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‘Anti-Tamil ideology, international meddling make reconciliation impossible’

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 31 August 2010 08:54 No Comment]

In a recent paper titled "Why National Reconciliation in Sri Lanka Is Not Possible," Brian Senewiratne, a renowned physician and an Australia based Sinhala expatriate, says although he had realized that ‘national reconciliation’ in Sri Lanka was ‘totally unrealistic’, after witnessing the major human rights violations inflicted upon the Tamil people, what has made the reconciliation really ‘impossible’ was the most serious recent slaughter of Tamils with features of genocide. In addition, what makes reconciliation ‘most unlikely’ is ‘international meddling’ and ‘power play’, he argues. The 78-year-old member of the Bandaranaike family, who is a long-time defender of the Eezham Tamil cause, also argues in his paper that even the real development of the Sinhala areas is not possible if the ‘developmental power’ is left in the hands of those in Colombo.

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Dr Brian Senewiratne

“I firmly believe that without this international meddling, the IMF included, left to the Sri Lankans, there might well have been a negotiated settlement and national reconciliation,” Dr. Senewiratne writes, recalling a proposal he put forward as far back as 1984, in which he advocated a 5-State solution.

“The divisions between the Sinhala majority and the brutalized Tamil minority is deepening. So are the divisions between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ in the Sinhala South. This division is set to get worse as a totally corrupt, ruthless and despotic regime implements the inhuman conditions demanded by the IMF.”

“The less fortunate are certainly ‘spiraling downwards into crime and chaos’. Unfortunately, they do not have a powerful vocal expatriate community to jump up and down for them. That is the problem of being poor which I have seen, and sympathized with, for years.”

“The role of the expatriate Tamil community, now more than a million, is to get the facts across to the international community that the Sri Lankan government is lying and has no intention of national reconciliation. To do this, the facts must be known, which is why I have put these together in this publication,” he further writes in his 27-page paper.

Full text: Why National Reconciliation in Sri Lanka Is Not Possible

Extracts from the paper by Dr. Senewiratne follow:

There is much talk of ‘National Reconciliation’ in Sri Lanka – essentially between the Sinhalese-dominated Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the Tamil people. As a Sinhalese who has supported the struggle of the Tamil people to live with equality, dignity and without discrimination, and now, to live at all, in the country of their birth, I simply do not think that ‘national reconciliation’ is possible.

I have been closely involved with the problems faced by the Tamil people since 1948. This was when a million Plantation ‘Indian’ Tamils, (one seventh of the total population of Ceylon at that time), were disenfranchised and decitizenised in one of the most outrageous acts of political barbarism anywhere in the world. It was followed by a series of highly discriminatory measures adopted since 1956 by a succession of Sinhalese governments against the indigenous Sri Lankan Tamils. These included numerous Government organized pogroms of the Tamils. Having been a witness to all these and other major human rights violations of the Tamil people, I am convinced that ‘national reconciliation’ is totally unrealistic.

The most serious recent slaughter of Tamils (June 2006 – May 2009), with features of Genocide, and done under the guise of “wiping out ‘Tamil terrorism’”, has made national reconciliation impossible.

For national reconciliation to occur there are some fundamental requirements.

  1. There must be a genuine intention to do so.
  2. There must be regret for all that has happened to make national reconciliation necessary.
  3. The fundamental problems that caused the rift must be addressed.
  4. There must be a determination to wipe out all the obstructions to this process.

Since none of these are present in Sri Lanka, national reconciliation is not possible. It is as simple as that.

The pretence of ‘national reconciliation’ is nothing but a myth propagated by the GoSL with the sole intention of obtaining international support to keep a totalitarian regime going.

Before these fundamental requirements are discussed in detail, four crucial points must be appreciated.

  1. There has been a complete dismantling of Democracy.
  2. There is a clearly stated aim to make Sri Lanka into a Sinhala-Buddhist nation.
  3. There is an international dimension with foreign governments getting involved for their own geopolitical and economic gains.
  4. Sri Lanka is a British colonial construct, which has failed. Until this is reversed, there will be no prosperity, peace or reconciliation.

[…]

The Constitution is viewed by Sri Lankan politicians as a useful exhibit to be shown to the outside world as something that makes Sri Lanka a ‘Democracy’. In reality it is a play-thing for majoritarian politicians to ignore, bend, or break at will, to suit the political or ethnoreligious chauvinism of those in power. Tamils politicians not being ‘majoritarian politicians’, have no say. They can take it or leave it, the Government (which has been, is, and will for ever be, Sinhalese), could not care less.

Constitutions can only achieve so much. They can specify a system of checks and balances, and what Governments can and cannot do. Constitutions cannot do these things. That is left to the decency, integrity, sincerity and commitment of those who wield power. If those who wield power are tyrants, tyranny will be the result, Constitution or no Constitution.

