Monday, November 30, 2009

Sri Lanka’s Presidential; a battle between conservatives and liberal democrats

By Ajith Perakum Jayasinghe -
Sri Lanka is heading towards an early Presidential in which President Mahinda Rajapakse faces an unexpected challenge from his ex-Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka. Not far back, the merciless political and military leadership shared by these two associates led the state to wipe out the 26-year separatist threat from the violent Tamil nationalists.

Their military action is highly criticized especially by Western super powers on human rights aspects and US State Department has listed 170 war crimes allegedly done by both Sri Lanka government and the defeated rebel organization Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE).  Both Presidential candidates of the ruling coalition and the opposition alliance are criticized for human rights violations and corruption. Both were arch Sinhala nationalists during the period of war and disliked devolving power to the minorities. Both needed the country to be maintained war footed and freedom of expression was nonsense to them.

Sri Lanka changed its outlook as a non-aligned nation after 2005 under the reign of President Mahinda Rajapakse and alienated from its traditional Western allies and drifted towards China. Rajapakse was not an ardent conservative but his pragmatic approach towards the Tamil problem pushed him to a war that violated many of the warring traditions. He embraced China and other countries like Iran, Libya and Myanmar to save his face from international isolation. China, an emerging super power in the region has invested in a number of massive development projects in Sri Lanka including the construction of a harbor in Hambanthota, close to a major international shipping line. Other projects are in the fields of power, highway construction etc.

However, Sri Lanka is a socially westernized country where English is widely used as second language and most of the countrymen perceive development as a way forward towards the social situation in West. However, the ideologists of the middle class elite preach nationalism and Orientalist dogma to gain political advantages in power echelon and Sri Lankans appear as split humans with one part in Western world of practical life and the other part in the ideological Oriental dreamland.

This split can be seen in politics as the middle class dominated conservative elements ally in the ruling coalition United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) while the capitalist and proletarian elements appear to unite in a new opposition coalition in the making with liberal democratic principles.

Comprador United National Party (UNP) and the proletarian People’s Liberation Front (JVP) have shed their traditional rivalry to support ex-Army chief Sarath Fonseka who recently showed his miraculous metamorphosis as a liberal democrat from his apolitical military role of Sinhala Buddhist Army Commander.
In the press briefing that he handled solely at the Jaic Hilton where he announced his candidature formally, he appeared for individual freedom, open economy, freedom for the private sector, power devolution to grant ethnic equality, abolition of dictatorial Presidential system, reinstating the power of the legislature and the much needed good governance.

Many opposition liberal and leftist thinkers dislike his military-like personality and suspects he will move towards totalitarianism once he is vested in the super powers of the Executive Presidency. Conservative pro-government elements try to portray him as an egoist while almost all of them should be unquestionably belong to the same category. They try to show him as a disloyal betrayer and a traitor of the ‘nation.’ The ‘nation’ eventually means a forming aristocratic dynasty surrounded by a bunch of greedy opportunists that sup with what trickles down through the fingers of the kings and princess.

Nevertheless, President Mahinda Rajapakse, flanked by his brothers is al powerful and knows the pulse of the polity too well. He is fighting back the new threat with all the state powers in line with the traditions of the Presidents vying for second term. It is not easy to defeat him in rural areas where he is popular thanks to his outgoing personality that none of the practicing politicians can match.

No one can predict what will happen on January 26, the day of the Presidential and the days after that. But Sri Lankan polity looks dividing apart the line of conservatism and liberal democracy. Every Sri Lankan has two souls; a conservative and a liberal democrat. The winner of the Presidential will be the one who will address most forcefully to either of these souls.   

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sri Lanka needs democratic ruler; neither ‘General’ nor ‘King’

(By Ajith Perakum Jayasinghe, November 24, Colombo - Lanka Polity

It is now confirmed that Sri Lanka's former Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka will contest the Presidential anticipated to be held in January. He has got the obstacles cleared to be the opposition common candidate as the major opposition United National Party (UNP) as well as the Marxist nationalist People's Liberation Front (JVP) have agreed on conditions to prop up him. Fonseka has agreed to abolish the executive presidency within an undisclosed time frame and JVP has also consented to Ranil Wickramasinghe to be the Premier of the caretaker government that will hold power during the transition. Fonseka has further consented to appoint two MPs each from JVP and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).

Reportedly, President Mahinda Rajapakse was told by his intelligence sources and the political informants in the UNP hierarchy that Wickramasinghe would contest in the Presidential since JVP would not consent Fonseka agreeing to appoint Wickramasinghe as the Prime Minister of the caretaker government. Without knowledge of the latest developments that came through discussions in chambers that were shut for Rajapskse’s informants like UNP National Organizer S.B. Disanayaka, the President signed the gazette to call for the Presidential that he was delaying for several weeks.

Rajapakse might lose two years from his mandate if he loses the Presidential. However, he is a born fighter and has already commenced his campaign with vigor and shrewdness. As the supporters of Fonseka are highlighting him as an uncorrupt soldier who devoted himself for 40 years unblemished service in Army, the President hired some prominent Tamil writers to unveil some crucial facts related to Fonseka. The first cannon was fired by Canada-based political analyst D.B.S. Jeyaraj and the pro-government Asian Tribune editor K.T. Rajasingham took a gung ho turn hitting harder to Fonseka to lure Rajapakse. Pro-war Asian Tribune headlined its story as Every bullet fired at innocent Tamil civilians fetched kickbacks to Gen Fonseka family in which the kickbacks said earned by Fonseka’s son-in-law or the Fonseka family as they articulate, through military supplies are outlined.

Both Rajapakse and Fonseka can claim equally for the defeat of the Tamil Tigers. The leadership of these two personalities combined with the Defense Secretary, President’s brother Gotabhaya Rajapakse was crucial for the conquest of the Tamil Tigers that actually reined the northern and eastern parts of the island for nearly three decades. Now it is history and the country needs restoration of democracy and good governance so that the country achievs rapid growth to solve the people’s problems.

Rajapakse is surrounded by a bunch of shrewdest political opportunists whom he himself does not trust at least to support him in a Presidential held after the general election. Now, he has given them the bait either to support him in the Presidential or to perish. His extended family and friends that hail from the village gentry that had less opportunity in the past among the political and economic elite is extremely ambitious to manipulate his prowess to achieve their targets. One of his economic managers is a crook who was punished by Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court and the economists have failed to put the country into a track that the war achievements will result in growth that trickles down to poor masses that are still burdened with massive taxes brought in the war time. However, Mahinda Rajapakse is still popular among people mainly due to his outgoing characteristics irrespective of all the nonsense his associates commit.

The main doubt the opponents of Rajapakse have regarding the retired General Fonseka is his military characteristics. They suspect the bird of freedom and democracy they are trying to portray in Fonseka will ultimately backfire as a military dictator. Still he is General for Sri Lankan media despite he is changing into national suit he is not familiar with although he is very handsome and matured looking in it.

The Tamil writers like D.B.S. Jeyaraj and are so eager to expose the egoistic traits of Fonseka’s character to point out that he is unfit for the post of Presidency, an argument nowhere ever proved since almost all the state heads in Sri Lanka as well as in the world have shown this attribute in various levels.

What the progressive polity needs from a future President of Sri Lanka is neither the ‘General’ quality nor the ‘King’ quality demonstrated by Fonseka and Rajapakse, but a principled democratic ruler that can restore ruined rule of law, democracy and good governance. Sri Lankan voters will decide in January whose head is fit for the cap.    

