Tamil civilians died,
Dead bodies I eyed,
I did not have pride,
There was no war guide,
Tamils forced to hide,
The Sri Lankan army lied,
Took the media for a ride,
It was a Tamil genocide,
By laws they did not abide, -Page 166
(Lanka-e-News – 15.July.2019, 10.30AM) A magistrate in the northeastern town of Trincomalee, Sri Lanka, acquitted all 13 defendants in the execution of five ethnic Tamil students on January 2, 2006, known as the “Trinco Five” case, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said last week. On July 3, 2019, the magistrate acquitted 12 members of the police Special Task Force (STF) and a police officer due to a “lack of evidence.”
The global notoriety of the Trinco Five killings has made it a test case for the commitment of successive Sri Lankan governments to ensure accountability for grave crimes carried out during the three-decade-long civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said.
“Sri Lankan authorities have proven unable to obtain justice for the murders of five young people and the resulting coverup despite the considerable evidence available,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The failure to convict anyone in this emblematic case after 13 years demonstrates the need for a court with international participation that can properly protect victims and witnesses.”
The Daily News reported the prosecution named 36 witnesses. Eight witnesses did not appear in court, including two who had obtained asylum in the United Kingdom and Switzerland. The prosecution of the case had long been marred by serious threats against the survivors and witnesses, which forced them and their family members to flee Sri Lanka.
On the evening of January 2, 2006, amid New Year’s celebrations at Trincomalee beach, Sri Lankan security forces shot and killed five students, at pointblank range, and seriously wounded two others. The government quickly claimed, without evidence, that the youth killed were LTTE insurgents carrying out a grenade attack.
Unlike most other crimes under international law and human rights violations committed during Sri Lanka’s long civil war, the Trinco Five case has received considerable global attention. It has been the subject of government-appointed commissions and discussions at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Human rights groups have reported both on those who allegedly carried out the killings and senior officials implicated in a cover-up.
In 2006, 12 Special Task Force police officers were arrested in connection with the killings, but they were soon released for lack of evidence. In July 2013, the men were rearrested but then released three months later because no proceedings had been opened against them.
In 2006, Dr. Kasippillai Manoharan, whose 20-year-old son, Ragihar, was among the five youths killed, testified at the government inquest. He described a phone call from his son, who said that he was surrounded by security forces. After Dr. Manoharan rushed to the nearby beachfront, soldiers stopped him, but he said he heard people shouting for help in Tamil, and then gunshots. For months afterwards, there were death threats against him and his family, and they eventually fled to the UK, where they received asylum. He later provided video testimony to a presidential commission and said that after the shootings a senior government official had offered him a house in Colombo and private school education for his remaining children if he kept quiet.
A US State Department cable from October 2006 released several years later by WikiLeaks shows that Basil Rajapaksa, the brother and adviser of then-President Mahinda Rajapaksa, told the US ambassador to Sri Lanka that the security forces were responsible for the killings, but claimed there was no evidence to convict them. “We know the STF did it, but the bullet and gun evidence shows that they did not,” Basil Rajapaksa is quoted as saying. “They must have separate guns when they want to kill someone.”
In February 2018, the then-UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, told the UN Human Rights Council that the Trinco Five killings were among those that highlighted impunity for serious human rights violations. The high commissioner’s report stated:
[T]he failure to show major progress in these emblematic cases strengthens the argument for the establishment of a specialized court to deal with the most serious crimes committed by State actors… staffed by specialized personnel and supported by international practitioners.
A consensus resolution on transitional justice for Sri Lanka, adopted by the Human Rights Council in October 2015, calls for an accountability mechanism involving international judges, prosecutors, and investigators. Little progress has been made on this or other elements of the resolution.
“The acquittals in the Trinco Five case mean that the government’s obligation to bring to justice those responsible for the murders remains,” said Biraj Patnaik, South Asia director, Amnesty International. “Governments monitoring Sri Lanka’s compliance with the 2015 Human Rights Council resolution should put this case at the top of their concerns.”
(Report by Human Rights Watch)
by (2019-07-15 04:59:53)
- The Government continues to survive inside the closed doors of the parliament
- Premier Wickremesinghe has nicely played the democracy game and wooed the minority Tamils
The Elections Commissioner has aired his view as to why people are not seeking the assistance of the law, so that the Government will be forced to set the stage to conduct elections and thereby voters would get to exercise their franchise
There is a tragic disconnect between what Sri Lanka’s leaders say to the public and the patent disbelief with which these words are received. This will eventually have dangerous repercussions beyond the electoral defeat of those men, impacting on the nation as a whole as it is pushed in a perilous direction with raw bitterness and biting anger dominating the public mood.
