Thursday, December 10, 2009

Join the campaign to Free Tissa.

Today, the International Human Rights Day also marks the 100th day in prison for senior journalist Jayaprakash Sittambalam (JS) Tissainayagam.

A Colombo High Court, on 31 August 2009, sentenced Tissainayagam to 20 years of prison with hard labour. Tissa was charged under notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), for publishing articles critical of Sri Lankan government's war in the North and East of the island. Despite the appeals of numerous rights organizations and world leaders, and despite the fact that the Sri Lankan President has the power to release Tissa, he still remains incarcerated. Tissainayagam has been named 'an Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience' and adjudged the Winner of Peter Mackler 2009 Award for 'courageous and ethical journalism'. Tissanayagam was the first journalist to become a victim of PTA and the case has become a prime example of the destruction of freedom and democracy in the island.

Under the current regime, Sri Lanka’s crackdown on journalists, has resulted in the death of 16 journalists and media workers’ and in over 50 journalists fleeing the island. As threats to continue journalists are still fleeing the island. This situation has resulted in imposing self-censorship on journalism creating a blow to people’s right to information. Though the Rajapaska government, almost in every case, has ordered 'so called full scale investigations' on killings and attacks on journalists, not a single investigation, so far, has resulted in bringing those responsible to the book.

The Rajapaksa government, even today, does not allow journalists the right to access the North East in general and internally displaced people (IDP) camps in particular. In these camps, it is believed that there over 100,000 war refugees are still being kept. Apart from these known camps ICRC has not been given full access to the undisclosed venues where over 12,000 alleged ex-combatants are held. The real situation regarding these right violations are not reported, as the media is not given free access other than military guided tours.

Journalists of Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS) call upon the international rights organizations to exert pressure on the Rajapaksa Administration to

• secure the immediate release of senior journalist Jayaprakash Sittambalam Tissanayagam

• secure the immediate release of all political prisoners

• stop attacks on journalists and media workers

• to allow the media having access to the North East and the IDP camps
as the initial step in restoring democracy in Sri Lanka.

Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

The danger of Bonapartist rule in Sri Lanka

By Wije Dias - The candidacy of General Sarath Fonseka in the January 26 presidential elections in Sri Lanka is a sharp warning to the working class of the advanced preparations for police-state rule on the island. Amid a deepening economic crisis, powerful sections of the ruling elite are backing Fonseka, the common candidate of the main opposition parties, as the means of imposing new economic burdens on working people.

Before he resigned last month, Fonseka was Sri Lanka’s top general. Under President Mahinda Rajapakse, he waged a brutal war of attrition against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which was defeated in May. In the final months of the conflict, an estimated 7,000 Tamil civilians were killed by the military’s indiscriminate bombardment of LTTE-held territory. After the LTTE’s collapse, the army herded more than 250,000 civilians—men, women and children—into “welfare camps” where they were illegally detained until December 1.

Following the end of the war, Fonseka, who had been closely involved in the ruling politico-military cabal, fell out with Rajapakse, not over their joint war crimes, but over who should take the credit. Rajapakse provoked deep resentment in the officer caste by thrusting himself forward as the architect of the victory in order to bolster his fragile ruling coalition and win a series of provincial council elections. Fonseka became the mouthpiece for this bitterness, particularly after he was shunted out of his post as army chief into the largely symbolic post of Chief of Defence Staff. His secret negotiations with opposition parties became public last month. When Rajapakse announced early presidential elections, Fonseka was put forward as their common candidate.

Fonseka is not a member of any political party. While he undoubtedly has reached election agreements with the United National Party (UNP) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), he will not be bound by their policies or party discipline if elected. This situation is unprecedented in post-independence politics in Sri Lanka and underscores the profound degeneration of parliamentary politics. After decades of civil war and pro-market restructuring, the two main bourgeois parties—the UNP and Rajapakse’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLPF)—are widely distrusted and despised. The Sinhala chauvinist JVP, after acting as a political safety valve for public frustration and alienation, rapidly lost support after joining a SLFP coalition in 2004. Last year it suffered a debilitating split.

