Archive

Monthly Archives: August 2012

leader Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem with the President Mahinda Rajapaksa

In the 2010 elections, in which Rajapaksa harvested his military success, Muslim parties found a way of aggregation with the government. But today the Muslim in Sri Lanka feel again under sever pressure by the Buddhist Sinhalese majority. A sentiment of discontent and barely tolerance of the Islam presence in the island is making itself visible, with the case of the Durambulla mosque1 for example, or the fishermen and the judge court in Mannar2.

The dynamic seems quite obvious: on one side the Muslim political parties felt that to protect their interest, it was a better way to side with the government rather than to oppose it.

Today the majority doesn’t really need anymore the support of the Muslims and the government is signalling its distaste with the episodes against the Islam community. It is a very well know tactics in Sri Lanka: there is not such a thing as bottom up unrest that is not authorized by the government. Especially after the firm grip on power of president Rajapaksa. The message couldn’t be clearer: we don’t need you anymore.

courtesy BBC

In other words the Muslim parties sought protection within the mainstream of power and now they are not needed. It is an exchange of favours. But of what sort? Surely Rajapaksa wanted a vast front to legitimate his power. But the Muslim contribution was it really necessary in 2010? Rajapaksa’s party won an easy majority, what he had to thank for the Muslims?

 Well, the Muslims are a numerous presence especially in the Eastern and Northern provinces. During the IV Eelam War the Eastern Provinces have been defeat by the betrayal of Karuna. The offensive of the Sri Lankan army needed to secure the passage in the North-western corner, in the Mannar district. Rajapaksa in person admitted that the turn around of the war occurred when they won the region of Madhu, within the Mannar district3. He said that after that, the operation has been a walk away.

In fact the area is strategically proximal to the Adam’s Bridge, the strip of land that fragmentary connects Sri Lanka with India. If you want to isolate the Vanni area from any possible supply line via mainland, you must take the Mannar district.

It is arguable then that the Muslim community supported the Sri Lankan army in its endeavour to grab the stronghold. In exchange, Rajapaksa consented to include Muslim politicians (the leader of the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress has been appointed minister of Justice) and to accept the return of the refugees from Puttalam. But the Darambulla and the Mannar episodes are the signal that the relation has already reached its peak. It can be speculated that Colombo doesn’t want the Muslims to grow too strong, especially in the areas previously under the control of the LTTE.

So Rajapaksa needed their help, but suddenly stopped them to re-establish themselves confidently in their homeland.

The LTTE was a formidable war machine. For almost 30 years it challenged the Sri Lankan army and in many occasions, it won. Prabhakaran left the peace talks also because he thought he could win on the field his own dependency. But now they are gone, both Prabhakaran and his invincible army. The Sri Lankan government is understandably concerned of a future threat, so it keeps the Northern under a tight military control. But this is just half of the story.

True, Colombo needs to keep an eye on the Tamil nationalism, but the belligerence of the movement is alive especially in the hearts of the diaspora. The Tamils in Sri Lanka are tired: most of all of violence. But also of empty proclaim. Even the last LTTE faced not small difficulties in recruiting new cadres. They had to enforce conscription. This led to a simple fact: maybe Colombo is far from winning the hearts and minds of the Tamils, but a new, military organization, ready to destabilize the country, is not in sight.

courtesy JDSrilanka

President Rajapaksa has two other, different reasons to maintain the militarization in the North. One is logistics: he needs to find a place for his army. The huge Sri Lankan army, with all its ramification, is a fantastic employer. But it’s better to keep the soldiers far from the capital. During the Roman Republic, a law imposed that no army could come closer than the Rubicon. Mr Rajapaksa don’t really fear any military man: his brother, Gotabaya, is firmly in control of the military side. General Fonseka could have represented a menace. In the past. Nothwistanding, it’s better to keep some of the boys far away. And the Northern and Eastern provinces are the ideal place.

