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ASEAN's geopolitical dynamics influenced by unilateral moves 

(AP) - Asian leaders at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Hanoi – which concluded last week – said the oscillating geopolitical dynamics in the region were manifestations of power plays in the South China Sea conflict and this could undermine an existing rules-based international order.

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen made references to these kinds of power plays when he said: “Leave the Mekong region’s five member countries, also known as the Mekong riparian nations, to resolve their own issues without any form of political interference or intervention.
“We are a unique region with diverse political systems, democratic practices and principles which were unique in nature to each country and thus could not be used across the board.

“This uniqueness in diversity meant that the region was susceptible to all forms of foreign intervention and each country must be left to decide what is good for them, their people, their political system and their security,” Mr Hun Sen said when he addressed the forum on the Mekong Region.

As a collective voice, the Asian leaders at the forum agreed that with the rapidly oscillating geopolitical dynamics, underscored by escalating trade tensions between major powers, there is a dire need for adherence to a “rules-based” order.The Asian leaders presented a collective voice to reject unilateral and protectionist moves.

Taro Kono, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan said: “I think we need to establish rule-based international order and any unilateral challenge to the status quo should be resisted by all.

The “collapse of multilateralism, stemming from the trade war between the United States and China”, he reiterated, must follow the same principles and existing liberal international order.

Asean leaders and their counterparts from Japan, South Korea and Sri Lanka echoed concerns over rising unilateralism with regard to increased trade tensions and territorial concerns in the South China Sea. They raised critical questions about the geopolitical implications of attempts at global rebalancing.


Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, left, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, center and Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum pose for a photo during the welcoming ceremony of the the World Economic Forum on ASEAN at the National Convention Centre in Hanoi on Sept. 12, 2018.(Ye Aung Thu/Pool Photo via AP)

“Looking at the geopolitics in Asia and friction between America and China, I am concerned about the rebalancing of the global order.
“What will happen to multilateral law? What we have built up is multilateral law. Will that law decay, diminish or can it be strengthened?” observed Ranil Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka.

China’s territorial initiatives in the South China Sea, commented Lynn Kuok, Associate Fellow, International Institute for Strategic Studies

(IISS) in Singapore, will reveal what type of regulatory environment will prevail.

“I will be watching out for developments in the South China Sea. China is consolidating its control over the region and resources. This matters because it will change the balance of power in the region and whether the balance of power in the region is governed by might or right,” noted Ms Kuok.

While there are clear regional fractures, Kang Kyung-Wha, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea, pointed out that there are also moments of geopolitical alignment, such as current moves to advance denuclearisation efforts on the Korean Peninsula, which look much more promising than they did a year ago.

In addition to traditional geopolitical threats, such as maritime security and freedom of navigation and trade, the Japanese foreign minister added that one of his biggest geopolitical concerns is catastrophic weather changes on the back of climate change.

“The biggest concern is probably climate change, the sea water level is very high and we are getting stronger typhoons, stronger cyclones, and heavier rain.

“Once-in-a-hundred-years rain turns out to be once every two years. It is not just an environmental issue, but involves water supply management and food security. We really need to be serious about taking care of this issue,” said Mr Kono on Japan’s position.

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Public and semi-Government sector employees exceed 1.1 million

image 4f6693a9bdBy Dr. Amara Satharasinghe 

The importance of public sector is an indisputable social and economic reality throughout the world. The Public Sector usually comprises of organisations that are owned and operated by the government and exist to provide services such as public education, health care, national defence, military, police, infrastructure (public roads, bridges, tunnels, water supply, sewers, electrical grids, telecommunications, etc.) for its citizens.

Recognising the importance of the Public and semi-government sector employment statistics, the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS) has conducted periodic Censuses of Public and Semi Government Sector Employment. The first such Census was taken in 1980. Subsequently, censuses were carried out in 1985, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006 at intervals of four to five years. Since the devolution of power to Provincial Councils in 1987, employment censuses from 1990 onwards covered both the Central Government and Provincial Councils.

The latest round of the Census of Public and Semi Government Sector Employment was conducted by the DCS between 9.30am and 11.30am on 17 November 2016 and it is the eighth in the series of such censuses. The findings presented here, are based on data gathered through questionnaires personally completed by more than 1 million employees in these two sectors. This census did not cover the uniformed staff of the three forces: Army, Navy and Air Force.

The information collected at this census include sector of employment, age and sex, marital status, nature of appointment, level of education, major occupation group, professional/ vocational qualifications, language skills, district of the place of work, mode of travel to work, non- communicable diseases, level of ICT literacy etc. of the employees. Key findings of this census are presented here.

image c4f29fab9eNumber and Proportion of Employees

The total number of employees in the Public and Semi Government sectors excluding uniformed staff of the three forces: Army, Navy and air Force, as at 17th November 2016 was enumerated as 1,109,475. Of the total employees, 55.1 percent are males; 44.9 percent are females. In any employment census, it is usual to determine the employees as a percentage of the total population and as a percentage of employees of all sectors (including all other sectors). Total number of employees is estimated quarterly as well as annually through Sri Lanka Labour Force Survey conducted by the DCS.

Public and semi government sector employees constitute five percent of the population in the country. The proportion is the same across provinces, with the exception of North Central and Uva Provinces where it is six percent and the Western Province where it is four percent.
As a proportion of all employees i.e. in all sectors, public and semi government employees are 14 percent. This proportion is highest (18 percent) in the Eastern Province and lowest (11 percent) in North Western and Sabaragamuwa provinces.

image c4f29fab9eSector of employment

The census covered 32,750 institutions of which the majority belong to the central government. Majority of institutions coming under Provincial Councils comprise of schools and hospitals functioning under the nine provincial councils.
The majority of employees (65.3%) are attached to institutions coming under the central government - 43.8 percent public sector and 21.6 percent in semi government. The remaining 34.7% provincial employees. Of them almost all (34.3%) are public sector employees. Only 0.4% are in the provincial semi-government sector.

Nature of appointment

Nature of the appointment of employees was considered under ‘Permanent & pensionable’, ‘Permanent, pensionable & contributing to a provident fund’, ‘Permanent & contributing to a provident Fund’, ‘Temporary’, ‘Substitute’, ‘On contract basis’, and ‘Other’ categories. Ninety-five percent of public and semi government sector employees are in permanent positions. Further, 79.4 percent of all employees are entitled to a pension after retirement. More female employees were in permanent and pensionable employment (83.7%) relative to their male counterparts (69%).

Sex composition

Males constitute a higher proportion of public and semi Government employees: Of the total public and semi Government employees 55.1% are males; among Central Government employees almost two thirds are male. Higher proportion of employees are males in institutions such as the Department of Civil Security, Sri Lanka Police, Sri Lanka Electricity Board, Department of Posts, Sri Lanka Railway and Sri Lanka Transport Board, and Road Development Authority. Contrary to this, almost 62 percent of employees in the Provincial Councils are female. This is mainly due to female teachers working in provincial schools.

Age structure
While the majority (61%) of employees are in the age group of 30 -49 years, about one in four employees is over 50 years of age. Of those employees entitled for pensions, 60,092 are to retire on completion of sixty years, within the five-year period from 2018 to 2022. Number of persons to be retired in 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 are about 10,550; 11,300, 12,220, 12,560 and 13,460 respectively.

image 17ba8f7e99

Level of Education
In order to assess the level of education of public and semi-government sector employees, the highest level of education was categorized into ‘Below GCE(O/L)’, ‘Passed GCE(O/L)’, ‘Passed GCE(A/L)’, ‘Degree’, ‘Post Graduate Diploma’, ‘Post Graduate Degree’, and ‘PhD’.

Over one third (35%) of public and semi government employees are GCE (A/L) qualified and little over one fourth ( 26.1 %) have degree or higher qualifications. It is noteworthy that 190,498 employees or 17 percent employees have not passed the GCE (O/L) examination. Among males this percentage is as high as 27.2% while among females it is only 4.8%. Further, having degree or higher level qualification among female is very high (36.7%) compared males (17.6%). There are 290,378 graduates employed in public and semi government sectors. Of them 2,014 have reported to have more than one basic degree. More than half graduates (54%) have degrees in the arts stream while Management/ Commerce graduates are 14.3%, and Science graduates only 10.4%.

District of work place

Public and semi Government employees are concentrated in the Colombo district. A total of 225,000 or one out of five are working in the Colombo district. This is followed by Gampaha and Kandy districts - percentage of each district is 7.3%. Percentages in Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Mannar districts is less than one percent. When Divisional Secretariat Divisions are considered, the highest number of employees are working in the Colombo DS division of the Colombo District and it is where 67,000 employees are working. It is followed by the Thimbirigasyaya DS division (63,000 employees). Thus, more than half of the employees of the Colombo district are posted within the Colombo and Thimbirigasyaya DS divisions.

Six hundred employees are stationed in other countries in diplomatic missions, banks and other institutions.

Mode of travel

Employees were asked how they travel to and from work: ‘Walking’, ‘Bus’, ‘Train’, ‘Assigned Official Vehicle’, ‘Official Group Transport’, ‘Private Motor Vehicle’, ‘Staff Service’, ‘Taxi’, ‘Motor Cycle’, ‘Foot Bicycle’, ‘Other’. The majority of employees (42%) use public transport to travel to work and it is noteworthy that almost one in four or over 277,000 employees use motor cycle to travel to work.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are a growing issue. The workplace is recognised internationally as a crucial to address these health issues. Employees in any institution represent an important population category: their quality of life, health awareness, and ability to embrace healthy behaviours are expected to influence their productivity, avoid NCD occurrence, and reduce healthcare costs.

All employees were asked about the non-communicable diseases they are suffering from. Some commonly found NCDs were given and the respondents were allowed to mark more than one disease if they are suffering from more than one NCD.

The most common self-declared NCD is diabetes. Almost 6 percent of employees suffer from Diabetes - more males (7 percent) than females (4.5%). The second most common NCD is (5.3%) was high blood pressure.

Language proficiency

While Sinhala and Tamil languages are considered as official languages, English language is considered as the link language in the country. All employees were asked the level of their proficiency in ‘Reading and Writing’ and ‘Speaking’ of each language as ‘Good’, ‘Average’ and ‘None’.

Just over 84.2 percent report "good" proficiency in reading and writing in Sinhala language and 16.5 percent in Tamil Language. These percentages on the ‘speaking’ proficiency are 85.1 percent and 16.6 percent respectively.

In general, communication skills in English have been identified as an important workplace tool for success in business and have been correlated with career success and increase in financial rewards. The self-declared good proficiency in ‘Reading and Writing’ and ‘Speaking’ proficiency in the link language (English) of the public and semi government sector employees are 23.7 percent and 15.1 percent respectively.

achartAbility to use computers, email and internet

Technology is an integral part of the 21st-century workplace that any business without some level of technical savvy is likely to fail. It is that critical. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can be used to eliminate non‐value‐adding tasks or to make them more efficient. ICT can also improve employee welfare, for example, through transforming the content of work by deleting unimportant activities. In this census information on self-declared ability to use computers, e-mail and internet was collected from all employees.

More than 60 percent of public and semi government employees report the ability to use a computer. Nonetheless, only 36 percent use computers to perform their official duties. Provincial sector employees are slightly more computer literate (ability to use a computer) with a computer literacy rate of 66 percent compared to that of the central government (61 percent).

According to the data from the census, 56.3 percent of employees are using the internet. Significant gender differences are observed in the use of internet. More than 63 percent of female employees use internet while only 50.7 percent of male employees have stated that they can use the internet.

Out of all public and semi government sector employees, 38.4 percent have said that they can use e-mail. Among males it is 34.7 percent while among females it is 43.0 percent.


In today’s economic environment, achieving improved performance and efficiency in public sector organisations is more important than ever to improve competitiveness, deliver better service, and reduce costs.

According to the literature, attempts to improve performance of the public sector have had mixed results in many countries. A precondition for new improvement programs to succeed where earlier efforts have failed is that they should focus on improving precisely those factors that make a public service organization perform well. These success factors have been identified as high quality of management, high quality of workforce, long-term commitment, open and action-oriented culture, and a culture of continuous improvement and renewal.

The report titled "Census of Public and Semi Government Sector Employment – 2016" released by the DCS, presents a wealth of information on the employees of these two sectors. A few basic but important features of the employees is the high female participation that has resulted in near equality in numbers, still youthful but a large elderly age structure, relatively low levels of education, still to be achieved standards of information and communication technology. Each of these has major implications such as the need for gender responsiveness, using strategies to maintain the dynamism while optimising experience and expertise, facilitating options for knowledge and skill enhancement of the employees. Recognising and responding to these implications will help to make the employees a satisfied workforce, predicting and preparing for future trends, as well as enabling the employees to deliver their services up to high standards. Information provided in this publication merits further analysis to produce policy and pragmatic guidance. They can be used to make informed decisions, to further improve performance of public sector workforce to more effectively and efficiently provide public services to the citizens of this nation.

*The writer is Director General of the Department of Census and Statistics 

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The specter of Sri Lanka’s Chinese debt is hovering over a gathering of African leaders in Beijing

By Tripti Lahiri

The leaders of dozens of African nations are in Beijing this week for a major China-Africa cooperation summit that takes place every three years. African leaders have come away from these meetings in the past with billions of dollars in investment commitments from China.
This year, China is expected to use the meeting, which began today (Sep. 3), to address concerns over transparency around its loans to African countries, and over the trade deficit they are racking up with China. At a business forum today, Chinese president Xi Jinping said China’s financing to Africa was not about “vanity projects” (paywall) but about “bottlenecks to development.”

The summit falls ahead of the fifth anniversary of a speech by Xi, where he unveiled his vision for a global infrastructure “Belt and Road” plan to foster trade, which has spurred an increase in lending for construction projects to developing countries all around the world.

But this week’s Forum on China-Africa Cooperation also comes amid growing concerns over the costs of being part of the Belt and Road grand plan, with Malaysia’s newly elected prime minister, for example, pushing back vocally against Chinese-funded projects it called too costly. Sri Lanka, for example, is left heavily in debt (paywall) because of its inability to repay Chinese loans for a port project, and in December gave China a 99-year lease and a 70% stake in the port in return.

Commentators in some African countries and think tanks have expressed worries about more countries ending up like Sri Lanka, and forced to cede control of key assets.

In an editorial in Kenya’s Daily Nation earlier this year, columnist Jaindi Kisero wrote: ”The Chinese will readily offer you infrastructure loans but you will only start feeling the pinch when the time for servicing the debt comes calling — and you realize that your economy is not raising enough dollars to repay it. If you are in doubt that we are gradually sinking into the Chinese debt trap, just grab a copy of the budget documents.” China is now Kenya’s largest bilateral creditor, accounting for 72% of foreign loans to the African nation.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s deeply indebted Eskom power utility, which provides nearly all the country’s energy, signed  a $2.5 billion loan from China in July, while the country’s president Cyril Ramaphosa is also looking to China to help with a stimulus package.

According to the Washington-based think-tank Heritage Foundation, many countries in the continent have taken on substantial new external debt in the last five years, leading debt levels to cross 50% of GDP, a threshold that some economists believe developing economies should remain below. Citing World Bank research, the think tank said a dozen sub-Saharan countries are experiencing debt distress or at high risk of it, up from seven in 2013. It also noted that China has made considerable new loans over that time period.

A report from the Center for Global Development (pdf), also based in Washington, pinpointed eight countries globally as being in danger of debt distress from Chinese financing, including Djibouti, where China has its only overseas military base and has financed an amount equivalent to 75% of the country’s GDP. John Hopkins University’s China-Africa Research Initiative (pdf) found Chinese loans to be a significant contributor to debt distress in three countries: the Republic of Congo, Zambia, and Djibouti.

China’s foreign ministry has criticized the idea that Beijing is doing anything different than other developed nations that lend.

“None of the African countries has once complained about being trapped in debt crisis because of their cooperation with China. On the contrary, many leaders of African countries have appraised China’s investment and financing cooperation with them and are looking forward to greater cooperation with China in this respect,” said foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying last week, noting that from 2000 to 2016, Chinese loans accounted for 1.8% of Africa’s foreign debt. “Why the money is sweet ‘money pie’ when it is offered by the Western countries but a dark ‘money trap’ when offered by China?”

This article was published in Quartz.

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An empty Lankan airport holds promise for India

By Padma Rao Sundarji 

In an interview to this writer last year, Sri Lanka’s PM Ranil Wickremesinghe extended some invitations to India. One of them has just reached fruition. For at least 40 years and through a majority stake in a joint venture, India will soon run Mattala, the Sri Lankan airport in the southeastern coastal district of Hambantota. Also known as the Mattala (Mahinda) Rajapaksa International Airport, after the country’s former President and current strongman of Sri Lanka’s Joint Opposition, the terminals threw open their doors in 2013. Five years on, they are still waiting for someone to check in.

Hambantota, 240 km southeast of the Sri Lankan capital, is also home to a controversial, China-built seaport, which, like Mattala airport, has been visited by more journalists than ships so far. Just before I met the PM, I had spoken to angry subsistence farmers and Buddhist monks who were protesting against the decision by Mr Wickremesinghe’s government to hand over the port and an additional 15,000 acres of mostly farmland back to China for 99 years. At the time of the controversial debt-for-equity swap, Sri Lanka owed China $8 billion, one-twelfth of its staggering overall overseas debt.

If it earlier bristled over Chinese submarines “dropping in” on Colombo without prior warning to India, China’s debt-trap stranglehold over Sri Lanka in Hambantota multiplied New Delhi’s concerns tenfold. Yet, Mr Wickremesinghe brushed off India’s worries. “We have always been friendly with China, but not at the expense of India,” he said. “If there is still some uneasiness, it is (because of) the Indian media, that reports from their point of view. There is nothing I can do about it.”

And as if to offer India a head-rub with the island-nation’s famous Siddhalepa pain balm, the PM disclosed plans aimed at inviting India to invest in Sri Lanka. These included Mattala airport.

The airport was built to handle one million passengers, 50,000 tonnes of cargo and 6,250 air traffic operations every year. Earlier this year, it lost its last customer and its hangars are reportedly being used by local farmers to store rice. So, much like the police arriving last at the scene of the crime in a Bollywood flick, why on earth is the otherwise astute and booming economy, India, investing in a dud and that too in southern Sri Lanka, long after China gained the upper hand?

Setting parody aside, it’s not such a dumb idea at all.

Hambantota seaport is firmly in China’s hands. Rumours that Beijing intends it for military use are so persistent that the Sri Lankan Navy is relocating its southern naval command to the region. Mattala airport is just 35 km away. Establishing a presence there will give India the opportunity to literally breathe down China’s neck and monitor its every movement.

There is already close cooperation between the Indian and Sri Lankan navies. The host country, along with Japan and Australia, recently participated in a “humanitarian” naval mission under US command in the seas off Hambantota. China’s string of pearls has not escaped anyone’s notice, least of all that of the United States.

The argument that the small island-nation doesn’t need two international airports overlooks several crucial aspects. Tourism is one of the main revenue-earners for ethereally beautiful Sri Lanka. More than 1.5 lakh visitors arrived in Sri Lanka over the previous year alone and those figures have been on a steady, upward graph.

In the era of terrorism, arrivals and departures by air are the least pleasurable aspects of a holiday. Even when its long-overdue expansion is completed, Colombo airport will remain a fraction of the size of Delhi’s Terminal 3, which, despite its gargantuan proportions, is already overwhelmed by traffic. It’s only a matter of time before tourists in Sri Lanka will yearn for alternatives.

An empty Lankan airport holds promise for India

What do visitors do in Sri Lanka? Given its excellent roads and nationwide tourism infrastructure, most hire a car and traverse the entire country within a week or two, returning to Colombo to depart again. An arrival on one coast and departure from another would save travellers days of precious holiday time.

Consequentially, almost everything points to the fact that if Mattala airport is well marketed and incentivised by Sri Lanka’s tourism authorities, it may well be a commercial success. And even if it isn’t, India’s reported investment of $300 million into the airport will reap other strategic rewards.

Still, even the most sure-footed elephant can stumble, if it focuses only on the juicy fruit above and ignores the rumbling on the ground.
Up to last year, ordinary Sri Lankans were largely upbeat about China’s massive investments in their country. Barely a year later, there is growing resentment over what many see as a “sellout” to China. And as in most small island nations, the growing presence of Chinese expats has exacerbated the fear of a “cultural invasion” too.

India has much to gain from its joint venture in Mattala and other places, but New Delhi would be wise to read the signals. India-bashing is the favourite pastime of all neighbouring countries anyway. And despite the cultural cousinhood between India and Sri Lanka, Sri Lankans are anything but serendipitous about the big neighbour. Historically, India has not endeared itself to Sri Lanka for its dodgy role in first training and later fighting the terror group LTTE, and by Tamil Nadu’s shrill support of Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka.

But the civil war is long over. Of late, Sri Lanka’s majority Buddhists are more concerned about growing Hindu chauvinism over the “Ramayan link” in Sri Lanka. They fear that Indian investment too — especially in Sinhalese-dominated districts — may be a smokescreen for cultural subjugation.

Hambantota is not in Hindu-majority Jaffna. This is the deep, Buddhist-Sinhalese south and — the stronghold of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, during whose tenure ties with India were in a deep freeze. Though relations between Mr Rajapaksa and India’s ruling BJP have been improving in leaps and bounds, it will take more than one joint venture to convince all Sri Lankans that India’s intentions are honourable.

On top of a promontory overlooking the China-held Hambantota seaport, is the picturesque Gotha Papitha Buddhist monastery. This, along with many other scenic spots, will be swallowed up by China’s Special Economic Zone. As with all big-ticket projects and especially along one of the most spectacular coastlines in the world, real estate vultures will invariably hover: highrise condominiums at spots like the monastery guarantee a killing.

“Yes, Buddhism is a peaceful religion,” chief monk and fierce protester Thera Gotabhaya Amitha told this writer. “But Buddhism’s connection with our people is like a tree and its skin. We will do more than what it takes to resist this port. And if we die? We don’t care.”

Indians are throwing money around on real estate all over the world. If Indian investors do not ignore the temptation to milk the entire area around Mattala airport for profit and insist on lending airport operations a strongly Indian, instead of Sri Lankan identity, they will meet the wrath of tens of thousands of such protesters across Sri Lankan political party lines.

But if India plays the sensitive friend and not the bully big brother, its arrival in Sinhalese-dominated southern Sri Lanka could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

*The writer is a senior foreign correspondent and the author of Sri Lanka: The New Country. A version of this article was first published in the Asian Age.

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How Women Reclaimed Their Island From the Sri Lankan Navy

By Lisa Fuller

When a flotilla of 44 motorboats filled with 300 Sri Lankan Tamils – and a small group of activists, journalists and clergy – ignored the navy’s explicit orders and set sail for their former homes on the navy-occupied island of Iranaitheevu, they didn’t actually think they’d make it in one piece.

“We were very, very scared,” said Elisabeth, one of the women who helped organize the initiative.

At the very least, they expected the navy to prevent them from docking their boats on the island. Far worse, but also possible, was the navy opening fire and even killing some of them. After all, it had spent the past 26 years preventing them from returning to their island.

What they did not anticipate the morning of their departure on April 23 – as navy officials and intelligence officers swarmed the mainland port and photographed their preparations – was meeting no resistance upon their arrival.

Women trinco 1
Trincomalee, SRI LANKA: Sri Lankan navy boat patrols nears the naval base in Trincomalee, 07 August 2006. Sri Lankan troops launched fresh artillery attacks against Tamil rebel positions, a day after the guerrillas warned that shelling could lead to all-out war, military officials said.LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images

Nearly three months later, 100 community members have permanently moved back to the island. After a quarter century of displacement, they have begun to rebuild the long-neglected, war-ravaged town.

Their success was not a result of luck, nor did the navy have a sudden change of heart. Instead, a group of women from the community had developed and implemented a nonviolent strategy that closely resembles techniques implemented by professional civilian peacekeepers in conflict zones across the world.

Scorched Earth

Sri Lanka’s civil war – which was fought between the majority Sinhala-dominated government and a minority separatist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE – engulfed Iranaitheevu in 1992, forcing all 650 of its residents to flee to the mainland. They spent the next 17 years in a state of constant displacement, relocating to different areas in northern Sri Lanka to avoid the fighting.
The war ended in 2009 after the government implemented a scorched earth policy. It bombed hospitals, aid distributions and no-fire zones in LTTE territory to secure a military victory. The LTTE, meanwhile, refused to allow civilians to flee, in a futile effort to use them as human shields. The Iranaitheevu community was among the 350,000 civilians caught in the middle.

After the war ended – in an apparent attempt to weed out any potential LTTE remnants – the government detained the Iranaitheevu community and the rest of the surviving civilian population in overcrowded displacement camps, which were rife with human rights violations, including sexual violence and torture. When the government released the Iranaitheevu community members from the camps six months later, they expected to finally return home. Instead, they found the navy was still occupying their island and had no plans to leave.
The community engaged in political advocacy for the next seven years, but made no progress in convincing the government to allow their return. In May 2017, they began engaging in a continuous protest outside a church in Iranaimaatha Nagar, a port town and one of the closest points on the mainland to Iranaitheevu. Community members would alternate shifts, ensuring that at least a few protesters were always stationed at the church, holding signs that said “release our native land,” while also indicating how many days they had been protesting.
However, a group of women – known as the Iranaitheevu Women’s Development Society, or WDS – soon began to suspect that the protest would not be effective either. They didn’t think – as a disaffected minority group in a remote part of north Sri Lanka – that a traditional protest would be able to sufficiently pressure the government into complying with their demands. Other displaced communities were carrying out similar protests, and most were having little success. Plus, with Iranaitheevu lying in a strategic military location along the Palk Strait, the navy seemed adamant about retaining control of the island.

While the community never stopped protesting, the WDS began simultaneously planning another strategy to secure their return – one that wasn’t dependent on the government’s permission or the navy’s consent. It took them almost a year to prepare their strategy and gather the courage to execute it.

How to Defeat a Military With Nonviolence

The women were confident they could organize the logistics of their return – since most of the men in the community are fishers and had motorboats to sail the 13 miles (21km) from mainland to Iranaitheevu. The harder part was figuring out how to make sure the navy didn’t attack them in the process.

If they attempted to return alone, they feared the navy would retaliate. They would, after all, be in a remote location with no witnesses. It would be easy for the navy to get away with violence against unarmed civilians.

With that in mind, the WDS set out to find a group of witnesses that could accompany them to the island. At the same time, these witnesses couldn’t be just anyone. They had to confer some degree of influence and respect – that way the consequences for retaliating would increase significantly and likely discourage the navy from turning to violence.

In their search for strategic witnesses, the WDS recruited human rights activists (who could report on the navy’s behavior), clergy (who brought a degree of moral authority) and journalists, including a camera crew (who could document the entire event so that it could be shared with the outside world).

With that taken care of, they then turned to designing the optics of the event. First, to ensure the navy couldn’t justify an attack on the pretense of self-defense, they tied white flags to each motorboat, signaling they were unarmed. Then they made signs with slogans such as “release the Iranaitheevu people’s land and let them resettle,” making sure to use large letters and all three of Sri Lanka’s languages. And when they sailed, they made sure that the flags and signs were clearly visible so that the navy could not mistake their intentions.
When the community disembarked on Iranaitheevu, they were confronted by three surprised navy officers, who inquired about their intentions. One of the priests spoke up, having been assigned the role of negotiator, due to his pre-existing relationship with the navy. Politely, but firmly – and with the cameras still rolling – he informed the officers that the Iranaitheevu people were moving back into their homes, and that they would not be deterred.

Unprepared to respond, the navy officers retreated, saying they would have to consult senior navy officials.

At that moment, the community realized it had succeeded.

“They cried tears of joy, and they ran into the church and started hymns,” said a nun who accompanied them and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The navy never made any subsequent attempts to expel the Iranaitheevu people from the island.

Instead, three weeks later, the government granted the community official permission to remain, giving up its quarter century campaign to keep them from their land.

The Science of Protective Accompaniment

While such a victory may seem unlikely or even just lucky – given the risk factors involved – the WDS actually employed a methodology developed and honed by civilian peacekeepers. Known as protective accompaniment, the practice involves positioning a respected third party to be visibly present in close physical proximity to vulnerable civilians in order to deter potential perpetrators from engaging in violence.

The strategy is effective because it creates unacceptable consequences for engaging in violence – in terms of both practical repercussions and social disapproval. As an analogy, domestic violence is much more common in homes than in shopping malls, not only because potential perpetrators want to avoid legal repercussions, but also because they don’t want the other shoppers to think they are bad people. Protective accompaniment, in essence, makes vulnerable civilians safer by transforming their environment from a private home into a public shopping mall.

Research in social psychology and neurology also helps to explain why protective accompaniment is effective in deterring violence: The human brain is wired to modify behavior to avoid social disapproval when it perceives that it is being watched by a third party. Some biologists have concluded that this tendency is actually a product of evolution, as our ancestors were reliant on social cooperation for survival.

It turns out that this response is so ingrained that even the illusion of being watched causes people to be more cooperative. Various studies in different countries have shown that posting pictures of eyes in key locations can deter bicycle theft, motivate bystanders to pick up litter and incentivize people to make donations.

Specialized civilian peacekeeping organizations like Nonviolent Peaceforce and Peace Brigades International provide accompaniment to groups of civilians who are being directly targeted by armed groups, women in conflict zones who are vulnerable to sexual assault and human rights defenders who are under threat as a result of their work.

Iranaitheevu appears to be a unique case for protective accompaniment, as the WDS recruited their own civilian peacekeepers, while also planning and directing the entire operation. As remarkable as their story is, however, political scholars like Casey Barrs and Oliver Kaplan have found that conflict-affected communities often develop sophisticated self-protection strategies, many of which have close links to civilian peacekeeping.

Yet, such initiatives are often overlooked. When self-protection strategies are successful, people don’t get hurt, and the effect can appear to be much less dramatic than violence.

We tell stories about violence and atrocities in an attempt prevent them from happening in the future, often in line with the “never again” mantra. But to effectively prevent violence, we must also tell the stories in which violence ultimately didn’t happen – for it is these stories that give us the guidance to make “never again” a reality.

The views in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of isis.lk

This story was originally published by Waging Nonviolence.

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Rajapaksa presidential stakes in deep waters

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa- though unable to run for President in 2020- found himself at the centre of an evolving controversy last week as the respected American newspaper the New York Times implied in an article that China has inveigled Sri Lanka into a ‘debt trap’ during Rajapaksa’s Presidency.

The article in question was titled ‘How China got Sri Lanka to cough up a port’ and was written by Maria Abi-Habib, the newspaper’s South Asia correspondent based in New Delhi. The article appeared in the New York Times on June 25 and acknowledges contributions from journalists from Beijing as well as two senior journalists in Sri Lanka.

While the New York Times has an established reputation as a newspaper of integrity, Abi-Habib also has impressive credentials. Among other achievements, in 2012 she investigated atrocities in a military hospital in Kabul in Afghanistan that led to the resignation of an American General.

The article paints a picture of Sri Lanka as a “small country hungry for financing”. It claims that China offered loans to Sri Lanka that could not be sustained to build the port in Hambantota and that, as a result, “under heavy pressure and after months of negotiations with the Chinese the government handed over the port and 15,000 acres of land around it for 99 years in December”.

The article claims that the port “gave China control of territory just a few hundred miles off the shores of a rival, India, and a strategic foothold along a critical commercial and military waterway” and observes that “the case is one of the most vivid examples of China’s ambitious use of loans and aid to gain influence around the world”.

More damaging for Rajapaksa is the claim that engagement with the Chinese was linked to his election campaign. The article claims that “during the 2015 Sri Lankan elections, large payments from the Chinese port construction fund flowed directly to campaign aides and activities for Mr. Rajapaksa, who had agreed to Chinese terms at every turn and was seen as an important ally in China’s efforts to tilt influence away from India in South Asia”.

Hambantota Port

The newspaper states that “the payments were confirmed by documents and cash checks detailed in a government investigation seen by The New York Times”. It also notes that “Rajapaksa and his aides did not respond to multiple requests for comment, made over several months, for this article. Officials for China Harbor (the company engaged in the construction of the port) also would not comment”.

The decision of the Rajapaksa government to build a port in Hambantota could be criticised as bad judgment, because the port- like the airport in Mattala- has not been a commercial success. However, of more concern to Rajapaksa, the Joint Opposition (JO) and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is the insinuation that this decision was quid pro quo for funding provided to Rajapaksa for his 2015 presidential election campaign.

The article does provide details about this, which, if accurate, would be of concern. “At least US$7.6 million was dispensed from China Harbor’s account at Standard Chartered Bank to affiliates of Mr. Rajapaksa’s campaign, according to a document, seen by The Times” the article claims.

“With 10 days to go before polls opened, around US$3.7 million was distributed in checks: US$678,000 to print campaign T-shirts and other promotional material and US$297,000 to buy supporters gifts, including women’s saris. Another US$38,000 was paid to a popular Buddhist monk who was supporting Mr. Rajapaksa’s electoral bid, while two checks totalling US$1.7 million were delivered by volunteers to Temple Trees, his official residence,” the article claims.

This is hardly the kind of publicity that the Rajapaksa camp would wish for, with presidential elections due in eighteen months, even if Mahinda Rajapaksa is himself not a candidate. Predictably, the government- or at least, its United National Party (UNP) faction- has gone on the offensive.

Social Empowerment Deputy Minister Ranjan Ramanayake has lodged a complaint with the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) regarding the allegations made in the New York Times article and State Minister of Power and Renewable Energy, Ajith Perera has challenged Rajapaksa to sue the newspaper if the article was defamatory.

Initially, Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa, eldest son of the former President pooh-poohed the accusations in the article stating that the New York Times was simply recycling old allegations. However, it was clear that the controversy was gathering momentum and Mahinda Rajapaksa did respond.

Rajapaksa denied the allegations and stated that he was in the process of sending a Letter of Demand to the New York Times. He also said that his party would also be doing the same as the article stated that his party’s campaign was funded by China. However, Rajapaksa did not specify which political party that was because he ran as a candidate of the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) which he is no longer in control of.

Rajapaksa also issued a detailed statement. “No contribution was made by China Harbour Co to my 2015 presidential election campaign. While claiming that my ‘affiliates’ and ‘campaign aides’ had got the money and that ‘volunteers’ had delivered the cheques to Temple Trees, the writer of the New York Times article has been intentionally vague about who had given this money and who had received it. This seems to be a way of carrying out a smear campaign without incurring any liability”, Rajapaksa said in his statement.

Rajapaksa also takes issue with the New York Times for the sources of its information. “The NYT writer has stated that they had obtained some of the details in that article from a Sri Lankan ‘government investigation’. Every Sri Lankan knows that the main preoccupation of this government since it came into power has been to sling mud at the opposition” he says.

Despite this rebuttal, the controversy continues, in part due to the tactics adopted by the Rajapaksa camp. This was after JO parliamentarians held a news conference and claimed that the two senior Sri Lankan journalists who have been acknowledged in the article made their contributions at the behest of the government. A photograph of one of the journalists was also displayed at the briefing.
This was to draw a sharp retort from the New York Times. Michael Slackman, the international editor for The Times, called those claims false. In a statement, he said The Times article was rigorously reported and accurate and criticized the JO’s tactics. “It is unacceptable for journalists to be intimidated in this way,” Slackman said. “This action appears intended to silence critics and curb press freedoms, and ultimately deprive Sri Lankans of information in the public interest.”

Meanwhile, the Chinese embassy in Colombo has also now weighed in with its own statement on the issue. The statement from the embassy however does little to clear up the controversy. “The embassy has noticed the New York Times’ article published on June 25, as well as the clarifications and responses by various parties from Sri Lanka, criticizing it full of political prejudice and completely inconsistent with the facts” the statement said. The embassy statement notes that “despite any interference from a third party, China would like to work together with Sri Lanka to actively implement the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries” but is silent on the specific allegations levelled in the article.

It is very likely that, fuelled by political pressures, this issue will linger on for some time. Whether the Rajapaksa camp has the nous to take on the New York Times on this matter is a moot point. That is because, publicity of this kind is something that the Rajapaksa, the JO and the SLPP could best do without with national elections on the horizon. At present, however, strategists in that camp don’t seem to view this controversy in that light.

Source : Daily News - Lakdev Liyanagama

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Identity And Violence: Media Coverage Of Recent Conflict In Sri Lanka – Analysis

By Anjana Vencatesa

In the recent months, Facebook has consistently been in the spotlight for its role in the Cambridge Analytica controversy; ineffective response to fake news in Ireland’s reproductive rights referendum; and the failure to remove hate speech during the Rohingya crisis, among others. Another recent issue in which Facebook was a key tool used to spread propaganda was in Sri Lanka.

In February and March 2018, certain areas in Sri Lanka such as Kandy and Digana were witness to a conflict between groups representing the majority Buddhist-Sinhala population and the minority Muslim population. In light of the violence and arson which continued despite curfews in the selected localities, the Sri Lankan government promulgated a state of emergency to curb the violence and introduced restrictions on social media to stop the spread of propaganda videos. 

In subsequent months, the government openly criticised Facebook for failing to identify and remove hateful content. While the role of social media in fomenting unrest is under the lens, another interesting aspect of any conflict situation is the coverage by the mainstream media.

In the island nation with a history of conflict, how does the media coverage of the conflict influence opinions? Part 1 of this two-part series compares and assesses the tone of coverage in English and Tamil language media in Sri Lanka. Part 2 will examine the impact of geographical proximity on the coverage by international publications.

The assumption prior to the analysis is that Tamil language media outlets may hold a more antagonistic view towards the Sinhala majority government and the promulgation of the emergency compared to English language media outlets, owing to historical or ‘lived experience’ proximity or that it may take a form of identifying with the Muslim population of Sri Lanka as fellow minorities. An analysis of the newspapers, however, reveals that the assumption did not hold true and that on the contrary the coverage was almost opposite to what was assumed.

