Friday, December 11, 2009

Sri Lanka’s war on journalists

By Bob Dietz/Asia Program Coordinator (10.12.2009) - Today marks the 100th day of J.S. Tissainayagam’s 20-year prison term. Tissainayagam, known as Tissa, was convicted of “terrorism” charges for articles documenting human rights abuses by the Sri Lankan military, as well as the difficult conditions faced by Sri Lankans displaced in the nation’s long war. His sentence was a dire warning to other journalists who would dare be critical of the government. They are right to be concerned.

In the years since Mahinda Rajapaksa has held high office in Sri Lanka—as prime minister in 2004 and then as president since 2005—nine journalists have been murdered with impunity. According to CPJ data, Sri Lanka has the fourth worst impunity record in the world, behind only Iraq, Sierra Leone, and Somalia. And over the years CPJ and other journalist support groups have been handling a steady flow of requests for assistance while threatened reporters seek either temporary refuge or permanent exile.

Hopes that the government’s anti-media behavior would change once it had successfully ended the bitter war with the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have yet to be fulfilled. Assaults on journalists who dare to take on the government, not just on the war with the Tamils and its aftermath, but on domestic political and economic issues, have hardly eased as abductions, phone and text threats, and denouncements on official government Web sites continue seven months after the war officially came to an end.

Not many international journalists are singled out by a U.S. president. But this year, on World Press Freedom Day in May, President Barack Obama cited the prosecution of J.S. Tissainayagam as “emblamatic” of press freedom abuses worldwide.

The European Union has continued to bring targeted pressure on the Sri Lankan government: If the government wants to retain preferential trade tariffs, the EU said, it will have to ensure media freedom and release the 300,000 people, almost all of them Tamils, it is holding in camps. The issue is still in the air, but the government has started to shift some of the hundreds of thousands of Tamil war refugees to slightly better conditions. On Wednesday, Robert Blake, U.S. assistant secretary of state for South Asia —and the previous ambassador to Colombo— told reporters that he saw evidence of progress when he visited the site where about 100,000 displaced civilians still live.

International advocacy pressing for Tissainayagam’s release is an important issue, an “emblematic” one as Obama put it. It highlights the broader need for unfettered journalism in one of Asia’s oldest democracies. Sri Lanka’s war against Tamil separatists has ended, but it is too soon for United States and the international community to assume that the government’s war against the media has ended. Victory will only come when Tissa is released and journalists in Sri Lanka know that they are free to write and the country resumes its march toward democracy and out of the tortured ranks of countries like Iraq, Sierra Leone, or Somalia.

© CPJ Blog

Related Links:
100 days in hard labour and counting: The plight of Tissainayagam - Groundviews

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Tamil doctor on the mat for expressing private opinion

By Namini Wijedasa - A Tamil doctor has been interdicted by the ministry of health allegedly for expressing a private opinion to a Sinhala doctor that was interpreted as “causing disrepute to the Government of Sri Lanka”.

The incident has caused ripples among Tamil academia and begs the question where freedom of speech is the prerogative of the majority community - and whether only certain types of views are tolerated under the brand of “free speech” now practised in Sri Lanka.

One Tamil activist questioned how it was possible for a Sinhala doctor to complain about a Tamil doctor on a matter of ethnic interest or disputed facts, leading to ex-parte action by the ministry of health without any reference to law.

On 17 November 2009, Dr Murali Vallipuranathan received a Sinhala language interdiction order dated 10 November 2009 stating that he was removed from service for causing disrepute to the Government of Sri Lanka. His salary was also stopped.

Contentious comment

LAKBIMAnEWS is in receipt of the correspondence between Vallipuranathan and Dr Chrishantha Abeysena. We are also in receipt of a separate e-mail circulated by Vallipuranathan regarding the contentious comment he made that led to his interdiction.

Abeysena initially forwarded an e-mail to Vallipuranathan titled “urgent” which said that the CNN website and television were conducting a poll on whether the international community should intervene in Sri Lanka. He requested those on his mailing list to click on a link to answer “no”. He also asked the recipients to forward the e-mail to all their friends, asking them to do the same.

In response, Vallipuranathan wrote to Abeysena: “What do you want us to do?

Observe silently the inhuman treatment taking place at the Forced Detention Camps (FDC) under the name of provision of health services and security? I think this is time for us (the medical professionals) to discuss this more openly without any racial feelings. I hope you are aware of what is really happening at the FDC. If not please watch Channel 4 and enlighten yourself.”