The norms of parliamentary rule have already been stretched to the limit. Rajapakse presides over an unwieldy coalition of 17 parties, all of which have posts in what is one of the world’s largest ministries. As a result, he has increasingly sidelined cabinet and parliament and operated through a cabal comprising his brothers, close political cronies, trusted bureaucrats and generals. His extensive powers as executive president have been further enhanced by the ongoing state of emergency that allows arrest without trial, censorship and the suppression of industrial action. His regime has flouted the constitution on several occasions and ignored the rulings of the country’s High Court.

In launching his campaign, Fonseka branded Rajapakse a “tin-pot dictator” and embraced the call by the UNP and JVP to abolish the executive presidency. No credence can be placed in this promise or the attempts by the opposition parties to dress up the general in democratic clothes. Political leaders have routinely pledged to abolish the executive presidency while in opposition, only to shelve the promise on taking office. Rajapakse’s immediate predecessor Chandrika Kumaratunga promised to end the executive presidency before taking office in 1994, only to use its sweeping powers to arbitrarily dismiss an elected UNP government in 2004.

Unlike previous Sri Lankan presidents, however, Fonseka has no political party or any substantial following of his own. If elected, he will be compelled to use his presidential powers to the full as he attempts to balance between competing political forces. His main constituency is not the opposition parties that are backing him and certainly not the voters. He is a mouthpiece above all for the state apparatus, particularly the officer corps of the country’s huge military, and for sections of the ruling elite who have become increasingly frustrated that their economic agenda has been blocked. Fonseka is emerging as a classic Bonapartist figure—a strongman, who appears to rise above the political fray, claims to impose policies for the good of the nation, and who is a stepping-stone to a naked military-police dictatorship.

In his incisive analysis of the regimes in Germany that preceded the Nazis in the 1930s, Leon Trotsky explained that Bonapartism emerged only under definite conditions. “As soon as the struggle of two social strata—the haves and the have-nots, the exploiter and the exploited—reaches its highest tension, the conditions are given for the domination of bureaucracy, police, soldiery. The government becomes ‘independent’ of society. Let us once again recall: if two forks are stuck symmetrically into a cork, the latter can stand even on the head of a pin. This is precisely the schema of Bonapartism,” Trotsky wrote. By its very nature, such a system of rule is unstable and temporary.

In Sri Lanka today, class conflict has yet to take an open, political form, primarily as a result of the treachery of the old leaderships of the working class. Like the major bourgeois parties, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party and Communist Party of Sri Lanka have profoundly degenerated, functioning as little more than loyal factions of the SLFP and the Rajapakse government. Limited strikes and protests have taken place but have been quickly betrayed by the leaderships of the trade unions.

As the political establishment is well aware, however, the island’s worsening economic crisis is producing a state of extreme social tension. Rajapakse achieved his military victory at enormous economic and human cost. Defence spending during Rajapakse’s four years of rule was 629 billion rupees ($US5.5 billion) or more than 25 percent of total government revenue. The island’s accumulated debt this year is estimated to be 4,023 billion rupees or more than 90 percent of GDP.

Rajapakse’s ability to pay for his war depended on cheap international credit, which dried up following the global financial crisis. The international recession also hit Sri Lankan exports, creating an acute foreign exchange crisis that forced the government to obtain a $US2.6 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Among the stringent conditions attached, the IMF is demanding a drastic reduction of the budget deficit from 9 percent to 7 percent of GDP this year, followed by another 2 percentage point cut next year.

Rajapakse has delayed the inevitable deep cuts to public sector jobs, wages and essential services by postponing the 2010 budget, which was due last month, until after the elections. At the same time, he is maintaining a freeze on public sector pay and recently used his emergency powers for the first time to issue an essential services order illegalising industrial action on the docks and in the state-owned electricity, water and petroleum boards. All the trade unions immediately caved in and shut down their campaigns.

Sections of business are demanding savage cutbacks to public spending. At a panel discussion last week, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce chairman Anura Ekanayake bitterly complained that “the cost of production is so high primarily due to the inefficiency of the public sector” and called for an end to “this nonsense of subsidies and incentives”. Such steps will inevitably produce a rebellion among working people who are already frustrated and angry that the end of the war has only led to a further worsening of living standards.

