Yearly Archives: 2011

Police brutality in Egypt and counter-measures

IRIN news item which is highly suggestive for Sri Lanka and points to unutiilized paths that could be adopted in our land. Web Editor.

CAIRO, 20 December 2011 (IRIN) – One of the key moments in the build-up to the 25 January uprising and the overthrow of Egypt’s former President Mubarak was the alleged beating to death of a young man, Khaled Said, by police in Alexandria – an event which galvanized Egyptians around the issue of police brutality. Amid allegations of ongoing police brutality, security sector reform, which is vital for the country’s economic and social stability, is becoming an increasingly vociferous demand of protesters and civil society representatives.

Former policeman Ihab Youssef, now campaigning for better relations between the police and public but who is often met with distrust and skepticism on the street, told IRIN: “The gap between policemen and ordinary citizens continues to grow day after day and if this gap is not bridged, Egypt will be in danger. Concerted efforts must be made for the relationship between police and citizens to get back on track.” Continue reading

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IRIN probes reconciliation prospects in the light of the LLRC report

Local civil society groups in Sri Lanka view a recently released government-appointed commission report [ http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/FINAL%2520LLRC%2520REPORT.pdf ] on the final period of the country’s decades-long civil war as a “springboard” for long-awaited reconciliation, while international human rights groups continue calling for an independent inquiry.

 “This report will enable the country to move forward, addressing accountability issues and concerns on human rights,” said Dinesh Dodamgoda, director of Colombo-based NGO International Centre for Promoting Reconciliation. [ http://promoting-reconciliation.org/programs.php ]

Appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in May 2010 to look into the final stage of the conflict against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) conducted an 18-month inquiry; its findings were submitted to parliament on 16 December.

 According to a UN panel report [http://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/Sri_Lanka/POE_Report_Full.pdf ] released in April 2011, both government forces and the LTTE flouted international law and civilian rights in their military operations during the final five months of the war when tens of thousands died.  The government declared victory over the rebels in May 2009.

 “Steps are needed to follow positive recommendations of the commission in a systematic and transparent manner for us to hold ourselves responsible,” Rajiva Wijesinha, a parliamentarian and presidential adviser on the peace process, told IRIN.

 Sixty pages of recommendations in the LLRC report include calls for a special commissioner to investigate alleged disappearances [ http://irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=90117 ] and criminal proceedings; implementation of an amendment to the Registration of Deaths Act which allows a next of kin to apply for a death certificate if a person is missing due to “subversive” activity; an independent advisory committee to examine the detention and arrest of persons in custody to address concerns about indefinite detention [ http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportid=90570 ] without due process under an anti-terrorist law; criminalization of forced or involuntary disappearances; an island-wide human rights education programme targeting security forces and police; a centralized database of detainees; addressing grievances from minority communities, including Muslims in the north [ http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportid=88503 ] and Tamils; and improved governance.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the recommendations have “serious shortcomings” and fail to “advance accountability for victims of Sri Lanka’s civil armed conflict” in a statement released on 17 December. [ http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/12/16/sri-lanka-report-fails-advance-accountability ]

 Hoping for change: While HRW along with other agencies and diplomats have questioned the impartiality and credibility [ http://irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportid=93719 ] of the commission – demanding an international inquiry thus far rejected by the government – Jeeva Ahilan, a recent returnee, who fled fighting in Kilinochchi District, still hopes the recommendations will lead to change. “People came out and spoke openly [in fact-finding hearings] about their suffering and need for a dignified life,” he said.

LLRC’s fact-finding sessions in the north over the past year were well received among recent returnees who had fled fighting, he added. “People are hopeful that their voices were heard and [that the report will be used] for development,” said Ahilan.

But recommendations are only the first steps towards reconciliation, said another community activist from Jaffna District, also in the north.  “More work needs to be done at the grassroots level to unite [people from] the Sinhalese and Tamil communities,” said Victor Karunairajan, who returned home from overseas after the war. Economic development in minority Tamil communities is a “must”, he concluded.

Limited mandate: According to Jehan Perera, director of Colombo-based NGO National Peace Council, [ http://www.peace-srilanka.org/ ] the recommendations are not likely to meet human rights organizations’ expectations.  “[They] will not be able to address the issue of war crimes in the manner expected by human rights organizations on account of [the LLRC’s] limited mandate. The commission was set up to learn why a 2002 truce failed, and recommend ways to prevent the resurgence of ethnic conflict.”
Perera called for the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission based on the South African model, with a mandate to address the entire period of the war, waged for decades, rather than only the last phase.

The LLRC could only hear evidence, but not investigate, Jayasuriya Welimuna, head of the national chapter in Sri Lanka of corruption watchdog NGO Transparency International, [ http://www.tisrilanka.org/ ] told IRIN.

 The LLRC report’s authors recognized past commissions’ recommendations for investigations have gone unimplemented, and “give rise to understandable criticism and skepticism regarding government-appointed commissions from which the LLRC has not been spared.”

Bharathi Iniyavan, 45, who spoke to IRIN from Kilinochchi, said LLRC’s work was in vain if the recommendations were not enacted.  “There are commissions here and there but what we need is action on the ground to change lives,” he added. “We need action not research.”

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Rajiva’s Unit of National Reconciliation presents Mission Statement

under the tite The Nitty Gritty of ‘Moving On’: National Reconciliation Unit in http://www.nation.lk/2011/12/18/na2_4.htm

Even as the world focused on what the LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) would produce after months of hearings, President Mahinda Rajapaksa set up a ‘National Reconciliation Unit’ to facilitate the work of his Adviser on Reconciliation. All these in addition to the natural processes of reconciliation that the end of conflict engenders, boosted of course by concrete policies to put in place necessary infrastructure, resettle the displaced, clear landmines and reinvigorate economic activity, not to mention the rehabilitation and reintegration of thousands of ex-combatants – a practice unheard of in many parts of the world when it comes to people affiliated with terrorist organisations. The Advisor’s terms of reference included monitoring and reporting to the President on progress with regard to the Interim Recommendations of the LLRC, and promoting appropriate activities for this purpose through the relevant Ministries.

The Nation’ spoke with Pushpi Weerakoon, Coordinator of the Unit, on the mandate, work and challenges of this body.
Q: Could you elaborate on the power, authority and capacity of the unit?
The Office has no powers or executive authority. Apart from two minor staff, it has only an IT officer. MP’s secretary and office aide also contribute. However, much support is provided by members of the Reconciliation Youth Forum that comprises committed youngsters worked in the North and East in related activity developing initiatives and record achievements.

In addition to the Reconciliation website, http://www.peaceinsrilanka.org, we have started a blog – http://www.reconciliationyouthforum.org – and a You Tube channel – http://www.youtube.com/reconcilesri Lanka. You can also follow us on twitter @rcncilesrilanka and on Facebook on Sri Lankan Reconciliation Youth Forum.

Other initiatives include Civil Society Partners for Reconciliation which brings together relevant government organisations with civil society and ambassadors and non-governmental organisations (Rotary, Save the Children etc) to suggest initiatives. This has led to a project in sustainable agriculture to support ex-combatants. We hope that Japanwould support it through IOM. In addition, a proposal for vocational training in Mullaitivu with socialisation and soft skills on the lines of the programmes Aide et Action is now being materialised in Vavuniya.
We have also set up a body called Religion, Education and Pluralism to develop educational initiatives as suggested when the Adviser was appointed, and feel this is particularly important in view of the vision advanced by the President in his budget speech. Based on recommendations of some of these groups, we have set up District Reconciliation Committees in three Northern Districts and hope to do the same in the other two as well. We had productive input from the local officials who attended about problems and possible solutions with the police. Some committed social workers also actively contribute. Continue reading

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The False Equation: Religion Equals Morality

Gwynne Dyer, courtesy of the Island 21 December 2011

In the United States, where it is almost impossible to get elected unless you profess a strong religious faith, it would have passed completely unnoticed. Not one of the hundred US senators ticks the “No Religion/Atheist/Agnostic” box, for example, although 16 percent of the American population do. But it was quite remarkable in Britain.

Last Friday, in Oxford, Prime Minister David Cameron declared that the United Kingdom is a Christian country “and we should not be afraid to say so.” He was speaking on the 400th anniversary of the King James translation of the Bible, so he had to say something positive about religion – but he went far beyond that. “The Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today,” he said. “Values and morals we should actively stand up and defend.”Where to start? The King James Bible was published at the start of a century in which millions of Europeans were killed in religious wars over minor differences of doctrine. Thousands of “witches” were burned at the stake during the 16th century, as were thousands of “heretics”. They have stopped doing that sort of thing inBritainnow – but they’ve also stopped reading the Bible. Might there be a connection here? Continue reading

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Deceiving Consumers: Impressions count when it comes to misleading consumers

Stephen King, courtesy of http://www.monash.edu.au/news/show/impressions-count-when-it-comes-to-misleading-consumers … with some extensions in the web-links from this Editor.

