*Pillay issues deadline and hints of international probe
*Warning signal for governing party at PC polls
With Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
*SAARC and Commonwealth monitors’ reports to the international community
*Military under scrutiny in the North
With Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
*Top US diplomat for South Asia puts Sri Lanka on notice
*Sri Lanka slammed at UNHRC sessions in Geneva
With Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
*Calls to probe allegations levelled by Pillay
*Internal dissention growing within the govt
With Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
*Pillay receives reports from groups from every sector in the country
*Diplomatic community raises concern over Lanka with Pillay
With Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
*Opposition forms broad platform through SAMAGI Agreement
*Pillay’s report will decide the country’s fate
With Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
*New alliance to sign MoU on the 22nd
*Public meeting and protest in Weliweriya on the 27th
With Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
*Parallels drawn between Mavil Aru 2006 and Weliweriya 2013
*Force for Unity to take to the streets on Wednesday
With Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
“In the aftermath of war, much is being said about ‘uniting’ the country. We are also keen that this country be united, and that all its peoples live in harmony. As President Obama often says “E pluribus unum” – out of many, one. But one of the natural corollaries of unity is that when one is affected, all are affected. You cannot strike my brother, and not hurt me. You cannot take away my sister’s liberties, and not take mine. If we are all connected, we will all rejoice together, and suffer together.” – TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran in December 2011.
The Weliweriya incident on August 1st, from the protests that led to the date and afterwards, if nothing are a clear indication of the growing displeasure of the people towards an arrogant government.
The Mahinda Rajapaksa government’s decision to unleash the armed forces on unarmed civilians demanding for their basic right of drinking water has been met with much indignation across the country. The common feeling is that there is a continuous trend of brutal force being used on people demanding for their rights.
The killing of Roshen Chanaka from the free trade zone, the fisherman from Chilaw, killing of prisoners in Welikada and Vavuniya and now two students and a youth in Weliweriya has created an impression that a gun would be pointed at any person regardless of age, cast, creed or occupation if they dare to demand their rights. If one were to look at it with a morbid sense of humour, it could be said that the Rajapaksa government did not discriminate where people fighting for rights were concerned.
It is common knowledge that suppression is a common trait of dictatorial governments and the inability of the Rajapaksa government to acknowledge and address this issue would have an adverse impact not only the administration, but the country and its people.
However, following the Weliweriya incident, the government in usual fashion is now making statements that the military attack was provoked by the villagers demanding drinking water. Given the statements that have been made by members of the government including the head of state, there is no surprise in hearing that the villagers were shot and young ones killed due to their faults.
Among the hilarious comments we have heard are that the head of state who is also the head of the cabinet being unaware of the hike in electricity tariffs a few months back and the statements that there was an attempt by the Media Ministry to surreptitiously introduce a code of ethics to the media without the President’s knowledge.
Be that as it may, whatever comments are made by the government, the Rajapaksa administration would have to take the blame for the killings and the attacks on people including media personnel in Weliweriya.
The iron fist on the country’s media was witnessed following the attack with a handful of private media institutions providing proper coverage of the Weliweriya incident. The media has been suppressed to such an extent that they are unable to even do justice by their colleagues who were injured when attacked by the military in Weliweriya.
The President in his capacity as Defence Minister has so far failed to make any statement on the Weliweriya incident.
President Rajapaksa who usually intervenes and sometimes even personally speaks to parties affected by violence has thus far remained silent. Even the SLFP Gampaha District Leader, Minister Basil Rajapaksa has remained silent.
There has been no comment made on the reason for shooting at two school children and a youth who was on his way home after work. If as claimed by senior members of the country’s defence establishment, shots were fired at persons who were behaving in an unruly manner and attacked the security forces, it would interesting for the entire nation to know how three youths had attacked the security forces.
The military and police have so far been unable to show any evidence to back the claim that the innocent villagers had infact “shot” at the security forces.
Sri Lankan security forces are reported to be among the best disciplined in the region, they are known to carry out their orders without fail. If that be the case, there is then a necessity to safeguard our security forces personnel from destructive elements in key positions in the government issuing orders to the military.
The Rajapaksa government would at some point face the fall out of the Weliweriya incident mostly because of the impact it would have on the Sinhala Buddhists in the country.
The ruling party’s political existence is based on whipping up patriotic and Sinhala Buddhist sentiments. Hence, an attack on a Sinhala village would also be viewed as an action against the Sinhala Buddhists.
Ven. Siridhamma Thero from the Galoluwa Temple who commenced a fast unto death demanding a solution to the water problem faced by the people in Rathupaswela has vowed to continue with the struggle.
Last week he claimed that the people who demanded for water were given bullets and that he would give leadership to the villagers to continue with the struggle.
The Thero’s comment is an indication of the power placed upon Buddhist monks by Sinhala Buddhist organizations operating with state patronage.
Extremist governing party allies, the JHU and the NFF have thus far been tight lipped about the Weliweriya incident. Ministers Champika Ranawaka and Wimal Weerawansa have not come forward to endorse claims made by their governing party colleagues that the villagers had brought upon the attack on themselves through their provocative actions.
The duo have also not expressed support to the Sinhala Buddhist villagers who were attacked and killed in Weliweirya.
The patriotism promoted by the Rajapaksa government through the prominence given to Sinhala Buddhism has now boomeranged on the administration. It is now facing the wrath of the people in the Gampaha District who for the first time are now openly speaking of the plight of their brothers and sisters in the North during the period of the war.
Nevertheless, the Weliweriya incident on August 1st brings a feeling of déjà vu.
The parallel is the Mavil Aru battle in 2006 where villagers in the area were left without water when the LTTE shut the Mavil Aru anicut.
It was the closure of the Mavil Aru anicut and the water shortage faced by Sinhala farmers in the area that prompted the Rajapaksa government to engage in a humanitarian operation to first open the Mabil Aru sluice gates and to then continue to liberate the country from the LTTE.