 But there is a second, more important reason. The IV Eelam war hasn’t been an anti-terrorism operation: an entire people was under the oppression of the majoritarian extremists and it rebelled against them. But it’s fundamental to underline a fact: before the fall of the LTTE, the Sri Lankan state was never entitled to keep that land. Surely, after the independence, it nominally received sovereignty over the whole island. But the North and the East are Tamil. Or at least they are as Tamil as the South is Sinhalese (the concept of minority is outside the Ceylonese horizon and it will stay there for a while). As soon as the Tamil nationalism gained conscience of its means, it overthrown the state presence with ease. The LTTE was a remarkable war machine and Prabhakaran an exceptional war leader. But their success resides in the first place in the real balance of forces: that the North was Tamil. And it has been since a good millennium at least (century more, century less).

Therefore when the Sri Lankan army crushed the LTTE, it was actually enforcing a military conquest., rather than re-establishing the rule of law and the lost sovereignty of the state. This entails that the military presence in the North doesn’t look like an occupation: it is one. The issue is not military: no young Tamil has really the will to start a war. They prefer to risk their life on a boat to Australia. The army doesn’t have to rein a rival force. It just need to re-affirm itself. also the reason of the land grabbing in the area: the army is confiscating land. Pure and simple loot.

The mere presence is required to affirm the Sinhalisation of the North. Sinhala boots have to walk in the North to fix the conquest.

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 Northern Provinces by the LTTE and complete oblivion by the Sri Lankan government as refugees.

About 100,000 Muslim Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) for the past 20 years have lived in refugee camps in Puttalam District and neighbouring areas. Tamil Tigers had expelled them.courtesy asianews.it

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.

 

courtesy EPA-telegraph.co.uk

If you repeat for 1000 times that the sky is green, would heaven turn emerald? Well it seems that the Sri Lankan government is precisely committed in this game; and successfully, given its international recognition. It started with the final stage of the IV Eelam War. The government was absolutely determined to defeat the LTTE once for all. The goal of the operation was to annihilate the Tigers leadership. Fair enough. It was an armed conflict and Colombo decided that it wanted to terminate it at any cost.

And the cost were measured mainly in terms of Tamil civilians lives: the Tigers were retreating dragging with them all the inhabitants of the areas previously under their control. So the situation is of Tiger militants surrounded by a huge number of civilians, men, women and children. The hard intervention required to wipe out the Tigers would have the predictable cost of high number of civilian casualties, very high. This was the stake of an hard offensive. And this should have been the topic of the debate. Instead the government was speaking of a ‘humanitarian rescue’. Heavy shelling on entire families barely fit with the concept of saving civilian lives. But the government propaganda launched a media campaign not less intense than its bombing in the Vanni. President Rajapaksa continued to support his policy of ‘Zero civilian casualties’. Colombo resisted in its version for years. Even against obvious evidences of the truth. Finally, after the extra mild report of the UN was confirming without any doubts the shocking magnitude of the massacres, with more than 40 000 killed, the government accepted that few civilians died. In the census made public in 2012 you can argue that the governmental figures are around 10 000. The real figure could be as high as 140 000, according to other sources. We won’t discuss it here.

courtesy Eranga Jayawardena/Associated Press

What it is important is that the government maintained its version for a couple of years, enough to escape the immediate reprimand. You would say that it was mainly for internal reasons, that the government wanted to convince its domestic audience of the good will in its actions. For sure large portion of the Sinhalese society are not aware of the enormity of what happened. But my point is another.

The real scope of the media operation was to buying time with other audience. It wasn’t the high diplomatic sphere of the international community: everybody knew since the beginning of the operation, what was going to happen.

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who led the army to victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) last year, justified the troops' conduct in the final days of the fighting

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who led the army to victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) last year, justified the troops’ conduct in the final days of the fighting

Mr Rajapaksa diluted the massacre with time. The Zero Civilian Casualty policy is a case of printing noise around the initial news. It is basic propaganda and contrary to what you think, it is very effective. It doesn’t need to turn really the sky pink, just inflates the meaning. Propaganda is quantitative easing of truth, so distortion can be effective not on facts, but on reaction to those facts. And propaganda is not effective on your peers, who know the facts, but on audience. If I keep telling that the sky is verdant, you’ll be annoyed and upset, but to communicate with me, you’ll have to argue that green is not the same of blue. And the audience will be caught in the debate.

