Wednesday, November 01, 2006

North East de-merger petitioners support the ‘de-merger’ of the Tamil nation from the Sri Lankan state?

I am one among many Tamils if not all Tamils who have been angered by the judgment in the de-merger case. It is my opinion as a law student that the judgment is flawed in many respects and as a Sri Lankan Tamil consider it to be the last nail in the coffin with regards to the minorities’ confidence in the impartiality and neutrality of our judicial system especially the Supreme Court 's capability to deal with politically sensitive issues relating to the conflict.

Here on this post I would like to comment on just one argument that was brought forward by the distinguished lawyers HL De Silva and Gomin Dayasri in their submissions to the court.

The lawyers in their petition submitted that ‘the merger (of the North and East) would result in the Muslim and Sinhala communities in the Eastern Province being permanently subjugated to a minority, which situation would be exacerbated by the process of ethnic cleansing carried out by the Tamil militants’.

If this was the reason for the need for the de-merger it may also be argued with the same logical reference that, given that the Tamils constitute a nation of their own and that they are minority in the Sri Lankan state and using the same dicta used by the petitioners, they have been ‘permanently subjugated to a minority’ within the Sri Lankan state, the Tamil nation should be de-merged from the Sri Lankan state. The petitioners who are contended in using the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ to the injustice meted out to the Muslims in the Eastern province I urge should be willing to accept that the Tamils were also subject to ethnic cleansing by the Sri Lankan armed forces in the past and one is tempted to ask whether the same argument can be used to argue for a ‘de-merger’ of the Tamil Nation from the Sri Lankan state? Hence to follow the same argument of the JVP lawyers in the case would lead us to justify a separate state for the Sri Lankan Tamils.

My contention is that the argument for a united Sri Lanka stems from emotional political reasoning from the majority community. Those who emphasise the need to stick to a united country should also remember that the argument for a traditional homeland from the Tamil people is one that stems from a history of marginalization through ethnic colonization in areas that Tamil people historically habitate. All Tamil parties in 1985 enunciated this principle without any reservations in a univocal voice at the Thimpu talks. This politically sensitive issue dear to the political aspirations of the Tamil people has been unilaterally set aside by the Supreme Court in this case.

I still believe that humans are inherently good and hence that coexistence and cohabitation of the different communities is possible. The judgment adds one more episode in contemporary history which continues to negate this belief that I hold.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Politicised Human Rights Commission ?

Today's Daily News (11 October 2006) has an article on a report by the Human Rights Commission on the Sencholai attack by the SLAF. (the full text of the article follows this post).

According to the article the report has found that 'Sencholai' was actually a military training base and that all inmates of the centre were LTTE child brigade members being trained. The last sentence of the Daily News article is also interesting - reporting that SLMM has indicated that its findings may not be the same as the HRC's findings. It is not my intention to argue that Sencholai was not a military training base. I am also strongly opposed to the recruitment of child soldiers by the LTTE. What I am concerned of is whether the present Human Rights Commission is an apolitical body that can do justice to its purpose of existence. If the report contains nothing else but only the 'finding' that Sencholai was a military base and if it does not even condemn the killings for the fact that those killed were children, then one is forced to question the objectivity of HRC. (this judgment of mine is anyway based on what the Daily News has chosen to report on). Given that the issue is highly politicised I do not know whether it is the HRC which should be mandated to investigate the matter in terms of identification of the place of attack - ‘Sencholai’.

By way of comparision to the earlier Human Rights Commission headed by Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy i would claim that under Dr. Coomaraswamy HRC was largely apolitical and was able to keep political influence out of the workings of the commission.

The President appointed the Human Rights Commission surpassing the Constitutional Council. All those who claimed and supported the argument that the appointments by the President were done in good spirit so that important public bodies do not become defunct and that was in exercise based on a positivist understanding of law, should now answer the question as to whether this was the actual motive behind these extra constitutional appointments. (There are many other arguments as to why this was not that actual objective that MR entertained when he made these appointments)

The main objective of establishing the Constitutional Council was to depoliticise some of the important public institutions and also through that to increase the confidence of the minorities in their functioning.

For all those who are in favour of a constitutional reforms based political solution to the ethnic conflict this comes as a terrible blow. You might have constitutional safeguards but they nevertheless may be violated and our judiciary will stand to witness it silently. The predicament of the country is such!!

The Daily News Article as found at
LTTE exploiting education system to recruit children - HRC
Manjula Fernando
COLOMBO: Following an in-depth inquiry, the Human Rights Commission (HRC) in their report has ruled that the Sencholai Camp was in fact an LTTE recruitment station and the 500 children and young adults had been receiving motivation training on the day of aerial attacks.
Based on their findings the HRC calls for a zero tolerance approach to child recruitment while setting demobilisation of child combatants as a pre-condition in the peace process.
The HRC report pointed out that their evidence proves the State supported education system is exploited by the LTTE for child recruitment and combatant training as it provides a ready made 'pool' of vulnerable children.
Children and young adults in their teens had been forced to attend the camp by the LTTE, threatening deprivation of certain 'training cards' which permit them to move freely to attend tuition classes.
The report maintained that the participants had also received basic weapons training.
Based on evidence of education authorities, First Aid Training organisations present in the area and the statements of the three injured girls from the camp, the HRC's regional office has come to this conclusion.
In response to the HRC's inquiries the St.John Ambulance Association has related that they were unaware of any first aid training on the particular dates at the site, contrary to the LTTE claims.
The regional education authorities and the Examinations Commissioner has confirmed that such a large gathering would not have been permitted by them for Advanced Level students who are required to fulfil 80 per cent attendance to sit for exam.
Meanwhile, SLMM spokesman Thorffinur Omarsson said their report on the Sencholai camp, which is to be released 'very soon', will not be on the same line as the HRC findings.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

