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Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

Tag Archives | Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

Reevaluating Sri Lanka’s LLRC Progress: Part One

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An End of War Snapshot. Photo: Mathy

Last March, The Social Architects (TSA) released its third report, “The Numbers Never Lie.”

An End of War Snapshot. Photo: Mathy

The report provided extensive information about the Government of Sri Lanka’s (GoSL) progress in implementing the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) recommendations. Again, TSA’s partners undertook a similar survey this year. Using the data obtained last year as a baseline, TSA will be releasing two companion reports reevaluating Sri Lanka’s LLRC progress. This is the first.

This year’s survey was only conducted in the Northern and Eastern provinces; this was done during January 2014. TSA’s partners surveyed 1,200 people this year, but 157 survey respondents were subsequently disqualified. 376 other people who participated last year did not participate in this year’s survey. This figure includes people who have moved elsewhere or have been resettled. It also includes community members who decided not to participate this year due to fear. Hence, all 1,043 people that were surveyed this year also participated in last year’s survey. In order to accurately measure progress, TSA removed 533 people (those who did not participate in the 2014 survey) from last year’s survey results.

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Interview with Sri Lanka’s Social Architects

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Demonstrators clash with police during a protest against the visit by Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Stringer/Sri Lanka Reuters

For those that follow developments in Sri Lanka over the past several years invariably the Sri Lankan Civil War comes to mind.

Demonstrators clash with police during a protest against the visit by Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Stringer/Sri Lanka Reuters

The Sri Lankan Civil War began back in July of 1983, and was fought between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or the Tamil Tigers and Sri Lankan government forces. The goal and objectives of the Tamil Tigers was to create an independent Tamil state called Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka’s north and the east. The civil war ended in May of 2009.

In understanding the root causes and the ramifications of the civil war and what needs to be done to heal the deep divide that separate Tamils from the rest of Sri Lankan society I turned to The Social Architects. I became familiar with the work of The Social Architects through Gibson Bateman a frequent contributor to this website. Gibson has written a number of articles that detail the atrocities committed by the government in several of his articles.

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Seeking Accountability in Sri Lanka

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Sri Lankan refugees in the Manik Farm camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka. Eskinder Debebe/UN

Sri Lankan refugees in the Manik Farm camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka. Eskinder Debebe/UN

In November 2011, Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, said that discovering how many civilians “died or went missing during the last few months of the conflict” would be “a first step towards reconciliation.”  The government’s Enumeration of Vital Events (EVE) attempted to answer that question by collecting information about people who have died, disappeared and emigrated from Sri Lanka since 1982. The survey was overseen by the Ministry of Defence, but was conducted by the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS).

More recently, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN), Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha, said the following at the UN’s Human Rights Council (HRC): “Addressing concerns relating to accountability, the only authoritative and credible source of information relating to the demographics and those killed and untraceable in the Northern Province during the period 2005 – 2009, the Enumeration of Vital Events 2011 in the Northern Province (EVE 2011) by the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS) conducted during the months of June and July 2011, has estimated that the total number dead from 1 January to 31 May 2009 is 8998, including deaths caused due to old age/sickness, natural deaths, deaths due to accidents/homicides/suicides and other causes.”

Ambassador Aryasinha’s recent remarks, the present administration’s hostile stance towards accountability or a proper recounting of the war’s final phases and the total collapse of the rule of law have compelled TSA to revisit Sri Lanka’s Enumeration of Vital Events.

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Broken Dreams: The Truth about Sri Lanka

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President Mahinda Rajapaksa arriving in London on June 6, 2012. Photo: Adam Gasson

The brutal civil war in Sri Lanka ended nearly four years ago, but people are still hurting. The country’s North and East are plagued by a host of problems that are unlikely to be resolved soon.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa arriving in London on June 6, 2012. Photo: Adam Gasson

Misguided policies emanating from the central government in Colombo have directly contributed to these negative trends. Lofty talk about “the defeat of terrorism” and majoritarian triumphalism have further antagonized people. The politics of land remains controversial. Even though Menik Farm has closed, tens of thousands of IDPs have not been properly resettled. Since the military still occupies large swathes of land, many IDPs have been forced to move in with friends or relatives. In other instances, families that have been “resettled” lack adequate housing, including locks for doors and windows or suitable sanitation facilities. People who were recently resettled in Mullivaikkal have returned to transit camps due to appalling living conditions “at home” and the dismal security situation there.

Furthermore, many community members do not have the proper identity documents required to regain their land. And there are consistent reports of land infringement and the expropriation of civilians’ private lands by either “outsiders” coming from other parts of the country or military personnel. To be clear, there is still plenty of land that could be distributed, but – due to the government’s withdrawal of a controversial land circular – the government claims that it is unable to provide community members with land at this time, asserting that the state must issue a new land circular before doing so. This is, at best, a dubious argument.