Debate is inflating truth and if you don’t adjust the interests, a big debt in the past, will be a risible repayment in the future.

You see in 10 years, the government could be able to accept the UN figures. In 20 or 30 even the highest one.

 The Sri Lankan government knows the real figures. And so does the international community. But had it admitted in the aftermath of the war, it would have been much harder to defend it. And make no mistake, it is not a matter of China. Beijing has a clear policy: no foreign intervention. Moreover Colombo is a protégè, so it would have made no difference. It was no big deal for the international community of diplomacy: on Wikileaks it is clear that everybody knew the dimension of the tragedy.

People burning the Sri Lankan flag in Tamil Nadu, India

The real target of the quantitative easing on this truth, is India’s public, and more precisely Tamil Nadu. Nationalistic propaganda is quite loud in the Chennai state, but politicians both in South and in New Delhi have been clever in missing the point. In 2009 it happened a catastrophe, a Tamil catastrophe. But juggling with figures, messing with geopolitics, in conclusion not targeting the issue, at the end, was effective. The goal was to avoid immediate repercussion in India, not in Sri Lanka. The creditors of the crimes against their brothers, are the Tamils in India. But time is shrinking the remission and soon Zero Civilian Casualty will be replaced with 100 000 Civilian Casualty with no more consequence than a mistype in history books. Propaganda seems stupid because it works on the future, not on the present.

Sri Lanka Buddhist monks destroy Muslim shrine

In Septmber 2011 a mob destroyed the Muslim shrine in the city of Anuradhapura. In April 2012, thugs stormed the mosque of Dambulla. We have already talked about the strange ‘spontaneous mob’ in the history of Sri Lanka and as in previous cases, police officers were present but they didn’t intervene. The peculiarity about these incidents is that they were led by Buddhist monks.

At present they are focusing on the Muslim community ,so Rauff Hakeem, a Muslim politician, asked president Rajapaksa to suppress the ‘yellow robe terrorism’. It seems as the Sinhala Buddhist extremists are tolerating less and less the simple presence of the Muslim community(and now they come for the Muslims!).

Victim of a white van abduction

The message is that the Muslim are the new undesired guest, even if they always maintained a very low profile. This is particularly striking, given that the country just ended a bloody civil war with another minority. Sri Lanka has been characterized by various forms of “terrorism”. The government made a point of its identity in the so called “counter-terrorism”( instead it was a civil war). But the state itself committed act of terrorism, torture and abuse against citizens, like the case of the “white van” abductions are very well recorded. And of course all the atrocities that targeted the Tamil people. So what is the position of the state about the “yellow robe” one?

The answer is that Buddhism is at the core of the Sinhala supremacy. Sri Lanka in its constitution of the 1972 clearly defined itself as Sinhalese and Buddhist. The first victims of this intransigence were the Tamils. In fact the state made any possible gesture to undermine the identity and the position of the Tamil. The Sinhala Act of the 1956, the pogroms of the 1958 and 1983 are all example of majoritarian violence against the Tamils. This absolute intolerance lies in the specific religious tradition of the island. You could find a bit odd that a religion that is professing the impermanence of everything, would be so concerned in affirming it’s mundane presence. But there is a reason behind this. The Sri Lankan school of Buddhism is founded on the ‘Mahavamsa’, a poem of the 5th century CE narrating the early history of the religion on the island. The essential context of these chronicles is the falling of Buddhism in India. Devotees were clearly scared by the eclipse of their religion in the very place of origin, so their reaction was to ground their tradition as a firm stronghold for the doctrine.

Therefore the Mahavamsa itself must be contextualized in a period of profound concern for the survival of Buddhism. But the Buddhist clergy took this mandate in a totalitarian acceptation: any diversity must be considered as a direct opposition. No matter how marginal, any sign of not-alignment with the mainstream, must be viewed as the seed for future destruction. Hence it must be eliminated.

