Tamils continue to face racial discrimination in Sri lanka, says UN Committee post review

Tamils continue to face racial discrimination in Sri lanka, says UN Committee post review

United Nations reviewed discrimination against Tamils in Sri Lanka. Reuters
United Nations. Reuters
   Aug 25, 2016 

Tamils continue to face discrimination in Sri Lanka, a UN committee stated recently, and questioned the island-country if Indian Tamils were allowed to get back to their homeland – while reviewing a report on the anti-discrimination efforts undertaken by the country.

No cases of sexual violence – during the horrific civil war in Sri Lanka – had been submitted, even though this had affected thousands of women, said Jose Francisco Cali Tzay, committee member and country rapporteur for Sri Lanka, during a review of Sri Lanka in the 90th session of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

Last week, CERD concluded the examination of the combined tenth to seventeenth periodic report of Sri Lanka – on its implementation of provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

The Tamil population continues to suffer discrimination, including through lack of access to public services in their own language, and the fact that police agents in the north of the country did not speak Tamil, he noted. People continue to live in fear due to the big military presence.

The recently-promulgated Law for Witness and Victim Protection had no dedicated funds for the mechanism to facilitate its implementation on the ground.

What measures have been taken to protect Tamil women from multiple discrimination, the Guatemalan expert who has been on the Committee since 2004, asked, warning that discrimination against Tamils, particularly for not having access to public spaces to bury their dead would continue to hinder lasting peace and reconciliation.

Since 2009, there have been several issues that have remained unaddressed, brought about by violations of humanitarian laws and human rights by both sides, leading to anxiety, fear and suspicion, said Ravinatha Aryasinha, Sri Lankan Ambassador to the UN office at Geneva, while presenting his country report. Successive governments have failed to reach a political settlement with the groups.

Aryasinha referred to the various steps that have been taken since the Maithripala Sirisena government assumed power in January 2015, including the introduction of the nineteenth amendment to the Constitution – which imposed a two-term limit for the mandate of President and recognized national reconciliation as a duty of the President. The amendment also established a special Presidential Task Force on Reconciliation and an Office for National Unity Commission for  Truth, Justice, Reconciliation that would consult with South African authorities.

Both Sinhala and Tamil were made the languages of administration and of the courts, he added. Article 22, per the provisions of the 16th amendment to the Constitution, ensures that Sinhala will be the official language in all provinces except in the north and east where Tamil will also be used.

Replying to questions by experts on application of customary laws, the Sri Lankan delegation said that any change of customary law had to change from the communities themselves. As such, those people of Islamic faith have the option of subscribing to Muslim personal laws (including statutes) while Tamils hailing from the Jaffna Peninsula fall within the ambit of the ‘Thesavalame Law’.

Any Sri Lankan had the right to return – and the Government had re-established the possibility for dual citizenships – said the Sri Lankan delegation, replying to a question from a human rights expert that if Indian Tamils were allowed to return to their country.

The CERD members said that the situation of refugees and internally displaced persons, war widows, inter-ethnic violence, reconciliation, the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and the lack of human rights education were all “issues of concern” for the Committee.

Reports presented by civil society organisations and the UN human rights mechanisms along with UN resolutions, offered a very different picture of the current situation than that presented by the Sri Lankan government – the discrepancies were concerning, Tzay stated.

The UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Mónica Pinto, were on an official visit to the Buddhist nation this year.

Both the experts had said that “more reforms are needed before Sri Lanka can be considered to be on a path to sustainable democratisation”.

“Severe forms of torture continue to be used, although probably less frequently, while both old and new cases of torture continue to be surrounded by total impunity,” Méndez had said.

Reiterating her concerns on the issue of massive rape by the military, a CERD expert noted that many of the perpetrators were still in the north of the country, and emphasised the need for newly-recruited Tamil elements there.

Experts were concerned about the 18-month period for pre-trial detention, and raised a number of questions in relation to the application of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

“Suspects are subjected to lengthy remand periods with many being detained for years, some even up to 15 years before trial,” Méndez had said after his Sri Lankan tour.

The Act allows for arbitrary detention without charges, admissibility of statements obtained under duress in courts and limits access to a lawyer.

The Sri Lankan government, however, maintained that persons arrested under the PTA were entitled to all safeguards, including visits by family members and the National Human Rights Commission.

Questions were also raised by the UN committee on risks of political interference, referring specifically to the removal of judges for politically-motivated reasons, urging the country to adopt better provisions for ensuring the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.

Pinto had also stated that the government needs to “reinforce the independence and impartiality of the justice sector” during the drafting of its new Constitution.

This is the first interaction between the Sri Lankan government and the CERD experts since August 2001, when the last formal meeting took place in the midst of hostilities perpetrated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

CERD is a body of independent human experts monitoring the implementation of ICERD by the state parties.

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Former Editor Upali Tennekoon identifies officer who assaulted him

Former Editor Upali Tennekoon identifies officer who assaulted him

AUG 26 2016
Senior journalist and former Editor of the ‘Rivira’ Upali Tennekoon identified the person who attacked him in January 2009, in a parade before Gampaha Acting Magistrate Mahesh Herath this morning.
The suspect is a former sergeant attached to the Intelligence Unit of the Sri Lanka Army. He is the same officer held in connection with the murder of Lasantha Wickremetunga, the former Editor-in-Chief of the Sunday Leader.
Tennakoon was driving to his office when four men on motorcycles stopped him, smashed in his car windows, and proceeded to beat him and his wife with metal bars.
Wickremetunga was murdered January 2009, the same month Tennekoon was attacked, in a similar manner.
Following the attack, Tennekoon’s wife received phone threats asking that Tennekoon resign from journalism, or face death.
Gampaha Additional Magistrate Lalith Kannangara ordered the suspect remanded until August 29.
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Victims of Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war unwilling to provide crucial testimony to war crimes court

Victims of Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war unwilling to provide crucial testimony to war crimes court

Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena
Civilians who fled to Australia during the Sri Lankan civil war may never have their crucial testimonies heard in a war crimes court.
ABC NewsThu at 6:08am 25/08/2016
Australia is home to thousands of Sri Lankan refugees who were victims of, or witnessed, potential war crimes in the final stages of the brutal civil war.By the National Reporting Team’s Natasha Robinson

Under a resolution co-signed by Sri Lanka in October last year, the nation initially agreed to a judicial process that would involve international judges and prosecutors.
But Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena recently backed away from that pledge, leaving many victims with no faith in a judicial process controlled solely by Sri Lanka.
The testimonies of the victims living in Australia was collected by Sydney-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC).
Some of these detailed testimonies have gone before the United Nations, and helped trigger an historic resolution in which Sri Lanka committed to a far-reaching process of reconciliation.
But the non-profit law and policy organisation has now warned many of those who have these crucial eyewitness testimonies would be unwilling to testify before Sri Lankan judges.
PIAC’s International Crimes Evidence Project coordinater, lawyer Daniela Gavshon said victims had no confidence in the judicial process.
“There are two reasons why people will engage in a transitional justice mechanism: one is if they believe that it’s independent and impartial, and that’s both in practice and perception, and the other reason is if they feel safe to do so,” Ms Gavshon said.
“And without a foreign presence it’s very hard to see how people are going to feel safe to participate.”

