Military meddling in Sri Lanka elections: What will the UN do?

Writing in the Global Post on August 28th, J. S. Tissainayagam, questions what the UN and the international community will do in reponse to on-going militarisation. "The question is whether the UNHRC and the international community will recognize that vacating private land is a façade by the military to persuade the UN that it is demilitarizing. What will the UN do? Will it impose strictures on the government for wriggling out of its commitments, or will they say sweet nothings and turn a blind eye?" See here for full article. Extract reproduced below: "An important instrument of conflict resolution, or so the international community seemed to believe, was holding elections to the NPC. As de-militarization was a prerequisite for elections, two resolutions — in 2012 and 2013 — moved by the United States at the UN Human Rights Council included such measures. However, the military has continued to govern areas where the Tamil are the majority, inserting itself into aspects of life usually serviced by civilians, and forcibly taking over and controlling land. Residents of northern Sri Lanka complain that the presence of the military is not confined to uniformed personnel patrolling the streets, guns in hand. “[The military] are in our schools supervising public examinations, in our homes [forcibly inviting themselves even to puberty ceremonies] ... It was better when they were only on the streets; now the penetration is directed internally — into the core of community life,” says Kumaravadivel Guruparan, lecturer in law at the University of Jaffna. The military involvement in the life of the community also has repercussions for the electoral process. As campaigning gets underway, the military is accused of supporting the government party against the popular Tamil National Alliance (TNA). “When TNA candidates address public meetings you can be sure four or five military personnel will be hovering around in civvies,” said Suresh Premachandran, a leader of the Alliance party.

When public relations meets militarisation

Writing on Crisis Groups Blogs, the International Crisis Group's project director for Sri Lanka, Alan Keenan, said that the Sri Lankan government's "latest gestures fit an established pattern of promises made for international consumption but unsupported by political will." See here for full post. Extracts reproduced below: "The value of the steps announced by the government was always questionable, given the active efforts of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family to remove all independent checks on their power, as detailed in Crisis Group’s February report on Sri Lanka’s Authoritarian Turn: The Need for International Action. The recent events in Weliweriya and Grandpass reveal more clearly than ever that what Sri Lanka needs is not more commissions, or even arrests. The country needs legal and institutional changes to the system of policing and justice designed to reverse the militarisation and concentration of power that has deepened so dangerously under the Rajapaksas. These changes would include many of the reforms recommended by the LLRC, as well as others outlined in Sri Lanka’s Authoritarian Turn. At a minimum, the president should end his grant (renewed monthly) of police powers to the army and return soldiers to barracks in north and south, remove the police from the control of the ministry of defence and Secretary of Defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and restore the independence of the attorney general’s department by removing it from presidential control. The president should also agree to re-establish the independence of commissions that control the police, the judiciary, elections, and the civil service by reinstating the constitutional council. Unfortunately, without increased international pressure, there is little chance the government will take these or any of the other necessary steps to restore the rule of law. Fed by the Rajapaksas’ attachment to centralised and militarised rule, Sri Lanka’s decades-long problem of impunity is getting worse, not better. While the government may have stepped up its public relations game in response to international pressure, the recent events at home show the risk of more serious violence, especially along religious and communal lines, is increasing.

Can tracking rape in conflict prevent genocide?

Writing a blog for the campaign ' Women Under Siege ', a project which documents and advocates sexualised violence in conflict, Alex Zucker, a director of the Auschwitz Institute, and a director of the Program in Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Studies at Cardozo Law School, asks whether tracking rape in conflict can prevent genocide. Arguing that " one of the basic tenets for preventing genocide, after all, is the understanding that it is a process, not an event ", Zucker drew attention to the example of Rwanda in 1994: "Tutsi women were often raped with objects such as sharpened sticks, destroying their internal organs so they couldn’t bear any more children. This assault on bodily and reproductive functions, on a group’s life force, reveals the perpetrators’ aim of destroying the group as a whole ." Highlighting conflicts in Burma, Sri Lanka and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zucker added, "Looking through this lens, we may recognize genocide, or the risk of it, in a number of conflicts around the world that most observers have yet to consider “genocidal .” " Sri Lanka: Although armed conflict between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ended in 2009— a conflict that saw many instances of state security forces raping Tamil women in reprisal for rebel attacks —Human Rights Watch has reported that “politically motivated sexual violence by the military and police continues to the present.” Here, too, in addition to systematic rape of Tamil men and women in custody by members of the army, police, and pro-government paramilitary groups, life force atrocities have occurred .

