President Gotabaya Rajapaksa shakes hands with Justice Nawaz after appointing him as the President of the Court of Appeal on January 20, 2021 (pic courtesy PMD)
Geneva proposes asset freezes, travel bans ahead of HR sessions
By Shamindra Ferdinando
An Extraordinary Gazette notification, pertaining to the nomination of Justice Abdul Hameed Dileep Nawaz, as the Chairman of a three-member Commission of Inquiry (CoI), to investigate, inquire into and report, or take required actions, regarding the findings of the former Commissions, or Committees, that investigated human rights violations, serious violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and other such offences, was issued on January 20.
The Extraordinary Gazette notification was issued, close on the heels of a ceremonial sitting of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, to welcome Justice Nawaz, Justice Kumudini Wickramasinghe and Justice Shiran Gooneratne. They were among six new Supreme Court justices, named on Dec 1, 2020, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, enacted two months before. The other new justices are Janaka de Silva, Achala Wengappuli and Mahinda Samayawardhena.
The new Amendment approved with a two-thirds majority, resulted in the expansion of the Supreme Court bench, from 11 to 17, and the Appeal Court bench, from 12 to 20.
Having won the presidency in Nov 2019, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa promoted Nawaz as the President of the Court of Appeal. The appointment made on January 20, 2021, is President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s first high profile judicial selection. The appointment didn’t receive the media attention it really deserves.
With the elevation of Nawaz to the Supreme Court, Justice Arjuna Obeysekere received the appointment as the President of the Court of Appeal. The CoI, chaired by Justice Nawaz, includes one-time IGP Chandra Fernando, the incumbent Chairman of the National Police Commission, and retired District Secretary Nimal Abeysiri.
Nawaz is the first sitting judge and the senior-most judicial officer to have been charge-sheeted by the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC), during his time at the Attorney General’s Department, but cleared by courts during the tenure of the previous regime itself. So many actions, initiated by the CIABOC, judicial decisions and proceedings during the previous yahapalana administration, are under a cloud.
The CoI has been entrusted with the following tasks: (a) Find out whether previous CoIs, and Committees, which have been appointed to investigate into human rights violations, have revealed any human rights violations, serious violations of the international humanitarian law and other such serious offences (b) Identify the findings of the CoIs, and Committees, related to the serious violations of human rights, serious violations of international humanitarian laws and other such offences and whether recommendations have been made on how to deal with the issues at hand (c) The status of the implementation of those recommendations, so far, in terms of the existing law, and what steps need to be taken to implement those recommendations further, in line with the present Government policy and, finally (d) Ascertain whether action is being taken in respect of (b) and (c).
The CoI, headed by Justice Nawaz, is expected to finalize the report, within six months from the date of the appointment.
AG on role of judges
Welcoming the newly appointed Supreme Court Judges on Jan. 20 and Jan 21, Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, declared: “The credibility of a judicial system, in a country, is dependent on the Judges who man it. Judges must be persons of impeccable integrity and unimpeachable independence. A Judge must discharge his/her judicial functions with high integrity, impartially and intellectual honesty. Speaking of Intellectual honesty; the law would be like a ball of clay in the hands of an erudite Judge. Therefore, Judges should be ruthlessly honest, independent, and impartial and possess a judicial conscience to ensure that the ball of clay is moulded, according to the law. For over 2000 years of the island’s long history, the Courts of Law have occupied a unique place in the system of government. Public acceptance of the judiciary, and public confidence in the judiciary, is necessary for the rule of law to prevail in the country. Public confidence in the judiciary is dependent on the independence and integrity of the judiciary.”
The President’s Counsel further said: “The Judges in the exercise of judicial functions should be immune from outside control and influence and intimidation. That independence is also necessary from the other branches of government and from private and partisan interest. Judges should be above suspicion and should not leave even a glimpse for that suspicion to occur.”
Tamil parties seek int’l intervention
The appointment of the three-member CoI under the leadership of a Supreme Court Judge, should be examined against a section of Parliament demanding international intervention, by way of a new Resolution adopted at the forthcoming 46th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), scheduled for Feb-March 2021. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and two Northern Province, based new political parties – Ahila Illankai Tamil Congress (AITC) and Tamil Makkal Thesiya Kutani (TMTK) have written to 47 members of the UNHRC demanding punitive action against Sri Lanka on the basis that the administration quit the Geneva Resolution 30/1, co-sponsored by the previous yahapalana administration.
The three parties are represented in Parliament by 13 members. At the time Sri Lanka co-sponsored the controversial resolution against itself, in Geneva, the TNA had 16 lawmakers, including two appointed members, with its leader, R. Sampanthan, enjoying the privileged status as the Opposition Leader, though, ironically, the breakaway Joint Opposition (JO) commanded the confidence of well over 50 lawmakers. So that was how democracy was practiced then!