Girls ‘went missing’ in detention camps

Many of the Sri Lankan asylum seekers who fled to Australia were Tamils, displaced from their villages in the north of the country.
One Tamil woman, who has spoken to the ABC on condition of anonymity, said she does not “have faith that the perpetrators can bring about reconciliation on their own.”
“As a victim I have seen first-hand what happened,” she said. “I have no faith that that can happen.”
The woman, who the ABC has chosen to call Indira, was one of thousands of displaced persons who were trapped in the northern Sri Lankan town of Mullavaikal in the final weeks of the Sri Lankan civil war in April and early May 2009.
It was during those weeks that UN investigators found international crimes were almost certainly committed by both sides of the conflict, with civilians used as human shields and large crowds being fired upon and bombed indiscriminately.
Indira was in a makeshift hospital in Mullavaikal when the hospital came under attack.
“The hospital was just on a roadside and when they bombed I couldn’t even walk, so I dragged myself with one hand and went under a vehicle that was parked, and that’s how I survived that bombing,” she said.
“When I was hiding I saw a lot of people who were mobile who were crossing to the army controlled area.
“I saw a mother holding a child, a baby, crossing over and at that time she was hit with a shell, and her head was blown away. She was still carrying the child and the child was alive.
“Because everyone at that time were trying to flee, no one even helped the child. I don’t know what happened to that child.”
Indira was later taken into a detention camp where she was raped and tortured.
“There was a lot of torture and abuse that I underwent,” she said. “There was a lot of girls who went missing who were with me inside that camp.”

Mixed confidence in independence of judiciary

Former diplomat Bruce Haigh, who once served as Australia’s Deputy High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, told the ABC President Sirisena is under pressure to guarantee that any war crimes court will be domestically-controlled.
“I think his own position has become a little bit weaker within Sri Lanka,” Mr Haigh said.
But not all observers are critical of the idea that Sri Lanka’s judiciary may preside over war crimes hearings.
Former Attorney-General of Sri Lanka Sunil da Silva said he believes the judiciary is strongly independent of the government.
“I think there are certain matters that have to be rectified, and I think the government is in the process of making sure that the judiciary will be able to deal with the situation as an independent judiciary,” Mr da Silva said.
But for war crimes victims like Indira, there is still much suspicion.
“I can’t hand over my testimony to the perpetrators directly, which is the government,” she said
“So I tell my story in good faith that people outside the government, the international community and the UN, will seek justice for us.
“Everyone who was killed had a dream, had a life to live, and they are no longer. But people who committed those crimes are living happily, and that hurts.”
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Photo courtesy 30 Years Ago




Download glossary of terms here, which was included as part of the submission.
We present this submission as individuals self-identifying as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Queer (LGBTIQ), as family members and friends of LGBTIQ people, and as individuals/communities coming forward in support of Sri Lankans who wish to acknowledge and break the silence surrounding a people whose rights have been denied through the mechanisms and institutional structures of a democratic state.


The war created a climate of insecurity which was attributable in part to decades of militarisation and the resulting breakdown of democratic norms and the rule of law. Militarisation creates and boosts very stark models of masculinity and femininity and forces people into adopting extreme binary gender conforming roles. This is particularly limiting for people who do not conform to such gender roles.  In addition, militarisation paves the way for these rigid gender norms to be connected to reproductive sexuality (where sexuality is confined to the logic of reproduction–within marriage and the monogamous heteronormative family unit) and its role in the rhetoric of ethno-nationalism. The difficulty in asserting sexual and gender diversity and expression that differ from the prescribed norms was evident during the war and continues today. There were instances where people who were assigned female at birth but identify as male faced a challenging time when they were stopped for routine checks by military personnel at checkpoints. This occurred when their identity cards were checked and the gender on the document was found to be recorded as female, which was perceived to be at odds with their visible gender presentation as male. It should be emphasised that this authentication and verification of identity (including gender identity) in the context of militarisation, posed problems for a range of subjects and not only for the people we mention above.

In this way, militarisation led to the reinforcement of heteronormativity and heteropatriarchy, and forced people to be covert about their sexuality and gender identity. For instance, on 01 August 2016, the media reported that a soldier had been hospitalised as a consequence of sexual abuse after having spent three days with a Buddhist monk whom he had befriended.[1] While little is known about this particular case apart from what has been reported in the media, there are many other media reports and cases referred to those who work with LGBTIQ people that raise issues around the stifling of discussion, practices and performance of gender and sexuality.[2]

During the war, groups and organisations working on LGBTIQ rights were afraid to work openly and visibly in Colombo, and could not even envisage working in areas under military control. Organisations that continued to work on sexual rights came under scrutiny and surveillance. The surveillance of NGOs and human rights organisations and activities involved the requirement of submitting work plans to the government. This created pressure and forced LGBT groups to work within constraints and to seek creative means to continue working covertly. This proved detrimental to the sexual health practices and rights of society in general.

Human Rights Defenders and other local and international officials have also been targeted by the media and publicly humiliated for their work and commitment in areas of sexual health and human rights.[3] These media references allege that “these individuals promote vices and aggressively promoted their ideology which has slowly started hitting the foundations of Sri Lankan society especially the family unit”. [4]

The destructive nexus between militarisation and heteronormativity could be seen at the highest levels of government. Political rivals resorted to questioning the masculinity and sexual normality of their opposition and dissenters, with a view to discrediting them and delegitimising and diffusing arguments. Power (which also meant the relative power of one ethnic group over another) was ranked according to crude models of masculinity that were ‘strong’ (read conventionally gendered male and heterosexually attracted) or ‘ponna’ (derogatory Sinhala for male homosexual, which is also an insulting shorthand for lacking in masculinity). An archetype was created of a male leader who was both head of the family and of the nation (the Sinhala ‘king’ and ‘patriarch’) and this model of normative Sinhala masculinity was invested with a steadying influence, in a story that said that after decades of war, the country was finally safe and could progress in the hands of a ‘real (Sinhala) man’. This representation assigned virtually supreme power to whatever was designated as ‘normal’ masculinity and ‘normal’ male sexuality (in intersection with meanings of class, ethnicity and religion) and created a climate of contempt for homosexual men and gender non-conforming people. Women were seen in a one-dimensional way in terms of their gender and sexuality – denied agency and framed in relation to their connection to (heterosexual and normatively masculine) men. They were relegated to stereotypical heteronormative and heteropatriarchal roles as wives and mothers in the private domain, praised for being guardians of the home; for bringing up healthy, normal families on the patriarchal model; and for ensuring the continuity of their ethnic groups. In other words, what was prescribed for them was reproductive sexuality, where they had to adhere to bourgeois and ethno-religiously-framed norms of sexual respectability. This entailed not recognising that they had sexual agency as heterosexual women, and not seeing themselves as desiring subjects outside of sexual relations with men (i.e. one man), marriage and family.

This also paved the way for aggressive moral conservatism, especially with regard to the normalisation of standards and proper behaviour. Moral conservatism was (and continues to be) on the rise, especially with regard to normalisation of standards of proper behaviour for women (for example, prescribing standard dress codes for women working in the public sector and schools, and for mothers visiting their children’s schools).

Homophobic and transphobic articles repeatedly appear in the media, especially in the print media, including in some State owned newspapers and those that follow State policy. Radio and television talk shows often feature homophobic content, including casual homophobic comments such as jokes. Reporters, editors and radio presenters are rarely (if ever) called out for their bias in these instances. These references constitute a means by which society strengthens its resistance to recognising LGBTIQ communities and continues to isolate, ridicule and justify acts of violence against members of such communities. Complaints to the Press Complaints Commission have in most cases been unsuccessful and have even created a backlash.[5]

Rivira, a Sinhala newspaper, published a series of articles in its Sunday editions criticizing the work conducted by an LGBTIQ organization in Sri Lanka. The articles maligned all LGBTIQ people and incited violence against the LGBTIQ community. Excerpts of these articles included quotes such as: “… ulterior motive of harming the cultural decencies and morality of Sri Lanka”, and compared LGBTIQ persons to “mangy dogs who are involved in this dastardly low and heinous acts [i.e. homosexual sex].” In one of the articles published on 11th September 2011, an LGBTIQ organization was identified by name, and its address was published with photographs of their field workers. The article also called on parents to take extreme precautions to protect their sons, based on the misleading and homophobic notion that if a man is gay, he must necessarily be a paedophile too.[6]

Ensuring Non-Recurrence

The government of 2015, under the leadership of President Maithripala Sirisena, gained victory at elections on a pledge of good governance. Most importantly, the President, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mangala Samaraweera, have expressed commitment to securing long-term peace and reconciliation premised on principles of good governance with a focus on strengthening democratic institutions and ending impunity and inequality. The process of constitutional reform, was strengthened by gaining insight from the public through consultations. This would hopefully see a full enjoyment of rights in all structures of transitional justice. These measures could be seen as indicative that Sri Lanka is enriching its focus on democracy. The time is apt now to put in place structures, policies and personnel that have a common commitment to ending impunity and observing the Rule of Law. This would mean hearing, involving and addressing the needs of minorities and victims, which include LGBTIQ people as well. The State must be open to recognising the fact that prevailing laws perpetuate the stigmatisation and victimisation of LGBTIQ people, and it must take steps to make reforms and address these injustices.

