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Sri Lanka: still difficult to ‘bell the cat’ February 23, 2013

Posted by auriolweigold in : Gordon, Sandy, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Sandy Gordon

Commissioned by East Asia Forum and previously published in Future Directions International

Sri Lanka is a small country of about the population of Australia. Its location astride the major energy sea lanes of communication (SLOCS) of the Indian Ocean and just south of behemoth India, however, puts it in a strategic box seat for the forthcoming struggle for influence over the liquid energy requirements of the East Asian economic giants, including China.

Until about a decade ago, the island was a Western-leaning democracy, but one with a generational civil war involving human rights violations on both side. The denouement of the war in May 2009 saw the death of the head of the Tamil Tigers, Vellupillai Prabhakaran. Few who were not Tamil Tiger loyalists would have mourned the passing of the homicidal head of the feared organisation.  Fewer still would have regretted the ending of a civil war that had lasted since 1983 and caused an estimated 80,000 deaths.


Implications of India’s decision on Sri Lanka UNHCR Resolution April 5, 2012

Posted by nishankmotwani in : Future Directions International, Guest authors, India, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Shanaka Jayasekara

First published in Future Directions International on 4 April 2012


The Indian decision to vote in support of the March 2012 US-sponsored United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution on Sri Lanka seems a departure from its stated doctrine for an Indian sphere of influence.


Former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi stated, in the so-called “Indira Doctrine”, that ‘India will neither intervene in the domestic affairs of any state in the region unless requested to do so, nor tolerate such intervention by an outsider power.’ By supporting the US resolution, India, in some sense, has outsourced its regional stake to an external power.

But, is this a complete change in Indian foreign policy at the behest of Tamil Nadu, or part of a new Indian approach to broaden the stakeholders in the region? India has, in recent times, opted to stand in the shadow of multilateral processes to deal with regional issues. In Nepal, the Indians preferred to watch the UN’s UNMIN special mission manage the peace process. In the Maldives, India outsourced responsibility, with the Commonwealth Secretariat taking the lead. (more…)

Sri Lanka’s stability critical to New Delhi’s Indian Ocean ambitions June 30, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : DeSilva-Ranasinghe, Serge, Future Directions International, India, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe

This article first appeared in Future Directions International.


A controversial advisory panel report, published by the United Nations in late March 2011, called for a full investigation into the perceived breaches in the Laws of Armed Conflict during the endgame of Sri Lanka’s civil war. As a result, India continues to face the challenge of balancing its relations with Sri Lanka, while appeasing the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which is home to over 72 million Indian Tamils.


‘People of righteousness’ march on for Sri Lanka June 26, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Roberts, Michael, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Michael Roberts

A longer version first appeared here in Transcurrents

The war crimes accusations levelled against the Sri Lankan government at the moment are driven by a complex coalition of forces. In the vanguard are people of righteousness. Such a man is Gordon Weiss. His demeanour as he addresses television audiences is that of a crusader. The iconic picture of himself adopted in his very own website, benignly overseeing a mass of African children, reminds one of a missionary.

The advocates of human rights today are reminiscent of the nineteenth century missionaries in Asia who set out to save the poor benighted ‘natives’ and rid them of idol worship. The moral crusaders of today pursue a different agenda. They are secular fundamentalists marching forth to cleanse the world of “evil” in the form of carbon pollution, smoke inhalation, et cetera. However, like the missionaries of yesteryear, they adhere to an either/or evaluation of the worlds before them.

For Sri Lanka these people of righteousness present a clear picture: Eelam War IV was a brutal war involving atrocities from both sides in the conflict, government and LTTE. It was also ‘a war without witnesses’, a phrase parroted ad nauseam and repeated recently by Weiss in a high-profile ABC interview. This text is self-serving: it renders the spokespersons into the only honest witnesses.

Their witness includes statistics on ‘civilian’ deaths. This is not surprising. We are dwelling in an era captivated by the magical wand of statistics and the impression of precision generated by the imprint of number. So Gordon Weiss told us earlier that his computation of civilian deaths ranged from 15,000 to 40,000. Invariably this sound bite gets twisted in world reportage and is presented categorically in several outlets as ‘40,000’.


Two Indian Reporters’ Post-War Pictures at the LTTE’s Last Redoubt, May 14-19, 2009 June 10, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Roberts, Michael, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Michael Roberts

Editor’s note: To view the pictures referred to in this article please go to the link here.

The Sri Lankan government kept a tight lid on the foreign media personnel allowed into the war zone. This is hardly surprising. If one was a company commander at the battlefront seeking to best the LTTE forces in front of one’s troops it would be pretty silly to have personnel with mobile phones reporting back in circumstances which could be intercepted and relayed within minutes to the enemy networks.

Because Western media were mostly kept out, a cliché appeared on the airwaves in 2009: Eelam War IV, it was stressed, was “a war without witnesses.” In late May 2011, Gordon Weiss repeated the same phrase in the course of a two-minute interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (a rare privilege for anyone).

