Deutsche Welle – Colombo ‘failing to engage’ with Tamil minority

Five years after the end of Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war, there are few signs of a government-led reconciliation, MP Rajiva Wjesinha tells DW, arguing that mistrust and suspicion have only grown stronger.


Shortly after the Sri Lankan army defeated the separatist “Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam” in May 2009, President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared an end to the country’s bloody civil war which had lasted more than 25 years during that period claimed the lives of at least 100,000 people.

Five years after the end of the separatist conflict, Sri Lanka is still struggling with reconciliation between the majority Sinhala community and the Tamil minority. International human rights organizations hold the army as well as the LTTE-separatists responsible for crimes committed during the civil war. UN High commissioner Navi Pillay has repeatedly criticized the government in Colombo for having failed to establish a “credible national process to address abuses.” As a result the UN Human Rights Council recently decided to launch an independent international investigation of human rights violations during the war.

In a DW interview, Rajiva Wijesinha, a member of the Sri Lankan parliament for the ruling coalition, says the government is not paying enough attention to the needs of people in the former war zones and welcomes advice from countries “which have not been unfairly critical” of the Sri Lankan government’s reconciliation approach. Continue reading



Sri Lanka was able to complete demining in human settlement areas in the shortest period of time on record, said Ministry of Defence Spokesman and MOD Media Centre Director Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasuriya .

He made these observations at a press conference held at the MOD Media Centre, Kollupitiya, yesterday. “Sri Lanka heads the list of countries which had completed demining in areas earmarked for human settlement, and farming lands, within the shortest period of time under international standards in the aftermath of the elimination of terrorism,” Brigadier Wanigasuriya said.

He added that 1.1 million landmines and explosives that were strewn by the LTTE terrorists have been recovered by the Security Forces and other groups that were engaged in the demining program. Countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia have not yet been completely demined after several decades since the end of conflict in those countries.

Brigadier Wanigasooriya said Sri Lanka was able to demine areas for human settlement and their farming lands a hundred percent and there is only 82 square kilometers to be demined out of the 2,064 square kilometres that was strewn with landmines, claymores, high explosives etc by the LTTE before terrorism was eliminated. He added the area that has to be demined is in the thick jungles and the demining program is in progress. Brigadier Wanigasuriya stated that the demining is conducted not as per Sri Lankan standards but under UN Demining Program standards.

He added that when demining was completed, such areas were inspected and guaranteed by UNDP officials before lands were handed over to the civilians. He also added that of the demined lands, more than 70 percent was demined by the Security Forces. The rest was deminded by local and foreign NGOs. He further said that Sri Lanka could humbly be proud of its success in the demining program within a short period of time as none of the countries have been able to achieve such a degree of success in demining after a conflict was ended. He added that mines in countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia etc have not yet been completely removed, though years after conflict.

The fog of war in Sri Lanka

Berne (1)

By Michael Roberts and Padraig Colman

Reporting of the civil war in Sri Lanka has tended to distort various aspects of the violence that ensued, particularly in terms of the number of civilian casualties and the causes of their deaths.

Although Western media have been critical of both sides in the conflict between the Sinhala-dominated government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), they tend to see Tamils (and thus the LTTE) as underdogs.

Sri Lankan Tamils have been emigrating since the fifties. There is a substantial body of intelligent and prosperous Tamils abroad alienated from Sri Lankan politics and governments. The patriotism of expatriate Tamils increased when the government defeated the LTTE in 2009. They are receptive to the propaganda of Tiger activists.

Tamil nationalists or sympathizers now hold key positions in the west. Sri Lankan government PR is ineffective in comparison with the coordinated campaign of the Tamil diaspora using such outlets as the BBC, ABC, Sky, Channel Four, New York TimesDer Spiegel and their like.

The result has been distortion.