Looking back at the final phase of the war, the entire operation was prompted by the closure of sluice gates of the Mavil Aru anicut and people demanding for water. It is this reason that defence analysts say that a key blunder made by the LLTE was to deprive people from their basic requirement water.
Interestingly, seven years later, the same government and military that fought to provide water to the people unleashed brute force on unarmed civilians who were also demanding for clean drinking water.
If parallels are drawn between the closure of the Mavil Aru sluice gates and the demand for drinking water by villagers in Rathupaswela, while the actions of the Rajapaksa government has been hailed for its actions in 2006, the latest situation in Rathupaswela has been the opposite.
Force for Unity
The continuous attacks carried out by the Rajapaksa administration has prompted the opposition political parties to form a broad alliance to fight for justice.
Force for Unity (Samagi Balawegaya) has been initiated by the main opposition UNP and is backed by other opposition political parties, civil society organizations, professional bodies and trade unions.
Under the theme of “enough is enough,” Force for Unity is to hold a massive rally in Colombo on Wednesday (14) at 2 pm.
This time around the organization has decided to hold a protest campaign that would be different to the usual protests organized by political parties and movements.
“We always organize protests where we hold placards and disperse after making a speech. That should not be the case. People have had enough and it is time that we all start showing our frustration,” UNP MP Harin Fernando said.
He explained that the government should not be allowed to think that the protest would only be one where people will hold placards and disperse.
Fernando’s sentiments were shared by all organizations that are to participate in the 14th rally.
Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe said that while the Weliweriya incident would form the basis of the campaign that is to be carried out by the Force for Unity it would be an inclusive campaign that would enable representatives from all sectors to join the process.
However, the success of the campaign would be further deepened if the JVP also joins in the campaign. Political differences apart, the greater need now is for all forces to join to win democracy and rights.
The JVP speaking of its decisions to form an alliance with the SLFP to form a probationary government and later the UPFA said that it was based on the need to defeat the greater menace faced by the country in the form of terrorism.
The party’s decision to form the UPFA and support President Rajapaksa assume office has nevertheless been successful since the LTTE was defeated and the war ended.
However, now the issue is get the country back on track by putting in place democracy, good governance and human rights.
The JVP would therefore have to now think again about its stances, especially where the current issues are concerned.
The timing of the Weliweriya incident would also pose a problem for the Rajapaksa government at the September UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) sessions in Geneva and at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo this November.
It is learnt that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay who is expected to arrive in Sri Lanka on August 25 is expected to also probe the latest incident in Weliweriya.
Pillay is to present a report on her visit to Sri Lanka and the progress made in the country at the September sessions and the Rajapaksa government has so far failed to make any solid progress despite several attempts to implement some ad hoc decisions in a bid to please High Commissioner.
As for the Commonwealth Secretariat, the actions of the Rajapaksa government have undoubtedly added to the woes of the Commonwealth officials who are trying very hard to remain positive about holding the CHOGM in Colombo.
The United States meanwhile has expressed its concern over the shooting incident in Sri Lanka that resulted in the death of three people, and communicated its concerns to the Rajapaksa Government.
“We are concerned by recent violent incidents, including shootings in Weliweriya, Sri Lanka. We are particularly concerned by reports that people seeking refuge in a Catholic church were attacked there, there is never any excuse for violence attack particularly in a house of worship,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki has been quoted in the media.
The United States offers its condolences to the family of the deceased and injured and continue to urge all sides to exercise restraint and respect right to people protest, she has said.
“We communicated our concerns as well to the Government of Sri Lanka,” Psaki has said in response to a question on the killing of three unarmed civilians by the Sri Lankan army.
It seems that the Rajapaksa government that successfully wiped out LTTE terrorism from the country should now consciously turn the searchlight inward.
“Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it,” said Naom Chomsky, perhaps a quote for President Rajapaksa and his government to consider for the sake of a nation.
*Govt’s lack of progress under scrutiny
*Weliweriya incident a setback in Rajapaksas’ plan
With Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
“…we cannot address terrorism of the weak against the powerful without also confronting the unmentionable but far more extreme terrorism of the powerful against the weak”
- Noam Chomsky
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s latest tactic of trying to checkmate the public suffered a great setback following the mayhem in Weliweriya, Gampaha last Thursday. The video footage of the incident that has been uploaded on to many websites (unedited) will not stand well for a military that is being accused by the international community of violating human rights during the period of the war.
Until the Weliweriya incident where the attack by military personnel resulted in the death of a villager demanding clean drinking water, the Rajapaksa government was engaged in its latest strategy of scoring points through blind side manoeuvres.
The strategy this time around was a little difficult to gauge given the surreptitious manner in which it was implemented.
However, it was the government’s move to allow its former North Western Provincial Councillor Sarath Kumara, who was arrested after he demanded that a teacher kneels because she reprimanded his daughter, to submit his nomination papers and later denying him a slot in the nominations list that the Rajapaksa government’s strategy came out in the open.
The strategy was to create an environment for people to object and agitate and to then give in to the public demand creating an impression of a government that heeded the people’s voice.
The reason to focus on the latest Rajapaksa manoeuvre – given the public statement made by the President that he has shut all doors for opposition MPs to cross over to the government – is the rumour doing the rounds that there was a likelihood of the Northern Provincial Council elections not being held in September.
Many opposition politicians and members of the diplomatic corps in Colombo have been expressing sentiments to the effect that the Rajapaksas were unlikely to hold the Northern Provincial Council election given the discussion on the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and the allocation of powers to the provinces.
President Rajapaksa on Tuesday said his stance on the issue of distribution of police and land powers to Provincial Councils (PC) has not changed and reiterated that those powers will remain with the government.
He made this comment during the monthly breakfast meeting with the heads of electronic and print media at Temple Trees.