The ruling elites in Colombo are preparing for a showdown after the elections. While some layers continue to back Rajapakse, others are backing Fonseka as the strongman who can wield the state apparatus against the working class and, when needed, simply ignore political parties and parliament. His proven track record as a ruthless military commander, who has the backing of the security apparatus, contrasts with Rajapakse’s reliance on a fragile parliamentary coalition. For all his pretences of defending democracy, Fonseka used his election announcement to emphasise his intention to wipe out corruption, clean up the underworld and establish “discipline” in society.

All the major political parties are lining up on one side or another in the Rajapakse-Fonseka contest. While the ex-radicals of the Nava Sama Samaja Party and the United Socialist Party nominally oppose Fonseka, their support for the UNP as the “democratic alternative” to Rajapakse has only assisted this right-wing bourgeois party to present the general in the same way.

The great danger confronting the working class is that it is completely unprepared politically. Contempt and hostility toward the present political parties and candidates as well as the trade unions does not automatically translate into a political program and leadership to combat the emergence of police-state rule. The Socialist Equality Party will stand in the upcoming election to educate and mobilise workers and youth around a socialist alternative in opposition to all factions of the bourgeoisie.

The emergence of Fonseka has far broader implications for the working class of South Asia and internationally. All the political and economic processes contributing to the developing crisis in Sri Lanka are underway to a lesser or greater extent around the world, including in the advanced industrialised nations. Worsening economic conditions, deepening social polarisation, popular alienation from existing political parties, the decay of parliamentary politics and the increasing use of police-state methods are not the sole prerogative of so-called developing countries. As in the past, events on this small island are a warning to the working class of what is building up internationally.

© World Socialist Web Site

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sri Lanka: power and accountability

Martin Shaw - Sri Lanka’s government prosecuted a brutal military campaign from mid-2008 to spring 2009 to inflict a final defeat on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eilam (LTTE / Tamil Tigers) after twenty-six years of war. Many thousands of civilians died amid the horrors of this last battle.

In the aftermath, the Colombo government corralled 280,000 Tamils who had fled from Tiger-controlled territory in forty-one “detention-camps”. Now it has announced that almost 130,000 of them are being let out, with the remaining 150,000 supposed to be released in 2010. The move is designed to suggest - to international as much as to domestic opinion - that the situation is being “normalised” and that there is no need for concern about continuing repression. The government faces widespread calls in the European Union to suspend Sri Lanka's “GSP+” status, which allows the country favourable access to EU markets; it hopes the releases will ease international pressure on its appalling human-rights record.

The camps are better described as concentration-camps, since they have been sites of prolonged incarceration of an overwhelmingly civilian population, punished for being Tamils and having lived under the LTTE. They undoubtedly include some Tigers supporters, but most of the civilians have committed no greater crime than to survive the twin horrors of the Tigers' oppressive rule – and their killing of all who tried to escape – and often indiscriminate bombardment by the Sri Lankan army. The conditions of these squalid settlements - including Menik Farm camp, which holds the vast majority of detainees - include gross overcrowding, limited supplies of food and clean water, and rudimentary medical facilities.

There are many reports of beatings, rape and prostitution involving the military who run the camps as well as government-allied militia. The minimal access of independent observers mean that these cannot be confirmed or their scale accurately estimated.

Sri Lanka has nominally independent judges and media. But it is a state where torture has long been common, independent journalists are murdered, and the major parties of the majority Sinhalese population share nationalist hostility to the minority Tamils. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is allowed into many camps, but not to irregular camps in which alleged former LTTE fighters are believed to be held. But no other international NGOs or any independent media can access the camps – or anywhere near the recently reoccupied parts of northern Sri Lanka. Amnesty International has been refused access to the country since 2008, despite seven requests for entry in that time.

An oppressive grip

In these circumstances the announcement that many Tamils are being released should be treated with caution. The former detainees will still have to report to the police so that their movements can be monitored - even though they are suspected of no crimes. The information that filters out suggests that early releases have involved dumping large numbers of people in urban centres, often hours away from the villages they lived in. Families that had been reunited in the camps (after separation during their initial flight) are sometimes being redivided.

Everywhere in the former LTTE-controlled region of northern Sri Lanka, the military retains an oppressive grip. There is no evidence of a proper resettlement programme to assist people to return to their homes; it is impossible to know how many people have houses or livelihoods to return to, or whether resettlement even involves return to home districts. The government's continuing refusal to allow media and NGO access clearly confirms that the situation is one which international observers would not tolerate.

