by Vijaya Chandrasoma
February was recognized as the month to celebrate the history and achievements of the African American people in America by President Gerald Ford in 1976. He called upon Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected achievements of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history”.
Canada also honors Black History Month in February. Other nations, like the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Ireland observe Black History Month in October, as a means of memorializing the trials, tribulations and achievements in the tragic history of the African Diaspora.
The precursor to Black History Month in America was the Negro History Week, established in 1926 during the second week of February by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, founded by Carter G. Woodson, African American historian, writer and journalist. Woodson chose the second week of February to honor Negro History Week, to celebrate the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and of Frederick Douglass, reformer, abolitionist and statesman, and one of the most remarkable African Americans in history, on February 14. These dates had already been honored separately by African American communities since the 19th century.
Lincoln, of course, is honored by Black Americans for his pivotal role in the Emancipation Proclamation. Douglass, an escaped, self-educated slave, became a national leader of the Abolitionist Movement, a statesman famous for his brilliant anti-slavery writings and soaring oratory.
The choice to continue with the use of February to observe and honor Black History by Gerald Ford was based on these earlier decisions of the February birthdays of Lincoln and Douglass. Ironically, African Americans were once again given the short end of the stick by getting the shortest month of the year to celebrate their achievements.
The primary reason for Woodson to establish a week to memorialize and honor the Black American experience was to encourage the teaching of their history in American public schools. At that time, subjects like the history of slavery, evolution and the genocide of an entire race of Native Americans, were not included in the school curricula by the white-dominated, Christian American society. History, as they say, is written by the winners.
Although his efforts were initially met with lukewarm response in the nation’s public school system, Woodson was determined to press on with the need for the teaching and appreciation of black history, to ensure the intellectual survival of the race within American society.
“If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated. The American Indian left no continuous record. He did not appreciate the value of tradition; and where is he today? The Hebrew keenly appreciated the value of tradition, as is attested by the Bible itself. In spite of worldwide persecution, therefore, he (the Hebrew) is a great factor in our civilization”.
The fact that the American Indian left no continuous record was certainly not due to their disregard for the value of their own traditions. Quite the contrary. Native Americans were not allowed to leave a mark on American society because they were regarded as uncivilized savages and eliminated by the European “settlers”.
The very culture of the indigenous peoples emphasized respect, tolerance and non-interference with the traditions of others. Composed of many tribes scattered throughout the country, native Americans generally lived in harmony with nature, with a strong belief that man is inherently good, and must be respected for his decisions and choices. Such a culture, with its traditions of tolerance and compassion, provided an easy prey for the marauding invaders.
The American Indian was decimated by epidemics of disease, military conquest and enslavement. The infamous principle of Manifest Destiny, the 19th century doctrine that the United States is destined – by the Christian God – to expand its dominion throughout the American continent is both justified and inevitable, marked the end of the Indian way of life. The famous invective “The only good Indian is a dead Indian”, coined by General Philip Sheridan in the 1860s, is in currency, in American speech and literature, even today. The few Native Americans who survived the battles of genocide were brutally shunted into reservations or “Americanized”.
The establishment of Negro History Week, which evolved into Black History Month, increased public awareness of the black experience in the United States. Currently courses in Black History abound in the curricula in the nation’s secondary schools and universities. They are considered to be central to the understanding of black oppression and racial profiling which are rampant in the nation to the present day.
Since 1976, every American president has endorsed a specific theme for Black History Month. President Biden’s theme for 2021 is “Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity”. He issued an inspiring statement to the nation on February 1. Extracts:
“We have never lived up to the founding principles of this nation that all people are created equal and have the right to be treated equally…
“We know that it is long past time to confront deep racial inequalities and the systemic racism that continues to plague our nation.
“A knee to the neck of justice opened the eyes of millions of Americans and launched a Summer of protest and stirred the nation’s conscience.
“We are also less than a month after the attack on the Capitol by a mob of insurrectionists and white supremacists that we are very much in a battle for the soul of America”.
Biden’s statement acknowledged the recent racial profiling, discrimination and violence against African Americans by Law Enforcement officers, which had reached alarming levels. A series of atrocities, culminating in the brutal murder by a white police officer, Derek Chauvin placing his knee on 46 year-old African American George Floyd’s neck for an excruciating eight minutes and 15 seconds, were viewed with horror by the world on the television screen. Floyd’s pleas for his life, crying he could not breathe and calling for his dead mother, were ignored by Chauvin. None of the officers at the scene made any effort to stop the brutality. By the time an ambulance reached the scene, Floyd was dead.
