Monthly Archives: July 2012

Lankan Students on US Tour

(Courtesy: Sunday Observer, July 29, 2012)

Five teenage schoolchildren from Sri Lanka, who had each lost a family member to an act of terrorism, attended this year’s ‘Project Common Bond’, a week-long peace building and conflict resolution program in the United States.

The Program was organised by Tuesday’s Children, a New York-based non-profit organisation serving the needs of those affected by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack in the United States, as well as other victims of international terrorism and their families.

Responding to a request made by the Embassy of Sri Lanka, Tuesday’s Children granted the opportunity for three female and two male students to become the second batch of Sri Lankan students to benefit from this year’s nine-day ‘Project Common Bond’ program, now in its fifth year. Six Lankan students attended the program last year for the first time.

This year’s program was held from July 12 to 20 at the Governor’s Academy in Byfield, Massachusetts. The participants followed a curriculum designed by Harvard University Law School and Weatherhead Center for International Affairs in Cambridge. The program incorporated therapeutic community-building activities, conflict resolution, peace into action projects and team events designed to foster trust, healing, cooperation and communication.

The aim of the program, as elaborated by the host organisation, is to “impact the lives of young people who have suffered a similar loss as a result of an act of terrorism – and in doing so, give them the skills they need to make a difference in the lives of others”. The Lankan students shared their personal experiences with youth from the United States, Argentina, Ireland, Israel, Northern Ireland, Palestine, Russia and Spain, Algeria, France, Morocco, Nigeria and Pakistan. On the completion of the program, the students embarked on a two-day educational tour in Washington DC, arranged by the Embassy of Sri Lanka. During this study tour, the students visited national museums, historical monuments, the White House and Capitol Hill.The Embassy of Sri Lanka, Sri Lankan-American community members in Boston and the Greater Washington Area felicitated the visiting students.

The students visited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New England Buddhist Vihara and other landmarks in the outskirts of Boston with the Sri Lankan-American community members in the area.

During a reception for the students held in Virginia, a group of Sri Lankan-American benefactors presented among other mementos laptop computers to each student to assist them in their studies.

The students left the United States for Sri Lanka on July 24. The participants were Ayodya Perera, Ridmi Wijetunge, Piyumi Wickramasinghe, Himesh Withanagama, Achira Samaranayake and Chaperone Umayangani Abeyratna.

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Whither Sri Lanka’s Media?

24 Jul, 2012, Inside Outsider Colombo, Media and Communication

Having been through the grind in the field of Sri Lanka’s mainstream print journalism for nearly two decades, what I feel is a growing sense of frustration. Whatever standards and respectability that was maintained by our past peers are deteriorating to the extent that journalists are being looked at, more with ridicule, than with esteem. Today journalists have come to be often identified as so and so’s catcher or hanger on other than men and women of integrity and fair play. The failure to do some serious soul searching by those of us in the media fraternity has led to this situation.

Journalists, who are so good at turning the search light outwards and preaching to all and sundry on what is right and what is wrong, rarely turn the search light inwards. We do a lot of finger pointing but rarely realize that more fingers are being pointed in our direction than ever before.

Most journalists lack understanding of their responsibility towards society and the need to be on the side of the people and not on the side of the high and mighty whose opinions are forced down people’s throats day and night in a media driven frenzy.

If your run through the front page of a newspaper or listen to the radio or watch television news, 70 per cent of its news content will be parroting out what a politician, an official, a businessman or sportsman has said somewhere. It’s true what some of these people say is important but the absurdities that are circulated as “NEWS” today provide only cheap entertainment and contribute zero towards stimulating people’s intellect. The other news that is reported is what is spat out by official spokespersons of different organizations. The end result is that media personnel have been reduced to the level of hangers on of politicians, officials, businessmen etc., hungrily devouring the information they are fed, which they in turn disseminate to the public. The most basic ethics of journalism, the need to do their work impartially, accurately and in a fair manner is forgotten.

Along with these, certain ludicrous trends are being perpetuated that only contribute to falling standards. The editorial in a leading daily newspaper is being written by a person who has barely worked for four years as a journalist. The editorial which occupies pride of place in any newspaper now looks no better than a school essay. So who should bear the blame for this kind of situation? Not the government or opposition, not the business community or the international community but those in the very heart of media organizations.

My question is how many journalists, so should I say so-called journalists are even aware of their responsibilities towards society. We tell politicians, policemen, trade unionists, students etc. all that is wrong with them but how often does the media ask itself how poor its own performance is. The truth is bitter, we say. Yes it sure is where the media in the country is concerned. . Most media personnel who exercise immense power because of the freedom with which they can yield a pen (or microphones or camera) sadly lack objectivity.

Let’s face it. It’s easier to be recruited as a “journalist” to any media organization in the country, be it print or electronic, than get the most menial government or a private sector job. Many of those who end up in the job are barely out of school or have been fiddling their fingers unable to find any other form of employment.

Here I have to say that I too joined the trade after my schooling and learnt most of what I know on the job but a big part of it included discharging my duties with integrity and honesty and also taking the job seriously. What I now find is talk of ethnics and fair play have taken a back seat while it is more important to be seen at the side of a politician or other prominent persons in society, have them call you by your first name and invite you to their parties. These outweigh their responsibilities as journalists towards society.

The media in Sri Lanka likes to cry out loudly from time to time about the lack of media freedom but it is journalist who compromises the most on their own freedom. The lack of unity and the failure to enforce a collective Code of Ethics for the media has only strengthened the hands of those who want to trample media rights. (Read here the Code of Professional Practice (Code of Ethics) of The Editors Guild of Sri Lanka adopted by the Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka and decide for yourself how many newspaper organizations abide by them.

Why is it that every time journalists are killed, abducted, threatened and beaten up, it’s only a handful of activists, which unfortunately will have a fair share of politicians joining in, be seen shouting at a street corner while all that those in the hierarchy of the media business in Sri Lanka do is issue a halfhearted statement to condemn such acts but do nothing forceful enough to send a clear message to the perpetrators of such crimes that they should not mess with the media.

Politicians will be politicians, be they from the ruling party, the UNP, JVP or the TNA. They would love the media as long as you tow their line but will all erupt like volcanoes when the media says something they dislike. It’s true that journalists and politicians (and other news makers) need to co-exist as cordially as possible but such a relationship has to be built without the journalists compromising on their professional integrity. There should be mutual respect but what we have here to a large extent is an uneven relationship with the journalists being talked down to.

When MP Mangala Samaraweera (then Media Minister) said “a journalist could be bought for a bottle of arrack”, all hell broke loose. We all condemned him, asked him to withdraw the statement, apologize etc. But he wasn’t exactly saying something incorrect. I don’t need to go into details here because some facts are clear as crystal. It’s an inconvenient truth that the media would rather ignore than address.

The same manner in which politicians try to hoodwink the pubic, the media too is engaged in doing the same thing or worse. We have become partners in all the cover ups perpetrated by those in authority, and sadly, many times, willing accomplices in this game.

Believing the media is above reproach is the greatest stupidity of journalists. We need more scrutiny than ever because the lack of it has led to deterioration of standards and the media is becoming more and more a subject of ridicule, malice and cynicism of the public at large. So far what you have read is a lot of media bashing but getting to the part about “a bottle of arrack is enough to buy a journalist,” remark. But why is it this way? Isn’t it because journalists continue to be paid poor salaries, lack facilities and are economically worse off than people in many other sectors? Unless you come into the industry with a big inheritance tucked away somewhere, for those who have to depend on their income as journalists to sustain themselves and their families, it is a tough call. Some of the “well off “ in the media will tell you that you have to become a journalist because you are passionate about the job and not for the money but realistically speaking, such idealism doesn’t put bread (or should I say rice) on the table. It’s true, many of us started off with the same sort of idealism but reality bites when one is exposed to the sordid goings on inside the media world itself. Good journalism, like everything else comes at a price.

It is where journalists are not financially empowered that they are open to temptation and such temptations can be either financial or come in other forms of gratifications. A trip overseas may become reality only because you “plug” someone one or some organization. A block of land or vehicle too may be the benefits of pandering to the whims and fancies of the influential. Getting a child into a school or a job for a relative maybe among other attractions.

There are many people who have been journalists for more than 40 years now living in abject poverty; there are many who are forced to work well past their retirement age because even the small income they can get is better than no income at all. Past their prime and in ill health, their former glories are long forgotten and they come to be looked on more as a nuisance than people who once contributed meaningfully to the media in the country.

Why cannot journalists in Sri Lanka work in dignity, with their heads held high, not bending before politicians and other influential persons and not take up the job only because they are attracted to it because of the access it will give them to the influential quarters in society and help them to gain personal benefits?

For these both the lack of a collective effort by the media to improve their status as well as the indifference of those who own and manage media institutions are equally responsible. Those of us in the media have to agree to disagree on issues because each media institution will work according to its own agenda. (Here let me emphasize that each and every organization has its own agenda and pursue it very forcefully but not always visibly). When it comes to the welfare, safety and dignity of media personnel, we need to put our differences aside and speak in one voice. United we stand, divided we fall is true of the media as it is of any other group of persons.

We have seen plenty of media rights groups protest against the state apparatus but how many of these organizations take up welfare issues of media personnel. We only have to look to our neighboring country India where issues ranging from wages to housing and other facilities for journalist are well regulated so that they are provided for in a way that the media personnel can work in dignity and without compromising on their independence. It’s towards these goals that media institutions in that country have worked for and continue to work. The unity in the media fraternity also helps to wade off any attempts to bully and intimidate them and thus ensures the safety of media workers.

Journalism is not recognized as a profession in Sri Lanka to this day, that too with good reason. Raising standards would entail better academic qualifications, training and of course better wages for media personnel.

