On the 29th of July 2015, the Batticaloa Peace Committee and friends gathered together to remember all those who died in the senseless violence of 1990 and also those who still live with its consequences. We did this with a deep sense of sadness for the past, but also hope for the future.
The families seemed to have come to terms with the fact that they were probably massacred on the beach, even though their bodies have not been found or even been excavated yet from where they are suspected to be. 24 long years have passed, and loved ones still come before a Commission, like they have in the past, to provide testimony. They want their stories recorded, for history, for posterity.
The Advisory Council of three to the Commission on Disappearances, in international political terms, takes on the role of the only show in town for the regime in response to its international critics. It could go the IIGEP way and the arguments over war crimes will continue; the issue of disappearances though, “disappeared” in the resulting doubt and din, sound and fury.
The political resolution of the conflict will be difficult due to the ethnic and identity-based nature of the conflict which generates extreme insecurities on all sides. However, it is important that the Sri Lankan government takes immediate measures to improve the situation on the ground, so that there is an immediate peace dividend and its decision to invite South African facilitation is not seen as merely a hard headed decision to ward off the international community in Geneva. The situation in the North of the country, where over 60 have been arrested in recent weeks and some released by the security forces, and the targeting of the Muslim community by extremist groups, has created a climate of fear that is the opposite of reconciliation.
The Rajapakse Administration faces a rather stark choice with regard to the TNA controlled Northern Provincial Council. The desired and preferred option would be, for the Government to be generous and cooperative with the NPC and provide it with the space and facilitation required to address the effects of the war on the Northern civilians as the former principle theatre of the conflict. This requires basically an attitude similar to that of the victorious allies in the Second World War, who had both the Marshal plan for Europe and very generous political arrangements for the defeated Japanese including retaining their Emperor in whose name the war had been fought. Initial indications are that the Rajapakse Administration is open to this possibility, once it gets over its own ideological hang-ups.
The two clashes have shown us that the religious groups of Sri Lanka are growing in extremism, able to muster the masses on to the streets and threaten the law and order of society. The government’s see-sawing reaction to these outcries of the populace leaves many questioning their commitment to upholding any semblance of democracy.
With the country having just marked its 30th anniversary of the Black July riots, the communal clashes in Grandpass was a hideous reminder of what we are capable of.
“Mohammed Usuff Mohammed Salie was born in 1877. He was the grandson of Mohamed Usuff, the Alim of the Kandawatte mosque in Galle, who was responsible for handwriting a Quran he knew by memory for his mosque.
Prince Salie was sent at a young age to Madras for his religious education. