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Feb-26-2012 15:39printcomments

Showdown in Geneva: Hate Campaign in Lanka

A U.S. decision to go after Sri Lanka for war crimes comes at a time when oil prices are skyrocketing.

UNP hierarchy protesting outside Parliament complex. Pic by Indika Handuwala
UNP hierarchy protesting outside Parliament complex. Pic by Indika Handuwala. Courtesy: The Times

(CHENNAI Times India) - The special SriLankan Airlines flight had rolled off the runway at Bandaranaike International Airport in the morning of Friday, February 10. On board were President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his entourage on an official visit to Pakistan.

He was still in the air, somewhere between Colombo and Islamabad, when a crucial meeting of a Cabinet Sub Committee was under way in Colombo. It was discussing costs of fuel imports and how the new pricing structure should be formulated. Taking part were Petroleum Industries Minister Susil Premajayantha, Senior Minister (and former Prime Minister) Ratnasiri Wickremenayake and Environment Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa. In attendance was Dr. P.B. Jayasundera, Secretary to the Ministry of Finance and Planning.

It was taking place in the backdrop of a Cabinet Paper circulated to ministers at the weekly meeting just two days earlier, on February 8. In the absence of Rajapaksa, it has been signed by acting Finance and Planning Minister Geetanjana Gunawardena.

As our front page story today reveals, it painted a dismal picture of the financial situation in the country. In essence, more loans were being raised to pay for those or interest on loans obtained earlier. It was a case of the proverbial borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. Other than that, there was no indication to ministers that a major decision that would adversely affect the lives of practically every Sri Lankan was round the corner. Yet, it seemed a trivial issue for the cabinet to deliberate on or it was too "sensitive a secret" for ministers to know in advance……………………..

The spontaneous protest by the fishermen in Chilaw clearly outdid the UNP's own one in Colombo. Yet, an angry Rajapaksa told a public meeting in Kadawatha last Sunday that parties with vested interests were trying to take advantage of the prevailing situation to create a volatile environment internally. This was with the intention of putting Sri Lanka to difficulty at tomorrow's 19th sessions of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). He said fuel prices had to be increased due to the rise in world oil prices. It had caused a heavy burden on the economy. The next day, he visited a fish market in his ancestral town of Tangalle and was photographed with the day's catch. The message was clear - the fishing industry in the Deep South was functioning normal though it was not so in the coastal belt north of Colombo.

Last Wednesday evening, Rajapaksa was to go into action again. Besides Ministers and MPs, he summoned electoral organisers and party district representatives for a meeting at "Temple Trees." There, he delayed the weekly cabinet meeting, to put in place a programme of action not only to cope with public criticism over the fuel price increase but also on issues which were coming up at the UNHRC sessions in Geneva tomorrow. This was despite the pain from an ankle he sprained after a fall at 'Temple Trees'. The cabinet meeting that evening began at 9.30 p.m. Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal spoke of the economic situation in the country. He painted a rosy picture and forecast that despite rises in fuel prices, the country's economic growth was on course. Cabraal was to also tell the media that neither the fuel price increase nor the rise in electricity tariffs would have a major shock on consumers. Not surprisingly, not one cabinet minister or government parliamentarian agreed with the Central Bank Governor's logic. Even if they did not speak out openly, privately they were irritated. They exchanged views among themselves.

Petroleum Minister Premajayantha explained the world market price trends for crude oil and how increases had impacted on Sri Lanka. As our front page story today reveals, the US has turned down a request for concessionary terms after it imposed sanctions on Iran, which provides 93 per cent of Sri Lanka's fuel requirements. Power and Energy Minister Ranawaka followed with an explanation on the power supply position in the country. He explained the recent increase in surcharges were inevitable. When the three speeches were over, Construction Minister Wimal Weerawansa spoke on political issues, particularly the US-backed resolution that was coming up before the UNHRC. Widely regarded as the government's point man when it came to key issues, Weerawansa stressed the need to muster large crowds on the streets both in Colombo and the outstations to protest the US-backed resolution before the UNHRC. Later, he made his presence at the weekly news briefing that follows cabinet meetings. Weerawansa said:

"The forces against the government are at work again. This time, they are trying to bring a resolution against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC sessions in Geneva. We were expecting that some country will raise some objection, but we now understand that it is the US which is bringing the resolution. They are reported to be bringing serious allegations against Sri Lanka. We understand that the resolution is being discussed with various countries and it is being adjusted accordingly. Our question is, Are we a country where there are coups and conspiracies or governed by a military regime to take such action against us? If we are acting against democracy or do not have elections you can understand such action. But in this case it is the vengeance for defeating the LTTE. There is an NGO funded western conspiracy. Their aim is to prosecute President Rajapaksa and the 'war heroes' in the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. As a mark of protest against these moves we are calling the public to come out to hold a protest campaign on Monday, February 27.

Minister Premajayantha added: "The government has decided that the demonstrations will be held throughout the country including the main towns. After the end of the war we will demonstrate to the international community that the people have rallied round the President. Ministers too will organise protest campaigns where they will rally the people at Grama Sevaka division level. Also we should be careful of the protests which are being held in the country as some of them are organized by interested parties to show there is instability in the country. But we will demonstrate that there is no instability in the country."

Earlier, on Tuesday, Rajapaksa also had a one-on-one meeting with Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader Rajavarothayam Sampanthan at "Temple Trees". During the discussion, at least on three different occasions, Rajapaksa asked Sampanthan to nominate TNA's representatives to the proposed Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) that was to formulate proposals to address Tamil grievances. Sampanthan was to politely explain that the TNA would do so only when its delegation resumes talks with the government and a "set of proposals" are formulated. Rajapaksa was keen to have the PSC going so the Sri Lanka delegation to Geneva could say that discussions towards reconciliation had begun. A call for reconciliation is one of the issues in Geneva. Rajapaksa had also referred to tomorrow's UNHRC sessions during his discussions with Sampanthan.

The dichotomy in the government's position lays bare a strong sense of inequality. On the one hand, it has stifled the opposition and prevented groups from holding any protests with the use of batons, tear gas and even bullets. Minister Premajayantha has dubbed these protests as those "organised by interested parties to show there is instability in the country." In the same breath, he says, people are being rallied around to protest against the United States and its western allies among others. His rationale seems that if one is organised by the government, it was to protest "against the international community." If it was done by the opposition, it was to cause "instability." Thus, he unashamedly admits that the government had one rule for itself and another for the opposition. Would not the move by the government have a destabilising effect?

Would it not be an invitation for Washington to issue an adverse travel advisory to its nationals at a time when the Sri Lanka Embassy in the US capital boasts of 'heavy' US investment in Sri Lanka with more to come? A more important question is whether the public at large, particularly those hit by the steep increases in fuel prices, would join such protests. Nevertheless, the government will undoubtedly be able to muster its own trade unions, Samurdhi recipients and supporters for the protests.

The question remains whether it could stall the resolution that will come before the UNHRC. That seems a doubtful proposition despite External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris now backtracking. He told reporters in Geneva that the proposed resolution should be delayed until October when Sri Lanka's case would be reviewed under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). If indeed that was Sri Lanka's position, why the country's chief diplomat Peiris could not work towards that goal in the past weeks remains a relevant question. The eleventh hour appeal for a postponement sends a wrong diplomatic signal that Colombo is making the plea after being cornered.

A Sri Lanka delegation of 56 members has flown to Geneva for the sessions. No doubt, their travel and lodging expenses would constitute a neat amount in foreign exchange. Not all of them could be accommodated in seats allotted to Sri Lanka delegation at the Palais des Nationes at Avenue de la Pais in Geneva. In the past two days, External Affairs MinisterPeiris, has been wining and dining heads of delegations. In the coming week, he is off to Botswana for a meeting with his counterpart Phandu Skelemani. Peiris had tried unsuccessfully to meet him earlier this month.