In December 2015, vehicles started sporting stickers with ‘Sinhale’ (Sinhala Blood) written on them, which depicted the lion and the sword from the Sri Lankan National Flag. The lion mythology around the lineage of the Sinhala people was used to enforce Sinhala Buddhist (majoritarian) ideology at a particular political moment.  There were incidents of houses and shops owned by Muslims being spray painted with the same words. Since April 2016, threats and verbal abuse against LGBTIQ people have been reported from people claiming to stand for ‘Sinhale’ ideology; they have also been highly vocal on social media. The media reported that the Sinhale campaign is supported by at least one opposition parliamentarian. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein voiced his concern with regard to Hate Speech spread by continued aggressive campaigns in social media and other forms (such as the “Sinhale” bumper sticker campaign) that stoke nationalism against ethnic, religious and other minorities.  “In recent months, incidents targeting the Muslim community, evangelical Christian groups, and LGBT groups have continued to be recorded.  The High Commissioner encourages the Government to be more forthright in combating such discriminatory violence, including through appropriate legislation to regulate hate speech and incitement to violence.[7]

On the legal front, one of the most problematic events during war time took place following the effort, in 1995,  to repeal Sri Lanka’s ‘anti-sodomy’ law, Section 365A[8] of the Penal Code, which can be read to criminalise homosexual sexual activity between consenting adults in private and in public. These efforts resulted in a step backward: instead of the repeal of the law, the provision was amended so that the category of perpetrator was made gender neutral (where previously the presumed offence had explicitly applied only to sexual activity between ‘male persons’) and made to apply to women as well—an apparent effort to apply the law equally to both sexes. Efforts to prevent the application of Section 399 of the Penal Code towards transgender persons were also ineffective. Struggles to repeal the Vagrants’ Ordinance which is used to target women engaged in sex work as well as lower and middle income transwomen (often on the pretext that they are soliciting) were futile. Section 3(2) of the Vagrants’ Ordinance enables a police officer to arrest a person determined to be idle and disorderly without a warrant, and many transgendered persons are victimised as a result of this law.

Institutions and processes for transitional justice

Enabling Environment

Given that LGBTIQ persons, too, were victims during and after the war years, we ask that any processes and mechanisms for reconciliation in Sri Lanka should be open and conducive to receiving submissions and complaints from members of the LGBTIQ community, in a manner that encourages them to come forward with their narratives of violence, abuse and violations; that ensures them of full acceptance of their choices; and that provides security in the eventuality that their submissions are met with contempt.


Human Rights Organizations working with the LGBTIQ community have long documented that LGBTIQ people belong to communities affected by war, whether combatants or non-combatants, civilians or members of security forces. However, laws and constitutional provisions exclude them from reporting crimes, abuse and discrimination that they have faced, as they fear that this would invite further scrutiny on their lives and bring them to the notice of law enforcement authorities.

During and in the aftermath of the war, perturbing reports have continued to emerge of rape being used as a means of torture against men and women[9]. As reported by the International Truth and Justice Project in 2016, “Human rights groups in Sri Lanka have focused on sexual violence as a problem for women. However, two-thirds of our post-war torture victims are male. Anal rape of male detainees by the Sri Lankan security forces appears prevalent and is an even less recognised issue than vaginal and anal rape of women”[10]. 

Taking all this into consideration we respectfully call

  1. For the continued recognition of the gravity of the crime of rape of women; at the same time, we also call for the recognition of the existence and seriousness of the crime of rape of men especially during conflict and war, by including a Penal Code provision that is separate from the one that addresses the rape of women, to legally define and recognize the crime of rape of men, along with accompanying punitive provisions. This would go some way towards empowering men to report the sexual crimes they have faced and would also strengthen engagement with the Truth Justice Reconciliation and Non-recurrence Commission.
  1. For officials and personnel working within the Transitional Justice frameworks and mechanisms (not limited to counsellors) to be sensitised through appropriate training to adopt a non-discriminatory approach and to be accepting of people with diverse gender expressions and sexual orientations. This will inspire confidence in any truth seeking or accountability mechanism.
  1. For organizations and structures, and especially laws and policies, that are put in place to serve victims and others who collaborate with the justice system and the Transitional Justice mechanisms to identify and provide for the possibilities that next-of-kin, complainants may not be relatives or spouses of the victims, especially in cases or LGBTIQ people. The laws and the policies especially should not be restrictive. For instance while it is positive that the Office of Missing Persons Bill[11] provides for complainants to be any other person, and also for the Office to provide information to “any other complainant”, the restrictive definition of the term “relative” to mean a spouse or blood relative restricts LGBTIQ partners seeking redress, which is discriminatory. We would at this point like to recognise the importance of official recognition for female-headed households in the context of the conflict, at the same time as we also ask that the provision of reparations and services be not only limited by identifying households within a rigid structure of traditional definitions of family, and that they be open to family structures that are not heteronormative.
  1. For organisations and individuals working with sexual and gender minorities to have the freedom to work openly and visibly to support their engagement with Transitional Justice mechanisms, without fear of social and legal reprisals. This could include appropriate law enactment and enforcement against hate speech targeted at minority communities, especially the LGBTIQ community.
  1. For the vetting of personnel and officials involved in any arm of the transitional justice processes, to ensure that offenders accused of sexual and gender based violence are not part of these processes, and for a whistleblower mechanism to be established that would take action against such offenders where there are credible complaints of abuse of power with regard to sexual and gender based violence.
  1. For systems of complaint recording to be established, ensuring that there is provision to address cases of actors who violate these basic standards in receiving testimony or providing redress and services to any of the Transitional Justice mechanisms.

We ask for recognition of the fact that even giving testimonials of violence and violations of human rights and asking for justice and reparations are affected by the attitudes of personnel involved in the process as well as the existence of discriminatory laws and policies pertaining to the policing of sexuality and gender. This institutionalised discrimination inhibits and dissuades people from giving evidence for fear of being exposed, shamed, socially stigmatised, discriminated against and legally victimised.  The report of the Public Representations Committee on Constitutional Reforms[12]  stresses the responsibility of the State to accord due protection to all vulnerable groups including persons with diverse sexual and gender orientation. In this light, we ask:

  1. For explicit Constitutional provisions to protect the rights of people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, through the extension of equality and non-discrimination provisions on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. This was suggested in the Report of the Public Representations Committee on Constitutional Reform as an inclusion to the Bill of Rights with the following clause – No person or group shall be discriminated against on the grounds of race, religion, caste, marital status, maternity, age, language, mental or physical disability, pregnancy, civil status, widowhood, social origin, sexual orientation or sexual and gender identities.
  1. For the repeal of the following laws that continue to expose LGBTIQ people to abuse and harm
  • Section 365 and 365A of the Penal Code
  • Section 399 of the Penal Code
  • Vagrants’ Ordinance

