UNHRC RESOLUTION: VERY LITTLE HAS BEEN ACHIEVED BY SRI LANKA, SAMPANTHAN TELLS FRANCE

UNHRC RESOLUTION: VERY LITTLE HAS BEEN ACHIEVED BY SRI LANKA, SAMPANTHAN TELLS FRANCE

TNA photo: Sampanthan meeting a delegation of Senators from France.
 
Sri Lanka Brief27/02/2017
At a meeting with a visiting delegation of Senators from France the Leader of the Opposition and the TNA, Hon. R. Sampanthan MP told them that very little had been achieved on the UNHRC 30/1 resolution, which was cosponsored by the Sri Lankan government.he further said that  an an extension of time to the government to fulfill its commitment to the resolution should be granted only under strict conditions. He, nevertheless, asserted that the resolution should be implemented in its entirety and that the government should take all steps necessary to ensure reparations, guarantees of non-recurrence, accountability, and justice.
Full text of the press release follows:
Press Release/ 27 Feb 2017
 
The Leader of the Opposition and the TNA, Hon. R. Sampanthan MP met with a delegation of Senators from France at the Opposition Leader’s office in the Parliamentary complex today (27 Feb).
At the meeting, Mr. Sampanthan briefed the delegation on the constitutional making process, stating that the new constitution should possess features that will give more powers to the provincial councils concerning matters of socio-economic development.
Commenting on the upcoming UN Human Rights Council sessions, Mr. Sampanthan stated that very little had been achieved on the UNHRC 30/1 resolution, which was cosponsored by the Sri Lankan government.
Mr. Sampanthan also stated that an extension of time to the government to fulfill its commitment to the resolution should be granted only under strict conditions. He, nevertheless, asserted that the resolution should be implemented in its entirety and that the government should take all steps necessary to ensure reparations, guarantees of non-recurrence, accountability, and justice.
The France delegation comprised of Mrs Marie-Christine Blandin, Senator of Nord Department, Chairwoman of the France-Sri Lanka friendship group, H E Mr. Mean-Marin Schuh, Ambassador of France to Sri Lanka, Mrs. Mireille Jouve, Senator of Bouches-du-Rhone Department, Mr. Patrick Chaize, Senator of Ain Department. Mr.  Olivier Delamare Debouteville, Senior advisor. Mrs. Isabeele Miscot, Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of France.
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State reforms as a domestic policy imperative

State reforms as a domestic policy imperative

Featured image courtesy Sri Lanka Brief/@UthayaShalin
HARIM PEIRIS on 02/27/2017
Earlier this week, Parliament debated, on an adjournment motion by the TNA, the unresolved issues of the North and East, namely dealing with the effects and the causes of the war. The former requiring specific reconciliation measures, and the latter reforms of the Sri Lankan state which enables the state to accommodate the full diversity of society. The attention of the Sri Lankan polity will also be focused internationally at the UNHRC in Geneva, where at its general sessions the resolution on Sri Lanka, dealing with our reconciliation and democratisation processes, would be on the agenda. Various reports in the popular press have a range of views on the reconciliation process and the current state of play, which broadly divide into two camps. In the south, opposition forces are agitating that the proposed reforms are a sell out and have consequently largely resigned from the steering committee of the Constitutional Assembly, but after having served on the sub committees during deliberations and the submission of their reports. In the North, opposition to the TNA leadership, paradoxically, largely from within its own ranks would claim that little or no progress on reconciliation has occurred.
The context for the current state of play, is the momentous elections of 2015, which abruptly ended what had seemed an invincible Rajapakse Administration and its policy direction of creeping authoritarianism and an entrenching of social divisions and ethnic polarizations. The elections of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, opened a new chapter, in post war Sri Lanka, a government committed to the three pillars of democratization, reconciliation and sustainable economic development. The one hundred (100) day program of the new government succeeded in achieving the early wins and the easy tasks and the 19thamendment to the constitution, was the landmark achievement of that first flush of victory. The current tasks and challenges are now the harder tasks of state reform and it is important to bear in mind, why we should reform.
Earlier in this month of February, we celebrated our 69thanniversary of Independence and casting our minds back to 1948, Ceylon as we were then called was a land of rich promise. Looking back nearly seven decades later, we realize that our inability to deal with our diversity led us spending about three decades fighting a ruinous civil war, which eroded our democracy, polarised our society, stunted our economic growth and warped our social progress. It is not in the interest of any section of Sri Lankan society, that we live our next three decades, like we did in the last three.
The end of the war and the destruction of the armed capability of the LTTE in 2009, provided a unique second chance for us to recreate a united and tolerant Sri Lanka, accommodative of diversity and fulfilling the aspirations of all her peoples. Unfortunately, the Rajapakse Administration, which had provided the political oversight for the military’s defeat of the LTTE, seemed both unwilling and unable to chart a new course to provide either a peace dividend or a sustainable peace. It was amazing that in a short span of four to five years, it moved from an overwhelming victory to an ignominious defeat. The broad rainbow coalition of the “Yahapaalanaya” Administration was elected on a good governance and reform agenda, which would seek to utilise the window of opportunity we have for real and needed state reform.
The most important aspect of reform required by the general public is economic reform, for a dynamic and growing economy which fulfills the economic aspirations of all our peoples, including both urban and rural, young and old, professionals and entrepreneurs, the educated and the less well educated. The economic management leadership of the current administration would clearly articulate that they inherited an economy hobbled with excessive foreign debt spent on projects of dubious value at exorbitant and inflated costs, which in an unfavorable external environment has been a near insurmountable challenge to overcome. Well knowing though that the next election would all be about how economic benefits were delivered to the people.
The other aspect of needed reform is in the area of reconciliation and the government is moving in the right direction, though arguably at a pace slower than that wished by the people of the North and East and their elected representatives. However, the important fact is that the Government is on the right path, even if it has not progressed down that path, at quite the pace wishes by some. Even government leaders may well be frustrated by the pace of reform, but politics and policy reform is also the art of the possible, exploiting existing spaces complemented with comprehensive dialogue among stakeholders and such democratic processes take time and as the old adage goes, Rome was not built in a day and societies being complex, change slowly and incrementally.
Sri Lanka actually achieved a quiet people revolution through the ballot box in 2015 and started off on a new journey, which has perhaps passed its one third mark, but not yet reached even the half way stage. It must be provided the time, space and support, both locally and internationally to proceed down the path of reforms in democracy, reconciliation and sustainable economic development, to fulfill the clear mandates of the sovereign people of Sri Lanka given in January and August 2015.
Those who enjoyed this article might find “Geneva and coming colours: A lesson for Colombo” and “Sellamma and her struggle to reclaim her house and land in Puthukudiyiruppu,” enlightening reads. 
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Influencing the polity for constitutional reform