Much is at stake in the next few months. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has called a presidential election for 26 January 2009; he faces a challenge from the man who commanded the army in the recent war, General Sarath Fonseka, who promises to “restore democracy”. But in the event that Fonseka topples Rajapaksa there will be little relief for the Tamils, who even in Colombo - hundreds of kilometres south of the war-zone - face arrest at roadblocks and attacks by militia.

There is little hope, moreover, of redress for the war victims from Sri Lanka's intimidated media and compromised judiciary (see Luther Uthayakumaran, “Sri Lanka: after war, justice”, 25 May 2009). The last attempt to achieve accountability for human-rights violations collapsed in April 2009; then, the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) tasked with overseeing the latest presidential commission of inquiry (COI) into sixteen cases of serious violations terminated their mission, stating that the COI had not been able to investigate cases independently in accordance with international standards.

The world’s eye

Any future Sri Lankan government will be hoping in the coming months to consolidate the victory over the LTTE and - in the international arena - to deflect criticism of the state's war methods and detention policies. Israel has had to face the criticism of the United Nations fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict of 2008-09 (the Goldstone report), commissioned by the UN’s Human Rights Council – yet Sri Lanka persuaded a pliant Human Rights Council to pass a supportive resolution. It is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court (ICC), so that criminal prosecutions are possible only in the national courts of other countries, if any of the latter can be persuaded to act under universal-jurisdiction prosecutions. With support for Sri Lanka from China and Russia and (as yet) no strong moves against it by the United States, Britain or France, it is highly unlikely that the United Nations Security Council will take action now when it failed to do so during the war.

Yet Sri Lanka's war claimed at least five times as many civilian lives as Israel's Gaza campaign; the conditions in its camps are more ghastly even than those in Gaza; and Tamils in the newly reconquered zones face a more total military occupation than most Palestinians.

This is the moment to campaign to hold Sri Lanka responsible. The abuse in the camps is not over, and the episode remains an international scandal. Government and military leaders should face international justice – as should the surviving leaders of the LTTE for their brutal treatment of civilians in the conflict. In the west, civilians must press their political leaders to initiate UN action and non-governmental organisations should consider establishing an unofficial international commission of enquiry to prepare the ground. Above all, those outside Sri Lanka should remember that the traumatised survivors - whether in the camps or outside - need support and assistance in rebuilding their lives, of a kind which Sri Lanka's government and armed forces are unlikely to provide.

© Open Democeracy

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sri Lankans are getting richer, Finance Secretary says

Sri Lankans are steadily getting richer despite the devastating effects of a three-decade long civil war and the worst global economic crisis according to the Finance Ministry Secretary Dr. P B Jayasundara.

Delivering a speech at the sixth Annual General Meeting of The Spice Council (TSC) at the Galle Face Hotel on Tuesday as the chief guest, Dr. Jayasundara claimed that Sri Lanka is not a poor country any more and its per capita income has risen from S 1,000 to $ 2,200 within the last few years.

According to World Bank statistics the Gross National Income per capita in Sri Lanka has risen from $880 in 2000 to $1,780 in 2008.

Dr. Jayasundara expressed confidence that Sri Lanka could even double the per capita income in another five years.

"We strongly believe that we could double the current per capita income from $ 2,200 to about $ 4,400 in less than five years in this favourable situation. Our final goal is to develop the country as a high income country as soon as possible," he said.

The Secretary pointed out that the present government has removed all the impediments to country's development by elimination of the war. The government has provided a favorable environment for private sector development by initiating mega infrastructure development projects in the country, he said.

Even during the time of war the government continued the development projects, he stressed.

Expressing hope for increase economic growth as the global economy recovers from its slump, Dr. Jayasundara said the country is expected to benefit from its open economy that depends heavily on exports, remittances, tourism, and capital flows.

© Colombo Page

Related Links:
P.B. Jayasundara Saga and Triangle of Corruption - The Lanka Sun
P.B.Jayasundara before SC on Oct 8 - The Sunday Times
Treasury Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundara tenders resignation - Colombo Page
Sri Lanka: The Human Development Index - Human Development Report 2009
Poverty in Sri Lanka - Department of Census & Statistics

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

China makes economic inroads into Sri Lanka

Swati Chaturvedi - It is clearly not a case of Chinese Whisper anymore. The Finance Ministry has raised a red flag over “overwhelming” economic control China now exercises over Sri Lanka.

