Saturday, February 23, 2008

US defends human rights record before UN watchdog

UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Geneva : The United States, in the dock at a UN forum accused of racial discrimination, said on Thursday that it was combating hate crimes such as displays of hangman's nooses as well as police brutality against minorities. A US delegation defended Washington's record at the start of a two-day debate at the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The Committee's 18 independent experts grilled US officials on issues including racial profiling in the wake of the 11 September attacks, police brutality against minorities, and the high proportion of African-Americans on death row.

The UN Committee upholds compliance with a 1965 treaty ratified by 173 countries including the United States. It is to issue its findings on seven countries on 7 March.


Turbulence in South Asia

The challenges call for a new strategy

January and February are described in Delhi as the "Seminar Season". Friends from far and near descend on the Capital, to discuss international developments ranging from global warming to events in our neighbourhood. The "Seminar Season" also brings in hordes of American and European scholars, who naturally prefer the Delhi fog to the sweltering heat of the Capital's summer. The last two months in Delhi have been no exception to this phenomenon. But what one has noticed this year is that friends from our neighbouring SAARC countries have been more candid about discussing the neighbourhood, free from inhibitions and acrimony of the past. There also appears to be realisation that despite its shortcomings, Indian democracy has proved to be more vibrant than many in our neighbourhood ever imagined.

In candid discussions with friends from our South Asian neighbours, one finds many paradoxes and contradictions. But these complexities perhaps reflect the reality of where we stand today. There is a growing realisation that as a new generation of Indians, free from the inhibitions of their predecessors, run the wheels of industry and commerce in this country, apart from important sections of our national life like the media, Indians are more self-confident about themselves and their future than ever before. One can look at our neighbourhood through different prisms. A Pakistani friend of mine recently brought out some hometruths about the centrality of India to South Asia, when he noted that Indians constitute 80 per cent of the region's population and account for 77 per cent of its GDP. But my friend also had certain stark statistics to allude to about India and its neighbourhood.

The per capita income in South Asia at $ 692 is even below that of sub-Saharan Africa, which is $ 746. Moreover, South Asia has the world's highest illiteracy rate, at 45 per cent of its population and it has growing rates of incidence of malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. The gap between the rich and the poor is widening, particularly in India.

In contrast to this, a Bangladeshi friend recently spoke with optimism about the prospects for growth in South Asia. It is now acknowledged that led by India with an economic growth of around 9 per cent in recent years, the average rate of growth in South Asia is around 6.5 per cent. The Maldives and Bhutan have preformed extraordinarily well economically in recent years. Despite spiralling jihadi terrorism, Pakistan, with the incredibly low rate of savings of 16 per cent of the GDP, but fortified with massive American-led assistance, has been able to sustain a rate of growth of over 6 per cent in the recent past.

A unique feature of SAARC is that while all its members have common maritime/land borders and extensive economic interaction with India, they have little or no interaction with each other. The substantial increase in intra-regional trade in recent years has largely been driven by increases in bilateral trade with India. Sri Lanka has emerged as the most realistic South Asian neighbour of India, by promoting free trade and welcoming Indian private investment. Bangladesh and Pakistan have yet to get over old mindsets on this score. Concluding a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement with Sri Lanka, covering trade in goods, services and investment, would serve as an example to other SAARC members about the benefits of increased economic cooperation. But everyone agrees that endemic corruption has ruined the standards of good governance in the entire region, with India being a classical case, combining a lethal mix of corruption and criminalisation of politics.

South Asia today is among the most volatile regions of the world. Most analysts in India do not believe that there is an imminent danger of Pakistani nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands, though there is unease that things could change if Pakistan does not effectively and expeditiously deal with its domestic turbulence. Pakistan's Afghan neighbours are livid that the entire Pakistani strategic aim seems to be to convert Afghanistan into a satellite state. With NATO troops in Afghanistan now being subject to increasing attacks from the Taliban, whose leaders are evidently operating out of Quetta, the crucial question before the entire region and indeed the international community is when the Pakistan Army will ultimately end its nexus with and support for the Taliban in Afghanistan and Jihadi groups operating in India. Pakistan's Western borders have today become the epicentre of global terrorism, whether in Kabul, Karnataka, Madrid, or London.