Influencing the polity for constitutional reform 

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By Jehan Perera-February 27, 2017, 8:30 pm
Constitutional reform is once again on the front burner of the national agenda. The election manifestos of both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in 2015 gave high priority to it. The government started strongly with passage of the 19th Amendment through parliament. In an unprecedented act of statesmanship President Sirisena voluntarily relinquished much of the power he was vested with as executive president of the country and reduced the term of office of the president. This was followed by the government appointing a Public Representations Committee on constitutional reforms comprising leading public intellectuals drawn from academia and civil society. They were mandated to canvass the views of the general public on constitutional reform in a hitherto unprecedented manner.
But lately it seemed that constitutional reform was running out of steam and being put on the back burner. The move to go slow on constitutional reform was primarily led by the SLFP, the junior partner in the government coalition. The SLFP is numerically the junior partner despite having an almost equal number of seats in parliament (95) as compared to the UNP (106). This is on account of the split in the SLFP with the greater number of SLFP parliamentarians preferring to give their loyalty to the Joint Opposition led by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. Only about 40 of the SLFP parliamentarians are supporting the government which is backed by President Sirisena. Therefore, in the government coalition, the SLFP is numerically the junior partner.
The SLFP is also morally speaking the junior partner in the government coalition when it comes to constitutional reform. At the last general elections, most of its MPs campaigned on the same ultra nationalist platform as the former president. There was little that was redeeming about their political stance in relation to constitutional reform that could find a meeting point with ethnic and religious minority aspirations for equal protection of the law and justice. The SLFP under the former president had little or no interest in constitutional reform, except to the extent that it would further concentrate power in the hands of the ruling party and its leadership. The 18th Amendment to the constitution passed by the Rajapaksa government gave unlimited terms of office to the president and gave him unilateral powers of appointment of all powerful state positions, such as the heads of the judiciary, public service and police.
OBTAINING CONCURRENCE
The challenge to the government as it contemplates constitutional reform is to obtain the concurrence of its SLFP component. The problem is that the SLFP has been in a state of nationalist regression for over a decade. Even SLFP members who now support President Sirisena and are a part of the coalition government feel uncomfortable to advocate concepts such as devolution of power and minority rights which they saw being politically and ideologically nullified during the period of the previous government. As a result they feel more comfortable to advocate concepts such as national sovereignty, national security and the centralization of power on the basis of their perception that the ethnic and religious minorities constitute a threat along with the international community. They also do not wish to go before the people at a referendum to obtain the people’s backing for concepts they do not really believe in.
It is in these circumstances that President Sirisena has been falling short of making a positive contribution to those political reforms that require a change in the status quo. The president recently and publicly acquiesced to regressive tendencies in society that denounced the decriminalization of same sex relationships. This is indicative of the conservative and nationalist elements that have surrounded him. It is these same conservative and nationalist elements that oppose constitutional reforms that will empower and dignify the ethnic and religious minorities. Sri Lanka needs to become a tolerant and enlightened polity that embraces and dignifies all sections of its people, rather than one that excludes and denounces some of them, through the provision of devolution of power and the equal protection of the laws. This is not an impossible task because Sri Lankan society, as against its polity, is more oriented towards inclusion and tolerance than towards exclusion and intolerance.
It is important that President Sirisena should be encouraged to actively support the constitutional reform process as he has credibility with the ethnic and religious majority whose ethos he shares. However, as president of Sri Lanka he also needs to extend himself to include the ethnic and religious minorities and indeed the sexual minorities in his care, protection and commitment. Sri Lanka is fortunate that at the present time its top leadership, notably the president and prime minister are both people who are widely held to be non-chauvinist in their fundamental value systems. The president can be encouraged and strengthened by the outcome of civil society engagements that highlight the positive political potential in Sri Lankan society for inter ethnic and inter religious goodwill and amity that feed into support for the constitutional reform process.
RELIGIOUS GATHERING
Last week about 360 religious leaders, civil society activists and government officials attended a National Inter Religious Symposium organised by the National Peace Council which is a non governmental and civil society organisation. This brought together sixteen District Inter Religious Committees (DIRCs) comprising religious, civil organizations and community leaders that have been established in the districts of Kalutara, Galle, Matara, Hambantota, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Puttalam, Kurunegala, Jaffna, Mannar, Batticaloa, Ampara, Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura, Ratnapura and Badulla. The major task of the DIRCs is to strengthen reconciliation building action among the various religious and ethnic communities based on the transitional justice process that seeks to ensure that there is truth, accountability, reparations and institutional reforms in the ongoing political process.
Former President and Chairperson of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation Chandrika Kumaratunge who participated in the event stressed that reconciliation would not be successful without relationships between the religions in the country. She commended civil society organisations for working to bring religious leaders to work together.”All organisation for reconciliation must get together and work on a long term basis,” she said, pointing out that most politicians were sometimes opportunistic and neglected the importance of solving problems. She also used the opportunity to urge the government to carry out its promise to formulate a new constitution, adding that it should go beyond the 13th amendment in terms of the devolution of power.
In the backdrop of imminent constitutional reforms possibly leading to a referendum, the members of the religious clergy of all religions and civil society activists from across the country who met at the country’s premier conference hall, the BMICH, urged the government to take concrete steps to ensure that peace and reconciliation were established in post war Sri Lanka. They also handed over a six-point resolution to the Minister of National Co-existence Dialogue and Official Languages Mano Ganesan, Chairperson of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation Chandrika Kumaratunge and Secretary-General of the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms Mano Tittawella.
PEOPLE’S RESOLUTION
The joint resolution was more comprehensive than a mere technical document, and was born out of the life experiences of the participants. It urged the government to bring back to normalcy the lives of people who have been evicted from their homes and properties, pointing out that many of them are without homes or incomes even today. It stated that civil administration should be strengthened in keeping with the 19th Amendment because security forces still intervene in civil administrative activities and this hinders the freedom of life of the people in these areas. They added that the lethargic manner of working by certain government officials has hindered the improvement of infrastructure facilities and provision of various essential services. They also said that there has not been specific and speedy action on missing persons and those who have been made to disappear illegally and asked for a compensation process without any form of discrimination.
The resolution pointed out that extremist political activity and extremist religious groups and individual activities were destabilizing society and called for several measures to avoid such situations such as the establishment of social protection monitoring committees, strengthening the action of the Women and Child Protection Committees and conducting formal counselling services aimed at those subject to severe mental stress.
The final point in the resolution suggested several steps for building national reconciliation including implementing the national language policy and paying attention to activities that will improve inter-relationships among the communities. “If there are political groups, religious groups, government officials, civil society actors who will disrupt reconciliation, take legal action against them unmindful of their status,” the resolution said. The government needs to act on these exhortations that emerged from the larger religious community itself and are in the best interests of the country. This will be in accordance with the higher principles of democracy. The indications are that the great majority of Sri Lankan people will vote for justice and reconciliation to be the birthright of all citizens if given the opportunity at a referendum.
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Mangala to deliver Sri Lanka’s national statement in Geneva today

Mangala to deliver Sri Lanka’s national statement in Geneva today  

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logoDharisha Bastians -Tuesday, 28 February 2017

reporting from Geneva

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera will address the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva today, delivering a speech that will outline Sri Lanka’s reconciliation and justice efforts since 2015 and appeal for more time to deliver on its transitional justice pledges as the country reckons with its violent past.

Sri Lanka is likely to seek a two-year extended timeframe to implement recommendations contained in UNHRC resolution 30/1 which it cosponsored in October 2015. The resolution called on the Government to meet its transitional justice commitments, undertake political and security reforms and set up a judicial mechanism comprising foreign judges, lawyers and investigators to address alleged war crimes committed by Government troops and the LTTE during the conflict.

Yesterday, Minister Samaraweera held talks with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres who was in Geneva to open the 34th Session of the Human Rights Council. Secretary General Guterres was addressing the UN Human Rights Council for the first time since taking office in January this year. It was also the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister’s first meeting with the UNSG.

Minister Samaraweera briefed the Secretary General on Sri Lanka’s reconciliation efforts, and Gueterres expressed his full support for the Government’s reform agenda, the Foreign Minister’s office said in a statement. Recalling his several visits to Sri Lanka since 1978 including as High Commissioner for Refugees, the Secretary-General said that Sri Lanka was “a country that very dear to his heart,” the statement said adding that the Secretary General had indicated he would be delighted to visit the island.

The Foreign Minister is scheduled to meet with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein today, after he delivers Sri Lanka’s national statement before the council.

Minister Samaraweera and Secretary General Tittawella will also address an event organised by the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the UN on the sidelines of the UNHRC session tomorrow (1).

The Sri Lankan delegation attended the council’s opening session at the Palais des Nations yesterday. The delegation, led by Minister Samaraweera, also included Parliamentarian Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha and Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms, Mano Tittawella.

The UN Human Rights Council’s 34th Session opened yesterday, even as reports over the weekend indicated that under the Trump administration, the US was considering a withdrawal from the 47- member council. The new administration in Washington was questioning the UNHRC’s usefulness and believes the body in which the US holds membership to be unfairly targeting Israel, the reports said.

Addressing the UNHRC opening session in Geneva yesterday, both UN Secretary General Guterres and High Commissioner Zeid took note of the rise of populism across the world that was threatening the international order and undermining the rights of refugees, migrant and minority communities.

“We are increasingly seeing the perverse phenomena of populism and extremism,” resulting in growing racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred, the UN secretary general said as he opened the council’s session in Geneva.

In his opening statement High Commissioner Zeid issued a clarion call to the world to protect the international order and the multilateral system and understand its importance towards maintaining world peace and protecting human dignity.

The High Commissioner’s comments before the 47-member Council were a thinly veiled broadside at the new administration in the United States.

“The unprecedented marches of 21 January this year were not, I believe, about a particular individual or government – although many saw them as such. I believe the marches were for the rights of women, the human rights of women, for all of us, for a fair and inclusive humanity,” the High Commissioner said in a reference to the post-inauguration marches in the US that were mirrored in other parts of the world.

Human Rights and the very future of the planet must not be thrown aside by “reckless political profiteers”, the High Commissioner said in his strongly worded statement.

He underscored that without a commitment to fundamental human rights, to the dignity and worth of the human person and to the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, the world would descend into chaos, misery and warfare.

“To those political actors who, as in the days of the league, threaten the multilateral system or intend to withdraw from parts of it, the sirens of historical experience ought to ring clear. We will not sit idly by. For we have much to lose, so much to protect,’ the UN’s top Human Rights Envoy vowed.

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Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera who is presently in Geneva to participate in the High-Level segment of the 34th Session of the UN Human Rights Council met UN Secretary-General Antonio Gueterres yesterday. This was the first meeting of the Minister with the new UN Secretary-General who took office in January this year. Recalling his several visits to Sri Lanka from 1978 onwards including as High Commissioner for Refugees, the Secretary-General said that Sri Lanka is a country that is very dear to his heart.  Minister Samaraweera briefed the Secretary-General on recent developments in Sri Lanka in the context of reconciliation. Expressing the full support of the United Nations for the Government’s reform agenda, the Secretary-General expressed that Sri Lanka is a country that is very dear to his heart and that he would be delighted to visit.
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“We are hopeful of a political solution” – GTF

“We are hopeful of a political solution” – GTF

With the commencement of the UNHRC session featuring Sri Lanka’s case among others, Suren Sirendiran, the spokesperson for Global Tamil Forum, a leading Tamil Diaspora Organisation, articulates the implementation of its resolution, action regarding alleged war crimes and the way forward. The interview conducted by email:

Ahead of the UNHRC session, how do you analyze the progress made by the government in addressing your aspirations?

2017-02-28
Progress is dead slow and minimal.
It is now obvious that Sri Lanka wouldn’t have made any significant progress by March 2017 in implementing the UNHRC resolution that it co-sponsored. Therefore, it is inevitable that Sri Lanka will request an extension to the timeline. It will only be conceivable that the member states will agree to extend, through a new rollover resolution.
Status of implementation of the Resolution A/HRC/30/L.29 by the Government of Sri Lanka will still be work in progress. Therefore, until full implementation of the resolution, somehow Sri Lanka must remain in focus for the Human Rights Council. If that formal focus and monitoring can only be delivered via another resolution, then that is what should happen.