The abovementioned ‘conflict’ was given wide coverage in leading English language Sri Lankan news outlets such as The Colombo Telegraph and The Daily Mirror Lanka. The Colombo Telegraph termed  it as “communal riots” and “attacks” across various articles and specifies in each article, “the death of a Sinhala man when attacked/beaten up by Muslim men.” The Colombo Telegraph was also critical of the government’s response to curbing violence, reiterating multiple times that it was slow. One of the striking publications in The Colombo Telegraph is an Op Ed by former President Mahinda Rajapakse, in which he argued that “But since the late 1980s a section of the Muslim population has gravitated towards communal political parties. This has made it easy for conspiratorial forces both local and foreign  to inflame tensions…”

The Daily Mirror Lanka focused more on political and economic fall-outs of the conflict such as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s statement to the parliament; the possibility of Muslim members of parliament voting for a No-Confidence motion; and even the reaction of the Canadian government to the violence. One such article focused on the impact of the conflict on tourism, arguing that “religious and communal violence” has affected tourism, and by describing the conflict as having begun from a “roadside brawl” and leading to “chaos.”
In Virakesari, Sri Lanka’s oldest and most popular Tamil language newspapers, the article describing the proclamation of emergency is a brief 15-line note with a straightforward headline. It refrains from mentioning any identity and also does not use terms like ‘clash’ or ‘riot’. It begins with the phrase, ‘Taking into consideration the events that have taken place in the country, the government has decided to promulgate emergency…’ [Translated from Tamil]. Another article begins by describing it as ‘violent incidents’ and while mentioning that mosques were damaged, it refers to the perpetrators as ‘members of the majority ethnicity’.

In the state owned Tamil language newspaper, Dinakaran, articles term the violence as ‘ethnicity related attacks’. This trend can also be seen in the Jaffna based Tamil language newspaper, Uthayan, where most articles refer to it as ‘ethnicity based violence or attacks’. Of all the articles covering the conflict, only one refers to the identity of the ‘majority ethnicity’ while describing it as ‘the clashes between Sinhala and Muslim communities has reached its peak’ [Translated from Tamil].

It is interesting to observe the role of political statements and considerations playing a bigger role in the English language media coverage than an actual description of the violence that unfolded. The English language media also terms the conflict as ethno-religious whereas the Tamil language media terms it as exclusively ethnic in origin. Similarly, in Tamil language media, it can be seen that the shared proximity of fellow minorities does not directly translate into increased coverage.

In 2003, a study on media in North East Sri Lanka by the Centre for Policy Alternatives and International Media Support noted that the “media is not seen as a shared space by the Tamil and Muslim journalists in the North-East,” and recommends improving relations between the two media communities through inter-communal media dialogues. A similar view is echoed in the 2015 book, Embattled Media: Democracy, Governance and Reform in Sri Lanka, where the desire to maximise benefits from limited land resources is cited as a possible reason for Tamil antipathy. It appears that years later the situation has not improved for the better.

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China Is Doing The Same Things To Sri Lanka Great Britain Did To China After The Opium Wars

By Panos Mourdoukoutas 

(Forbes) - China is turning Sri Lanka into a modern day “semi-colony,” the same way Great Britain and Portugal turned south China into their own semi-colonies back in the mid of 19th century.

Sri Lanka didn’t lose a war to China. It never ceded any of its territory officially to China. But it handed over economic control of its deep sea Hambantota port to China Merchants Port Holdings (CM Port).

Last week, CM Port made a $584 million payment as part of a $1.12 billion deal to operate Sri Lanka’s deep-sea Hambantota port, according to a Reuters report. Under the agreement, signed in July 2017, CM Port will run the $1.5 billion Chinese-built port on a 99-year lease.

The $1.12 billion total price is to be used to reduce the Sri Lankan government’s debt to China.

In economic terms, this agreement is similar to that China signed back in the aftermath of Opium Wars with the British and the Portuguese, ceding control of its Southern ports to the British and the Portuguese.

China's growing presence in Sri Lanka began back in 2007, when Beijing provided President Rajapaksa both military and diplomatic support to crush the Tamil Tigers. Then followed high profile construction projects and high interest loans that left Sri Lanka heavily indebted to China.

Sri Lanka government debt was standing 77.60% of the country's GDP in 2017, well above the 69.69% average for the 1950-2017 period, according to Tradingeconomics.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s Government Budget deficit stands at 5.5% of the country’s GDP, adding to its indebtedness.

Rising indebtedness comes at a time when Sri Lanka is already living beyond its means, as evidenced by persistent current account deficits, which stand at 2.60% of the country's GDP in 2017.

To cope with a rising debt to China, Sri Lanka has signed agreements with China that swap loans  for equity, transforming China into an owner to major infrastructure projects like Sri Lanka’s major port— and a key outpost in the Indian Ocean for Beijing.

This development has irked India, which is slowly becoming encircled by China; and India’s allies that are concerned about China’s aggressive moves to control maritime trade from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean.

That’s something investors in Southeast Asian markets should keep a wary eye on, as it opens yet another front between the two Asian giants, raising the geopolitical risk of investing in the region.

Markets, for the time being, seem to be ignoring these risks.

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Mandela’s Legacy for Reconciliation

By Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga

It is an honour to be a part of the commemoration of the universal symbol of freedom, ethnic harmony, unity, and reconciliation, Nelson Mandela on the centenary of his birth anniversary. Mandela’s legacy has inspired not only South African society damaged by Apartheid but also every mass movement around the globe that fought for human freedom and dignity by celebrating ethnic diversity as a virtue that helps override the challenges.
He was committed to democratic values and advocated human dignity and equity. He personally experienced the pain of social repression. Consequently, he identified and addressed the root causes of human suffering.
Initially as a freedom fighter, then as a politician, eventually as a charismatic, world-renowned statesman who initiated an influential international movement, The Elders, dedicated to social justice and the dignity of humanity, Mandela showed us through personal example the qualities of true leadership. He has demonstrated the importance of unity among diverse communities. He has proved by actions that, “no power on this earth can destroy the thirst for human dignity.”
Mandela has edified us during the debate in South Africa’s Parliament while speaking on the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on February 1999, “Reconciliation … [is] inseparable from the achievement of a non-racial, democratic, and united nation affording common citizenship, rights and obligations to each and every person, and respecting the rich diversity of our people”.
Mandela was one of the greatest human being of our time. Not only he fought for what was right. He was amazingly forgiving his enemies.
As a nation emerging from an armed conflict, we need to to work tirelessly together to overcome the multiplicity of challenges facing us. We have many lessons to be learned from Mandela’s legacy. As he told us, “reconciliation requires that we work together to defend our democracy and humanity proclaimed by our constitution”. 
Let us learn, understand and transmit to succeeding generations the timeless legacy Mandela left us and march undaunted toward our goal of a united, strong and prosperous nation. 

*Message by Former President of Sri Lanka Madam Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Chairperson of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR).

