all legal workers and accountability measures are in place.


Cooray.A (1984), Court and Legal System in Sri Lanka – Historical Analysis.

Ivon.V (2003) An unfinished struggle, An investigative exposure of Sri Lanka judiciary and the chief justice, Rayvaya publishers.

Karunaratne, N.H.A., "Dispositional Decisions in the Criminal Justice Process in Sri Lanka," UNAFEI Resource Material Series, No.16, pp. 234-241, Tokyo, Japan: UNAFEI (1978).

Law and Society Trust, personal communication of unpublished research data dated October 13, 1993, Kynsey Terrace, Colombo 8, Sri Lanka.

Marga Institute (2002), A system under siege, An inquiry into the judicial system of Sri Lanka.
The Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) (2008), Corruption on Government Depts and Institutions, Sri Lankan Parliament.

Singh. A and Zahid A (eds.2008), Strengthening governance through access to justice, PHI Publishers, New Delhi, India.

Singh.A, Kapoor.K and Bhattacharyya.R (eds.2008), Governance and poverty reduction, Beyond the cages of best practices, PHI Publishers, New Delhi, India.

Transparency International (2008), Annual Report - 2007.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The price of the failure to decolonize

The world is condemning the assasination of the journalist Lasantha Wickramatunga in Sri Lanka. The government should certainly take action to catch the culprits. It is also worth noting how and why the Sri Lankan Government investigators missed the LTTE's art of recruiting female suicide cadres by double victimizing them, but somebody from a far away country could reveal these sensitive information as shown in the following book. This revelation is a good proof to say that unnecessary delays and lack of focus in the Government bureacracy is Sri Lanka's best enemy. These delays are direct results of Sri Lanka's lack of interest in clearing colonial practices of running the Government.

The book "Dying To Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror (Hardcover)" says:

"Three Tamil women were raped by perpetrators who spoke Sinhalese.The attacks were not reported, other than to the int'l aidorganization, and yet they were not long after approached byrepresentatives of the LTTE and recruited as ultimately 'BlackTigresses.' to save the honor of their family after their rape. Thesame int'l org reported that the original 'Sinhalese' rapists werereally Tamils, (and that this was a 'set up.')

Two of the three women were executed after arranging to speak with theauthor of the book."

Title of the book: Dying To Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror (Ch 3, page 164)by Mia BloomPublisher: Columbia University Press, 2005

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Attacks against the media must stop

The past week has seen two attacks against the media the first, an armed attack and destruction of the MTV/MBC studios and second, the killing of The Sunday Leader Editor. We condemn these attacks unreservedly, because they strike at the very foundations of a free society. Any society worth living in must be one where we can "speak truth to power." As university academics we are committed to the pursuit of truth. Our academic freedom consists in the ability to conduct free inquiry and the space for free expression of ideas it is a tradition that goes back to Socrates and beyond.The government itself, inclusive of the highest in the land, has called for a full inquiry into these incidents. While we welcome this, we wish to assert that the mere calling for inquiries will not be enough. If a speedy and credible conclusion to such inquiries is not forthcoming, the government must appreciate that its own credibility is at stake, since both the recent attacks have been directed at entities that were critical of the status quo. The silencing of dissent is not a hallmark of a democratic society.

Professor Priyan Dias (Moratuwa)
Dr. Ranil Abayasekara (Peradeniya)
Dr. Sarath Dasanayaka (Moratuwa)
Dr. Suresh de Mel (Peradeniya)
Shantha Fernando (Moratuwa)
Dr. Hans Gray (Moratuwa)
Dr. Dileni Gunewardena (Peradeniya)
Dr. Romaine Jayewardene (Colombo)
Dr. T.S.S. Jayawardene (Moratuwa)
Dr. Chulantha Kulasekere (Moratuwa)
Rushira Kulasingham (Colombo)
Professor Amal Kumarage (Moratuwa)
S.N. Niles (Moratuwa)
Dr. Asoka Perera (Moratuwa)
Dr. Ranjan Perera (Moratuwa)
Dinesha Samararatne (Colombo)
Professor Vasanthi Thevanesam (Peradeniya)
Dr. Ruvan Weerasinghe (Colombo)
Professor Sunil Wickramasuriya (Moratuwa)
Dr. Suren Wijeyekoon (Moratuwa)
Dr. Shehan Williams (Kelaniya)

Others who wish to sign, please submit a comment.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