[…]

Much has been made of the fact that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been destroyed. The LTTE was not the problem but the result of the problem. The ‘problem’ was Sinhala-Buddhist ethno-religious chauvinism – to make multiethnic, multireligious, multilingual, multicultural Sri Lanka, into a Sinhala-Buddhist nation.

What has been destroyed is not only the LTTE but the possibility of Peace with Justice. Some 40,000 Tamils in the North and East were slaughtered by the Sri Lankan (Sinhalese) Armed Forces, international aid groups and observers having first been expelled from the area (“genocide without witnesses”).

280,000 Tamils who escaped the slaughter were locked up in concentration camps, in absolute contravention of several Human Rights Conventions, signed by Sri Lanka.

Under immense international pressure, some 200,000 were released, most of them to a land that was totally destroyed and heavily mined, making them internally Displaced People (IDPs ie refugees). 60,000 remain in the camps in June 2010, more than an year after they were put there. Thousands have been driven out of the country as asylum-seekers. So much for ‘national reconciliation’.

[…]

Let alone a Two-State division (into a Tamil State and a Sinhalese State), there is a case for a five-State division (the North, East, Centre, South and West) with regional capitals in each of these areas, with a full power to develop the particular area.

It is arrant nonsense to claim that Sri Lanka is too small to be divided in such a manner. On the contrary, it is this very fact that demands that every part of the country be developed, which is most unlikely to occur if developmental power remins in the hands of those in Colombo.

[…]

It is not possible to make sense of the mess in Sri Lanka and the absolute impossibility of “Peace and Reconciliation” or of “Peace with Justice” without an appreciation of the international games being played to keep a corrupt, incompetent, and ruthless regime in power.

Just as oil is the problem in the Middle East, the geographical position astride the Indian Ocean is the ‘problem’ in Sri Lanka. Just 36 km (20 miles) from India, it is in India’s backyard. The Indian Ocean is not the largest ocean in the world but by far the busiest. 40% of the world’s oil production occurs in countries which share India’s Ocean. It carries 70% of the world’s oil shipments and 50% of the container cargo. US Admiral Alfred Mahan said a hundred years ago, “Whoever controls the Indian Ocean, dominates Asia”

Trincomalee, in the Tamil North East, is the world’s 4h largest natural harbour, and has attracted foreign powers for centuries. It continues to do so.

Sri Lanka is one of China’s “String of Pearls”, the chain of military bases to guard its oil supply from the Middle East and its exports to Europe. Rather than fight (India) to get a foothold in Trincomalee, China chose a small fishing port in Hambantota (in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s home area) in the deep South, to set up a major harbour (for China’s use) and an international airport.

A delighted Rajapaksa used this as a bargaining chip to build his massive military machine to crush the Tamils. The violation of human rights has never been a problem for China which supplied all the military hardware requested by the ruthless Sinhala military.

America concerned with China’s involvement, tried to woo Rajapaksa back to the western camp. The IMF is not just in America, it is America. Sri Lanka is a peripheral but integral part of the global capitalist network, which now includes even supposedly ‘Communist’ China. This is why members of the US Foreign Policy Relations Committee warned that Washington could not ‘lose’ Sri Lanka, which is strategically located in the Indian Ocean.

India, concerned with Chinese and American involvement in its backyard, got into the act. Its agenda is, and has been, to make Sri Lanka into a colony of the Indian empire, keep China and the US out, and exploit the considerable resources in the country – as all colonial powers do.

What happens to the Tamils in Sri Lanka is of little concern except to South Indians in Tamil Nadu with some 75 million ethnic Tamils. However, India is not run from Tamil Nadu. It is run by big business in Delhi in close collaboration with international capitalists. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is just a figurehead – a ‘pretence leader’. That is why he told a visiting delegation of Tamil MPs from Sri Lanka who took their concern to him on July 8, 2010, that they should “continue to hold talks with the Lankan government in a constructive way.”! If the expatriate Sri Lankan Tamil community is looking to India for help in getting justice for the Tamil people, they are not in the real world.

It is this international meddling in Sri Lanka that makes the outlook for the Tamils so poor, and ‘national reconciliation’ so impossible. I firmly believe that without this international meddling, the IMF included, left to the Sri Lankans, there might well have been a negotiated settlement and national reconciliation. The fact that this international powerplay and meddling will go on, and support for a brutal murderous chauvinistic regime in Colombo will continue, makes any hope of a ‘Just Peace’ or ‘National Reconciliation’ most unlikely.

