Monthly Archives: July 2012

It is very likely that the Syrian government target civilians in its repression of the insurgents; it is also quite possible that the West, led by the US would see very favourably a regime change in Damasco. Pretty much as it happened in Lybia. It is also quite undisputable that the current Syrian government is an authoritarian oppression of the Syrian people. We noted that the big supporters of the Rebels are actually Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Now we have some perplexities about the real intentions of subverting a despotic regime, with a democratic system. Normally the big sponsor of an activity holds the key of the future of that activity. We doubt that Saudi Arabia and Qatar will support any democratic effort by the Syrian civil society.

courtesy Getty Images

And here we commence our Odissey. Is it right to fight a tyranny? Well, yes of course. But the natural expectation is to install a better government, not worse. All the premises in the Syrian case are suggesting that indeed Damasco isn’t any closer to a fair and democratic society. Middle East expert Robert Fisk is right in his analysis about the contradictions of attitudes towards this crisis, both from Westerns and Arabs.

The overall impression is that good principles are just waved in front of public opinion simply to make it swallow any kind of dirty operations. It’s Real-politik, baby. Or simply international relations. Really is there an educated audience, which still believes in those principles?


I’m sorry, but I do really believe that those principles are important and that the public opinion is really supporting them. And it is very unfair (anti-democratic) to operate against it. There are good reason to fight Assad, as there were to Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein. But it is absolutely paramount the way you reach that goal. If you combat anti-democratic governments, because they are anti-democratic and you use anti-democratic means, don’t you see a contradiction? Am I naïve?

I think that for governments is becoming more difficult and difficult to cover up all their dirty operations. Recently the New York Times investigated the Al-Qaeda infiltration in the Free Syria Army, the Dutch journalist Orlemans confirmed that version . Why it is all right to be in the same war of Al Qaeda now? Is it really true that anybody figthing my enemy is my friend? The West was the sponsor and the founder of the Talibans in the ’80s, when Saddam Husseins was an ally ( a paid one).

The newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeinen advanced the hypothesis that the Houla Massacre, the carnage that shocked the world and accelerated the opinion making against Assad, could have been actually committed by the rebels. But the UN as recently as two weeks ago pointed out the Syrian regime as the sole responsible.

This is wrong, grossly wrong.

Mullivaikal Massacre of Tamil civilians, May 2009

In 2009 the Sri Lankan government kept on saying it was conducting a ‘humanitarian rescue’. It was barbarously slaughtering thousands and thousands of civilians. According to the UN report, more than 40 000 (double of that in Syria), but different sources put the figures at 140 000. For who are we fighting as a society, as a (group of) civilization? Geopolitical interests come first, the people don’t really need to know, they don’t care, they like reality show and new tech gadgets. It seems to me like a give them brioches. But those people are able to get informed and to shape their opinion, quite rapidly now (thanks to the tech gadgets and the like). And I think that those ‘Jihads’ against ‘antidemocratic’ countries, with such antidemocratic means, should undergo a profound process of rethinking. Propaganda is there, is everywhere. But the civil society is growing very fast anti-bodies to unmask those lies.

I still believe in the principles of democracy and human rights. And I don’t think I’m a dreamer, and surely I’m not naïve.

Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapaksa
couretesy AP

At present it is difficult to condemn the perpetrators of 2009 crimes. Three main reasons for that: first geopolitical, China clearly backs up in the security council and any enforcement from the United Nations is deemed to fail. Second, India silently but effectively supports Rajapaksa and has no intention to mine his grip on power. The third reason is theoretical: it is not advisable to charge with such accusation the chief of a State democratically elected. He may be guilty, but it raises a problem of opportunity, because the person also represents the executive power of his country. It is very complicated to start a trial in this conditions with a potential undesirable outcome: should he be condemned, how can a foreign judicial force impose its authority on the internal matters of a sovereign state?

It is not a surprise that even if the governments in the international community are well aware of what happened (see the Wikileaks’ report about the US ambassador in Colombo), it is arduous to implement any step in that direction, under the present circumstances. When Rajapaksa won’t be in office anymore, then concrete moves towards an international accountability can be taken. How long it will last and how fair is to wait for that moment in respect of the victims, is a hard and legitimate question.