The President said police and land powers were not implemented since the introduction of the Provincial Council system to the country and that he doesn’t consider that the issue should be given special attention now.
Nevertheless, it is widely believed that the Rajapaksa government would manipulate one of its allies agitating for the abolition of the 13th Amendment and the Provincial Council system in the country to initiate legal action against the Provincial Councils system and the Northern PC poll. The court case is expected to temporarily halt the holding of the Northern Provincial Council election.
Be that as it may, harbouring such a notion and making public comments to that effect under the current context would mean playing into the Rajapaksas’ hands.
The reality is that in order to save face at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions next month and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo this November, the Rajapaksa administration would have to stage manage certain scenarios in order to boost its flailing image.
In the event one of its extremist allies resorts to legal action against the 13th Amendment and the Provincial Council system, the government would immediately receive the opportunity of portraying an image of an administration that upholds democratic principles by manipulating the judiciary to issue a verdict nullifying the petition. The government would then go ahead with the Provincial Council elections.
Such a situation would be a win-win situation for the government, its communalist allies and the judiciary as well.
Therefore the propagation of the sentiment that the Rajapaksa government might not hold the Northern Provincial Council election would actually be a push for the latest Madamulana strategy.
The Rajapaksa government has now set its focus on the CHOGM and it main goal is to ensure that the summit will proceed in Colombo at any cost without any major hiccups.
The administration has suddenly sprung into action during the past few weeks and some progress has been made in several controversial murders that took place during the period of the war like the murder of five university students in Trincomalee and that of 17 aid workers in Muttur.
The President has also ordered a Presidential commission to probe the disappearances that have taken place during the period of the war.
The Elections Commissioner has also announced the date for the Provincial Council election as September 21st.
The Rajapaksa government, it is evident, is now trying to address issues that could be raised by the international community in the run up to CHOGM.
Even the parliamentary select committee (PSC) that was appointed to decide on the amendments to the 13th Amendment is now buying time to ensure that a final decision would not be announced until after the Provincial Council polls.
The PSC that was appointed last month has met twice so far and is scheduled to meet on Wednesday (7).
The PSC has already decided to allocate more time for the public to express their views on proposed amendments.
The PSC’s delaying tactic has nevertheless irked some of the governing party allies in the committee that consists only of government members. The JHU and NFF have said that they will withdraw from the PSC if the committee delays its proceedings.
The Rajapaksa government will ignore these comments at least until November.
However, the actions of the military in the North and the conduct of pre-election campaigning in the North will pose a challenge to the government.
The TNA last week said that some of its candidates contesting for the Northern Provincial Council elections were intimidated by military personnel.
The TNA has said the Army had intimidated two candidates soon after they had filed their nominations.
TNA Spokesman Parliamentarian Suresh Premachandran has alleged that military personnel had gone to the residences of S. Sayanthan, a TNA candidate from Chavakachcheri, and Ananthi Sasitharan, the wife of the LTTE’s former Trincomalee political wing leader, Elilan, and had questioned them on their political activities.
Premachandran said that this is a violation of election laws.
He has pointed out that the President had promised TNA Leader, R. Sampanthan, that he would ensure free and fair polls without interference by military personnel in the Northern Province.
According to Premachandran, the matter has been brought to the notice of the Commissioner of Elections.
The TNA has also called on the Elections Commissioner to ensure that the military in the North will be confined to barracks during the period of the election.
Military under fire
The Rajapaksa government would however have to be mindful of exercising restraint in soliciting the services of the military. Actions of the military were subjected to scrutiny on several occasions last week.
Apart from the incident reported by the TNA on nominations day, the key incident that made headlines in the local and foreign media is the military rampage in Weliweriya, Gampaha that killed a youth and injured many villagers who during the past few days were protesting demanding clean drinking water.
Video footage of the incident showed the shock of the villagers to be subjected to an attack by persons whom they have revered until then, as war heroes.
Among the injured were media personnel as well.
Journalists who were also attacked by the military personnel were receiving medical treatment even on Friday.
Journalists and camera crew who were covering the protest were prevented from covering the clash between the villagers and the security forces by masked military personnel.
Photojournalist of the Ada newspaper Chanuka Kulasekera was assaulted and his camera equipment was damaged when he was attacked by the military personnel. Kulasekera was admitted to the Gampaha hospital for treatment.
Also, Lankadeepa journalist Deepa Adhikari who was also covering the protest in Weliweriya was injured when military men attacked the media.
She was assaulted by a soldier with a pole when she was on a roof trying to escape the onslaught. Despite her injuries, Adhikari was unable to receive any medical attention until around 9.30 p.m. She had to stay in hiding from 6 p.m. till around 9.30 p.m. to escape from the military attack. The camera of the Rivira provincial correspondent was also taken by the military and the photographs deleted.
The journalists who were attacked last evening claim that they were subjected to such harassment even when they had identified themselves as media personnel covering the event. The military personnel have at the time referred to the media personnel as “dogs in the media”.
Media organizations have condemned the attack and have called for immediate action by the authorities.
The Army meanwhile on Friday announced that an investigation has been launched into the clashes at Weliweriya.
Army Commander Lieutenant General Daya Ratnayake reportedly appointed a special board of inquiry headed by Major General Jagath Dias to investigate the Army’s role in the clashes.
Army spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasuriya had said that most soldiers placed at Weliweriya have been withdrawn and only a few still remain there.
“They are there to assist the Police and we expect them to be removed from there soon. While assisting the Police with its investigations the Army is conducting its own internal investigation,” he had said.
Progress Vs. CHOGM
Last week’s incidents undoubtedly added many black marks to the Rajapaksa government’s score card, which it is desperately trying to keep clean.
The attempt to show progress in the fields of human rights and freedom of expression were diminished with the attacks on the media and innocent, unarmed villagers.