Friday, November 20, 2009

Crucial conference of Tamil speaking politicians of Sri Lanka in Zurich

(November 20, Colombo - Lanka Polity) A highly important conference of Tamil speaking political parties of Sri Lanka is now being held in Zurich, Switzerland. The conference started yesterday and it is scheduled to end tomorrow.

The conference attended by the political parties that are 'no further engaged' in the agenda of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) is organized by the Tamil Information Center. However, the organization website had no information regarding the conference signal ling that the conference is a hurried arrangement.

Franlyn R. Sathyapalan writes to The Island, "The London based Tamil Information Centre, which was an alliance of Tamil militant groups, was founded in 1984 and had its head office in India. It became dysfunctional following the Indo-Lanka Agreement in 1987 and subsequently got amalgamated to the pro LTTE Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO). After the defeat of the LTTE it had been taken over by the Tamil Diaspora, Tamil political sources said."

Representatives of the TNA, TULF, EPDP, CWC, UPF, DPF, PLOTE, TELO, ACRC, SLMC, TMVP, and EPRLF (both Naba and Varatha wings) are participating in this conference. They are namely Rajavarothayam Sampanthan, the parliamentary group leader of Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Mavai Senathirajah (TNA), Suresh Premachandran (EPRLF-S, TNA), Gajendrakumar Ponnampalam (All Ceylon Tamil Congress, TNA), Arumugam Thondaman (CWC),Muthu Sivalingam (CWC), Mano Ganesan (DPA), Douglas Devananda (EPDP), P. Chandrasekaran (UPF), Ananda Sangaree (TULF), T. Sritharan (EPRLF-P), Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan (TMVP), D. Siddharthan (PLOTE) and Rauff Hakeem (SLMC).

Pro-LTTE Tamilnet indirectly said that the conference has been arranged by UK and US with support of India aiming to ‘extracting’ a joint proclamation of the participants to come out with a political programme to achieve ‘minimum’ demands.

Meanwhile, pro-LTTE Tamil nationalist elements are in a move to re-mandating the Vaddukkoaddai Resolution of 1976 that provided the base for the struggle for Tamil Ealam. They are holding elections for a transnational self-governing arrangement of the Ealam Tamils and first of such elections were held in Norway on last Sunday.

The Hindu : Ranil wants Indian form of democracy in Sri Lanka

B. Muralidhar Reddy -

As Sri Lanka awaits a formal announcement on dates for a Presidential and Parliamentary election, separately or together, the leader of the newly-floated 18-party United National Front (UNF), Ranil Wickremesinghe on Thursday advocated switch over from the present Presidential to a model akin to the Indian system.

A booklet in Sinhala titled “Anagatha Abiyogaya” outlining the shift from the Presidential to Parliamentary form of democracy with an Executive Prime Minister and President as head of the Constitution was presented by Mr. Wickremesinghe to monks at a Temple here.

Earlier, he had said the alliance headed by him could consider nomination of the just retired General Sarath Fonseka as a consensus Presidential candidate to take on the Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa only if the former Army chief endorsed a 10-point common minimum programme with abolition or substantial dilution of powers of the Executive Presidency as a key component.

A formal announcement on the Presidential and Parliamentary elections is expected in the next two days and the ruling combine United People's Freedom Alliance is scheduled to hold a news conference at 10 a.m. on Friday.

Political and diplomatic observers here have billed the Presidential election as the mother of all political battles in the 48-year-old history of the island nation, as, for the first time, there is a prospect of an incumbent President and Supreme Commander of the armed forces and retired Army Chief and a former commander of the Army being pitted against each other.

Leading political opponents of Mr. Rajapaksa have been openly discussing the prospect of picking the man who led the war against the LTTE as their consensus candidate in the event of a race to the President’s office.

As per the managers of Mr. Rajapaksa, the President is all set to face any situation while the Opposition parties are still in the process of consulting one another on a strategy to defeat him with or without General Fonseka.

The conditions put forward by the UNF for the retired General, if he wants to be considered as their consensus Presidential candidate, include the scrapping of, or substantially reducing, the powers of the executive presidency, provision to the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and Janatha Vimukhthi Peramuna (JVP) important portfolios in the Cabinet, ensuring the speedy resettlement of the northern IDPs, establishing all the independent commissions for good governance and appointment of Mr. Wickremesinghe as the caretaker Prime Minister.

Further, in the event of parliamentary polls preceding a Presidential Election, Mr. Wickremesinghe would be the Prime Ministerial candidate of the new Front.

Mr. Wickremesinghe said that a decision on the Presidential candidate would be taken only after an election was announced and he was confident that Gen. (retd) Fonseka had a clear understanding of the UNF policies.

In his booklet Mr. Wickremesinghe has also suggested holding the general election, election of the Executive Prime Minister, provincial polls and local government polls on a single day.

The alliance led by Mr. Wickremesinghe is seriously considering Gen. (retd) Fonseka as a Presidential candidate was evident from his comments in the local media. “There is no reason to assume that General Fonseka is not a democrat,” he has been quoted as saying.

Confirming the thinking in the new opposition alliance on the Presidential candidature of Gen. (retd) Fonseka and the rationale behind it, a senior Front leader and former Foreign Minister in the Rajapaksa government, Mangala Samaraweera, told the English paper Island, “The prime objective would be to abolish the executive presidency within a stipulated period of time…An individual candidate who has no party behind him will be the best placed to carry out this agenda.”

“The probability of General Fonseka or any other common candidate abolishing the executive presidency, especially if there is a strong democratic safety net around him, will be much greater.”

On the lacuna in the current Constitution, which has been exploited by Parliamentarians to walk over to the party of their whim, Mr. Wickremesinghe said that a future UNF administration would delete that clause in the Constitution.

“We have to sit down and discuss the details, but are agreed in principle that the crossover provision has to be abolished totally,” he said, in response to a question by the local media when questioned if the UNF would ensure that the liberty of crossing over would be denied to both government and Opposition MPs.

On paper, the members elected on a party ticket have to abide by the party whip inside the Parliament. However, there has been a controversy over interpretation of the provision. Today, most of the high-profile Ministers in the Rajapaksa government are members of the main opposition party, United National Party (UNP) and cases by the party against them for deserting the boat are pending in the apex court.

In his booklet Mr. Wickremesinghe had proposed changes to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution with the post of Governor being abolished while the Chief Ministers would be members of the State Assembly comprising the Prime minister and those others who would be appointed to it.

He called for setting up guidelines to be followed by political parties when fielding candidates for elections and for upholding a decent political culture in the country.

Mr. Wickremesinghe pointed out that Sri Lanka’s political culture should be based on electing the best people to implement a national policy and proposed that United Nations anti corruption convention be adopted in Sri Lanka to combat the rampant corruption that exists.

He said the country had the opportunity of establishing a national policy setting out long term plans to be achieved in 25 years and that this had made possible due to the defeat of the LTTE and thus its capacity of deciding who will rule this country.

Mr. Wickremesinghe said his political career was most affected by the actions of the LTTE and mentioned the attempt made on President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s life in 1999 and the LTTE sponsored mass boycott of the 2005 presidential election.

As per a senior leader of the UNP in the booklet he had sad fresh ideas would be welcomed as something vital as a national policy had to be prepared taking into account ideas of all parties and groups. “Sri Lanka needs a national policy with long term plans so that we will be able to regain the lost status and prestige,.