But we are faced with even more problematic issues now. In June 2012 president Rajapaksa has been invited by the Queen to attend the Diamond Jubilee (to be fair, he wans’t the only desputable presence: the monarchs of Baharain, Saudi Arabia were invited after bloody repression of public protest). Few days later he met the Pope in Rome. More recently it has been discussed his presence during the Olympics. At the end he didn’t show up, but the issue stands and the problem is the international role of President Rajapaksa.

Precisione for the reason we stated earlier, it’s complicated to judge the chief of the executive power, while in office. But contrary to the image of confidence that he is keen to project, he is aware of walking on the edge. His position is delicate; surely time is on his side, the more it passes the greater the chances to relegate to history the judgement of the war crimes.

President Rajapaksa and the Secretary of the United Nations Mr Ban Ki Moon

But the threat is there. This is the reason for Mr Rajapaksa to seize any opportunity of international visibility. The media exposure that accompanies any politician, in his case has an even more literal meaning of survival. In fact any time he is photographed and associated with other head of state, like in the case of the queen or the pope, he is scoring more points in his favour. The queen and the pope, pretty much like anybody else, know very well what happened. And yet, accepting his presence his a subtle, implicit endorsement of his legitimacy. Now, he is without any doubt the legitimate head of state of Sri Lanka. But his government is patently guilty of crimes against humanity.

President Mr Rajapaksa and the Queen Elizabeth II

Clearly will be more than an embarrassment for the queen and the pope, an eventual condemnation of Rajapaksa. Will they say they didn’t know? They were misinformed? So, on side, just his presence is an active, implicit endorsement of his policy.

Now we are coming to the episode related to the Olympics. As we speculated, Mr. Rajapaksa desperately needs to participate in this international events. The Independent few days before the inauguration of the Olympics, considered highly probable his presence. A public outcry and the Tamil diaspora machine already in move stopped him. Subsequentely in article of the Island, clearly delivering a governmental message, was mocking the reaction of the Tamil community. I think that the reality is different. Rajapaksa is struggling to participate, but his presence wasn’t considered appropriate. I think his presence is not appropriate anywhere, until proper and fair accountability of those facts will be delivered.

Dambulla and Black July:Not just anti-terrorism against the LTTE

Muslim in Sri Lanka are quite a distinct case. Unlike Tamils and Sinhalese, they never made any claim of sovereignty in the island. But they found themselves harshly hit by the civil war. They suffered ethnic cleansing in the Norther Provinces by the LTTE and complete oblivion by the Sri Lankan government as refugees.

In Puttalam more than 100 000 people have been forgotten in refugee camps for 20 years. As recent as in 2009 the UNCHR (the United Nations agency for refugees), in partnership with Brandix Lanka were still struggling to deliver basic needs, like water and sanitation to them.

The Muslim in the Northern Provinces were Tamil speakers and lived in the region since hundreds of years. Their presence in modern times is old as the ones of Tamil or Sinhalese; yet they were considered stranger by the LTTE, on the main ground that they weren’t ‘real’ Tamils. If it was necessary, an evidence more of LTTE’s lack of democratic and inclusive conscience.

On the other side as well, Colombo showed its absolute disinterest for any other ethnic group outside the Sinhalese. During the IV Eelam War, Muslims parties have orbited around president Rajapaksa, on the ground that as a minority, it was better to cooperate rather than contest the majoritarian force of the central government. In the present coalition of government, Sri Lankan Muslims are present as ministers, but this compromise seems shor-lived.

The supremacist Sinhalese sentiment is growing stronger also against the Muslims. In April, radical Buddhists have tried to demolish the mosque of Dambulla. They fire-stormed the mosque and they threatened 70 others buildings of cult.

The monks involved in the protest claimed that they are just protecting Buddhism from encroachment, but everyone knows that all the other religions on the island are quite low-profile and don’t dare to contest the dominant position of the Buddhism. The minorities only try to survive in a climate of mistrust and oppression.