An Attempt to guess the LTTE’s new strategy for peace..

Why has the LTTE called for unconditional peace talks so suddenly whereas they were demanding that the Govt should withdraw its forces from Sampur for any peace talks, just a week back? It is not a difficult theory to understand that it is not easy for a rebel movement waging war against a state to call for peace talks when it is in a weak position.

To me it seems to be part of a larger plan to weaken the international community’s confidence on the Government as a genuine party to the peace process. The govt is confused and is struggling to respond to this unexpected call for peace talks. At a moment where the President has left the country to attend two important international meetings and with the Co-Chairs meeting around the corner it perhaps is/was the most appropriate time for the LTTE to call for the Govt to peace talks. The Govt seems to be in a militarily stronger position and it is difficult obviously for any warring party which has just tasted victory to say immediately ‘yes’ to peace talks. That’s why Rambukkuwela has responded strongly that there will be conditions on the govts part. The govts confusion is made evident in the recent press release that the peace secretariat put out on the matter saying that they are ready for peace but will have to negotiate the modalities and logistics of the peace talks. This is victory for the LTTE, as the international community is likely to ‘understand’ this as the govt’s unpreparedness for a negotiated settlement to the conflict. It is also positive propaganda for the LTTE which is largely portrayed as the party not interested in the peace talks. A very clever way to bring international pressure on the Government indeed.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

On 'Check Point'

(Reproduction of a comment that i made at at

A good concept forum theatre is… Have been part of one and have also discussed with a few in the field about the uses of this form of theatre. I do not claim to know the in and out of the theatre and must concede that I have very minimal exposure. But one question that bothers me after seeing ‘checkpoint’ yesterday was about taking and discussing issues to an ‘appropriate’ audience. The question always remains about what an appropriate audience is. But I was disheartened to see many members of the audience being insensitive to issues, issues which are for most of our people of direct relevance to their existence. I was frustrated by the insensitive applauses and laughter that erupted from some quarters of the audience when some very sensitive issues were portrayed and depicted. The type of audience ‘Check point’ was able to attract were not possibly a group who are very much affected by these issues or probably to better word it people who do not care much even if affected. Though the issue was a general one, there hovers a question as to whether forum theatres can be for people who are not necessarily the people who are involved in the issue in some way or the other? Is it not that forum theatres are for particular ‘target groups’? I acknowledge that forum theatres are at the same time (though I felt that Adam did not adequately stress this) for people not to find resolutions but to provoke thinking and to leave at a heightened state of emotion so that they would be provoked to take action.. Was this achieved?

The forum theatre was also a good opportunity to adequately understand the different mood and temperament of our society and may be that was the objective of the forum theatre and its organisers. I thought the audience was a good sample of the larger Colombo elite and of course our expats. (All people who spoke during the forum theatre except for a few had accents!!)And it is this elite society which is active in our social, political and communication sphere not to mention that they are the cream of our so called ‘civil society’. (I also need to do justice to all those who remained silent ..May be they did the right thing.. may be they didn’t want to get ‘identified’.. I don’t know why i was silent .. May be some of us didn’t because it wasn’t worthy of us contributing

I wish to echo what someone else has already said. To take the theatre out of Colombo in the vernacular languages. I liked it where the organisers had somewhere mentioned that they are exploring opportunities to work with the vernacular theatres.
I liked Gehan de Chickera’s acting .. a beautiful mono acting performance.. Hats off to Gehan.. 24 hours.. hmmm. Nothing newly learnt through both of them but was able to witness an artistic expression of what I have been personally reflecting on. In that sense I really appreciate the performances. Must also mention that Dylan’s acting was marvellous.. He definitely did realistically portray an average Colombo based Tamil. Niran’s wit was excellent as well. The character that he played and some of the comments he made are ones that I have heard from him and do a lot of justice to who as a person he is.
Overall it was a thought provoking evening and I salute the organisers for the effort, time and intellect that they had put in for the purpose.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Prepare to pay for five more ministers!!