List of Signatories

  1. Acushla Wijesinha
  2. Ananda Galappatti
  3. Anushaya Collure
  4. Aritha Wickramasinghe
  5. Dr Asha Abeyasekera
  6. Ashan Munasinghe
  7. Balasingham Skanthakumar
  8. Bhavani Fonseka
  9. Buddhima Padmasiri
  10. Deanne Uyangoda
  11. Denver Peterson
  12. Dr Darshi Thoradeniya
  13. Dini Kurukulasuriya
  14. Prof Dushyanthi Mendis
  15. Dr Eshani Ruwanpura
  16. Gava Bolonghe
  17. Gowthaman Balachandran
  18. Hans Billimoria
  19. Harean Hettiarachchi
  20. Dr Harini Amarasuriya
  21. Himali Silva
  22. Jake Oorloff
  23. Dr. Kanchana Ruwanpura
  24. Dr Kaushalya Perera
  25. Kiruthika Thurairajah
  26. Lakshan Dias
  27. Mahishi Ranaweera
  28. Marcus Kenny
  29. Marini Jayawardene
  30. Melisha Yapa
  31. Mohandhas Thangarajah
  32. Neloufer De Mel
  33. Niluka Perera
  34. Paba Deshapriya
  35. Praveena Rajkobal
  36. Ramani Muttetuwegama
  37. Roshan Dela Bandara
  38. Ruki Fernando
  39. Ruvanthi Sivapragasam
  40. Sachini Perera
  41. Sanjana Hattotuwa
  42. Sarala Emmanuel
  43. Saranga Anjana Wijerathna
  44. Sepali Kottegoda
  45. Sharika Jayawardene
  46. Sharni Jayawardena
  47. Sherman De Rose
  48. Dr Shermal Wijewardene
  49. Dr Shyamani Hettiarachchi
  50. Steve De La Zilwa
  51. Subha Menike Wijesiriwardene
  52. Suhithakumar Maanikkavasagam
  53. Sunela Jayewardene
  54. Suralini Fernando
  55. Thakshala Tissera
  56. Thenu Ranketh
  57. Thiyagaraja Waradas
  58. Thyagi Ruwanpathirana


[1] http://www.adaderana.lk/news/36312/monk-arrested-over-sexual-assault-on-soldier

[2] http://www.dailynews.lk/?q=2016%2F08%2F03%2Flocal%2F89415

[3] The Editorial, Daily Mirror, July 29,2010

[4] Ibid

[5] Daily Mirror Editorial ‘A Tide Against The Natural’ 29 July 2010; Sunday Divaina ‘Women Disguised as Men’ 17 May 2009; Sunday Divaina, ‘Pudding Boarding, Sardine Boarding’ 2 May 2010; Sunday Divaina, Young Men Consuming the Forbidden Fruit’ 9 May 2010; Divaina, ‘Admitted to Male Ward due to Indistinguishable Clothing’ 17 August 2010; The Sunday Leader, ‘Karu will save us from Less-Be-Annes’, 15 August 1999; The Sunday Island, Letters to the Editor, ‘Lesbian Conference in Colombo?’ 20 August 1999;

[6] The Rivira 18th September 2011 ( http://www.rivira.lk/2011/09/18/janaindex.htm)/ http://www.rivira.lk/2011/09/18/vimarshana.htm/The Rivira 09th October 2011/ http://www.rivira.lk/2011/10/09/vimarshana.htm

The Rivira 30th October 2011/http://www.rivira.lk/2011/10/30/vimarshana.htm

[7] 2016, June, High Commissioner for Human Rights, Oral Update to the Human Rights Council A/HRC/32/CRP.4

[8] http://esn.ac.lk/gee/images/pdf/Penal-Code-Amendment-Act-No.-22-of-1995.pdf

[9] Report of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka, A/HRC/30/CRP.2, September 2015, A

[10] 2016, International Truth and Justice Project, Silenced : Survivors of Torture and Sexual Violence in 2015 http://www.itjpsl.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Silenced_jan%202016.pdf

[11] http://documents.gov.lk/files/bill/2016/6/93-2016_E.pdf

[12] http://www.yourconstitution.lk/PRCRpt/PRC_english_report-A4.pdf

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Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga is on record as having said that the Sri Lanka Freedom Party failed…back in the late 1950s…to balance off the language issue by not introducing legislation whereby the government should have constitutionally provided for a reasonable use of Tamil.
It took boldness and moral as well as political integrity for her, especially in the cauldron of deep racist overtones from several political parties and organizations, to come right out and say that the 1957 Act providing for a reasonable use of Tamil has not been implemented to this day, and even during and after her tenure as President, was not implemented because of these very racism-tinged divisive politics such as that encouraged by the former regime via the BBS and other similar organizations. “Every government in this country excelled in sweeping the Bill under the carpet and thereby not giving the Tamil language its rightful place.”
That was not merely her way of saying mea culpa but was a sweeping indictment of the depth and extent to which southern politicians from every political party have been pandering to the whims and fancies of extremists in their desire to hold sustainable power in their hands. To rouse the ire of these extremist elements would be to risk being rejected at the hustings and thereby concede defeat to the party that panders to these extremist elements.
Remarkable guts
CBK has shown remarkable guts in daring to address this explosive issue at a public event. That a daughter of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike can strike a blow for the rights of the Tamils at such a crucial juncture in the country, especially at a time that President Sirisena has his hands full blunting renegade SLFP attacks on him, is indeed a bold step to take, especially in the full knowledge that crucial Local Government Elections can be held by the year’s end, a mere 100 days away. This could not have been an off-the-cuff statement because she is in constant touch with the President and hence knows it rhymes with his own thinking. Taken together then, this is a sort of watershed statement because it shows that the SLFP under Sirisena, with her as the ideal lieutenant, is prepared to take on all detractors to prove its honest commitment to racial re-integration and reconciliation. It’s perhaps the President’s way of saying to the diaspora and other extremists including CM Wigneswaran that ‘here we are, what you see is what you get’…and that makes it obligatory on the Tamil leadership to back off from their collectively irresolute though nationally defeatist and negative stance demanding ‘self-assertion’, federalism and what have you. That stance totally negates the positive moves by the government to forge sincere rights-based reconciliation as a positive step towards sustainable peace. The Tamil leadership must realize that even while sections in the South led by the SLFP [I don’t include the renegade JO in that reckoning] takes tentative steps towards them in all honesty, that leadership must also recognize the destructive potential for greater destabilization that its die-hard stance can generate among extremist forces in the South.
Said CBK, “This may be a small initiative…but this is the first time that in post-independent Sri Lanka that a government is making the effort to create an enabling environment to allow its citizens to communicate with the government in their language of choice.”
The problem here would at closer range appear to be the new phenomenon that the Tamils, especially in the North, have increasingly begun looking upon the Tamil National Alliance controlled Northern Provincial Council as being ‘their government’ with Colombo beginning to look like a distant force that holds resented power to determine their future. Here we find another phenomenon in the nature of the TNA having progressively in not so subtle moves imbued in the Tamils a stronger sense of Tamil nationalism than Prabhakaran ever did. In this, the TNA has extended the mental and psychological parameters of the then nascent sense of a Tamil nationalism strong enough to press harder for something approaching autonomous power.
One wonders how well the government has understood this phenomenon and blindly continues to presume that it is still dealing with the immediate post-war mindset of the TNA, the diaspora and the Tamil community. These facets taken together have morphed into a clear and implacable force demanding, though in less aggressive ways than did the LTTE, the maximum devolution approximating self-rule.
From being a community within a nation the TNA leadership has progressively transformed the Tamils into a ‘Nation’ on whose behalf they are not any more ‘asking’ for more power but have all but articulated the demand in clear terms for the establishment of a ‘comity’ of nations with Colombo.
They have in other words accomplished ‘Tamil national’ segregation and are working towards seeing that dream come to fruition.
This is what President Sirisena, the government, CBK and the UNP need to understand fully. Else, they will continue labouring under the impression that ‘conceding Tamil language rights’ will suffice to force a lasting reconciliation. Yes, from the Tamil stance that will also be the objective. The difference is that the demand today is by a people whose political leaders have clearly articulated a demand for recognition of the Tamils as a ‘nation’ and not as a community within a Sinhala-Buddhist nation. As CBK put it, successive governments have failed…..but successive governments were then dealing only with a separate community’s demand for equal rights. That demand today is for the assertion of ‘National’ recognition.
It’s a matter of too little too late. This is the awesome magnitude of the reality of the challenge before the Sirisena Presidency. Dealing with JO pales into insignificance in the context of the mammoth dimensions of the Tamil demands of today compared with the demands of the LTTE.
It would then appear that the military defeat of the LTTE accomplished nothing… nothing. Let me stress that fact.
When the diaspora, TGTE etc. persuaded the Tamils to vote the TNA into power and later together vote this government into power, they had their own objectives.
Pay day is at hand…I’m not too sure a mere facility to use their language ‘to communicate with the government’, is what was in the minds of those who helped vote this government into power.
The Bandaranaikes should have listened to Colvin R. de Silva who warned that one language would create two nations.
CBK is probably 40 years too late in reading the signs of the times. But in the national interest, one would desperately hope not.
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Book Review: Sri Lanka – Lost Evenings, Lost Lives: Tamil Poems of the Sri Lankan Civil War