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Advancing An Unfinished Agenda – Sri Lanka's Reconciliation Process

By S. Binodkumar Singh 

On June 13, 2018, the Sri Lankan Cabinet ratified the Office for Reparations Bill to be enacted by Parliament for the payment of reparations to war-affected and missing persons. However, there was resistance within the Cabinet against the proposed reparation formula, which includes benefits to families of former Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) combatants. The formula had been worked out by the Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs Minister D.M. Swaminathan. Minister of Megapolis and Western Development Patali Champika Ranawaka opposed benefits being provided to families of ex-LTTE cadres.
A fresh Cabinet memorandum seeking grant of compensation to war-affected people including ex-LTTE combatants was submitted on June 19, 2018. However, the Cabinet withheld its approval for the compensation formula till the establishment of the reparation office after enacting necessary legislation, as Ranawaka again raised objections. Similarly, opposing the move to pay compensation to ex-LTTE combatants, Joint Opposition member Wimal Weerawansa on June 20, 2018, demanded, “Why is the Government trying to compensate terrorists who tried to destroy our country? If the Government is attempting to compensate the terrorists who struggled for Tamil Eelam, we are forced to consider the President and the Prime Minister as separatists.”
Meanwhile, responding to Weerawansa, United National Party (UNP) Colombo District Member of Parliament (MP) Mujibur Rahuman on June 21, 2018, argued that the much debated Cabinet Paper submitted by Resettlement and Rehabilitation Minister D.M. Swaminathan seeking to grant compensation to war affected persons including ex-LTTE combatants consisted of some of the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) Report submitted on November 15, 2011, to the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Rahuman further said that ex-LTTE combatants were also citizens of this country and had a right to lead normal lives without any restriction or monitoring after completing the rehabilitation process.
The Office for Reparations is one of the four transitional justice mechanisms to address ‘truth, reconciliation, accountability and non-recurrence’ prescribed by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Resolution, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka on October 1, 2015. Of the four mechanisms, Sri Lanka operationalized the Office for Missing Persons (OMP) on March 13, 2018, a special office set up for determining the status of all persons who went ‘missing’ during the brutal civil war. The Office for Reparations is the second mechanism now expected to be set up. These will be followed by a ‘truth-seeking commission’ and a special court with independent counsel.
Earlier, reconfirming Sri Lanka’s commitment to implementing the UNHRC Resolution, Mano Tittawella, Secretary of the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM), while addressing the International Conference on Reparation, “Moving from a Divided Past to a Shared Future”, organized by the SCRM and International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Migration Agency, stated on February 22, 2018, “The conference follows the UNHRC Resolution on Sri Lanka and a Government decision to actively promote reconciliation, including a system of victim reparations, that will contribute to a lasting peace.” This was the first such conference to be held in Sri Lanka since the conclusion of the Eelam War on May 17, 2009.
The OMP was operationalized on March 13, 2018. In its first outreach meeting held at the Mannar District Secretariat, which was attended by about 250 people, on May 12, 2018, OMP Chairman Saliya Peiris elaborated,
Agenda 1
In the second OMP public meeting held at the Matara District Secretariat, attended by about 150 persons on May 19, 2018, Peiris disclosed that OMP would set up 12 regional offices in Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Ampara, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya, Matara, Kurunegala, Moneragala and Kandy, in order to expand its services and to receive information and complaints about the missing persons.
In the third session of consultations with families of the disappeared at the Mullaitivu Divisional Secretariat on June 2, 2018, OMP Commissioners held consultations in two sessions the first for families from Puthukuduyirripu and Maritime Pattu, and the second for families from Thunukkai, Manthai East, Weli Oya and Oddusudan. OMP met with civil society organizations as well. Several families raised concerns about the list of surrendered militants at the end of the war, which the Government had earlier promised to obtain from the security establishment.
To promote the Government’s reconciliation programme, a ‘Reconciliation Channel,’ a new Tamil language TV channel under the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) was launched on February 20, 2018, presided over by President Maithripala Sirisena. The Channel has programmes catering to Tamil speaking people and showcase items that reflect their religious, national and cultural identities. Separately, to improve the quality of education in Jaffna, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe announced on March 28, 2018, that a 10-year-plan will be implemented in Jaffna. The Prime Minister instructed Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam to take necessary measures to implement the 10-year-plan with the assistance of Northern Province Education to improve the quality of education in Jaffna District.
Meanwhile, to extend civil-military cooperation, in a meeting between Northern Province Chief Minister Canagasabapathy Viswalingam Wigneswaran and the Commander of the Sri Lanka Army, Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake at the Chief Minister’s Office in Nallur, Jaffna District, on March 29, 2018, the Army offered its assistance to the Northern Province to resolve vital issues pertaining to development and the livelihood of the community. During the meeting, the Army Commander pointed out to the Chief Minister that the Army was capable of providing leadership for school cadetting programs if the provincial department of education sought such assistance. The Army Chief also offered his assistance to resolve issues relating to the fishing community. The Commander also emphasized that the Army’s potential was available at all times for civil-military cooperation.
Further, to discuss the implementation of projects in the Northern Province, Minister of Finance and Mass Media Mangala Samaraweera, accompanied by Central Bank Governor Indrajit Coomaraswamy and Finance Secretary Dr. R.H.S. Samaratunga on March 30, 2018, met with the Chief Minister of the Northern Province, Canagasabapathy Viswalingam Wigneswaran. During discussions, the officials considered possible projects to best use the SLR one billion allocated for the five Districts in the Northern Province. The District Secretaries of the five Districts also participated in the discussion.
Significantly, to inspect the progress of development projects launched in the Northern Province, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe made a tour in the Northern Province on May 28, 2018. Participating in the progress review meeting at the Kilinochchi District Secretariat, the Premier emphasized that measures should be taken to increase economic production, aiming at improving the quality of life of the people. On June 14, 2018, the President’s Media Division announced that a Presidential Task Force had been appointed to operate development programs in the North and East. Headed by President Maithripala Sirisena, the task force will be responsible for coordination and follow up of all development programs in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The Prime Minister, Provincial Governors, Chief Secretaries of the two Provincial Councils, top military and Police officials and representatives of all relevant factions are included in the task force.
Expressing satisfaction on the progress of Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process and the measures taken by the Government, UN Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, concluding a three-day visit to Sri Lanka on March 11, 2018, commended the Parliament’s adoption of the Bill for the Protection Against Enforced Disappearances as an important element of the Sri Lankan Government’s commitment to its citizens. Feltman underscored the importance of accelerating the momentum on other initiatives, including those relating to the constitution, truth and reconciliation, reparations, and counter-terrorism, in line with the Government’s promise to strengthen the country’s democratic principles and practices. Meanwhile, making reference to Sri Lanka’s peace building efforts, United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) President Miroslav Lajcák on May 2, 2018, cited Sri Lanka as a successful example of how civil society could collaborate with the Government on peace building. He also cited an example of how Sri Lanka’s civil society made a contribution to the Government of Sri Lanka’s efforts on drafting a reconciliation and peace building programme for the country. In the meantime, on May 25, 2018, Peter Maurer, President of International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), commended the efforts taken by Sri Lanka in post-war peace-building and reconciliation. Referring to various measures taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to address humanitarian aspects involved in peace building and reconciliation, Maurer noted the recent progress achieved in establishing and operationalizing the OMP.
The current National Unity Government, formed on August 20, 2015, has made remarkable efforts to press forward with the reconciliation process by reaching out to the Tamils and initiating constitutional and legal reforms. It has operatinalized the OMP to help find the missing persons of the war era. Challenges remain, of course, as some Ministers and Joint Opposition members contest the formula to pay compensation to ex-LTTE combatants through the Office for Reparations, but these are relatively marginal issues of conflict within an enveloping process of successful consensus building and rehabilitative response.

*S. Binodkumar Singh is a Research Associate at the Institute for Conflict Management.

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We Will See The Death Of The Death Penalty - Mangala

Despite its widespread use, for millennia the death penalty has caused lingering societal discomfort and unease. Fairly early on in history many enlightened leaders have found the the death penalty degrading of human dignity. For example, in ancient Sri Lanka a number of kings – influenced by the Buddha’s teaching – abolished the death penalty. In fact, for much of the the first, third, fourth and thirteenth centuries the death penalty was not employed in Sri Lanka.

This may help explain why for nearly a century there has been a consensus among the legislative leadership of my country that the death penalty ought to be abolished. This consensus was based both on moral grounds and on the ineffectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent. As far back as 1928 the Ceylon Legislative Assembly voted 19 to seven in favour of a resolution on abolishing the death penalty, which was moved by D.S. Senanayake, who became the first Prime Minister of Ceylon and founder of the United National Party – one of Sri Lanka’s two main political parties. In the end, abolition was only thwarted by the high-handedness of the colonial authorities of the time.
In 1956, a few years after Independence, my father, then the Parliamentary Secretary for Justice, proposed a bill ending capital punishment which was supported by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the Prime Minister and founder of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party – our island’s other main political party. The bill passed but tragically the death penalty was resumed a few years later as result of Mr. Bandaranaike’s assassination until a de facto moratorium was instituted in 1976.