I call upon the 22 Tamil National Alliance Parliamentarians to do their duty or to honourably vacate their seats in Parliament. They have fooled enough, the people whom they claim to represent in Parliament, but never championed their cause. Instead they always defended the LTTE at whose mercy they got elected fraudulently to Parliament. They have mis-led the International Community, the people of Tamil Nadu in particular. Tamil Nadu if left alone or properly briefed would have contributed their best towards a workable solution, without earning the dis-pleasure of the people of Sri Lanka and without causing embarrassment to their own Central Government, with un-fair and un-implementable demands. Unfortunately the people of Tamil Nadu got mis-led by the advice given by the TNA Parliamentarians. Without demanding the war to stop, if they had, in a friendly way, agitated for a reasonable settlement of the ethnic problem, they might have succeeded. I extended my invitation to the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Hon. Dr. M. Karunanithy four years back to pay a visit to Sri Lanka. Let us not forget that the President His Excellency Mahinda Rajapakse himself invited the Chief Minister Hon. Dr. M. Karunanithy, a couple of months back when a mass scale agitation was going on in Tamil Nadu, to visit Sri Lanka and would have been very happy, if the Chief Minister had accepted the invitation, came to Sri Lanka and offered to mediate. This is yet another lost opportunity for which the TNA should bear the blame for not making use of this opportunity.

“What sin have we committed to undergo this agony all these long years, extending to a period of quarter of a century and how long are we to endure this?”, ask the people of Kilinochchi, who are all now displaced and living at Dharmapuram, a small village in the district of Kilinochchi. I know most of them because I lived with them and represented them in Parliament for many years. Apart from this more than a hundred thousand people men, women and children, including the sick and the toddlers, deprived of their normal life, had been mercilessly driven like cattle into Kilinochchi by the LTTE from the areas under their control in the neighboring districts of Mannar, Vavuniya and Mullaitheevu. They were pushed into Kilinochchi by the withdrawing LTTE cadre, unable to confront the advancing Government Forces. Left alone most of them would have stayed in their homes or could have gone to their respective homes and saved whatever left over after being looted or robbed. Instead they are brought from far off places and squeezed into small villages already over crowded with the locally displaced persons from the Kilinochchi district itself. The LTTE holds these people to ransom for no fault of theirs, but only for the sole purpose of using them as human shield for their own protection. The distress call of these unfortunate people is not heard in Tamil Nadu.

The International Community which is much concerned of the Human Rights Violations in the LTTE held areas also, is compelled to keep silent, perhaps due to their reluctance to go against the demand of Tamil Nadu for a Cease Fire although it is very obvious that, the demand is more in support of the LTTE, than in the interest of the Tamils trapped in the LTTE areas. It is very unfortunate that Tamil Nadu is refusing and the TNA is ignoring to respond to the distress call of these two hundred and fifty thousand people who are caught up between the LTTE which is compulsorily recruiting men and women only to sacrifice them at the battle front and the deadly snakes that are multiplying in their thousands. Hundreds had been stung by snake and many have died. Leave aside the TNA, even nature is against them. The down pour of rain is so heavy that all areas are flooded and people have to move from place to place in search of highland to camp and to cook their food. Apart from the snake menace the other one is the mosquitoes with the threat of an out-brake of malaria or dengue. I dare say that all these sufferings of the people do not seem to be of any concern for the TNA Members of Parliament in Sri Lanka and some leaders of Tamil Nadu, who were in the fore-front of the recent uprising in Tamil Nadu, most of whom take pride in boasting of “umbilicus code relationship”, between the Tamils of Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. They least know of the same relationship the Sinhalese have with the Tamils of Madurai in Tamil Nadu. Their only concern seem to be saving the LTTE under the pretext of stopping the war. A TNA Parliamentarian had said in Parliament recently that 55000 children from 190 schools are not attending school. He did not have the guts to tell the world as to why this has happened?, because of whom? and where? To add to what he said, in the Eastern Province more than 6000 children do not know their alphabet. The MP did not tell how teachers on the Government’s pay roll are fighting in the war front for the LTTE. These MP’s children are quite safe in foreign countries having good education. The irony is a TNA Member of Parliament whose entire family is in Australia, recently referred to me in Parliament as a traitor.

The people in Vanni want the war to continue, because they want the war to end with the LTTE defeated. The forces that had marched forward about 200 miles liberating the people all along, has only a few more miles to go. The people only plead that the forces should avoid civilian targets and night time aerial bombings.