Furthermore, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the Sri Lankan government of not making real progress in meting out justice in the case of the execution style slaying of 17 aid workers seven years ago, despite renewed international calls for action.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the New York based human rights watch dog said the Sri Lankan government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, due to increasing international pressure, last month directed state lawyers and investigators to review the case and prepare a comprehensive list of witnesses but no real progress has been made yet in bringing the culprits to justice.
The HR organization says the government response was one of several recent moves to adopt previously disregarded recommendations by its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in 2011, which was created following the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009.
“The Rajapaksa government is good at throwing bones to the international community, but not at taking serious measures to find and punish those responsible for serious abuses,” said James Ross, Legal and Policy Director at Human Rights Watch. “If the families of 17 aid workers can’t get justice for their loss, it’s hard to be hopeful for anyone else,” Ross said in the statement.
The HRW called on the countries participating in the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Colombo in November to publicly express concern about the government’s minimal response to these and other serious abuses. “Governments seeking justice for the victims of atrocities during Sri Lanka’s long armed conflict should publicly demand an international inquiry,” Ross said. He said given Sri Lanka’s history of inaction on even prominent cases with strong evidence demonstrates the need for concerted international action.
*Pillay’s impending visit pushes MR govt into action
*SLFP seniors displeased with Jayasekera’s defection
With Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
*No solution 30 years after Black July
*JVP’s solution to the national question to be released
With Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
“Every government must consider the security of the country. That is just part of the responsibilities of any government. But true security can only come out of unity within a country where there are so many ethnic nationalities.” – Aung San Suu Kyi
Tuesday (23) will mark three decades since the 1983 Black July that resulted in a long drawn bloody battle between brothers of one nation. As the country marks the 30th anniversary of the pogrom in 1983 it is unfortunate that successive governments that ruled the country since have been unable to satisfactorily address the national issue.
The seeds of hatred that were planted in 1983 have since been nurtured by the string of rulers in some way to become a fully fledges with roots that are now deep seated in society.
“I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna people... now we cannot think of them, not about their lives or their opinion... the more you put pressure in the north, the happier the Sinhala people will be here... Really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy,” President J.R. Jayewardene was quoted as saying in the Daily Telegraph in July 1983.
Jayewardene’s statement 30 years ago is indicative of the apathy of the then administration to effectively address the grievances of an ethnic group in the country.
Although the country has witnessed policies of UNP and SLFP led governments since 1983, neither one of the parties have successfully resolved the national question.
The Mahinda Rajapaksa government that has had the best opportunity at reconciliation following the end of the war in 2009 has managed to squander the prospect. It is somewhat baffling to understand how an administration that has had a golden opportunity to make right what was done wrong several decades ago, manages to simply let go of it.
The Rajapaksa government instead of initiating a genuine reconciliation process in post war Sri Lanka is now turning a blind eye at the religious extremism that seems to be raising its ugly head from time to time in various parts of the country.
Religious and ethnic extremist in the country is now a simmering pot that is waiting to explode and most likely at the face of the Rajapaksa regime.
However, the 30th anniversary of the 1983 Black July would undoubtedly have an impact on the Rajapaksa government and the country where the international community is concerned, especially due to the government’s failures in addressing the national issue.
Protest marches have been organized in countries with active Tamil Diaspora to mark Black July.
The British Tamils Forum on Friday announced that it would hold a mass rally opposite Downing Street from 4pm to 7pm on Tuesday (23) to mark the 30th anniversary of the Black July.
British Tamils Forum has encouraged all those who stand in support of the Tamils in Sri Lanka – who continue to face violence, theft of their lands, rape, disappearance and military subjugation – to attend this rally, to commemorate those who lost their lives and livelihoods 30 years ago and to call on the UK government to stop supporting the Sri Lankan state while its genocide of the Tamil people continues.
While the Rajapaksa government is grappling to implement the recommendations of its very own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), the nation is fast losing its chance at a long standing reconciliation process.
Adamant to change 13A
The Rajapaksa government’s resoluteness in amending the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that forms the basis of the devolution of power in the country is viewed by ethnic minorities and the international community, especially neighboring India as a stumbling block on Sri Lanka’s path to reconciliation.
An article published in The Hindu newspaper last week quoting President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s envoy to India, Minister Basil Rajapaksa revealed the extent to which absence of trust remains an obstacle to ethnic reconciliation in the country.
Basil has told The Hindu that Sri Lanka would never risk a provincial government forming its own “army” through devolved police powers.
Referring to the Tamil National Army — a militant outfit raised by the beleaguered 1988 EPRLF government in the North-Eastern Province in a futile attempt to protect itself against the LTTE that had rejected the Amendment and boycotted the election — he has said there was no ruling out that a future Northern provincial government would not do the same: “If (the NPC) form another army, can we afford another war now?”
He has dismissed arguments that armed struggle by the Tamils was now a thing of the past, and that the 13th Amendment in any case gave the President overriding powers over the province.
Well ahead of the elections, the minister was already certain that a TNA government in the North would be on collision course with the central government.
The Rajapaksa government, he has said, had given the Tamil people, “everything” — roads, railways, water, electricity, schools and hospitals. With nothing left to promise, the minister said, a TNA provincial government would whip up other “emotional issues” that neither it nor the government would be able to deliver.
Giving a new twist to the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987, which resulted in the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, Basil has said devolving police powers would actually amount to going against Accord.
He has pointed to section 2.10 of the Accord which calls for the government to use the “same organizations and mechanisms” for law enforcement and security in the Northern and Eastern provinces as in the rest of the country, saying this meant that there could not be more than one police force for the whole country.
“It is very clear in the Accord. It says police powers have to be with one police, there is no separate mechanism. So you can’t have a separate police force in the provinces,” Basil has said.