The problem is that after the Mahavamsa (or even before actually), other communities came to Sri Lanka. The Tamils can indeed trace their presence on the island back for millennia. And yet, this presence after independence was never completely tolerated. The necessity to assimilate the North by the Sinhalese ideology has always been present and fed by the pretext of Mahavamsa (see the very insightful article of Dr. Dewasiri). So the Buddhist clergy actually is the backbone of the movement to subjugate the Tamils before and now the Muslims.

We can see now a very clear trajectory of a supremacist ideology, that wants to eliminate any diversity.

The reaction of the LTTE masked this very simple fact: that the Sinhalese extremists don’t accept any other presence on the island, no matter how small or marginal this difference can be. The Sinhalese supremacy will always consider any difference as a direct opposition (here the hypothesis of a “Buddhist fascism”). The idea of reconciliation cannot exist until the “yellow robe” terrorism is dominant. Sri Lanka will never be pacified with this totalitarian violence of majority: the civil war was not caused by the LTTE; the roots of that virulent reaction are all still present and quite active now. It must be faced the simple fact that the Buddhist clergy in Sri Lanka is an element of disturbance and violence. I still don’t get how people who profess impermanence and mindfulness can so storm the lives of the others. Really I don’t get it.

“Nemo tenetur se ipsum accusare”

There is a juridical principle that is described by the Latin form: “nemo se tenetur detergere (/se ipsum accusare”. The English equivalent is the right to silence. It is a norm dealing with the statements of a person under accusation: nobody expects that you surrender yourself. On the contrary it is always quite suspicious when someone gives himself to the police. You have two cases of self accusation: authentic confessions and mythomania. The latter is when you are seeking attention, inventing your culpability. Only the former is a true, self accusation. It happens when someone did commit a crime, but was under strong psychological stress and after realizing what happened, he regains full control of himself and assesses correctly his position as guilty. On all the other cases, you expect that someone tends to save himself. No judge is really looking for a confession: that’s why even torture was banned. The perpetrator of a crime is not a reliable source, hence you need to build around a system of evidence that will prove his culpability, without his direct admission.

18th Century English Judge Overwhelmed by Criminal Defendants

The English form states the condition of silence: if you are asked directly, you can stay mute, to prevent a formal self-accusation. But I’m intrigued by the Latin expression. “Detergere” means to clean. Therefore the expression has a broader application. The English form implicitly recognizes that the right to stay silent; but if he speaks, he should tell the truth.

The Latin one, instead, alludes to the fact that the accused is not a (complete) reliable source in anything that he says. Because it is a even too natural temptation to save yourself. Even subconsciously! The facts you decide to mention, in opposition to what you ignore, the words you use, the connection you’ll make, everything could be part of a strategy where you are in conflict of interest to reach the truth. You don’t to unmask the facts, you don’t want the clean, real version. You prefer facts as they benefit you. You can expect the accused one to bring the truth, the clean version of what happened.

Mullivaikal Massacre, 2009 Sri Lanka

Now, in Sri Lanka more than 40 000 people have been brutally massacred outside any possible legal framework. In the United Nations, in the USA, in the Europe, everybody recognizes that those people have been killed outside the justification of a war, because they were civilians. There is a responsibility attached to those deaths. In other words we have a crime.

If we have a crime, then someone is responsible for that. It’s not politics, it’s not diplomacy, it’s not Tamil nationalism: it’s logic!

It is pretty clear that the chain of command during the events of the IV Eelam War, must be seen as it follows: the military chief was general Fonseka, his immediate boss was Gotabaya Rajapaksa and ultimately he was responding to the presindent himself, Mahinda Rajapaksa. Either the chain of command has been respected or it was mutiny. The brothers Rajapaksa never complained, so they explicitly endorsed the operations of Fonseka. My conclusion is that the chain of command goes directly to president Rajapaksa. I’m not controversial: everybody thinks the same, the US ambassador, just to mention one. Quoting The Guardian, WikiLeaks cables: ‘Sri Lankan president responsible for massacre of Tamils’, 1st December 2010:

President Rajapaksa and General Fonseka

in a cable sent on the 15 january this year [2010]2 the US ambassador in Colombo, Patricia Butenis, said one of the reasons there was such little progress towards a genuine Sri Lankan inquiry into the killings was that the president and the former army commander, Sarath Fonseka, were largely responsible. “There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power,” Butenis noted.