Let me start with the wage issue. Wages stipulated for the “Journalist Trade” comes under the Wages Board Ordinance and is categorized into four groups. As per the Gazette notification of 2005 (this is the latest amended version available I believe) , the starting salaries in the first year for those in the Special Grade which includes Deputy Editors, Associate Editors, Special Grade Editors and Editors is Rs. 10,925.00 while this rates increase by the 10th year to Rs. 12,725. Those in Grade One which includes Business Editors, Chief Sub Editor, Desk Heads,, Foreign News Editors, Feature Editors, Local News Editors, News Editors, Sports Editors, Woman’s Page Editors and Pictures Editors start in the first year at Rs. 8,970 and each Rs. 10,370 by the 15th year in service. Those in Grade Two of the Journalist trade which includes Assistant Editors, Chief Photographers, Deputy Desk Heads, Features Writers, Editorial Assistants, Librarians, Sub Editors, Cartoonist, Translators, Senior Photographers and Artists start at Rs8,395 and at the end of 15 years in service end up with Rs 9,235. Those in the Grade Three category start at Rs 7,935 in the first year and can reach Rs 8,635 in 15 years of service.

While these amounts are appallingly low, I must state that most employers are better pay masters and pay more than what is stipulated as the minimum wages by the Wages Board. But what salary scale to put a journalist on is usually based more on the whims and fancies of those who are the decision makers in such organizations and not always based on qualifications, ability and suitability.

Another great bias is the disparity in salaries for journalists working for the vernacular press (here I can only talk for print) who are paid far less than those who are in the English newspapers. Most times those with the better academic qualifications and ability are in the vernacular press but they are the most discriminated.

This is why media rights groups and others in the media hierarchy need to take up issues such as ensuring that the minimum wages for media personnel is substantially increased and is uniform whether they work in English, Sinhala or Tamil. Improving standards in journalism to the level so that it can be recognized as a profession will obviously entail better educational levels for those entering the industry and for those who are already in it. This would entail media organizations providing financial assistance to its members to pursue higher education while on the job, encouraging employees to enhance in their academic standards by way of increments or promotions etc.

If journalists and journalism in Sri Lanka are to be taken seriously, economic empowerment is a must as are better education levels and training. They have to be recognized for the unique and important role they play in society .To attract and retain better qualified and able people in the job, they have to be paid well while better welfare measures too should be put in place.

A joke among many seniors who have decided to stay on as journalist is that media houses have become just a stopover for those looking for work in more lucrative trades. A few months in a media organization is a stepping stone, a place where one can build contacts, flaunt a media accreditation card around, see his/her name in print or be heard on radio or seen on television, gain access to places and faces otherwise not easily accessible and make an exist once more lucrative offers come around. That trend will continue as long as journalism is not taken seriously by the very people who engage in it.

I will conclude by saluting all my many colleagues in the media who try to be the exception and not the rule, who despite all the odds stacked against them, do their work independently and fearlessly and maintain the dignity of their profession. . Some have had to pay a heavy price for their “indiscretions” but they have helped to keep people’s faith in the media alive. A lot more needs to be done to put our own house in order, which is actually a lot harder than telling others to tidy up their businesses.

(Published in The Academic)

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The Care of Children

BY Rajiva Wijesinha

A few months back, at the suggestion of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, we arranged consultations on Human Rights at the Reconciliation Office. The invitees were a number of governmental and non-governmental agencies that had significant roles or interests, and the discussions proved extremely productive.

This preparation was helpful when the Minister in charge of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on the National Human Rights Action Plan appointed me to convene the Task Force he established to expedite activity in this regard. Though we have no powers, the discussions we held have shown both the keenness of most government institution to move forward, and the need for better coordination to ensure productive action.

Meanwhile we continued with informal consultations so as to get maximum input from the non-governmental sector too. But partnership with relevant government agencies is however essential to promote both understanding and action, and I have been deeply impressed by the systematic way in which several agencies have laid out current positions and steps they are taking to improve the services available.

Most recently the Department of Probation gave an excellent presentation on Children’s Homes, with regard to which problems have arisen in recent years. These arise from over-crowding, the lack of supervision, the absence of clear criteria about allocating children to such homes and the tendency to use them not as a temporary measure but rather as a house of permanent incarceration.

19,000 in homes

Currently there are about 19,000 children in homes all over the country, about half of whom have two living parents. Another third have one parent, and it is only 20% who have no parents or parents with regard to whom there are security problems. Homes are now commonly used to deal with destitution, which goes against all acceptable principles of child care.

These and other problems were discussed at the consultation. I will begin here however, in what I hope will be a regular forum to discuss the Care of Children, with the presentation by the Department.

> Voluntary Children Homes, are run by Non-governmental organizations, under state supervision. These homes are registered as per provisions under Orphanage Ordinance

> The following activities are performed with state direct intervention.

* Registration of children’s Homes

* Admitting Children to these Homes

* Supervision of Children’s’ Homes

* Advisory work regarding running of these Homes

* Amendments to relevant rules and regulations from time to time

> Children are referred to these Homes for a maximum period of 3 years. Necessary arrangements have to made within 3 years to send back the child to his/her family. There is a placement committee in each Home. All those who take decisions about children including parents, and guardians should participate in this committee.

> Since some problems have cropped up regarding integration of institutionalized children to society in the recent past, the case management system has been introduced for integration. Case management guide lines have been introduced and all the officers have been given training. Training programmes are due to be held in 3 more provinces. Full particulars regarding institutionalized children have to be furnished as per case management Guide Lines.

> All the officers engaged in Children’s work have to adopt the Multi- Disciplinary approach in re- integrating children and also do ‘a follow up’ about children after re-integration. Case management system was introduced in 2010. No evaluation about it has been done as yet. Hence it is not possible to say whether it is a success or not. However, there are many difficulties faced in integrating children because there are many practical difficulties in families of these children.

> Similarly, steps have been taken to effect amendments to Orphans Ordinance. It is in the last stage (the approval of the Ministry of justice to be obtained). In view of shortcomings it is envisaged to amend the Orphanages Ordinance as follows

The period of validity of a registration to be 3 years. Under the current law, registration is valid for ever.

Separate bank account for the Home. This clause has been embodied to make it more transparent.

Provincial Commissioner shall appoint a person or persons to be or to act as an Inspector. The duties and the responsibilities of such inspector should be given by the Provincial Commissioner

Board of Management

Each and every orphanage should have a Board of Management, which consists of not less than 5 persons. The board of Management of each Home should nominate a person as the manager.

The Manager and the inspector who is assigned for the supervision of the Orphanage should organize the Placement Committee Meeting .

There are instances when children not suitable to be institutionalized are institutionalized. Therefore this amendment should be implemented to prevent such situations: child to be admitted to a home, to be first assessed by the Provincial Commissioner or an appointed person.(There are 3 ways a child could reach a home, Through DPCCS, by Courts and Police, Private arrangements with home Concerned . Only Orphan and abandoned children are to be admitted to homes. With Private arrangements even destitute children can be sent to home. This could be avoided if a PO could assess option)

Under the current law homes are supposed to furnish returns in the prescribed form annually.(only administrative aspects) Under the new law returns means the administrative aspects as well as particulars with regard to the welfare and protection of children in the home.

> Under the current law, there are penalties for the following:

Functioning a home without a registration

Supplying false information under the ordinance

Resisting or obstructing officers acting under the Ordinance

Current penalty applicable to all offences equally ( A fine not exceeding Rs.500 and a prison term not exceeding 3 months.)

> It is under this non specific offence the violations of the Minimum Standards are embodied in. Penalties must correspond to the gravity of the offence. Therefore the following scheme has introduced.

Functioning a home without a registration-imprisonment of not less than 2 years and not more than 5 years. fine less than hundred thousand of rupees.

Supplying false information under the ordinance – Rs.25000 fine or Maximum of 5 years imprisonment.

Resisting or obstructing officers acting under the Ordinance- Maximum period of five years and for a fine not less than Rs.75,000

> Supervision- Currently supervision is done by the Provincial DPCCS. In addition to that, Citizen committees have been set up at the Divisional Secretariat level not to supervise the Probation Officer but merely to investigate the administration of home and the welfare of children there in.

> Steps taken to minimize institutionalization of children and re-integration of them to society.

It is due to introduce an Alternative Care Policy as early as possible so as to minimize institutionalization of children.

The current alternative care system is not properly implemented.

A Foster Parent system is due to be introduced . The preliminary steps necessary for such a system are under review.

System related to re-integration of children to society has been identified eg:. Steps are being taken to strengthen families , supervision of children at the risk for institutionalization.

(Courtesy of The Island)

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Engaging the Diaspora for Reconciliation

By Salma Yusuf
When history repeated itself on 6 June 2012, it became clearer that something is amiss in our post-war nation building efforts. One and a half years on, the itinerary of a Presidential visit to the United Kingdom was once again altered when an invitation to deliver the keynote address at the Commonwealth Economic Forum organized by the Commonwealth Business Council was cancelled on the morning of the event. The Commonwealth Economic Forum was organized as one of the events to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Celebrations in London.

The incident was harshly reminiscent of the events of December 2010 when the President’s address at the Oxford Union was suddenly called off. The massive protest expected in the University premises put the Oxford Union in the awkward position of having to make the decision that it did. The then President of the Oxford Union, James Kingston, in an email response to a query raised by D.B.S. Jeyaraj, published in an article authored by the latter in these pages on 9 June 2012 stated the following: ‘I was advised there was a serious public order risk, and a serious risk of major disruption to the activities of the local community. At 5000 protestors, it would have been the largest demonstration seen in the history of Oxford, and the risks would have increased accordingly.’
THE GRAVITY OF THE SITUATION
The revelation of the projected turn-out at the December 2010 protest as being the largest in the history of Oxford is noteworthy for more reasons than one – the ability of the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora to potentially generate the largest demonstration in the history of the Oxford Union is one, and the ability for it to alter Presidential itineraries is another. The most worrying aspect, however, is the indicator it serves to provide – perhaps a barometer, albeit non-scientific, of the intensity of passion that still exists in certain members of the Tamil Diaspora abroad with regards to grievances.

Come 2012, and similar such efforts to gather a number as large as 2000 at the Mansion House where the Commonwealth Economic Forum was to be held, signals the unwavering commitment and sentiments that were displayed one and a half years ago at the protests staged at the Oxford Union, and more importantly, three years after the ending of the war. Further, it has been reported in the media that members of the Tamil Diaspora had travelled from other countries in the region, namely, France and Germany to join and strengthen the protests.

THE UNDISPUTED CONSENSUS
The reactions, the analyses and the interpretations of such incidents have been wide and varied, yet agreement can be forged across the spectrum of views at least on the following: the Diaspora communities ought to be engaged with some seriousness in our post-war nation-building and reconciliation efforts.

