'Sri Lanka concerns put Commonwealth’s credibility on the line'

By J.S. Tissanaiyagam Sri Lanka, whose leaders are accused of committing war crimes against Tamils in the civil war that ended May 2009, and subverting democracy, is to host the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November. In the past the Commonwealth, the 54-member intergovernmental grouping of mostly Britain’s former colonies, has emphasised human rights and democracy as core principles and chastised member countries that violated them. Sri Lanka however has not been censured but rewarded: named as CHOGM’s next venue, it will automatically lead the organisation for the...

'Much ado about nothing'

Writing for the Colombo Telegraph, Kumaravadivel Guruparan, a Tamil civil society activist, and attorney at law and lecturer at the University of Jaffna, outlined the facade of the proposed northern provincial elections and inadequacy of the 13th Amendment. See here for original article, extracts reproduced below: “Many ask as to whether the Tamil Civil Society’s position is pragmatic. As for our assessment of the 13th amendment – our assessment is one based on a realist analysis of the state of affairs. As to what we prescribe, if we are thinking of what is only possible, the options are very limited within the status quo. To be pragmatic should not be a call to learn to live with the oppression. To be pragmatic should not be a call to accept minimalistic solutions, which do us no good.” “The Government has made the holding of the Northern Provincial Council elections a ‘high value commodity’ for the Tamils. By promising and breaching the promise and re-promising to hold it, the Government has made the Tamil community yearn for it. The strategy seems to be to get the Tamils to ask, demand, struggle, fight for something so minimalistic; to get them to feel and identify with the Provincial Council as an institution that will solve their problems. The political leadership of the Tamils – particularly the Tamil National Alliance has fallen for this trap. It has become very difficult to get the Tamil polity to debate and discuss about what contesting in these elections might mean for the Tamil struggle for self determination and meaningful self-government. Most Tamils want to vote, purely to show their displeasure with the Government. Many Tamils actually think, quite mistakenly, that an elected TNA Chief Minister will be able to reign in the unruly Governor of the Northern Province. The defeatist mentality stemming from Mullivaaykkal reigns supreme and many actors are making convenient use of this collective despair of the Tamil people.”

'Idea of Tamil nation is not dead in SL'

Writing in Tehelka, Revati Laul, detailed her recent trip to the North-East, concluding, "but even in the aftermath of the terror and genocide, the Tamil idea of nationhood has not disappeared. If India does not want another cycle of violence at its doorstep, it cannot afford to be indifferent to the voices of the Lankan Tamils." See here for original article, extracts reproduced below: "With the war over, things have gone back to usual. Contrary to Rajapaksa’s famed 13th amendment, promising autonomy to the provincial councils in the north for the Tamils, this means a return to State policies from the 1950s that systematically and deliberately excluded them from cultivable farmland and prime fishing waters. The exclusion that sparked the Tamil resistance and war in the first place is back with a bang." "TRINCOMALEE IN the east, a long and beautiful stretch of coastline once held by the LTTE, is now back on the tourist map after it was recaptured by the army in 2006. But Trincomalee is overrun with soldiers at every street corner. Every passenger on every incoming bus to the north and east is checked by the military. Every time you board a bus, you have to write your contact numbers, purpose of visit and passport details." "In another camp in the east — local guides did not wish it to be identified — a frail 53-year-old woman stepped out of her mud hut to greet us. She dashed her daughter off to get us a sweet red drink from a store nearby as her eyes slowly shifted to a faraway place. She now lives entirely in the past. Every waking moment is spent thinking of the home they fled in 2006; the two cows she had to sell, named Neerum or water and Neeruppu or fire. “Even if I don’t get back my farmland, I will live with that. All I want, even if it’s just a small hut, is to get back to my homeland,” she said wistfully. At yet another camp in the north, a fisherman’s eyes brimmed over. Living in a camp for more than 22 years is no life, he said. In the 1990s, he left the camp to live in the Vanni, the LTTE heartland, where he felt protected and thought the Tamils would have a future. Now, at the age of 60, with that dream getting more and more blurred, he confessed, “I think I should just end it all now and walk into the sea.” The refusal to be named or identified is commonplace among the Tamils. Their fear is palpable."

Beginning of an Era: Tamil Occupation of Parliament Square

"Today marks the fourth anniversary of the Tamil Occupation of Parliament Square in protest against the actions (or lack of any action) of the Sri Lankan government, the UK government and other key international actors at the time." Check out full blog post by JP here . Extract reproduced below: "Today for me is a day to be celebrated. It marks the coming of age for not only me but a whole generation of Tamil activists. It is a testament to the power of collective action, creating a voice in the public space for the previously voiceless, opening up dialogue and raising awareness. For me, it honours the unity of a community that had previously stood isolated and what the force of that unity can achieve. It was the beginning of a new era, although we did not entirely know it then. It set in motion of wheels for a new political age for the liberation struggle for Tamils in Sri Lanka. Although many believe it was a wasted effort, and certainly what followed soon after was definitely not something to be celebrated- the death of at least 40,000 Tamils by conservative estimates, the protest in itself is.