It is significative that the government is placidly turning its eyes somewhere else, when these cases of hatred and violence erupt. In a state where authoritarian rule is based on the iron-fist of the army, you may wonder how episodes of anarchy can take place. The reason is always the same: from the communal riots of ’58 and ’83, the government is implicitly backing up the racist-driven unrest.

All the the rhetoric of the Sri Lankan state is dedicated towards a unitarian entity, but in any possible occasion it is remarked that unity Sri Lanka is Sinhalese and Buddhist. Consequently all the other minorities should consider themselves as barely tolerated.

The reality in the island is an intense hatred of the minorities by the majority. Sometimes this underground sentiment surfaces and explodes in violence. But the government is far from trying to reign it. On the contrary it deliberately let the steam off as a measure of control and threaten of the minority.

The LTTE was responsible for heinous crime, but the war was not anti-terrorism. The Tigers desperately tried to resist a force of discrimination and oppression, a violent force with the secret intent of eliminating and wiping out all the outsiders of the Sinhalese mainstream.

Until Sri Lanka will come to terms of the diversity within itself, an underlying resentment of the other minorities will be kept alive for further challenges of this unjust authority.

On July the 23rd 1983 a small group of Tamil rebels ambushed the Four Four Bravo convoy of the Sri Lankan Army. The rebels, a cell of the LTTE, killed 13 out of 15 soldiers of the patrol. A very severe and negative judgement should be expressed on the overall activity of the LTTE: the Tigers committed several crimes; precise and detailed account are available from international and independent sources. Any Tamil should be more aware of the dark side of the Tigers. The LTTE in many, too many occasions hit civilians and innocents. But in that infamous July of 29 years ago, the target was military, completely military. Within the legal framework of a state is clearly an act of aggression, but it is not even criminal. In fact the rebels stands precisely to contest that framework and they suspend themselves from the law of a state they consider oppressive and unjust. Other laws stand, though. It’s the beginning of war and wartime laws apply. For example, it’s not murder to kill a man of the opposite faction, under appropriate circumstances. But must of all, the laws of humanity apply. Civilians per definition are exempted by the hostilities (and soldiers who surrender).

On the other hand, the state has all its right to eliminate this challenge to its authority and sovereignty. The Sri Lankan army would have been on the right side, had responded to Tigers’ fire.

But it didn’t.

President Jayawardene, few days before the riots, said on the Daily Telegraph:

‘I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna people now… Now we cannot think of them. Not about their lives or of their opinion about us… The more you put pressure in the North, the happier the Sinhala people will be here…really, if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy’

This is very clear statement that the government is not interested in suppressing violence against the Tamils. These words came out two weeks before the riots.

What happened is that ‘spontaneous mob’ targeted Tamil citizens and properties. People have been decapitated, burned alive, massacred. And the police and the army took very bland and superficial measures. Some members of political parties actually took active part in the violence, leading groups of thugs. Nobody has been seriously prosecuted for those events. The lack of intervention of the state was a clear message that the killing of the Tamils is a legitimated action. At least in the framework of an ethnic pogrom.

Now, in political theory the state has the monopoly of violence: the government had the right of responding to the LTTE attack precisely and only for this reason. From a theoretical point of view, the mob violence is a form of insurgency and a challenge to the state sovereignty of the same nature as the one of the LTTE. Mob violence should be treated as terrorism. Instead the government let it go. It didn’t take appropriate counter measures, it didn’t punish people responsible. In other words, it tacitly condoned the event. Well, as we have seen, not even so tacitly. The words of president Jayawardene are heavy as rocks and sharp as swords, in the agitated context of the July 1983. The pogrom of the Black July is a responsibility of the Sri Lankan state. The Tamil insurgency started appropriately with an army to army aggression, whereas the government reaction continued to target civilians and to be ethnic oriented. No surprise that this single-minded racial violence escalated to a civil war. It is out of the question that the start of war was caused by the oppressive and violent stance of the Sri Lankan government.