With the obvious blessings of Western powers, the Tamil parties, in a letter to UNHRC members, requested (a) Member States urge, in the new resolution, that other organs of the United Nations, including the UN Security Council, and the UN General Assembly, take up the matter and take suitable action by reference to the International Criminal Court and any other appropriate and effective international accountability mechanisms to inquire into the crime of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity (b) The President of the UNHRC refers matters on accountability, in Sri Lanka, back to the UN Secretary General, for action, as stated above (c) Member States to mandate the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to continue to monitor Sri Lanka for ongoing violations and have an OHCHR field presence in the country and (d) Without detracting from that which has been stated in Point 1 (above), take steps to establish an evidence-gathering mechanism, similar to the International Independent Investigatory Mechanism (IIIM,) in relation to Syria, established as a subsidiary body of the UN General Assembly, with a strict time frame of 12 months duration.
The TNA-led political grouping, backed by a section of the civil society that also supported a hybrid war crimes investigating mechanism, are backing the latest initiative against Sri Lanka.
The Ontario Centre for Policy Research, Canada and London Initiative, the United Kingdom have, however rebutted anti-Sri Lanka allegations with a timely comprehensive report recently to the UNHRC, especially in response to the growing threat of a new resolution. The lead Researcher and the Chairman of the Committee that prepared the report, Dr. Neville Hewage, and the UK-based practicing lawyer, Jayaraj Palihawadana, should receive public appreciation for countering the Western strategy. Let the public know of such initiatives and exert pressure on political parties to take up the Geneva challenge, together with the government.
Unfortunately, Sri Lanka’s defence in Geneva is likely to suffer in the absence of coordinated action and the failure on the part of those responsible to get their act together to attack the foundation of lies concocted by interested parties, hell-bent on hauling Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes court. With the UNP’s humiliating rejection by the masses, at the last general election, in August 2020, the TNA-led grouping, in spite of differences as regards political strategy, both in and outside Parliament, is confident of its new game plan.
The Swiss plot
The Tamil grouping believes the return of the Rajapaksas is advantageous to their strategy. Sri Lanka would have been in bigger trouble if the Swiss project, meant to ruin Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s presidency, succeeded in Nov 2019. If not for war-time Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s refusal to allow Switzerland to evacuate Embassy worker Garnier Francis, who claimed that she had been sexually abused by government agents inside a vehicle close to the Swiss Embassy, within days after him being elected the President. Had that diabolical plot clicked with her being evacuated to Switzerland, in a special air ambulance, that had been brought down as part of the plot, the country would have been under heavy pressure now. Thanks to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa taking a tough stand on the matter, the Swiss plot went awry, much to the disappointment of those seeking to undermine the new administration. Investigations exposed those responsible for the diabolical propaganda offensive that had to be inquired into, taking into consideration unsubstantiated allegations directed at the SLPP presidential candidate, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, at a media conference, organized by the then yahapalana minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne.
The CoI, headed by Justice Nawaz, will have to examine the overall campaign against Sri Lanka, without restricting its investigation in terms of the mandate received. It would be pertinent to mention Sri Lanka paid a huge price for not properly countering lies propagated by interested parties’ hell-bent on hauling Sri Lanka before hybrid war crimes investigating mechanism. In the wake of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s emergence as the President, with an overwhelming victory, over his nearest opponent, the same lot wanted Sri Lanka investigated by the international community.
Sri Lanka has pathetically failed to comprehend the threat, hence the absence of proper defence, in spite of some elected members of Parliament working against the country. The government’s failure has allowed the TNA, that had no qualms in recognizing the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people in late 2001, and having being the mouthpiece of the world’s most ruthless terrorist organisation, to pursue a high profile strategy, detrimental to the country, while enjoying perks and privileges as a recognized political party.
The TNA-led campaign is part of an overall project meant to overwhelm Sri Lanka. The Swiss operation, if succeeded, could have impaired the Office of the President.
A wider examination of facts needed
Let us hope that the Justice Nawaz-led committee would examine all factors, pertaining to the accountability issue, though its primary objective seems simple. Their responsibility in terms of the statement issued by the President’s Office, is to examine the previous CoI and Committees and the implementation of their recommendations. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) chaired by the late Attorney General C.R. de Silva, examined the conflict. The LLRC was appointed in response to a study undertaken by UN Secy. General’s so-called Panel of Experts (PoE). The PoE report, released in March 2011, is the basis for all subsequent measures taken by the UN though Sri Lanka simply ignored the threat. In addition to the LLRC, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Complaints of Abductions and Disappearances (the report on the Second Mandate of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Complaints of Abductions and Disappearances) examined the conflict. However, Sri Lanka cannot turn a blind eye to the PoE report, and related reports, as they remained the very basis of the Geneva initiatives, though the incumbent government quit the 30/1 resolution. Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena made the announcement on Feb 26, 2020 at the 43rd UNHRC sessions.
The government certainly owed an explanation why the appointment of the CoI to examine previous CoIs and Committees, was delayed till January 20, 2021. The continuing crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic shouldn’t be faulted for the government’s failure. For some strange reason, Sri Lanka continues to delay using Lord Naseby’s revelations, based on wartime British High Commission dispatches from Colombo (January-May 2009) as well as revelations made by Wikileaks to counter UN lies. Lord Naseby, in an interview with the writer in Sept 2019, regretted Sri Lanka’s failure to exploit his disclosure, made in Oct 2017. The senior Conservative politician said that he was quite disappointed and surprised by Sri Lanka’s response to information provided by him. The British diplomatic cables obtained by Lord Naseby, following a legal wrangle with his government disputed the PoE’s primary allegation. The information provided by Lord Naseby, when examined together with wartime US Defence attaché Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith’s explosive statement in 2011 (read US official’s defence of Sri Lankan military), exposed the UN lie.