No starting point to resolution

Writing in The Hindu, Kumaravadivel Guruparan, a lecturer in law at the University of Jaffna and civil society activist, argues that " Sinhala nationalists and Tamil political parties are engaged in a wholly nonsensical and misleading debate over the 13th Amendment ", whilst " the Tamil people have been reduced to mere spectators ". See here for full article. Extract reproduced below: "The TNA is under pressure from India to accept a solution based on the 13th amendment, and does not want to be seen as rejecting something that President Rajapaksa is reluctant to offer. As a result, Tamil...

TAG: Black July - 30 Years On

Marking the 30 year anniversary of the anti-Tamil pogrom of Black July, Tamils Against Genocide (TAG) released the following statement. Extracts reproduced below, full statement can be found here . " Impunity keeps the scars of 1983 fresh . Wholesale lack of accountability set the conditions for continued abuses, on greater scales, to the present. There has never been accountability nor adequate reparations for Black July . Today in place of Justice, the Sri Lankan State offers countless denials and parades in triumphal fashion, emboldened by decades of international misunderstanding and...

Australia's 'stop the boats' policy is cynical and lawless

Writing in The Guardian, John Pilger, a war correspondent and film-maker, slammed Australia's policy on stopping boats carrying asylum seekers as "cynical and lawless". See here for full opinion. Extract reproduced below: "If a thousand Australians drowned in sinking boats in Sydney harbour, it would be a national tragedy. The prime minister would lead the nation in mourning; the world would offer condolences. By one measure, 1,376 refugees have drowned trying to reach Australia since 1998, many within range of rescue. The policy in Canberra, known as "stop the boats", evokes the hysteria and cynicism of more than a century ago when the "yellow peril" was said to be about to fall down on Australia as if by the force of gravity. Last week the prime minister, Kevin Rudd, reached back to this era when he declared that no refugees in boats would be permitted to land in Australia. Instead, they are to be sent to concentration camps in impoverished Papua New Guinea, whose government has been suitably bribed.

'Australia's practice of returning Sri Lankans is reckless'

Writing in the Guardian's 'Comment is free' section, Emily Howie - a lawyer with the Human Rights Law Centre and a leebron fellow at Columbia university - said the new 'enhanced screening' is jeopardising Sri Lankan asylum claims, and described Australia's deportation of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka as "reckless". See here for full opinion. Extract published below: "Australia's practice of returning Sri Lankans is reckless. Not only does the country turn a blind eye to the harm that the they may face on return, it does so on the basis of a diminished understanding of individuals' claims for asylum and without adequate monitoring back in Sri Lanka."

How Samantha Power could change US diplomacy

This opinion by Suzanne Nozzel was published in Foreign Affairs on 5th June 2013. As the first red-headed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power will cut a distinctive figure in the organization’s staid meeting rooms and endless cocktail receptions. But she will also stand out in ways that go well beyond appearance. By virtue of her youth, professional background, philosophical commitments, and direct personal style, Power has the potential to be a uniquely effective U.S. envoy. By raising the UN’s visibility and cache, and by doubling down on its role as a force for human rights and the mediation of violent conflict, Power could be just what the United Nations needs to help galvanize it for the twenty-first century.

Britain’s departure from colonial attitudes must also extend to the Tamil question

Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt shooting a video for the British mission in Colombo earlier this year, endorsing the Sinhala regime whilst standing on the Mullivaikkal beach, the site of the Sinhala military’s slaughter of at least 40,000 Tamils in the final stages of the war in April/ May 2009. (Picture: British High Commission in Sri Lanka) William Hague’s announcement this week acknowledging responsibility and expressing regret for the crimes committed by British colonial authorities in Kenya against the Mau Mau rebellion is yet another instance of the certainties that legitimised...

Reflections on Sivakumaran's sacrifice

Ponnuthurai Sivakumaran is remembered as the first in a relentless stream of politically active Tamil youth who gave their lives to the struggle, exasperated at the ineffectual politics taking place at the time. The deaths of Tamils at the World Tamil Research conference, and the Sri Lankan state’s brutality at the event, only exacerbated the prevailing dissatisfaction amongst Tamil youth, that saw political negotiations with a state intent on ruthlessly destroying the Tamil identity as pointless. As the state's violence against Tamils escalated over the subsequent years, the overwhelming growth of Tamil armed resistance was all but inevitable.

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