Book Review: Sri Lanka – Lost Evenings, Lost Lives: Tamil Poems of the Sri Lankan Civil War

(Edited, translated and introduced by Lakshmi Holmstrom & Sascha Ebeling, UK, 2016.)

By Prof. Charles Sarvan-Dated 22-Aug-2016

Front CoverThis bilingual anthology of fifty poems is by the very nature of its subject (ethnic conflict) political, and yet it would be inaccurate and unfortunate to describe the volume as a political work. It is about the experience of politics: politics as experienced not by the makers of history but by those who endure it; politics not as an abstraction but as something personally felt by ordinary, sentient, human individuals. As several of these poems attest, whether we are interested or not in politics, it affects us. Indeed, tragically, often the victims of politics are the poor and the innocent. I suggest that poets do not go searching for a theme: the subject chooses and compels them through personal experience. And “experience” here includes what the poet has seen, been told or read. ‘Tamil Poems’ does not mean poems by Eelam poets only, and there are several works by Indian Tamil poets. Many chose to write under a nom de plume.
If of the three traditional genres of Literature (Poetry, Drama, Fiction), Poetry is the most literary, it is also the most difficult to translate. Apart from other qualities, poetry being associated with song, is mnemonic: we remember lines from poetry and song but rarely from prose. In translation (particularly when, as with the present collection, it is into another language that is completely different) inevitably much is lost. And it is not only musicality but cultural connotation. Literature emerges from, and in turn reflects, a specific way of life, a culture; when translated (trans-ported) into a foreign language and culture, rich nuances of significance can be lost.
While a poem must stand on its own, background information can throw a different light, enhance appreciation. For example, in Nuhman’s ironic poem, ‘Buddha murdered’ (p. 25), the Buddha and his teaching have to be obliterated in order to burn down the Jaffna Library. On 1 June 1981, in an act of barbarism, the Library which housed well over 90,000 works, one of the biggest in Asia, was destroyed including irreplaceable ancient manuscripts and scrolls. Similarly, Rashmy’s ‘The inscription of defeat’ (pp. 129-131) requires some knowledge of the history of the ethnic conflict, and of the LTTE leader.
However, Lost Evenings, dealing primarily with violence and its impact – death and destruction; sorrow, pain of body and soul – attempts to transcend specificity and be universally comprehensible. It must be admitted that, as George Orwell wrote in his essay ‘Writers and Leviathan’ (1948), though we have “an awareness of the enormous injustice and misery of the world”, our response to literature can be coloured by “loyalties” which are non-literary.
The translators give a brief outline of events during the course of nearly thirty years of war: the savage 1983 pogrom, “the brutal intervention of the Indian Peace Keeping Force”, the increasing violence of the Tamil Tigers, and so to “the last terrible months of war” (p. 9). The poems are given in chronological order of publication and so parallel; arise from, and reflect, this history.
The irruption of brutality destroys what was once normality in Nuhman’s poem, ‘Last evening, this morning’ (pp. 17-19). Last evening, we popped into a bookshop, idly watched the crowds at the bus terminal, took in a film and then cycled home. This morning, bullets pierce bodies, the terminal is deserted, the market shattered.
And this was how we lost our evenings
we lost this life.
It’s when we fall ill that we realize how wonderful it is to be free from pain and disability – a normality otherwise taken for granted. And so it is that when violence irrupts into an otherwise placid pattern of life. (I recall several years ago being asked in Jaffna by a man in genuine puzzlement: “All we want is to be allowed to lead our lives as we want. Sir, why don’t they leave us alone?” He thought it was a simple wish and, therefore, a fair question.)  Jesurasa’s poem, ‘Under New Shoes’ is a ‘meditation’ based on Jaffna’s old Dutch fort. Three hundred years have passed since the imperialist, occupying, Dutch left; colour (now not white) and language (now Sinhala) have changed but for Tamils “the same rule of oppression” (p. 21) continues.
The compulsion to communicate with a loved one makes the persona of Urvasi’s poem, ‘Do you understand?’ (pp. 29-31) write a letter though there’s no address to send it to. (A poignant work, it recalled Ezra Pound’s beautiful rendering of the Chinese poem, ‘The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter’, available on Google.) Urvasi’s persona includes in her letter what one could call home details: the jasmine is in bloom; the small puppy runs in circles, its tail raised; I dust your books. But a different reality (menace) throbs beneath the lines: they haven’t come to interrogate me – as yet!