Vallipuranathan included in his e-mail the link to the contentious Channel 4 report that showed Sri Lankan soldiers allegedly shooting unarmed Tamils. He added: “Anyway IC (international community) will not interfere just because somebody votes at CNN. Await you kind response (except the white van reaction)...”

In July, Vallipuranathan received a letter from S L A Nawarathna, the director of the ministry of health’s investigation and flying squad, notifying him that a preliminary inquiry was being conducted “on the e-mail dated 12.05.2009 sent to Dr Abeysena by you”. He was instructed to call over at the investigation unit and to meet the officer assigned to this matter on 21 July 2009.

No Charge Sheet

LAKIBMAnEWS learns that no charge sheet was ever filed. However, Vallipuranathan received a letter last month signed by Health Secretary H A P Kahandaliyanage stating that a preliminary inquiry conducted by the health ministry’s investigation and flying squad unit had found him to have acted in a manner that brought disrepute on the Government of Sri Lanka. It informed him that he was interdicted pending further investigation.

According to an email subsequently circulated by Vallipuranathan: “Though I have clearly stated that I had expressed my private opinion because Dr.C.Abeysena sought my opinion and it is my fundamental right to express private opinion which has no relevance to my position in the government service, I am now interdicted without a charge sheet issued to me so far.”

He adds bitterly: “Perhaps this is the best way the reconciliation with minorities can take place in Sri Lanka at the end of the war.”

© Lakbima News

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Sri Lanka army chief slams president

Sri Lanka's former army chief has accused the president of corruption, nepotism and abuse of power ahead of next month's election.

General Sarath Fonseka's comments on Friday came a month after he resigned from the military, accusing the government of sidelining him after victory in the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), on suspicion that he was plotting a coup.

He later announced that he would run against Mahinda Rajapaksa, the incumbent, in the election scheduled for January 26.

"It is a military victory that we have won, but real peace has to come after the military victory," Fonseka said on Friday.

"Under cover of war victory, if someone is trying to boost up his family image or to stick to nepotism ... then you can't say peace has come."

President Rajapaksa's three siblings hold senior government positions.

The president's older brother is a cabinet minister, his younger brother an influential political adviser and his youngest brother is the country's defence secretary.

Separation of powers

Fonseka said if elected he would trim the powers of the country's executive and strengthen the parliament under a prime minister.

The presidency under the current system is so powerful that a serving president is immune to prosecution.

Government ministers and supporters have cited Fonseka's military background to argue that he, instead of giving up power, may become a dictator.

But Fonseka has said he has had ample opportunity in the past to do so if he had wanted.

Rights abuses

The army under Fonseka has been widely criticised for its poor human rights record during the war earlier this year, which ended a 25-year fight for independence by the LTTE.

According to UN reports, more than 7,000 civilians were killed from January to May and a US state department report in October listed instances when government troops allegedly fired at civilians and hospitals and killed Tamil Tigers who surrendered under white flags.

Fonseka denied the army was involved in war crimes and implied gangs at the behest of political leaders may have been involved in attacks on journalists.

"As far as the army is concerned I don't know there were any war crimes. I monitored every action by the troops," he said.

"In my previous job I did justice to them [the Tamils]. I destroyed the terrorism and liberated the affected people," Fonseka said, adding that in his next job he would ensure "equal rights and justice done to all communities in the country".

© Al Jazeera

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Seeking human rights in Sri Lanka is difficult

By Basil Fernando - The world Human Rights Day on Thursday passed in Sri Lanka without anything to celebrate in terms of positive achievements in the area of human rights. In fact, looking for human rights in Sri Lanka is becoming increasingly similar to finding water on the moon or in a desert.

Permissiveness of corruption that has begun to permeate all areas of life is virtually destroying all possibilities of achieving human rights, either in the field of civil and political rights or social, economic and cultural rights. It is also destroying all mechanisms of good governance. Naturally, groups that suffer the most are also the most vulnerable in society like women, children, elderly and ethnic minorities.

The system of executive presidency that exists in Sri Lanka is very similar to the system of absolute power of monarchies. This has undermined the parliamentary system and the judicial system, which had developed to some extent in the past.

In recent decades, admiration for dictatorships that developed within two major political parties, the United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party helped to promote the system of executive presidency. The president in Sri Lanka is above the law and there is nothing in the legal system, which can exercise any form of checks and balances to control the abuse of power by the president.

The development of any abuse of power encourages the forces of violence in society. Today, Sri Lanka is one of the most violent societies where there is great permissiveness of extrajudicial killings. In the recent decades, extrajudicial killings have taken the form of disappearances or various kinds of killings after arrest, in police or military custody.