Christmas is coming, which means consumers are out looking for great deals to fill stockings and feed the family. And for retailers and manufacturers, the temptation to add “spin” to their marketing is high. However, these businesses must be careful not to step over the legal line when trying to boost their sales. Under Australia’s competition and consumer laws, a business must not engage in conduct that is misleading or deceptive, or that is likely to mislead or deceive. Of course, the devil is in the detail. When does marketing hype turn into illegal behaviour?

A current matter before the courts provides a good example of the issues. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is taking legal action against a number of poultry companies. At the heart of this matter is the term “free to roam”. Specifically, have the poultry producers engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct by claiming that their chickens have been raised in barns where they are “free to roam,” despite those chickens each having only about 500 square centimetres of space?

This case has brought a variety of responses from experts in animal welfare. Two examples are here and here. However, these experts miss the point. The law does not simply highlight claims that are incorrect from a scientific perspective. Rather, the law considers if the claims made by a producer are likely to mislead or deceive consumers. Continue reading

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AI, HRW and Other Rights Watchdogs slam LLRC report

BBC Sinhala Service, http://www.bbc.co.uk/sinhala/news/story/2011/12/111217_hrw_amnesty_llrc.shtml

Slamming the government war panel report as a ‘whitewash,’ international human rights watchdogs have re-iterated their call for an international inquiry into the alleged war crimes inSri Lanka. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation (LLRC) in its report has concluded that the security forces did not deliberately target civilians in the last stages of the war against the Tamil Tigers. The report has, however, accused the LTTE of gross human rights violations.

Although the report acknowledges serious human rights problems in Sri Lanka, said Amnesty International (AI), it “falls short of fully addressing the war crimes and crimes against humanity.” Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director said the report has reaffirmed watchdogs’ long-held view that the war panel is “biased” and it’s report has failed to address violations of international law.

“Whitewash’: He has urged Sri Lanka to address issues raised in LLRC report and report to the UN Human Rights Council at its next session. “The LLRC has admitted its own inability to establish the facts about the conduct of the fighting, and points out legal complexities beyond its abilities. This is why the international community must now follow up with an investigation, bringing to bear the full resources and assistance of the UN and the international community,” Sam Zarifi said.

The Human Rights Watch (HRW), which refused to appear before the LLRC together with the AI and International Crisis Group (ICG), agrees.

The long awaited report has provided “little new information” on accountability, it said. “Governments and UN bodies have held back for the past 18 months to allow the Sri Lankan commission to make progress on accountability,” said Brad Adams,Asia director at Human Rights Watch. The HRW added that the “failure” of the LLRC to investigate and prosecute wartime perpetrators shows the “dire need” for an international investigation. However, Mr Adams said it is important that the LLRC has dismissed the government’s “bizarre claims” that no civilian casualties were caused by the security forces. “It is clear that justice for conflict-related abuses is not going to happen within Sri Lanka’s domestic institutions,” Adams said. Continue reading

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Indi’s Evaluation of the LLRC Report

Indi Samarajiva, in the Sunday Island, 18 December 2011, under a different title: Highlights of the LLRC Report”

It was basically a strategic necessity, but near the end of the war the LTTE’s actions were to herd civilians around them and essentially play chicken with the Sri Lankan military, hoping that the international community would bail them out. This is the strategy their international wing(s) are continuing now, using the deaths they effectively caused to put pressure on the GoSL. It is extremely cynical and evil even. If anything was a war crime, this was it. A civilian who had been displaced with his family since August 2006 stated that the LTTE always mingled with the people even in the NFZs. Civilians therefore had tried to escape and move out of the NFZs into safe areas during the night. He further explained that when this happened, the LTTE fired and then the Army returned fire to the place where the LTTE firing came from.