The primary allegation in PoE on Sri Lanka alleged that at least 40,000 civilians perished on the Vanni east front. In terms of the UN dictates, the accusations made against Sri Lanka by mystery accusers cannot be verified till 2031 due to a strange confidentiality clause. Where in the world do you get a system of justice where one is precluded from facing one’s accusers for 30 years, let alone challenge their specific allegations? Meanwhile, Sri Lanka is regularly bashed by interested parties on the basis of unverified accusations. Wouldn’t it have been better if Sri Lanka made reference to this most unusual confidentiality clause that effectively prevented examination of allegations? Perhaps, Sri Lanka will take it up at least now, well over a decade after the PoE report, and seven years after the country ended up in the Geneva agenda.
Having faulted the Sri Lanka Army, on three major counts, the PoE (Panel of Experts) accused Sri Lanka of massacring at least 40,000 civilians. Let me reproduce the paragraph, bearing no 137, verbatim: “In the limited surveys that have been carried out in the aftermath of the conflict, the percentage of people reporting dead relatives is high. A number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths. Two years after the end of the war, there is no reliable figure for civilian deaths, but multiple sources of information indicate that a range of up to 40,000 civilian deaths cannot be ruled out at this stage. Only a proper investigation can lead to the identification of all of the victims and to the formulation of an accurate figure for the total number of civilian deaths.“
Key issues that needed CoI attention
In the absence of a cohesive strategy to counter UN lies, vested interests, both here and abroad, propagated canards against the country to varying degrees. Let me mention issues that had to be examined in the overall defence strategy: (1) Dismissal of war crimes accusations by Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith in Colombo. The then US official did so at the May-June 2011 first post-war defence seminar in Colombo, two months after the release of the PoE report. The State Department disputed the official’s right to represent the US at the forum though it refrained from challenging the statement. (2) Examine the US statement along with Lord Naseby’s Oct 2017 disclosure, based on the then British Defence advisor Lt. Colonel Anthony Gash’s cables to London during the war. (3) Wikileaks revelations that dealt with the Sri Lanka war. A high profile Norwegian study on its role in the Sri Lanka conflict examined some cables. However, the Norwegian process never strengthened Sri Lanka’s defence. Instead Norway merely sought to disown its culpability in the events leading to the annihilation of the LTTE. One of the most important Wikileaks revelations cleared Sri Lanka of deliberately targeting civilians. The cable proved that our ground forces took heavy losses by taking the civilian factor into consideration. (4) Wide discrepancies in loss of civilian lives, claimed by UN, and various other interested parties. The UN estimated the figure at 40,000 (March 2011) whereas Amnesty International (Sept 2011) placed the number at 10,000 and a member of the UK Parliament (Sept 2011) estimated the death toll at 100,000. (5) Disgraceful attempt made by Geneva to exploit the so called Mannar mass graves during the yahapalana administration. The Foreign Ministry remained silent on the Mannar graves while Western diplomats played politics, only to be proved utterly wrong. Geneva faulted Sri Lanka before the conclusion of the investigation.
The then Northern Province Chief Minister Wigneswaran rejected scientific findings of Beta Analytic Institute of Florida, USA, in respect of samples of skeletal remains sent from the Mannar mass grave site. Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet went to the extent of commenting on the Mannar mass grave in her report that dealt with the period from Oct 2015 to January 2019.
Had the US lab issued a report to suit their strategy, would they have accepted fresh tests in case the government of Sri Lanka requested? The following is the relevant section bearing No 23 from Bachelet’s report: “On May 29, 2018, human skeletal remains were discovered at a construction site in Mannar (Northern Province), Excavations conducted in support of the Office on Missing Persons, revealed a mass grave from which more than 300 skeletons were discovered. It was the second mass grave found in Mannar following the discovery of a site in 2014. Given that other mass graves might be expected to be found in the future, systematic access to grave sites by the Office, as an observer, is crucial for it to fully discharge its mandate, particularly with regard to the investigation and identification of remains, it is imperative that the proposed reforms on the law relating to inquests, and relevant protocols to operationalize the law be adopted. The capacity of the forensic sector must also be strengthened, including in areas of forensic anthropology, forensic archaeology and genetics, and its coordination with the Office of Missing Persons must be ensured.” (6) Wigneswaran in his capacity as the then Northern Province Chief Minister in August 2016 accused the Army of killing over 100 LTTE cadres held in rehabilitation facilities. Wigneswaran, now an MP and leader of TMTK, claimed the detainees had been given poisonous injections resulting in deaths of 104 persons. The unprecedented accusation made by the retired Supreme Court Judge had been timed to attract international attention. Wigneswaran is on record as having said that a US medical team visiting Jaffna, at that time, would examine the former rehabilitated LTTE cadres, who he alleged had fallen sick because they were injected with poisonous substances at government detention or rehabilitation centres.