Extrajudicial killings are accompanied by various possibilities for prolonged detention without any recourse to judicial remedies. Under emergency and anti terrorism laws, people have been kept in detention for many years without any possibility of obtaining meaningful redress from the courts. Intervention by the courts has been prevented by various suspensions of ordinary laws of criminal procedure and constitutional provisions.

In addition, heavy psychological pressures have been created under the name of nationalism to discourage any kind of sympathy for victims of human rights abuse. Judicial remedies such as habeas corpus and fundamental rights provisions have suffered greatly due to such pressures generated by nationalism. The discouragement of the legal profession from providing a vigorous service to citizens to defend rights has also contributed to the decline of human rights in Sri Lanka.

The use of torture is endemic in Sri Lanka’s policing system. Added to this is the use of torture in preventive detention under the prevention of terrorism laws and emergency regulations. All possibilities of finding redress against torture have been suppressed by deliberate denials of the investigative mechanisms into the complaints of torture and other human rights abuses.

The mechanism of investigation into complaints of human rights abuse through the legal provisions of the criminal procedure code has been suppressed by deliberate political manipulations, which virtually hands over the possibility of investigations to political authorities. The secretariat of the Ministry of Defense has developed a draconian system of controls on the security apparatus, which has the capacity of interfering in all investigations into human rights abuses.

This interference has been used for encouraging underground elements. It has also encouraged some sections of the security forces to engage in illegal activities towards those considered as unacceptable elements to the government. With this, an enormous psychology of fear and intimidation has been created in the country.

The abuse of civil rights has a direct impact on economic, social and cultural rights. The attacks on journalists have placed Sri Lanka among the worst countries for suppressing the freedom of expression. The assassination of journalists has also lead to the fleeing of journalists from the country. In addition, self-censorship has spread due to extreme forms of fear of repercussions.

By manipulating this situation, the government has geared up its propaganda mechanism for all state medias. The abuse of the media is one of the most visible factors in the country. Even use of language in the state media has degenerated and political attacks and abuse of individuals are broadcast daily through television and radio programs. The entire state media is being used for political purposes, particularly for manipulating the electoral system to the detriment of all opposition political parties.

Under these conditions, it is the poor people that suffer the most. The suppression of trade unions and organizations of farmers, students and others have taken many visible forms.

The general deterioration in living standards is the complaint of all people including the middle class. Skyrocketing prices of essential commodities, problems in transport systems, breakdown of the health system and the degeneration of the educational system are among the most frequently heard complaints. However, various forms of violence constantly perpetrated on the population suppress all organized forums of discussions on discontent.

Under these circumstances, the assertion of rights has become extremely difficult in Sri Lanka. It is no exaggeration to assert that seeking human rights in Sri Lanka is as difficult as looking for water on the moon or in the desert.

This situation exists in all parts of the country and is worse and unbearable in the north and east. People living there are victims of absolute impunity. Those who dare to make any complaint about their tormentors run a real risk to their lives, liberty and whatever is left of their properties. Displacement has become a normal affair in the homeland of the Tamil and Muslim populations.

(Basil Fernando is director of the Asian Human Rights Commission based in Hong Kong. He is a Sri Lankan lawyer who has also been a senior U.N. human rights officer in Cambodia. He has published several books and written extensively on human rights issues in Asia. His blog can be read at

© UPI Asia

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Unending search for dissapeared

We do not know the whereabouts of our children who were abducted and disappeared since 2006, said their relatives commemorating the International Human Rights day.

Relatives of the dissapeared joined the Committee for Investigation of Disappearances (CID) in a march from Hyde Park to the Public Library at Colombo Town Hall exhibiting pictures of their loved ones.

Speaking to Sandeshaya Premila Kumaridevi from Chilaw whose husband was abducted by a white van said “we appeal the president to intervene in finding our relatives.”

However, Subramaniam Logendraraja of Boralla said, “the president refused to accept our petition and told us we are discrediting the government”.

White Van

Logendraraja’s daughter was abducted in 2006 by a white van.

Parents and relatives of the disappeared persons from all over the country attended the ceremony.

Patron of the CID, Dr Vikramabahu Karunaratne said “we are not asking much, we are just asking to see our children or their bodies”.

The ceremony was planned to hold in Hyde Park but the permission was revoked at last minute forcing organisers to reschedule the meeting to the Public Library.

Protest in Vavunia

Relatives of disappeared persons held another protest in front of the district office of the Human Rights Commission in Vauniya requesting it to intervene.

“Criminal Investigation Department detained my son in law for more than a year without charges,” one of the parents told BBC Sandeshaya.

Father of another youth who has been abducted by a white van after beind released by courts asked “we do not know where he is?”