India faces daunting challenges along its eastern frontiers also. Having brokered peace between the Maoists and mainstream political parties in Nepal, New Delhi is now finding that led by their Youth Wing, the Maoists are using intimidation to bolster their sagging political support. Complicating matters further, the Madhesis under the banner of the United Madhes Democratic Front are upping their demands. New Delhi cannot certainly countenance demands for "self-determination" by any section in Nepal, especially in view of the consensus in Nepal about the need for a federal and republican constitution. In its efforts to bring the Maoists into the political mainstream, India has to guard against political turbulence in Nepal spilling over into the neighbouring Indian states like Bihar. A similar problem is faced by India along its borders with Bangladesh, with the military-backed government in Dhaka showing no sign of clamping down on Bangladesh groups promoting terrorist violence in India.

Prolonged military rule and a growing nexus between the army establishment, now led by Gen Moeen U. Ahmed, jihadi groups and parties like the Jamat-e-Islami producing conditions for the "Pakistanisation" of Bangladesh, is a prospect that neither India nor the international community can be comfortable with.

Faced with these challenges, New Delhi will have to develop a judicious mix of incentives and disincentives in dealing with its South Asian neighbours. Sadly, in dealing with even friendly neighbours like Sri Lanka, policy initiatives are inhibited and stifled by the "compulsions of coalition politics". Developments in Nepal are becoming intertwined with domestic political rivalries, prejudices and predilections. Admittedly, growing contacts and cooperation within SAARC and expanded civil society interaction have led to a sense of South Asian togetherness and a better appreciation and regard for India's "soft power'.

But New Delhi has failed to raise the diplomatic and economic costs for neighbours who promote terrorism on Indian soil. Most neighbours tend to look at India as a directionless elephant while China, perceived as a supple tiger, is sought to be increasingly involved as a strategic balance. Postures and expressions of good intentions alone can never be a substitute for effective exercise of political will and national power. This is a lesson we have not yet learnt.

The Tribune (India), G. Parthasarathy, 02/21/2008

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Video: Limb of LTTE leader Prabahkaran amputated (Feb 2008)

A limb of LTTE Leader Prabahkaran Amputated. Prabahkaran who was seriously wounded due to SLForce air raids last November and X-ray base attack remains in a secret camp hiding. Reports indicate LTTE is divided to 3 sections and theres no unity among high rankers while prabahkaran being seriously injured.

Video: SL Navy ships essential food items for Tamils in Jaffna

Sri Lankan Navy ships essential food items to Tamils in Jaffna.

Sri Lanka's return to war: Limiting the damage

Source: International Crisis Group


Sri Lanka is in civil war again, and there are no prospects of a peace process resuming soon. On 2 January 2008, the government announced its withdrawal from a ceasefire agreement with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). This formalised a return to conflict that has been underway since 2006 but also presaged worse to come. The humanitarian crisis is deepening, abuses of human rights by both sides are increasing, and those calling for peace are being silenced. There is no present chance of a new ceasefire or negotiations since the government, despite pro forma statements in favour of a political solution, is dependent on hardliners and appears intent on a military decision. International actors must concentrate for now on damage limitation: protecting civilians from the war's worst effects and supporting those working to preserve Sri Lanka's democratic institutions.

In addition to heavy fighting in the north, the first weeks of 2008 have seen the assassinations of a government minister and a Tamil opposition member of parliament, multiple bombings in Colombo, a wave of deadly attacks on civilians in the majority Sinhalese south, and widespread disappearances and killings of non-combantants in the north and east. More than 5,000 combatants and civilians are estimated to have been killed over the past two years. At least 140,000 have fled intensified fighting in the north, and more are likely to be forced out if the military continues its push into Tiger-controlled territory. If the government's military approach in the east is a precedent for its conduct of the northern campaign, civilians and their property are at grave risk.