The most credible manner of engaging the Diaspora is through addressing the rights of minorities locally, both systematically and genuinely. Rights of minorities need to be coupled of course with assurances for the possibility of peaceful return and life in the country. This is once again illustrative of how domestic policy and foreign policy are inextricably linked.
INSTITUTIONAL SUPPORT: AN OFFICE OF DIASPORA AFFAIRS
The final report of the LLRC recommends that the Government constitute a Multi – Disciplinary Task Force that will include representatives from the Presidential Secretariat, External Affairs, Defence, Foreign Employment, the Private Sector, and Academia, to propose a programme of action to harness the untapped potential of the expatriate community, and to respond to the concerns of the so-called ‘hostile Diaspora groups,’ and to engage them constructively with the Government and other stakeholders involved in the reconciliation process.

There may be merit in going one step further to recommend the setting up of a specially designated Office of Diaspora Affairs. The roles and responsibility of the Office must include the emphasis on highlighting the importance of Diaspora engagement in reconstruction and capacity-building; and an identification and assessment of Diaspora organizations and individuals, and contributions they can make towards reconciliation, peacebuilding and nation-building. It must be stressed that Diaspora contributions ought not be only limited to the financial or commercial, but also include technical and professional expertise. The Office must ensure that the Diaspora contribution matches the needs, priorities and capacities that exist in the country.

The Office must also seek to encourage visits to Sri Lanka for disillusioned members of the Diaspora community to make assessments for themselves on what is taking place and what remains to be done.

(Courtesy: The Island)

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Letter to Mr.Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam of All Ceylon Tamil Congress, from Kanthar P Balanathan, Melbourne, Australia

Mr. Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam
All Ceylon Tamil Congress
15, Queens Road
Colpetty, Colombo 3
SriLanka

Dear Mr.Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam

SRILANKA, TAMILS & AMATEURISH POLITICS

On the 1st June 2012, the journalist from Inbaththamil Radio in Sydney interviewed you.  The discussion went on for more than an hour with lengthy answers given by you, which may or may not have convinced the Tamil Diaspora. This interview has been the driver for me to write this letter to you. Please read the letter in full. I also courteously request you to do a bit of research on Jaffna, Baticaloa, Tamil Nadu, and India in general of social development and communities. If you disagree, you are welcome to reply me via my email please.

My view is that most Tamils are congenitally imbecile and do not want to dissect, analyze and address issues with diverse & multi-directional perceptions. My understanding is that, the literates gain knowledge of problem analysis by restructuring it to see it in many different ways. I am sure you would have read on Leonardo da Vinci’s theories on problem analysis.

Every Tamil should have the right to suggest a lead to a solution, wherever he or she lives. The reason is some members of the Tamil community feel that Tamil Diaspora is there to support your political ideology, which I strongly disagree and demur. I can confidently state that there are significant numbers of Tamils who feel the same way, provided the Tamil politicians lead Tamils to an acceptable solution within a unitary SriLanka with one governing body. I propose to discuss in detail my views, on the situation of Tamils in SriLanka.

I request you to appreciate my main theme that politics should not be limited to single group of people (elites) and that others should follow them like a cattle herd, which has unfortunately been the pattern over centuries with regard to many issues. Well, during my period at Hartley College, politics cuddled my curiosity & attentiveness. I watched the political dominance and supremacy of some Attorneys and elites. If a low caste person disagrees or proves a point better than those elites’, they were man handled by force or indirectly made to vacillate. That is Jaffna man’s culture. Jaffna man thinks that politics is not for lower caste people.  This same pattern prevails in India today. Although we boast of democracy, the public do not practice democracy. Even in normal discussion, a low cast person has no right to contribute or add a valid point. These are my observations during my eight-year period at KKS, notwithstanding living among the Diaspora.

I closely watched Federal Party’s political passage, trivial hostility, and skirmish for Sri Lankan licence plate numbers on vehicles. As a pupil, I pondered this cheap politics by the Attorneys at Law, who were politicians. Those politicians did not consider the socio-politico-economic or technological importance for Tamils or for SriLanka, but only their self-centered selfishness of financial position and political survival. Federal Party was indoctrinating the Tamil speaking people in the N&E compelling the Tamil populace to go on a wild goose chase.

Pre-Independence Era

Although the details are timeworn, I wish to bring it to the following for information.

Donoughmore and Soulbury drafted the constitutions during the British period. During this period, in the State Assembly elections held in 1931, 1936 & 1947, upcountry Tamils elected eight assembly members of Parliament. (Ref: The National Question and the Tamil Liberation Struggle by Satchi Ponnambalam). This may be the reason for the Elite Jaffna Tamils to spawn hatred towards the highland Tamils and/or the discrimination because of the caste or social differences?

The Ceylon National Congress was formed in 1919. Sir P. Ramanathan represented the Legislative Council of Ceylon as a member, only for the Educated Ceylonese between the periods 1911 to 1921. Between the periods 1924 to 1930, he represented the LC for Valikamam North. Sir PR died at the age of 79 in 1930. The crux I wish to accentuate is that Sir PR represented only a few elites Tamils. Their racial ethnic group was not at all interested in the general Tamil speaking populace. Sir PR did not represent the entire Tamils, and did not politically work towards liberating the Tamil populace from slavery and caste oppression.

A reference is relevant to the fact that your grandfather, late Mr. GG Ponnambalam voted in favor of disfranchisement. (Ref; The National Question and the Tamil Liberation Struggle by Satchi Ponnambalam). However, recent writings by Mr. Vinayagamoorthy of ACTC deny that GGP vehemently opposed it. Does it mean that history is rewritten or is untrue? Which is the truth? Could we then assume or believe that Elite Tamils were the main driver for the disfranchisement of persons of Indian origin in Sri Lanka?

Further two MPs (SJVC & Vanniasingham) resigned from the Tamil Congress and founded the “Federal Party” in 1949. The Tamil name for this party is Thamizh Arasu Katchi, meaning, Tamil Kingdom Party. This was the first step of obliteration Tamil Politicians national identity.

However, for the last 64 years Tamils have been screaming, crying and politically slandering GSL that the Sinhalese were responsible for the disenfranchisement of the Tamils, which  definitely  is not the truth.

If we address and analyze the events from different perceptions, we could conclude that the snobbish superiority complex, self-importance, and egotism of the Tamil elites, and their deep-rooted hard rock caste consciousness were the main driver for the present impasse leading to the creation of the racial abomination within the SriLankan community.

  • GGP elected to State Council in 1934
  • The ACTC founded in 1944. GGP asks for 50-50% representation, which is imprudent and thoughtless demand.
  • GGP enters as leader of ACTC on 29-08-1944
  • SJVC Deputy leader in 1944
  • SJVC elected to parliament in 1947 (first time)
  • Citizenship act passed on 20-08-1948
  • Citizenship act became law on 15-11-1948
  • FP was formed on 18-12-1949
  • Tamil politicians define the Tamils are of a distinct Nation in 1951
  • SLFP formed by SWRDB in 1951

The sequence of episodes give directions to SJVC starting the racial  thrust by forming a federal party (Tamil Kingdom Party), notion on Tamil nation, and phrasing his political party to carry a different meaning to convince the Tamils. The majority took counter-productive measures from those episodes: – SWRD Banda founded the SLFP and the Sinhala only.

However, Tamils, with all their intelligence placed on the pinnacle of education nurtured by London, did not demand a Federal System prior to Independence from the British? Every elite Tamil from Jaffna was sucking the British for their growth in the public (elite) domain with education, employment and recognition. Somehow, they got what they wanted. When they received what they wished-for, did they ever think of N&E, and its development, advancement of the common people in the N&E. They were obdurate to progress and apart from maintaining their caste system to enable them to accrue more wealth for their off springs. They ran to the South, and majority of the elites settled in Colombo, which could be tantamount to clustering the South.  Most of Tamil elites studied in Colombo and the UK.

Post-Independence Era

It may be ambiguous that the British may have granted a separate state prior to independence, if demanded, by the Tamils, because of the resources and economic sustainability of the N&E. When SJVC formed the FP, some politicians from the center left quarters raised a sniggering query directed to SJVC, whether he could run the Federal governance with the onion and chilly economy.

The Tamils were quick enough to educate themselves and get government employment, in the administrative, legal and clerical sector. Most of elites were educated in Colombo schools and the UK, while others, some in Colombo, best schools in the North, and settle in government jobs. The Tamils were also quick enough to cluster the South, and diversify their portfolio of skills in the trade sector. The Tamils all over Srilanka dominated food stalls and eating-houses. Well, it commands to conclude that Tamils were not interested in developing the North & East, but to more than satisfy to settle in exalted government jobs and settle in the South, particularly in the capital. No educated Tamil wanted to invest in any form of industry or venture out in the North & East. Your grandfather was wise enough to initiate and erect three factories in the N&E. Majority of Tamils family lived in the N&E while men were living in the South generating their wealth for the family, which accrued from the government of SriLanka. We had free education, free health and heavily subsidized services and provisions.

I quote from an article published by a prominent and leading journalist & a researcher in political science: Mr. HLD Mahindapala in Lankaweb titled “Insane fury” of Tamil leaders terrorised, bloodied and oppressed JaffnaIt was this Jaffna-centric culture that was expressed unequivocally in the popular adage: “The sons shine in Colombo while the father reaps the harvest in Jaffna.”

Please refer.

Reference: (i) http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/category/h-l-d-mahindapala/

(ii)http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2012/06/16/insane-fury-of-tamil-leaders-terrorised-bloodied-and-oppressed-jaffna/

(iii) http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2012/06/30/tale-of-tamils-tortured-in-totalitarian-terroristan-of-jaffna/

Please refer to Kumari Jayawardhane’s book titled; “Ethnic and Class Conflicts in SriLanka”, Center for Social Analysis. Non-Sinhala people dominated trade and commercial sector in SL during pre-independence era, which continued after independence with Muslims dominating larger sector of trade. It may be clear to understand the driver for the 1915 “Mankollai” riots between the Muslims and the Sinhalese.

We should understand that Sinhalese are the sons of the soil of SriLanka, however, with the British and Indian support, trade and commercial sector was dominated by Non-Sinhalese in the 19th & 20th century.