  • Western media erroneously describe it as “a war without witnesses” even though a restricted number of foreign reporters were transported to the rear battle front on several occasions.(1)
  • The received wisdom is that at the end of war there was “merciless shelling” and “extermination” and that subsequently some 300,000 civilians were “interned” in “concentration camps”. Both claims are exaggerations, the latter being quite gross.
  • Ban Ki-Moon’s Panel of Experts (Darusman Report) said that “a number of credible sources have estimated that there “could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths”. Despite the questionable methodology pursued by this panel, (2) its guesswork became a definite figure of at least 40,000 civilian dead; and, in the indelible words of a British parliamentarian named Lee Scott, 40,000 “slaughtered”.

British parliamentarians did not allow for the following factors during the last five months of the war in the patch of LTTE territory we term the “Vanni Pocket”:

  • It was difficult to distinguish between civilians and combatants;
  • The LTTE often fired on Tamil civilians;
  • US Ambassador Butenis confirmed the government’s claim that they made a conscious decision to prolong the war and risk more SL Army casualties in order to protect civilians. Red Cross representative Jacques de Maio, Robert O Blake of the US State Department and Jim Grant of UNICEF echoed this in their secret memoranda during the height of the war;
  • The Sri Lankan authorities knew that USA and India were tracking the battles on satellite and would spot any inordinate use of force; Continue reading

The World Today: China, India and the United States as seen from Sri Lanka

Text of a presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP, at the Seminar on:

Crossed Perceptions: China, the United States, the European Union, Brazil and the Emerging World

October 22nd 2013, Rio de Janeiro


Let me begin with one of the formative myths of the Sri Lankan state. It deals with the introduction of Buddhism to the country, in the 2nd century BC. The king at the time, Devanampiyatissa, was out hunting when he came across a strange man in the forests of Mihintale. This was Mahinda, the son, or some say the brother, of the Mauryan Emperor Asoka, who had converted to Buddhism after a terrible war in which, to complete his conquest of India, he had slaughtered thousands.

When the monk saw Tissa, he asked him whether he saw the mango tree before them. Tissa said yes, and then the monk asked whether there were other mango trees. Tissa said yes, and then the monk asked if there were trees other than mango trees. Tissa said yes again, whereupon the monk asked whether, apart from all the other mango trees, and all the other trees that were not mango trees in the world, there were any other trees.

Tissa thought hard, and then replied that there was indeed the original mango tree the monk had pointed out. This was when Mahinda decided that Tissa was a fit person to understand the doctrines of Buddhism, so he preached to him and converted him and through him his people. Buddhism has since been the dominant religion in Sri Lanka, though, I think uniquely, we also have substantial proportions of our population belonging to the other principal faiths of the world, Hinduism and Islam and Christianity.

When I was young I used to think the story a silly one, but I have since understood its implications for the way we should look at the world. It seems to me now the epitome of what I would describe as the Eastern vision of the individual, society and the world, as opposed to the dichotomies the West believes in, and therefore often creates. In what I would posit as an ideal concept of our relations with the world, we should see ourselves as existing at the centre of several concentric circles, to all of which we belong. While we share aspects of identity with others belonging to those circles, ultimately we need also to be aware of the unique nature of our own individuality.

Continue reading

The numbers game: counting civilian deaths in Sri Lanka’s war

Estimating the number of civilian deaths in the final stages of the war in Sri Lanka is proving problematic.

By Kath Noble

The generation-long war in Sri Lanka came to an end in May 2009, with the military defeat of the the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) by government forces. Tamil diaspora groups claimed there had been genocide, but the dominant narrative was of a bloody but essentially fair fight, as captured in the congratulatory resolution passed in the UN Human Rights Council barely a week later.

Even the United States, which backed an alternative and more critical statement, privately felt the same way—a cable published by Wikileaks quotes its Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues as having said at around the same time, ‘The Army could have won the military battle faster with higher civilian casualties, yet chose a slower approach which led to a greater number of Sri Lankan military deaths.’

However, this near-consensus has gradually been eroded, and pressure is now mounting for an international investigation.