Floyd’s crime? “Passing counterfeit currency” (a $20 note) to purchase a pack of cigarettes at a convenience store. He was not armed and was cooperative with the police at the time of arrest.
George Floyd’s murder added to the tally of a long list of black Americans who have died at the hands of the police. The gruesome and highly exposed murder of Floyd ignited national and global indignation, resulting in the “Summer of protests that stirred the nation’s conscience”.
The escalation of police violence against often unarmed black men, women and children, gave impetus to the Black Lives Matter movement; it erupted in a series of violent demonstrations last Summer, both in the major cities in the United States and throughout the world.
President Donald Trump has dismissed police brutality as toxic left wing propaganda, and denounced the violence of the post-Floyd, global protests of the Black Lives Matter movement. During the past four years, he has repeatedly debased African American leaders and community. He has tried to justify police violence against the black community. In fact, he has regularly incited police violence against the Black Lives Matter movement as a legitimate weapon to preserve law and order.
Trump began his speech on the first of his Black History Month speeches in February 2017, making a historical event all about himself. He said, “Well, the election, it came out really well. Next time we’ll triple the number (of black votes) or quadruple it. We want to get it over 51, right? At least 51”. A statement which showed that he had no idea of the significance of Black History Month. At an occasion where he should have said a few words about the achievements of the African American community, he was whining at the almost total lack of support he got from the black community at the presidential election. A lack of support which only served to endorse the wisdom of the African American electorate.
New York Times satirist, Andy Borowitz, has an amusing take on Trump’s speech in 2017.
“Before his breakfast meeting to mark Black History Month, Trump told (Education Secretary) DeVos, ‘Betsy, write down what you know about black history so that I can read it at the meeting’. She took out a pen and did it in, like, three minutes. She’s fantastic.
“Impressed by the one-sentence summary that DeVos wrote about Frederick Douglass, Trump said he was now considering Douglass (who died in 1895) for a top White House post.
“Based on what Betsy said about him, we could really use Fred’s energy around here, Trump said”.
When the press reminded him that Douglass was long dead, Trump said, “That’s a nasty thing to say about someone who is doing a great job. This is why the press is failing, and it’s failing, very, very badly”.
This was satire, but, considering Trump’s moronic ignorance of the history of the nation he leads, it could well have been factual.
The achievements of the African American community are too numerous to list here. These milestones are even more remarkable because they have been accomplished in trying conditions and with limited opportunities. In the present century, African Americans have produced in Serena Williams the greatest female tennis player ever; in Tiger Woods the most dominant golfer in history, who changed the game for spectators and players alike; and in Barack Obama, the first black president who led the country from a deep recession to a booming economy with the lowest unemployment rates and continuous economic growth for 72 months. A recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage award. A president who, with his family, has set the standards of decorum and compassion for all those who occupy the White House in the future. Just three, who admittedly have my personal admiration. I have failed to list countless others, the public figures and politicians, the sportsmen and women, the musicians and actors, the poets, writers and journalists…. The list is endless.
And there are many African Americans who are ready and able to carry on these proud traditions to the future. Amanda Gorman, poet, a worthy successor to Maya Angelou, caused a sensation at President Biden’s inauguration with a sparkling rendition of an inspiring and courageous poem. And, of course, Kamala Harris, the first black South Asian and first female vice president in the history of the United States. Just two of many others waiting in the wings.
There are many outstanding achievements of the black community to reflect on during this Black History Month. Unfortunately, the continuing and escalating racism over the past few years should take “pride of place” in our thoughts and efforts, to diminish, if not eliminate, the effects of a second, equally vicious pandemic. Unfortunately, it is most doubtful that a “vaccine” will be found to combat, any time soon, the plague of white supremacy that has bedeviled the nation for over 400 years.
The Meaning of Bilateral
by Dr. SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda
Remarks delivered 14 August 2017 at Launch of An Enduring Friendship. Sri Lanka and Pakistan by Arshad Cassim, Editor SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda, Published by Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad, 2017.
In 2015 Former Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera told The Nikkei Asian Review that what Sri Lanka needed was an “omnidirectional foreign policy,” a foreign policy which looks in all directions, that serves its own interests, not those of its neighbors, “We don’t want to confine ourselves to one power bloc.”
This is very important. The foreign policy of any country, consists of strategies chosen by the state to safeguard its national interests and to achieve goals. They are and must be in the self interest of the nation. It is Sri Lanka’s self interest that we look in all directions, to paraphrase the Prime Minister of India, Mr Narendra Modi, that we be “Sri Lanka centric.”