Mahinda Samarasinghe, who is leading the Sri Lanka delegation, is scheduled to make an opening statement tomorrow. In a bid to forestall the US backed resolution, he is to list out a number of measures that the government had taken following recommendations made in the final report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). He is also to caution that a passage of the resolution would only lead to the strengthening of extremist groups in Sri Lanka's political firmament.

Ahead of tomorrow's UNHRC sessions, the House of Commons in Britain held a debate on Sri Lanka. The Conservative government's position was spelt out by Alastair Burt, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He said: "Our policy towards Sri Lanka is built on the United Kingdom's values and on British interests. It will balance the future of the people in Sri Lanka, who must get on with their lives after terrible years of conflict, with the need for a sense of justice about the events of the past. We express again our abhorrence at some of the events that concluded the conflict, which still leave questions for the Sri Lankan Government to answer, just as we do at the campaign of violence, suicide bombings, the use of child soldiers and terrorism practised by the LTTE during the conflict-a conflict that, after decades, has left recent scars that still need to be healed.

"Our policy is not starry-eyed about allegations against the Sri Lankan Government or unaware of concerns about current human rights issues. However, we acknowledge open statements from the Sri Lankan Government about what needs to happen to reconcile and move forward, and we recognise the sovereign Government's ability to make things happen through implementing measures set out by the LLRC and through addressing issues that were not dealt with satisfactorily in the report……" Burt has said the UK government will support the resolution.

Norway has also expressed support for the resolution. Erik Solheim, Norway's International Aid Minister and special envoy for peace talks in Sri Lanka during the ceasefire, has told his country's media Sri Lankan government won the war "but now needs to win the peace." Besides the United States, among the other countries known to be backing the resolution are Austria, Botswana, Guatemala, Libya, Hungary, Poland, Spain, Romania, Uganda, Cameroon and Nigeria.

Continue reading this report, here is Part Two

Page 1 Page 2

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robinhood February 27, 2012 9:06 am (Pacific time)

Dear shiva. Seems like you are very kind hearted for LTTE. The best tamil leaders were merderded by LTTE. I can give list. You are talking of 40000 tamil people were killed in the final battle. Did you watched the final clips. If army are killing tamils why they are ran away. This is the first time i saw people whom they call themselves freedom fighters kill own tamil people. from LTTE. . Seems like nobody sees any human rights abuses done by LTTE from 1983 for 30 years?

Editor: That is hard to follow, for our readers, the Tamil people were killed by the Sinhalese Buddhist government.  There are Tamil people who committed crimes and there are endless Sinhala people who did not, but the war was between the govt and the LTTE, you make it sound like a suicide-fest, it was hardly that, it was Genocide.

Shiva February 27, 2012 1:38 am (Pacific time)