While it is important to remember that the LTTE were the bad guys, it is also important to remember that ‘proportionality’ means nothing if you are the one being bombed. “We cannot digest and we cannot forget the untold sufferings that we have experienced during the last stages. The Government announced Continue reading

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RK de Silva as Serendipitous Sleuth resurrects Benjamin Bailey’s Sonnets from the 1840s

Nan, in the Sunday Island, 18 December 2011. with different title: “Dr. Rajpal K de Silva’s Book of an Original Manuscript of 1841”

I wrote in this column last Sunday about Dr Rajpal Kumar de Silva who made a serendipitous find of an 1841 handwritten manuscript in an antiquarian bookshop in London. Titled Poetical Sketches of the Interior of the Island of Ceylon it contains within its beige, gold lettered leather covers impressions of Ceylon by Rev. Benjamin Bailey in sonnet form along with comments and copious appendices. I have been looking through Rajpal’s computer entered manuscript with the text of the original manuscript and its pictures and sketches exactly reproduced. Rajpal has however included a Foreword; a comment on Benjamin Bailey as friend of John Keats by Prof Ashley Halpe; an essay by Robert S White, Professor of English, University of Western Australia, who in 2010 published John Keats: a literary Life; valuable cum interesting appendices and a detailed bibliography which Rajpal says is unique being enhanced with sketches and detailed references to the history of the time, plus biographies of the original author and his poet friend. Letters exchanged between various people, mostly of Bailey are also reproduced. With detailed references, he also identified the two Benjamin Bailey’s who worked in Ceylon almost at the same time, so that mistaken identities, or both being thought of as one person would not recur.

Rajpal’s book will be out soon and available on sale. It enriches the original mss with the three essays I have mentioned and much more. The original mss, as I said in my last article, has close hand-written pages which Rajpal and his partner, Mano, deciphered with difficulty and obvious strain to the eye and then put it in the computer. Continue reading

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Sinhala Citizen G affirms that Tamils are brethren

 Courtesy of Sunday Island, 18 December 2011, with title Winning the hearts and minds of our Tamil brethren

Sinhalese ladies in the 19th century–from Skeen

As DEW Gunasekera once stated “They are also our people” we need to reach out to them. The ordinary Tamil citizen has gone through real hell since the LTTE and other militant groups started their campaign in the 70s. The Tamil people were not an aggressive people they were a God fearing passive people but Tamil youth who were deprived of opportunity by the Sinhala Only Act and later by Standardization which limited their opportunity to enter University which was a dream of every Tamil youth. We threw Dr. Naganathan and other Tamil leaders in to the Beira Lake when they protested against the Sinhala Only Bill, we attacked them in 1958, 1960, 1977 and then came the burning of the Jaffna Library in 1982 ( by persons who were expected, because of their religion, to place the highest value on learning and the development of the mind) that was followed by the horrific attack of 1983 July by UNP thugs led by Minister Matthew.**

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Rajapaksas inch towards a census of the war dead

Namini Wijedasa, courtesy of LakbimaNews,  27 November 2011

It has been a slow journey but the government is finally accepting that civilians might have died as a result of military action during the final stages of its war with the LTTE. This change in position is attributable in no small measure to the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, which is due to be released shortly. Although its contents are not officially known, it is reported that the LLRC has recommended further investigation of certain incidents that witnesses say happened. The LLRC process has shown that information about the battle–how it was conducted, who did what, when and where–is widely available among people in the North and East. Thirty months after the end of the war, it is no longer viable to maintain a tenuous position of ‘zero civilian casualty.’ Indeed, it  would be foolhardy and dishonest to do so. Speaking at the ‘Inaugural National Conference on Reconciliation’ at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies in Colombo, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa spoke in more detail about civilian casualties than he has possibly ever done in public.   It was not the first time the government took a tentative step towards admitting to civilian casualties. Earlier this year, its publication Humanitarian Operation Factual Analysis (produced in response to the devastating report of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s panel of experts) admitted: “Despite the clear intent of the Government of Sri Lanka and the numerous precautions taken, it was impossible in a battle of this magnitude, against a ruthless opponent actively endangering civilians, for civilian casualties to be avoided.” But this was all it dared to say on that subject. Last week, the defence establishment edged a bit further. Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said the government has made a proper assessment of the number of civilians killed and missing during the last stages of the conflict. Arbitrary figures of between 10,000 and 40,000, he insisted, had “no basis in reality.” The assessment was done by the Department of Census and Statistics through Tamil public officials in the relevant districts of the North and East. The questionnaire specifically addressed the issue of people who died or went missing during the ‘humanitarian operation.’ The government has identified by name all such persons, Rajapaksa said. The results of the census will be released in the near future. Continue reading

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