[…]

In one of the most irresponsible reports ever published by an important international organisation, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), has recently published an extensive report that the human rights situation in the Tamil areas had improved markedly. The Report, UNHCR Eligibility Guidelines for Assessing the International Protection Needs for Asylum –Seekers from Sri Lanka. 5 July 2010. HRC/EG/SLK/10/03 is an outrageous document that is at variance with several reports from internationally credible human rights organisations across the world e.g. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch etc all of whom have been denied access to Sri Lanka.

The UNHCR states that the Report was “intended for the use of UNHCR and State adjudicators in the assessment of claims by Sri Lankan asylum-seekers.” It is a thoroughly irresponsible document which will do immense damage to already brutalised people. It is, in fact, a collection of half-truths, untruths and frank lies based on hearsay not from direct observation by visiting the Tamil areas and collecting reliable data. Almost every claim made can be challenged.

[…]

The economic crisis and its flow through have a critical effect on ‘National Reconciliation’ – be it reconciliation between the Sinhalese and Tamils, or the reconciliation between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ among the Sinhala people. It therefore merits careful scrutiny.

The country has been heavily in debt for years, with more problems to follow. The Rajapaksa government (elected November 2005) went on a spending spree to finance the war on the LTTE, crushing it, and also slaughtering upward of 40,000 Tamil and Muslim civilians – a massacre that ended in May 2009, with the President announcing “victory” and the end of the war.

Despite this, a year later, (June 2010), as has been mentioned, the Armed Forces have gone from 175,000, to 230,000 with a declared intention of getting this up to 300,000. The question is why the military should be substantially increased when there is no war. The answer is that it is ‘necessary’ to crush Sinhalese if they protest at the escalating cost of living. That is what fascist dictatorships and totalitarian regimes have done over the ages. The Rajapaksa regime is no exception.

The Defence budget in 2010, a year after the end of the armed conflict, to ‘defend’ the country from a non-existent enemy, is Rs 202 billion ($US 1.8 billion), 21 % of the total expenditure of Rs 974 billion to government ministries.

Last year (2009), government debt reached an incredible Rs 4.1 trillion, of which Rs 1.8 trillion was foreign debt, a 22% rise. Sri Lanka’s Central Bank annual report stated: “The ratio of debt service to government revenue increased further to 117.5% from 90.5%”. Total debt servicing rose by 39% to Rs 825.7 billion in 2009, including a massive interest payment of Rs 309.7 billon which comprised 26% of total expenditure.

There has been a marked increase in public debt with repayments in 2010 of Rs 767 billion, 44 % of the total budget expenditure of Rs 1,780 billion.

In July 2009, with the government facing bankruptcy, Sri Lanka was forced to beg for an IMF loan of $US 2.6 billion, to ward off a balance of payments crisis, having earlier boasted that it never will! The IMF released two installments but withheld the third in February 2010 because the government failed to indicate how it would rein in the budget deficit, which reached 9.7% of GDP in 2009. The IMF demanded a reduction to 7% in 2009, 6% in 2010, and 5% in 2011.

Recently, (June 2010), Ernesto May, the World Bank Director of South Asia launching the Economic Update 2010 in Colombo said that Sri Lanka’s debt was the second highest in South Asia, increasing from 81% of GDP in 2008 to 86% in 2009.

The country’s public debt rose to 86% of GDP last year – the second highest in any Asian country. Debt repayments is 44% of overall expenditure. The largest budget allocation is, and has been for years, for debt service repayments. In 2010, interest payments alone account for Rs 337 billion, 26% of total expenditure. In addition, the government has to find Rs 565 billion for debt repayments this year, raising its gross borrowings to Rs 980 billion ($US 8.5 billion).

Unable to implement the IMF austerity measures without facing a massive anti-government backlash from voters, Rajapaksa repeatedly delayed the budget for 2010 (due in November 2009) till he was safely re-installed as President (January 2010), and his government re-elected (April 2010).

In May 2010, Sri Lanka gave an undertaking to the IMF that it would considerably reduce recurrent spending by cutting government subsidies to the Ceylon Electricity Board, Petroleum Corporation, Central Transport Board, Railways, and Postal services. This can be achieved only by axing jobs, cutting wage and increasing prices.

Finally in early June 2010, the government presented to Parliament the expenditure estimates as part of an Appropriation Bill for 2010. The two largest budget items were Defence and Debt repayment. The necessary cuts will be made elsewhere, in particular, a freeze on wages, cuts in pensions and welfare benefits, and a slashing of funds for health and education.

The budget was finally brought down on 29 June, 2010. The day before, a copy of the budget was sent to the IMF to show the massive assault on the working people that the government was going to unleash. The IMF was ‘impressed’ and released the third (suspended) installment of the $US 2.6 billion loan.