As a pupil, I grew up in Kamburupitiya and Matara in the 1950s. My understanding of the character of the Sinhalese is that high proportion of the Sinhalese are, gentle, kind, caring, sympathetic, and embrace all humans with open arms, irrespective of race, religion or ethnic group. Sinhalese preach & practice Buddhism, which is measured a humane philosophy also practiced by billions of humans around the world.

Majority of the Schools in the South had Tamil medium streams with Tamil teachers. While in Kurunagala in 1966, I met teachers who were teaching Tamil to students. Well, to generalize, I can state that in any part of SriLanka, Tamil stream was available for Tamil students. Not to mention, every part of SriLanka had spice shops and Tamil eating-houses. Wherever, Tamils clustered, we have a humdrum tradition of building Temples and opening up eating-houses & shops. This does not mean that they have lived there for centuries, but occupied.

Mostly Tamils held positions in all government offices. You can be sure that you can stroll into an office to meet the Chief Clerk who will no doubt be a Tamil. However, Tamils being a minority ethnic group, has anyone analysed how they were able to populate offices and liveable areas in the South and other places?

Tamils held majority of the top jobs in the past. This may be due to the system designed in such a way for Tamils to gain access to all streams. The Sinhalese people built this nation –SriLanka. The Sinhalese developed their language, culture, customary practices, preached and practiced Budhhism. They should be proud of what they did develop, cultivate and achieve. We should perceive that they did not borrow or copycat from the Indians. Tamils should recognise this truth, and not boast that their language and character is superlative to the Sinhalese. Focusing on Tamil culture, language and religion; Tamils in SL did not have anything to invent, but borrowed the whole ball of wax from Tamil Nadu.

We seem to boast that everything that is famous or good belongs to the Tamils without reading history. Villages were formed in the Indus Valley(IV) as early as 600BC. (Town of Mehrgarh). Ref: Ancient Civilisation by Judson Knight, Stacey A. McConnell & Lawrence W.Baker. Does it mean that the Tamils are intending to claim I-V region as their Nation?

I quote from AJ Wilson’s book titled “Politics in SriLanka”:- Economic rivalries— “SriLanka is a mosaic of ethnic, religious and social groups in which Sinhalese Buddhists (Low country and Kandyan) form the sizeable majority.* This majority had been neglected during the long years of western rule. Nor were their grievances looked into with sympathy by post-independence governments of the 1948-56 phase. Further these Buddhists, in particular their indigenous-oriented elites, entertain fears In respect of two important minority groupings”.

Well, being the majority and the ancient, unique generation of the island, naturally discrimination and oppression of the Sinhalese people by the minorities should be dealt in full. Don’t you agree Mr. G.G Ponnambalam. With the 60million Tamils just across 22 miles from the North, the Jaffna man thought that they could intimidate the majority of the land (Sinhalese), which is inhuman and against human norms. Tamils are quite selfish and they want everything for themselves.

I quote another information published by Professor Daya Somasundaram. Quote: Prof Daya Somasundaram in his publication has given a statistics of Tamils in service in SriLanka. (Ref: MCGILL FOREIGN AFFAIRS REVIEW, Volume II, Issue 1 – Winter 2010).

Table 1: Percentages of Tamils employed in Sri Lanka, by sector.

Year 1956 1965 1970 2002
Administration 30 20 5 8
Clerical Service 50 30 5 9
Professionals 60 30 10 10
Armed Forces 40 20 1 <0.01

http://mcgillfar.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/mfar-vol-ii-issue-1.pdf

Let Tamils convince themselves in their mind and soul that Tamils were less than approximately 11.5% of the total population in Ceylon. Nevertheless, Tamils were holding 50% of the jobs in clerical service, 40% in the armed forces, and 60% Professionals in 1956. Does this indicate that Tamils were discriminated, or does it indicate that Tamils were dominating?

Political Confusion

Nation Theory

In your interview, you emphasized that SriLanka is an island, one country of two nations, and that Sinhalese people are colonizing Tamil areas, with government acquiring Tamil lands.

Analysis of the definition of a “Nation”.

While the terms country (synonomyous with “State”) and nation are often used interchangeably, there is a difference. A country is a self-governing political entity while a nation is a tightly-knit group of people which share a common culture. Nations are culturally homogeneous groups of people, larger than a single tribe or community, which share a common language, institutions, religion, historical experience.

When a nation of people have a State or country of their own, it is called a nation-state. Places like France, Egypt, Germany, and Japan are excellent examples of nation-states. There are some States which have two nations, such as Canada and Belgium. Even with its multicultural society, the United States is also referred to as a nation-state because of the shared American “culture.”

(Reference: geography.about.com/library)

A large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory: the world’s leading industrialized nations a North American Indian people or confederation of peoples.

one nation

[often as modifier] a nation not divided by social inequality:one-nation Tories. (Ref: Oxford Dictionary)

According to Joseph Stalin writing in 1913 in Marxism and the National Question: “a nation is not a racial or tribal, but a historically constituted community of people;” “a nation is not a casual or ephemeral conglomeration, but a stable community of people;” “a common language is one of the characteristic features of a nation;” “a nation is formed only as a result of lengthy and systematic intercourse, as a result of people living together generation after generation;” “a common territory is one of the characteristic features of a nation;” “a common economic life, economic cohesion, is one of the characteristic features of a nation;” “a common psychological make-up, which manifests itself in a common culture, is one of the characteristic features of a nation;” “A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.” According to Stalin, this would exclude Jews as they have no common territory. (Ref: Wikipedia.org)

Mr.Ponnambalam,

The assumption of SJV Chelvanayagam on the question of North & East being a nation in 1949 was positively and unconditionally incorrect and your current theory is downright and unconditionally offensive and indecorous.

We should not bring in the monarchy system, as monarchy is a system of government in which sovereignty and power is actually vested or nominally embodied in a single individual. Bringing in historical evidence of monarchy forms is not conducive to the 21st century form of governance. Particularly the region defined by Tamils was not governed by one monarchy. The East was under the kandyan kingdom, while Jaffna had its own monarchical governance in Nallur, and Vanni monarchical governance. Within the Northern area, several petty Chieftains paid taxes to the main ruler in Nallur. Vanni was totally a separate area. However, both the rulers paid taxes to the Sinhala kings in the South.

With revolutionizing the governance by the western world by means of a democratic system, the monarchical systems were amalgamated to one central government and Municipal Council, Urban Council, Town Council and Village Councils within the Country.

Several racial groups habit the North. The ethnic group in the N&E consists of Malabar, Tamils, Telugus, Marathi, Karnataka, Portuguese, Dutch, Irish, Pilipino and what not. Although all speak a common language (Tamil), ethnically, they are different races. We can see significant difference in culture, spoken language, colloquial language, words, appearance, religion, customary practices and their domestic and commercial values and commitments. I need not emphasize that Vanniyars is a race that still exist in Tamil Nadu; however, the Vanniyars in SL and TN speak Tamil in public. History states that people in Chavakatchcheri (Java-cheri) and Vanni in SL migrated from Indonesia.

Baticaloa is another region, which was colonised by Mukuvars, Malayalis and other races. Although they are identified by caste, the caste system evolved behind their race. Most Mulsims of Balicaloa are Mukuvars assimilated with Pattanis of the Arab. (Ref: Wikipedia.org)

The difference in their race was palpable when LTTE was formed with 25 or more groups formed opposed to LTTE as their rivals. Has anyone asked the question: why did we have multitude of armed groups running around Jaffna and Baticaloa?

Religion:

Tamil speaking people in the N&E worship different gods. Murugar, Shiva, Vishnu, Ambal, Jesus Christ, and St.Mary. Origin of religion in India was Saivism (Siva) dominated by various tyrants. Eg. Suryavarman built the Angkor temple in Cambodia. (Ref: http://archaeology.about.com/od/angkorwatcambodia/qt/angkor.htm). Suriyavarman is from the Khmer empire with Pali and Sanskrit as their language. Still most Tamils think and claim that Suravarman is a Tamil, which is untrue. This is an indication of the shortfall of knowledge of the Tamils in history.

1.       As the Tamil speaking people of the North and East do not constitute a race united by common descent, history, culture, or language, we cannot specifically identify that the region is a “NATION”. This is evident from (i) the multitude of armed groups who gave birth, purely because of their caste, not on one common race (ii) the racial hatred and inter-rivalry between castes (race), Maddakkalappan, Vanniyan, Theevan, Vadamarachiyan & Thenmarachiyan etc. You will agree that the caste oppression then continues even in the 21st century in SL, and among the Diaspora.

2.       Every part of Jaffna has its own culture & traditions, differing from each other. For example, Tellipalai is different from Araly, Karainagar, or Padaitherippu. Tamils worship different gods. Although the Indians were wise enough to merge Vaishnavam & Saivism, make Vishnu the Brother-in-Law of Siva and brought all within one umbrella known as “Hinduism”, which nexuses all the divergences, resulting the religious hatred between them to fade away.

  1. The compositions of the different races who speak Tamil do not add up to even 10% or the strength is inadequate to be around even 1.5 million. Among this 1.5 million people, it is alarming to note the differences. We can see it as a multi-culture in the North, than a unique culture.
  1. Tamils never, ever wanted to develop the region they claim. Everyone wanted a government job and run to the South. More number of Tamil speaking people is in the South than the North.

Therefore, the Tamil speaking people can be part of the people in SriLanka as one country; SriLanka. The Malayalis, Telugus, Vanniyars and Karnatakas etc who came over to SL learned Tamil and started to speak Tamil, why not add to learn Sinhalese and be part of the SriLankan race. The melting pot should be within SriLanka and not any other way.

Refer an article “Race and Ethnicity” published in Calameo; http://en.calameo.com/read/0010728051e7e9a8e19dd

Colonisation

Colonization (or colonisation) occurs whenever any one or more species populate an area. The term, which derived from the Latincolere, “to inhabit, cultivate, frequent, practice, tend, guard, respect”, originally referred to humans. During the 19th century, bio geographers appropriated the term to describe the activities of birds, bacteria, or plant species. Human colonization is a narrower category than the related concept of colonialism. Colonization refers strictly to migration, for example, to settler colonies, trading posts, and plantations, while colonialism deals with this as well as the ruling of new territories’ existing peoples. (Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonization)

1.       In this context, I wish to emphasize that SriLanka was historically a Sinhala country with Sangamitta, (King Asoka’s sibling daughter) later went to SriLanka to spread the teachings of Buddha at the request of King Davanampiya Tissa (250 BC – 210 BC) who was a contemporary of Ashoka (304 BC – 232 BC).

The Jaffna Kingdom, (1215-1624 CE), also known as Kingdom of Aryachakravarti, of modern northern SriLanka was a historic monarchy that came into existence around the town of Jaffna on the Jaffna peninsula after the invasion of Magha, who is said to have been from Kalinga, in India. The rival Kotte Kingdom eventually overpowered the Jaffna kingdom around 1450. Magha is not Tamil, and Kalinga is definitely not Tamil. It associates with Sinhala people.

Subsequently the Javanese, Cholas, Pandyans, and the Jing bang invaded SriLanka and colonised. We can concurrently acknowledge that Tamil Language and colonisation followed by force, displacing the Sinhalese people and their religion. Dutugamunu freed his territory from the Cholas. Colonisation continued subsequently to the East and West from Kerala, and North from Cholas and Pandyans. Along with the colonisation, people from Karnataka and other places were brought for slave labour.

Therefore, in real terms the Tamils invading the Sinhalese territory initiated Colonisation.

2.       The different administrations were unified under one administration in 1833 for convenience, which the Tamil politicians accepted. Since then the Sinhalese and Tamils raised their freedom voice in parallel with the Indians, Tamils never wanted separate administration. In fact, history states that Tamils vociferous voice was louder against the British for the independence. Since 1833, Tamils accepted the island as one country.  When Indian labour was brought as plantation workers, no one objected. Why did not Tamils from the N&E move to work in the plantation sector? It’s the elites wanted the labour to be in the N&E for their own oppressive labour work. Shifting Indians to the plantation is another form of colonisation as it was from another country. British bringing European workers are another form of colonisation. The Portuguese, Dutch, Welsh, Irish etc. who were settled is another form of colonisation. Most of them settled in SriLanka.

3.       As soon as Tamils sensed declaration of independence or even before that, Tamils, began to move to the South. The elites did not think the move as colonisation as this was within one country. Tamils thought and felt that they have the right to move and settle in any part of the country. So be it, it happened, Tamils moved to every corner in SriLanka. I have seen Tamils in Kamburupitiya, Tangalle, and Deniyaya etc. Right from North to South and East to West. Yes, this was accepted because the movement and settlement was within one country.

However, when the GOSL initiated addressing the demographic pattern, to maximise productivity through exploitation of resources, Tamils started to screech & scream, ”Colonisation of Tamil areas”.

Careful study will reveal that demographic movement of people within a country, to maximise productivity to achieve economic sustainability, is not be construed as colonisation. If politicians do continue to address this as colonisation then, they have a shortfall in the interpretation of the real meaning of colonisation in political terms.

What do we have in SriLanka? The Tamils are quite multitalented with the practice of ethnic polarisation and racial polarisation.

Within the Northern region, Tamils are agile in practicing racial polarisation via caste distinction. People belonging to different races set together to live in cluster groups isolated from the rest of the society. Every town, village has cluster groups of different caste people living as a community identified as lower caste. The Primitive, Mediaeval system is being continued to be practiced by the congenitally imbecile Tamils. During the Dutch rule, Tamil elites scurried to enact a law known as ‘Thesavalamai Law” to protect their area. This means that a lower caste person cannot purchase a land in the upper caste area. Jaffna consists of places identified as Dhobi area, Barber area and so on.

Such discriminatory practice in the first place identifies Tamils as abstruse denigrate race. While Tamils preach and squabble on human rights in the United Nations HRC forum, they practice the worst form of oppressive demeanour living standard in SriLanka. Tamils have taken their right of such practice not only in SriLanka but also to foreign countries. Tamil Diaspora follows the worst form of discriminatory living standards.

Addressing “ethnic polarisation”: Tamils think that they have the right to live anywhere in SL, build temples anywhere in SL, but have mind clogged with a notion that they have to protect their land from invasion, which is a hypothetical imagination, because such land does not exist.

Well, SriLanka was a country, which represented ethnic polarisation of the North and South, with exception of Tamils dominating the trade and commerce throughout the island.

It is ridiculous and difficult to understand the selfishness, self-importance, superciliousness and superiority complex of the Tamils.

Therefore, the North & East of SriLanka is not imperilled to any formula of colonisation or invasion from any other country, which is a threat to its sovereignty.

What is happening in SriLanka is internal movement (demographic) of citizens on a human geographical perspective to maximise productivity.

Neo-Colonialism

As defined by Dictionary.com: The policy of a strong nation in seeking political and economic hegemony over an independent nation or extended geographical area without necessarily reducing the subordinate nation or area to the legal status of a colony.

Prior to independence Indians colonised the economic and trade circles. As stated by Kumari Jayawardhane in her book points down to these people dominating the trade, commerce and the economic center and transfer some or all proceeds to their own country, which is neo-colonialism. After independence, Indians, Tamils and Muslims dominated the economic, trade and commerce.

The people supressed and affected are the Sinhalese.

Tamil Society

Tamils have been trailing along on trivial issues with lack of comprehension on co-existence. Although on certain occasions I had to sympathise with the Tamil politics, I had to fine-tune my thoughts in line with the real world. I had my views, which are resolute in that Tamils were making a big mistake, vexing & perturbing SriLanka.

Vaddukoddai Resolution

The Tamil Manavar Peravai (TMP) was gaining recognition among the Tamil masses. I am a native of Vaddukoddai. Mr. Amirthalingham was well known and notable for poor human qualities and the people decided in 1966 to dump Amirthaligham. Vaddukoddai people took up the challenge, and he was defeated and chased out of Vaddukoddai in 1970. The defeat humiliated him and ran to Tellipallai. In general, FP sensed vacillation of popularity and support among the Tamils. I was at KKS during these periods.

The liberation groups and TMP’s vision and mission were to establish a separate Tamil land. This is when Amirthalingham wanted to regain his political identity and supremacy among the Tamils, and had a convention for the Resolution. Can anyone give one good reason? (i) why FP chose Vaddukoddai as the Town for the convention (ii) Declaration of a separate country of Tamil Eelam.

Analysis reveals that the convention had to be a necessity to prevent FP’s downfall. Vaddukoddai Resolution was a formula Amirthalingham and Co developed for FP’s political survival. To regain as FP’s political icon, Amirthalingham, chose Vaddukkoddai for the VR. This was the third catastrophic failure Tamil politicians instigated, just because they wanted to regain political importance. The first is the SJVC’s Federal Party, second being TMP and LTTE taking up arms.

Tamil Diaspora – (TD)

Tamils categorized as a kind of nomads and drifters look for greener pastures. General characterization is that we have a habit of not staying in one place, but wonder to other greener pastures. Tamils from India invaded and colonized Indonesia and Ceylon. Well, historically South Indian Kingdoms, and travellers via the Indian Ocean stormed Ceylon. The world should sympathize with the SriLankan Sinhalese, as they are people who suffered the most over several centuries with sudden unpredictable assaults from South India, Muslims, Moors and Europeans.

In Ceylon Tamils were identified as “Kallathonies”, which is true. Even after Ceylon got independence, people from South India (Tamil Nadu, Andra) were creeping illegally by boats. Government established a unit in Palaly to eliminate illegal immigration.

However, in the 21st century, Tamils from SriLanka are entering European countries, New Zealand and Australia illegally by boat. They enter as refugees, but after they receive permanent residence, they go back to SriLanka on holidays. Can they be actually refugees?

Today some of the Tamil Diaspora, may be approximately 25-30% are perceived with a mindset of Tamil Ealam and TGTE. Notwithstanding, wherever they have colonized in Australia, they have built several temples in different suburbs in the different states. Significant number of curry houses and eating-houses are been opened up. Some of them are ambitious to enter local politics. Are these migrants willing to change and integrate with the Australians or is there a possibility of demanding a separate governing body for the Tamils in Australia.

The result is several millions of dollars wasted each year for their TE campaign, with nil result.

Tamil Nadu Poly-tricks

We all are aware that Tamil Nadu (TN) politicians originated separatism calling for an independent Tamil Nadu as soon as they got independence. Later they abandoned the demand for their own selfish reasons. Their motive was to develop their state, which they accomplished. However, they could not rid from the racist mindset, which resulted in the birth of Dravida Kazhagam. Today there is significant number of political parties, which embeds the word “Dravida”. In Tamil Nadu, majority of people are not educated, but inflicted with myths through cinema. After 64 years, TN is crowded with migrants from other states, who have settled and call themselves Tamils. Majority of the TN people can speak Hindi in TN. Some from neighboring states have found an easy method of entering politics. These individuals found that cinema is a sound channel of entering politics. Most of illiterates in TN, saturated with idiosyncrasy, hero-worship cinema actors and vote for them. The term “Democracy” has no meaning in TN.

Those frustrated leftovers and some politicians, rather addressing their issues, direct their grievance and attacks to the Central Government in Delhi, via the Tamils in SriLanka. India promoted LTTE, trained them and gave them weapons to fight GSL. They had two motives. (i) satisfy their local state TN politicians (ii) to control and thumb down GSL.

Today TN politicians are moaning and crying that N & E is colonized In SL. No one speaks about Tamils clustering the South. Well, these TN politicians are either politically & socially immature or their plan is to destroy SL.

Those frustrated cases like; Nedumaran, Seeman, Vaiko, who are unable to enter into powerful political positions in Tamil Nadu politics are directing their anger and frustrations towards SriLankan politics. Just a trivial case, which we all have to ignore.

Provincial Council

Creation of Provincial Councils (PC) proliferate government expenses, bribery and corruption. The question is could the PC generate revenue within the PC region. What is the mode of inflow of capital to the Provincial Council? Inadequate inflow results for them to beg the Central Government for funds. Well, it could be that the PC will have only limited power, but they cannot generate adequate revenue to run the Council. Can we manage with the onion and chili economy? Embracing Power is not going to improve people’s living standards and enhancement of knowledge in socio-politico-economic and technology. We are in the 21st century, not the 12th century with rearward monarchy system.

If Provincial Council system cannot solve economic and technical issues, can we assume that a Federal System will solve? A Federal System will be a catastrophic tragedy to the entire SriLanka. On a 10-year horizon, SriLanka may accelerate to be another third world nation.

Tamil Diaspora embraced with the myth of a separate nation has not understood the implications and unreality of such a perception. If PC and Federal System were not feasible, then a separate nation would be treacherous debacle. A separate nation (TE) would be a threat to the entire South East Asian nations. TE would be an airport for foreign terrorists, drug traffics and smugglers. Such illegal means may become a reality on a 15-year horizon.

TGTE propagates that Tamils need to govern themselves free from oppression and discrimination. Those elite Tamils have not perceived that they have been oppressing and discriminating lower cast Tamils for centuries and the tradition continues. It is the SriLankan government opened up opportunities for all Tamils to gain access to good schools, Universities and employment. A separate country (TE) will maximize oppression and discrimination of the lower segment of the Tamils by the Elite rulers under the pretext of democracy. Even a PC with power may lead to absolute discrimination and oppression of the lower segment (majority) of the Tamils by the Elites.

Most educated literate members of TGTE gained free primary, secondary, University education plus free food through coupons.

Most of those are the very same educated people now calling themselves Tamil Diaspora, are working against SriLanka to destroy SriLanka economy, sovereignty and esteem.

Analysis on PCs

Dr. Laksiri Fernando in his article in Asian Tribune on the 15th April 2011 has highlighted the following:

The recurrent expenditure in the provincial councils was dramatic; increasing from 28,856 million in 2000 to 111,336 million in 2009 (Source: Central Bank). This was almost a fourfold increase. While personal emoluments constituted around 77 percent of this expenditure, these personnel were employed apparently to deliver certain services both economic and social. The cost for provincial administration was only 6 percent. Therefore, the argument of the ‘white elephant’ is not completely correct as far as the administrative expenses are concerned.

Well, my point is that if one could do a Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) on a 30 year horizon, with the capital (costs) expended in the year itself: ie without considering inflation, the result would be a high Negative – Net Present Value (NPV), might be in the order of Negative Trillions.

http://www.asiantribune.com/news/2011/04/14/provincial-councils-sri-lanka-political-economy-perspective

There have been Provincial Councils functioning for the past donkeys’ years. You may answer the questions to yourself to achieve complete satisfaction:

Have the Provincial Council administration over the past two decades shown any improvements, enhancements on, Education, Technology, Health, Industrialisation, Science and Environment, Accountability & Transparency, improve infrastructures and improve and stabilize income accrual to operate the PCs.

What have the PCs achieved, which are the only transparent bits and pieces: PCs have been only complaining on lack of funds, Proliferation of bribery & corruption? The PCs want more power, but does not want to improve their provinces.

What our politicians want is political power for their own self-esteem and personal economic well-being.

TNA & Future

May be, TNA is the sole representatives of the Tamils in SriLanka. TGTE is an organisation, which floats in air. TGTE can never claim that they are either the representatives or any other organisation overseas. The following are not feasible on a socio-economic perspective of the Tamils.

1.       Provincial Council

2.       Federal system

3.       Separate country TE

There can be only one government (GSL) and Tamils could be part of the government. If Tamils need power sharing, please think of an option of joining the governance holding portfolio(s). Tamils must realise that we are quite a low minority and power-sharing request should be reasonable. TNA could request the appropriate changes to take effect by irrevocable act of parliament.

Power or the issue of language will not produce food for people to survive. Tamils need to be pro-active, constructive, productive, practical, positive, helpful, thoughtful, and considerate in their political ideology and performance to achieve peace and build SriLanka, a powerful nation in the Indian Ocean.

Kind Regards

Yours Sincerely

 (Kanthar Palany Balanathan)

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Media Freedom in the U.S: Not so Rosy as Projected to Give Advice to Others

By Daya Gamage
 Asian Tribune Political Note Washington, DC.11 July
Clip_1_Gamage_0.jpg

The photograph depicting a police officer handcuffing a woman we are reproducing along with this political note did not occur in a developing country or a Third World nation which more frequently receive ‘lectures’, ‘advises’ and sometimes’ reprimands’ from the United States about the virtues of press or media freedom and the importance of upholding those freedoms to safeguard or consolidate democracy.

This is the image of journalist Kristyna Wntz-Graff, whose press badge is well visible, when arrested while covering an Occupy Wall Street Protest Movement last November in New York, a protest that engulfed many major American cities against ‘corporate greed depriving the basics to the ordinary American people’.

This cannot happen in the United States which has assumed the moral responsibility in bringing democracy, free speech and media freedom and of course the right to dissent to the wider world.

The January 2012- released Reporters Without Borders in its 2011 — 2012 global Press Freedom Index said the indicators for press freedom in the U.S. are dramatic, with a downward movement from 27th to 47th in the global ranking, from the previous year.

The second photograph of a woman that we are carrying in this political note, Laura Poitras, is even more disturbing that it happened in the United States under the patronage of a cabinet-rank department in the federal government.

Ms. Poitras, a freelance journalist makes award winning controversial political films, has angered the United States authorities. A US born citizen, the US government internal security apparatus the Department of Homeland Security detained her many times at the border when she returned from her assignments abroad, confiscating her electronic devises and journalist notebooks harassing her for exercising her First Amendment right which is freedom of speech and expression, and blatantly violating her Fourth Amendment right which is searches are prohibited under the law unless obtaining a warrant from the judiciary.

How the federal authorities in the United States exercise their ‘free will’ over Ms. Laura Poitras in violating her First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights, most sacred rights enshrined in the US Constitution, will be given in detail at the end of this Asian Tribune Political Note.

While the State Department touted its press freedom record in press release this May marking the international Media Day and encouraged other countries to improve their own laws, it’s also important to critically look at the U.S.’s current approach to press freedom, in particular their statement that “the United States honors and supports media freedom at home and abroad.”

The two photographs we carry here have two amazing stories behind them whether the United States stands by its stated commitment of “honoring and supporting media freedom at home and abroad.”

The critical look at the U.S.’s current approach to press freedom in this Asian Tribune Political Note is appropriate at a time the American embassy in Sri Lanka raised concerns over media freedom in that country on July 2 following the Government of Sri Lanka’s decision to close down two internet websites and take nine journalists associated with those two sites into custody for questioning. It was reported later that the judiciary set the nine persons free as it said that there were no culpability on their part to incarcerate them.

The United States said it was closely following the case.

“We have raised on several occasions our deep concern over efforts to suppress independent news media, including the blocking of news websites, intimidation, and disappearances of journalists,” the U.S. Embassy in Colombo said in a statement.

Immediately after 9/11

Since the deadly 9/11 attacks the United States sought to restrict the press at home and abroad. Less than one month after 9/11, then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell asked the Emir of Qatar to use his influence to rein in Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based, Arabic-language satellite station funded by the Qatari government. The request stemmed from concern about the station’s alleged anti-American bias and its repeated airing of a 1998 exclusive interview with Osama bin Laden.

Three months after 9/11, the U.S.-funded worldwide broadcaster, Voice of America, issued new

guidelines barring interviews from “nations that sponsor terrorism.” The change came in response to State Department pressure after an enterprising VOA journalist for the Pashto-language service managed to get an exclusive interview with Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Afghan Taliban leader. The VOA journalist was subsequently forced out of her job.

Some media outlets also came under physical attack from U.S. forces. In November 2001, during the U.S-led campaign in Afghanistan, a U.S. missile struck the Kabul, Afghanistan bureau of Al-Jazeera. The U.S. military described the building as a “known” al-Qaeda facility without providing any evidence. In response to a Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) letter to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs General Richard Myers reiterated the U.S. military had no indications the building was being used by Al-Jazeera, even though the network had been using the building for nearly two years and had mounted several satellite dishes on its roof. More than four years later, in June 2006, the respected U.S. journalist and author Ron Suskind told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that the Kabul attack “was done on purpose, precisely to send a message to Al-Jazeera.”

Clinton Proclamation: Words and Deeds

Just couple of days ago on July 5 US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued the following statement encouraging nations to accept free flow of information:

“Today, the UN Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a resolution with the message that there can be no division or double standard regarding human rights online. The landmark resolution makes clear that all individuals are entitled to the same human rights and fundamental freedoms online as they are offline, and all governments must protect those rights regardless of the medium.

The free flow of news and information is under threat in countries around the world. We are witnessing an alarming surge in the number of cases involving government censorship and persecution of individuals for their actions online – sometimes for just a single tweet or text message.”

Popular columnist Trevor Timm in one of his submissions noted: “Journalists’ sources in the U.S. have been the hardest hit in recent years. The current administration (the Obama administration) has used the Espionage Act to prosecute a record six whistleblowers for leaking information to the press—more than the rest of the previous administrations combined. Many of these whistleblowers have exposed constitutional violations such as the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program and the CIA’s waterboarding practices—issues clearly in the public interest—and now face years in prison. Meanwhile, the Justice Department has brought no prosecutions for the crimes underlying the exposed allegations.”

He further states, “In addition, a grand jury is reportedly still investigating WikiLeaks for violations of the Espionage Act for publishing classified information—a practice that has traditionally been protected by the First Amendment and which other newspapers engage in regularly. It would not only be completely unprecedented to prosecute a publisher under the archaic statute, but would also endanger many U.S. based publications like the New York Times. And as former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley has remarked, the U.S. government’s investigation into WikiLeaks undermines the United States’ ability to pressure countries like Russia and China to allow greater press freedom.”

The U.S. also has repeatedly detained Oscar-nominated filmmaker and journalist Laura Poitras, whose photograph appears in this column and her story is given below, at the border. Poitras has received critical acclaim for two films she has produced about the U.S.’ post-9/11 wars, and is in the midst of making her third film on the subject. As internet blogger Glenn Greenwald reported, “On several occasions, her reporter’s notebooks were seized and their contents copied, even as she objected that doing so would invade her journalist-source relationship,” clearly violating her rights as a reporter.