The genocide of Tamils that culminated in the mass murder of over 40000 civilians in May 2009 was well planned ahead by Mahinda Rajapakse (MR) as early as the latter part of 2008. The American ambassador Robert Blake (at the time President Obama was newly elected to office), Japan the European Union, Norway and India would have been quite aware of it as they had provided military help and advice regarding the on coming military onslaught on the LTTE. Having well equipped themselves with heavy and weapons of mass destruction the Sinhalese were waiting for a lame excuse to tear away the five year old Peace Agreement between the LTTE and the government against all international protocol and start a war. It is important to note that peace agreement was brokered by Norway and the other aid giving nations, EU, Japan, USA in 2002. Mavilaru water Tank dispute in the East was the trigger. Mahinda Rajapakse sent about 40000 of its armed forces against the de-facto/de-jure government of the LTTE that had reigned in Vanni for nearly two decades. The whole world knew about it. The war started was a communal war from the start as the victims of the war were 100 % ethnic Tamils. It was the brain child of a chauvinistic regime-a military solution for a political problem that was at equilibrium by military balance of both parties. The battle ground chosen was the Traditional Homeland (TH) of the Tamils of North and East. Hence the fight was in reality not against the LTTE as the government had been telling the world. The fact was that there were only 8000 tiger cadres and such a small number would have been easily apprehended through military tactics by the army without a war that destroyed the basic human rights of an entire Tamil population. They demolished an entire civilization of the Vanni Tamils. The war was therefore indirectly directed to scorch the earth and the Tamil inhabitants, which supported the LTTE government, even at the cost of a genocide crime. As shown by the blue arrows in the diagram of Vanni in Northern Sri-Lanka below the army surrounded LTTE de-jure government strong hold of Vanni with 40000 soldiers and gave no chance for the 400000 Tamil civilians inhabitants (mono-ethnic) to escape from the oncoming war. There were shelling, cannon firing, aerial bombarding etc in all three directions in order to drive the citizens and the LTTE towards Mullivaikal in Nandhikadal lagoon in the Eastern coast. They were herded from one ‘No Fire Zone (NFZ) to another until they reached the third one in Mullivaikal where the ultimate genocide of 40000 civilians in a sense were executed. These no fire zones were unilaterally declared by the Sinhala government to entice the civilian to enter the zone with the hope of safety which in fact turned out to be an all fire zone as history recorded it. Article 1 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG), adopted by Resolution 260 (III) A of the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1948 states that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law and that the UN member states who are signatories will protect those subjected to genocide and punish the perpetrators. Logically Sri-Lanka should be prosecuted for genocide. This is how Human Rights Watch a non governmental organisation charity recorded the treachery of the Sri-Lankan Sinhala government in January 2009 . “Many of the civilian deaths reported in the past month have occurred in an area that the Sri Lankan government has declared to be a “safe zone.” On January 21, the Sri Lankan armed forces unilaterally declared a 35-square-kilometer “safe zone” for civilians north of the A35 road between Udayarkattu junction and the Manjal Palam (Yellow Bridge) in Mullativu district. The Sri Lankan Air Force dropped leaflets appealing to civilians to move into the safe zone as soon as possible. During the next days, several thousand people gathered in a large playground located just north of the A35 in the safe zone. The playground also functioned as a food distribution center for the local government agent (GA) and international organizations. Several people located in or around the GA food distribution center told Human Rights Watch that, despite the army declaration of a safe zone in the area, the area was subjected to heavy shelling from SLA positions in the period January 22-29, which killed and injured hundreds of people”.

Bob Townley February 27, 2012 1:34 am (Pacific time)

This is just the funniest thing ..:) SriLanka terror government organizes protest marches to evade independent inquiry into war crimes.

Nathan February 27, 2012 1:22 am (Pacific time)

The Rajapakse regime’s propagandists who are in fact self-serving political opportunists such as some commentators here co epitomize the cynical use of the post-colonial critical discourse of “victim hood” during colonial times to justify post-colonial majoritarian racism against minorities – Christians and Tamils in Lanka – while sounding politically correct. They are skilfully playing the “victim” abroad while Rajapaksa Government brutalizing minorities, the opposition and free press, at “home” in Sri Lanka! After all it is the Rajapakse regime’s sovereign right to suppress opposition, killed minorities and and do ethnic cleansing in the Tamils Homelands !!!! Rajapaksa pretends that he and Lanka are still oppressed by Europe and US (60 years after independence and 30 years of bloody civil war organized by “native” politicians and their henchman in Lanka), in order to defend and justify a racist, corrupt, intellectually and morally bankrupt regime that continues oppressing the people it claims to have liberated. Post-colonial Lanka is a story of how the narrative of post-colonial victimhood becomes a legitimacy strategy to occupy and kill the opposition and an excuse to militarize a country.

Sinhalese Man February 26, 2012 8:59 pm (Pacific time)

You can count me out of the "Island-wide Protests". What more do they prove than that only we Sinhalese matter. Not many in the world will read this lengthy (by today's standards, where few uncommitted men in the street are prepared to read more than 300 words)article. We tend to get lost in all the details here. But the Elders have come out with a statement by Bishop Tutu and Mary Robinson. Please, "our Leaders" - think of us, the common people; you are to be congratulated on defeating the Tigers, and for the constructive LLRC Report. But it is true that there is a lack of accountability. Rousing mass hysteria is not going to solve problems. The need for morality, ethics,accountability, and simple decency has to be recognised by us Sinhalese.

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