‘I Could Forget All This’ by Cheran (pp. 33-4), a post-1983 poem, remembers ghastly sights such as a thigh-bone protruding from an upturned, burnt-out car; a socket empty of its eye, and a pregnant Sinhalese woman carrying off a cradle from a burning Tamil house. (One thinks of what has been described as the shortest story ever written in English. It consists of six words: “For sale, baby shoes. Never worn.”) Cheran concludes with a powerful use of symbolism. But
How shall I forget the broken shards
and the scattered rice
lying parched upon the earth?
A related poem is ‘Oppressed by Nights of War’ by Sivaramani (pp. 45-6) showing what happens to children in a time of protracted and “total” war: children their childhood destroyed. Biographical information heightens our response to Captain Vanathi’s ‘My Unwritten Poem’, a work that repeatedly urges the addressee to complete what she couldn’t accomplish. Vanathi was killed in action shortly afterwards, and this is her last poem. The year is 1991, and there is still the belief that all their suffering and sacrifice will not be in vain: As you walk freely in an independentTamileelam, I and the thousands of other martyrs will smile with joy (p. 57): her poem will then have been written. Metaphorically, freedom is the poem that must be ‘written’ (achieved).  It is indeed strange, very strange, to read these lines in the present context.
The editorial note to Aazhiyaal’s poem, ‘Mannamperis’, explains that Tamil Koneswari Selvakumar was gang-raped by Sinhalese soldiers who then killed her by exploding a grenade in her vagina (p. 75). But the poem, broadening outward, encompasses other instances of “man’s inhumanity to man”. During what in Sri Lanka is known as the Insurgency (the violent uprising of Left-leaning young men and women against the government) Padmini Mannamperi, a Sinhalese beauty-queen, was raped and killed by members of the Sri Lankan army (April 1971). The editorial note does not elaborate that, in an avowedly Buddhist and conservative country, Padmini was stripped naked and forced to walk down the street; that she was buried even before she was dead. One thinks, for example, of William McGowan’s Only Man Is Vile: The Tragedy of Sri Lanka (New York, 1992). It may be added that, whatever the sins and crimes of the Tamil Tigers (and they were several and grievous; destructive and, as History shows, finally fatal) there is no record of them ever indulging in rape or in the sexual humiliation of women. On the contrary, women enjoyed an unprecedented degree of emancipation; of equality. See for example:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?
The theme of exile finds expression in poems such as ‘The Lizard’s Lament’ by Solaikkili (pp. 67-69); ‘Identity’ by Aazhiyal (p. 99); ‘Goodbye Mother’ by Jayapalan (pp. 105-107) and in ‘Photographs of Children, Women, Men’ by Cheran (pp. 149-151). In the last mentioned poem, documentation is demanded of the refugees but all they carry are “burning tears”, and memories of murder and ethnic cleansing. Estrangement, to a greater or lesser degree, awaits the first-generation refugee. As Doris Lessing wrote, once you leave your first home, you have left all homes forever.
But to leave behind the one room
where you have lived all your life…
that is tragedy.
(Solaikkilli, ‘The Lizard’s Lament’, p. 69)
2009 marks the year when the Tigers were totally annihilated, and the poems following reflect this reality. Indian poet Ravikumar in ‘There Was a Time Like That’ (pp. 119-121), using the refrain “There was once a time”, reflects on a time when things were very different, both in Sri Lanka and in Tamil Nadu. Latha in ‘Empty Days’ (p. 147) writes that “the last little fragment of land that was ours” is lost; our people and their dreams destroyed. There is not a sign that they ever existed. The persona in Sharmila Seyyid’s ‘Keys to an Empty House’ (pp. 143-5) has only her memories and the keys to her father’s house: the little house itself has been totally destroyed. But though the triumphant enemy celebrate; dance and mock “our overflowing tears” (Cheran, ‘Forest Healing’, p. 133), the father in Jesurasa’s poem, ‘The Time Remaining’ (p. 123), comforts his son: Life has destroyed our dreams; your path forward may now seem blocked but your time will come.
To go on would strain the Editor’s allowance of space, and I leave it to readers to come to terms, each in her own way, with these poems. To learn the ‘facts’ of the 30-year conflict, one turns to history books and articles, biased or objective. But if one wants to gain something of an insight into that experience, one turns to Literature.
If I may conclude on a personal note, I never met Lakshmi Holmstrom but we corresponded; I considered her a friend, and write this introduction with deep regret at her passing. Finally, I thank Aruni, my niece, for presenting me with a copy of Lost Evenings, Lost Lives.
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Sri Lanka has long term stability

Sri Lanka has long term stability

Ambassador David DalyAug 25 2016

Valedictory message by David Daly, Ambassador for the Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka and the Maldives

When you read this I will already have left Sri Lanka. I take up my new duties at the European Union headquarters in Brussels on September 1, 2016. When I came here in September 2013 Sri Lanka was preparing to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). Colombo was in a deep state of beautification. Even if hosting CHOGM was the catalyst, we all enjoyed the fruits of the improvements afterwards; the racecourse complex, Independence arcade, better streets and a cleaner Colombo. It all looked great. CHOGM also showed what Sri Lanka was capable of.

However, Colombo is not Sri Lanka and the visible surface is not the complete reality. When I travelled to the north and east of Sri Lanka in the early days I saw a different reality; poverty, destruction, the legacy of war. I was proud to visit EU funded projects which brought regeneration to fishermen and farmers, to villages and their schools and to ordinary people, very many of them women, trying to rebuild lives destroyed by the war and its aftermath -the horror of knowing nothing about their missing husband, son or daughter. The pain of simply not knowing. I congratulate the government on the Office of Missing Persons.

Our development work is evolving and our latest programmes are in Central and Uva provinces. The EU has long argued that Sri Lanka needed to improve its human rights record, to engage in a genuine reconciliation process and to investigate independently and credibly what exactly happened during the last stages of the war so that the allegations of war crimes could be tested against the truth. I made these arguments to the Sri Lankan government and others; and I did so as a friend interested in the long term stability of the country. Without addressing these issues, history tells us that they do not go away but rather that they return in some form or other later. European history has many dark chapters and we are happy to share with our friends the benefits of the tough lessons we have learned.

Asian culture

Often I was met with denial and the criticism that I could not understand because I was a foreigner; also, that I was trying to foist Western concepts on an Asian culture. Yes, I am a foreigner in Sri Lanka and I cannot see and feel as a Sri Lankan. But that does not mean that if the underlying factors which caused the war remained unaddressed that the issues would simply disappear; or, that I should expect the rule of lald somehow expect lower standards.

Why should I?w to pertain to me because I am an Irishman and a European, but that if I were a Sri Lankan I shou

Why should Sri Lankans?

The election of President Sirisena was a watershed for Sri Lanka and for my diplomatic posting here. His priorities of good governance, improved rule of law and a genuine reconciliation process were what a majority of Sri Lankans voted for.

The EU is helping Sri Lanka on these issues and is bringing on stream new financial support to these ends. My successor, Tung-Lai Margue, will have the privilege of inaugurating the programmes to support short-term needs and long-term reconciliation which the Delegation is already working on with the Government, the wider international community and Sri Lankan civil society. I was very pleased that Sri Lanka was able to make the necessary progress that enabled the EU to lift its IUU fisheries ban. Being able to export fish to Europe means all those in the fishing industry from the fishermen up -receiving more money for the work that they do. And the controls and regulations that have been put in place help protect their livelihoods going into the future.

International conventions

The GSP+ is another major issue on which a lot of progress has been made; this progress, and more, must continue so that Sri Lanka can convince my colleagues in Brussels, the Council of the Member States and the European Parliament that the progress on human rights and the implementation of the international conventions that Sri Lanka has signed is irreversible.

Both the IUU and the GSP+ have helped us to work more closely together. The EU-Sri Lanka Joint Commission in Brussels in July registered great progress across the wide range of issues of our engagement. In December 2013 when we held the Joint Commission in Brussels, it was the first such meeting after a hiatus of five years. Now we are back on track in working together in a more open and frank manner.

This matters. Working closely with the European Union sends a message to others that Sri Lanka is making progress. Investors take note of such things. Naturally, one of the issues we discuss is exactly trade and investment; how to attract more investment and to eliminate trade and investment barriers. This always needs more work.

When people ask me about Sri Lanka I describe it as a country with enormous potential. To unleash the full range of this potential it is necessary to show progress on the governance and rule of law issues as well as to engage in a genuine reconciliation process. The world is watching transition in Sri Lanka and wishes it well; not just the UN Human Rights Council, but also investors and others.

Most of all, Sri Lankans are watching to see that their hopes and expectations are to be met. Over my three years here I have seen night and day; denial and openness; damage and rebuilding. It has been a tremendously enriching experience for my family and me in terms of friendships, culture and education.

We are very sad to leave Sri Lanka. It is a beautiful country with warm, generous, friendly people. How could we not be sad? We will return as tourists.

Our sadness is tempered, however, by the realisation that we were privileged to represent the EU here, to serve here, to make friends here. Such a privilege is not accorded to everyone. I wish all Sri Lankans the very best for the future.