Sri Lanka is part of South Asia. However, we must remember that South Asia is much more than India. It is Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Maldives, it is also Pakistan.
This is the sixth-most populous country in the world. In 2015 it had a population of 199.1 million, 2.57% of the world population. It is predicted that Pakistan will soon have the fourth largest population in the world, behind only India, China, and the United States. Like India, this is a huge and growing market on our very doorstep, one far too significant to ignore.
Today Pakistan is one of the world’s largest producers of natural commodities, in terms of purchasing power it is the 24th-largest economy in the world. Looking to the future, Pakistan is listed by Goldman Sachs as one of the Next Eleven (N-11), a group of 11 countries that, along with Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, have the potential to become one of the 21st century’s largest economies. In 2014 Goldman Sachs predicted that Pakistan’s economy would grow 15 times in the next 35 years and that by 2050 it would be the 18th-largest economy in the world.
The geographic location is also critical. Pakistan has 650-mile coastline along the Arabian Sea, it borders Iran and shares a maritime border with Oman. In the far north east it offers direct access to China, the next economic superpower. CPEC, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the network of road and railways that are currently underway throughout Pakistan will link China’s Xinjiang province to the port of Gwadar in southwestern Pakistan. This network also promises to make Pakistan the gateway to Central Asia, home of vast reserves of minerals and natural resources, oil, gas, gold, uranium and aluminium. CPEC offers Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan the opportunity to transport their goods and market them to regional and global markets. This could be the future, a future in which Sri Lanka could well share. This is an economic and political relationship that we must cement, for it is in our national self interest.
Although the bilateral relationship between Pakistan and Sri Lanka has been an important part of the South Asian landscape, it has yet to be comprehensively studied and evaluated. Mr. Arshad Cassims’s work is well researched and analytical; crisply argued and crisply written, it discusses the political, economic and defence aspects of the relationship. In a new departure, it also looks at the interaction between two peoples.
Books however are not just records of facts and figures. They are the beginning of a conversation. They also serve as tools of Engagement, to help cement and solidify a relationship. A foundation on which to build, they provide stepping stones, forums for discussion, exchange and interaction. They also help to chart the future,
We must not forget that Pakistan too is an Indian Ocean power. Looking into the future, Mr. Cassim touches on the potential of maritime trade and shipping. Oceans are still the highways of trade. Nearly 90 per cent of the world’s commodities, its goods and its raw materials still travel by sea. The future of both countries lies in the new deep water ports, Gwadar, in Baluchistan and Colombo and Hambantota in Sri Lanka. Gwadar is the pivot of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. It will be the link between China’s project, and the . Who knows, it could be one of the hubs of the 21st century.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has described Gwadar as a “game-changer” for the region. It will provide China with direct access to the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean and enable Pakistan to establish an economic corridor to link directly with Kashgar and the markets of Central Asia. For Sri Lanka’s ports too, her trade and her shipping, this could a game changer.
This project presents a very interesting and imaginative exercise in softpower diplomacy. A study of the Pakistan-Sri Lanka relationship, sponsored by the government of Pakistan, it is written by a young Sri Lankan, designed by Sri Lankans, produced by Sri Lankans, even printed in Sri Lanka. This represents a massive vote of confidence and commitment to the bilateral relationship, truly bilateral in a way that many other bilateral relationships are not. Many other countries talk of bilateral relationships and then take unilateral action. This project represents the fulfillment of a long process, yet it was always one based on consultation and consensus.
SL is one of the oldest living cultures in the world, yet it is often made to feel like a junior partner, often told what to do, sometimes browbeaten, sometimes intimidated. This culture has a living heritage of 2,500 years, for the sake of our people we cannot afford to be anybody’s junior partner. Neither can we afford to think like one. Sri Lanka must have a Sri Lanka centric foreign policy, initiatives like this are an integral part of it.
American philosopher ’s great work, The Life of Reason (1905 -1906) is considered to be one of the most poetic and well-written works of philosophy in Western history. This is one of the sayings that we remember.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
We, as Sri Lankans cannot and must not forget our past. Nor must we forget the part which Pakistan has played. Today many countries call themselves our friends. However, we must not forget Pakistan’s support for Sri Lanka during some of our most dangerous times. This proved a vital factor in the final defeat of terrorism. Maybe without Pakistan’s help we would not have come so far. We must also remember that in 2006 this willingness to help nearly cost the Pakistani ambassador his life. On 14 August the convoy carrying Pakistan’s High Commissioner, Bashir Wali Mohamed, was targeted by the LTTE. Although the High Commissioner escaped unhurt, several of his escort were killed.