Much of the blame for the resumption in violence lies with the LTTE; its ceasefire violations and abuses of the population under its control pushed the government towards war. The Tiger strategy was to shore up internal support by provoking a Sinhala nationalist reaction; it worked, although the insurgents may come to regret their approach. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has also overplayed his hand. Relying on support from Sinhala extremists, he has let them set an agenda that allows only for a military approach.

The military and much of the government leadership believe they can defeat or permanently weaken the Tigers by the end of 2008. The LTTE has been badly hurt over the past eighteen months: it has lost the areas it controlled in the Eastern Province; its arms routes have been disrupted; hundreds, perhaps thousands, of its fighters have been killed; and senior commanders are now vulnerable to targeted elimination, either from air force bombs or special forces. But the Tigers remain a formidable fighting force. While the army has been inching forward in the north, they are fighting back from well-defended positions. Even assuming the Tigers can be defeated militarily, it remains unclear how the government would pacify and control the large Tamil-speaking areas in the north that have been under LTTE domination for a decade or more.

The government argues its military campaign will clear the way for a political solution. Vowing to 'eradicate terrorism', it says it aims to destroy the Tigers or force them to disarm and enter democratic politics and negotiations alongside other Tamil and Muslim parties. But after promising for more than a year to undertake substantial constitutional reforms once the All-Party Representative Committee (APRC) recommended them, it now proposes only to 'fully implement' the constitution's long-existing Thirteenth Amendment. The limited devolved powers for the north and east that this would represent are unlikely even in the best case to be sufficient to win over many Tamils or Muslims, though they could be a useful start if implemented sincerely. Since President Rajapaksa has chosen to depend on strongly Sinhala nationalist parties for his government's survival, however, this seems unlikely.

Meanwhile, ethnic divisions are deepening. The humanitarian costs of the war are concentrated in Tamil-speaking areas. In Colombo, security forces have conducted large, often indiscriminate arrests of Tamils under emergency regulations. But Muslims are under pressure from both the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP), a paramilitary group which broke from the Tigers and operates with the government's blessing, and government-sponsored land and administrative changes. The much touted 'liberation' of the Eastern Province has failed to bring development or democracy; instead it has been characterised by military rule and rising ethnic tensions. The government will lose an opportunity to set up a democratic alternative to the LTTE in the east if it fails to rein in the TMVP ahead of a series of elections scheduled to begin in March 2008.

The human rights and governance crisis continues unabated, with paralysis of the institutions empowered to investigate and prosecute, and consequent impunity for abusers. The many ad hoc commissions of inquiry of the past two years have accomplished nothing, while disappearances and political killings continue, especially in Jaffna and other parts of the north. Both the Tigers and the TMVP continue to recruit and make use of child soldiers, despite repeated pledges to UN agencies and others not to.

The current conflict is worse than what preceded the 2002 ceasefire. The government's counter-insurgency campaign is more brutal and indiscriminate, the terror and criminal activities of its Tamil proxy forces more extensive and blatant, and the role of chauvinistic Sinhala ideologues in government more pronounced. The suspected involvement of pro-government forces in the assassinations of Tamil politicians is particularly disturbing. The Tigers have fully militarised life in areas under their control and returned to brutal attacks on Sinhalese civilians, intent on provoking even worse retaliation.

As unpromising as present circumstances are, the government should be alert to any opportunities that arise to promote a new peace process. Meanwhile, the international community needs to use its limited leverage for the time being to prevent further deterioration, while developing strategies to strengthen the moderate, non-violent forces still committed to a peaceful and just settlement and to build the middle ground – significantly beyond the unitary state but far short of a separate Tamil state – that will be necessary if a lasting political solution is to gain traction once political conditions are better. This will require pressing the Tigers and their supporters to abandon terrorism and separatism, while simultaneously encouraging a new consensus in the south in support of constitutional and state reforms.