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The Families Of Missing Persons in Sri Lanka: ICRC Recommendations

The Families Of Missing Persons in Sri Lanka: ICRC Recommendations

(ICRC photo)-25/08/2016
6. Recommendations.
Sri Lanka Brief
Based on the findings described in this report, a set of recommendations has been developed to assist governmental and non-governmental,national and international stakeholders to address the issue of missing persons and their families in Sri Lanka, and place additional efforts to clarify the fate and whereabouts of the unaccounted for and to support their families during the process.
6.1. Main recommendations addressed to Sri Lankan Authorities

International humanitarian law casts an obligation on each party to the conflict to take all feasible measures to account for persons reported missing as a result of armed conflict and to provide their family members with any information it has on their fate.70 Based on the findings of this Assessment, the ICRC has shared its detailed recommendations confidentially with the Government of Sri Lanka to assist national authorities to address the issue of missing persons and their families in Sri Lanka in a comprehensive manner. The ICRC’s recommendations to the Sri Lankan authorities are centred on the following key issues:
Address the Need to Know the Fate and Whereabouts
1.1. T ake all possible measures to relieve the families of their uncertainty and fulfil their need to know and establish an independent mechanism71 by an Act of Parliament, with the main objectives of:
1.1.1. Clarifying the fate and whereabouts of missing persons through individual case resolution and informing their families thereof.
1.1.2. Consolidating a national list of missing persons.
1.1.3. Coordinating and streamlining the activities of all government institutions and other organisations involved in the process of clarification of the fate and whereabouts of missing persons, prevention of disappearances and addressing the multiple needs of
the families of the Missing (economic, legal, administrative, psychosocial, etc.).
1.2. Ensure that:
a) appropriate technical forensic capacities are developed and available in the search for, recovery and identification of the remains of the missing persons;
b) an adequate legal framework is adopted that mandates the full investigation of the deaths of missing persons, including the recovery, identification and return of their remains whenever possible; and
c) this legal framework promotes communication, cooperation and coordination amongst all concerned stakeholders to promote efficient and effective delivery of information on the fate and whereabouts of missing persons to their families.
Address Psychosocial Needs

1.3. Address the psycho-social needs of the families of the Missing by:
1.3.1. Filling the pending counsellor positions with individuals who have a degree in counselling psychology; increasing training opportunities for the counsellors and establishing a dedicated coordinating body which oversees all counselling activities across different line ministries.
1.3.2. Providing greater access to NGOs and CBOs who work in different fields of psychosocial support, as organised and coordinated support to families’ needs has to take place in forms of district-based support, where local resources and peers will assist the improvement of the families’ well-being.
1.4. Integrate the theory of ambiguous loss and related intervention guidelines72 in counselling and clinical psychology curriculums, as wellas social work curriculums at the level of tertiary education.
1.5. Develop an environment where a sense of safety is felt by all, affording families the freedom to gather peacefully in groups and organise commemoration73 services in remembrance of their missing relatives.
Address Economic Needs

1.6. Recognise all families of missing persons as victims of the conflict and ensure consistency and non-discrimination in the services and benefits available to them.
1.7. Design specific social benefit packages to address the difficulties faced by families of the Missing in today’s context. In doing so, it is important that particular attention is paid to labelling these packages (i.e. not using the word “compensation” and not providing social assistance as a form of a reparation package).
1.8. Provide information summarising and describing social assistance schemes available to the families of missing persons and the procedures to access them.
Address Legal and Administrative Needs
1.9. Recognise a legal status for the ‘Missing’ and provide for its effects under Sri Lankan law, while establishing the administrative framework necessary for its implementation. The introduction of certificates of absence to families who so require, would allow them to address legal and administrative issues arising from the absence of their loved one, without having to declare the missing person dead.
1.10. Consider revision of the existing administrative rules and procedures to facilitate access for the families of missing persons to services and benefits, including access to relevant documentation (birth certificates, marriage certificates, identity cards, electoral registration
1.11. Provide information to the public on different legal and administrative processes and their requirements, in all three languages.
Address Acknowledgement and Justice Needs

1.12. Consider avenues to acknowledge the families’ need to preserve the memory of their missing relatives, such as by dedicating a day of remembrance in close cooperation with all families of missing persons.
1.13. Include families of missing persons in consultations to determine which transitional justice mechanisms to establish, to adequately address their need for accountability and justice.
6.2. Recommendations to other stakeholders
The ICRC calls upon other stakeholders – whether at national or international level – to support the State authorities to fulfil their primary responsibility to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing persons and address the needs of their families, by:
1.1. Promoting the clarification of missing persons’ fate and whereabouts and making funds available for it;
1.2. Considering the inclusion of families of all persons missing in relation to the armed conflict as a priority concern, developing programmes in their favour taking into account their identified multifaceted needs, and allocating sufficient funds to cover these needs adequately and holistically;
1.3. Pursuing the dialogue on including the issue of missing persons and their families in the transitional justice discourse and encouraging the inclusion of missing persons’ families in the process; and
1.4. Coordinating efforts to ensure a synchronised response to the multifaceted needs of the families along with the authorities, to make certain that all categories of victims of the conflict are adequately supported, while the efforts are not duplicated and all potential gaps are covered.


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Mangala urges halt to misleading information over Office for Missing Persons Act


Friday, 26 August 2016

Minister of Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera yesterday urged his opponents to stop misleading the public by spreading false information about the Office for Missing Persons Act.

Reminding the House about former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s actions, he said: “He was willing to go to hell, not just Geneva, to wipe away the tears of mothers. Our Government got this approved without visiting hell.”

Highlighting the importance of the new legislation for the families of those missing, the Minister said: “This law was required to register the deaths and was long overdue. Loved ones are waiting for their missing but I think providing such certification is important for them. In the absence of this certificate they are unable to access welfare. However, the certificate will become cancelled if the missing person is found to be alive.” AH

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On reconciliation and ‘reconciliation’

 On reconciliation and ‘reconciliation’ 


Posted by Uditha Devapriya -Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Reconciliation implies a two-way process, ideally aiming at equality for both sides to a conflict. Accountability can only be a part of it if it’s scripted in properly and not, as it’s wont to be today, pushed forward as part and parcel of a larger, insidious agenda. There are degrees of equality with each side to a conflict blaming the other. Once you factor in accountability, more often than not, what prevails is something that goes by the name of reconciliation but which does not coalesce into the genuine, cohesive movement it should be.

This week’s column is on reconciliation and its discontents. More specifically, it is an assessment of current realities, the myths associated with it, and various suggestions mooted by parties and outfits that are seen as pandering to ideologies (some positive, others not so). To start off however, two questions are compelled: what is reconciliation and, more to the point, what is the variant thereof that’s being championed in Sri Lanka today?

Why and whither reconciliation?

Reconciliation is rooted in ethics, equality, and in the longer term, equity. It is premised on acceptance, not denial: on forgiveness, not retribution. As opposed to criminal law its end isn’t punishment but an affirmation that the past happened and more significantly, happened in a way which no citizen can forget. Logically then, it ought to appraise what made the past and how, from the mistakes of that past, we can formulate a common blueprint for the future. There is mutuality here, which stops short of dishing out blame and is content with voluntary acceptance of responsibility for errors of commission and omission.

In the short term, reconciliation is about equality: hence the need for mutuality. In the longer term though, equality is meaningless without giving due weight to the discrepancy between each party’s contribution to the conflict. Task Forces and Commissions don’t hold water unless they account for such a discrepancy between the two parties in terms of errors committed, whether they are made consciously or through omission being largely irrelevant.

That is why, when equity supersedes equality (as was seen in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States in the sixties), we see those who contend for positive discrimination and privilege minority aspirations over the majority for the reason that, at any given point in time, the numerical (ethnic, religious, or social) minority is by default subject to the whims, fancies, and abuses of the numerical majority. Equity begins with equality, however, and I personally believe that the problem with Sri Lanka’s efforts at reconciliation is a basic misunderstanding of both these terms and their relevance by those who’ve authored the entire process.

That misunderstanding, by the way, can be traced to another: the fact that many if not most of those championing reconciliation today have focused on the long term. Not the short term. Equity and equality, let’s not forget, are mutually inclusive. Not exclusive.

The debate between the nationalists who wish to scuttle reconciliation (or some form of multiethnic dialogue) and the cosmopolitans who wish to go ahead with it, in a large sense at least therefore, can be reduced (at the cost of simplification) to the debate between those who want preferential treatment for the majority and those who want preferential treatment for the minority. In the end neither extreme can or should be allowed to win, if at all because both contort the spirit of what a multiethnic dialogue should entail.

