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Politics


West denied its Hypocritical Rights
  • Major win for Lanka at UNHRC
  • UPFA divided over 13th Amendment
  • TNA to revert to politics of TULF?
  • Douglas to go it alone at Northern polls

Sri Lanka, which has been waging war both militarily and diplomatically, given that the international community has been mounting pressure on the government about the situation of civilians in the war zone and the country’s Human Rights (HR) record, scored a massive win in its secondary battlefield last week. Very like the conclusive defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the government of Sri Lanka managed to emerge victorious at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva on Wednesday. Western countries in the world have been carrying out a massive campaign against the Sri Lankan Government, claiming that its leaders need to be tried at the International Criminal Court for War Crimes, and threatening sanctions. However, the government proved last week that its good foreign policy practices were enabling it to win diplomatic victories and overcome the obstacles being thrown in its way by dubious sections of the world community.

The 11th Special Session of the UNHRC in Geneva had been convened to discuss the HR situation in Sri Lanka. The Session was scheduled after member countries Argentina, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Mauritius, Mexico, Netherlands, South Korea, Slovakia, Slovania, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Kingdom and Uruguay put forward a request asking for a Session.  

Tiger godfathers in the West

As the Sri Lankan security forces moved ever closer on the LTTE strongholds of the North, the Tigers kept retreating from their defences, while taking the civilians along in their areas. It was a hostage situation, with the LTTE not allowing the civilians to flee to safety, keeping them within the conflict zone for leverage. This enabled the Tamil diaspora worldwide to stage massive protests and howl about the alleged massacre of civilians by the security forces. As a result, several Western countries, including the UK, US, France, the European Union (EU), Germany and Canada, called on Sri Lanka to bring about a ceasefire, to allow the civilians to go free. Sri Lanka was also being pressured by organisations including the UN, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others.

Although several attempts were made by Western countries to put Sri Lanka on the agenda of the UN Security Council, these moves were impeded by Russia and China, permanent members of the Council, with veto power.

West avenging Prabha’s death

Last week, with the death of Prabhakaran, Pottu Amman, Soosai, Nadesan, Pulidevan and Charles Anthony, along with some 600 LTTE cadres, the 30-year-war in Sri Lanka ended. The UN has issued reports that some 7,000 civilians have died in the fighting. Another 280,000 civilians are living in IDP camps in Vavuniya.

Although the UK, US, Norway and the EU attempted to stop the war, in order to save the lives of Prabhakaran and his senior leadership, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa refused to bow down to these dictates. And so, in the end, these countries used the UNHRC as their final trump card against Sri Lanka, and attempted to bring a Resolution against the country, saying it was a nation that was a gross violator of HR. These countries hoped that, since no nations held the power of veto at the UNHRC, they would be able to get their Resolution passed.

When the UNHRC session opened, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nadine Pillay addressed the session by video phone. Her address included points about how Sri Lanka had violated the HR of the IDPs and that, there was a need for an international inquiry into the abuses. The Sri Lanka delegation at this session included Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, Attorney General Mohan Peiris and Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Dayan Jayathillake.

“Sri Lanka is an independent, sovereign State. The Sri Lankan Government has taken steps to resolve the IDP issue. Independent international inquiries are, therefore, not necessary” said a Sri Lankan Resolution that was supported by Cuba, Egypt and several other countries.

Echoing His Master’s Voice

Many HR activists in Sri Lanka had also gone to Geneva, in order to attend this session. Sunanda Deshapriya, former Convenor- Free Media Movement, who quit the project, after he was accused of monetary fraud, addressed the session on behalf of Fransiscans International. “The Sri Lankan Government displays a gross disregard for HR. The military operations against the Tamils have resulted in the loss of thousands of innocent Tamil lives. They aerial bombarded civilian settlements. They blocked access to the war zone to journalists. Today, the innocent Tamil civilians live like prisoners inside government IDP camps. They have no food, no water or medical supplies. The world community needs to intervene immediately, to secure the rights of the Tamils,” Deshapriya told the assembly.
Several other western nations also urged that an inquiry be held into HR abuses in Sri Lanka.

FOR & against

Following a lengthy debate, the vote was taken. Anglo, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Berninopeso, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Gibouti, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Madagascar, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Phillipines, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Uruguay and Zambia voted for Sri Lanka, giving it the 29 votes necessary to defeat the Resolution. Voting against Sri Lanka were Bosnia, Herzegovina, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovania, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Argentina, Gabon, Japan, Mauritius, South Korea and Ukraine abstained.

The International media have hailed Sri Lanka’s victory at the UNHRC, claiming it was President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s undivided and accurate foreign policy that had allowed it to emerge victorious over a Resolution backed by powerful countries such as the UK, France, Germany and Canada.

It was proved further at the UNHRC session that, while Western countries adopt a hard-line stance against the Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it was taking a pro-LTTE line, when it came to the Sri Lankan conflict.
Towards a Political Solution

Having concluded the military operations against the LTTE so successfully, it has now fallen to the government to see to the needs of almost 300,000 displaced people in the North of the country. They need to be resettled, and the areas returned to normalcy, as soon as possible. The government has already commenced a massive programme to this end. A task force has been appointed under Senior Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa, to oversee development and resettlement.

Meanwhile, the government also realises that, with the end of the military operations, the time has also come for finding a permanent political solution to the problems of the Tamils of Sri Lanka. India and the US have constantly stressed the need for a final solution to be provided through political means. At election rallies held in India, in the last few months, Congress Party Leader Sonia Gandhi has constantly stressed that, the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka was a suitable solution to the country’s national question.

The government appointed the All Party Representative Conference (APRC) under the chairmanship of Minister Prof. Tissa Vitharana, and the committee has held 60 meetings to date. According to Prof. Vitharana, the final report of the Committee is in its final drafting stages.

Newly appointed Indian External Affairs Secretary M. Krishna is expected to arrive in Sri Lanka soon for discussions on a final political solution. President Mahinda Rajapaksa is also expected to undertake a tour to India shortly, where he is scheduled to discuss a final solution.

Opposition to 13th Amendment

Despite these moves, however, coalition parties within the UPFA alone, remain intensely divided over the implementation of the 13th Amendment. Hard-line Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) members, including Ellawela Medhananda Thera, claim that, a political solution is unnecessary, and have urged the government to accelerate development in the North, thereby, negating the need for a political solution. The Desha Hithaishi Movement also claims that a political solution is unnecessary.

The Wimal Weerawansa led NFF has also opposed the 13th Amendment being implemented in full, with the provinces being given power over land, police and finance. And even though their members are represented in the provincial councils (PC), the JVP has also opposed the implementation of the 13th Amendment in full, and the devolution of police and other powers to the PC authorities. The JVP’s Somawansa Amarasinghe claims that, the government should abandon all plans to extend the powers of the PCs and move to strengthen the unitary nature of the State.

However, the main opposition United National Party has agreed to back the government on the 13th Amendment issue. UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe told a press conference on Thursday that, the final political solution should be something over and above the 13th Amendment and said that, his party was ready to support the government in this effort.

…even within Govt. ranks

It became very clear at the inaugural session of the Western PC last week that, the divisions within Government ranks, about the devolution of power, were very clear.

UPFA alliance member and Communist Party MP Mahesh Almeida, who rose to congratulate newly appointed Chairman of the Council, Sunil Wijeratne, said that, the only solution to the problems of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka was one based on Federalism. UPFA MP representing the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party, Renuka Perera said that, the problem could be addressed through the PC system. MEP member Sisira Jayakoddy said that, at a time when Eelamists had been defeated, there were still those remaining who were intent on dividing the country, and it was these elements who were bringing such proposals. JHU member Udaya Gammanpila meanwhile rose to vehemently oppose Almeida’s statements on Federalism. It is likely that the battle which has already commenced within the PC will spill over to Parliament, in the very near future. It is also a fact that, finding a political solution, when such divergent and diverse views exist, will be an even tougher ask than defeating the LTTE militarily.

Tamil representation

Following the defeat of the LTTE, it is likely that several changes will take place on the political front in the North. For one thing, the proxies of the LTTE so far, the Tamil National Alliance is hoping to get directly involved in democratic politics in the near future, according to reliable sources.

The first step towards this political revival in the North will be the Municipal elections in Jaffna and Vavuniya. The TNA has decided to contest those polls. TNA MP Mavai Senadhiraja has claimed that, a group of TNA MPs are to visit Jaffna and Vavuniya shortly, in order to hold discussions about possible candidates for these elections. Furthermore, the TNA is also trying to recall all its members who have currently gone overseas, in a bid to get more involved in Parliament. According to reliable party sources, the party rank and file are pressuring the leadership to get these MPs down. Many of the MPs who have travelled overseas in this manner, are believed to be waiting for their six-month leave of absence from Parliament to expire, and then remain in the countries they are visiting. The TNA is hoping that such a thing takes place and the party can then fill those vacant Parliamentary seats with moderate Tamil politicians, in a bid to revitalise the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF).