As the co-sponsor of the resolution and the responsible government to implement the resolution on behalf of its people, one would hope that Government of Sri Lanka would bring a resolution to extend the timeline without renegotiating the content of the resolution. I am sure that will be supported by majority of the member states.
It is pertinent to be reminded of the Foreign Minister’s speech in September 2015 at the UNHRC, where he said and I quote “Don’t judge us by the broken promises, experiences and U-turns of the past…. My plea to you Ladies and Gentlemen, is trust us and join us to work together and create the momentum required to move forward and take progressive, meaningful and transformative steps to create a new Sri Lanka.”
One of the reasons Government of Sri Lanka may suggest for the lack of progress is the political reality in the country. Blaming and making the Rajapaksa Demon as one of the reasons for the lack of progress is by and large a false pretence. The so called joint opposition has just over 50 in a 225 Members Parliament. In reality, the joint opposition hasn’t demonstrated in any significant manner as a threat in any form to the current regime, so far.
We were encouraged when Government of Sri Lanka co-sponsored the UNHRC resolution in Oct 2015,  which recognised terrible crimes committed by both parties during the armed conflict – was a turning point for human rights in Sri Lanka. We welcomed the less triumphalist approach adopted during the end of war anniversary on May 18th. We also welcomed the much improved cooperation with UN agencies on human rights mechanisms, and the initiatives taken towards setting up the ‘Office of the Missing Persons’ – though legislation was passed in the parliament in August 2016, only a few weeks ago it was finally gazetted, nearly five months after. The action of gazetting allows implementation.

 

Global Tamil Forum (GTF) also formally welcomed the recommendations of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTF) released on January 3, 2017.
However, there has been very little visible progress being made on the accountability mechanism. GTF is also disappointed at the government’s insufficient efforts in embracing the critically important transitional justice mechanisms, which in our view, should be embedded in the constitutional reform process to permanently end the culture of impunity and to promote genuine reconciliation. A wide range of institutional reforms including the much needed ‘security sector reform’, strengthening of the witness protection legislation which at present falls far short of what is required, and genuine consultations with victims and their families in every step of the process to get to truth and justice are vitally important measures ought to be undertaken by the government without further delay. Several of the crimes alleged to have been committed by both sides amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. These are not recognised as crimes in the current judicial system. Legislations have to be passed by the Parliament to recognise these as crimes. These haven’t even begun.
Very little or no discourse has begun on reparation.

How hopeful are you that the constitution making process would be a success?

The success of implementing a new constitution is the only hope for a successful and peaceful Sri Lanka for our next generations. The current political environment with a unity government with leaders of moderate views in power and a very reasonable Tamil opposition in parliament with people overwhelmingly rejecting extremism from both communities in the last two major elections is probably the best time in the history of Sri Lanka to achieve success in implementing a new constitution. Therefore, we are very hopeful.

There is a lot of objection here to the proposed judicial mechanism with the participation of foreign judges to hear accountability issues? What is your stand?

President Maithripala Sirisena publicly states that there won’t be any international judges in the judicial mechanism to address accountability for the alleged crimes. Recently in a speech in Maharagama, the President said that in his speech at the UN General Assembly he has stated this very clearly and the international community has now accepted that there won’t be any international Judges.
Even the Prime Minister said in an interview to an Indian media outlet that there won’t be any international Judges. We have serious concerns over this. The lack of political will and courage demonstrated by the Sinhala leaders including the President and the PM to engage in discourse among the Sinhala people for the need to establish the truth of what happened and the importance of accountability for the wrongs that were done against another community of their own citizens, is a serious impediment we believe, to deliver justice to the victims.
The mixed messages relayed to key stakeholders including the victims, military, other citizens of Sri Lanka and international community by senior state officials including the President, PM and Foreign Minister reflect that there is no cohesive and coordinated government policy as yet on this important international commitment.

 

  • UNHRC resolution should not be altered 

  • GTF helped in regime change of Sri Lanka

  • International pressure is a sin-quo-non to get justice for victims 

  • Concerned over rejection of foreign judges by President, PM

  • GTF disappointed the way MS Govt. handled N/E issues 

Until there are concerted efforts taken to make understand and accept by Sinhala civil society, Sinhala media and Buddhist clergy that there were gross violations of local and international human rights and humanitarian laws by the military but not by the entire military, during and after the end of war, there can only be marginal perceived successes, in the government implementation of the transitional justice program.
As I said above, by co-sponsoring the resolution the President and his government have committed to all its conditions as stipulated.
Just to remind once again, the resolution 30/1 states and I quote again “…affirms that a credible justice process should include independent judicial and prosecutorial institutions led by individuals known for their integrity and impartiality; and also affirms in this regard the importance of participation in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the special counsel’s office, of Commonwealth and other foreign Judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators”
A credible and impartial judicial process is so fundamental to come to terms with our violent past that is littered with not only the crimes committed against the members of each community, but also on their behalf.
Recommendations of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTF) released on January 3, 2017 also very clearly states that ‘foreign participation is required as those who suffered during the conflict had no faith in local judiciary which lacked expertise to undertake such task’ very much resonates with the victims of the Tamil community.
This is a long-standing view that is further reinforced with the recent verdict on the murder case of former Tamil Parliamentarian Nadarajah Raviraj.
GTF shared its deep dismay by the statements of two responsible ministers in the unity government denouncing the recommendations of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTF) calling for foreign participation in the judicial mechanisms.

There are talks about the resurgence of LTTE terrorism. One TNA MP has also received death threats.  How is it possible for the LTTE to raise its head again?

When asking this question one must remember the history of what really happened to the Tamil people of Sri Lanka since independence and how and why an armed struggle began!

Listed below are a recapture of a few of the circumstances that prevailed prior to an armed struggle that was initiated by the Tamil youth:

  • Almost a million Tamils of Indian origin were disenfranchised within an year of independence
  • Sinhala only as the official language was introduced
  • Several (e.g. 1956, 58, 77, 83 to list a few) State-sponsored pogroms which killed thousands of Tamils and burnt down their assets
  • State-sponsored colonisation of Tamil land with Sinhala people with an intention to force change the demography of land which historically is the habitat of Tamils
  • Several of the protections of minority communities’ rights that were enshrined in the Soulbury Constitution were abrogated
  • The oldest public library in Asia was burnt down by the army with government sponsorship
  • Several legislations were passed in the parliament discriminating minorities, particularly targeting Tamils who were performing better than the majority community in education, civil service, industry etc.
  • Many of the attempted protests and objections through democratic means since independence until an armed struggle began were summarily suppressed by violent force by successive governments
  • Several of the peace pacts that were reached between leaders of communities to resolve these political grievances of Tamil people were unilaterally abrogated by successive Sinhala leaders, parties and governments

To add to some of these same grievances, at present:

  • There still remains a constitution that safeguards a majoritarian rule with an executive presidency with most political and legislative powers being centralised and which elevates one religion over the rest
  • An overwhelming presence of military in the majority Tamil areas
  • Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) still in force
  • No judicial mechanism or most demands to serve justice through the UNHRC resolution 30/1 still unaccomplished
  • Confiscated private and government land still being occupied by military and people being displaced from their own places of habitat
  • Some of the political prisoners who were arrested under the PTA still remain in custody without being charged or due process followed
  • Torture and sexual violence, particularly against women still practiced with impunity
  • State-sponsored colonisation still being implemented in the north and east of Sri Lanka
  • A politicised judiciary that has lost all confidence of victims (e.g. case of former parliamentarian Raviraj, release of suspects in the case of disappearance of journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda and several others) With points above, I will let the readers decide the answer to your question.