And while the State Department said in a statement marking the World Press Freedom Day in May that they “advocate for freedom of expression and raise media freedom issues, including specific cases, in bilateral discussions with other governments and in multilateral bodies,” the Obama administration has come under fire for lobbying the Yemeni government to keep a prominent Yemeni journalist Abd al-Ilah Haydar Al-Sha’i in jail. Al-Sha’i has aggressively covered civilian casualties resulting from US drone strikes in the region and has previously working for multiple US publications such as ABC News and the Washington Post.

On the local level in the U.S., many police departments have engaged in heavy-handed tactics against the press covering political protests, most notably Occupy Wall Street protests. Journalists have been harassed, assaulted and over 70 have been arrested. An assortment of news organizations led by the New York Times have formally complained to the New York Police Department about such behavior, and a recent lawsuit alleges constitutional violations stemming from such incidents.

These arrests caused the U.S. to plummet 27 places in Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom rankings to 47thoverall.

Trevor Timm noted: As Justice Hugo Black once remarked, “Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.” The U.S. had demonstrated agreement with the statement applied abroad, but the only way to promote press freedom is to practice it at home as well.

Journalist Laura Poitras’ harassment

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The caption of this political note ‘US media freedom is not so rosy as projected to give advice to others’ fits well to the story of Ms. Poitras’ unprecedented harassment in the hand of the united states federal authorities.

Her story was made known to the entire world by America’s foremost columnist/journalist/blogger who writes to the widely read Internet publication SALON Glenn Greenwald.

One of the more extreme government abuses of the post-9/11 era targets U.S. citizens re-entering their own country, and it has received far too little attention. With no oversight or legal framework whatsoever, the Department of Homeland Security routinely singles out individuals who are suspected of no crimes, detains them and questions them at the airport, often for hours, when they return to the U.S. after an international trip, and then copies and even seizes their electronic devices (laptops, cameras, cell phones) and other papers (notebooks, journals, credit card receipts), forever storing their contents in government files. No search warrant is needed for any of this. No oversight exists. And there are no apparent constraints on what the U.S. Government can do with regard to whom it decides to target or why.

In an age of international travel — where large numbers of citizens, especially those involved in sensitive journalism and activism, frequently travel outside the country — this power renders the protections of the Fourth Amendment entirely illusory. By virtue of that amendment, if the government wants to search and seize the papers and effects of someone on U.S. soil, it must (with some exceptions) first convince a court that there is probable cause to believe that the objects to be searched relate to criminal activity and a search warrant must be obtained. But now, none of those obstacles — ones at the very heart of the design of the Constitution — hinders the U.S. government: now, they can just wait until you leave the country, and then, at will, search, seize and copy all of your electronic files on your return. That includes your emails, the websites you’ve visited, the online conversations you’ve had, the identities of those with whom you’ve communicated, your cell phone contacts, your credit card receipts, film you’ve taken, drafts of documents you’re writing, and anything else that you store electronically: which, these days, when it comes to privacy, means basically everything of worth.

But the case of Laura Poitras, an Oscar-and Emmy-nominated filmmaker and intrepid journalist, is perhaps the most extreme. In 2004 and 2005, Poitras spent many months in Iraq filming a documentary that, as The New York Times put it in its review, “exposed the emotional toll of occupation on Iraqis and American soldiers alike.” The film, “My Country, My Country,” focused on a Sunni physician and 2005 candidate for the Iraqi Congress as he did things like protest the imprisonment of a 9-year-old boy by the U.S. military. At the time Poitras made this film, Iraqi Sunnis formed the core of the anti-American insurgency and she spent substantial time filming and reporting on the epicenter of that resistance. Poitras’ film was released in 2006 and nominated for the 2007 Academy Award for Best Documentary.

In 2010, she produced and directed “The Oath,” which chronicled the lives of two Yemenis caught up in America’s War on Terror:

The NYT feature on “The Oath” stated that, along with “My Country, My Country,” Poitras has produced ”two of the most searching documentaries of the post-9/11 era, on-the-ground chronicles that are sensitive to both the political and the human consequences of American foreign policy.” At the 2010 Sundance film festival, “The Oath” won the award for Best Cinematography.

Poitras’ intent all along with these two documentaries was to produce a trilogy of War on Terror films, and she is currently at work on the third installment. As Poitras described it to Glenn Greenwald, this next film will examine the way in which The War on Terror has been imported onto U.S. soil, with a focus on the U.S. Government’s increasing powers of domestic surveillance, its expanding covert domestic National security Agency (NSA) activities (including construction of a massive new NSA facility in Bluffdale, Utah in the US), its attacks on whistleblowers, and the movement to foster government transparency and to safeguard Internet anonymity. In sum, Poitras produces some of the best, bravest and most important filmmaking and journalism of the past decade, often exposing truths that are adverse to U.S. government policy, concerning the most sensitive and consequential matters.

Glenn Greenwald who interviewed her says Poitras’ work has been hampered, and continues to be hampered, by the constant harassment, invasive searches, and intimidation tactics to which she is routinely subjected whenever she re-enters her own country. Since the 2006 release of “My Country, My Country,” Poitras has left and re-entered the U.S. roughly 40 times. Virtually every time during that six-year-period that she has returned to the U.S., her plane has been met by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents who stand at the airplane door or tarmac and inspect the passports of every de-planing passenger until they find her (on the handful of occasions where they did not meet her at the plane, agents were called when she arrived at immigration). Each time, they detain her, and then interrogate her at length about where she went and with whom she met or spoke. They have exhibited a particular interest in finding out for whom she works.

She has had her laptop, camera and cell phone seized, and not returned for weeks, with the contents presumably copied. On several occasions, her reporter’s notebooks were seized and their contents copied, even as she objected that doing so would invade her journalist-source relationship. Her credit cards and receipts have been copied on numerous occasions. In many instances, DHS agents also detain and interrogate her in the foreign airport before her return, on one trip telling her that she would be barred from boarding her flight back home, only to let her board at the last minute. When she arrived at JFK Airport on Thanksgiving weekend of 2010, she was told by one DHS agent — after she asserted her privileges as a journalist to refuse to answer questions about the individuals with whom she met on her trip — that he “finds it very suspicious that you’re not willing to help your country by answering our questions.” They sometimes keep her detained for three to four hours.

Greenwald says that’s the climate of fear created by the U.S. Government for an incredibly accomplished journalist and filmmaker who has never been accused, let alone convicted, of any wrongdoing whatsoever.

On April 4, 2012 night, Poitras arrived at Newark International Airport from Britain. Prior to issuing her a boarding pass in London, the ticket agent called a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agent (Yost) who questioned her about whom she met and what she did. Upon arriving in Newark, DHS/CBP agents, as always, met her plane, detained her, and took her to an interrogation room. Each time this has happened in the past, Poitras has taken notes during the entire process: in order to chronicle what is being done to her, document the journalistic privileges she asserts and her express lack of consent, obtain the names of the agents involved, and just generally to cling to some level of agency.

This time, however, she was told by multiple CBP agents that she was prohibited from taking notes on the ground that her pen could be used as a weapon. After she advised them that she was a journalist and that her lawyer had advised her to keep notes of her interrogations, one of them, CBP agent Wassum, threatened to handcuff her if she did not immediately stop taking notes. A CBP Deputy Chief (Lopez) also told her she was barred from taking notes, and then accused her of “refusing to cooperate with an investigation” if she continued to refuse to answer their questions (he later clarified that there was no “investigation” per se, but only a “questioning”).

We need to acknowledge that the United States has freedom to dissent, freedom of expression and speech than most nations in this globe. There are constitutional guarantees for such freedoms. First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution are sacred rights of the people. Many other nations don’t have such guarantees. Nevertheless, it is not an easy journey here for the investigative journalists who are prepared to confront the government on many issues such as how the U.S. conducts the’terrorism’ war in overseas territories, its counter-terrorism war in sovereign nations such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yeman and the covert operations overseas.

We noted above the obstacles placed by the U.S. authorities for such endeavors of investigative journalism here and abroad. The U.S. needs to focus the ‘searchlight’ inwards to become a better example to other nations to promote dissent and free speech.

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Sri Lankan Foreign Policy Needs Strategic Direction

July 4, 2012, 7:55 pm ( The Island)

By Shanaka Jayasekara, Lecturer, Centre for Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism (PICT) Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia

There has to be a realisation that international diplomacy is not undertaken in the same manner as domestic political theatrics. In domestic politics, the President’s endorsement will help win elections, but this strategy is futile in the international domain. Presidential advisers on foreign policy need to understand that the current approach of ‘photo-opportunity diplomacy’ is superficial and prone to debacles that re-energize the pro-LTTE lobby. On three occasions the Sri Lankan leader was ill-advised and faced public embarrassment and humiliation—the first was the Oxford Union debacle in December 2010, the second the ICC Cricket World Cup final in India in April 2011 and the third the Commonwealth Business Council meeting debacle in June 2012.

Foreign policy of a country is formulated to advance the national interest and achieve the best possible outcome. Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka foreign policy is not determined by national interest but by irrational interest. If we accept the notion that the government’s blueprint for overall policy making is the Mahinda Chinthana, then our foreign policy is based on cliché phrases such as non-aligned, free and progressive (Chinthana page 98). As Niccolo Machiavelli points out foreign policy is a realist agenda to safeguard and advance the national interest of a country.

Sri Lanka has been muddling through reactionary ad-hoc policy decisions without having a strategic objective and a clearly defined goal. Sri Lanka foreign policy needs a strategic direction so that the resources invested in foreign affairs can generate positive outcomes to advance the national interest of the country.

PART 1 – INDO-LANKA RELATIONS

a) Look at North India Policy

The metamorphosis taking place within the Indian political landscape needs to be better understood when framing Indo-Lanka relations. The dominant role played by national political parties is fast diminishing with regional parties holding the balance of power in most often coalition governments. The regional parties in Tamil Nadu will continue to rekindle the separatist ideology for Sri Lankan Tamils as a cheap political platform.