Sri Lanka paid a very heavy price for its pathetic failure to counter a web of lies fashioned by interested parties, both local and foreign, and well-funded by the West, to coerce the country to adopt a new Constitution to suit the separatist agenda. Had they succeeded, Sri Lanka’s unitary status could have been done away through constitutional means against the backdrop of eradication of the LTTE’s conventional power.
Post-war national reconciliation: Diaspora sets prerequisites
Indian Premier Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for the construction of the Jaffna Cultural Centre, in March 2015, two months after the change of government in Sri Lanka, in the wake of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s shock defeat at the presidential election. Retired Supreme Court Justice C.V. Wigneswaran served as the Chief Minister of the Northern Province at the time. Since then he deserted the Tamil Alliance (TNA) and formed his own party Tamil Makkal Thesya Kootani. Narendra Modi is the first Indian Prime Minister and only the second foreign leader, after British Prime Minister David Cameron, to visit Jaffna since the conclusion of the war. It was the first official visit by an Indian Premier, since July 1987, when Rajiv Gandhi flew in to sign the disastrous Indo-Lanka peace accord foisted on hapless Sri Lanka.
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) wants the Sri Lanka government to hand over the Jaffna Cultural Centre, built by the Indian government, to the Jaffna Municipality.
Danton Thurairajah, Executive Director, CTC, in a letter dated Nov. 01, 2022, requested that the Jaffna Cultural Centre, the tallest building in the Jaffna town, situated next to the Jaffna Public Library, be brought under the Jaffna Municipal Council (JMC). It was the sixth out of the 10 requests made by Thurairajah.
Panchalingam Kandiah, on behalf of the CTC, handed over the letter to Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, at his Ministry, on Nov. 16.
The following is the text of the letter released by the Justice Ministry:
We thank you for de-listing some of the Tamil Diaspora organisations, including the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC). We feel this is a first step towards achieving improved ethnic relations and economic outcomes in Sri Lanka. While this is a step in the right direction, by the Government of Sri Lanka, we think that additional and meaningful actions are critical in continuing to build bridges with the Diaspora and help the island nation prosper.
Immediately after the de-listing by the Sri Lankan government, and given the current urgent need, CTC, as a responsible organisation, announced that it would provide critical life-saving medications to six hospitals in the Northern, Eastern, Central and Western Provinces of Sri Lanka.
However, we strongly feel that the Sri Lankan government has not taken any meaningful actions which are long overdue.
These include, but are not limited to: Immediate steps in the short term:
1) Release all political prisoners
2) Repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA)
3) Release all private lands, occupied by the Sri Lankan military, and cease all illegal land grabs in the Northern and Eastern provinces
4) Allow Tamils to mourn and remember the dead, free of intimidation by Sri Lankan state authorities.
5) Support economic growth in the north, and foreign investment, by reopening the Palaly International Airport
6) Hand over the Jaffna Cultural Centre, funded by the Indian government, to the Jaffna Municipality
7) Comply with the UNHRC resolution 46/1 of 2021
8) Fully implement the 13th Amendment and immediately hold the provincial council elections
9) Reform the security sector, especially in Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka, to the same levels as the rest of the country and stop all business initiatives in the Northern and Eastern provinces operated by the Sri Lanka military which makes it difficult for local farmers and businesses to compete (Farms, Hotels, and Bakeries, etc.)
10) Open the KKS and Mannar ferry services to India.
The CTC urges the Sri Lankan government to take some firm steps to help build trust and create a conducive environment for reconciliation. The work on a permanent long-term solution, acceptable to all Sri Lankan communities, is vital for the collective growth of the island.
The Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government delisted six Tamil diaspora organisations, including the CTC, and 316 individuals. The following organisations were delisted:
1) Australian Tamil Congress (ATC)
2) Global Tamil Forum (GTF)
3) World Tamil Coordinating Committee (WTCC)
4) Tamil Eelam People’s Assembly (TEPA)
5) Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC)
6) British Tamil Forum (BTF)
The delisting was announced through an amendment to the List of Designated Persons under Regulation 4(7) of the United Nations Regulations No. 1 of 2012. The ban was imposed in 2014 by the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who also held the defence portfolio. The ban covered 15 Diaspora groups. Rajapaksa now serves the incumbent government.
Mahinda Rajapaksa’s successor, Maithripala Sirisena, lifted the ban in 2015 to pave the way for talks with them. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa re-imposed the ban in 2021.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) issued a statement appreciating the decision. The TNA pointed out: “However, it must be noted that even others who remain on the list have been so named without any evidence, connecting them to terrorism, and by not following the prescribed procedure. We urge the government to at least continue this process of re-evaluating and de-proscribing all.”
Indian External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, and the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, virtually inaugurated the Jaffna Cultural Centre, on March 28, this year, three days before public anger exploded at Pangiriwatte, Mirihana, most probably a well-planned instigation rather than a spontaneous eruption that triggered a series of violent incidents, leading to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ouster. It was like the well-orchestrated attacks and torching of residences of then government politicians, across the country, on May 09, followed by more mindless violence on July 09.
The Jaffna Cultural Centre, built at a cost of USD 11 mn, on an Indian grant, with 11 floors and facilities, including an auditorium that can accommodate 600 persons, a conference hall, an amphitheater and a digital library, was completed in January 2020. Having signed the agreement for the facility, in 2014, construction took place during the Yahapalana administration, and the work completed close on the heels of the Nov. 2019 presidential election.
