- Created on 28 July 2014
The disruption of two media training programmes for Tamil journalists from the former war zones of the North in quick order makes it appear that they have become a target for suppression. In the space of less than six weeks there have been at least two attempts to prevent Tamil journalists from interacting with the larger civil society, to share their experiences and to benefit from the latest advances in methods of news investigation and dissemination. In this context the spokesman for the Free Media Movement has said, “A journalist needs to be trained so that they can do more for society. The government is stopping that from happening. What they want are journalists who will be their puppets.” He added that he had been threatened not to speak at the press conference convened to publicise the issue.
Six weeks ago, a workshop held in a hotel in Negombo on investigative reporting on the enforcement of the recommendations made by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), which had been organized for the Northern Tamil journalists by Transparency International’s Sri Lanka Branch was disrupted by a mob who threatened the safety of the participants in violation of their rights to freedom of assembly and expression. The police had only been prepared to offer safe passage to the participants to leave the hotel when the workshop was prematurely stopped. But they were not prepared to ensure that the workshop continued with their protection. The right to free assembly and speech are protected in the Constitution and the police are obliged to protect these rights of the people, but this did not happen.
- Created on 25 July 2014
A delegation from the National Peace Council met the Parliamentary Select Committee established to make recommendations for a political solution to the ethnic problem, on the 6th July at 3 pm. The delegation had met the Committee on an earlier occasion and had been asked to make further submissions and clarify certain matters in the written submissions which follow:
The 13th Amendment was passed in 1987. It provided for devolution of power to Provincial Councils and the subjects and functions devolved to the Provincial Councils were set out in the List.—
Executive Power- The 13th Amendment Article 154C says. “Executive power extending to the matters with respect to which a Provincial Council has power to make statutes shall be exercised by the Governor of the Province for which that Provincial Council is established, either directly or through Ministers of the Board of Ministers, or through officers subordinate to him, in accordance with Article 154F.
154F.(1) There shall be a Board of Ministers with the Chief Minister at the head and not more than four other Ministers to aid and advise the Governor of a Province in the exercise of his functions. The Governor shall in the exercise of his functions act in accordance with such advice except in so far as he is by or under the Constitution required to exercise his functions or any of them in his discretion”.
So there is provision for the Governor to exercise his Executive powers only on the advice of the Chief Minister and the Provincial Council except where under the Constitution he is required to act in his discretion.
But the Provincial Councils Act No 42 of 1987 has gone beyond the constitutional requirement and given the Governor wide powers to act in his discretion without consulting the Chief Minister. Under Art 15(2) the decisions of the Governor are also deemed to be the actions of the President.
But the Provincial Councils Act No 42 of 1987 departed from the principles under-lying the Constitutional Amendment.
All contracts entered to by the Governor in the exercise of his executive power are to be treated as contracts and executed in the name of the Provincial Council and any actions (legal) in relation to the exercise of such executive shall be brought by or against such Provincial Council( Art 16(1) and (2).
- Created on 21 July 2014
The government’s decision to invite three eminent international legal experts on human rights and war crimes to advise its Commission of Inquiry into Missing Persons was unexpected. It caught even senior cabinet ministers by surprise. The government had been steadfast in denying that serious human rights violations and war crimes took place from the commencement of such allegations more than five years ago. So far all inquiries conducted by the government have reaffirmed the government’s position that no such offenses took place. But as those have been a case of the military investigating the military and exonerating the military, the inquiries have not been internationally credible. The appointment of the independent UN investigative team to probe into these matters following the resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Council in March of this year appears to have jolted the government to reconsider its past position.
It is noteworthy that the UNHRC resolution of March 2014 had two operative parts to it. The first was to call for an investigation into the past by the Sri Lankan government that met with international standards. The second was to call for the Office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner to commence an independent investigation if the Sri Lankan government failed to carry out such an investigation itself. The appointment of the experts and expanding of the mandate of the Commission comes after the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights launched its own investigation on the war and appointed three experts, also of the highest international calibre and credibility, to oversee the probe. Now by appointing its own three member advisory panel, the government seems to be striving to operationalise the first part of the UNHRC resolution with the hope of diminishing the need for the implementation of the second part.