If we look at past political trends, Tamil Nadu regional parties will influence Union government policy including foreign policy on Sri Lanka given they command the balance of power in coalition governments. It is imperative that Sri Lanka counter balances the Tamil Nadu influence by developing political and economic relations with North Indian states. Regional political parties in Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal also have regional parties with a stake in coalition governments. Other North Indian states such as Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh and South Indian states such as Kerala are not caught up in the Chola-Dravindan ancestry and tend to be far more understanding and moderate on Sri Lankan issues. It is in Sri Lanka’s interest to offer economic and trade preferences to North Indian states to build strong relationships as counter weight the Tamil Nadu influence. Sri Lanka needs to establish Consulate General offices in the above North India states and actively promote economic engagement.

b) Provide Clarity on Sino-Lanka Relations

Perceptions are important and it is necessary to understand that India has concerns over what is sees as an encirclement strategy by China known as the ‘string of pearls’. Irrespective of Chinese intentions in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is not in a position to participate in any geopolitical adventure with the Chinese. At present there seems to be a subtle inference of a ‘Love-triangle relationship’ in which Sri Lanka feels it can benefit from the new bi-polar order emerging in Asia. The late President J. R. Jayewardene’s experience should serve as a reminder that the island of Sri Lanka, ‘for better or for worse’ is geographically located within the Indian sphere of influence. It is essential that Sri Lanka provides clarity to the Chinese relationship. While Sri Lanka has a right to maintain close economic relations with China, it must be made clear that Sri Lankan soil will never be used for any strategic purpose against India. Providing clarity to this issue will take the wind out of the sails of the irritant conspiracy theorists that tend to undermine Indo-Lanka relations on a regular basis.

PART 2 – EXTERNAL THREAT REDUCTION

a) Post-War Image Building Exercise

The media strategy of the government remains trapped in a pre-2009 mindset that associates everything ‘Tamil’ with terrorism. There has been a significant shift in global opinion on the Sri Lankan issue since 2009 consequent to an aggressive media campaign by the pro-LTTE groups overseas. These groups have redefined the narrative in the post-2009 period and the Tamil demand has shifted focus from all that the LTTE was, to an anti-Rajapaksa agenda. The pro-LTTE diaspora groups learnt lessons from the Arab Spring and the armed revolutions in Libya and Syria. The Arab Spring idealized armed resistance as long as it targeted a dictatorship. In fact, western journalists were embedded with armed resistance groups following their successes. So while the Sri Lankan government media strategy was to simply link the Tamil diaspora activity to LTTE terrorism, the pro-LTTE diaspora groups were focusing all the attention on President Rajapaksa and undermining his credibility and his international standing. The media strategy of the pro-LTTE diaspora groups was to tarnish the Rajapaksa image as a war criminal. As long as international media portrays President Rajapaksa as the primary nemesis, an armed rebellion can be justified using the revolutionary logic. The key objective of this strategy is to launder the LTTE and its violent past through the new paradigm of armed revolutions against dictatorships. Therefore, the pro-LTTE groups will continue to target President Rajapaksa’s image.

There is no doubt that the valiant victory of the Sri Lankan security forces on the ground has been impressionably reversed internationally on the diplomatic front. At present the ‘front and centre’ of our image building exercise internationally is President Rajapaksa. We are walking straight into the LTTE trap. The reality is that the President is popular at home, but internationally he is attracting negative publicity and this strategy is counterproductive. If you look at the last three years, apart from three ceremonial meetings with Barak Obama (UN General Assembly Reception), Julia Gillard (CHOGM Perth) and David Cameron (Queens Diamond Jubilee Lunch), the President has only had three bilateral summits (South Korea, Chile and Turkey) with any leader of an OECD country. If we take the G8 group the President has only had one bilateral summit (Russia). If we look at the G20 group the President has had just five bilateral summits (China, India, Indonesia, South Korea and Russia). The only group that is receptive to this approach of image building is the Shanghai Cooperation countries with bilateral summits with most members and observers (China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan), but that’s preaching to the choir.

There has to be a realisation that international diplomacy is not undertaken in the same manner as domestic political theatrics. In domestic politics, the President’s endorsement will help win elections, but this strategy is futile in the international domain. Presidential advisers on foreign policy need to understand that the current approach of ‘photo-opportunity diplomacy’ is superficial and prone to debacles that re-energize the pro-LTTE lobby. On three occasions the Sri Lankan leader was ill-advised and faced public embarrassment and humiliation—the first was the Oxford Union debacle in December 2010, the second the ICC Cricket World Cup final in India in April 2011 and the third the Commonwealth Business Council meeting debacle in June 2012.

Sri Lanka has a success story to showcase and the fruits of peace and development are real on the ground in the North and East. It is a story of how life has truly transformed from the conflict period to an environment of peace and hope today. This story can only be showcased by experiencing the reality on the ground. The image building exercise needs to develop a structured process of sponsoring key decision-maker groups to visit Sri Lanka and experience the real difference of life today in the post-conflict areas. The structured programme should run fortnightly or monthly with government sponsored tours for key decision-makers, opinion-makers and elected members from overseas to see first-hand the reality on the ground. Sri Lanka should ditch the ‘photo-opportunity diplomacy’ and adopt a long-term and durable approach of ‘achievement showcasing diplomacy’.

b) Counter Disinformation

Briefing tours for key decision makers coveys the right information to the right people. However, decision making in diaspora active countries is not founded only on accurate information, but also influenced by electoral pressures. The ‘achievement showcasing’ strategy should also target a wider critical mass. The government should be considering a media strategy of demonstrating life in comparative periods. The best advantage Sri Lanka has is that an overwhelming number of people from conflict affected areas have a demonstrable improvement in lifestyle in comparison to the conflict period. The media strategy needs to present the past, and compare all aspects of life in the North and East and the improvements in people’s living conditions at present. It is only through a well thought out media strategy of comparative periods that the real story of the conflict can be told.

At present we are simply responding to the media agenda set by Channel 4. While it is important to correct misinformation, the media agenda should be set by Sri Lanka proactively by reflecting on the comparative periods and the transformation in lifestyle.

c) Genuine Political Settlement

The strategy of ‘achievement showcasing’ cannot be limited to bricks and mortar alone. There has to be forward movement on a genuine devolution package for the Northern Province. The international consensus is that President Rajapaksa has the political capital in the south to deliver on the promised 13++ proposals. However, there is a clear lack of sincerity in the political commitment to proceed with real devolution. At present the President is viewed as being disingenuous on his commitment to a political settlement.

It is imperative that an ‘achievement showcasing’ strategy adopts a holistic approach that includes the reconstruction and development success, as well as meeting benchmarks towards a political settlement.

d) Engagement with the Tamil Diaspora

During the reign of LTTE terror, almost all Tamil diaspora organisations were compelled to follow orders issued by the LTTE representative in each country. The new environment has provided opportunity for pluralism among Tamil diaspora organisations. Unfortunately, Sri Lankan government has closed the door on all Tamil diaspora organisations, excluding a few for political favours. While acknowledging that the overseas LTTE elements are attempting to revive a ground capability, a well scrutinised engagement process in which diaspora organisations can participate in the development efforts in the conflict areas needs to be developed.

e) Electoral Power of the Diaspora

Electoral influence and pressure in diaspora-active countries will progressively become a major impediment to bilateral relations with many of these countries. The pro-LTTE groups with growing block votes hold the balance of power in many constituencies with a high concentration of Tamil voters. The recent mayoral elections in London demonstrated how the Tamil electoral power influenced the two candidates. It is essential that other groups not sympathetic to the LTTE be encouraged to voice differing opinion on the Sri Lankan issue.

f) LTTE International Network

There is little doubt that the remnants of the LTTE international network will make every attempt to achieve a fledgling ground capability. It is imperative to develop a capacity to monitor the most potent threats to Sri Lanka from LTTE activist overseas. At present there seems to be a firewall between External Affairs and Defence Ministry amongst the midlevel officials. Irrespective of the mandate or domain, it is the responsibility of all diplomats to safeguard the national security interest of Sri Lanka.

PART 3-  MULTILATERAL RELATIONS

a) Thematic Expertise within the UN

Sri Lanka being a small state needs to develop a strategic plan that can increase its visibility within UN discourse. At present Sri Lanka serves on several committees and sub-committees without a coherent approach. Sri Lanka needs to select a thematic area such as Ocean affairs or fisheries and develop a regional leadership position with a centre of excellence, topical conferences and dialogues. A more focused approach to Sri Lanka’s contribution will provide greater visibility within the UN system and influence in the world.

b) Preparedness and Early Warning Mechanism for CHOGM 2013

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2013 in Colombo can become the biggest public relations disaster unless the preparatory ground work is not undertaken early. It is important to understand that four key Commonwealth countries will be within the lead-up to Parliamentary elections at the time of CHOGM 2013 in Sri Lanka. The scheduled date for parliamentary elections in Australia is around November 2013, New Zealand (2014), India (2014) and South Africa (2014).

The pro-LTTE electoral lobby groups and the regional parties in Tamil Nadu will campaign against their respective heads of state attending the CHOGM in Sri Lanka. As with the UNHRC vote the determining factor will be the participation of Manmohan Singh. We need to learn lessons from the UNHRC experience and not underestimate the influence of Tamil Nadu parties on the Union government. Sri Lanka will have to work hard to avert a catastrophic humiliation by an Indian boycott or second tier representation.

There is no silver bullet to ensure full participation at the summit. Given that this event is a superfluous and extravagant exercise that Sri Lanka has unnecessarily committed to, we have to face the consequences. One option is to have preparatory meetings with the key Commonwealth countries and demonstrate progress on the action plan under the UNHRC resolution and the conduct of provincial council elections in the Northern Province prior to CHOGM.

PART 4 – TRADE, INVESTMENT AND LABOUR MARKETS

a) Traditional Exports

There is a lifestyle change taking place in Western countries with espresso coffee becoming the fashionable morning/daytime stimulant. The consumer preference for tea is on the decline in western markets and Sri Lanka needs to access new markets for its tea exports in the Central Asian Republics, North Africa and West Asia.

b) Reciprocal Trade Concessions

The Hambantota Port is a valuable asset strategically located on the major sea lanes of communication. The warehousing and transhipment facilities can have a comparative advantage over other shipping options. Sri Lanka needs to utilize this advantage not only for increasing traffic to Hambantota Port but also to negotiate bilateral trade concessions. The commercial value of Hambantota Port on the shipping lanes should not be taken for granted.

The above is not an exhaustive list but indicative ideas of developing a foreign policy that can effectively safeguard and advance the national interest of the country.

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