In terms of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by India and Sri Lanka in 2014, New Delhi was expected to hand over the facility to the government, which in turn would have handed it over to the Jaffna Municipal Council. Amidst concerns that JMC lacked the wherewithal to maintain the facility, New Delhi has offered to provide the required funds for a period of five years.
There are growing concerns that the building has been used only once,after the virtual opening in March.
The Jaffna-based Indian Consulate celebrated India’s 75th Independence Day, on August 15. Several hundred invitees were treated to Nadaswaram performance by Maestro Banu and group, a Bharatanatyam performance by the Natya KalaKendra institute Barathanatiyam group, and folk dance performance by the Kumara Narththanaalayam group. Earlier in the day, Consul General Raakesh Natraj and Jaffna Security Forces Commander Major General W.M.G.C.S.B. Wijayasundara paid respects at the IPKF Memorial in Palaly by laying a wreath, an annual event and a grim reminder of Indian intervention here and the heavy price it paid for the folly of heavy-handed interference in the affairs of a neighbouring country, in which powerful Western countries, too, were very much involved, but through covert subtle means, in instigating the turmoil here, from the early ’80s, most probably with the wish to break up India for being close to the former Soviet Union. The West then obviously wanted to fan separatist flames right across India by not only giving succor to Eelamists, but to others like separatists in Punjab, Assam, etc. New Delhi should be doubly wary of possible new plots for not blindly towing the Western line in Ukraine.
The CTC’s prerequisites for post-war national reconciliation underscored their refusal at least to repent the war waged by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) until terrorism was finally eradicated. If not for Sri Lanka’s successful campaign against terrorism, that brought the war to an end in May 2009, 15 years after the capture of Jaffna town, the Jaffna Cultural Centre would never have been a reality.
It would be pertinent to ask Justice Minister Rajapakshe, who received the CTC’s letter on behalf of the government, whether the government could accept those prerequisites. The CTC played a significant role in the overall campaign that led to the Canadian declaration of May 18 as Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day.
The CTC’s message this year stressed that (1) Not a single case on wartime atrocity allegations has been resolved in a court of law (2) Not a single Tamil victim of enforced disappearance has been found alive or the circumstances of their disappearance revealed to date and (3) Not even a single person was held accountable.
As usual, the CTC, like other Diaspora groups, and the TNA, conveniently forgot why Sri Lanka had no other option than to eradicate Tamil terrorism at any cost. The Tamil Diaspora should at least now prepare a list of dead and the disappeared, since 1983. (1) the number of people killed as a result of fighting among Tamil terrorist groups, trained by India (2) the number of people killed due to fighting within a particular terrorist group (3) members of rival groups killed by the LTTE (4) LTTE cadres killed by rival groups (5) killings within the LTTE (6) Tamil terrorists who fled their respective organisations and sought asylum in the West and those who went underground in India (7) Tamil civilians killed during the Indian Army operations (8) LTTE cadres killed in clashes with the Indian Army (9) PLOTE cadres killed in abortive bid to assassinate Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in Nov. 1988 (10) LTTE operatives killed by Indian security agencies after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991 (11) Tamil civilians killed during military operations, particularly the last phase of the assault on LTTE human shields in 2009 and finally (12) how many Tamils received foreign passports during the war and since the conclusion of the war.
Where was the CTC when the LTTE forced the entire Vanni population to withdraw across the Jaffna-Kandy A9 road towards the Mullaithivu district where the group brazenly used them as human shields to deter the advancing Army? The CTC, like its counterparts in other countries, remained confident of the LTTE’s superior fighting skills to defeat the Army on the Vanni east front. They started protests in the Western capitals, in 2009, after the then Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s Army inflicted devastating battlefield losses on the LTTE and forced conventional fighting units to retreat towards the Mullaithivu coast.
Perhaps, the Diaspora should be reminded that the Tamil community voted overwhelmingly for Fonseka at the January 2010 presidential election, at the behest of the TNA after accusing him and his army of committing war crimes. Fonseka comfortably won all predominantly Tamil speaking northern and eastern districts, though Mahinda Rajapaksa routed the war-winning Army Commander in the South.
The Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) never acknowledged Sri Lanka bringing an end to forcible conscription of children for the war. The LTTE deployed children as fighting depleted its units over the years and UN efforts to discourage conscription of teenagers in the late ’90s failed. Hope those who shed crocodile tears for war victims at least appreciate lives saved by the eradication of the LTTE.
The Army paid a huge price for trying to minimize loss of civilian lives. If not for U.S. soldier Bradley Manning, who was sentenced in August 2013 to 35 years in a military prison for turning over more than 700,000 classified files to Wikileaks in the biggest breach of secret data in the US history, Sri Lanka wouldn’t have known what was happening behind the scenes. There was a spate of cables that dealt with the situation here. But one of the most valuable cables from our point of view originated from Geneva.
The cable, dated July 15, 2009, signed by the then Geneva-based US Ambassador Clint Williamson cleared the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) of crimes against humanity during the Vanni offensive. The cable, addressed to the US State Department, was based on a confidential conversation Ambassador Williamson had with the then ICRC head of operations for South Asia, Jacque de Maio, on July 9, 2009, and several weeks after the war was brought to a successful end, that hardly anyone expected, with the annihilation of the LTTE in the battlefield.