I’m sorry if I’m stating the obvious, but when we are discussing the LLRC, the Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, appointed by the government, to me it is even too clear that as long as Mr Rajapaksa will be in office, there is not a single chance that he will accuse himself. Never ask an accused man whether he is guilty: it’s human nature to appoint a commission that will dodge facts indefinitely. The international community asked to implement at least what your commission recommended. And we needed a UN resolution for that. And now slowly, and with a welcome by the US (and India, I suppose), finally Rajapaksa will comply with his own version. Latin people would say that it is not the clean one.

In a country ruled like a private dominion of a family, law is administered by the will of the powerful ones. It is surprising that a lucid and bright intellectual life is still living under the brutality of such regime. In Sri Lanka words can sentence you to death. It is still quite a shock that a person of the calibre of Lasantha Wickremasunge has been killed with complete impunity: who dares to speak out his mind, really is a hero, one time more after that heinous assassination.

 It is with mixed feelings that we assisted at the recent case of Franziska Jansz. On one side we horrify about the gangsterism of member of the government, who is not ashamed of threatening a journalist for a puppy. We know that in Sri Lanka words like the ones of Gotabaya Rajapaksa are heavy as lead. On the other the courage of people such the editor of the Sunday Leader, a worthy heir of her predecessor, Wickremasunge himself, gives hope that the light of free thinking is still alight, though under such menaces. But what a general despondency that freedom and justice are relegated to fight for the story of a puppy.

The Rajapaksa have turned like medieval rulers, with no sense of decency or respect for the basic rights of a modern state.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the past expressed himself with a similar thug attitude. Asked about cases of rape and other war crimes, he commented citing the example of LTTE woman cadre, who wasn’t raped ‘despite’ being very attractive. The vulgarity of such a statement, coming from the most powerful member of the government was shocking and leaved spechless.

He was talking like rape is a natural consequence for an attractive woman. His shameless remark was revealing a general attitude in the Sri Lankan the military. And his complete lack of any consideration for the women, is a clear signal that you can’t expect any protection, respect or justice about sexual crimes.

Power and Energy Minister Champika Ranawaka, A senior Sri Lankan minister considered close to President Mahinda Rajapaksa has threatened the Tamils they would face annihilation if they continued to harbour homeland ambition.

Much in the same line of the words used by one minister, Mr.Champika Ranawaka. He advised the Tamils to be quiet and don’t stir too much the waters, otherwise they should expect 100 Mullivaikal. Again, there are no words to really comment such a disgrace. First, it is a clear admission from the government that the events in Mullivaikal have been an horrible carnage. They are so aware of the magnitude and of the brutality, that they can use it as a menace.

Second they show the real objective behind the so called ‘humanitarian rescue’. The IV Eelam War was not a counter-terrorism operation, but a massive scale elimination of Tamil nationalism. True, the LTTE was the military arm of such sentiment, but the real objective was to subjugate the Tamils.

Finally you can see what is the real face of rehabilitation and reconciliation form the government: don’t move, don’t speak, pretend to be dead like your brothers in Mullivaikal. You saw what happened to them, remembers that it is a pure chance you’re alive.

In Sri Lanka, nobody really has any doubt about the intention of the government. Serial raping, ethnic cleansing and authoritarian dominance are obviously quite well known in the island. But it is so sad, almost ironic that the government has no decency in saying it explicitly in words, that members of the ‘royal’ family, or of the government patently admit and show off almost with pride, the responsibility of those crimes.

 We can only whisper it now, but we are thoroughly taking notes and we are patiently registering any of this revelations.