- Created on 14 July 2014
The ambiguously worded directive from the government’s NGO Secretariat responsible for monitoring non-governmental organizations, and which calls on NGOs to operate within their mandate, has led to strong criticism from a range of actors. These include the main opposition party, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka and the international community. The circular issued by the NGO Secretariat that was posted to more than 1400 NGOs throughout the country stated that “It has been revealed that certain Non Governmental Organisations conduct press conferences, workshops, trainings for journalists and press releases which is beyond their mandate. We reiterate that Non Governmental Organisations should prevent from such unauthorized activities with immediate effect.” This statement has led to the apprehension that NGOs as a sector, and as a whole, are being prohibited from conducting press conferences, training journalists and issuing press releases.
The circular put out by the NGO Secretariat is ambiguously worded. There are two ways in which it can be interpreted, and the common view taken by the NGOs and detractors of the government is that the government meant it for the worst. They have all been very critical of the government and voiced their condemnation of this attempt to restrict the freedom of expression and association of civil society groups. The Bar Association said the NGO Secretariat had violated the fundamental principles that governed a free and democratic society guaranteed by the constitution and it was completely militating against the rule of law principles of the country. “We observe that this attempt is nothing but yet another effort to silence the alternative public opinion of the society through inculcating fear psychosis among the section of the society enhancing the autocratic writ to a fearful height."
- Created on 07 July 2014
Addressing members of the national advisory committee to the Ministry of National Languages and Social Integration, Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara gave substance to the conviction of those who believe in the prospects for peaceful coexistence and harmony within Sri Lanka’s multi ethnic and multi religious society. He said that a majority of MPs of the government were opposed o the actions of the extremist groups that had engaged in anti-Muslim activities. The position of those MPs reflected the broad sentiments of their electorates. Minister Nanayakkara himself has been at the forefront of the government urging that strong action be taken to deter hate speech and extremist violence.
In this context the denial by Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa that he had a relationship with the BBS who stand accused of being the instigators of the violence is reflective of the widespread revulsion, both locally and internationally, over the spike in anti-Muslim violence that was seen in Aluthgama last month. This denial of any connection or involvement with the BBS is a welcome disassociation even if it comes late. The Defence spokesperson also refuted the allegation that the Defense Secretary, who is counted as among the most powerful in the country, has any special relationship with the BBS. He clarified that the Defense Secretary’s attendance at a public ceremony at which the BBS was also present, and which has generated much controversy, had nothing to do with any association with it.
- Created on 30 June 2014
It cannot be coincidental that hardly two weeks after the UN Human Rights Commissioner named the team that would investigate past human rights violations in Sri Lanka, the South African reconciliation initiative is also moving forward again. There was a pause for a while, but once again there is an appearance of movement. A high powered South African delegation headed by its Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to be in the country in the next few days. This was a visit that was expected to take place in June. But the visit was kept in the background, perhaps due to the protests raised against any South African or foreign mediation by nationalist coalition allies of the government. However, the appointment of the three experts to advice and guide the investigating team appears to have jolted the government to once again present the South African initiative as an alternative.
The main difference between the South African and UN initiatives is that they look at past with a different emphasis. The South African initiative is explicitly meant to promote reconciliation as its first priority. It combines an ascertaining of the truth about the past with the pursuit of political reform that is based on the lessons learnt from the past. On the other hand, the UN investigation has its main objective as being to ascertain the past so that those who have committed wrongs and serious crimes could be held accountable and brought to justice. The government’s concern is to protect those of its political and military leaderships who can face punishment by international tribunals. It is unacceptable to the government that those who led the war against the LTTE, which resulted in unexpected success, should be punished after having defeated the LTTE in battle.