The new US administration has a different world view. In that context, how can Tamil Diaspora count more on that country in pursuing action through the UNHRC?

Sri Lanka has time and time again shown it is both unwilling and unable to investigate allegations of war crimes against its own forces or hold perpetrators of grave abuses to account. It appears the government is now trying to back away from this commitment. Given the history of failures of Government Commissions and judicial processes, international participation as specified in the resolution is a must to guarantee the credibility and effectiveness of any Special Court.
At such a critical time when the Sri Lankan government’s political will and its ability to fully implement the key recommendations of the UNHRC resolution are being questioned, the International Community needs to be resolutely engaged, so that Sri Lanka stays on course towards genuine reform, and implements the resolution it co-sponsored without any exceptions.
In my mind, if there is no international pressure, there won’t be any justice served in Sri Lanka for the victims. I think, that is very well understood by most of the member states including the US, UK of the UNHRC, too.

Tamils voted overwhelmingly for President Maithripala Sirisena at the election. How do you see his performance?

If I have to describe it in a word, unfortunately I will have to say, ‘disappointing’. Most Sri Lankans feel generally let down by this government as several of their manifesto commitments haven’t been implemented.
This government came to power claiming to clean up corruption and mismanagement that prevailed during the previous regime and bring to justice those who abused their authority in various ways. Unfortunately, neither have they been able to prosecute anyone successfully nor have they been able to run a government without various major corruption charges being levelled against them.
Tamils of North and East voted overwhelmingly for the President and made the biggest difference in bringing him to power hoping that the new government will implement Constitutional reforms to resolve the decades old national question, will deliver justice to people for the wrongs that were done to them in breach of international laws,  will publicly pronounce of zero tolerance of sexual violence and torture, particularly by the police and military and proactively investigate and prosecute any such allegations without denying, which had been the Rajapaksa attitude. Tamils believed that most of the occupied lands will be released to lawful owners within months, resettlement of internally displaced people would be prioritised, military presence in the North and East will be reduced to the same levels as the rest of the country, political prisoners will be released or will be charged in a court of law forthwith, the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) will be repealed, government will give the war affected provinces a special priority status and create and facilitate investment opportunities to regenerate the areas to be economically at least at par with the rest of Sri Lanka.
The record over the past several months is reflected in the disappointment and despair that these communities feel at present.
However, the overall trajectory remains in the right direction but, just!  This government has created democratic space for freedom of expression without fear of reprisals, reversing the 18th Amendment to the Constitution which by and large politicised all independent democratic institutions, initiating a process to introduce a new constitution for the country, agreeing to co-sponsor a resolution at the UNHRC and proactively engaging with the UN and other international institutions, releasing some of the land that were illegally occupied by the military and other state institutions, releasing some of the political prisoners, introducing civilian governors to the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

We hear different voices among the Tamil diaspora groups. How do you respond to it?

Let me speak on behalf of GTF; at GTF, we like to think that we also helped in a small way to bring this change of regime in Sri Lanka. GTF believes that through proactive and constructive engagement further changes can be influenced. We have met the Foreign Minister and other state officials several times and met with the President, twice. GTF will encourage the government when progressive steps are being taken but will not shy away to publicly critique the government when repressive or regressive steps are taken or even suggested.
Among all Diaspora organisations GTF has gained recognition within Sri Lanka and internationally in a relatively short time since the end of war. It didn’t come easily. Sheer hard and committed work by many brought it to this status. As an organisation we also followed certain basic code of conduct to discipline ourselves. For example we committed ourselves not to comment or contradict in public of statements, actions or activities of another fellow Tamil organisation be it from Sri Lanka or in the Diaspora. As an organisation from our formal inauguration at the UK Parliament in February 2010 we also committed that we will not issue statements for the sake of it or to play it to the gallery. As a responsible organisation largely working in international diplomacy and lobbying, we pride ourselves for maintaining discretion which is fundamental. Some of these behaviours and actions earned respect amongst various media and rights organisations as well as within governments of adopted countries. GTF has always acted honourably and reasonably when articulating grievances of our people in Sri Lanka at international forums. This earned respect from organisations and like-minded people of all ethnicities and religions of Sri Lanka. We have a clear and transparent strategy in how we want to deal with issues and grievances of our people in the island, which we generally refer to as the ‘Four Pillar Programme’. They are:
1.  Agreeing between Tamil representatives based in Sri Lanka and in the Diaspora a Common Framework Agreement (CFA).
2. Engaging the civil society, political and non-political representatives of the South without discriminating on language, religion, social status or party affiliation to communicate and engage to explain our grievances and understand from them their own grievances and why resolving the political issues including the Tamil National Question is seen or felt as a threat to them. Explain the possible mutual benefits that will be gained by all communities as peace dividends if a durable political solution could be negotiated to the Tamil National Question.

These types of cross community engagements at different levels of the society can also be a way to bridge the trust deficiency that exists between communities in Sri Lanka. 
3.   Actively lobby and create awareness within the international community, international institutions and governments regarding the injustices and alleged breaches of international laws, including international human rights and humanitarian laws that amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Lobby for international independent investigation of both sides to establish the truth and obtain justice to enable the people who lost their loved ones to be able to move on, which may allow sustainable reconciliation between communities in the future. 
4. To work to resolve the socio economic needs of the people of Sri Lanka, particularly in the war affected areas with international help.
We intend to do all of the above with the help of the people in Sri Lanka, in the diaspora and the international community including India.
Obviously everyone can see that none of these are against the State of Sri Lanka or its sovereignty or any group or particular community of Sri Lanka or promotes violence or terrorism. This enabled GTF to work with like-minded people of all communities, groups, organisations, media and political and non-political parties within Sri Lanka. GTF prides itself as one of the most effective and efficient groups which partners with the elected representatives of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka.