In the document he said reminding that Sri Lanka was one of the leading states in Asia only second to Japan at the time it won its independence and that status should be regained,” Mr. Wickremesinghe said. He said the country needed a policy based on what Buddha’s preached in his sermon Bahujana Hithaya, Bahujana Sukaya” that deals with the wider welfare of the people.

The monk Nayaka Thera said there were many philosophies and policies talked about in Sri Lanka but nothing was pracitsed.

“The important thing is to practice these teachings,” he said adding that polices should be directed towards the fulfilling of plans suitable for Sri Lanka. The monks welcomed the ideas.

Opposition UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe had reportedly told the Working Committee meeting on Thursday evening that he had not finalised any agreement with General (retd). Foneseka and a final arrangement on the matter would be arrived at once an election was declared.

Mr. Wickremesinghe had assured that he would discuss the matter regarding Gen.(retd) Fonseka with all UNP MPs once the presidential election is declared. He had told members of the Working Committee that one should not worry about the presidential election now as the government had not reached a final decision on an election yet.

“Our approach would be different with regard to the presidential and general elections,” he said responding to Kurunegala District Parliamentarian Johnston Fernando who raised the issue on General

(retd.) Fonseka. Mr. Fernando had reportedly said that the MPs needed to know the real situation regarding the presidential candidate.

United National Party leader Ranjith Atapattu who had raised the issue of the common opposition alliance had said the symbol of the alliance had to be the elephant and nothing else.

Mr. Wickremesinghe had also assigned Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya and General Secretary Tissa Attanayake to negotiate with other parties with a view to expand the common alliance.

The JVP says it is not apprehensive about being part of the same Cabinet as its rival, the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance, in the event of a caretaker government being formed with UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, English daily Island in response to questions from the local media on whether the JVP had no difficulty in sitting with the TNA in the same Cabinet after being critical of the latter’s pro-LTTE stance, JVP has said he saw no reason why his party could not do so because the caretaker government to be formed would consist of all political parties represented in Parliament.

He said his party saw no alternative to winning the next presidential election with the help of a common candidate and forming a caretaker government to restore democracy.

Asked whether the Elections Commissioner had rejected the JVP’s application for the registration of a new political party to field Gen. (retd) Sarath Fonseka at the next presidential election, the JVP Parliamentary Group Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake told the paper that his party had not received any official communication to that effect.

He said the application for the registration of the new party had been submitted on October 12, 2009 and the JVP was hopeful that the Elections Commissioner would accept it and Gen. Fonseka would be able to contest on its ticket.

Mr. Dissanayake said the party symbol was likely to be ‘something like a sword, but not so sharp’.

Amnesty International urges Commonwealth Heads of Government to press Sri Lanka on rights of displaced

(November 20, Colombo - Lanka Polity) In an open letter to the heads of government attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, scheduled to be held in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago on November 23-26, 2009, Amnesty International asks to use the upcoming meeting as an important opportunity to urge the government of Sri Lanka to address, in particular, the following urgent concerns:

·         Restore the rights of Sri Lanka’s displaced people to liberty and freedom of movement, ensuring that those held in Sri Lankan displacement camps are there voluntarily;

·         Ensure independent access to, and monitoring of camps housing internally displaced people to protect them against human rights abuse, and ensure that their humanitarian needs are being met;

·         Institute a consultative process with displaced people that allows them to make informed and voluntary decisions about return and resettlement;

·         End arbitrary detention; ensuring that all “screening” and detention practices associated with the displaced population are transparent, and are carried out in accordance with legal safeguards and international human rights standards. Individuals affiliated with the LTTE arrested and accused of crimes, should be charged with legitimate offences, tried and prosecuted in accordance with the law and without recourse to the death penalty;

·         Ensure accountability for abuses to guarantee effective investigations, due process and swift prosecution of all perpetrators, including those enjoying political influence and high social status;

·         End reliance on legislation intended for emergencies that curtail enjoyment of basic rights and freedoms and subvert due process.

·         To accomplish the needed reforms and improvements, an independent field monitoring presence is required with a strong mandate to conduct investigations and assist the national institutions to deliver justice in relation to grave violations of human rights. To ensure independence, such a body must be empowered by an international mandate, not a presidential mandate.

Some 150,000 people displaced by war and living in government camps in Northern Sri Lanka are denied their basic human rights including liberty and freedom of movement. The camps remain military in nature. The military controls all decision-making related to management of the camps and the fate of displaced people in those camps; the military severely restricts the residents from leaving the premises even to seek medical care, and denies the displaced population basic legal safeguards.
While the government has widely publicised recent releases from the camps, Amnesty International has received reports that displaced people have been subjected to rescreening by local authorities to determine whether they had links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). There are also reports that some people who have been released, have been denied necessary documents to ensure that they are safe from re-arrest.
The government has not alerted displaced people about impending releases or conditions in their places of origin that would enable them to make plans about their futures. Nor has the government given the displaced people clear information about their rights and obligations, their legal status or procedures for tracing family members. Displaced people have been given no voice in decisions regarding their release, return or resettlement. There is inadequate monitoring of the conditions of release, and of alleged return or resettlement.
The Sri Lankan government has prevented humanitarian organizations from talking to displaced persons, and obstructed their ability to conduct crucial human rights protections activities, such as providing legal aid or assisting with family reunification.
The Sri Lankan government has legitimate security concerns, and there is a need to bring to justice members of both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan armed forces who engaged in abuse of civilians. Sri Lanka’s displaced civilians suffered enormous physical danger and material deprivation during the war. As discussed below, both sides were accused of humanitarian law violations against these civilians, who were forced to remain at risk in the conflict zone by the LTTE, which used them as human shields against the approaching army. Adults and children were subjected to forced conscription.
Amnesty International stresses the need to ensure that in all cases, accountability is pursued through proper legal processes. Since the war ended in May 2009, many thousands of people detained in camps have been subjected to 'screening' by the security forces in an attempt to root out LTTE members. An estimated 12,000 people (including children) suspected of links to the LTTE have been arrested, separated from the general displaced population and detained by the authorities in irregular detention facilities, such as vacated school buildings. Amnesty International has received repeated, credible reports from humanitarian workers about the lack of transparency and accountability in the screening process, which is conducted outside of any legal framework and the increased dangers to detainees when they are held incommunicado. While screening is appropriate to ensure that LTTE combatants are not housed with the general camp population, proper procedures should be followed, and the screening process must not be used as an excuse for collective punishment.
The government denies independent monitors access to sites in the north housing adult LTTE suspects. Detainees have not been charged with any offense, and have been denied legal counsel and due process. Many are held incommunicado. UNICEF has access to former child soldiers detained in specialized “rehabilitation” camps for children, but there remains a need to verify that no children remain in facilities with adult detainees.
Sri Lanka has recently emerged from more than twenty-five years of armed conflict between government forces and the LTTE. In the course of fighting, both sides violated humanitarian law. The LTTE forcibly conscripted adults and children, and forced civilians to travel with its retreating forces and to serve as a buffer against the approaching Sri Lankan army. Thousands of these civilians died when government forces fired artillery into areas densely populated with civilians who were forced to remain at risk in the conflict zone. The LTTE reportedly fired at and killed civilians who attempted to escape.
Impunity for violations of human rights and humanitarian law has been the rule rather than the exception in Sri Lanka. On 26 October, the Sri Lankan government announced the appointment of a committee of experts to investigate alleged humanitarian law violations committed during the war. The Sri Lankan government has a poor record of providing genuine accountability through similar mechanisms: it has often appointed ad hoc Commissions of Inquiry in the past when it received adverse publicity for serious violations of human rights, but none of these has advanced justice. The President’s most recent proposal appears to be yet another attempt to deflect attention from repeated calls for an independent international investigation – calls supported by Amnesty International and many other international and domestic human rights organizations, and strengthened by the recently released report of the US Department of State’s Office of War Crimes.
The Sri Lankan government continues to justify its abusive policies and silencing of dissent, under the pretext of countering the threat of terrorism. Special security legislation, such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and the Public Security Ordinance and its accompanying emergency regulations (intended for states of national emergency, but imposed almost continuously for decades), remains in place and grants extraordinary powers to the authorities to arbitrarily arrest and detain individuals almost indefinitely.
In September 2009, journalist J.S. Tissainayagam was sentenced to twenty years rigorous imprisonment under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for writing articles that criticized the Sri Lankan government’s treatment of Tamil civilians during military operations in the East.
In addition to these restrictive laws and regulations, there is a pattern of regular threats and unchecked attacks against journalists (15 have been killed because of their reporting since 2004 and at least 11 have fled the country between June 2008 and June 2009), lawyers, witnesses against state forces, and human rights defenders by unidentified attackers presumed to have links to the state. The cumulative effect has eroded public faith in the justice system, and has also had a chilling effect on freedom of expression and association.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The latest conspiracy theory