Arts festival becomes a govt mouthpiece - F Harrison

Writing in the Asian Correspondent, the former BBC journalist and author of Still Counting The Dead, criticised the arts festival Colomboscope which was funding by the British Council. See here . Reproduced in full below: 'Perhaps most shocking was that they came in military uniform to an arts festival. It could have been a bold move to include a session on war reporting in the latest literary event in the Sri Lankan capital – Colomboscope. Sponsored by Standard Chartered Bank and organised by the British Council and Goethe Institute, the boundaries of freedom of expression should at least have been nudged forward a little. But three of the four-member panel were government spokesmen. The only dissenting voice a very articulate German war correspondent, who didn’t seem to have actually reported on the end of the war in 2009 (another journalist was invited, but later pulled out). She looked increasingly frustrated and uncomfortable as the session proceeded and she came under attack as part of an undefined western conspiracy against Sri Lanka. Her words about coming to terms with the past were applauded by the audience but made little impact on the panelists bent on rewriting history to their advantage.

'Advocating the Use of the G word - Genocide' - TAG

Published by TAG on 21st March. See here. In the run up to today’s HRC vote on Sri Lanka, there has been some considerable debate over how the demands of justice are to be met, and the use of the word genocide. The latter debate was sparked by the DMK’s withdrawal from the Indian central government, in a protest against the government’s position with respect to the US sponsored resolution before the HRC. The DMK demands were twofold, India should work to strengthen the resolution, not weaken it, and the word genocide should be used in the resolution. In New Delhi last month TAG pushed for India to strengthen the resolution, to call for an International Independent Investigation, and one taken in the context of 60 years of persecution. With regards use of the word “genocide”, given our name, there can be little doubt over where we at Tamils Against Genocide stand.

'Absence of war is not peace' - Tutu & Robinson

Writing in the Times of India on Monday - Commonwealth Day, two prominent members of the Elders group, the Archibishop Desmond Tutu and the former Irish President Mary Robinson, argue that the "climate required for reconciliation does not yet exist" in sri Lanka and "urge the Commonwealth to seriously reconsider appointing Sri Lanka as its chair for 2013-15". See here - 'Hope and reconciliation: Healing Sri Lanka’s wounds of conflict' - together with embedded links. Extract reproduced below: 'How the Council chooses to act at this time will have a profound impact on Sri Lanka's standing in the international community. In this regard, we urge the Commonwealth to seriously reconsider appointing Sri Lanka as its chair for 2013-15, as it currently plans to do. In this role, Sri Lanka would host the biennial meeting of Commonwealth heads of government in November this year.

Britain needs to back call for CHOGM venue change - David Miliband

Writing in The Guardian on Monday, the former UK Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, urged the British government to "back the call for CHOGM to be moved", arguing that " for it to go ahead in Sri Lanka would be a mockery of Commonwealth values and UN authority , and a further invitation for its government to ignore international pleas for decency and accountability." See here - 'Britain must stand up for human rights in Sri Lanka' . Extract reproduced below: 'Human Rights Watch says that several thousand people are locked up without charge, and that state-sponsored abuse of Tamil activists is widespread. Other UN investigations record over 5,000 outstanding cases of enforced and involuntary disappearances; and nearly 100,000 internally displaced people remain without proper protection. This is not the path of reconciliation promised by the Government after the civil war .

Australia must 'issue a rebuke' to GOSL - The Age editorial

Editorial - 'Sri Lanka lets itself down' - published in the australian newspaper, The Age on Saturday: ON DECEMBER 14, 2012, the 54 nations of the Commonwealth adopted a charter setting out for the first time the fundamental values underpinning their affiliation. Alongside democracy, human rights, peace and security, and freedom of expression are certain principles Australians tend to take for granted: the separation of powers, the rule of law and good governance. None stands alone. Democracy and human rights cannot be fully achieved if the rule of law is not in place; democracy cannot stand...

Caste discrimination requires legal recognition in the UK

In a landmark vote on Monday, the House of Lords voted to outlaw caste-based discrimination amongst South Asian communities in the UK. The bill was fiercely backed by peers from all parties and passed with a majority vote of 225-153. Yesterday’s vote will bring the proposed bill to the House of Commons, where it needs to be voted upon by the end of the March to be passed into law and become the first anti-caste legislative act outside of South Asia. The bill in question, Clause 9(5)(a)of the 2010 Equality Act, has previously been enshrined in the anti-discrimination act but has not been activated yet. The current Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government remains strongly opposed to the bill, having already announced its planned opposition in a forthcoming vote set to take place in the House of Commons. In the eyes of the government, anti-caste discrimination will do little to abolish caste-discrimination amongst British South Asians. Instead, the government relies on widespread educative measures to eradicate caste-discrimination in the UK. However, with twenty-two Liberal Democrat peers and nine Conservative peers voting against their own government’s stance, opposition to the bill remains fractured.