Ambassador Williamson wrote: “The army was determined not to let the LTTE escape from its shrinking territory, even though this meant the civilians being kept hostage by the LTTE were at an increasing risk.
So, de Maio said, while one could safely say that there were ‘serious, widespread violations of international humanitarian law,’ by the Sri Lankan forces, it didn’t amount to genocide. He could cite examples of where the Army had stopped shelling when the ICRC informed them it was killing civilians.
In fact, the Army actually could have won the war faster with higher civilian casualties, yet chose a slower approach which led to a greater number of Sri Lankan military deaths. He concluded however, by asserting that the GoSL failed to recognize its obligation to protect civilians, despite the approach leading to higher military casualties.”
The government should respond to CTC’s demands, as issues raised by other Diaspora groups are essentially the same though the writer hasn’t previously come across any group demanding that the Jaffna Cultural Centre be brought under the Jaffna Municipal Council. Their first demand for the release of political prisoners is silly. Minister Rajapakse has repeatedly denied that there were political prisoners and explained both here and abroad the circumstances in which they were held.
War as a way-of-Life
Brecht’s Mother Courage and her Children:
by Laleen Jayamanne
“Like the war to nourish you?
Have to feed it something too.”
Chaplin on Seeing Brecht’s Galileo
Charlie Chaplin had dinner with Brecht’s long-term musical collaborator Hans Eisler, after the premier of The Life of Galileo in 1947 in LA. The play was very well attended by leading artistes and intellectuals, some of whom worked for Hollywood at the time. It included German Jewish and gentile refugees from fascist Europe. Over dinner, Chaplin told Eisler that he would have liked a bit more ‘drama’ and that Brecht could have ‘mounted’ it differently. Eisler (who was familiar with Brecht’s radical work in Weimar Germany in the 20s), explained to him that Brecht never wanted to ‘mount’ things. American theatre critics from Variety and New York Times also complained that the production was ‘too flat and colourless.’ They thought the play was not theatrical enough, not ‘dramatic.’ In this piece, I will discuss the formal features of Brecht’s epic theatre (use of narration, scene construction, dialogue and acting), which Brecht thought was a form more suited to a scientific age of reason than the more emotional form of traditional dramatic theatre.
Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children; A Chronicle of the Thirty Year War, is a parable relevant to our moment of world history as well. It’s based on a character called ‘Courage, an Adventuress,’ in the 17th Century picaresque novel, Simplicissimus by Hans von Grimmelhausen. In Lanka it was first produced in English, in the 60s by Ernest MacIntyre, and, soon after in Sinhala as, Diriya Athi Mawa. Written in exile in 1939, the year Hitler invaded Poland, triggering the second World War, it was about another devastating war in Europe, the Thirty-Year Religious Wars (1618-1648), between the Catholics and the Protestants. Now we have yet another European war, between Ukraine and Russia, with no end in sight, which has already begun to affect global trade in essentials and much else. The flow of refugees and the scale of non-stop destruction of Ukraine by Russia is now broadcast daily on our TV screens creating a new ‘cold-war.’ The polarising American slogan for this war is ‘Democracy versus Autocracy.’ There is even talk of limited nuclear strikes but hardly any diplomatic solutions. Lanka also has had her own experience of a 30-year civil war whose wounds have not all healed because they remain unacknowledged.
Brecht’s 1949 production of the play in East Belin (with the nucleus which became the Berliner Ensemble in East Germany), within the Soviet Union, is celebrated in theatre history not only for the written play itself but also for the singular Epic staging and Epic acting of Helene Weigel as Mother Courage. She was an Austrian-Jewish actress and Brecht’s wife and also, according to him, a rare ‘epic actor.’ More of that later. The 1957 Berliner Ensemble production of it (after Brecht died in ‘56), again with Helene Weigel as Mother Courage, is on YouTube, now with English subtitles, an extraordinary chance for Lankan theatre folk to study her celebrated performance. It’s nearly four hours long and worth watching for people serious about studying, Epic Theatre, acting and staging.
The main set in the play is Mother Courage’s large wagon on wheels, ‘a cross between a military vehicle and a General Store’ servicing the different armies fighting in the Thirty-Year War, which decimated the population of Germany, destroying villages, towns and livestock. She follows the armies as they are her main source of income, she feeds on the war, so she needs it. It makes good business sense to her. Brecht hammers this point repeatedly. In the opening scene, the cart rolls on to the stage, drawn by her two sons, Eilif and Swiss-Cheese, because their horse has died. A revolving stage floor adds to the sense of dynamic curving movement of the large heavy wagon as it creeks and groans on to the stage with Mother Courage lounging on it, singing with her mute daughter seated beside her playing a Jewish harp. The rhythm of the song, the marching gait of the sons pulling the wagon, is robust, light-hearted even, despite the war. War for them is certainly a way of life, quite normalised.