By Kath Noble -

It has taken less than six months for Sarath Fonseka’s relationship with Mahinda Rajapaksa to break down. One moment they were congratulating each other on their spectacular victory over the LTTE, and the next the former Army Commander was giving up his post as Chief of Defence Staff with invitations in hand from both the UNP and the JVP to run against the President in the upcoming election. They have gone from the closest of partnerships to what looks like developing into a bitter rivalry with very little in the way of warning.

The falling out has been so spectacular that the reasons behind it are now one of the hottest topics of debate in Colombo, and it is quite fascinating. We all love conspiracy theories.

Mahinda Rajapaksa hasn’t said much about it as yet, but Sarath Fonseka’s resignation letter claims that it all began with suspicions that he was planning to overthrow the Government. He was moved on in an unseemly hurry, it seems, and his recommendation of Major General Chandrasiri as a successor was overlooked. Various other unnecessary internal changes were made. The President simply didn’t trust him, he says. His Sinha Regiment was even removed from security duties at the Ministry of Defence.

I find this assertion pretty hard to believe. Coups just don’t happen in Sri Lanka.

The only attempt was made way back in 1962. That was around the time that French generals were plotting to overthrow the administration of Charles de Gaulle to stop him negotiating the end of colonial rule in Algeria. Nobody would dream of using that incident as a precedent to suggest that Nicolas Sarkozy could be in danger.

It was a different era. What happened fifty years ago has no bearing on the current situation.Sri Lanka is a committed democracy, whatever its other failings. People wouldn’t stand for a dictatorship, and budding Pinochets know it. They are too used to debate and demonstrations. Politics is in their blood. Despite three uprisings and seemingly endless years of fighting, nothing has changed. People still want to vote. However much they despair of the candidates who put themselves forward for election to Parliament, Provincial Councils and whatever other bodies are created, they remain engaged.

If there is any truth in what Sarath Fonseka says, I can only think that it comes from spending too much time in the company of the military leaders of other countries. Getting close to people who have used brute force to come to power might well have made the Government paranoid.

I started thinking about this gratuitous hanging out with despots a few weeks ago, when it was reported that a group of Sri Lankan judges were going off to work in Fiji. Like most people, I don’t know a great deal about that country, which is located at the other side of the world to where I come from and has a population only a bit larger than the city of Colombo. However, I do recall that it is under military rule.

Commodore Bainimarama is rather keen on coups. He has led two since he was appointed Commander of the Armed Forces in 1999. The first was barely a year later, in 2000, and the second in 2006, in which he despatched the Prime Minister he had helped into power earlier.

This doesn’t sound promising, and the situation actually turns out to be much worse. Finding out more about Fiji is somewhat of a challenge, seeing as the international media only bothers to report a couple of paragraphs on it every six months or so, usually reminding us that the country is probably going to disappear under the sea in another few decades, but that’s no excuse.

The reason Fiji needs Sri Lankan judges is that Commodore Bainimarama sacked the ones it had when they declared illegal the so-called interim administration that he has led as Prime Minister since the military takeover. At the same time, he abrogated the Constitution, declared a State of Emergency, sacked a bunch of senior bureaucrats he thought might not be so keen on his new plan of holding elections sometime in 2014 or thereabouts, and despatched the Police to newsrooms to censor any unfavourable stories.

That was several months ago. I am curious to find out what made him think of Mahinda Rajapaksa when he started looking for replacements.

As if this news about Sri Lanka propping up the regime in Fiji weren’t bad enough, only days later came an announcement about the visit of Senior General Than Shwe. This man has been in charge of Burma since 1992, taking over the reins of an administration that has been in the hands of the military for decades.
We know how enthusiastic they are about dissent. Their response to the various protests that have come up over the years has made their attitude to controlling the people only too clear.

The military had a brief and unproductive dalliance with elections in 1990, deciding to cancel them when the party they supported lost. The winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, is still under house arrest and will be ineligible to stand in the poll that the authorities currently intend to hold next year. This time they have made sure to reserve a quarter of the seats in the Parliament for themselves, and it remains to be seen whether they will allow the result to stand if they don’t like what emerges.

This story is too well known for me to waste any more space on the details, and not just because Burma is a sizeable country. It is a popular cause.

Mahinda Rajapaksa clearly knows about it, and I am not sure why he thought that it was a good idea to ask Senior General Than Shwe to tour the country and even meditate at the Sri Dalada Maligawa. He may not believe in interfering in the domestic affairs of Burma, but we aren’t talking about sanctions that would hurt its people. This is a case of the President going out of his way to help General Than Shwe, providing him with an opportunity to look acceptable and even a bit good. He is being projected as a guardian of Buddhism, of all things. Mahinda Rajapaksa didn’t have to do that. He could have neglected the invitation, as his predecessors did.

Amidst such characters, it is possible that the Government has lost sight of reality. It has certainly forgotten its principles.

I suspect that it is just as likely that the assertion was a ruse on the part of Sarath Fonseka to present his actions in a favourable light. It wouldn’t have looked good if he’d said things with Mahinda Rajapaksa had gone wrong simply because he’d let success go to his head. He comes across much better if he presents himself as wronged by the President and honourable to the last.

Conspiracy theories aren’t usually true, after all. I generally prefer to believe the most obvious explanation of a set of circumstances and not one that requires an unusually large serving of imagination.

This exchange gives us an indication of what is going to happen once the political battle kicks off in earnest, if Sarath Fonseka really is going to take up the challenge of running against the President. It will be ugly. He and Mahinda Rajapaksa will attack each other with as much determination as they demonstrated when their common target was Prabhakaran. What’s more, there is plenty of ammunition at hand. War makes for great horror stories. Meanwhile, the UNP and the JVP will sit back and enjoy the show, not really minding who comes out on top, just looking forward to facing a weakened UPFA in the next round. It is a bit sad.