The allocation for the Rehabilitation Ministry was slashed from Rs 4 billion to Rs 2 billion. The result will be that thousands of refugees in the North and East will continue to lack homes and essential services. As is obvious, national reconciliation with the Tamils in the North and East is simply impossible if they lack homes and essential services.

Allocations for Health and Education were Rs 52 and 46 billion respectively, a total of Rs 10 billion less than for 2009. (The allocation for 2009 was itself Rs 12 billion less than for 2008).

Well aware that such measures will provoke massive opposition and even strikes by working people, Rajapaksa has retained the huge Police State apparatus to crush any form of opposition. This is what a Police State does to its people irrespective of ethnicity.

In addition to the Government’s fiscal profligacy, there is rampant corruption all the way to the very top, waste and absolute incompetence in governance.

Facing a massive debt servicing bill and economic collapse, large areas of Sri Lanka are ‘up for sale’ to foreign investors, especially from China and India. Most of these areas are in the Tamil North and East, whose rightful owners are in detention centres or are refugees, who are, as a consequence, unable to return home.

[…]

Unknown to many, there is a ‘fire-sale’ in Sri Lanka, particularly the Tamil lands in the North and East which international economists have stated, has the highest developmental potential. This is exactly what is happening in India which the Indian activist Arundhati Roy, says in her outstanding book The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire:-

“The two arms of the Indian government have developed the perfect pincer action. While one arm is busy selling India off in chunks, the other, to divert attention, is orchestrating a howling, baying chorus of Hindu nationalism and religious fascism”.

So also in Sri Lanka. While one arm is selling off the country or borrowing heavily from international lenders i.e. the IMF and China, getting the country deeper and deeper into debt, the other is cheering the ‘victory’ over the Tamil militants and how the country has at last been freed from ‘Tamil terrorism’.

Arundhati Roy goes on:-

“The dismantling of democracy is proceeding with the speed and efficiency of a Structural Adjustment Program. While the project of corporate globalization rips through people’s lives in India, massive privatization and labour ‘reforms’ are pushing people off their land and out of their jobs. Hundreds of impoverished farmers are committing suicide by consuming pesticide. Reports of starvation deaths are coming in from all over the country.

While the elite journeys to their imaginary destination somewhere near the top of the world, the dispossessed are spiraling downwards into crime and chaos. This climate of frustration and national disillusionment is the perfect breeding ground, history tell us, for fascism”

That is precisely what is happening in Sri Lanka. Democracy is most certainly being dismantled at an alarming rate. What is left is barely recognizable. (Tamil) people are being pushed off their lands into concentration camps or just into the jungle, and out of their jobs (fishing and agriculture).

Hundreds (of Tamils) are committing suicide (I gather Sri Lanka has the 2nd highest rate of suicide in the world. Starvation (of Tamils in the North, and now the Sinhalese poor in the South) is being increasingly reported.

Shanties and slums in Colombo are being bulldozed so that the land can be sold to capitalists. The poor, Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, are being evicted – to nowhere (see below).

The elite (in particular the Rajapaksa family) are journeying to the top of the world (it is not an imaginary destination), the rest are in grinding poverty with an inflation rate of nearly 30%, and fascism has already been established, proving that history repeats itself.

The less fortunate are certainly “spiraling downwards into crime and chaos”. Unfortunately, they do not have a powerful vocal expatriate community to jump up and down for them. That is the problem of being poor which I have seen, and sympathized with, for years.

[…]

The IMF has never had a problem supporting and propping up some of the most ruthless dictators and those who have been guilty of extensive human rights violations. When the GoSL asked for a US$ 1.8 billion loan to finance, among other things, a country with the largest army per capita in the world to murder and crush its people, the IMF gave more than what was requested – ‘generously’ lending US $ 2.6 billion.

No IMF loan has ever been given without crippling conditions which have a disastrous impact on the living conditions of the people. It is those at the bottom of the pile who are crushed by the IMF conditions which include reducing budget deficits, overhauling the tax system and cuts in social spending and essentials such as food, oil prices and electricity.

To be specific, in Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka, the IMF had no problems financing a regime which maintained ‘defence’ expenditure at astronomical levels at the expense of social development and development projects. As would be expected of any capitalist set-up, the IMF had no objections to Rajapaksa having the world’s largest Cabinet of Ministers, tax breaks for luxury vehicles, and wasteful extravaganza such as the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) ‘celebration’, as long as there was a freeze on wages, and cuts on subsidies and essential commodities.

The IMF has never interfered with regime’s ‘sovereign right’ to violate democratic and human rights. In fact, the IMF knows full well that implementation of these loan conditions will result in just that.

All of the IMF conditions have been implemented by the GoSL, and more will be, depending on how ruthless the IMF decides to be. Any protests by those who are affected will be crushed by the government with the same ruthlessness with which the Tamils were crushed.

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