Theatre for a New Scientific Age
In this piece, I want to build on the ideas developed in my three previous pieces on Brecht for The Island in two ways. First, by exploring Brecht’s idea of an ‘epic’ rather than a ‘dramatic’ structure, in his episodic scene construction and narration. Second, Brecht’s famously difficult idea of ‘epic acting’ will be explored by focusing on Helena Weigel’s celebrated performance as Mother Courage; she did not seek a response of empathy (identification and sympathy), from the audience. Instead, she performed in a manner that made her appear astonishing, strange though she was always believable as an efficient, robust petit-bourgeoise trader. Brecht’s carefully thought-out reasons for developing this mode of theatre will also be discussed.
Given that the European war lasted 30 years, Brecht presents its long duration by focusing on specific years without following a chronological progression. He calls the play a ‘chronicle of the thirty year war,’ so it jumps from 1626 to ‘29 for example, and ends the play in the middle of the war more than 10 years before it actually ceased. In this way, he is able to create a large number of episodic scenes whose duration varies wildly. Some even where the curtain opens and closes within minutes! So, he frees himself from chronological, causal, historical narration, and is able to build a freer sense of the relationship between one scene and another. This way, he can abstract events and produce his own views of that war without being tied to chronological history. This juxtaposition of scenes is what Brecht calls montage, using a film editing terminology. This freedom derived from its episodic structure is vital for the spectator who is invited to make the connections by learning to think in the theatre and not only just to feel with the characters. Mother Courage herself does not invite identification. she is neither heroic nor pathetic. She is dogged, living at all cost, unwittingly even at the expense of her three children. She is called ‘courage’ not because she is heroic, but because once she followed the army into dangerous territory because she had to sell a large stock of bread before it turned mouldy. Her business is with the army, regardless of which side it is, as long as she can sell her goods. Profit is the motif.
Brecht’s theatrical theory is superbly edited in Brecht on Theatre by John Willet and is highly readable, enjoyable and useful for understanding 20th Century radical European political epic theatre. Brecht provided the following model, laying out the ‘changes of emphasis as between dramatic and epic theatre.’ They are not opposites but it’s a matter of what needs to be emphasised to create a rational spectator who can evaluate what’s being presented without being emotionally swayed. This does not mean there is no feeling in the play. But rather, that reason and understanding are emphasised, paramount. (See table)
Brecht thought very highly of Charles Laughton’s performance of Galileo Galilei. He has written admiringly of Laughton’s work ethic and the way he understood the aesthetic of the play and performed the role in an ‘epic’, rather than in a purely ‘dramatic,’ that is to say, emotional, empathetic manner. This new element is probably what Chaplin and the American theatre critics didn’t appreciate. Joseph Losey, who directed the play with close input from Brecht, had plans to make a film of it, but because of the communist scare Laughton had backed out. Losey did make the film much later, but with the dramatic actor Topol, who played the lead role in the musical Fidler on the Roof. For students of theatre, it would be very instructive to study his highly emotional film version of presenting Galileo (which is on YouTube), and then read Brecht’s ideas on a cooler, more ‘distanced’ mode of performance which he says Laughton provided, which he named ‘epic acting’.
Helena Weigel as Epic Actress
Similarly, here’s Brecht describing Weigel as a rare, exemplary epic actress in her role as Jocasta’s maid in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex.
“… she announced the death of her mistress by calling out her ‘dead, dead, Jocasta has died,’ without any sorrow but so firmly and definitely that the bare facts of her mistress’s death carried more weight at that precise moment than could have been generated by any grief of her own. She did not abandon her voice to horror, but perhaps her face, for she used white make-up to show the impact which a death makes on all who are present at it.”
He says that Weigel as Jocasta’s maid didn’t mix up her own emotions and try to make the spectator ‘punch drunk with feeling.’ But rather, her cold delivery left room for the spectator to understand the magnitude of the action of suicide, as a moral decision. The suicide of the queen Mother (who had unwittingly committed incest with her own son, Oedipus, after she had unknowingly married him), was not made into an occasion for new sensations.
Brecht again on what epic acting should be:
“Witty. Ceremonious. Ritual. Spectator and actor ought not to approach one another but to move apart. Each ought to move away from himself. Otherwise, the element of terror necessary to all recognition is lacking.”
Mother Courage’s Silent Scream
In theatre studies, Helena Weigel’s ‘silent scream’ is legendary, a part of her epic performance. As she lives off of the war, she considers peace bad for her business. And in the play when someone exclaims, ‘peace has broken out!’ Mother Courage is upset because she had just stocked up on new supplies and says it will now go to waste. This is epic dialogue, it makes one pause.
When Mother Courage realises that her son’s death (off-stage), is imminent she stands up saying:” I think I bargained for too long,’ and slowly sits down on a stool. Her body is tense. And as she hears the volley of bullets executing her son, her body shudders, arching back as though she was shot, her mouth opening wide into a snarl, letting out a silent scream. The gesture is so fleeting that we can miss it. But this silent cry carries huge weight. We still hear its reverberations. But it doesn’t make us empathise with Mother Courage, rather, we see her in all her animal drive to survive at all cost. But at that very moment when like an animal she instinctively bares her teeth to scream, she stifles the cry as only a human animal could. The silent-scream is a complex epic gesture. It encodes her contradictory life of sustaining her family by living off of war.