(First published in The Island)

Sri Lanka falls further in world Corruption Perceptions Index

(November 18, Colombo - Lanka PolitySri Lanka shared the 97th position with Liberia among 180 countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2009 of the Transparency International.

The world’s ten least corrupt countries are as follows:

1. New Zealand

2. Denmark

3. Singapore

4. Sweden

5. Switzerland

6. Finland

7. Netherlands
8. Australia

9. Canada

10. Iceland

The world’s ten most corrupt countries:

1. Somalia

2. Afghanistan

3. Myanmar

4. Sudan

5. Iraq

6. Chad

7. Uzbekistan

8. Turkmenistan

9. Iran

10. Haiti

In 2005, Sri Lanka was the 78th among 158 countries. In 2006, she was placed 84 of 163 countries. In 2007 Sri Lanka was the 94th among 179 countries. The country was at 92nd place in 2008 among 180 countries.

Bhutan achieved the best position in the index among the South Asian nations securing the 43rd place. India is at 84 while Pakistan and Bangladesh shared the 139th position. Nepal is at 143 while Maldives is at 130.

China has achieved the 79th position. UK and US are at 17 and 19 respectively.

The CPI measures the perceived level of public-sector corruption in 180 countries and territories around the world. The CPI is a "survey of surveys", based on 13 different expert and business surveys.

Amnesty International takes action for Sri Lanka displaced

(November 18, Colombo - Lanka Polity) Activists and supporters of Amnesty International will launch a week of action on Monday highlighting the continued detention of thousands of displaced civilians in government camps in Sri Lanka.

Activists in more than 10 countries will take action as part of the Unlock the Camps campaign. Events include a ‘Circle of Hope’ in Canada, a street march and signature campaign in Nepal, a poetry reading in Switzerland and solidarity actions in  France, Germany, Mauritius and the United States.

Throughout the week, Amnesty International activists based in London and participating sections  will write blogs about the events taking place across the world..

Six months after the end of the war between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Sri Lanka continues to confine people who fled fighting in the north to closed displacement camps in uncomfortable and sometimes hazardous conditions.

Releases from the camps have increased in recent weeks. However, camp shelters have deteriorated as Sri Lanka has entered the rainy season, with funds for shelter repair running out.

This week John Holmes, lead advisor on humanitarian affairs to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, travels to Sri Lanka to assess the situation of the people in the camps.

Around 150,000 displaced people living in government camps in northern Sri Lanka are still being denied their basic human rights including freedom of movement. The military control whether the displaced can leave camp premises - even to seek medical care - and they are denied basic legal protections.

The government has widely publicised recent releases but Amnesty International has received reports that many people have been held by local authorities to determine whether they had links to the LTTE.


Displaced people have been given no voice in decisions regarding their release, return or resettlement.

Families have received no warning about impending releases or been informed of conditions in their former homes. They have not been given clear information about their rights and obligations, legal status or procedures for tracing family members.

Humanitarian organizations have been prevented from talking to displaced people in the camps, obstructing their ability to conduct crucial human rights work such as providing legal aid or assisting with family reunification. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has not had access to the camps since July.

Since the war ended in May 2009, many thousands of people detained in camps have been subjected to 'screening' by the security forces in an attempt to root out LTTE members.

An estimated 12,000 people (including children) suspected of links to the LTTE have been arrested, separated from the general displaced population and detained by the authorities in irregular detention facilities, such as vacated school buildings.

Amnesty International has received repeated, credible reports from humanitarian workers about the lack of transparency and accountability in the screening process, which is conducted outside of any legal framework. There are also increased dangers to detainees when they are held incommunicado.
While screening is appropriate to ensure that LTTE combatants are not housed with the general camp population, proper procedures should be followed and the screening process must not be used as an excuse for collective punishment.

Independent monitors (including the ICRC) continue to be denied access to sites housing adult LTTE suspects. Detainees have not been charged with any offence, and have been denied legal counsel and due process. Many are held incommunicado.
Amnesty International has called on the Sri Lankan government to respect and protect the human rights of displaced people, including the rights to liberty and freedom of movement.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sri Lanka President to hold general election prior to presidential

(November 17, Colombo - Lanka Polity) Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse who earlier wanted an early presidential to extend his term for eight more years manipulating the popularity he earned via the victory over the Tamils' violent struggle for homeland is now changing his mind, sources say.

The President is likely to postpone the presidential and the parliamentary elections are to come soon as the term ends in April next year.

The President anticipated a one horse race with the shattered opposition until the former Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka who was a kingpin of the government's war victory came into the scene as a possible common opposition candidate in an upcoming presidential.

Fonseka retired from the post of Chief of Defense Forces on November 16. He said to media that he would expose his plans for future within a couple of days.

Major opposition United National Party (UNP) and Marxist nationalist People's Liberation Front (JVP) have pledged conditional support to Fonseka and both parties have sought the abolition of the executive presidency. However informal sources say that Fonseka has asked for a period of two years to go before the abolition of the executive presidency.

However, with the possibility of holding a general election before the presidential, Fonseka, the UNP and the JVP will have to rethink their strategies. At the moment, Sarath Fonseka appears more popular than the President, according to an online survey conducted by our sister Sinhala website

Tamil detainees attacked in Sri Lanka prison

(November 17, Colombo - Lanka PolitySri Lanka's opposition political parties led by the Democratic People's Front and the United Socialist Party demonstrated today in front of the Magazine Prison in Colombo against an incident of assaulting the Tamil detainees brutally within the prison.

The organizers of the agitation say they have reports that a member of prison staff who belongs to the majority Sinhala community has led some other Sinhala prisoners to attack the Tamil detainees. One prisoner has sustained severe spinal injuries while another prisoner has lost front teeth in the attack. At least ten others have sustained injuries.

Sri Lanka prisons have a history of massacres of Tamil prisoners by majority Sinhala community prisoners with the connivance of the prison officials.

In one such incident, 52 Tamil prisoners were beaten to death in Welikada prison in Colombo in 1983.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sri Lanka appoints military intelligence officer as ambassador for Eritrea to curb LTTE activities there

(November 15, Colombo - Lanka Polity) Following the recent exposures from the recently arrested leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam rebel movement, the government of Sri Lanka has decided to appoint a senior military intelligence officer as Sri Lanka Ambassador for Eritrea.

The New Ambassador previously acted as the Director of Military Intelligence of Sri Lanka Army.

According to local media, the captured LTTE leader Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias Kumaran Pathmanathan  revealed that the LTTE had obtained support of Eritrea for its international arms procurements and fund raising activities.

Sri Lanka government eliminated the founder and leader of the LTTE Velupillai Prabakaran on May 18 in the battlefields in northern Sri Lanka decimating the rebel apparatus that led for a 30-year war in the country. LTTE, that fought for a Tamil homeland in the northern and eastern parts of the South Asian island mustered massive support from Tamil diaspora worldwide.

However, LTTE was banned by many Western nations as a terrorist outfit.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sri Lanka prevents UN rapporteur on freedom of opinion visiting Sri Lanka

(November 14, Colombo - Lanka PolityFrank La Rue, the UN Human Rights Council's special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression he is "perplexed" by Sri Lankan government's reluctance to allow him for a fact finding mission despite unofficially agreeing for the visit months ago. He says to BBC that he has been making the request unofficially since March this year and sent an official letter seeking permission to visit Sri Lanka in August or September but for no response from Sri Lankan mission in Geneva.