To the Government of Sri Lanka:

1. Meet basic humanitarian needs and protect civilians from the effects of war by:

(a) conducting all military operations in strict accordance with international law;

(b) guaranteeing full and prompt access for UN agencies and humanitarian organisations, with adequate medical supplies, to LTTE-controlled areas; and

(c) defending UN agencies and international humanitarian organisations against unfounded allegations by hardline politicians and parties and guaranteeing the safety of all humanitarian workers, Sri Lankan and foreign.

2. Take all necessary steps to protect the fundamental human rights of all citizens, including:

(a) conducting anti-terrorist operations in accordance with both domestic constitutional guarantees and international human rights and humanitarian law;

(b) investigating fully all allegations of disappearances and killings carried out by state forces or militant groups aligned with the state and prosecuting when credible evidence is available;

(c) passing through parliament a witness protection law that takes into account suggestions from civil society organisations and the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP);

(d) accepting the proposed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) office in Sri Lanka with adequate powers to monitor and report on human rights violations throughout the country; and

(e) guaranteeing the protection of media personnel and investigating fully recent attacks on journalists.

3. Develop the Eastern Province equitably, transparently, inclusively and effectively by:

(a) delaying local and provincial elections until the illegal activities of all armed groups, including the TMVP, are curtailed and adequate security for all political parties is guaranteed by the police and legitimate security forces;

(b) ending de facto military rule over large parts of the Eastern Province and ensuring that politicians and civil servants of all ethnicities have a major role in planning and decision making; and

(c) guaranteeing full access for UN agencies and humanitarian organisations in the newly cleared areas.

4. Pursue vigorously political reforms that address the legitimate rights and needs of all citizens and ethnic communities in a united and democratic Sri Lanka by:

(a) granting the Eastern Provincial Council, once constituted, all allowable powers under the Thirteenth Amendment, including for police, finance, land and education;

(b) publicly commiting to pursue in the near future more substantial constitutional reforms, including power-sharing at the centre; and

(c) requesting the APRC to publish its proposals for constitutional reforms by the Sinhala and Tamil New Year (mid-April 2008), even if full consensus has not been reached.

To the President:

5. Establish immediately the Constitutional Council and request it to nominate new members to all independent commissions.

To all Political Parties:

6. Monitor closely implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment, work to ensure that maximum powers are granted to the Eastern Provincial Council once it is established after free and fair elections, and press the government to keep constitutional reform high on the agenda.

To the Constituent Parties of the All-Party Representative Committee (APRC):

7. Submit final proposals for constitutional reforms, including power sharing, by mid-April 2008, if necessary with majority and minority reports.

To the United National Party:

8. State publicly willingness to support in parliament reasonable devolution and power-sharing proposals that go beyond the limits of the unitary state, once these are submitted by the APRC.

To the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eeelam (LTTE):

9. Cease all attacks on civilians, suicide bombings, forced recruitment and repression of media freedom and political dissent and respect fully international human rights and humanitarian law.

10. Abandon publicly the demand for an independent Tamil state (Eelam) and announce willingness to negotiate within the framework of a united Sri Lanka.

To the International Community, in particular Japan, Norway, the EU, the U.S., India, Australia, South Korea and Other Asian States, as well as the United Nations:

11. Recognise that the 2002 peace process having now run its course:

(a) the Co-Chairs of the Tokyo Donors Conference (Norway, Japan, the U.S. and the EU) no longer have, as such, a clear peacemaking role; and

(b) there needs to be deepened cooperation between India, the EU and the U.S., with the goal of eventually developing a more politically powerful contact group.

12. Strengthen efforts to convince the government to accept a fully staffed UNHCHR office, able to monitor and report on rights violations throughout the country.

13. Continue support for constitutional power-sharing reform to address legitimate minority grievances, monitor Thirteenth Amendment implementation and urge the APRC to submit its proposals by mid-April 2008.

14. Strengthen efforts to close down the LTTE's global financing and supply networks.

15. Cooperate with UK authorities in gathering evidence for possible prosecution of former TMVP leader Karuna on war crimes and human rights violations charges.