Because of her wheeling and dealing and haggling after a good bargain, each of her children dies. Brecht shows clearly the link between her decision to carry out a business deal and the loss of each of her children. When she is shown Swiss Cheese’s corpse, she is not able to even acknowledge that it is her son, as doing so would compromise her and Katrina. So, his body is thrown into a mass grave and Mother Courage turns her face away from us as the curtain falls in silence.
It is not that we don’t feel any emotion but rather we also feel the moment in all its inarticulate horror; we observe the phenomenon of this woman, her instinctual drive to survive at all cost. Once all her children are dead, she straps herself on to the wagon and slowly hunching down like a very old woman, drags it along alone, doggedly following the army as she has always done. She doesn’t learn anything, but it’s we who do. It’s not that we don’t feel, we do feel an immense sense of desolation for this myopic and hugely energetic woman who still lives off of the war, the end of which is a generation away. Meanwhile, Germany is laid waste. In 1939, Brecht looked back at history to understand the emerging catastrophe in Europe. He directed the play in East Berlin in ’49, where the rubble of WW2 was not all cleared. This play feels so current now for Europe deeply enmeshed in an unwinnable, seemingly endless war which has global repercussions.
Brecht was against tragedy which he called Aristotelian drama with its famous tragic heroes and their profound ethical epiphanies when facing cruel Destiny. Instead, he formulated his theory of modern epic theatre for a scientific age of reason, so that an audience would learn to observe characters as epic constructs and historical events in microcosm, and learn from them. He wanted the audience to understand the world through the way in which epic characters interacted in episodic scenes. He used either a chorus or projected intertitles to create an epic narration to narrate complex historical forces which simply couldn’t be dramatized by individual characters alone. Within such a rich epic structure the spectator learns in a relaxed way, how to balance emotions with understanding. The emotion that Brecht was especially suspicious of in theatre was empathy, which is an Aristotelian value. Brecht believed that by emotionally identifying with characters in an empathetic manner we lose our capacity to evaluate their behaviour. What he wanted was a process he called ‘distanciation,’ so that we don’t simply cry and say, ‘Aiyo, ane- Amme!’ and go home wiping a tear or two. He wanted a theatre fit for the modern scientific age, providing spectators with a greater understanding of political forces at play in normalising war within capitalism. Religion is the ritualised camouflage for gaining territorial political power, in the play.
So, soon after Mother Courage lets out her silent scream the stage is blacked-out for about eight seconds. When it opens for the next episode in full bright light, Mother Courage is still seated on the stool but there is no carry-over from the previous episode. As a cunning business woman, she is facing another moment of survival with quick-wittedness mixed with acute pain. Weigel’s Mother Courage is not played as a sentimental maternal figure or the ‘eternal sorrowful mother.’ She is not part of ‘the little people’ helplessly caught in the cross-fire, say like the poor peasants who appear in the play. But rather, she actively feeds off of the war as a petite bourgeois trader. This class-analysis is important for Brecht, who read Marx as a young student and continued his research into the history of capitalism and socialist politics as a playwright.
Joe Abyewickrama; A Lankan Epic Actor?
Prasanna Withanage in his Purhanda Kaluwara (Darkness at Fullmoon), brilliantly created the character of Wannihamy, as the blind father of a dead soldier. Joe Abyewickrama played this role in an epic mode. He didn’t cry out when his son’s sealed-coffin was brought home to his hut unlike his daughter. He was stoic like Mother Courage when her son’s body was brought in for her to identify. Wannihami, in his unique situation simply listened carefully to all the sounds and through his quality of attention, we too were given a glimpse of the terrible cost of the civil war on an impoverished Sinhala family and much more. Joe didn’t play for empathy, his restraint, enhanced by his blindness (a form of Brechtian distanciation), showed us and taught us in an unusual way about the terror of the civil war and of state terror, which Sinhala folk are belatedly experiencing now, not for the first time of course, in the South also. The sealed coffin, solemnly draped in the Lion flag, did not hold the corpse of the ‘Rana-viru’ or ‘tragic-hero’ son, but a banana trunk. The hero’s coffin, too big for the little hut, provides food for thought.
Similarly, Brecht’s play continues to nourish our thinking as we experience unending wars and State terror. Brecht and Weigel and Joe offer Lankan playwrights and filmmakers very rich resources to learn from, to make theatre and film that speaks to Lanka’s complex history and contemporary ongoing struggles, so that we might learn and understand in an enjoyable way. Brecht (always full of surprises) says theatre must be entertaining and should be performed in a relaxed manner. Go figure! Look at the many photographs and the ’57 production itself by the Berliner Ensemble now online.
The Legacy of the Missing
By Lynn Ockersz
Whether they were spirited away,
In the arid stillness of the night,
In the city’s fear-frozen by-ways,
By ghoulish figures in vans,
Or brought down in battle,
By nerve-grating, lethal weapons,
That erased villages from maps,
And swelled ‘Missing in Action’ lists,
Promising lives, from wherever they hail,
Have, thus, been made to disappear,
Leaving behind a string of questions,
Begging in vain for answers,
Along with a grieving community….
Mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters,
Whose sobs may be heard but dismissed,
In the besieged fortresses of power,
But there’s none other imprisoning weight,
Than the accusing conscience of a criminal.
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