Sri Lanka government, as well as the defeated Tamil rebel organization LTTE, are accused of curtailing press freedom during the decades of conflict. The government earlier admitted that at least nine journalists had been killed since January 2006.

Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, an organization of self-exiled Sri Lankan journalists say that more than 50 journalists have fled the country in fear of their lives.

A Sri Lankan court recently sentenced Tamil journalist J.N. Tissainayagam for 20 years under draconian anti-terrorism laws.

Sri Lankan media is under tight control of the government and the media persons say they have imposed self-censor on them in fear of threats.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Provide access to NGOs to assist resettlement - National Peace Council

(November 13, Colombo - Lanka PolitySri Lanka's National Peace Council urges the Government of Sri Lanka to permit both international and local NGOs who have staff that is experienced in responding to humanitarian and resettlement needs of affected communities to work in partnership with affected communities and government structures at the local level to accelerate the resettlement process. 

"Since the provision of basic humanitarian needs is a primary function of civil society, we request the Government to maximize the use of civil society resources to meet urgent needs through mechanisms such as mobile health clinics, psycho-social support and house building. We urge the Government to facilitate the efforts of civil society groups to rebuild trust and establish a base of continuous dialogue so that both can work efficiently together to assist the displaced. Showing concern for IDP needs by providing them with basic requirements for survival and sufficient tools to rebuild their lives will also help develop trust between the Government and the displaced people, a crucial component of reconciliation," says the National Peace Council.

Recently, several media reported pessimistically about the resettlement programme of the government saying that the IDPs had been re-positioned in smaller camps instead of resettling them in their villages. Some media said that the government resorted to this action aiming to divert international pressure, to manage the mounting tension among the large groups of IDPs and also for the better manipulation of the voters at upcoming elections. 

Current reports indicate that nearly130,000 IDPs are being resettled either with their relatives or in vacant houses.  National Peace Council says, "These temporary arrangements are not going to solve their long standing problems.  The Government needs to reassure these people that they are entitled to resettlement again to their own places from where they have come from."

At least 280,000 persons who were displaced from the island's Northern Province during the last stages of Sri Lanka Government's war against the Tamil rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam, were confined to welfare centers from which they were not permitted to leave. Hundreds of thousands of people still languish in these camps amidst pressure to the government to speed up resettling them. 

Significant new sandakadapahana recovered from Anuradhapura

(November 13, Colombo - Lanka Polity) A new sandakadapahana or moonstone has been recovered from the ancient Anuradhapura city. Sandakadapahana is a unique stepping stone with artistic carvings on it and it was widely used at the entrances of the shrines in Anuradhapura era that spans up to 10the century AD.

However, the recovery had been made spontaneously as a base pit was dug to build a shrine near the ancient Sri Maha Bodhiya, the sacred bo tree believed to hail from the tree that provided shade to Lord Buddha..

The sandakadapahana was observed significant in its artistic and archaeological value.

However, the Department of Archaeology has decided to bury this invaluable monument as it was until a systematic archaeological excavation is carried out.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sri Lanka's food imports up despite government rhetoric on self-sustenance

(November 12, Colombo - Lanka PolityRhetoric of the Sri Lanka government to achieve self-sustenance through a a new green revolution named 'Let Us Cultivate and Develop the Country' is highly contrasted with some of the statistics revealed in the parliament last week.

According to information revealed in Sri Lanka Parliament by the Minister Bandula Gunawardane last week in response to a question by People's Liberation Front (JVP) MP for the Anuradhapura district Ranaveera Pathirana, the government imported 52,800,209 kilos of milk food accounting for 89.1 percent of local demand in 2005, but this amount had seen an increase up to 62,518,062 kilos last year.  It was 90 percent of the local requirement.

The country had imported 57 percent of its potato requirement in 2008, and it had been a sharp rise against 33.9 percent imported in 2005. In 2006, the government had imported 37 percent of the country’s potato requirement and 52.6 percent in 2007.

Big onions had recorded an import growth of 71.9 percent in 2008 in terms of local requirement, against 60.4 percent in 2007, 61.9 percent in 2006 and 66.6 percent in 2006.

In contrast to attempts to boost local agriculture, Chillie imports had also registered an increase, as a percentage of the local requirement, from 72 percent in 2007 to 73 percent last year. In 2005, the country had imported only 67 percent of its Chillie requirement and 69 percent in 2006.

However, the Trade Ministry information revealed that the sugar import had declined to 92.7 percent last year from 93.3 recorded the previous year.  The sugar import was 89.6 percent of the local needs in 2005, and 90.4 percent in 2006.

Asked for the reason for this situation, the Minister said the demand had risen locally leading to the increase in imports. He also put the 300,000 plus internally displaced persons from Tamil dominated Northern Province in account of this increase stating that their consumption was restricted earlier when they were in the clutches of the Tamil rebels.

Pope talks on Sri Lanka

(November 12, Colombo - Lanka Polity) At the end of his general audience today, Pope Benedict XVI noted that, six months after the end of a civil war, Sri Lanka is on the road to recovery. However, he continued, there is still much work to be done.

Sri Lanka has been torn by an armed conflict between the government and a rebel group, the Tamil Tigers, for the last 27 years. The conflict finally ended in May and authorities are taking steps to ensure that the displaced refugees, many of whom are Tamils from the north, are returned to their homes.

The Pope strongly encouraged “an acceleration in this process” and requested “all citizens to work towards rapid pacification in full respect for human rights, and towards a just political solution to the challenges still facing the country.”

Earlier in the year, the Archbishop of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Oswald Gomis commented on the situation in his country, saying “We have to realize the fact that we are a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural community. As such we are now left with the great task of nation-building, forgetting our ethnic, political and religious differences.”

Pope Benedict concluded, saying, “I trust, moreover, that the international community will strive to meet the humanitarian and economic needs of Sri Lanka, and I raise my prayers to Our Lady of Madhu, that she may continue to watch over that beloved land.” 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ground clearing for Sri Lanka's former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka to vie for the Presidency

(November 11, Colombo - Lanka Polity) Sri Lanka's former Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka that spearheaded the total annihilation of the Tamil liberation struggle of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) now looks comfortably securing the candidacy for the upcoming Presidential of Sri Lanka.

General Fonseka, a US Green Card holder, returned to Sri Lanka earlier this month rejecting the attempt of the US Home Security Department to interview him over allegations on war crimes in the last phase of the war. Ever since, the ground can be seen clearing for him to tender himself as a candidate for the all powerful executive Presidency of the South Asian nation.

Both major opposition rightist United National Party (UNP) as well as leftist People's Liberation Front (JVP), the king maker in recent times, have pledged support to his candidacy setting forth conditions basically to abolish the dictatorial executive Presidency and to empower the legislature.

General Fonseka has neither commented nor denied the news. He is still the Chief of Defense Staff, a newly created post that some critics say, aimed at sidelining him after the defeat of the rebels. Armed forces members cannot contest for the Presidential under Sri Lanka's law and many associates have reportedly advised the President not to accept resignation of the Chief of Defense Staff to avoid his candidacy.

However, the President himself cleared the doubts stating to a group of Ministers that he would accept the resignation of the Chief of Defense Staff if he wants to run for the Presidential election. However, he has reportedly assigned arch Sinhala nationalist Wimal Weerawansa, the leader of the National Freedom Front to mobilize a Buddhist force to prevent Fonseka coming to the contest.