16. Speak out more regularly in defence of UN agencies and international humanitarian organisations and for the safety of all humanitarian workers, Sri Lankan and foreign.

To Donor Governments and International Financial Institutions:

17. Promote respect for the Guiding Principles for Humanitarian and Development Assistance agreed by donors and the Sri Lankan government in 2007 by forming a donor task force to investigate political and conflict dynamics in the Eastern Province and report publicly on the best way to ensure equity, inclusiveness and transparency.

To the United Nations Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict:

18. Recommend that the Security Council impose targeted sanctions on both the Tigers and the TMVP for continued recruitment and use of child soldiers.

Colombo/Brussels, 20 February 2008

Full_Report (pdf* format - 685.3 Kbytes)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

LTTE Feeds on Civilian Blood (2008-Feb-16)

Aid workers and reliable sources reveal a worsening crisis in districts of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, with LTTE terrorists forcing men, women and children in these non-liberated areas to provide blood to the outfit, defence sources said.

With few volunteers responding to its calls for blood, the LTTE is now targeting school children and even adults past their prime to obtain supplies of blood for its fighting cadres. The LTTE's "Thileepan" unit is reportedly involved in this heinous activity. It is even threatening those who do not volunteer for blood donations with severe reprisals.

According to available reports, 40 students in Kilinochchi were dragged to the Anandapuram Technical College on 22nd January, where the LTTE has stationed its blood banks, to draw blood from them.

On 28th January, school children and civilians were dragged away and forced to give blood to the mobile units of LTTE in general area Vaddakachchi, Kilinochchi. People were taken to these LTTE blood banks in tractors of LTTE. Not even elders or children were spared, eye witnesses who were able to flee the areas revealed.

On 5th February, the outfit conducted a similar blood collection campaign in Vishwamadu area where school children were among the majority. Some children were forced to provide half a pint of blood, sources reveal. The LTTE is reportedly ignoring the standard medical practice of not obtaining blood from children below 18 and adults over 60 years.

According to informed sources, the LTTE are using Rural Development Committees in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts to intimidate people for such blood collecting sessions. On 8th February, posters and leaflets were distributed in the non-liberated areas threatening people to participate in the LTTE's blood collection camps.

Monday, February 18, 2008

'We now want only a final solution' - Interview With Mahinda Rajapakse

Mahinda Rajapakse

Mahinda Rajapaksa
President of Sri Lanka

In the past few months, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse seems to have come into his own. His defence forces are notching up successes against the LTTE, he has fended off attempts to have his Government defeated in Parliament and is one step ahead of his rivals by announcing a devolution package for the Tamils. In an exclusive interview in his Temple Trees office in the heart of Colombo, a confident Rajapakse spoke to India Today Managing Editor Raj Chengappa about what he sees as the challenges ahead. Excerpts:

Q. Do you want to get Prabhakaran dead or alive?
A. Alive. For the crimes he has done, he needs to be tried and I would like to send him to India too for he killed a leader who would have changed the face of not just India but the whole region.

Q. Why did you decide finally to end the five-year-old Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) between the Government and the LTTE?
A. When the CFA was introduced in 2002, I was leader of the Opposition and the first one to speak out against it. When I became the President, I said I will try to negotiate with the LTTE, talk to them and achieve peace to settle the issue. But it did not mean that I approved of the CFA. But they went on a killing spree, not only attacking our army commander, the defence secretary, who is my brother, but also began targeting civilians and children. I wanted the killing to stop. They had violated the CFA so often that it had become a farce. So I decided to end it.

Q. What makes you so confident of taking on the LTTE in an all out war now?
A. Either the LTTE accept a political solution by giving up arms and terrorist activities or we will have to curtail their moves. The Government can’t kneel down to terrorists. Since I came to power we have cleared the eastern and western provinces of LTTE control.

Mahinda RajapakseThey are now restricted to just one-and-a-half districts. From top to bottom the Government is committed. There is greater coordination between the Government and the defence forces which helps our cause.