This project has been in the making for almost three years, I would like to thank the Government of Pakistan and the High Commission of Pakistan in Sri Lanka, for recognizing the value of this initiative and taking it on. Their interest and support has enabled this project to reach fruition. A vital role was played by both the then High Commissioner for Pakistan in Sri Lanka, Major General. (Retd) Shakeel Hussain, the acting High Commissioner Dr. Sarfraz Sipra, the officers and staff of the Embassy. Without their vision, their determination and their commitment in the face of many obstacles, this work would never have seen the light of day.
Pakistan and Sri Lanka. We are totally different cultures with utterly different world views and ways of life. Despite very real strains, this relationship has been characterized by restraint and sensitivity on both sides, something which has been sometimes missing from some of our other relationships. There is a lack of presumption on both sides, an ingrained reluctance to criticize or to dictate and a willingness to help at all times. In the short term and the long term, this relationship is in our strategic interest, one which we must not compromise or erode.
To safeguard the national interest, a nation must always have alternatives. When you have alternatives, you have choices. When you have choices, you have freedom. When you have freedom, you have independence.
Sir Muhammad Iqbal (1877 –1938) is widely regarded as the Spiritual Father of Pakistan. A poet, philosopher and politician, he is also one of the most important figures in Urdu literature. These words are from his poem Knowledge and Religion.
A blossom cannot thrive in a meadow full of trees,
Unless some drops of dew ally with pleasant breeze
Like the blossoms in a meadow, the flowers cannot thrive without the dew and the wind. For a bilateral relationship to work, both sides must feel that they have a stake and a part to play, each party must feel nourished and enriched. It cannot be about what you want and what I want, we must both want it together. This is the meaning of bilateral.
A German Analyst’s View on the Eelam War in Sri Lanka
by Mathias Keittle
Sri Lanka eliminated a dreaded terrorist group, with intricate global links, but receives little credit for it. Unlike elsewhere in the world, Sri Lanka has succeeded in resettling 300,000 IDPs (Internal Displaced Persons). There are no starving children for the NGOs to feed but this gets ignored. Sri Lanka has avoided mass misery, epidemics and starvation but the West takes no notice of this. Sri Lanka has attained enviable socio-economic standards for a developing country while eliminating terrorism but gets no acknowledgement. The Government of Sri Lanka and its President continue to enjoy unprecedented popular approval through democratic elections but this is dismissed. The economy is functional, but remains not encouraged by the West.
Background: After 27 years of bloody conflict Sri Lanka’s internal mayhem came to an end with the comprehensive defeat of the Tamil Tigers. In an Alice in Wonderland scenario, the country changed from an environment of unconstrained fear and uncertainty to peace and utter relief overnight. Thousands poured out on to the streets to celebrate in an outpouring of incomparable joy and restaurant keepers spontaneously distributed food to all passersby along busy thoroughfares.
Over the following months approximately 300,000 IDPs were returned to their own towns and villages, admittedly not to the best of living conditions. But one has to remember that their circumstances were hardly comfortable under the iron rule of the LTTE (Tamil Tiger Terrorist Group) for close to 27 years or as they were herded from one tent camp to another as a human shield and a bargaining chip by the retreating LTTE.
The LTTE had also removed roofing material from houses to prevent the return of their human shield to their homes. The captured child soldiers (approximately 600) have undergone rehabilitation and have returned to their communities. UNICEF documented 5,700 child recruits by the LTTE. Of the 11,700 former LTTE combatants, over 7,000 have been returned to their communities after rehabilitation despite the real risk of some returning to the only profession that they had been trained in – that of being trained killers.
The risk is magnified by the fact that caches of buried weapons continue to be unearthed in the North and the Tamil militants in the West continue to drum up separatism and violence from their safe havens. The continued presence of the military in the North is naively criticized, but the above background factors are ignored. Only a fraction of the detainees will face trial as the evidence against the rest may not be adequate to satisfy the evidential requirements of the courts. A vast effort has been undertaken to restore the economy of the North and huge sums are being pumped in for the purpose. All this receives hardly a mention in the West while an intense campaign is being orchestrated to pin down individuals allegedly guilty of war crimes and human rights violations.
This must surely be the only case in history that a winner in a conflict has been hounded in this manner to account for alleged war crimes and breaches of human rights in the process of winning the conflict – leave alone defeating a ruthless terrorist group. There have been no such demands made following World War II, or after the Korean Conflict, after Vietnam, after Gulf War 1, the continuing occupation of Afghanistan or Iraq. Remarkably, all sorts of people have flocked together to demand accountability from Sri Lanka.