courtesy Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

In the
last report
from the Ministry of Finance and Planning, we discovered that China fell out in 4th place as a contributor. More committed to the growth of Sri Lanka you can find Japan and the Netherlands (2nd and 3rd respectively). And of course India in the first place, 13 times more than China. One pillar of the strategic change in the IV Eelam War, leading to the defeat of the LTTE, was China.
The growing interest of Beijing in the region, the String of Pearls, the port in Hambantota, all of these reasons brought military technology, money and political back-up. India had to catch up with China and had to please Colombo in any sort of way. Most of all New Delhi had to swallow the end of Tamil nationalism and the sufferance of brethren Tamil. China and Sri Lanka at the top, imposing conditions on India. This is a caricature,but many thought and felt that this was the right direction to explain what happened.

China did play a role, because it had a major interest in securing its shipping lane. Beijing wanted the port in Hambantota, wanted another Pearl. And it paid for that, also because it needed to boost jobs and investments for its company. President Rajapaksa is a good business man and he saw opportunities. But this is only one part of the story. You forget that China sold weapons, didn’t give them away. Hambantota was a necessity, the rest is a normal business. And if you look at the at the status of foreign debt, you’ll see that Sri Lanka is struggling. Since 2005, the debt ballooned from $11 billion to $24. Sri Lanka didn’t buy cheap its victory. And as you can see, China after reaching his objective didn’t have much more to look after in the island. Chinese have been pragmatic: they wanted something, they paid, the rest, they have been good merchants.

Where is India?

Sri Lanka President, Mr. Rajapaksa and Indian National Congress Leader, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi.

In the last 5 years they allegedly react to the Chinese treat, the containment policy right in their backyard, the domestic issues of the Indian Ocean resolved by China, investments to court Rajapaksa and lure him not to let them down. Or maybe the situation was a bit more complicated. India couldn’t refuse Hambantota (China really considers its energy supply of vital interest). But it was New Delhi that spotted the opportunity. Eliminate a challenge to its prestige, a force that was contesting the paradigm of dominance in the sub-continent. In fact plurality of power within the Indians is a much more severe treat than Beijing expansionism in the region. India had the chance to wipe out the LTTE and silence the Tamils, blaming China. And of course, securing with Rajapaksa a rock solid alliance. The real partner, the long-standing ally of Sri Lanka is India,not China.

Maharaja of Rewa (Now in Madhya Pradesh) – 1877

India played in disguise, when it voted against Sri Lanka in the March 2012 resolution on Human Rights in Geneva: they ‘allegedely’ voted against Sri Lanka, just to mislead how their relationship is closed and how New Delhi supports Colombo. The resolution was watered down, insignificant and bland. It advised Sri Lanka to implement its own procedures, which were irrelevant, and yet not even met. India pushed to a gentle call, which will have no consequences. But it could claim of antagonizing Sri Lanka.

After the storm of 2009, New Delhi is slowly taking its natural position of ruler in Sri Lanka. China will be relegated to the port, the only thing they really care in the island. For everything else you’ll see a dominance of India. Follow the money, money doesn’t lie. And the money says, India is becoming more present and more influential.

In the immediate aftermath of the war’s end, a massive military presence was more than obvious. At the end of the day, 27 years of civil war shaped the mindset of the government and army leaders and it was quite understandable the logistic worry that the LTTE could regroup again. Now, after 3 years, with people still in need of basic aid, like sanitation and housing, how is the situation? Pretty tough.

There are no direct statements of the government about military presence, but in recent studies( Economic and Political Weekley) it is possible to argue some figures. Apparently, almost 60% of the entire Sri Lankan forces is deployed in the Northern Provinces. That’s make up for roughly 200 000 men (198 000 the precise count) , in control of one of the less densely populated area in the island, with around 1 million of people (997 754). The militarization then is 198 soldiers per 1000 civilian population. Is that high?

The Institute of Defense Analyses (IDA), compiled a study for the the US Department of Defence and recommended a density of 40/50, to secure high confidence during active theatre of operations, ie. where the hostilities are still ongoing. In Iraq during the 2007 ‘Surge’, the most critical offensive during the US presence, density was 20 per 1000.