Meanwhile, in a new development in relation to the land issues in the North, Land and Land Development Minister Janaka Bandara Tennakoon has said the Ministry would make the final decision on the lands in the Northern and Eastern Provinces before the end of 2014.
Tennakoon has said the final decision on 250,000 plots of land would be made according to the recommendations of the LLRC.
He has observed that the government has decided to acquire 6,387 acres of land in the North under the programme to expand the Palaly airport and the Kankasanthurai Harbor.
However, the Minister has said that the landowners would be compensated and alternative lands would be provided. An official evaluation of the land to be taken will be carried out and the owner will be compensated accordingly, the Minister has said.
According to Tennakoon, the government could acquire private lands for development or national security purposes, but proper compensation and alternative lands should be provided to the landowners.
Basil’s and Tennakoon’s comments clearly indicate the level of commitment of the Rajapaksa government to renege the Indo-Lanka Accord signed in 1987.
The Rajapaksa government despite receiving threats of severe consequences by the Indian government is sending out clear signals that changes to the 13th Amendment were imminent.
The President who promised 13A Plus is now working towards a 13A Minus situation with the help of a parliamentary select committee (PSC) comprising only of governing party members.
However, all changes are to come into effect after the September sessions of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions and President secures the chair of the Commonwealth this November.
Such is the commitment of the Rajapaksa government towards achieving a lasting solution to the national question.
With the Rajapaksa government engaged in internal power battles and self-glorifications, the JVP is to release this week a set of proposals aimed at solving the long-standing national question.
A team of JVP leaders headed by party leader Somawansa Amerasinghe has now finalized the document and it is to be launched at a ceremony at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI) on Wednesday (24) morning.
The JVP said it is presenting the series of proposals as a means to end the semi-military administration that exists in the North, to solve immediately the social and economic issues of those people and as an approach for the solution of the national question.
Party sources said that the proposal would be used during its campaign for the Northern Provincial Council election.
“The Rajapaksa government’s commitment to national reconciliation is limited to its survival tactics. When it sees a threat to its existence, the government is prepared to let go of any reconciliation process,” a senior JVP member said.
The JVP last week alleged that the country’s politics and the economy are decided on the whims and fancies of India and India is pressuring Sri Lankan government to adopt its agenda on governing the country.
JVP Propaganda Secretary and parliamentarian Vijitha Herath said the “government is dancing to the tune played by India.”
He noted that recently, political partners of the ruling party carried out a campaign that land and police powers in the 13th Amendment to the Constitution should be abolished before holding the elections for the Northern Provincial Council and the government appointed a PSC to pass the required legislature.
However, following the visit to New Delhi by Minister Basil Rajapaksa and the visit of India’s National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon to Colombo, the government has put off the issue.
According to Herath, when the PSC was appointed it was stated that a report would be presented within two weeks.
However, it has been put off by six months now, he said, explaining that the report would now be available only after the elections for the Northern PC in September and Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November have been held.
The MP accused the President Mahinda Rajapaksa of bowing to the pressure to get the CHOGM chairmanship.
Be that as it may, the TNA has reportedly briefed India on the latest developments in the run up to the Northern Provincial Council elections.
A meeting had taken place between TNA General Secretary, parliamentarian Mavai Senathirajah and the Indian Consul General in Jaffna Shri V. Mahalingam.
While details of the discussion have not been made public it is understood the Indian official was briefed on the selection of former Supreme Court judge C V Wigneswaran as the TNA Chief Ministerial candidate for the North.
Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) has called for the implementation of the 13th Amendment.
A visiting EU delegation has also said it hoped the Sri Lankan government fully implements the LLRC recommendations.
Jean Lambert, Chair of the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with the Countries of South Asia, has observed that the EU is concerned over the army involvement in civilian activities in the North.
Lambert has said she hopes the elections in the North will be free and fair.
“It is important too (elections) because it reflects the statements made by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and the Government of Sri Lanka with regard to implementing the 13th Amendment. The Northern provincial council election represents the fulfillment of those promises,” she has observed.
Lambert has said that on the political front there is still a lot Sri Lanka need to do and she also noted that land issues in the north, disappearances and accountability must be addressed.
The EU, had earlier this year, said it wants an independent investigation and evaluation into the final years of the war in Sri Lanka, in addition to the national inquiries.
The EU had said it remains concerned about reports of threats and attacks on human rights defenders and journalists in Sri Lanka, and encouraged authorities to hold those responsible accountable.
The European Parliament had also passed a resolution ahead of the UNHRC session in Geneva in March, re-emphasizing the need for accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.
The EU parliamentary delegation also visited the North during their visit to the country. However, Lambert has also noted that EU poll observers would not be present to monitor the Northern Provincial Council election.
No to India
However, opposition political parties have requested the Elections Commissioner to invite foreign poll observers to monitor the Northern elections.
Interestingly, neighboring India, which has shown great interest in the holding of provincial council elections in the North, would not be asked to send poll observers during the September elections.
Elections Commissioner has last week assured political party secretaries that foreign poll observers would be invited to observe the forthcoming provincial council election, but they would not be from countries that voted against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC in March this year.
According to Election Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya, monitors from India will not be invited since the country voted in favor of the resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC.
He has said 22 observers have been invited from the Association of Asian Election Authority.
However, the Commissioner’s comment would mean that observers from Argentina, Austria, Benin, Brazil, Costa Rica, Estonia, Germany, Guatemala, Ireland, Italy, Peru, Monte Grave, Poland, Moldova, Rumania, Sierra Leone, Spain, South Korea, Switzerland and America, would not be invited as they had cast their votes against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC in Geneva last March.
Nevertheless, all political parties are now in the process of preparing their nominations lists for the Northern, Central and North Western Provincial Councils.