It cannot simply be that they all were encouraged by the sexiness of the subject or simply by the nobility of advancing humanity’s highest ideals. The Reasons: It is difficult to pin down one reason for this attitude of a number of key Western countries and some high profile individuals. Were pure principled attachment to humanitarian standards the reason, then Sri Lanka would, in their view, appear to be the one egregious offender in the whole world. This obviously cannot be the case. But Sri Lanka is certainly a developing country from the non-Western world and hence easier to beat up. Sri Lanka also was unusual in not responding positively to intense pressure when a number of Western leaders demanded a ceasefire towards the very end of the conflict and this refusal set an uncomfortable precedent.
Bernard Kouchner, David Miliband and Hillary Clinton, all demanded a ceasefire which Sri Lanka rejected. Both sides had good reasons for the approaches that they adopted. Sri Lanka had the Tamil Tigers on their haunches and victory after 27 years of brutal bloodshed was temptingly within grasp. The Western leaders were under intense pressure to intervene from the Tamil Diaspora, which wielded enormous financial and some political clout. Cities like Toronto, London, Melbourne and Sydney were brought to a standstill by massive Tamil demonstrations. During his visit to Sri Lanka in the middle of May 2009, David Milliband was told in no uncertain terms to butt out and mind his own business by the Sri Lankan leadership and may not have forgiven this slight by the former colonial minion.
The US proposed an evacuation of the trapped civilians and, perhaps the LTTE leadership, using its naval assets and this was rejected both by India and the Sri Lankan Government. There were predictions of a blood bath and, at the time, no one claimed that it actually happened. (Subsequently and, suspiciously, evidence began to be produced by interested parties to establish that a blood bath did actually happen!). Interestingly, allegations of war crimes and human rights violations have emerged from countries that have provided refuge to massive numbers of Sri Lankan Tamils. Many have used the then existing violence as a basis for their claims for refugee status.
The LTTE raised large amounts of money from the Diaspora to fund the war effort. Today these funds are used to advance their cause. Tamils for Clinton contributed substantially to her campaign until this was brought to public attention and the funds were returned. The LTTE has quietly funded politicians in many Western countries and continue to do so. The US lawyer, Bruce Fein, is funded by the Tamil Diaspora. The liberal end of Western politics, ever ready to champion the underdog, was a willing champion of the Tamil Diaspora cause. The shadow LTTE incessantly targets the media and the diplomatic community in Colombo.
The availability of funds, articulate advocates, the liberal tendency to take up the causes of apparent underdogs, horror stories, real or concocted, sympathetic journalists who were ever ready to use their privileged position in the Western media to support the cause, the sense of unhappiness with Sri Lanka among liberal political leaders in the West, the slow pace with which Sri Lanka countered some of the issues, were a cogent mix to activate the major humanitarian NGOS in the West. Many Western journalists unashamedly adopted the ‘Tamilnet’ version of the conflict and were willing to use influential Western newspapers (London Times, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age) to propagate the version fed by the ‘Taminet’.
It would also seem that a not so subtle campaign is being mounted against the Sri Lankan leadership, orchestrated by elements of the Tamil Diaspora and picked up by the Western media. The settling of scores by using the international community, now that the battle on the ground has been lost, appears to be the major objective. Efforts persist to pin charges of war crimes and human rights violations, on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations and innuendo. This powerful surge is further augmented by allegations of abuses, corruption and nepotism. If these allegations stick, it would be a short step to drag Sri Lankan leaders before international tribunals. Recent history suggests that some allegations get a life of their own by the simple process of repetition. The Machiavellian story line is simple. “The Sri Lankan Government deliberately set about using its military to target the Tamil population of the North and killed thousands in the process”. This line is repeated for effect while the authenticated history of the LTTE’s murderous bombing campaign targeting civilians over a period of 27 years and killing thousands, the recruitment of thousands of children as child soldiers, the murder of dozens of moderate Tamil leaders, the extortion of millions from Tamils around the world, the ethnic cleansing of the Northern Province, the deliberate destruction of UNESCO protected places of worship, the deliberate and cynical use of thousands as a human shield, the human trafficking and the drug trafficking are air brushed as the frenzied campaign is cranked up using NGOs, eminent persons and the media to establish human rights violations and war crimes by the Government.