This terminology was, and is, not intended to be taken too literally. After all, the same sources cite the testimonies of Tamil witnesses speaking about the bloodletting in the course of the last five months of the war; and a few international and local UN workers have provided some of the evidence utilised by the UN Panel Report and by Weiss in his ‘The Cage’. What is being suggested and highlighted in this popular sound-bite is the fact that the GOSL kept out foreign journalists so that its atrocities (alleged) would not see the light of day. (more…)

Omanthai! Omanthai! Succour for the Tamil thousands August 12, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : Roberts, Michael, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Michael Roberts

This article first appeared on transCurrents 11 August 2010.

This article was made possible through interviews with Mrs Annet Royce nee Rajajohn (2 June 2010), T. Thamilalagan (3 June 2010) and Peter Voegtli (1 June 2010). I also interviewed Singham of SEEDS, two expatriate executives in UN agencies and two of the Sewalanka officers in Jaffna, Harsha Navaratne of Sewalanka in Colombo and C. Soloman of the Health Ministry (now in UNICEF).  Supplemented by a memo from Lakshi Abeysekera of Sewalanka at the end.

The citizens of Thāmilīlam who struggled out of the inferno of war in the north-east corner of the northern Vanni during the months of January-May 2009 journeyed on foot or boat. During the first few months the escapee refugees got out mostly in dribs and drabs. But circa 20-23 April, and then again in mid-May during the last stages as the LTTE resistance was smashed, two hordes of “Thāmilīlam people” poured out of the confines of the LTTE corral.

These Thāmilīlam people, or TEP as I shall present them in shorthand, included Tiger fighters in civilian attire as well as other Tiger functionaries. It is probable that all the TEP were in a state of exhaustion. Bombs and bullets in that context do not distinguish between age, gender, class, or military/civilian status.

Attending to the needs of the TEP from the month of January 2009 onwards within the parameters of the government’s insistence on security precautions was a feat of considerable coordination for combination of military and government personnel, foreign and local INGO personnel, local NGO functionaries, hired local staff and volunteers assembled for the purpose. My focus here will be restricted to the large body of Tamil refugee people whom these agencies had had to deal with in May 2009 and the special operation to feed them mounted at the former border post at Omanthai.


Boat people as blanket categories April 19, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : Roberts, Michael, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Michael Roberts

The Australian government’s decision to embargo the processing of asylum-seeker applications from Afghans and Sri Lankans is widely attributed to electoral posturing. But it can also be read as a continuation of the control philosophy that has been the bedrock of Australia’s border policy for decades. The fact is that the number of refugees admitted in the last two to three years has been a tiny tithe of the total number of migrants (for example in the year 2007-08 roughly 6 per cent relative to the 206,135 “permanent migrants” [Graeme Hugo, “Refugee and Humanitarian Settlement in Australia: Recent Trends,” presentation to Symposium on Child Refugee Health and Wellbeing, National Wine Centre of Australia, Adelaide, 29 October 2009]

By emphasising the increase in the number of boats penetrating Australian waters, but avoiding any reference to the proportion of such boat people in comparison with (a) refugees officially admitted and (b) permanent migrants under the skilled and family reunion categories, the media has catered to the fear-mongering pressed by some politicians. In sum, therefore, one can surmise that the hoary Australian paranoia about ‘Asian hordes’ and foreign ‘contaminants’ permeates the hardline position in an insidious fashion.


Sri Lanka: shed a tear for the teardrop island February 11, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : Gordon, Sandy, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Sandy Gordon

While no reasonable person would shed too many tears for the passing of the Tamil Tigers (except for the number of civilian deaths involved), we should, perhaps, shed some tears for Sri Lanka itself.

A generation ago Sri Lanka had an ambition to become another ‘Asian Tiger’.  And it had every prospect of so doing had not the vicious civil war intervened.

Since then, much has changed.  The Sri Lankan economy, beset by the costs and instabilities of war, has not expanded as hoped.  At least some of the ‘Asian Tigers’, such as Taiwan and South Korea, have liberalised their political dispositions.  Others, like Singapore and Malaysia, still run relatively ‘controlled’ versions of democracy. (more…)

Sri Lanka: not only a question of short-term security August 31, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : Perera, Jehan, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Jehan Perera

The issue that is proving to be the most contentious in Sri Lanka’s post-war context is that of the approximately 280,000 internally displaced persons who are presently confined to 32 welfare centres in the North.  This is taken as a necessary, and temporary, situation by the Sri Lankan government and a majority of the people.  The government has come under increased pressure to improve the conditions of those camps, which it is committed to doing, and also to release the people, which it has problems in doing.

While the facilities within the welfare camps have been a source of concern, the most controversial issue has been the barbed wire fences and army guards that surround them, which deny to the people the freedom to move.  There has also been no registering of people in a transparent manner. Hence even if people disappear there is no way to trace them.  The government has claimed that over 10,000 LTTE cadre have been discovered in these camps, and that there are more to be found.

tamil refugee camp