*India’s firm message shakes Rajapaksa govt
*JVP to release proposals on national issue on the 24th
*Rajapaksa govt trying to balance India ahead of UNHRC session and CHOGM
*JHU, NFF silent after Northern PC poll proclamation
With Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
*Rift within govt over 13A comes out
*MR irked by “Mahinda Saranam Gatchcami”
With Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
“All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.” - Thomas Jefferson
The 13th Amendment drama enacted by the Mahinda Rajapaksa government was in full swing last week coalition members of the governing party openly criticizing each other on their stances on the move to amend the controversial piece of legislation.
The discussion over the 13th Amendment has resulted in many other issues losing its due focus.
A key issue that missed its due focus was the sudden transfer of the Matale Magistrate who was hearing the case on the Matale mass grave that saw the exhumation of 154 skeletal remains.
Forensic inquiries found the skeletal remains to be between the period of 1986 and 1990, during the period of the JVP insurgency.
The Matale Magistrate was hailed for her swift action in issuing directives to expedite the inquiry and on two occasions even faulted the CID for its failure to comply with the necessary procedures in conducting an investigation of such a nature.
When the case was being heard, the JVP in fact pointed out that given the Matale Magistrate’s commitment to delivering justice to the dead and the families who had lost their loved ones, would eventually result in a sudden transfer due to the involvement of government members in the mass grave saga.
The Magistrate’s transfer follows the transfer of the Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) of the Matale Hospital, Dr. Ajith Jayasena.
Be that as it may, in the run up to President Rajapaksa’s visit to Tanzania, which is also a country heavily dependent on Chinese aid, the 13th Amendment drama reached its peak.
Several governing party allies held media briefings through out last week making statements in support and against the proposed amendments to the 13th Amendment.
President Rajapaksa who permitted the drama a few weeks back realized last week that the situation has turned out to be a case of spitting with their heads turned.
Finally, the President had to summon a meeting of the SLFP led by him and asked them not to create any internal dissention.
Explaining the proposed amendments to the 13th Amendment, Rajapaksa took a firm stance with his party men saying they were free to leave the government if they did not agree.
He warned the SLFPers not to try to create a rebellion within the government, but to leave if they did not wish to be in it.
Many senior SLFPers were not too pleased with President Rajapaksa’s tone.
The SLFP decided to support the 13th Amendment to the Constitution with the introduction of suitable revisions to the provincial council system established under the Amendment.
SLFP Treasurer, Minister Dullas Alahapperuma said that it is the stance of the party to revise the 13th Amendment to address the irregularities in the legislature in order to further strengthen the unitary status of the country.
The party has also decided that it is necessary to hold elections for the Northern Provincial Council as scheduled.
However, Fisheries Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, who has been speaking against moves to amend the 13th Amendment, has said at the meeting that he was supportive of the President and the government but felt the latest move would not be in the best interest of the country.
Senaratne during a public meeting in Kudawella recently even went to the extent of saying that there was no need of ministerial portfolios to engage in politics.
“Portfolios are a bonus. We did not enter politics to go to parliament or hold portfolios. None of these things are needed if something beneficial to the country were to happen,” he said.
Taking swipe at the extremist elements in the country, Senaratne charged that most of these groups did not practice the Buddha dhamma. “All they do is to go to the President to get a Presidential directive to get anything. They do not need to say Buddhan Saranam Gatchchami anymore, they can say Mahindan Saranam Gatchchami,” Senaratne said.
Of course President Rajapaksa was not too amused to hear Senaratne’s words, but the seasoned politician in him also realized the truth in his Minister’s words.
Senaratne together with Ministers DEW Gunasekera, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Tissa Vitharana, Reginald Cooray and Chandrasiri Gajadheera addressed a media briefing in Colombo last Tuesday. At the briefing each of them expressed views in support of the 13th Amendment.
The ministers even went to the extent of saying that they were speaking on behalf of the silent majority in the government.
On Thursday, another governing party member, MEP Leader, Minister Dinesh Gunawardena also held a news conference. He spoke in favour of the government’s move to amend the 13th Amendment.
He noted that while the 13th Amendment has failed to provide the expected solution, there was also a threat to national security if the legislation was not amended.
Given the statements and counter statements of governing party members last week, it is evident that there was a clear split within the government over the 13th Amendment issue.
President Rajapaksa would now have to be wise in his approach to this entire drama given that the buck stops before him.
However, the hard-line maintained by the left party members in the government saw the President even bringing out reports that had been discarded for nearly four years.
Rajapaksa had last week told Ministers DEW Gunasekera and Vasudeva Nanayakkara during a meeting at Temple Trees that the discussion at the parliamentary select committee (PSC) on the proposed constitutional amendments would be based on the report submitted in 2009 by the All Party Representative Committee (APRC).
Nanayakkara had confirmed to media that the President had assured to base the PSC discussion on the APRC report.
He had said that all parties represented in parliament should participate in the PSC and that the committee should not be seen as a government body.
The APRC, headed by Minister Prof. Tissa Vitharana was formed in 2006 with the participation of all 14 political parties to find a political solution to the ethnic issue. The APRC submitted its report in 2009, but its recommendations were not implemented.
In fact, the report was completely forgotten by the Rajapaksa government after 2009. Instead, President Rajapaksa appointed the Lessons learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). However, the LLRC report continues to remain in the spotlight due to the pressure by the international community to implement its recommendations.
Nevertheless, Rajapaksa who by now has mastered the art of buying time has decided to once again pull the APRC report out of a dusty corner to please the left parties.
Head of the PSC, Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva meanwhile says that the Committee would commence sittings from July 9th. Sittings are expected to be concluded by September.
De Silva said the SPC would commence its sittings regardless of who participates or boycotts it.
TNA speaks out
The TNA on the other hand after returning to Sri Lanka from India is now engaged in holding discussions governing party allies who are opposed to making changes to the 13th Amendment.