The focus is deliberately shifted from the murderous Tigers to the Government and these allegations are designed to stay around for a long while. The one goal of this campaign appears to be to punish the Government leadership, in order to avenge the defeat of the murderous Tigers, if not today then at some later time. A lie repeated often enough acquires a life of its own. This also gradually contributes to causing feelings of discomfort and doubt in the minds of ordinary Sri Lankans whose confidence in their Government, unshakable at present, could falter in time giving rise to prospects of regime change possibilities.
Some elementary fallacies: Were Thousands Killed in the Final Stages of the War? Were thousands of civilians killed in the final stages of the conflict? Was the number 1,000? 7,000 (as claimed in an internal UN document, later denied)? 20,000 as claimed by Jeremy Page in the London Times?
40,000 as claimed in the book, Cage by Gordon Weiss (commonly known as Gordon the Unwise) and referred to in the Darusman Report to the UNSG? or higher. The exact number will never be known just as much as we will never know the exact number of civilians killed in Afghanistan and Iraq following the intervention by Western governments. (The ‘Lancet’ claimed in 2005 that already over 500,000 civilians had been killed in Iraq).
But certain established facts cannot be ignored. In the final weeks of the conflict, the ICRC with the assistance of the Sri Lanka Navy evacuated approximately 7,000 injured and the sick, including pregnant women, and over 8,000 others from the last holdout of the LTTE. Is it likely that if there had been other injured, the ICRC would have left them behind and ferried out 8,000 healthy persons? Experience and records of other recent conflicts would suggest that the number killed must be substantially lower than the number injured. This is a fact derived from experience. Most importantly, at the end of the conflict both sides were hell bent on fighting to the end leaving no time to bury the dead. In the circumstances, the LTTE is unlikely to have had the time to bury the alleged large numbers of dead.
The Sri Lankan army never found large numbers of dead bodies either. But what is a fact is that in April and May 2009, close to 300,000 civilians streamed out of the LTTE enclave to seek the protection of the Government Security Forces. Importantly, the Government which adopted a zero civilian casualty policy had learned from the experience of other armies fighting amongst civilians that indiscriminate attacks on civilians only result in producing more volunteer martyrs. In early 2009, the Committee to Coordinate Humanitarian Assistance (CCHA) to the North was working on the figure that there were approximately 121,000 people in Kilinochchi and 127,000 in Mullaitivu for the purpose of directing relief supplies to the North. It is quite likely that the LTTE took with them around 100,000 from Mannar. Considering that around 60,000 escaped to Government controlled areas in the previous year, the numbers detained by the LTTE settles around the number accommodated in the Government organized refugee camps in May 2009.
It is also on record that the Government adopted a zero civilian casualty policy and consciously adopted an infantry based approach. This resulted in 6,000 deaths of security personnel as the final battles were fought by infantry when more devastating approaches could have been adopted. The allegation of deliberate targeting of civilians by the military and the large numbers killed appears to be a convenient and Machiavellian story to pin a charge of crimes against humanity. Was the Tamil Community the Target of the Security Forces? This is an accusation which could be dismissed outright if not for the seriousness with which it is expressed. The majority of the Tamils of Sri Lanka do not live in the North or the East. The vast majority lives among the majority community, the Sinhalese. It is estimated that 41% of the population of the capital, Colombo, is Tamil.
In Colombo, the Tamil community has schools, temples, flourishing businesses and a significant number of Tamils are successful professionals and businessmen in Colombo. Many business houses in Colombo are Tamil owned. The UN has acknowledged that for over 27 years, the Government funded the health services and the schools in the LTTE controlled areas and sent food supplies to those areas. The food requirements were determined by the Government Agents stationed in the District capitals, although in fact under the control of the LTTE. The CCHA which consisted of the Ambassadors of the US, EU, Japan, Norway and the ICRC, in addition to senior representatives of key ministries, monitored the supply of essentials to the North on a weekly basis. In the circumstances, to suggest that the Tamil community was targeted by the Government’s security forces, as was done in the Channel 4 documentary, is a base attempt to exacerbate ethnic divisions and create a negative impression of the Government.
It also appears to be part of an insidious scheme to pin a charge of crimes against humanity on the security forces and its leadership in addition to aggravating and perpetuating latent ethnic tensions. No armed conflict is a game played in the school yard leave alone a terrorist war unleashed by a brutal proscribed group. Civilians do get hurt in war. Elsewhere this is referred to as “collateral damage”, and we know of wars in the wider region where collateral damage can be counted in the thousands. But the Government of Sri Lanka adopted a policy of minimizing civilian casualties and to denigrate this approach now is reprehensible. It was because of the adherence to this policy that the Security Forces incurred over 6,000 deaths by approaching the last pockets of the LTTE on foot. Perhaps, it is also convenient for the thousands of Tamils who went to the West claiming discrimination and oppression to maintain this façade until their refugee claims have been processed. To acknowledge anything else may result in being sent back. It is also a fact that thousands who have received refugee status and travel documents from Western countries have travelled back to Sri Lanka to reclaim their properties and visit family and have not suffered any harassment.