Indian police chasing protestors outside Jamia Masjid,Kashmir
courtesy Altaf Zargar

In Northern Ireland in the ’70s, 23; in Algeria, when the French security forces peaked, it reached 60. In Russia, during the Second Chechnya War, it was 150 and it was considered an extremely hard and intrusive presence. Finally in Kashmir and Jammu, considered as the most militarized region in the world, density of security forces doesn’t reach 40 per 1000 (38).

 More than 15 divisions of the Sri Lankan army station in the Vanni. Those forces simply stayed after the end of the world, establishing 4 Headquarter in Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Kilinochi and Vavunya.

Several reports, including  British High Commisioner 2, pointed out the high level of militarization and the disruption in day to day life. People lament that even to organize children’s birthday party in private house, you need the authorization of the military command. More recently, it was highlighted the phenomenon of land grabbing by the army. This massive presence doesn’t even guarantee security: in fact police is almost absent in the North. In a statement of the UK Border Agency, considering asylum claim, noted that the personnel was below the request, with few police station manily concetrated in towns, where the actual presence is spread in rural villages. Most of all, of the 83,423 active police men, only 1093 where Tamil. Few of Non-Tamil personnel speaks Tamil or English.

Now the situation is that the army is massively deployed to patrol and guard the population in the North; you may consider it a gigantic prison. What is the need to such a presence, after the end of hostilities?

Before the IV Eelam War the Northern and Eastern provinces were traditionally inhabited by Tamils. This legacy is not just folklore; in fact historically the Tamil kingdom was independent and separated from the other Sinhalese kingdom. Only the European colonialism brought together the Tamils of the North under a unified administration in Colombo. As recently as 2006, during the peace talks, a proposal for highly devolution of powers in the context of a federation, was still on the table. Actually it was more a resistance of the LTTE, that didn’t want to give up a complete independence, the main reason to the failure of Tamil State, joint in a federation. So you can read the IV Eelam War not only as the legitimate reaction of a State to regain possession of his sovereignty and integrity, but also a proper military invasion and occupation of foreign land. The Sri Lankan army is establishing its presence in terms of a conquest. The government of Sri Lanka is thus still in the business marking its ownership ‘de facto’ practically, before even assessing the status ‘de iure’, juridically. It is still producing its legitimacy in the North, by military means.

courtesy Reuters

Along this process, Colombo wants to teach the Tamil population what is the real balance of power. The Sri Lankan government is actively involved in the subjugation of the Tamils and wants to assert its dominion. When Colombo will recognize that its expansion is finally rooted and accepted by the people, then it will be time for de-militarization, not earlier. Now, you can question if it is legitimate for a State to impose over its own citizens such a constant regime of violence. The answer probably is that without this harshness, the population will reject its presence. This makes strategically sense, but it doesn’t add an inch of legitimacy in the actions of the Sri Lankan government.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Mrs. Jayalalithaa

Mrs. Jayalalithaa, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister requested to scrap the plan of training personnel from the Sri Lankan air forces. The site designed to hold the course is Tambaram, in Tamil Nadu. Without a particular intent to stir controversy or to chase an easy populist stance, I think the Chief Minister asked for something like a minimal basis of reciprocal understanding: if we want to build a solid partnership between the two countries, it is recommended to implement first the basic needs of displaced Tamil in the island. She manoeuvred cleverly around the issues and without openly attack the Colombo’s actions during the war, pointed out that the Tamil people were victims of what happened and the Sri Lankan army is involved in those operations.
It is definitely not a strong accusations. But it is stating the obvious: that Tamil civilians suffered (also) because of the Sri Lankan army. So it is not a wise step to establish a new deal, starting from the military side.
Difficult not to agree, in this case, with Mrs Jayalalithaa.

But I think that the episode is also quite enlightening. India and Sri Lanka are allies. And not since yesterday.