High and awful price of political failure
So even as words pour out of political mouths, often meaning very little, there is a serious question that must surely be asked in all good conscience. Do these politicians not understand or realise that they must speak with greater care about matters concerning the security of the Sri Lankan State? Or is it that we have come to the stage where even the basic minimum cannot be expected any longer from the Government or the Opposition? This is in a context where millions are spent on sittings of Parliament but often, the quorum of members is not present in the House for the sessions to continue, which was the case this week as well.
Take the oft quoted protestations of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that the Easter Sunday terrorists have all been either killed or put behind bars. As responsible national leaders, making such sweeping assertions amounts to bad politics, let alone indicating a singular lack of commonsense. This is in contrast to, for example, the former Army Commander and now a front ranking member of the Prime Minister’s party, Sarath Fonseka who acknowledges the contrary far more realistically every chance that he gets. As he says, the very nature of the Islamist State beast is that its barbarities may recur at any point.
That point is borne out by facts on the ground. Even this week, the Terrorist Investigation Department arrested an associate of the main jihadist suicide bomber who had planned the Easter Sunday attacks. Caught in a surburb in Colombo, this worker in a garment factory had been trained in suicide attacks. So if the threat has been so comprehensively controlled as parroted by the President and the Prime Minister in a rare moment of agreeing together on this while scorchingly disagreeing on almost everything else, how is it that such arrests still occur, regularly as it were?
Vapid claims encouraging political madness
The fact remains that such arrests will now always be a part of daily life in this country. We need to credit law enforcement agencies for ceaseless monitoring and vigilance as they are allowed to work without the political staying of their hands. Even so, the possibility, (or as the former Army Commander might prefer to say, the probability), of an attacker escaping the law enforcement net to wreak havoc is the high and awful price that we will pay for the failure of our petty and peevishly quarreling politicians. This has catapulted Sri Lanka into communal madness which, ironically enough, is far worse than what existed a decade ago
This madness has gone to the extent that school children have been penalised by rabid teachers for bringing stationery to school on the basis that these school books are published by a business conglomerate having businessmen of Muslim ethnicity. The law enforcement process itself has been subverted to the extent that a doctor of Muslim ethnicity is still in remand on suspicion of forced sterilizations of Sinhala women and for presumed illegal assets even though the Criminal Investigations Department has stated on record that no evidence has been found of any criminal act.
And the vapid utterances of government parliamentarians only act as a powerful impetus to encourage these ill-favored winds of change. This week’s parliamentary debate on the failure of the Government to prevent the Easter Sunday attacks was a case in point. The lack of gravity with which Sri Lanka’s politicians treated the debate was palpable. One Minister was heard to exclaim vehemently that his Government should not be ‘attacked’ on the unfounded allegation that it knew of the attacks in advance and yet prevented it from happening.
Token concessions of ‘collective responsibility’
But this is scarcely a matter to be talked of with any appreciable measure of indignation. The Government’s crime lies in allowing jihadist cells to operate to the extent that they were able to grow powerful enough and audacious enough to carry out the Easter Sunday attacks. This is as bad as deliberately allowing these attacks to take place. One is indistinguishable from the other. In effect, this is a distinction without a difference. The end result, which is the devastation of the country and the virtually irreparable reversing of a steadily strengthening pro-liberties movement which grew out of the excesses of the Rajapaksa-era, is the same.
That cannot be dismissed by a token concession that the Prime Minister and his Ministers take ‘collective responsibility’ for the Easter Sunday atrocity. Neither can it be explained by the fact that the Prime Minister and the State Minister of Defence had been excluded from national security council meetings, which the nation knew about only aftee the event. Certainly the responsibility of President Maithripala Sirisena as Minister of Defence in allowing his personal power agenda to obscure national security priorities is enormous.
Again here, this responsibility has been discarded with scarcely a blink as the President preoccupies himself with other distractions, including purportedly signing death warrants of convicted drug smugglers. As pointed out last week in these column spaces, the arrest of the Inspector General of Police, (who meanwhile farcically continues in that post), along with the former Secretary of Defence does not deflect attention from the political failures of the President and the Prime Minister in any sense whatsoever.