Fonseka is a Sinhala hardliner who said to Canada's National Post in September 2008 quite openly that Sri Lanka belongs to the majority Sinhala community. (I strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese but there are minority communities and we treat them like our people...We being the majority of the country, 75%, we will never give in and we have the right to protect this country...We are also a strong nation ... They can live in this country with us. But they must not try to, under the pretext of being a minority, demand undue thing.)

There are doubts if the 25% minority whom he wants "under the pretext of being a minority, not demand undue thing" will support him despite they have clear reasons to vote Rajapakse out since he suppressed their struggle for rights without granting them any. However, Colombo based Tamil politician Mano Ganeshan of the Democratic People's Front has already pledged support to Fonseka depicting the frustration and the need of the Tamil community to get rid of Rajapakses by hook or by crook. 

Opposition leader Ranil Wikramasinghe has announced that he will set forth additional condition of granting a cabinet portfolio for the major Tamil constituency of the northern and eastern Tamils, Tamil National Alliance, under Sarath Fonseka's Presidency. 

Sri Lanka's Platform for Freedom call for change launching the Declaration of the Platform for Freedom

(November 11, Colombo - Lanka Polity) Platform for Freedom, a civil society movement in Sri Lanka has organized handing over of declaration titles Commitment for Change to the leaders of the newly formed United National Alliance on 12th November 2009 in a ceremony to be held at the Jayewardena Centre, Colombo07.
The Leaders of the UNF including Opposition leader Ranil Wickramasignhe, MP Mangala Samaeaweera, MP Rauf Hakeem and MP Mano Ganesan are expected to participate.

Platform for Freedom announced "The Declaration was discussed at district level delegates’ conferences before finalizing. The programme of action to rebuild the country and transform the governance process will be based on the 5 precepts contained in this document."

Convener Attorney J.C. Weliamuna states that this document will be presented to the Tamil National Alliance, the United Socialist Party and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna at a subsequent day as the Platform for Freedom is calling for the formation of a broadest people’s coalition for democracy.

Noam Chomsky: no change in US 'Mafia principle'

by Mamoon Alabbasi (source: MWC)

As civilised people across the world breathed a sigh of relief to see the back of former US president George W. Bush, top American intellectual Noam Chomsky warned against assuming or expecting significant changes in the basis of Washington's foreign policy under President Barack Obama.

During two lectures organised by the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, Chomsky cited numerous examples of the driving doctrines behind US foreign policy since the end of World War II.

"As Obama came into office, Condoleezza Rice predicted that he would follow the policies of Bush's second term, and that is pretty much what happened, apart from a different rhetorical style," said

"But it is wise to attend to deeds, not rhetoric. Deeds commonly tell a different story," he added.

"There is basically no significant change in the fundamental traditional conception that we if can control Middle East energy resources, then we can control the world," explained Chomsky.

Chomsky said that a leading doctrine of US foreign policy during the period of its global dominance is what he termed as "the Mafia principle."

"The Godfather does not tolerate 'successful defiance'. It is too dangerous. It must therefore be stamped out so that others understand that disobedience is not an option," said Chomsky.

Because the US sees "successful defiance" of Washington as a "virus" that will "spread contagion," he explained.


The US had feared this "virus" of independent thought from Washington by Tehran and therefore acted to overthrow the Iranian parliamentary democracy in 1953.

"The goal in 1953 was to retain control of Iranian resources," said Chomsky.

However, "in 1979 the (Iranian) virus emerged again. The US at first sought to sponsor a military coup; when that failed, it turned to support Saddam Hussein's merciless invasion (of Iran)."

"The torture of Iran continued without a break and still does, with sanctions and other means," said Chomsky.

"The US continued, without a break, its torture of Iranians," he stressed.

Nuclear attack
Chomsky mocked the idea presented by mainstream media that a future-nuclear-armed Iran may attack already-nuclear-armed Israel.

"The chance of Iran launching a missile attack, nuclear or not, is about at the level of an asteroid hitting the earth -- unless, of course, the ruling clerics have a fanatic death wish and want to see Iran instantly incinerated along with them," said Chomsky, stressing that this is not the case.

Chomsky further explained that the presence of US anti-missile weapons in Israel are really meant for preparing a possible attack on Iran, and not for self-defence, as it is often presented.

"The systems are advertised as defense against an Iranian attack. But ...the purpose of the US interception systems, if they ever work, is to prevent any retaliation to a US or Israeli attack on Iran -- that is, to eliminate any Iranian deterrent," said Chomsky.

Chomsky reminded the audience of America's backing of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during and even after Iraq's war with Iran.

"The Reaganite love affair with Saddam did not end after the (Iran-Iraq) war. In 1989, Iraqi nuclear engineers were invited to the United States, then under Gorge Bush I, to receive advanced weapons' training," said Chomsky.

This support continued while Saddam was committing atrocities against his own people, until he fell out of US favour when in 1990 he invaded Kuwait, an even closer alley of Washington.

"In 1990, Saddam defied, or more likely misunderstood orders, and he quickly shifted from favourite friend to the reincarnation of Hitler," Chomsky added.

Then the people of Iraq were subjected to "genocidal" US-backed sanctions.

Chomsky explained that although the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which was launched under many false pretexts and lies, was a " major crime", many critics of the invasion - including Obama - viewed it as merely as "a mistake" or a "strategic blunder".

"It's probably what the German general staff was telling Hitler after Stalingrad," he said

"There's nothing principled about it. It wasn't a strategic blunder: it was a major crime," he added.

Chomsky credited the holding of elections in Iraq in 2005 to popular Iraqi demand, despite initial US objection.

The US military, he argued, could kill as many Iraqi insurgents as it wished, but it was more difficult to shoot at non-violent protesters in the streets out on the open, which meant Washington at times had to give in to public Iraqi pressure.

But despite being pressured to announce a withdrawal from Iraq, the US continues to seek a long term presence in the country.

The US mega-embassy in Baghdad is to be expanded under Obama, noted Chomsky.

Chomsky stressed that public pressure in the 'West' can make a positive difference for people suffering from the aggression of 'Western' governments.

"There is a lot of comparison between opposition to the Iraq war with opposition to the Vietnam war, but people tend to forget that at first there was almost no opposition to the Vietnam war," said Chomsky.

"In the Iraq war, there were massive international protests before it officially stated... and it had an effect. The United Sates could not use the tactics used in Vietnam: there was no saturation bombing by B52s, so there was no chemical warfare - (the Iraq war was) horrible enough, but it could have been a lot worse," he said.
"And furthermore, the Bush administration had to back down on its war aims, step by step," he added.
"It had to allow elections, which it did not want to do: mainly a victory for non-Iraqi protests. They could kill insurgents; they couldn't deal hundreds of thousands of people in the streets. Their hands were tied by the domestic constraints. They finally had to abandon - officially at least - virtually all the war aims," said Chomsky.

"As late as November 2007, the US was still insisting that the 'Status of Forces Agreement' allow for an indefinite US military presence and privileged access to Iraq's resources by US investors - well they didn't get that on paper at least. They had to back down. OK, Iraq is a horror story but it could have been a lot worse," he said

"So yes, protests can do something. When there is no protest and no attention, a power just goes wild, just like in Cambodia and northern Louse," he added.