- Created on 23 June 2014
The government appears to have woken up to the gravity of the problem posed by repeated attacks on the Muslim community. The police have announced that they will not permit meetings that cause ethnic or religious hatred to be generated. This new policy is to be welcomed to the degree that it is implemented in fact, and is not simply restricted to rhetoric. The police have become a scapegoat for permitting the BBS to hold the public rally that ended up in anti Muslim violence. However, there is a doubt whether the government will instruct the police to go ahead and arrest and prosecute those who instigated the violence and that this will be done on the ground. Although President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself has denounced those who engage in violence, the indications are that the momentum in favour of continuation of sporadic violence that keeps the country on tenterhooks will be hard to reverse in these circumstances.
The latest victim of anti Muslim carnage has been the large “No Limit” Department Store in Panadura, a town that is close to the scene of the large scale anti Muslim violence the previous week in Aluthgama. Although the preliminary police reports stated that it was possibly due to an electrical fault in the middle of the night, the timing of the fire suggests a connection with the previous violence. The Police Spokesman has been reported as saying that a group had asked all Muslim shops to be closed on Thursday but No Limit stores in Wellawatte and Dehiwela had remained open. Six persons, four in a three wheeler and two on a motorbicycle had met the managers at the two shops and demanded to know why they remained open while other shops were closed. This suggests a pre-planned operation, just as much as the way in which the Aluthgama violence took place suggests another pre-planned operation.
- Created on 16 June 2014
The international human rights community’s determination to pursue with its probe into alleged war crimes in the last phase of Sri Lanka’s civil war is widely seen within Sri Lanka as evidence of prejudice against the country. However, what has happened to the Sri Lankan government must not be seen in isolation from international developments. Some of Britain’s most senior military and political figures now face a war crimes inquiry as the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced it would make a “preliminary examination” into claims of “systemic” abuse by British forces in Iraq. More than 400 individual cases are cited, representing “thousands of allegations of mistreatment amounting to war crimes of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment." In a statement on its website, the ICC said “The new information received by the Office alleges the responsibility of officials of the United Kingdom for war crimes involving systematic detainee abuse in Iraq from 2003 until 2008.”
The British government has sought to downplay these allegations but at the same time affirmed that they will conduct their own investigations. The Attorney General has said that the government "completely rejects" claims that British forces had been responsible for systemic abuse and pledged to do "whatever is necessary" to show any allegations were being dealt with within the British justice system. He described British soldiers as ”some of the best in the world” and said “the vast majority” of the armed forces “operate to the highest standards, in line with both domestic and international law.” At the same time the Attorney General indicated willingness to cooperate with the ICC investigation saying “I will provide the office of the prosecutor with whatever is necessary to demonstrate that British justice is following its proper course."
- Created on 09 June 2014
In addition to being subjected to international scrutiny on account of war-time human rights violations Sri Lanka is now coming under international scrutiny for religious intolerance. Several incidents have highlighted the rise of Sinhalese nationalism that is at odds with the requirements of national reconciliation that includes the ethnic and religious minorities. These have included attacks on mosques and churches. The attacks on Christian churches have been going on for the past two decades at least. Most of these attacks have been against the new churches that are active in attempting religious conversion allegedly by unethical means of providing for the material needs of those whose conversion is sought. However, as most of these conversions take place at the local level and in relatively poor areas, they do not receive much media publicity. They are one of the unacknowledged problems concerning inter-community relations in the country.
- Created on 02 June 2014
The outcome of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been a let down to the Sri Lankan government. There was a general expectation in Sri Lanka, fueled by the optimism of government leaders that a new era of relations would open up when the President of Sri Lanka met the new Prime Minister of India. In particular there was the hope that the vexatious international pressure on the government to proceed with a political solution on the basis of the devolution of power to the Tamil-majority areas of the country would subside. But this did not happen. On the contrary, Prime Minister Modi was uncommonly blunt and precise in calling on his Sri Lankan counterpart to begin delivering on his oft-repeated promise to the international community of a political solution that goes beyond the 13th Amendment.