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Brief Thoughts on the Kerry Nomination and U.S.-Lanka Relations

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Senator John Kerry, right, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee addresses the committee as Senator Richard G. Lugar looks on

Senator John Kerry, right, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee addresses the committee as Senator Richard G. Lugar looks on

President Obama is still working on remaking his foreign policy and national security team, but it looks like John Kerry will be the next Secretary of State. Inside Washington, John Kerry has been a leading voice on foreign policy for decades. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for twenty-seven years, John Kerry has built up a vast network of contacts abroad. John Kerry understands the politics of the Middle East. And he has already travelled extensively for the Obama administration – going to places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Susan Rice wisely withdrew her name from consideration. That was about more than Benghazi. She has the brains to be Secretary of State, for sure. Rice’s problem is that she’s not diplomatic, at all really. The late Richard Holbrooke will be remembered for his arrogance and vanity. Nonetheless, one doesn’t need to have a PhD from Oxford (like Susan Rice) to understand that pointedly displaying one’s middle finger at Holbrooke during a meeting of senior State officials is probably not a good idea. Besides, the diplomacy business can be far more tedious than State department meetings – just ask Hillary Clinton.

Senators on both sides of the aisle like and respect John Kerry. Obama will have to spend almost no political capital on this pick and Kerry will be confirmed easily. But what about John Kerry’s foreign policy in South Asia? What does it mean for US-Lanka relations? Reporters and journalists of all stripes have recently been asking those two questions and, unfortunately, I think many people have been missing a central point.

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Reconciliation’s Long Road in Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka's delegation to the Human Rights Council

During the past year, one of the Obama administration’s biggest moves at the UN Human Rights Council received little attention inside Washington.

Sri Lanka’s delegation to the Human Rights Council

In March 2012, the United States led a resolution calling on the government of Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), which examined the breakdown of the truce between the country’s warring factions, and “to take all necessary additional steps” to “ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans.” It remains unclear what exactly drove the U.S. resolution, but the Sri Lankan government does not appear to have complied with it. The country continues to receive criticism for its human rights record, as disappearances and extrajudicial killings, among other issues, remain problems. Recent developments like a prison riot in Colombo that left 27 inmates dead and the arrest of several University of Jaffna students are also worrisome.

Politically, developments on the island nation seem to be going in the wrong direction as well. The government’s recent move to impeach its chief Supreme Court justice is a particularly discouraging sign, since the judiciary is widely regarding as Sri Lanka’s only branch of government with some semblance of independence. Critics have called the move an “unconstitutional witchhunt,” a retaliation for the court’s ruling that the central government could not unilaterally seize powers from the country’s provisional councils. Moreover, talks between the government and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) have gone nowhere, and there is little hope for meaningful progress in the short term.

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Sri Lanka’s Next Steps: A LLRC Shadow Action Plan

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Tamil refugees face an uncertain future and lack of permanent housing. Photo: Mathy

The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) Final Report contains many positive recommendations which merit immediate attention.

Tamil refugees face an uncertain future and lack of permanent housing. Photo: Mathy

This document is designed to capture the essence of those key positive recommendations and to come out with a meaningful action plan which will open the door to true reconciliation, sustainable peace, institutional reform and improved governance. Regrettably, the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) has failed to act upon these constructive LLRC recommendations. In addition, the GoSL’s recently released action plan is rife with misleading, excessively general information; it is not an action plan that seeks to promote human rights, reconciliation or a lasting peace.

TSA’s plan has been written after consultation with a variety of stakeholders: including dozens of civil society leaders, thousands of community members in Sri Lanka’s North, East and Hill County and some members of the diaspora. It is the result of numerous interviews, seventy-one lengthy meetings, and several months of reflection, discussion and hard work. Importantly, it has embraced community participation at every stage.

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Jihadists on the March in West Africa

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Tuareg rebels in Northern Mali. Source: Al Jazeera

Terrorism in North Africa like in Algeria and Mali’s war illustrates the reach of Islamic militants throughout Africa.

Tuareg rebels in Northern Mali. Source: Al Jazeera

While the world’s attention has been focused on Iran, Syria, and the evolving results of ‘democracy’ in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, groups like Boko Haram, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other splinter terrorist organizations have made substantial progress in either heavily influencing or controlling significant swathes of territory in some countries in West Africa. The west of Libya, northern Nigeria and northern Mali are all experiencing extreme levels of violence at the hands of Boko Haram and likeminded Islamic militant groups.

A primary reason West Africa is experiencing so much violence and upheaval from so many Islamist militant groups is because the area is so expansive and the local governments are incapable of exerting control outside of major population areas. Northern Mali fell to Al Qaeda linked militants earlier this year, and their influence soon spread to Niger and Nigeria.