Frivolous treatment of national security
Indeed, the frivolous treatment of Sri Lanka’s security by a bickering coalition alliance continues without a pause. At times, the claim that ‘all is now well’ is so flamboyant that it is almost as if the Government feels that it deserves accolades for its post-Easter Sunday performance rather than its duty to solemnly and with appropriate gravity, acknowledge the enormous failure of joint leadership in allowing this atrocity to happen on Sri Lanka’s soil.
Meanwhile former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is happily rubbing his hands together in the expectation of the return to power of himself, his extended family and his corrupt cronies, exceeeds even his customary ebullience when he claims that, during his time, the Sri Lankan people were not scared when bombs went off and that ordinary life was not disrupted unlike now. These remarks would be funny if they did not betray the naked power hungry thrust of the maker.
Sri Lanka is now at an exceedingly dangerous juncture indeed.
– Sunday Times
Even if all funds are channelled legally and through proper agencies in the country, the fact that the lion share of it is coming from Saudi Arabia leaves room for suspecting that the university would ultimately function as an intellectual centre for spreading Wahhabi ideology. To make the situation worse, the architecture of buildings and the appearance of the front yard planted with date palms add an Arab flavour
About three years ago when passing through Punanai along the arterial road between Habarana and Batticaloa, I noticed a few brick structures appearing in a parched land amid thick shrubs and woody trees. It was almost a desolate spot where I could not see any people living close by. On inquiring from friends, I understood that it was a Saudi-funded huge madrasa built by one Muslim parliamentarian and minister from the Batticaloa District.
My immediate reaction was to question firstly, the need for such a madrasa and that too in a remote place like Punanai where there is no Muslim catchment population, and secondly, the implications of Saudi funding for a madrasa in Sri Lanka especially at a time when Wahhabism, the Saudi Arabian ultraconservative ideology, was falling under the spotlight of international critics who were trying to link that ideology with Islamist extremism. I warned my friends that the project would face immense difficulties on completion at least from nationalist Buddhists. That is exactly what is happening now.
Later on, when reading through an opinion piece by Helum Bandara in Daily Mirror (18 January 2018), it dawned that it was going to be a ‘fully fledged state-of-the art university approved by the University Grants Commission (UGC)’. Well, if Sri Lanka could have private hospitals and private schools why not private universities? However, after witnessing the controversy over SAITM, critical questions once again arose particularly in relation to the difference that this university was going to make to the 15 existing ones managed by UGC, the control over its management, and how profitable was it going to be to avoid becoming a white elephant.
From information collected from print media and television interviews it appears that this university is going to be one controlled by members of the founder’s family, funded almost totally by Arab sources, while offering some advanced scientific and technical courses within an Islamic ambience.
The financial viability of this institution would obviously depend on fees charged from students, size of enrolment and cost of quality academic staff and administration. The figure Rs. 150,000 per semester per student as mentioned in the article referred to would obviously shut out majority of local students but would attract plenty of foreigners. However, that attraction would depend on the quality of teaching staff and standard and novelty of courses offered, both of which should be internationally competitive.
On the contrary, if foreign demand falls and if fees were to reduce to cater to local demand, quality of education offered would have to be compromised, which ultimately would jeopardise the financial viability of the project. One is not sure whether any marketing projections were carried out before venturing blindly into the area of higher studies. Running a private school is different from running a quality private university.
Sources of funding
The other issue is about the sources of funding. Whether through interest-free loans or outright donations, all funds would certainly have some strings attached to them. What do these lenders and donors expect in return? This is where suspicion arises regarding the ultimate objective of this university. Even if all funds are channelled legally and through proper agencies in the country, the fact that the lion share of it is coming from Saudi Arabia leaves room for suspecting that the university would ultimately function as an intellectual centre for spreading Wahhabi ideology. To make the situation worse, the architecture of buildings and the appearance of the front yard planted with date palms add an Arab flavour.
This project is another instance where a Muslim leader has been blinded by his political clout and personal avarice to ignore ground realities. A university funded by Arab money with at least one faculty or department to teach Islamic sharia and cultural studies, which would be staffed by Arab scholars at least partially, would certainly be viewed by others as a conduit for religious propaganda. The founder obviously has bitten more than what he could chew. Not much consultancy with academics and Muslim intellectuals seems to have gone into the academic planning of this university.
Historically, Muslim leaders in this country had built and successfully managed educational institutions without provoking envy and suspicion from others. One could pick two instances where Muslim leaders in the past had built institutions of quality and prestige without inviting criticism from other communities. One was the establishment of Colombo Zahira College and the other was Naleemiya Institute.