Terrorism, ethnic fratricide, and conflict resolution

About seven years ago, at a public seminar on the ethnic conflict (which hadn’t ended by then), Shiral Lakthilaka and Victor Ivan debated on the (de)merits of the war. Victor was for continuing it, Shiral was not. The debate, attended to by the likes of Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe and scripted to appeal to both sides of the political divide, was relevant (for me at least) because of a point Victor made: that even if the Sri Lankan government didn’t give anything to the Tamils in the country, that still would be preferable to the LTTE holding sway in the North and East.

That point was strong, even radical, but to me it made clear everything wrong with how those for reconciliation at all costs understood the war. Those who self-righteously distinguished between Tamils and terrorists, for some tragic reason, failed to distinguish between terrorism and ethnic conflicts. And as Dayan Jayatilleka observes in his book Long War, Cold Peace, it was meaningless to accord parity of status to the government and the LTTE without first considering the chasm between a liberation movement and a fanatical organisation. The LTTE was not a liberation movement, it was a fanatical organisation. Logically therefore, a war against it wasn’t only just, it was necessary.

The truth then is that there was a war. The truth is that there were casualties. No government can be faulted for inflicting casualties in a situation where the other side was using civilians as human shields. Let’s not forget, after all, that what transpired in 2009 wasn’t merely a triumph of an Army funded by a State in debt over an organisation receiving (as Shiral Lakthilaka noted in that aforementioned debate) as much as 600 million dollars through its outfits in Europe: it was, as this article will explicate later on, a vindication of the necessity of ending war to compel peace. Those who inflate figures, consequently, are as prejudiced towards insidious outcomes as those who downplay them.

This column is not concerned with the war and its ramifications, but at a time when the “international community” continues to play with numbers (ranging from the 7,021 quoted by the United Nations to the 30,000 quoted by the myopic and fact-challenged Darusman Report to the 147,000 quoted by Frances Harrison, who ironically narrated a documentary in 2002 showing to the world the fascist proclivities of the LTTE), it is necessary to separate myth from fact, because myths (prime among them, the traditional homelands claim of communalist Tamil politicians) help neither reconciliation nor communal development.

Facts, factoids, and citizenship anomalies

Malinda Seneviratne, in his submissions to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), argued that conceding ground to the traditional homelands thesis via the 13th Amendment and the devolution packages proposed by successive governments did little by way of easing another more pressing concern, citizenship anomalies. He contended that while devolution made little to no sense politically or economically, it served as a backdrop for the various myths and chauvinist politics of the North and what’s more, was erroneously associated with problems related to citizenry.

Seneviratne represents the moderately nationalist opinion, the extreme manifestation of which rebels against any attempt at multiethnic dialogue (ostensibly because it’s felt to encroach on the “majority”). The moderate segment is conscious of ethnic identity and is also cosmopolitan. Those who subscribe to it are wary of myths paraded as history but at the same time concede that this in itself shouldn’t marginalise the need for reconciliation. It makes sense, at one level at least, to privilege this segment, if at all because the assumptions made by either extreme of the spectrum tend to fudge the crux of the issue.

And what is that crux? Simply, that reconciliation must be based on reason and history, not myths propagated by chauvinists. All in all, the government of the country, which received the democratic mandate from the people, were readier to compromise in the face of negotiations with the LTTE. The LTTE, on the other hand, not only arrogantly refused to compromise but sought to enforce its own terms and conditions while REDRAFTING the negotiation, akin to having a cake and eating it.

That is why, at a time when the politics of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) seem to be dictated purely by its constituency and when it’s perceived as not being completely for an all-encompassing nationality imperative in a transition from “just war to just peace” (Dayan Jayatilleka, Long War, Cold Peace), we must proceed with caution. The problem however is that those who want to go ahead with reconciliation at all costs forget the antics of the Northern Provincial Council and Chief Minister Wigneswaran, but are quick to jump on the allegedly racist rhetoric of non-Tamil politicos, particularly from the (unofficial) Joint Opposition.

Addressing the majority in the room

I mentioned before that reconciliation doesn’t make sense if we address the long term before the short term. In other words, without addressing equality there’s nothing much to be achieved by opting for equity. There are reasons for this, obviously.

First and foremost, it’s pointless talking about constitutional reforms and affirming an all-encompassing identity if the views of the majority are considered secondary or at best, marginalised. Sri Lanka arguably had the best opportunity to embrace such an identity upon independence. The problem however was that politicians pandered to an elitist ideology which virtually blanketed and ignored the aspirations of the majority, aspirations denied so much that when they were affirmed by successive governments after 1956, they vented out frustration is unseemly, violent ways, mainly against the minority.

On that basis, would it make sense to opt for equality? It would. And for one reason: mechanisms which do not account for the concerns of the majority and rubbish them for the sake of privileging the minority can and will prove fruitless if, in the longer term, the majority feels threatened and intruded on. Addressing the majority in the room and taking into account their grievances (in particular, the manifest tendency of politicians to pander to federalism, devolution, and extrapolated versions of the 13th Amendment) aren’t feel-good cosmetics but rather prerequisites to meaningful reconciliation.

This isn’t all, however.

Negotiations can culminate successfully only if equality gives way to equity skewed in favour of historically marginalised communities. On that count, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa didn’t turn out to be the success it was cut out to be. As various commentators have noted, that it began with the laudable objective of remembering and forgiving the past didn’t prevent it from deteriorating to a point where crimes committed by the white community were swept aside, a classic case of substituting absolution for forgiveness. Those who seek to emulate the South African model must clearly do so factoring in these contextual differences.

Marginalising the majority and twiddling thumbs

There’s a saying that’s tossed around these days: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” The nationalists will, as always, oppose attempts at reconciliation if it is felt to encroach on the majority. Such opposition is at best based on illusion and self-defeating. What’s even worse is that those opposed to majoritarian dominance have become myopic in the face of minoritarian communalism, especially when that communalism asserts itself against other ethnicities.

The recent clash at Jaffna University and the silence it wrested from the government, not to mention the manifest silence from civil society and various Embassies affiliated to the West, indicates quite clearly that progress can’t be obtained through denial. Denial, after all, was what blinded the majority into believing that physical development was a substitute for human development, that the minority could be coerced or appeased into submission through infrastructural projects in the North and East. Blinding oneself to majority aspirations is as bad, if not worse: in a context where the majority feel their grievances are unheard, rubbishing or ignoring them will merely take away from any reconciliation mechanism.

So yes, reconciliation is broke. Consequently, fix it one must.

One final point. At the end of the day, it’s difficult to prescribe exactly how the minority (predominantly Tamil and Muslim) should behave in the face of reconciliation. The premise must obviously be that they suffered, that they have suffered, and that they will suffer unless meaningful reforms are carried out.

On the other hand, I’m not too sure how those reforms should be articulated. I can think of two ways, affirmed by two thinkers.

The first, W. E. B. du Bois, who co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), argued for equality through education. Complete freedom and nothing short of that was what he desired, buttressed by his contention that only education, in particular the liberal arts curriculum drawn up and studied by the Whites, could emancipate his race.

The second, Booker T. Washington, the darling of Republicans who spout rhetoric on race relations in the US, saw things differently. He argued that self-employment, was the way forward for the black community. He opposed what he thought was the hollowness in du Bois’ method, and went as far as to sanction the exploitation and disenfranchisement of his race in return for economic development.

In the great debate between these two, I believe du Bois won. Rightly. Now’s not the time to delve into perspectives on minority emancipation (I leave that for a later column), but suffice it to say this: in the roadmap for reconciliation in this country, we must start at acceptance, move on to forgiveness, and declare a blueprint in which minorities are free not just in some places but everywhere. For better or worse, the roadmap must begin with equality, for only then can we hope for equity.

Written for: Ceylon Today, August 23 2016

Posted by Thavam

Categories: Uncategorized

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