Two more ministries to the ever swelling number of ministries of the Sri Lankan Government. Arumugam Thondaman and Chandrasekeran and three of their followers have been given ministerial and deputy ministerial portfolios. It is very difficult to digest the public face the President wishes to portray by showing off that he is against unnecessary governmental expenditure (for example the restriction the president has placed on the number of foreign travels that a Govt minister can undertake) but the same smiling face giving oaths to at least two new ministers every month. All his hoo hah is negated when it comes to satisfying political parties who accept the offer to join the govt for strengthening the numerical strength of the Govt. He is no different to his predecessors in this and many other regards. There are number of negative repercussions of this approach that one can point out, other than the cost factor. I make mention of two of them here. One is the argument that the excessive number of ministers and deputy ministers would mean that a significant portion of the legislature is drawn within the executive system and that this affects the separation and balance of powers between the legislature and the executive. The already eroded status of the legislature in the 1978 constitutional system is further degraded. I will not elaborate on this here.

The second effect that I want to deal with more detail here is about how multiple ministries dealing with one subject of governance can undermine the effectiveness of policy formulation, programming and implementation. This is something that I have experienced first hand through my involvement with the National Task Force on Youth Employment as a member of the task force, representing youth interests. At these meetings I have seen how more than half a dozen number of ministries to do with Youth Employment make the task of cohesive policy formulation difficult. At one such meeting of this taskforce the secretary of a ministry proposed the need for taking entrepreneurship to the school curriculum. In response the ILO Director present there responded that such a proposal had already been given effect to and that ILO had supported a proposal of another ministry in this regard and trained the National Institute of Education staff on the same matter. The subject is being included as part of the revision to be effected to the National school curriculum next year. Such is the level of confusion and resulting duplication of work within our government ministries. A great deal of time and money is being spent and has to be spent on brain storming and working a coordinating mechanism between these ministries. What also is affected is uniformity in policy making and working on a common agenda on important issues such as youth employment.

The Ministries that have been given to Mr. Arumugam Thondaman has been titled Youth Empowerment and Socio-Economic Development. Chandrasekeran’s Ministry is the Socio-Development and Development of Socio-Equality. One wonders what these mean. What difference in work is there going to be between the Youth Affairs ministry and the Youth Empowerment Ministry. The youth affairs and sports ministry is more of a sports ministry than a youth affairs ministry and does very little on the youth affairs subject area. They have been working on a National Youth Policy for the past several years. What is this new ministry going to do then? One just feels that they just come up with random names when they induct new ministers. This is a country which has multiple ministries for railways with a separate ministry even for rail track development!! When will our political leaders take bold decisions for the sake of this country?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

On the All Party Conference and Panel of Experts appointed by the President

What this Panel of Experts will manage to produce, which would less likely to be endorsed by an ‘all’ party conference, will merely add to the existing 1997 and 2000 proposals: of value only to legal academics and political historians. Have the panel of experts been mandated to work on a policy document or on a new draft constitution? Will they be able to surpass and go beyond what has been stated in the Mahinda Chinthana, given that their mandate has been solemnized under the latter? Much will depend on the integrity and independence of the members of this panel. One also wonders whether this effort is initiated under the ‘Southern Consensus’ process? If so is it the Southern parties’ views that will be given prominence in the process? Can a government representing the state ever seek to produce a document that will be reflective of only one side of the divide? According to Minister Rambukkuella there is no time line for the panel of experts to finish their work. Again one is naturally inclined to ask the question what the strategy or the road map that the government has for the peace process?

One note about the debate on the label – federal or unitary? The argument to retain the unitary label is based on the theory that the majority community is afraid that any solution other than one based on a unitary Sri Lanka will lead to the division of the country. But we have heard the Mahinda camp say that the government is prepared for maximum devolution within a unitary form of government. Is this the people’s understanding of ‘unitary’, based on which Mahinda was voted into power? What is this maximum devolution? Can it go beyond what has been given through the 13th amendment within a unitary form of govt? The Hela Urumayas even cited the Banda Ache agreement as a successful example where power was shared within a unitary model of government. One constitutional expert actually said that if the Hela Urumayas had actually taken the time to read through the agreement then they would have found that the power sharing was extensive enough to compare it with a federal model of government or even more! I recollect CBK claiming that 70% of the country is prepared for a federal solution! Just that Mahinda won the elections on a ‘unitary position’ we are now told that the people are for a solution based on a unitary system. This leads us to certain fundamental questions about our democratic systems. What is the value that our politicians give to public opinions? Who makes these decisions on what the public opinion is on the question or for the matter on any question? How much does the common man give thought to questions of this nature? And how informed is he to make well informed decisions? Do we allow politicians who are victorious at elections to decide on what the public opinion on a matter is? Any average Sri Lankan will tell us that we cannot leave it to our democratic process to produce the ‘ideal’ leader. We have well witnessed after the 1970and 1977 elections. With a sweeping majority the parties in power interpreted the ‘mandate’ from the people to suit their own whims and fancies. What Neelan Thiruchelvan termed, using constitution making for ‘instrumental’ purposes. All these questions might sound like undergraduate political science exam questions but for me they are very valid ones to our discourse. This is the exact problem that we face in our democracies. Self-declared political pragmatists might suggest that this is a deficiency that comes with democracy and we cannot really do anything about it.

The only check and balances that can apply here is strong people based civil society based initiatives which will keep the people informed and the politicians on their toes. But the usual lamenting has to be recorded here one more time: How effective and people-based is our civil society to play this role?