– See more at: http://www.dailymirror.lk/article/-We-are-hopeful-of-a-political-solution-GTF-124611.html#sthash.cL5xnet9.dpuf

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Trying To Understand Keppapilavu: Resistance, Solidarities & Politics

Trying To Understand Keppapilavu: Resistance, Solidarities & Politics

Colombo Telegraph

By Mahendran Thiruvarangan –February 28, 2017

For the past twenty-eight days, Tamil people of Keppapilavu and Puthukkudiyiruppu in Mullaitivu district including women and children have been protesting against the authoritarian occupation of their homelands by the Sri Lankan military and Air Force. These people who were displaced during the civil war wish to go back to their homes and lands. To return to and resettle in places where they had been living for decades is not just these people’s wish but it is their right too. The state and the military cannot encroach on this right and deny the people their homes, lands and the environment that had been an integral part of their lives prior to their displacement. Eighty-four families, of which thirty are women-headed, have been denied entry into their lands in Keppapilavu by the military.
At the protest, a woman, one of the dwellers says (through a video film): “the leader fought for a separate state but gave our country to the Sinhalese. Now the Sinhalese are ruling our country and we are wandering the streets.” The landlessness that the people are facing today is also an outcome of the LTTE’s ill-conceived insurgency against the state that put the lives and livelihood of these people under great risk. The LTTE dragged the people down the road to doom and destruction during the last stages of the war in 2008/2009. Lacking strategy and concern for the thousands of lives trapped in the war zone, the LTTE continued its assault on a rapidly advancing military. In the absence of any alternative routes to save their lives from the military onslaught, the people including those in Keppapilavu and Puthukkudiyiruppu left their homes and lands and moved out further east towards the coast. Later the military to brought these lands under their control and prevented the displaced people from resettling in them. The LTTE leadership’s suicidal politics and mindless militarism also contributed to the plight of these people today.
The displaced people were transferred to various IDP camps and later given alternative lands where the military built houses for them. But the people find these houses unsuitable and unhygienic. Above all, the people like to go back to their village where the community, as one of the protestors describes, “had lived happily like one extended family till 2008” (people’s narratives about their displacement, resettlement and the struggle to reclaim their lands appear in a recent Tamil publication by the Vithai Group).
Freed from the totalitarian and militarized culture that had dominated Tamil politics till May 2009, the Tamil community today is able to choose modes of resistance that are constructive and creative. The relatively freer civic space opened up post-2015 also facilitated the people to launch their protests fearlessly. The classes conducted at the protest venue for the school children mark a resistance that is cognizant of the needs and aspirations of the future generations, forming a sharp contrast to the land reclamation struggle waged by the LTTE where many child recruits from the rural North and East were given guns and cyanide capsules against their wish and despite their parents’ opposition. At the forefront of the struggle are women from the community. The songs of solidarity sung by women of different ethnic communities outside the tents where the women and children are living and the paintings by the children depicting their present predicament have breathed fresh air into the culture of people’s resistance in post-war North.
The Sri Lankan state has confiscated lands belonging to its polity in the name of national security, development, urban planning and environmentalism in various parts of the country. In the North and East, many areas including parts of Valikamam North, Sampur and Musali and Morakotanchenai, Keppapilavu and Puthukkudiyiruppu continue to be occupied by the military. The moves to build a coal power plant in the land expropriated in this manner in Sampur in the East and the attempts by the state to alienate land for development initiatives including tourism and urban development in places like Panama in Ampara district and Slave Island in Colombo in the past confirm that land alienation in the country is also linked to the class-based interests of powerful national and international forces.
The continuing presence of the military in the North and East indicates that the different regimes that have ruled Sri Lanka for the past three decades have treated this Tamil-majority region as their internal colony. Militarization keeps the people of this region under constant surveillance and fear curtailing their movement and activism. The confiscation of the lands in the North and East that belong to the people should therefore be seen as a part of the ongoing militarization. Giving protection to a majoritarian state that conquers the lands belonging to and used by the predominantly minority communities and constructing Buddhist structures and symbols in some of those lands, the military is actively involved in a certain form of Buddhisization in the North and East.
The state’s attempt to declare lands belonging to Musali in Mannar district as an environmental protection zone when the people evicted by the LTTE in 1990 were trying to resettle in those lands after the war demonstrates that land alienation in the North and East is a problem that affects the Muslim community too. In Panama, the lands acquired by the military and later used for tourism purposes had belonged to a community of mixed ethnic origins in the region. The lack of interest on the part of the Tamil bureaucrats and politicians in the North in supporting the resettlement of the Muslims suggests that the Tamil elite are hardly any different from the Sinhala-Buddhist state in their treatment of the minorities and their problems related to resettlement and landlessness.
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Kepapaulavu and Pudukuduirippu: President assures release of lands within 2 days

Kepapaulavu and Pudukuduirippu: President assures release of lands within 2 days

2017-02-28

President Maithripala Sirisena has assured that the lands in Kepapaulavu and Pudukuduirippu will be handed over to the people in the area within two days, Opposition Leader R Sampanthan said yesterday.

Mr Sampanthan told a media briefing last evening that the President gave this assurance when the TNA MPs met him last afternoon.

“Some 54 families in Kepapaulavu have been given permits and 42 of them are reported to be in order according to investigations carried out by the Government Agent. Therefore these families will have to decide whether they are going to reside in these lands in Kepapaulavu or whether they want to go back to their original lands,” Mr Sampanthan said

. “When it comes to Pudukuduirippu the land will be given to 16 families when the army vacates the area after finding alternative land,” he added.

The opposition leader said the President contacted the Army Commander, the acting secretary of defence and other local authorities in their presence and directed them to release all lands within two days. (Yohan Perera and Lahiri Pothmulla)

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Sri Lanka: On The Road To Ruination

Sri Lanka: On The Road To Ruination

What do we see today in the political arena is nothing but slogans and battle cries to say that we have to form a joint opposition to defeat other political parties – Meaning they have no interest in joining for the development and progress of the country. Their main aim is to propagate the defeat of another political party.