I daresay that even today the vast majority of my colleagues in Parliament find the death penalty morally repugnant and are aware of its inefficaciousness. However, as they fear the knee-jerk reaction of uninformed public opinion they have proved unwilling to take the courageous step the Government took in 1956. I believe that this fear is true not only of legislators and jurors in Sri Lanka, but of other Asian states where the death penalty is yet to be abolished.

Therefore, the common challenge facing us today is persuading our respective people and perhaps even more importantly having the collective courage to lead by acting.

However, changing public opinion is a time consuming and resource intensive process. And the evidence points out that, despite persistent advocacy, public opinion on the subject of the death penalty is relatively static in many countries. Therefore, overcoming this key challenge requires an act of political courage. Studies have shown that when people are asked to sit in mock judgement, rather than simply answer survey questions, no more than 30 percent of people support the death penalty, even in the the most serious of cases. In France, although public opinion was overwhelmingly in favour of the death penalty in 1981, its abolition decided by the then President of France led to a change of public opinion. It is clear that the debate resulting from the process of abolishing the death penalty and the lack of change in crime rates after the death penalty has been abolished allays the public’s fears. As a result there have been very, very few cases of reversal once the death penalty is abolished.

Momentum is slowly building in Asia, where more executions take place than the rest of the world combined. In South-East Asia the number of executions has declined significantly, in South Asia there have been both short and long de facto moratoria. In 2007, twenty four Asian states voted against the UN Resolution on a Death Penalty Moratorium, in 2014 that number had declined to 18. There is further good news: Sri Lanka’s Minister of Justice, who will also be addressing a session at this Conference, has informed Parliament that Sri Lanka will return to its traditional position of voting in favour of this resolution as it did in 2007, 2008 and 2010 and, more importantly, continuing the four decades long de facto moratorium.

Allow me to conclude by saying that abolishing the death penalty requires persuasion and resolve but above all it requires leadership – the collective leadership of legislators, activists, editors, academics and jurors. As momentum towards critical mass develops, I am confident that the coming years will see the death of the death penalty in our region.

*Statement made by Mangala Samaraweera at the Opening Plenary Address at the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Oslo on 22 June 2016.

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Do not look back; look forward to a pleasant future 

By Dr. Vickramabahu Karunarathne

While Donald Trump was having discussions with Polpotian communist leaders of North Korea to negotiate no conflicts and peace, there were clashes between fascist racist demonstrates and left oriented anti fascist organizations in several western cities. In the protest in London police were forced to escort around 20 neo-Nazi protesters out of Westminster after they staged an “anti-Jewification” protest. Hundreds of counter-protesters chanted “Scum, scum, scum” as they followed the far-right activists from Whitehall towards Westminster tube station. Lines of police kept the two groups apart. The fascist demonstration against a Jewish neighborhood watch group, was originally due to be held in the strongly Jewish populated north-west London, but was confined to a static demonstration in Whitehall. Their numbers were dwarfed by anti-fascists, who targeted them with chants of: “Nazi scum – off our streets”, drowning out speeches the neo-Nazis made from behind police lines.

Far-right activists had planned their protest for the Sabbath in an area with a 40% Jewish population. They planned to burn copies of the Talmud – the book of Jewish law and tradition – and effigies, in private in order to avoid arrest but filmed for sharing online. But the Metropolitan police decided to impose conditions under the Public Order Act 1986, moving the demonstration to Whitehall and limiting it to one hour. They said senior officers did not have the legal power to ban a static protest, had a duty to safeguard the right to protest and could not impose unreasonable restrictions upon that right. So we can see how British workers and radicl professionals treat fascistic politics. This is the modern advice given by them.

We said the defeat of no confidence against Ranil was a people’s victory, forced through the parliament by the voice of the people who wanted to continue the democratic revolution started way back. Then there was baking to the ideals of democracy and workers, professionals and Tamil speaking people stood loudly with the man who dared to save the country from the disaster of the war. Smaller nationalities in the country new very well what is coming with the blessings of the fascistic Mahinda Chinthanaya. With that victory people expected Ranil and other leaders of Yahapalanaya will take this hard won victory seriously and devote more time to finish the back load of the democratic revolution. In Marxian terms people  donot want a Kerensky and on the other hand  do not demand a Lenin; but they have the right to demand that Lanka should go at least in the path of late leader of South Africa.
Yes, at that time Ranil did the right thing. It was against wishes of many that Maithripala was selected as the common presidential candidate to represent all political parties and all national and religious communities that were suffering under fascistic repression by the Mahinda regime. It became an attraction in the eyes of the international community which was on the verge of sanctions. All sensible people accepted the period of Mahinda regime was really bad. All decency and human rights were buried, and a handful of people, mostly from one family dictated the country’s future. They were no doubt taking the masses of this country, towards the dark hells of bad governance. Hence the liberation motto became Yahapalanaya or Good governance. On the other hand, as the economy was plundering towards disaster. It is the truth when Ranil says that today Lankans are paying for the losses made by Mahinda. At that stage his advisers prompted President Mahinda to call elections two years ahead, when he was enjoying Executive power, Legislative powers, including provisional and Local Government powers. One could argue if the economy was flourishing there was no need for an advance election. This fact alone is more than enough to answer the status of the country in 2015.

President Sirisena made the right move by carefully committing as a common candidate to establish democracy, equality and freedom in a common struggle with parties of the common front. To day he is under pressure to opt for saving his party that he served as Secretary General. However his inability to control the Rajapaksas and the SLFPers in Joint opposition shows his weakness. Many believe that increasingly he is becoming a puppet in the hands of Mahinda clan while the UNP has been the victim of this set back of his weakness in political leadership. His political mistakes were evident in his appointments made to various commissions and state enterprises. It appears as if the president hardly made proper consultations with PM!  He was unable to take disciplinary action on his SLFP members. On the other hand Maithree took initiative to remove the then Bribery Commissioner, Dilrukshi Dias Wickremesinghe and created a vulgar situation.

In the last period Prime Minister and the Cabinet were blamed for common mistakes, the Head of State still with Executive powers did not defend when it mattered. At first clearly Ranil and the UNP were irresponsible in responding to the media; later Ranil’s pragmatism prevailed. May be discipline would serve their needs in the long run. That may not happen. Popular culture is to take the attacks on the ruling elite for every day fun. Even in the days of kings up to the British governors that was the tradition. Even today same aberrations are continuing.

Sadly the President saw the bond scam as the biggest sin of this country, which is calculated at less than $ 80 million. Money is not hidden and that can be traced. It could be a part of a political programme. On the contrary, Mahinda is supposed to have $ 600 million in a foreign account in a safe haven. That is just one example of the corrupt regime that ridiculed this nation and robbed it left right and centre. In the mean time the media of this country, especially the electronic, have failed to be the fourth pillar of democracy and are dragging this country to be once again handed over to a pit of snakes. It is no doubt; the current direction of this country is being dragged into uncertainty and darkness. Under this uncertainty Maithree is operating. His agenda is now clear, that he is trying to continue his political life by retreating to linkup with the pro Mahinda forces once again. However efforts for a new understanding have been fruitful we are told. May be the president wants to be a party to democratic revolution still continuing.  President must admit his dream of resurrecting new Bandaranayake era has ended up resurrecting a SLFP where fascistic Mahinda is still calling the shots. Last decisions of the parliament must open the eyes of every body to the real wishes of the people. Mahinda regime is a closed chapter in the history of Lanka. It is dark and sad chapter, not even a live and pleasant President of the country could give a new life to that political Black Death. Do not look back; look forward to a pleasant future.

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