In a report to the mandarins of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and Reserve Bank Of India (RBI) sent recently, the Finance Ministry has “warned that if timely steps were not taken, it would create an untenable situation for the country.”

The report - contents of which have been accessed by The Tribune - states that the Chinese have upped their presence in all vital Sri Lankan financial institutions - including the stock market - by almost 40 per cent in the past two years.

The Sri Lanka Government is more than happy to play ball with the Chinese as these economic incursions come with the attached sop of cheap arms, says a senior Finance Ministry official. “The Chinese are not exactly overcome by scruples when it comes to even kickbacks and payouts, especially when it comes to winning friends and influencing India’s other neighbours,” he says.

Unlike the United States that holds companies paying bribes overseas to get business liable to be punished, the Chinese have no such constraints to hold them back.

For the past two years, the Chinese have taken a quantum jump in increasing their presence in Sri Lanka. From investments in private companies to takeovers of financial institutions, strategic aid and investment, it has been a calculated project to put itself at the heart of the Sri Lankan economy.

The Chinese presence has caused “deep consternation” in the highest echelons as
it comes amidst a deliberately ratcheted up design to rattle India.

This seems to involve using all instruments available to the state, such as protesting a World Bank loan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang Monastery, stamping Kashmiris’ visas passport on a loose sheet and stopping road construction in Jammu and Kashmir.

Says former national security advisor Brijesh Mishra, “The Chinese don’t do anything by accident. There is a deliberate plan to get together with Pakistan and encircle India. We have faced them separately alone but now they are working in sync. I hope we do have the strategic depth to take them on because this is vital in the national interest.’’

© The Tribune

Related Links:
Fortis in talks to buy Lanka hospital chain - Business Standard

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

U.S. appreciates resettlement of war displaced people in Sri Lanka

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake said here Wednesday that he appreciated the resettlement process of the Tamil civilians who were displaced by the final battles of the civil war between the government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels early this year.

Blake, who is also a former U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka, told reporters that the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has created a tremendous opportunity for the people of Sri Lanka.

For the first time in over a generation, Sri Lankans live in a country that is not divided by war or marred by terror and violence, said Blake.

His remarks came after Tuesday's visit to Menik Farm welfare center in the northern district of Vavuniya where more than 100,000 Tamil civilians are still being accommodated.

Blake said the United States welcomes the recent progress made by the Sri Lanka government to resettle a majority of the war displaced civilians to their homes and allow increased freedom of movement to those still in the camps.

"I visited Manik Farm on Tuesday morning and saw evidence of this progress. I was pleased to see that those living in the camps have greater freedom to come and go. I also visited some returnees in the Mannar area and witnessed some of the ongoing demining activity where again progress is being made," he said.

Blake said that large areas of the north remain heavily mined and the reconstruction of infrastructure is at its beginning stages.

He said the United States stands ready to continue their assistance in these areas, adding that it has already contributed 6.6 million U.S. dollars for demining activities in the north.

Commenting on the island's presidential election scheduled to be held on Jan. 26, Blake said the United States does not take sides in elections in other countries "except to express our strong support for a free and fair democratic process."

"Next month, you will decide who will be your next president. It is a historic election for your country. For the first time in decades, a united Sri Lanka will vote in a national election. I am confident relations between the United States and Sri Lanka will grow no matter which candidate is victorious," he said.

Blake added that the United States is still Sri Lanka's most important trade partner, receiving over one quarter of Sri Lanka's total exports, more than any other single nation.

"In areas such as education, science, and culture, as well, our bilateral relationship has benefited people in both of our countries," Blake said.

© Xinhua

Related Links:
Statement by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake - US Embassy, Colombo
US praises resettlement of Sri Lankan refugees - AP
US not taking sides in Sri Lanka’s polls:Robert Blake - Daily Mirror
US Under-Secretary of State ‘satisfied’ with SL Resettlement Process - Asian Tribune
Sri Lanka-US ties normalise: Blake - Daily Mirror

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