Amnesty’s Sri Lanka campaign on a sticky wicket

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 04 April 2007, 01:04 GMT]
Amnesty International’s efforts to build support for international monitoring of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka using the topical theme of cricket drew the fury of the Colombo government this week and, in a rare moment of southern solidarity, the main opposition UNP party joined the Sinhala hardline JVP and the ruling SLFP in denouncing the group’s move.

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Capitalising on the interest around the World Cup, Amnesty last week launched a publicity campaign - using the slogan ‘Play by the Rules’ - to urge Sri Lanka’s warring parties to respect human rights and consent to an international body to monitor abuses.

The campaign, launched in the Caribbean - where the World Cup competition is being staged - as well as in Europe and South Asia (but not in Sri Lanka), envisages getting celebrities and members of the public to sign foam cricket balls bearing the words: “Sri Lanka, play by rules.”

Explaining their choice of theme, Amnesty's deputy Asia Pacific director, Tim Parritt said: "just as all cricket teams need an independent umpire to make objective decisions, so too does Sri Lanka need independent human rights monitors to ensure the government, Tamil Tigers and other armed groups respect the rules and protect civilians caught up in the conflict."

"Currently all parties to the conflict in Sri Lanka are breaking international law by killing civilians, destroying homes and schools, or forcibly disappearing people,” he said in a statement.

“The situation has got far worse over the last year, and we decided it was time to take action.”

"The campaign is in no way aimed at the Sri Lankan cricket team," Amnesty also said.

But the hardline government of President Mahinda Rajapakse reacted angrily, denouncing the campaign as essentially an effort to demoralise Sri Lanka’s cricket team.

"One expects international human rights organizations to respect the spirit of cricket and not intrude the game with such slurs," Lucian Rajakarunanayake, director of the Sri Lankan president's Media Division, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying.

"One would like to ask Amnesty International whether it plans to take up the issue of human rights violations by the U.S. government in Iraq or in Guantanamo Bay at the Super Bowl match or the National Basketball League championship," he said.

And now Sri Lanka’s opposition parties have waded into the fray.

The Sinhala ultra-nationalist JVP was the first to raise the issue in Parliament, saying “the aim of this sinister move was to demoralize our cricket team while tarnishing the country’s reputation,” the Daily Mirror reported.

The leader of the main opposition UNP (United National Party), Ranil Wickremesinghe, said his party also “condemned this act by Amnesty International,” the paper reported.

Wickremesinghe was quoted as saying, the UNP “however, would not mix politics with the game because cricket is played between teams, and not governments.”

Wickremesinghe also attacked the government, saying the UNP and the cricket team “had to undergo such suffering as a repercussion of the government violating human rights as much as the LTTE,” the paper reported.

Meanwhile, the JVP’s powerful propaganda secretary, Wimal Weerawansa, alleged Amnesty, along with NGOs depending on foreign funds, “are trying through this act to project the Sri Lankan team as a set of players from a country which does not abide by the rules.”

The JVP, Sri Lanka’s third largest party, charged “these foreign NGO activists belong to certain countries that assist the separatist LTTE,” the Daily Mirror reported.

Amnesty’s objective is to deny the Sri Lankan government’s right to save the nation from the clutches of LTTE, Mr. Weerawansa, said, calling for a joint effort by all parties to defeat this “conspiracy.”

“Lets make use of this opportunity to get together and not allow any one to lay their hands on our country,” he said.

Chief Government Whip, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle said Mr. Weerawansa had raised an important issue that deserves attention by all parties.

Earlier the government vowed to launch a massive effort against Amnesty’s campaign “to demoralize the Sri Lankan cricket team at the World Cup.”

“Sri Lankan Cricket has already informed the International Cricket Council (ICC) and Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe is to inform the United Nations and the international human rights bodies of this unethical move by Amnesty International,” the Daily Mirror Monday quoted “a highly placed government source” as saying.

“The government is also planning to collect one million signatures from the public against the AI decision, Besides nine floats will be sent across the country and a television and print media advertisement campaign is also to be launched to create awareness about the AI decision,” the paper reported.



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