Protesters handed over a letter requesting HRC to intervene and find out where about their loved ones.

© BBC Sinhala

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Sarath Fonseka and his 3 Cs: Confusion, Contradiction and Capitulation?

By Sumanasiri Liyanage - When a country elects a new president or reelects the incumbent, it has to think seriously how the policies that are offered by different candidates would affect the future of the country and its people. Of course, every candidate would be careful to make her/his election manifesto attractive to the people of all walks of life so that some of the promises and policies may lose their practicality. People also know from their own experience that politicians when in power will not fulfil all the promises they had made prior to the election. Nonetheless, looking at the past track record of the politicians and their party affiliations, people can see, to a significant extent, the direction in which those in power would lead the country. For example, it was not difficult to foresee that Ranasinghe Premadasa would adopt capitalist economic policies but with pro-poor bias.

On the other hand, Ranil Wickremesinghe is known for extreme neo-liberal economic and social restructuring of the country. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s opposition to federalism and his orientation towards more interventionist state were well known even before he presented his Mahinda Chintanaya. However, when the candidate’s past track record is not known and her/his party affiliations are weak or non-existent, making decision would become an extremely difficult. This was what happened when people seeking for a change voted for Chandrika Bandaranaike in 1994. The Opposition and democratic social movements and the JVP badly needed a change. Almost all the significant and well-known political leaders, like Vijaya Kumaratunga, Lalith Athulathmudali, Ranasinghe Premadasa and Gamini Dissanayake were assassinated. While JVP was responsible for killing Vijaya Kumaratunga, others were killed by the LTTE. So there was a big vacuum. Chandrika Bandaranaike was elected. But she finally ended up being the worst Sri Lankan executive president.

I wrote this preface for two reasons. First, one of the candidates of the forthcoming presidential election is new to politics and he has no party affiliations. Secondly, Sri Lanka people after the conclusion of war seem to be eager to have a complete break from the past. The difference between today and 1994 is that at least one or two candidates and their policies are known to people. They have been in politics for a long time. Mahinda Rajapaksa began his political career in 1970 and Dr Vickramabahu Karunaratne has been active in politics for the last 45 years. Whether we agree with them or not, people in this country know what they stand for. However, like in 1994, the Opposition parties that include the United National Front and the Janata Vimukthi Peramuna and some people who are critical of the present government on the issues of democracy and human rights have decided to support a candidate who is totally new to political terrain and has no party affiliations. The statements made by General (Rtd) Sarath Fonseka after announcing his candidature show that he has so far failed to come up with either a well-thought out policy package or a clear vision about the challenges faced by the country. This is quite understandable owing to the fact that as he mentioned in his talk to the press while announcing his candidature, he is new to the business of politics. When a person decides to seek a public post, s/he should develop of course with the help of others at least an outline of a policy package. However, Sarath Fonseka was thrown out hurriedly to this terrain unknown to him by people and parties that are not new to the politics. Ironically, the policies of these parties on almost all issues not only differ but oftentimes contradict with each other. This has made the position of General (Rtd) Fonseka more and more confused when it comes to his future vision and perspective. So during the last few weeks, he came up with statements that are not only inconsistent but also contradictory. In this article, my objective is to list some of his views on various issues.

1. Executive Presidential System

Executive President is one of the key pillars of the Second Republican Constitution. Among the parties supporting General (Rtd) Fonseka, only Janata Vimukthi Peramuna has been consistent over the issue of the abolition of executive presidential system. The United National Party under the leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe opposed vehemently the draft constitution bill of 2000 that included inter alia the abolition of the executive presidential system. However let us assume that all the parties supporting Fonseka stand honestly for the abolition of the executive presidential system. Here two questions arise. First, how are they going to abolish it? In 1994, Manifesto of the Peoples’ Alliance proposed that the parliament would meet as a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution and the PA would propose reintroduction of the cabinet system of government headed by a prime minister. Of course, that promise was totally forgotten by the PA. Under present constitution, constitution amendment/ change procedure is very rigid and it has been made almost impossible under the given electoral system. At least 150 members of the Parliament should vote for a constitutional amendment. And in the present conjuncture, there is no assurance that the UPFA would vote for such a change. However, some argue that after the presidential election, IF Sarath Fonseka wins, many members of the UPFA would cross over. The present crossovers are manipulated by the presidential system because presidential system offers some assurance over their political future for the members who change parties to support the president. No presidency, crossover may be minimal. Secondly, in addressing the JVP conference, Sarath Fonseka has stated clearly that he will not propose to go back to the cabinet system and formal executive presidential system. He has stressed that he needs power. This raises speculation that he would even try to introduce another hybrid system that may be more injurious to country than the system that at least we are familiar with. What are the elements of this system? Executive president and executive prime minister? If it is the case, how would powers be divided between two executives? I like hybridity, but not in constitution-making. I like laws that are as exact as possible!!!!

2. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution

Sometime ago, Dr Dayan Jayatilaka, Douglas Devananda, Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan and myself were the only people in this country who supported the 13th Amendment to the constitution. It is a good sign now all but the JVP, NFP and Hela Urumaya talk about the 13th Amendment. Sarath Fonseka has indicated that he would be ready to go beyond the 13th Amendment. I am not sure if Sarath Fonseka knows about the 13th Amendment and its provisions. Sometime back Sarath Fonseka almost reiterating what Hela Urumaya and Jathika Chintanaya pundits say stated that Sri Lanka was a Sinhala Buddhist country and the minorities should accept their position without demanding what they were not entitled to. Even if we assume that Sarath Fonseka has now changed his position, two issues may be raised. First, if he is going abolish the executive presidential system, how and in what capacity does he propose to implement the 13th Amendment fully? Secondly, in the past, the JVP vehemently opposed any kind of power-sharing arrangement. In that case, how would the JVP support Sarath Fonseka if this is included in his election manifesto as he cannot have one for the JVP and one for Mano Ganeshan?

3. Neo-Liberal Economic Policies

The conclusion of armed conflict in May 2009 has created an enabling space for Sri Lanka to move forward to overcome economic underdevelopment. Although world economy is now going through a recession, the growth forecast of the economies in the region are not that bleak. The epicenter of the world economy is now gradually moving towards the countries of the Indian Ocean. The satisfactory growth performance of India and China even in the period of world recession shows in what direction Sri Lanka should turn to develop its economy. In that sense, I think the foreign policy orientation of the present government is essentially correct. However, economic growth and development do not solely depend on world situation; it needs correct economic policies that give priority to growth-augmented economic activities. When Fonseka was asked about his economic programme, his reply was that he was not ready to answer that question and he would seek assistance from the UNP on that issue. The economic policies of the UNP under Ranil Wickremesinghe are disastrous and oriented towards the whims and fancies of merchant capital. His ‘Regaining Sri Lanka’ programme was based on extreme version of neo-liberal economics and no country in the world was able to achieve economic development by following economic prescriptions of neo-liberal economics. This once again raises a second question. Can this economic programme be a common programme of a common candidate? Will JVP stand for infamous ‘Regaining Sri Lanka’?

I wish to make final remark. Fonseka is confused on almost all the issues for which country needs immediate and clear answers. His statements are fundamentally contradictory. What would be the outcome? He would finally capitulate to the UNP and its Western masters.

© Sri Lanka Guardian

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Cairn to pump $110 mn into Lanka oil hunt

For the first time, a ship chartered by an Indian company is hunting for oil in Sri Lankan waters, with Cairn Lanka Pvt Ltd - a wholly-owned subsidiary of Cairn India
- starting seismic survey in the Mannar basin at an investment of $110 million.

In a related development, Cairn India will also merge oil and gas businesses of some of its subsidiaries with itself with a view to improving administrative efficiencies. The company's four subsidiaries -- Cairn Energy India, Cairn Energy India West BV, Cairn Energy Cambay BV and Cairn Energy Gujarat BV -- will merge their Indian oil and gas businesses with Cairn India.

In Sri Lanka, Cairn will survey Block SL 2007-01-001. The acreage was awarded to Cairn India in an auction held in 2008. The block lies offshore northwest Sri Lanka, with water depths ranging from 400 to 1,900 metres. A Cairn India statement said it expects to complete data acquisition by first quarter of 2010 and complete processing the data mid-2010. Drilling, based on the interpreted data and subject to regulatory approvals, is expected to commence in the first half of 2011.

Cairn has chartered the survey vessel, Veritas, from Norwegian firm CGG. The statement quoted Cairn Lanka director Indrajit Banerjee as describing the survey as the "first 3D seismic acquisition programme'' in Sri Lanka. "While there are no guarantees of success when exploring a frontier area such as the Mannar basin, the block is under-explored and we are encouraged by the studies we have conducted to date,'' the statement quoted him as saying.

© Times of India

Related Links:
SLanka signs Petroleum Resources Agreement with Indian company - Colombo Page
Cairn launches Sri Lanka Mannar basin seismic - Oil & Gas Journal
India's Cairn starts oil hunt in the Mannar Basin - Daily Mirror
Indian vessel arrives in the island for oil research in Sri Lanka - SLBC

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