The TNA is to meet leftist coalition partners of the Rajapaksa government to discuss the proposed revisions to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
TNA parliamentarian Mavai Senathirajah has said that the leftist parties have requested a meeting with the Tamil party and the alliance is considering the request.
The party is planning to schedule a date for the meeting, he has said.
Meanwhile, the SLMC and the TNA have had talks on the 13th Amendment to the constitution.
The talks were held last week with the participation of delegations led by TNA leader R. Sampanthan and SLMC leader Minister Rauf Hakeem.
The SLMC is now disgruntled after being left out of the list of governing party members to the PSC.
Hakeem has already informed the government that the party is displeased that its representatives were not included in the list of 19 governing party members.
The TNA and UNP have so far expressed views to the effect that the parties would not appoint any representatives to the PSC.
JVP in the limelight
The JVP last week officially announced that the party would not participate in the PSC.
Party Secretary Tilvin Silva said that instead of engaging in useless discussions like the PSC, the party would present a set of proposals that would address the issues faced by the Tamil speaking people in the North.
He poignantly noted that the government even after winning the war has failed to win the hearts of the Tamil people.
“The government has only managed to win the likes of Kumaran Pathmanathan (KP) and Daya Master,” Silva said.
However, the JVP is now under attack by extremist Buddhist elements claiming that the party’s non-participation in the PSC to discuss amendments to the 13th Amendment is betrayal of the comrades who sacrificed their lives during the 1988-1989 period in protest of the Indo-Lanka Accord.
The point being made is that the JVP after resorting to an armed struggle in the late 1980s demanding the abrogation of the Indo-Lanka Accord and the 13th Amendment was now trying to deviate from the issue without joining the anti-13A bandwagon.
The JVP nevertheless, explicitly says there is no change in the party’s stance with regard to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
The party remains opposed to the current provincial council system.
“The provincial council system is not the solution, but the government cannot find excuses when the time is up to hold the Northern Provincial Council after holding provincial elections in all other areas,” a senior JVP leader said.
The JVP believes that since provincial council elections have been held in all other areas, it is only fair that it is also held in the Northern Province. As for finding a permanent solution to the national problem, the JVP maintains that it cannot be found under the current system
Countdown to September
Be that as it may, time is now running out for the Rajapaksa government. The September deadline to hold the Northern Provincial Council election is now getting closer.
President Rajapaksa and his ‘trusted’ advisors, who most often than not are in need of saner counsel, should weigh the consequences a nation would have to pay for their follies.
External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris last week briefed the diplomatic community in Colombo, but the diplomats were not convinced by his explanation.
The international community including Sri Lanka’s allies is holding the Rajapaksa government to its continuous post war pledge that Northern Provincial Council elections would be held in September 2013.
It would also be wise for the Rajapaksa government to be aware of the fact that the international community has lost confidence in most pledges given by it and would identify any time buying exercise to delay holding the Northern elections.
With the UN Human Rights Council sessions scheduled to be held in September and UN Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay’s scheduled visit to Sri Lanka in August, the Rajapaksa government would have to now act wisely.
The government might delay the amendments to the 13th Amendment until the conclusion of the Commonwealth heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) this November, but it cannot delay the holding of the Northern Provincial Council election.
*JVP to present alternative package to 13A soon
*Govt silent on 19A, JHU present 21A to parliament
With Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
“No dictator, no invader, can hold an imprisoned population by force of arms forever. There is no greater power in the universe than the need for freedom. Against that power, governments and tyrants and armies cannot stand.” - J Michael Straczynski
The much-anticipated 19th Amendment to the constitution that the Mahinda Rajapaksa government said would be presented to parliament as an urgent bill did not materialize last week.
The great emphasis paid to the continuing drama of the 13th Amendment is testimony to the growing communalism; both majority and minority, in the country when attention should be paid towards a steady post war reconciliation process.
The Rajapaksa government together with some of its allies, namely Wimal Weerawansa and Champika Ranawaka have managed to, at least for the time being, minimize the public dissention that was growing steadily against the government following the electricity tariff hike.
After weeks of debate, the Rajapaksa government decided to present an amendment to the 13th Amendment to the constitution where the clause enabling the merger of two or more provinces under the amendment is repealed.
When parliament met last Tuesday, many parliamentarians, especially from the opposition thought the government would present the 19th Amendment and discuss the appointment of the parliamentary select committee (PSC) to further discuss constitutional amendments.
However, the Rajapaksa government neither presented the 19th Amendment nor discussed the PSC on Tuesday.
It is no secret that the Rajapaksa government is facing a problem in gathering the two thirds majority required to pass the 19th Amendment in parliament.
It is learnt that a campaign has now commenced within the government to say that the 19th Amendment would not pose any threat to the existence to the provincial council system and its powers. A senior SLFP minister said that these comments are aimed at mustering support to pass the 19th Amendment, which in turn would enable the Rajapaksa government to show the world, especially India that support is high to amend the 13th Amendment.
Interestingly, governing party ally, the JHU presented a private member’s motion in the House called the 21st Amendment to the constitution.
The presentation of the JHU’s proposed amendment resulted in a discussion as to why the amendment to abolish the provincial councils system and the 13th Amendment was tiled 21st Amendment.
According to an opposition politician, it seemed like the government was planning on introducing at least two more amendments to the constitution –the 19th and 20th Amendments.
JHU MP Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thero submitted the 21st Amendment and the motion was seconded by UNP MP Palitha Range Bandara. Bandara was suspended from the UNP for failing to follow party directives.
While Ven. Rathana Thero’s proposal has sought the total repeal of the 13th Amendment, governing party allies like the left parties, the SLMC, the EPDP and the CWC have so far expressed sentiments against the 21st Amendment.
Also, the likes of minister Rajitha Senaratne have opposed any amendment to the 13th Amendment. In fact it is learnt that a decision making minister in the Rajapaksa government with close affiliations to India has also expressed support to the campaign currently carried out by some governing party members against amending the 13th Amendment.