The first was started at a time when there was a cultural awakening in the country where every community was trying to open educational institutions within its own religious and cultural ethos. Thus, when Muslims understood the national context and embarked on the Zahira project they received not the anger but blessing from other community leaders. Zahira went on to produce hundreds of Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim scholars, many of whom were of poor economic background but went on to serve the country with patriotism and dedication while remembering with pride their debt to Zahira.
The second, Naleemiya Institute, although of a different genre and catering entirely to the needs of Muslims, was the brainchild of one patriotic local Muslim philanthropist, popularly known as Naleem Hajiar, whose generosity extended even to the government of the country, at a time when the nation as a whole was in dire straits to finance its imports.
There was no foreign donation or loan involved in that project, and there was no grumbling from any community when it was opened. Instead, the advice of Naleemiya’s founder was eagerly sought by the then socialist finance minister Dr. N.M. Perera, who ultimately became an admirer of the entrepreneurial spirit and patriotism of that founder. Naleem Hajiar, a businessman when entered the field of education knew his limitations, but was never reluctant to entertain with enthusiasm advice from prominent educationists of that time like A.M.A. Azeez and Bdiuddin Mahmud.
These were two instances where Muslim leaders worked within the national ethos while serving their own community. More importantly, both Zahira and Naleemiya, unlike the aborted Punanai University, were not institutions intended to make private profit. In a sense, those two icons bear silent testimony to the quality of leadership which Muslims were able to produce in the past.
The question now is what should be done with this aborted project? Its founder argues that the university cannot be taken over by the Government legally. With reasonable compensation the Government should be able to acquire it and utilise the facilities and preferably for educational purposes.
Why not turn it into an international institute of research and postgraduate studies in agricultural and veterinary sciences? The land is part of the Mahaveli Development Scheme and the area is suitable for agriculture and cattle farming. Hence, a research centre in that field will be apt. It can be an entirely independent institution or part of another existing university.
Having said that, there is still a need for an ‘Islamic’ university of a different type. Why not this aborted project be converted to such an institution in Sri Lanka? There had been a spurt of Islamic universities operating in various parts of the Muslim world. These universities are products of a petro-dollar era. Even though they are called Islamic there is hardly any difference between them and other non-Islamic universities particularly in respect of curricula taught and courses offered, except may be in the coverage of Arabic and Islamic studies.
Even in those studies they are unable break the hold of Islamic orthodoxy. Yet, not one of them so far had been able to attain a place within the top 100 universities in the world. Why therefore an ‘Islamic’ university and that too in Sri Lanka?
I want to refer to the thoughts of a Muslim internationalist, activist, thinker and intellectual, Eqbal Ahmad (1933/4-1999), whose proposed Khaldun University, named after Abdul-Rahman Ibn Khaldun, a 14th century historian and sociologist, and a secular and scientific figure, received international support from Muslim intellectuals who even wanted to work for this secular institution pro bono. After showing some initial enthusiasm and support by the Government of Pakistan under Benazir Bhuto, she and the forces of business and religious conservatism jointly sabotaged that project. I concur with his view that, “the Muslim people, or for that matter any people in the world, will not make a passage from a pre-industrial traditional culture and economy to a modern culture and economy without finding a linkage within finding forms and relationships that are congruent between modernity and inherited traditions … My argument is that we will not be able to fight fundamentalism until we produce a modern progressive secular educated class of people who know the traditions and take the best of it” (Eqbal Ahmad, Confronting Empire, Interviews with David Barsamian, Cambridge, Massachusetts: South End Press, 2000, p.22. Emphasis added).
A modern Muslim university to realise this vision of Eqbal somewhere in the world is an absolute need of our time. It will be a sound first step to reform even the madrasas eventually. However, given the prevailing climate of ultra-conservative Wahhabi hold on educational institutions, the very forces that sabotaged Khaldun University in Pakistan would do the same in any Muslim country. That is why had the politician and minister of the aborted Punanai project taken the bold step to establish from the outset a secular university based on Islamic rational tradition, he would have at least garnered support from intellectuals around the world to counter the criticisms that he is facing now.
Sri Lanka could have pioneered this venture and contributed immensely to restart a tradition lost by Muslims centuries ago. Such a university would have won a unique status and earned an unparalleled prestige to this country in the Muslim world. Unfortunately, the entire Muslim political leadership in Sri Lanka lacks that progressive vision. The aborted university project was a golden opportunity squandered by abuse of political power, subservience to Wahhabism and hunger for profit.
(The writer is attached to the School of Business and Governance, Murdoch University, Western Australia.)