Everyday a few dead bodies of the LTTE fighters are handed over to the ICRC to be delivered to the LTTE. They are young boys and girls, children of poor parents compulsorily recruited by the LTTE and sent to the battle front with hardly any or very little training. One can understand the TNA Members of Parliament remaining silent on this type of matters merely to please the LTTE and to save their seats in Parliament. But one cannot understand as to why Tamil Nadu, which is rich in culture and civilization, God fearing and pious, always sympathetic towards the Sri Lankan Tamils and proudly boast of its “umbilicus code relationship” with them, should remain silent without raising one word of protest against the cruel and uncivilized manner in which the brutal LTTE is treating the innocent Tamils whom they are keeping under compulsion in a pre-dominantly jungle area, infested with snakes and mosquitoes, in chilly weather and pouring rain, without timely food and proper shelter, shifting their temporary abode from place to place off and on like nomads. It is traditional for the LTTE to take away first, all what they need and only what is remaining is distributed to the people. This is happening even today. The TNA Members did not protest when the LTTE ordered all those 8000 students who sat for the G.C.E(O/L) examination held recently, to under-go trainings while the Catholic Church protested against the attempt of the LTTE to take away some orphans from an orphanage run by the church.

All what is mentioned here is only a minor fraction of the sufferings of our people. Why can’t Tamil Nadu, which is partly responsible for the present situation, wake up from its deep slumber and persuade them or, if unyielding, warn them to release the people to go anywhere they want.

If Tamil Nadu, adamantly keeps silent or out of fear for a handful of pro-LTTE leaders of Tamil Nadu and also if the TNA Members of Parliament who misled Tamil Nadu and roused the feelings of the people there, fail to move them inspite of all these pleadings, I have to look upon the expatriate Tamils who had largely helped the LTTE to grow, with substantial financial assistance, to intervene and bring pressure on them to free the people detained. The LTTE has lost the war and it is ridiculous for anyone to still believe that they will regain all what they have lost.

If the LTTE is willing to lay down their arms they can do so and negotiate with the Government for a solution within a united Sri Lanka, wherein all ethnic groups can live as equals, enjoying all rights without any form of discrimination what so ever. Failure to do so, will only pave the way for some unscrupulous elements to takeover, like snakes taking up residence in the anthills built by the labour of infinite number of white-ants. The Government of Sri Lanka and the International Community has a morel duty to see that the Tamils are not allowed to jump from the frying pan into the fire. I assure the TNA Members of Parliament that I sincerely feel that they have failed in their mission and therefore to quit their seats in Parliament. As for me I am not interested in any office but my whole interest is only on the people who are suffering for the last quarter of a century.

V. Anandasangaree,
President – TULF.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Sri Lankan People Have Made History

By Sanjeewa Karunaratne

As a result of years of struggle by Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and other civil rights activists, President Johnson drafted the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ensured equal treatment to women, minorities and other under-represented groups. The 60’s in the U.S. was hallmarked with civil rights and feminist movements. On the other side of the globe, in Sri Lanka, Sirimavo Bandaranayke became the world’s first female prime minister in 1960. She was elected in three different terms—a world record. Her daughter, Chandrika Bandaranayke Kumaratunga, is one of the longest-served presidents in the country. Women and minorities were predominant in universities, government, education and private sectors in Sri Lanka ever since it’s independence.

Current, 1978 constitution is, by far, the most minority-friendly constitution in Sri Lanka, and its inventor, Junius Richard Jayewardene, was a converted Buddhist. His ancestral name was “Thambi Mudiyanselage”; “Thambi” means Muslim, but it didn’t deter him from securing five-sixths majority in the parliament in which Tamil United Liberation Front became the main opposition in 1978, security 18 seats (11% representation in the parliament). Until 1988, Sri Lanka’s leader of the opposition was a Tamil. Minority parties, Thondaman’s Workers Congress and Ashroff’s Muslim Congress, became “king makers” in Sri Lanka as proportional representation system, established by the 1978 constitution, did not ensure a clear mandate for a single political party—they had to form coalitions with minority parties to secure the majority in the parliament.

Present parliament has 32 Tamils (14%) and 24 Muslims (11%)—altogether 25% minorities. It is well-represented based on demographic proportions.