However, President Rajapaksa has also remained silent on the JHU’s proposed constitutional amendment.
In the backdrop of heavy maneuvering on the 13th Amendment, President Rajapaksa last week summoned the Chief Ministers of the Central and North Western provincial Councils to Temple Trees.
He informed them that they needed to be prepared to face provincial elections shortly.
The President told the Chief Ministers that arrangements would be made to release funds to the two provinces for development projects aimed at the elections.
A few days later, Cabinet Spokesperson, Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said that elections to three provincial councils including the Northern Provincial Council would be held in September under the current constitution.
He has also noted that the Indo-Lanka Accord and the 13th Amendment were forced on the country without the consent of the people and that a country has the right to change agreements with foreign countries in conformity with the aspirations and mandate of the people of the country as the sovereignty of the people is supreme.
Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa named the PSC proposed by President Rajapaksa to discuss the amendments to the 13th Amendment on Friday. He named a 19 member PSC to propose changes to the constitution.
The PSC will be led by Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, and includes Ministers G.L Peiris, Maithipala Sirisena, W.D.J Seniviratne, Anura Priyadharshana Yapa, Douglas Devananda, Susil Premjayanth, A.L.M. Athaulla, D.E.W Gunasekera, Rishard Bathiudeen, Champika Ranawaka, Wimal Weerawanse, Basil Rajapaksa, Lakshman Seniviratne, Vasudeva Nanayakaara, Muttu Sivalingham, Sudarshini Fernandopulle and Janaka Bandara.
However, the names of opposition party members were not included in the PSC list.
Menon to arrive
Amidst the debate over the 13th Amendment in the country, the Prime Minister of neighbouring India had expressed his “dismay” over attempts by the Rajapaksa government to dilute the 13th Amendment.
Indian Premier Manmohan Singh had reportedly told a six member TNA delegation that he was “dismayed” by reports suggesting the Sri Lankan government was planning to the 13th Amendment.
The Premier has said the proposed changes were incompatible with the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, the Indian media reported.
“It was noted that the proposed changes raised doubts about the commitments made by the Sri Lankan Government to India and the international community, including the United Nations, on a political settlement in Sri Lanka that would go beyond the 13th Amendment,” Indian External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin has said. “The changes would also be incompatible with the recommendation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), set up by the Government of Sri Lanka, calling for a political settlement based on the devolution of power to the provinces,” he has added.
The Indian External Affairs Ministry has reportedly said in a statement that the Indian Prime Minister had expressed deep concern about the welfare of the Tamil community living in Sri Lanka and “stressed on the expectation that the Sri Lankan Tamil community would lead a life of dignity, as equal citizens, and reiterated that India would make every effort to ensure the achievement of a future for the community marked by equality, justice and self-respect.”
The six-member delegation of the TNA is led by R. Sampanthan and includes Mavai S. Senathirajah, Suresh Premachandran, P. Selvarajah, Selvam Adaikkalanathan and M.A. Sumanthiran.
The TNA delegation has also met with the Indian Foreign Minister and the National Security Advisor.
The TNA members continuously requested New Delhi to intervene and exert pressure on the Rajapaksa government to honor its pledge given to the world, especially India on implementing the 13th Amendment and going beyond and also hold the Northern provincial Council election on September 13th.
However, TNA’s visit to India has borne fruit and New Delhi that has maintained diplomatic silence over the past few months has decided to send an emissary to Sri Lanka to hold discussions with the Rajapaksa government/
The Uthayan newspaper reported that India is to send National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon to Sri Lanka next month for talks with President Rajapaksa and other government officials.
Menon is expected to arrive in the country on July 7th to discuss bilateral and regional issues including the 13th Amendment.
President Rajapaksa however, told media heads on Friday that Menon would discuss bilateral issues and not the 13th Amendment.
Nevertheless, given the current situation with regard to the 13th Amendment and the delay in announcing the Northern Provincial Council poll would undoubtedly make the controversial piece of legislation the focal point of Menon’s discussions in Colombo.
The Rajapaksa government has taken great pains in ensuring that the country plays host to the Commonwealth heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo this November.
The government is now treading very dangerous ground with the key player in the region, who is also expected to participate in the CHOGM summit.
India is believed to have helped Sri Lanka secure the CHOGM venue at the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meeting in April. If the Rajapaksa government fails to honor its end of the bargain, New Delhi is likely to make a no show at the CHOGM.
India’s absence from CHOGM would be a massive blow to the government in such a scenario.
Be that as it may, the entire drama surrounding the 13th Amendment as usual has managed to push all other issues faced by the country into the backburner.
The JVP has constantly lamented that the Rajapaksa government uses the 13th Amendment to mislead the public from taking action against issues ranging from the high cost of living, lack of democratic rights, issues faced by the farmers and almost every sector in the country.
The party is currently in the process of preparing a set of proposals that would present an alternative to the 13th Amendment.
The JVP has since 1987 when the Indo-Lanka Accord was signed, opposed the introduction of the 13th Amendment and the provincial council system.
The party’s founding leader, the late Rohana Wijeweera said at the time that the provincial council system was not the solution to the national issue.
Wijeweera at the time pointed out the shortcomings in the provincial council system and 26 years later, the country’s governing party is resonating the late Marxist leader’s sentiments.
However, the difference is that Wijeweera pointed out the way to find a solution to the national issue while the Rajapaksa government without presenting the people with an alternative is trying to take away whatever rights that were provided to the minority communities.
JVP seniors headed by party leader Somawansa Amerasinghe is now in the process of finalizing the areas to be covered in the party’s proposed package.
The package is to be present alternatives under the current structures of provincial councils and local government bodies while also addressing the issues faced by the minority communities, especially the Tamil community.
The package is to be made public within the next few weeks.