by Zulkifli Nazim- Feb 27, 2017
( February 27, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Our Beloved country, Sri Lanka is being destroyed, ruined and bungled up by partisan politics – hyper-partisanship to the point where it becomes so recalcitrant and impenetrable and inflexible that no compromise is possible. Greedy Politicians who are involved in making this mess, as you can see, are stubbornly resistant to authority and control; and the president does nothing to take any form of action to penalize or impose a penalty on all those who despoil, destroy and strip off decency of it’s possession.
To add fuel to fire, President Maithripala Sirisena, is inviting all those despots to join him to achieve greater success.
And moreover, the supposedly Justice system which will have no political influence according to the President- where The High Court issues an order to allow Wimal Weerawansa to attend Parliament and to participate in the parliamentary working committee. A man who has three Birth Certificates, three Passports, misusing 40 Government vehicles and various other accusations, whose actions tantamount to treason, is being granted freedom to attend parliament.
What is that he can contribute to the development and progress of our nation? What does this action by our justice system prove? inviting all despots and rattlesnakes to join the President for the progress of this country.?”
It would indeed be wise for our President to use some advise from the then President of the United States of America Franklin D. Roosevelt when he said, with regard to Hitler the fascist :
“But when you see a rattlesnake poised to strike, you do not wait until he has struck before you crush him.”
It is imperative that all those who are under suspicion, investigation and those who have been jailed or remanded be strictly prohibited from attending the august legislative body – That is the general opinion of decent people of this country, for the greater good.
What do we see today in the political arena is nothing but slogans and battle cries to say that we have to form a joint opposition to defeat other political parties – Meaning they have no interest in joining for the development and progress of the country. Their main aim is to propagate the defeat of another political party.
It looks like there is encouragement all-round – the joint opposition together with the supporters of the President in the government, an evil conspiracy, to achieve their purpose successfully
All those whose who are vulgarizing disinformation, including members of his cabinet, are intentionally diffusing false and inaccurate information to spread deliberately. It is an act of deception and false statements to convince untruths – vis-à-vis when the President announces that he supports the change of the constitution, a cabinet minister says that they will not. This is airing willful ignorance.
It’s a kind of vulgar indecency that embodies arrogance, narcissism, rigidity, narrow-mindedness, xenophobia and fear that is already expressing itself in the form of violence, and perhaps an unearned sense of entitlement, just a few expressions to describe the psyche of those who were under a kakistocracy – the word which is used to describe a government in which the worst persons were in power.
We would ask the President : “What happened to the pledge he made on the revered remains of the Most Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero, the chief incumbent of the Kotte Naga Maha Vihara and Convenor and Chairperson of the National Movement for a Just Society in Sri Lanka?”
It is encouraging to note that the ITN has discussions with a panel of highly educated and wonderful scholars like, the most Ven. Dambara Amila Thero, Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Gamini Veyangoda, together with Sarath Wijesooriya, Saman Ratnayake, Janaranjan who are totally dedicated to stand-up for and behalf of the 6.2 Million People who brought about this change urged, advocated and encouraged by the Most Venerable Sobitha Thero, for they are the voice of those who brought this change in the name of Justice.
Our President should well remember that these voices cannot be ignored.
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Car Permits Abuse: JVP Lawmakers Cannot Plead For Ignorance Of Law

By Nagananda Kodituwakku –February 27, 2017

Colombo TelegraphDishonest SLFP and UNP MPs have already conceded that they have abused government tax revenue under the guise of tax-free permits. The State Minister of Finance recently said that he has been doing it for a long time whilst Bandula Gunawardane, MP declared that there is nothing new about cash-trapped MPs selling their car permits. MP Udaya Gammanpila was also caught red handed after the vehicle imported on his permit registered by a private company.
The JPV MPs on other hand talk about integrity and morality in politics claiming that they are committed to preserve and protect the public property and to combat corruption. They make always make noise in the parliament about the waste and corruption in the government business.
Now evidence in the public domain reveals that all JVP MPs are trapped in the Finance Minister, Ravi Karunanayake’s tax-free car permits and Rs 100,000/- bonanza offered to lure MPs to please them and to keep them under control.
Colombo Telegraph already revealed that all JVP MPs, includling Anura Kumara Dissanayake, have made use of the tax-free MP permits offered by Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake to import 6 Toyota Hilux vehicles, which they have imported and cleared out of Customs on the same date.
Sole Authority in Control of Finance
It is deemed that the Head of the COPE Sunil Handunneththi and other JVP MPs are aware about the Parliament’s authority in the Public Finance as sets out in the Constitution, which states that no tax or levy can be charged or any levy already imposed on any commodity can be exempted except upon the authority of a law enacted by the Parliament.
Issuance of tax-free car permits
However, it is observed that all tax-free car permits for MPs have been issued in February and March 2016 with no legal sanction whatsoever, authorizing the exemption of statutory levies chargeable on the vehicles. For instance all 6 permits issued to JVP MPs have been issued in February/March 2016.
This was a deliberate ploy on the part of the government and it never expected any one to question the legitimacy of the issuance of permits.
After this issue was raised for the first time, the Finance Minister issued a gazette notification on 02nd May 2016, legitimizing of the issuance of tax-free car permits, which was done under the provisions of Excise (Special Provisions) Act No 13 of 1989. However, by then all permits have been issued in February/March 2016, which were invalid for want of legitimacy.
Investigation conducted into the gross abuse of public funds through these permits have revealed that already 38 private individuals have imported and registered expensive vehicles on these invalid permits in the names of several Ministers and MPs. It was also revealed that more than 100 vehicles have been imported on these permits and a large number of such vehicles are been used by their new owners in the name of the permit holder MPs, without effecting the transfer, which is also prohibited and amounts to a punishable offence under Section 12 of the Motor Traffic Act.
The law requires the new keeper/owner to apply within fourteen days after change of possession to be registered, as the new owner shall be guilty of a criminal offence with power conferred on police to detain such vehicles use on a road.
A clear case of betrayal of people’s sovereign rights by the MPs and Ministers
Further to in-depth investigation into this day light robbery it was duly reported to the Corruption Commission with overwhelming evidence of the abuse of public funds for unjust enrichment by the corrupt MPs and Cabinet of Ministers in the 8th Parliament. Under the law the Corruption Commission is required to carry out an independent and credible investigation into this complaint, which however never occurred, compelling the Corruption Commission to be charged before the Supreme Court for condoning Corruption.
Further to the filling of this writ application (SC/Writs/07/2016) Notices have been issued on the Corruption Commission and on three Commissioners and the matter is now fixed for hearing on 16th March 2017.
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A top government official alleged that he suspects a mafia working to block renewable energy sources in the country.

by Ifham Nizam – Monday, February 27, 2017
  • Mini hydro plants may have a negative impact for the surrounding biodiversity, particularly the fauna and flora
  • Sri Lanka dreams of becoming an energy self-sufficient nation
  • Shallow reservoirs are not unlike paddy fields which are known to contribute substantially to methane emissions, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide 