Continue reading

Counting the Dead and Paying the Cost

The Daily Mirror reported last week that between November 30 and December 10, the government would carry out a census of those who were killed or who had disappeared, during the war years – July 1983 to May 2009. The subject dealt elsewhere in writings as the numbers game.


For those affected or accused it is no game. The impact is quite serious. The LLRC recommended were ,’ Conduct a professionally designed household survey covering all affected families in all parts of the island to ascertain first hand the scale and circumstances of death and injury to civilians, as well as damage to property during the period of the conflict.

The progress has been – Using data on ‘Population and Housing Census 2012′ covering the entire country including North and East Provinces for the first time since 1981, Department of Census and Statistics is taking following initial steps to conduct a survey on affected families.

Steering committee comprising senior officers of relevant Ministries and Agencies meets fortnightly to discuss activities related to the census on death/injuries to persons and property damages due to conflict.

The methodology suitable to conduct the census was devised and data collection forms were designed. Both were pre-tested in selected GN divisions in Vavuniya, Polonnaruwa and Mullativu districts in order to cover different conflict situations since 1982.

The outcome of the pre-test was evaluated by DCS working group. Final draft to be submitted. Department of Census and Statistics is planning to conduct an Economic Survey covering entire country which will generate most of data on the affected families.

The second LLRC recommendations was to ,’Take all necessary measures for implementation of the [Registration of Deaths Act] at the administrative level.. Give adequate publicity to the relevant provisions of the Act through media, Grama Niladharis etc., especially in the conflict affected areas.’

The progress has been-During 2011, 37 and 761 deaths were registered in the Northern and Eastern Provinces respectively. In 2012, these numbers were 38 and 801. In addition, 29 mobile services were held during 2011 in various DSDs in North and East to issue death certificates. Services were also held in Mullaitivu District Secretariat in September 2012.

Continue reading

July ‘83 and National Reconciliation

869508809DI-P13--31-8-(p)-ksnSome decades ago I quoted Santayana’s dictum that a people who cannot remember its past is doomed to repeat it. I cannot remember the exact words. Shortly thereafter President Jayewardene repeated the quotation, and it was much in vogue for some years. Now, in writings on July ’83, the idea that a people who cannot remember its past is doomed to repeat it has been powerfully revived, though the quotation has been forgotten. A convenient and convincing illustration for that idea has been found in the ongoing racist anti-Muslim hate campaign and anti-Muslim action, which some weeks ago led to widespread fears of a repetition of the July ’83 pogrom, this time against the Muslims. All that can be seen as the consequence of a failure to remember the past, specifically the horrors brought to us by racist anti-Tamil action, particularly in July ’83.

I now want to make what seems to me a crucially important clarification of what Santayana probably, or almost certainly, had in mind in making his dictum. An erudite philosopher, Santayana could hardly have been unaware of the fact that a people often remembers its past selectively and with distortions to suit its present and future interests. I suppose that is what Henry Ford had in mind in declaring, “History is bunk”. Some would argue that all history is purposive, not an unbiased record of what really happened but future-oriented interpretations meant to serve the interests of a people. However, it is incontrovertible that some things did actually happen in the past, and commonsense tells us that our interpretations can be right or wrong to varying degrees. So, what is important is not just to remember the past, but to try to remember it as it actually was, not as we would like it to have been.

Continue reading

Livelihood project loans for ex‐LTTE combatants

The government, under the direction of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has allocated Rs. 525 million to provide livelihood project loans to the rehabilitated ex-LTTE cadres and civilians affected by terrorism during the past three decades.

Around 4,700 loan applications have already been received from rehabilitated LTTE cadres and arrangements are in place to provide loans for them to start livelihood development projects as soon as the officials completed processing them, Rehabilitation Commissioner General Jagath Wijethilake said.

Over 11,600 ex-cadres have already benefited from the loans provided during the first and second stages which covered nearly one-third of the ex-combatants who had undergone rehabilitation and it is around 40 percent out of the total number of rehabilitated LTTE cadres.

Continue reading