Colombo's paranoid secrecy

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 15 September 2009, 16:20 GMT]
"Why must the military be in control of the camps, why not civilian agencies? Why can't visitors enter the camps? Why are journalists barred? Why are international agencies kept out? Why is it taking the courts so long to make a straightforward order to allow members of parliament to visit the camps?" and quoting Mangala Samaraweera, "I can walk into any prison at will and meet any criminal, but I am not allowed to meet these people held in detention for no reason," Prof Kumar David, in an opinion column in Sunday's Lakbima, writes, "[t]he reasons offered for this paranoid secrecy varied from the need to hide human rights violations to calculations relating to the upcoming elections. I think it will be some time before the real reason comes seeping out."

Prof David
Professor Kumar David
While Delhi pressures the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to put forward a Delhi-centric political proposal for the Tamils for continued engagement with Rajapakse, Prof. David exposes the futility of it all, as he predicts a gloomy political scenario, saying, "[a]stute folks are pretty well reconciled that nothing will happen in the foreseeable future about devolution, thirteen plus, minus or zilch, and home-grown solutions. It's going to be the same old unitary state and constitution, with or without some superficial tinkering."

Full text of Prof. David's article follows:

What Ranil, Mangala and Mano Ganesan said on 3 September at a Platform for Freedom Press Conference on the IDP issue was fairly widely covered in the print and electronic media, but three other contributors, Siritunga Jayasuriya, Nimalka Fernando and Herman Kumara failed to attract coverage. They were more sharp and interesting, but not being parliamentarians, I guess, less news worthy. I will focus on them to redress this imbalance. But first a Mangala snippet which was both catchy and accurate; he defined the Vannie interns as FDPs (Forcibly Detained Persons) insisting that calling them internally displaced persons (IDPs) was simply not true.

First, let me have my say. It is my view that it is the FDP issue that will have more severe repercussions on the relationship between the Tamils and the government and on Sinhala-Tamil relations than the hotly canvassed political package uproar. Astute folks are pretty well reconciled that nothing will happen in the foreseeable future about devolution, thirteen plus, minus or zilch, and home-grown solutions. It’s going to be the same old unitary state and constitution, with or without some superficial tinkering, until and unless something dramatic happens, such as the change to a left government; and that’s not on the cards.

But between two and three hundred thousand people of one community, held in indefinite and illegal detention by the hegemonic state of another community, well that’s tertiary stage cancer and its repercussions are going to be far, far more serious than people seem to realise. I give it three more months and if the FDPs are not all released from forcible detention, then the gulf will again widen to distrust similar to the post 1972-Constitution, post Vattukkotai Resolution, or intensifying LTTE periods. The gulf will become unbridgeable again. In a word, it’s the FDPs stupid, not the package that will hinge, or if you prefer unhinge, Tamil consciousness.

Siritunga Jayasuriya, trade unionist, and leader of the United Socialist Party
Siritunga Jayasuriya, trade unionist, and leader of the United Socialist Party
Siritunga’s take on it: For those who need some background, Siritunga is the leader of the United Socialist Party (USP), a non government left party and as presidential candidate in 2005 he polled 36,000 votes, certainly much more than I expected. I have been closely associated with him politically from 1970 when he was a key leader in the Vama or left tendency in the LSSP which matured into the NSSP in 1977. He parted company with us on the Indo-Lanka Accord and 13th Amendment which he opposed while we (the majority in the NSSP) gave these measures our conditional support. Nevertheless, he and I have remained personal friends. The USP has fraternal ties with international Marxist currents in many countries but I am not aware what its active membership within the country is.

As a Sinhalese Marxist he expressed shock at the inadequate response in the South to the fact that such a large number of Tamils could be held in illegal detention for over 100 days. “Imagine the uproar in the country if two to three lakhs of ordinary Sinhalese people had been held behind barbed wire like this”. How much longer is this going to continue he inquired? And this inquiry continued to the heart of the matter. “These people have lived under LTTE Administration for nearly two decades. Of course a large number of them or a family member would have worked in that Administration, many would have associated with the LTTE, and to be perfectly frank, most would have supported or been sympathetic to the LTTE point of view”. This goes to the heart of the government’s conundrum; if the government intends to hold everybody who is or was sympathetic to the LTTE indefinitely, then it will have to hold some hundreds of thousands of people forever. The real problem is not a few thousand ex-cadres, the problem is hundreds of thousands who, come on be sensible about it, must have been pro-LTTE.

I think it is inevitable that he comes to the same conclusion as I have done in my third paragraph, but from an inside the camps perspective. I asserted that the FDP issue is destined to be the crucible in which the fires of broad ethno-political conflict will light up again. Siritunga says “If you hold people like this you are operating a farm for breeding the next generation of LTTEers, by whatever name they sprout. Is the government trying to breed another one lakh of terrorists?”

Insensitivity and secrecy: Nimalka introduced a women’s and welfare perspective as one would expect from a person of her background. Initially though she made a comment that was news to me. Most of the food, dry rations and other essential needs of the FDPs are provided by UN agencies and NGOs she said.

It is not GoSL but these organisations that foot the bill; the work in the camp is done by NGO volunteers and GoSL’s expenses, other than paying for the military, are small. Nimalka’s main grouse however was framed in these questions. “Do mothers have the right to take a fevered child to hospital? Can a woman who is bleeding seek emergency medical help?” The questions are rhetorical, the answers obvious.

Why must the military be in control of the camps, why not civilian agencies? Herman Kumara of the Fishermen’s Welfare Association was quite pointed in his repetition of the question on many people’s mind. Why can’t visitors enter the camps? Why are journalists barred? Why are international agencies kept out? Why is it taking the courts so long to make a straightforward order to allow members of parliament to visit the camps? As Mangala added “I can walk into any prison at will and meet any criminal, but I am not allowed to meet these people held in detention for no reason.” The reasons offered for this paranoid secrecy varied from the need to hide human rights violations to calculations relating to the upcoming elections. I think it will be some time before the real reason comes seeping out.


External Links:
Lakbima: A left perspective on the camps

 

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