Q. If the LTTE comes back to the negotiating table, will you talk?
A. Yes, only if they give up their weapons. They can’t have their cake and eat it too. Ceasefire will give them time again. We don’t want them to strengthen themselves and attack us. We want a final solution.

Q. If the LTTE doesn’t come around, how long will it take to wipe them out?
A. We would have cleared them out of the remaining areas long ago but we also had to ensure no civilians were killed. I would say, in a year and a half, we might be able to do it.

Q. The LTTE’s counter strategy seems to be to attack civilians.
A. It is a desperate move in the hope that the international community will put pressure on the Government. They can’t achieve anything.

Q. Inflation is running high. Do you think people are willing to pay the price of war?
A. People will understand. A recent survey done by a rival paper did show that they supported me on the development work that I am doing.

Q. So will there be no cut in the defence budget?
A. The money we are spending on defence is not high. It is 3.5 per cent of the GDP. I believe no country can afford to compromise on its defence.

Q. When you took over as President in 2005 you said that you expected India to do a lot. Has India lived up to your expectations?
A. India’s approach has been very positive and encouraging. Our relationship is now probably at the best of levels.

Q. But India is not willing to sell your Government offensive arms to fight the LTTE.
A. We can buy arms from anywhere, but we can’t buy a good friend. And that is what we need. India is a power in this region. It is very strong and can do a lot to develop the neighbouring countries. Not just Sri Lanka, but also others. India is with us and they have showed us their support.

Q. The EU and other countries have alleged human rights violations by your Government during the conduct of war.
A. There are a few allegations in the East. We enquired into all such allegations but no one was even willing to file a complaint to begin action. We have appointed a commission of eminent persons to look into all the allegations but we need a complaint, evidence and witnesses to do justice in such cases. We will take action.

Q. Coming to a political solution, the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) to go into a package to solve Tamil grievances has recommended the implementation of the 13th Amendment of the Constitution done in 1987 that wanted power to be devolved to the provinces. Why should the Tamils accept something that was offered to them 20 years earlier?
A. Why shouldn’t they? It was never implemented because the parties that agreed to it—the LTTE and the then government—fell out soon after that. I believe it is a good way to begin. We should first start something we can implement. I don’t need twothirds majority in Parliament to do it. So it’s a beginning. The APRC can then give me some new proposals and we can consider them too. But I don’t want to waste my time on solutions that are not practical just to satisfy the international community. They may look good on paper but will be burnt in Parliament. There will be riots.

Q. How quickly do you see the package implemented?
A. I have already appointed an Advisory Cabinet Committee. I am waiting for their report. As soon as I get the report, I will implement it.

Q. You had also said that you would give the Tamils more than just the 13th Amendment.
A. I am waiting for the proposals to be given to me by the committee to decide. Meanwhile, let us implement something that had the blessings of all—the then government, the LTTE and all other Tamil parties. Something that Rajiv Gandhi had helped get under the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987. In addition I have already started taking steps to ensure the implementation of the official language policy by promoting the learning and usage of Tamil in administration. I am also recruiting Tamils in the police. Don’t think we are only fighting the terrorists.

Q. Do you have consensus among the Sinhala parties to implement it?
A. How can the UNP oppose this when its own government had passed the 13th Amendment. Only the JVP (Janata Vimukthi Peramuna) is the problem. But let’s not forgot that the JVP has asked for more powers for the provinces and even participated in Provincial Councils.

Q. Why don’t you hold a referendum in the liberated Eastern districts to decide whether they should join the North as envisaged in the Accord?
A. Why should I? If you go now to places like Batticalao you would find they oppose it. I will not have this country divided.

Q. Why not have a federal system like India?
A. Federalism is out—just don’t talk about it. Historically the word is suspect and is linked with separatism. Maximum devolution under a unitary government is the mandate that I have got and I am going to implement that.

Q. Your party doesn’t have a twothirds majority in Parliament. Will you go for elections to implement it?
A. I don’t need two-thirds majority in Parliament for what has been proposed. When the need arises I certainly will.