(Mathias Keittle is a German researcher in Colombo hailing from Statalendorf.
JVP Select Committee member alleges Indian hand in Easter Sunday blasts
Party leaders in parliament have asked the government several times to table it in the House but the government has not yet done so. We heard the media spokesperson of the Attorney General stating on TV that the Attorney General too has not yet received the report. Colombo Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith says that he too has not received a copy yet. The President is keeping the most important commission report of his life to himself. We believe that people have the right to know what’s in it and it should be released. There is a yet-to-be-identified force behind the Easter attacks.
by Saman Indrajith
JVP Central Committee and Politburo member and former Kalutara District MP, Dr Nalinda Jayatissa, says that it was India’s Research and Analysis Wing who masterminded the Easter Sunday terror attacks and there was no substantial evidence to prove any ISIS link to the Zahran Hashim’s group that carried out the attack.
The final report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into the Easter Sunday attacks should clear this situation. If not, the government cannot escape the blame of a cover-up, Dr Jayatissa said in an interview with The Sunday Island.
Q: The final report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into the Easter Sunday attacks was handed over to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. While the government keeps on saying that it would be released, the opposition keeps on demanding to see it. You were a member of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) that investigated the issue. The PCoI took a longer time than PSC to complete the investigation. Do you think that PCoI report may at least identify those truly responsible for the heinous crime that killed 268 and wounded more than 500?
The report yet to be released is that of the most important PCoI that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had appointed. It is the most important because the Easter Sunday carnage was the event that brought him to politics. He was not looking to come into active politics before that. That incident helped them to come to power. They came to power promising to probe the Easter Sunday terror attacks and punish those responsible. There had been lot of difficulties and limits to the PSC probe. Those now in the SLPP were then in the United Opposition and they boycotted the PSC. They created many obstructions. They even shouted that we should not summon intelligence and military officers saying that our action would result in exposing those officers’ identities and put them in danger.
But the PCoI did not have such limits. They summoned more officers of both intelligence agencies and security establishments and some of them later gave TV interviews too. However, in our investigation we identified who had failed to prevent the terror attack and why and how such extremist groups came into existence in this country. We think that a PCoI should do better than a PSC because all intelligence officers, CID and Terrorist Investigation Division officers, came before the PCoI and testified. We hope that the PCoI report will expose who was actually behind the terror attacks other than Zahran and his colleagues who exploded themselves. Otherwise the report will not have anything new.
This report would be different and unique only if it exposes who were really behind Zahran’s group. The PCoI report was handed over to President Rajapaksa on Feb 1. Thereafter three cabinet meetings have been held but yet the report has not been placed before the Cabinet. We do not accept the excuse that it’s too large a report to be submitted to the Cabinet. That’s a lame excuse.
Party leaders in parliament have asked the government several times to table it in the House but the government has not yet done so. We heard the media spokesperson of the Attorney General stating on TV that the Attorney General too has not yet received the report. Colombo Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith says that he too has not received a copy yet. The president is keeping the most important commission report of his life to himself. We believe that people have the right to know what’s in it and it should be released. There is a yet-to-be-identified force behind the Easter attacks.
We heard former CID Senior DIG Ravi Seneviratne saying in his testimony that there must be someone above Zahran Hashim who masterminded the attack. SSP Shani Abeysekera was the Director CID at the time of the Easter Sunday attack and was also the first officer tasked with conducting the investigations. He has said that Zahran was not the mastermind because the leader of a terrorist group has never been a suicide bomber blasting himself in any terrorist attack anywhere in the world. So the President is bound by the responsibility of revealing the true mastermind in this incident.
Q: Investigators are of the opinion that the Easter Sunday attacks had the support of a foreign force. Do you also think so?
I saw on TV last week MP Dilan Perera, who is a senior of the SLFP and a former minister, stating that there was direct or indirect involvement of India behind the Easter Sunday attacks. I consider it a serious statement. If a government MP says that India was behind the attacks, then there should be some basis for his statement. Apart from that, there is other information promoting the same suspicion being discussed in society. There are reasons for that. It was Indian intelligence who provided the first piece of comprehensive information about the attack weeks prior to that incident. Their information said that the Indian High Commission in Colombo was also one of the targets.