Two well-respected Tamils were in the verge of becoming prime ministers in Sri Lanka, Neelan Tiruchelvam, a Harvard lawyer, and Laxshman Kadirgamar, an Oxford lawyer, both were assassinated by the LTTE. Another Tamil, who represented a Sinhalese electorate, and had promising hopes to succeed Mahinda Rajapaksha as the leader of SLFP, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, was also assassinated by the LTTE. Out of 30 parliamentarians killed by the LTTE, the majority (18) were Tamils. Will Sri Lankans ever get a chance to elect a Tamil president if LTTE keep eliminating Tamil intellectuals?

Culturally, religiously and in physical appearance, Sinhalese and Tamils are the most similar ethnic groups in the world. They share a number of traditions including the New Year. Hinduism and Buddhism originated in India and have many parallel features. Those are the only religions in the world that preach rebirth. Buddhism acquired many practices from Hinduism including the “worship of Gods.” Consequently, all the Gods Buddhists’ worship are Hindu Gods. Similarly, Lord Buddha, being one of the appearances (avathara) of Vishnu, is a God in Hinduism.

One of the most famous Hindu Gods pertaining to business transactions is Skadakumar, who has a popular temple in Katharagama, down-south. My father, a Sinhalese, who is a strong devotee of the God Skandakumar used to drive over 300 miles (a very long distance in the context of Sri Lanka) every three months to pay homage.

Unlike Blacks and Whites in the U.S., Tamils and Sinhalese are look alike. One cannot distinguish a Tamil from a Sinhalese by physical appearance, which brings an interesting question of how the alleged marginalization is possible in such circumstances.

Comparison of Sri Lankan separatism and American civil rights struggle is comparing apples to oranges. Sri Lanka hadn’t had a segregated school system; separate restaurants, bars, theaters or restrooms for Tamils and Sinhalese; it wasn’t the law of the country that Sinhalese sit on the bus, while Tamils stand; a Tamil was not considered as three-fifths of a Sinhalese. In order to curb this inhuman discrimination, U.S. had to draft stiff legislation such as the Civil Rights Act.

The most recent population statistics in Sri Lanka and the U.S. reveal:
Sinhalese 73%
Northern Tamils 13%
Muslim 7%
Hill Country Tamils 6%
Other 1%
Source: Department of Statistics, Sri Lanka
White 66%
Hispanic 15%
Black 12%
Asian 4%
Other 3%
Source: 2007 ACS (U.S. Census Bureau)

It is unjust to play a numbers game, while thousands of our people Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims alike are suffering. Having said that, statistically, there are significantly more Sinhalese in Sri Lanka than Whites in the U.S. Nevertheless, a more plausible comparison of ethnicities could be drawn between Hispanics and Tamils. Like Northern Tamils, Hispanics are the largest minority in the U.S. and are immigrants, but Blacks were brought to the U.S. for forced labor by the British, who brought Hill Country Tamils for tea plantation. Hill Country Tamils, who are different from Northern Tamils, have had a very strong political presence in the parliament through their venerated leader, Savumiamoorthy Thondaman, one of the most influential politicians in Sri Lankan history, who held powerful ministerial portfolios. Hill Country Tamils have never complained about mistreatment. Therefore, Northern Tamils are more comparable to Hispanics than Blacks.

There is no language division among ethnicities in Sri Lanka, which has two official languages: Tamil and Sinhala. Muslims, original Arabic speakers, speak Tamil for convenience because they are concentrated in areas populated by Tamils. My wife and her sister spoke Tamil when they were young because they were raised in hill country, where their farther was a headmaster. I spoke a little bit of Tamil, when I shared a room with two Muslim students from Batticaloa.

Like any other democracy, there are many problems in our political system, yet, those do not warrant a war. The claim that Tamils are marginalized in Sri Lanka is unfounded propaganda. Tamils and Sinhalese have a lot in common than otherwise; therefore, let’s stop this numbers game and build consensus to eliminate extremism to develop our nation together—“united we stand, divide we fall.”

Sanjeewa Karunaratne can be reached at sanjeewack@yahoo.com.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

American People Make History, Can We Sri Lankans Ever?

By Muttukrishna Sarvananthan

In April 2008 I met an American national in Colombo who works for the World Bank in Washington, DC. At that time both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were contesting for the Democratic Party Presidential nomination and John McCain was already the sole contender for the Republican Party Presidential nomination. When we conversed about the upcoming American Presidential election he told me that, although in his opinion John McCain was too old for the office of the President, he believed American people are still not “ready” for a woman or non-white person to become the President of the United States.