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Human rights in Sri Lanka: Between the UN and the US

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Supporters of Mahinda Rajapaksa rallying in Colombo

As the 21st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s (HRC) ends on 28 September 2012, ongoing human rights developments in Sri Lanka will undoubtedly linger in the minds of many.

Supporters of Mahinda Rajapaksa rallying in Colombo

Observers will look forward to the country’s upcoming Universal Periodic Review, which will take place this November, and to the National Report the Sri Lankan government has submitted for consideration. Yet it is next year’s HRC session that is particularly intriguing. At the 22nd session of the HRC, scheduled for March 2013, three things are likely to happen. First, by that time the government of Sri Lanka will not have comprehensively implemented many of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’s (LLRC) positive recommendations. Second, the report about Sri Lanka delivered by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, will be at best lukewarm. And, lastly, the HRC is not likely to pass another resolution against Sri Lanka.

Passing such a resolution would fly in the face of the history of the HRC. The fact that there is a historical precedent for inaction calls for posing new questions about Sri Lanka: what will the international community lobby for in the meantime? Is there a common set of principles or an agenda that could be agreed upon? Do people think economic sanctions are a good idea? Which LLRC recommendations must be implemented in full before March? Targeted economic sanctions might be an option, though probably not an effective one. Importantly, as long as Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is in power, an independent international mechanism to investigate wartime atrocities is not a viable option.

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U.S. Foreign Policy and the Human Rights Council Resolution on Sri Lanka

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Pictured: Barack Obama, Mahinda Samarasinghe and Mitt Romney

In examining U.S.-Sri Lanka relations and in particular what will happen at the UN Human Rights Council it is important to analyze what the current administration has done and what a Romney presidency will look like.

Pictured: Barack Obama, Mahinda Samarasinghe and Mitt Romney

Obama and Human Rights

The Obama administration did fight to get a seat on the Human Rights Council (HRC) in 2009; something that George W. Bush probably did not even contemplate. And, as David Bosco has noted, the US has been relatively active at the HRC since that time. Bosco goes on to say that “The United States has laid special emphasis on the Council’s use of special experts, individuals given a mandate to investigate some particular country or human rights theme.” On the other hand, the Obama administration’s approach towards experts wanting to examine US policy has been rather mixed, especially “when UN experts request information about sensitive areas of national security and counterterrorism policy.”

Since the dawn of the Cold War, it has always been easy to question American intentions when it comes to human rights. That said, Obama’s escalation of drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere is disturbing. It reveals a very high tolerance for (inevitable) civilian casualties and an inability to see that the proliferation of such attacks is harmful to US interests over the long-term. A recent New York Times article about President Obama’s management of a ‘Kill List’ is not helping matters. George W. Bush was a walking contradiction when it came to human rights, but, in many ways, President Obama’s policies have been even worse than those of his predecessor, especially as it relates to counterterrorism.  Obama loyalists need to stop pretending that the president cares about international human rights; the president’s record on foreign policy does not support such a notion.

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Post-Geneva Delusions: The Next Steps in Sri Lanka

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Laura Dupuy Lasserre, president of the Human Rights Council opens session on Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council. Jean-Marc Ferré/UN

Sri Lanka’s Minister of External Affairs, G.L. Peiris, has recently given one additional reason for the passage of a resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN’s Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva: “collective commitments.”

Laura Dupuy Lasserre, president of the Human Rights Council opens session on Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council. Jean-Marc Ferré/UN

Evidently, Mr. Peiris had been informed by one of his European counterparts that certain members of the European Union (EU) were unsupportive of the resolution, but were compelled to vote in favor of it, since a group decision had been taken by the EU. Mr. Peiris went on to say that even some US Congressman did not view the HRC in a positive light, due to the fact that the body is “politicized.” (It is unclear to this writer how a United Nations forum where nation states meet to discuss human rights could be apolitical, but I will not belabor that point).

In addition, Mr. Peiris also announced in Parliament that the government would not tolerate foreign intervention of any kind. If this is post-Geneva government policy, what does all of this mean? The Sri Lankan government mismanaged its time and resources in Geneva. Besides, it was never really clear who was leading the delegation anyway. Was it G.L Peiris or was it Plantation Minister and Special Human Rights Envoy Mahinda Samarasinghe?

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Salt on Old Wounds: Post-War Sri Lanka

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Panoramic view of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Jean-Marc Ferré/UN

‘Salt on Old Wounds: The Systematic Sinhalization of Sri Lanka’s North, East and Hill Country’ the first study published by The Social Architects (TSA), seeks to set out the systematic, increasing and widespread process of Sinhalization that is taking place in historically Tamil areas in the North, East and Hill Country in post-war Sri Lanka.