Yet it was revealed at the PSC that the Indian High Commission never asked for additional security despite the threat. It was also revealed at the PSC that no additional security has been accorded to the Indian Defense Secretary who had suddenly visited Sri Lanka for a one-day visit on April 08, 2019. Those who were involved in this attack had not been to Middle Eastern or other countries where ISIS had a presence. They had only been to India. In addition, Zahran’s group did not have an armoury. There was a stock of weapons that was found at Wanathavillu. A detonator with the least capacity had been used for the test explosion of a motorcycle at Kattankudy four days before the Easter Sunday attacks.
It was a weapon that had been taken away in Oct, 2018 from Vavunathivu that was later used to shoot at Kabir Hashim’s secretary at Kegalle in March 2019, five months later. That shows that the Zahran’s group did not have explosives or firearms in large quantity as it is in the case of a terror group. Even after the terror attacks, the CID or any other security agency has not been able to find any armoury belonging to them until now. Even in the PCoI facts had been revealed about the hotel rooms and banquet halls that had been hired by the Zahran’s group but no revelations about any weapons or explosives. So a group which possesses very little fire power carries out terrorist attacks exploding eight very powerful bombs resulting in such a loss. Then there should be another force behind them to supply what was used. In the subsequent Sainthamaruthu attack, 16 persons were killed. Pualsthini Rajendran alias Sarah Jasmine, who survived that attack, fled to India by a boat from Mannar. However, we have not yet seen the Sri Lankan government asking from India to extradite her despite the fact that she has lot of important information.
Indian National Security Advisor Ajith Doval visited this country and then its foreign minister Jaishankar visited Sri Lanka but not on any of those occasions had our government asked India to hand over Sarah to our investigators. President Rajapaksa soon after his election visited India. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa conducted many zoom and video call conferences with his Indian counterpart Modi. We can also see the Indian High Commissioner in Colombo playing a very influential political role. But we have not seen the Lankan government asking India to hand over Sarah to our investigators. Not even the PCoI asked for her.
As we know, Zahran’s wife had told the PCoI that Sarah knew more about the dealings of the Zahran group than she because Sarah was the wife of the suicide bomber who had attacked the St. Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya. When this question was posed to Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekera recently, he replied that before asking for the extradition, we must make sure that Sarah was still alive and DNA testing on Sarah was still being done. That is not true because giving evidence before the PCoI on July 21, 2020 the then Ampara SSP Samantha Wijesekera testified that they conducted DNA tests on those who had been killed at Sainthamaruthu but Sarah was not among the dead.
Sarah’s mother giving evidence before PCoI stated on July 25, 2020 that Sarah did not die but fled. There is no need to conduct DNA or delay. The Public Security Minister’s position is only a part of a campaign to cover up for Sarah who knows India’s involvement. It is further established when former Minister Dilan Perera clearly stated that India was behind the Easter Sunday attacks.
Q: None who attended the PSC mentioned any Indian involvement. Testimony of some of those who gave evidence before the PSC was taken in camera. Has anyone testified before the PSC of any Indian involvement?
No. It is Dilan Perera’s recent statement on TV that said so clearly in public. But anyone can guess that an Islamic outfit of the size and capabilities of Zahran’s group alone cannot organize a series of terror attacks of this nature. They had the backing of a force which had access to high powered explosives, intelligence and technology. It is up to the President or the PCoI to reveal the real perpetrators. If the upcoming report too says that there were security lapses because of the rivalry between Ranil Wickremesinghe and Maithriapala Sirisena, and that Hemasiri Fernando and Pujith Jayasundera could not prevent the attacks even with information in their hands, then it is clear that the government wants to protect the real culprits of this crime.
Q: Suppose that theory of Indian connection is true. Then how could it be viewed against what we are seeing today in politics where Indian involvements in the Colombo port and many other places in the country have raised many concerns?
Actually this incident has more political repercussions than military or security issues. From 2008 to 2015 China established its presence in the Indian Ocean. It acquired Port City, CICT terminal, six acres of land next to the Colombo Harbour and involved itself in development projects. China included Sri Lanka in its One Belt One Road program. This raised concerns of not only India but also of the US. They wanted to send Mahinda Rajapaksa home and did so. Mahinda Rajapaksa himself told Port unionists that it was India that sent him home in 2015. However, his successor Wickremesinghe-Sirisena government too did not deliver the expected results. That was why India got its intelligence to mastermind the Easter Sunday attacks.
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