His prognosis was proved wrong on November 04th when the American people made history by electing their first African American President. I was fortunate to be just a couple of blocks away from the White House to witness this historic moment of the American people; minority communities in particular who overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama. My thoughts went back home; can we Sri Lankans ever make the same epic history? I remembered the pronunciations by heads of two pillars of the Sri Lankan state, viz. the chief executive and the head of the armed forces. In 1994, the then President of Sri Lanka claimed that the minority communities are mere branches of the majority Sinhalese community. Just a couple of months ago, in September 2008, the chief of the Sri Lanka Army said that Sri Lanka belongs to the Sinhalese (majority community) and therefore minority communities should not demand “too much”.

It is not that this kind of racial supremacy exists in Sri Lanka alone; it is all over the world, but America has crossed this supremacist disposition on November 04th 2008. United Kingdom is an example of the supremacism of the majority community, viz. the English. I still vividly remember the national elections of 1992 when John Major of the Conservative Party (incumbent Prime Minister) and Neil Kinnock of the Labour Party (Opposition Leader) were contending for Premiership, while I was a postgraduate student in the UK. Whilst most opinion polls showed a very close run between the two parties, on the day of the election (April 09th) The Sun newspaper (the most popular tabloid at that time) had a banner headline and lead story that was widely believed to have contributed to the loss of the Labour Party and its leader Neil Kinnock at that election. The Sun asked the British people to switch off their lights in order to mark dark times ahead if a “Welshman”, Neil Kinnock, was elected. Despite moving his Labour Party away from leftwing politics, Neil Kinnock lost to John Major largely due to his ethnicity, I believe. Even now, there are undercurrents of racism whipped up by certain media (and perhaps by certain sections of the Conservative Party as well) against the incumbent Prime Minister Gordon Brown who is a Scotsman. These experiences indicate that it is a Herculean task for a person other than English to be elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. In this respect, American people have proved to be above the rest in the World.

The case of Sri Lanka is different from the United States or the United Kingdom at least in one important respect. In the case of African Americans, Scottish or the Welsh, they by and large speak the language of the majority community and their religion is by and large the same as that of the majority community (different denominations of Christianity notwithstanding). Whereas in the case of Sri Lanka, Tamil and Muslim minority communities by and large speak a different language and follow different religions than the majority community. Thus, whilst the majority community speaks Sinhalese and is largely Buddhist, Tamils and Moors speak Tamil and are largely Hindu and Muslim respectively.

Nevertheless, the demographic composition of the United States is almost the same as in Sri Lanka; in the former the majority community accounts for 73% of the total population (minority communities account for 27%) and in the latter it is 74% (minority communities account for 26%). In spite of the differences in ethnicity, a common language binds the people of America (religious sectarianisms notwithstanding), which is not the case in Sri Lanka. Having said that, the differences between the United States and Sri Lanka go beyond the differences in languages or religions of the peoples of these two countries. It is more to do with the fundamental differences in the governance structures of the two countries: for example, America is a federal state while Sri Lanka is a unitary state; America does not have a state religion whereas Sri Lanka does. Moreover, affirmative action programmes have made America an inclusive society (notwithstanding enduring discrimination in many respects even now), whereas in Sri Lanka lukewarm implementation of the dual official language policy, advertent and inadvertent discrimination in education and employment opportunities and very limited implementation of devolution of powers enshrined in the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution have alienated the minority communities. These are some of the fundamental differences between the two countries.

Nonetheless, Barack Obama’s election as the President of the United States has given a glimmer of hope to minority communities around the world, including in Sri Lanka, that they too could become rulers of their respective country by peaceful democratic means. It is a powerful, peaceful message against separatist nationalism and armed violence of marginalised communities around the world for equality, justice and freedom. In order to emulate the American historical feat of November 04, 2008, States that are confronting separatist nationalist struggles (by peaceful means – ala Scotland and Quebec – as well as by armed rebellion – ala Palestine and Sri Lanka) should reform its governance structures to be inclusive based on equality of opportunities irrespective of gender, race, religion, etc, and decentralisation and devolution of economic, political, administrative and cultural powers.

Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, Ph.D. (Wales) M.Sc. (Bristol) M.Sc. (Salford) B.A. (Hons) (Delhi), is the Principal Researcher of the Point Pedro Institute of Development, Point Pedro, Northern Sri Lanka and a Fulbright Visiting Research Scholar at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, Washington, DC, U.S.A. Corrections, comments and suggestions are welcome to sarvi@gwu.edu