A top government official alleged that he suspects a mafia working to block renewable energy sources in the country.
Chairman of the Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority (SLSEA) Eng. Keerthi Wickramaratne who is an ardent nature lover and works for the betterment of the environment firmly denied that they had given any approval for mini hydro plants that would have a negative impact for the surrounding biodiversity, particularly the fauna and flora.
He also said that they are often puzzled as to how fish enter areas after a project commences. He warned that they would investigate such matters.
He stressed that nobody likes to disturb the environment while adding that initial construction does have some impact where they have clearly been instructed to strictly adhere to instructions, keeping in mind that sustainability comes first. He also emphasized that renewable energy is the only option to overcome power cuts and blackouts.
Wickramaratne was optimistic that the only way out of this issue was to make a gradual switch to renewable sources of energy. He stressed that with assistance from developed countries, a switch to renewable energy was a possibility. “Computerised systems and other costs will arise, but switching to renewable sources was a positive move. He said that in this regard Germany has come forward to assist Sri Lanka in the future projects.
“Solar and wind power were the best options for renewable energy sources in Sri Lanka; solar power is a good option. If we increase the use of solar power then costs will decrease, while in the long-term it will be cheaper and most importantly, environment-friendly” he said.
However, Wickramaratne said storage of solar power might be a problem due to various issues. He also noted that offshore sea currents were a viable option “But we have not yet developed it to be used as a renewable energy source,” he added.
Power and Renewable Energy Deputy Minister Ajith P. Perera says power cuts would have to be imposed if mini power plants don’t contribute to the power generation. Responding to recent allegations by a group of environmentalists, he said that small hydro power plants being built in Sri Lanka severely damage the environment and biodiversity. According to him, the power requirement of Sri Lanka is 4000 megawatts and small hydro power plants provide 300 megawatts to the national grid.
Ministry of Power and Sustainable Energy Secretary, Dr Suren Batagoda said that mini hydro power plants are one of the best resources and best options to Sri Lanka especially in keeping with the government renewable policy initiatives. “These projects are definitely beneficial to our country. If not, we would not have any fuel and we would have to rely on wind, solar and hydro power. Our dream is to become an energy self-sufficient nation. Of course, there is a certain amount of environmental damage done during the construction phase. Therefore, we have suggested the CEA identifies all sensitive waterfalls and gazettes them. Thereafter the remaining waterfalls could be utilized for the projects. The only issue is that people are not working together. Sometimes the developer is trying to find money and there is minimum coordination between the people and the developers,” he said.
The government should be cautious when implementing hydro power projects in the near future, warns a senior environmentalist.
Dr. Raveendra Kariyawasam, Ecology Management, Centre for Environment and Nature Study told The Sunday Leader that though the government has given the prime focus on renewable energy especially stressing the importance of clean energy, the adverse impact to the environment should also be taken into consideration. He stressed that small hydro power plants cause damage to the ecosystem. A study carried out by the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom showed that small hydropower plants has caused damage to ecosystems, destroying aquatic fauna and flora. “There are many other studies showing the damage caused by small-scale hydropower plants and the Ministry Agriculture and Environment. They must pay heed and conduct thorough assessments before granting approvals and must work hard to revive aquatic ecosystems already destroyed,” he further said.
He also noted that as a tropical country, Sri Lanka has enough sunshine and wind. These are the ideal renewable energy sources that the government must exploit. He also said that the belief that ‘small’ hydropower systems are a source of clean energy with little or no environmental impact is driving a growing interest in mini, micro, and pico hydropower systems that can generate from less than five kilowatts up to 10 megawatts of energy.
Hydropower may appear to be the cleanest and most versatile of renewable energy sources, but experience shows that optimism about its potential can be misplaced. Hydropower uses water to generate carbon-free electricity. Fossil-fuelled power plants and coal power plants, nuclear power plants produce gases and/or ash emissions in to the air. After 1950 hydropower became popular in many countries including Brazil, China, Sri Lanka, India, and Malaysia. Many small and large-scale dams have been built through natural waterways. In Sri Lanka, Randenigala, Rantambe, and the Victoria dam are some examples of this.
“When building the above mentioned dams the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) made many outlandish claims including that there would be a surfeit of electricity in Sri Lanka such that we would be in a position to export the excess to India through the Kanya Kumari. Of course, this never happened and people understood this to be another falsehood of the government, he said. Successive governments have a record of false claims with regard to the effectiveness of ‘development’ projects that seem to achieve nothing and in many cases have destroyed extant national assets and the environment.
The GOSL has accelerated micro hydro projects using many catchment areas and inviting private companies to build and operate hydro power plants and sell the electricity to the national grid. This is called Energy Trade.
He said that one such example of the dire consequence due to the installation of hydro power in Sri Lanka is our experience with the Laxapana waterfall. The construction of a private hydropower plant above 200 meters of this waterfall has degraded the ecosystem in the area and is currently facing a threat of completely drying up as the explosions made during the construction work has made the rocks of the waterfall loose.
The banks of the Maskeliya River that supplies water to the waterfall have also collapsed due to these explosions. It seems that in searching for solutions to the growing energy demand the GOSL and its partners are paying scant attention to the environmental degradation their activities cause, he said.
Egypt’s Aswan High Dam has become an iconic symbol of these kinds of projects and highlights the detrimental environmental impacts it has engendered. “Projects like these fundamentally altered river ecosystems, often fragmenting channels and changing river flows. Natural lakes take hundreds of years to evolve from oligotrophic (low in nutrients) to eutrophic (rich in nutrients) status. But man-made reservoirs underwent this transition within a few years, degrading water quality, harming fisheries, bringing siltation and invasion by weeds, and creating environments suitable for mosquitoes and other disease vectors”, a study has shown
In a report on the Environmental Implications of Renewable Energy Sources, the International Energy Agency (IEA) notes: “Small-scale hydro schemes (SHS) tend to have a relatively modest and localised impact on the environment.
These arise mainly from construction activities and from changes in water quality and flow on ecosystems (aquatic ecosystems and fisheries) and on water use”. According to the International Energy Agency, the world has not experienced any major problems from ‘small’ hydropower plants simply because the world has used them economically to earn money without thinking about the ecological impact.
The same situation is arising in Sri Lanka; the private companies are involved in energy trade. The government institutes such as CEA and other responsible officers and institutes make EIA and all legal documents to them; continue ecological degradation without proper pre or post environment assessment.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) and other research institutes have identified many ecological impacts of micro hydropower in the world. Constructions of micro or macro plants can badly affect aquatic ecosystems. Interrupted water flow, barriers to animal movement, water loss from evaporation and loss of biodiversity from the sacrificed portion of rivers amount to a few of the devastating results.
With smaller dams, storage is an increasingly important problem that may require the construction of more low-head systems than anticipated. Reservoirs silting up or becoming overloaded with nutrients are other common problems.
According to the IEA, methane generation occurs largely where water and sediment meet, and this means that a shallower water body is likely to release more methane per unit area than a deeper water body. Shallow reservoirs are not unlike paddy fields which are known to contribute substantially to methane emissions, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
The IUCN in its report on small-scale hydropower plants said in 2012 that the ecosystems were under threat
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