SLNS Sayura

The two countries conducted joint navy exercise in 2009 and subsequently in 2011 (Slinex II). The Sri Lankan navy received an Indian ship, the INS Sarayu ;then renamed SLNS Sayura. The Sri Lankan flagship for the offshore patrolling came from the Indian navy and it is still under Indian responsibility for the maintenance and refit of the vehicle. Indian navy assisted Sri Lanka in intercepting LTTE Sea Tigers. International reports (Jane’s International Review and e Woodrow Wilson School of Politics and International Studies) claimed that Sri Lankan navy before the IV Eelam War was highly disupted and overtaken by the SeaTigers. For the LTTE the control of the sea was always a vital matter and they survived because they have been able to take and maintain that control.

Indian Navy Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Nirmal Verma and Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
courtesy Sri Lanka Ministry of Defence

Now, the defeat of the LTTE by the Sri Lankan has made possible by India intervention (intelligence, electronic surveillance and satellite coverage); during the operations Indian officer were actually present on the field, to monitor what was happening.

In a nutshell, India was actively involved in the military side of the defeat of the LTTE. This simple fact is clearly difficult to handle politically for obvious reasons. I think that Mrs Jayalalithaa is right in saying that a minimal sense of decency for the Tamil brethren should avoid the training of Sri Lankan personnel in Tamil Nadu. Will she so brave to tackle also the bigger question of the Indian responsibility in the massacre of Tamil civilians?

In an interview with Cnn-Ibn live on the 11th of November 2011, president Rajapaksa was asked about his concessions to China. The assumption was that Sri Lanka increasingly lent towards China. How do you explain all the interest of Beijing for Colombo? From the Hambantota harbour to the South Express Highway, a lot of Chinese money is pouring on the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. 

So the question from an Indian perspective is: aren’t all these moves alienating your natural alignment with India?

Promptly president Rajapaksa clarified that:

Everything given to China, was offered before to India”.

Considering the dexterity of the president with media, he staged the interview precisely to dispel any thought regarding his alliance with China.

What he said is credible but you must read within the lines.

courtesy Jim Watson—AFP/Getty Images

The question deals with the following: Sri Lanka moved considerably towards China. It became one of String of Pearls, maybe one the most important. When it needed the most money and arms, Beijing stepped in. USA and also India were quite reluctant to help Colombo in amassing enough resources to smash the LTTE. The aim was to beat the Tigers only by a narrow margin.

 China instead gave everything requested. It boosted the Sri Lankan war machine to build a considerable edge on the LTTE.

Finally China backed Sri Lanka up internationally. With the precious vote of Beijing in the UN security council, Colombo is virtually unassailable. Sure you can be questioned.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
courtesy Mustafa Quraishi/AP

In March 2012 the UN gently asked the implementation of the LRCC, the internal report of the government about the alleged crime. In practical terms, the UN invited Colombo to comply at least with the extra mild recommendations internally promoted by the government itself. In case the top office is involved, not many chances of self-incrimination, I suppose. Any other, more tough move is automatically rejected by the Chinese support. In this climate, nobody will challenge a direct confrontation, when much more urgent issues are on the table. So for Sri Lanka this equals to immunity. Now, if you were India, wouldn’t this concern you? A State that you consider a domestic province is rapidly joining your biggest competitor in your main areas of influence.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa meeting Chinese President Hu Jintao.
courtesy Sudath Silva

The reaction of Rajapaksa is clear: complete reassurance. But you need to listen carefully. In an interview in June 2009 on the programme Walk the Talk (Indian channel NDTV), Rajapakse announced that the Chinese presence wasn’t harmful. He swore that any agreement was done for the benefit of Sri Lanka. No Sri Lankan bases can be used against Sri Lanka. That’s good enough, for Colombo. But if you are reassuring New Delhi, this doesn’t sound so good.

Rajapaksa is clearly playing a risky game with both. So you need to pay extra attention when he’s launching his messages. When he mentioned the offers to India, he’s reminding his counterparts that he’s playing according to the major rule of obedience. India comes first. Always. Only when India ignores Sri Lanka, he will turn to China. It’s important to remember this in the framework of the balance of power in the Indian Ocean.