Chomsky said that Turkey could become a "significant independent actor" in the region, if it chooses to.

"Turkey has to make some internal decisions: is it going to face west and try to get accepted by the European Union or is it going to face reality and recognise that Europeans are so racist that they are never going to allow it in?," said Chomsky.

The Europeans "keep raising the barrier on Turkish entry to the EU," he explained.

But Chomsky said Turkey did become an independent actor in March 2003 when it followed its public opinion and did not take part in the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Turkey took notice of the wishes of the overwhelming majority of its population, which opposed the invasion.
But 'New Europe' was led by Berlusconi of Italy and Aznar of Spain, who rejected the views of their populations - which strongly objected to the Iraq war - and preferred to follow Bush, noted Chomsky.
So, in that sense Turkey was more democratic than states that took part in the war, which in turn infuriated the US.

Today, Chomsky added, Turkey is also acting independently by refusing to take part in the US-Israeli military exercises.

Fear factor
Chomsky explained that although 'Western' government use "the maxim of Thucydides" ('the strong do as they wish, and the weak suffer as they must'), their peoples are hurled via the "fear factor".

Via cooperate media and complicit intellectuals, the public is led to believe that all the crimes and atrocities committed by their governments is either "self defence" or "humanitarian intervention".

Chomsky noted that Obama has escalated Bush's war in Afghanistan, using NATO.

NATO is also seen as reinforcing US control over energy supplies.

But the US also used NATO to keep Europe under control.

"From the earliest post-World War days, it was understood that Western Europe might choose to follow an independent course," said Chomsky."NATO was partially intended to counter this serious threat," he added.
Middle East oil

Chomsky explained that Middle East oil reserves were understood to be "a stupendous source of strategic power" and "one of the greatest material prizes in world history," the most "strategically important area in the world," in Eisenhower's words.

Control of Middle East oil would provide the United States with "substantial control of the world."

This meant that the US "must support harsh and brutal regimes and block democracy and development" in the Middle East.

Chomsky tackled the origins of the Somali piracy issue.

"Piracy is not nice, but where did it come from?"

Chomsky explained that one of the immediate reasons for piracy is European counties and others are simply "destroying Somalia's territorial waters by dumping toxic waste - probably nuclear waste - and also by overfishing."

"What happens to the fishermen in Somalia? They become pirates. And then we're all upset about the piracy, not about having created the situation," said Chomsky.

Chomsky went on to cite another example of harming Somalia.

"One of the great achievements of the war on terror, which was greatly hailed in the press when it was announced, was closing down an Islamic charity - Barakat - which was identified as supporting terrorists.

"A couple of months later... the (US) government quietly recognised that they were wrong, and the press may have had a couple of lines about it - but meanwhile, it was a major blow against Somalia. Somalia doesn't have much of an economy but a lot of it was supported by this charity: not just giving money but running banks and businesses, and so on.

"It was a significant part of the economy of Somalia...closing it down... was another contributing factor to the breaking down of a very weak society...and there are other examples."

Chomsky also touched on Sudan's Darfur region.

"There are terrible things going on in Darfur, but in comparison with the region they don't amount to a lot unfortunately - like what's going on in eastern Congo is incomparably worse than in Darfur.

"But Darfur is a very popular topic for Western humanists because you can blame it on an enemy - you have to distort a lot but you can blame it on 'Arabs', 'bad guys'," he explained.

"What about saving eastern Congo where maybe 20 times as many people have been killed? Well, that gets kind of tricky ... for people who... are using minerals from eastern Congo that obtained by multinationals sponsoring militias which slaughter and kill and get the minerals," he said.

Or the fact that Rwanda is simply the worst of the many agents and it is a US alley, he added.

Goldstone's Gaza report
Chomsky appeared to have agreed with Israel that the Goldstone report on the Gaza war was bias, only he saw it as biased in favour of Israel.

The Goldstone report had acknowledged Israel's right to self-defence, although it denounced the method this was conducted.

Chomsky stressed that the right to self-defence does not mean resorting to military force before "exhausting peaceful means", something Israel did not even contemplate doing.

In fact, Chomsky points out, it was Israel who broke the ceasefire with Hamas and refused to extend it, as continuing the siege of Gaza itself is an act of war.

As for the current stalled Mideast peace process, Chomsky said that despite adopting a tougher tone towards Israel than that of Bush, Obama made no real effort to pressure Israel to live up to its obligations.

In the absence of the threat of cutting US aid for Israel, there is no compelling reason why Tel Aviv should listen to Washington.

What can be done?
Chomsky stressed that despite all the obstacles, public pressure can and does make a difference for the better, urging people to continue activism and spreading knowledge.

"There is no reason to be pessimistic, just realistic."

Chomsky noted that public opinion in the US and Britain is increasingly becoming more aware of the crimes committed by Israel.

"Public opinion is shifting substantially."

And this is where a difference can be made, because Israel will not change its policies without pressure from the 'West'.

"There is a lot to do in Western countries...primarily in the US."

Chomsky also stressed the importance of taking legal action in 'Western' countries against companies breaking international law via illegitimate dealings with Israel, citing the possible involvement of British Gas in Israeli theft of natural gas off the coast of Gaza, as one example that should be investigated.

In conclusion of one of the lectures, Chomsky quoted Antonio Gramsci who famously called for "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will."

Friday, November 06, 2009

Editor of Tamil weekly held on criminal defamation charge in India

(November 06, Colombo - Lanka Polity) Reporters Without Borders condemns journalist A.S. Mani’s detention in the southeastern state of Tamil Nadu on a criminal defamation charge. Mani, who edits the Tamil weekly Naveena Netrikkan, was arrested in the city of Chennai without arrest warrant, on 25 October, as a result of libel suit by a local businessman.

“Mani is the latest victim of Indian laws that criminalise defamation,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Misuse of the laws governing defamation and slander pose a permanent danger to Indian journalists. These laws are contrary to international press freedom standards and must be amended without delay.”

Reporters Without Borders has registered a growing number of cases of arrests of journalists and censorship in India in the past two months, including the arrest of another Tamil journalist (, a refusal to issue a visa ( and the detention of a journalist in the eastern state of Orissa ( And the federal government has just banned foreign reporters from going to the easternmost state of Arunachal Pradesh to cover a visit by the Dalai Lama.

After 10 journalists were physically attacked by police in the northeastern state of Manipur on 10 October, more than 100 journalists staged a protest, handing in their press cards on the grounds that they offered no protection against abusive treatment by officials.

Mani was arrested at his home in Chennai at 5:30 a.m. on 25 October as a result of a complaint by local businessman Pottu Suresh over a report published two days earlier linking Suresh to political corruption.

Mani was detained under article 502 of the criminal code concerning the publication of defamatory printed material but he is reportedly also being prosecuted under articles 153A, 503 and 505, which concern incitement of hatred and public alarm and which carry heavier sentences.

Naveena Netrikkan Special Correspondent Parthiban Mani told Reporters Without Borders: “A.S. Mani’s arrest and continuing detention are unwarranted. We firmly condemn the behaviour of the Tamil Nadu government and the Madurai police, and we call for our colleague’s release.”

Because of the possibility of harassment by fellow inmates, Mani was transferred to Puzhai prison in the state capital, Chennai.

White handkerchief marks protest against forcible cremation by the government of Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan civil society is silently but strongly marking their protest against the government's inhuman  forcible  cremation of a 20-da...