Panoramic view of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Jean-Marc Ferré/UN

While focusing on the process of Sinhalization that is currently being implemented, this monograph seeks to situate it within the broader historical process of Sinhalization that has been carried out by different governments spanning a number of decades. The report argues that even though Sinhalization is not a new phenomenon, the sweeping changes which continue to occur in historically Tamil areas inhibit the country’s ability to heal after nearly three decades of civil war. Although the current government’s rhetoric gives importance to building bridges between communities by ensuring those affected are able to fully and freely exercise their rights, in reality, its actions are evidence of the Sri Lankan State’s lack of respect for the rights of all its citizens, particularly the Tamil people.

This paper will show that the concept of Sinhalization extends well beyond the subjects of strategic state-planned settlements, land, military intrusion, boundary changes and the renaming of villages. Sinhalization has made its way into Tamil cultural events, religious life, economic activity, public sector recruitment and even the Sri Lankan education system. Since the Tamil community is attempting to recover from the devastating impact of the civil war and rebuild social networks and community structures, attempts to control and demolish socio-cultural aspects of their lives, such as the take over and destruction of temples, inhibit their attempts to engage in emotional healing and community regeneration even minimally.

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Jack Kingston’s Love Letter to Sri Lanka

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Congressman Jack Kingston (R-GA) far right. Source: Talk Radio News Service

Congressman Jack Kingston (R-GA) far right. Source: Talk Radio News Service

U.S. Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA) recently submitted a bipartisan letter to President Barack Obama. Cosigned by eleven other members of Congress, it effusively praises the Sri Lankan government for all of its accomplishments since end of the country’s twenty-six-year civil war.

The short note is heavy on rhetoric and light on reality. It talks about the enormous potential for a strengthening of US-Sri Lankan relations, going on to use words like “post-conflict,” while congratulating Rajapaksa’s semi-authoritarian regime for doing such a good job of resettling IDPs, among other misperceptions. Perhaps the most absurd part of the letter is the following:  “In addition, we are encouraged by the ongoing negotiations with minority political parties and the strengthening of the democratic process. We welcome Sri Lanka’s willingness to preemptively report on its civil conflict by establishing a politically diverse and independent Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. As Sri Lanka pursues these positive steps, it should know it has a friend in the United States.”

I seriously doubt Congressman Kingston (or any of his colleagues) is conversant in Sri Lankan politics. If he were, he would know that “ongoing negotiations” with minority parties are not really happening. Are the Congressmen even aware of the composition of the LLRC? Or how deeply flawed both the commission itself and the overall process were?

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Sri Lanka’s Game of Diplomacy

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Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights of Sri Lanka, addresses the Human Rights Council. Jean-Marc Ferré/UN

As promised, the Sri Lankan government made the final report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) public last month.

Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights of Sri Lanka, addresses the Human Rights Council. Jean-Marc Ferré/UN

It has also recently released its “National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights: 2011-2016.” The Action Plan was developed in accordance with a commitment the government had made in 2008, the last time Sri Lanka participated in the UN’s Universal Periodic Review. Both documents are part of the Sri Lankan government’s strategy to placate international observers and convince people that there is no need for any kind of international assistance because the country’s domestic institutions are working just fine.

Like the LLRC report, the National Action Plan contains some decent recommendations, but it is replete with missing and false information. For example, the section on the Prevention of Torture is laughable and worrisome. The Sri Lankan government claims that it “maintains a zero-tolerance policy on torture.” This sweeping assertion directly contradicts loads of evidence, including the recent findings of the UN’s Committee Against Torture (CAT). The fact that the Ministry of Defense has been denoted as the “Key Responsible Agency” for ensuring the prevention of torture is perhaps more disconcerting.

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Sri Lanka’s ‘Truth’ Commission: A Brief Assessment of the LLRC Report

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A Sri Lankan journalist reads the final report of Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, Dec 16, 2011. Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP Photo

Readers will find no big surprises after reading the final report of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).

A Sri Lankan journalist reads the final report of Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, Dec 16, 2011. Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP Photo

It is very much what most people were expecting. A document that looks to the future, exonerates the military, does not touch on the question of accountability and includes some touchy-feely language about the country’s need to move forward, celebrate its diversity and be grateful for the defeat of terrorism. Essentially, all civilian casualties were the result of people caught in the crossfire or were the LTTE’s fault. “The protection of the civilian population was given the highest priority” by the Sri Lankan armed forces, the Commission has determined.

The report also claims that military operations moved at a “deliberately slow” pace because Sri Lanka’s military personnel were so careful and cognizant of the dangers to civilian life during the final phases of the conflict. While the LTTE deliberately targeted civilians, it appears that Sri Lanka’s military did not, according to the LLRC report. That assertion goes against what most people seem to think, including the report produced by the United Nation’s Panel of Experts. In order to determine “questions of State responsibility,” the LLRC report goes on to note that an “international tribunal” would be unhelpful because there just is not enough evidence about what actually happened during the final phase of the conflict.

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