Meanwhile, EPDP Leader Douglas Devanada, who is a government minister, has indicated that his party will go it alone in the northern elections. Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) Leader Rauff Hakeem has indicated that his party will contest the elections in the North, if the Muslims of Jaffna, displaced and still living in Puttalam, are allowed to vote at the election. These Muslims were forcibly evicted from the North by the LTTE in 1990, and have remained displaced in the Northwest ever since. Both Dinesh Gunewardane and Nimal Siripala de Silva have agreed to allow the Muslims to vote, and hope to speak to the Elections Commissioner about the matter. However, since June 4 is the final date for Nominations for the Northern Municipal elections, it is uncertain whether the Elections Act can be amended beforehand, to allow the displaced Muslims to vote.

The UPFA and the UNP are yet to make a decision about contesting elections in the North.
Meanwhile, the Northern and Uva PC elections are likely to be held on August 8, shortly before the Advanced Level examinations are scheduled to start.

****

 


Palestinians differ on US promises

(Al Jazeera) – Palestinian Fatah has said it was “encouraged” by the meeting between Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and his US counterpart in the White House, while Hamas said the encounter would lead to nothing.

“Palestinians are encouraged by the commitment President Obama and his administration have shown to Middle East peace,” Saeb Erakat, a Fatah member and the Palestinians’ top official said on Friday.

Erekat said the establishment of a viable Palestinian state and a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem would make the region more secure and stable.

But, he warned “the peace process lives on borrowed time,” saying it would not survive another round of failed negotiations.

“Israel’s failure to implement its obligations under existing agreements has eroded its credibility, while its continued settlement activities are undermining the very viability of the two state solution,” Erakat said.

Hamas, however, called the meeting a continuation of Abbas’ “way of begging” to the US and the “Zionist entity.”

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said the meeting would “accomplish nothing but more pressure on Abbas.”
He said the US administration would fail to take “any action on the ground” to halt Israeli “aggressions” and realise Palestinian rights.

In the meeting on Thursday Obama called for a stop to Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and emphasised the two-state solution.

However, Benyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, refused to openly endorse the two-state solution during a meeting with Obama on May 18.

He also rejected the US and Palestinian demand for an absolute freeze in settlement activity.
Netanyahu promised not to build new settlements, but vowed to continue construction in existing ones to accommodate for “natural growth.”

****

Pakistan on alert after blasts

(Al Jazeera) – Pakistan’s major cities are on high alert following a series of explosions and shootings that killed at least 12 people in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

Heavy security was deployed in the capital, Islamabad, and other cities on Friday as people braced for further violence in an apparent backlash to the military offensive in Swat valley.

Three bombs exploded on Thursday in Peshawar, the provincial capital of NWFP, while another was detonated in Dera Ismail Khan, about 300km south.
The bombings came just hours after the Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in the city of Lahore, a day earlier.

Hakimullah Mehsud, a deputy to Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban chief, said that Wednesday’s suicide attack, that killed at least 27 people, “was in response to the Swat operation where innocent people have been killed”.

“I appeal to people of Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Multan to vacate their cities as there will be more such massive attacks, more dangerous than this and we will target government buildings and places,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from Islamabad, said that the capital had been on “red alert” for a number of weeks, but that warning had now been spread to other cities.

“These type of attacks were expected, they have not come as a surprise to the public or the government,” he said.
“There are attacks in the north and the south of the country, there are different kinds of attack, and all of this has immense impact on a public that to-date has been utterly supportive of the government in its ongoing offensive in the Swat valley.”

On Friday, the residents of Peshawar said that people were afraid to leave their houses because of the fear of more violence.

“Things have come to such a pass that from morning till evening there is a sense of foreboding,” Shah Gul, a shopkeeper, said.
“When a person leaves his house in the morning, his wife, his sister, his parents are not sure if he will return in the evening.”

Thursday’s attacks began with two explosions in a market in Peshawar. Armed men on rooftops fired at policemen as they arrived in the narrow lanes below.

At least 70 people were injured in the two blasts.
Shortly after, a suicide bomber attacked a checkpoint on the outskirts of the city, killing a police officer and a civilian and injuring 15 others.

In addition to the fatalities, the suicide attack on a police checkpoint in Dera Ismail Khan left 13 people wounded.
Some people criticised the government for launching its military offensive to drive the Taliban out of the Swat valley, Lower Dir and Buner districts.
“Our rulers should get some sense into their heads and change their policies,” Mohammad Ishfaq, a local businessman, said.

“They are sitting in their palaces while poor people are dying in the streets. What is their fault.”
Tasneem Quresh, Pakistan’s interior minister, told reporters that the battle against the Taliban would continue.

“We cannot have any compromise with those who are against the solidarity and security of the country,’ he said shortly after the Peshawar attacks.

About 15,000 Pakistani troops are battling up to 2,000 Taliban fighters in the Swat valley, the military says. More than 1,200 Taliban fighters have been killed, it says.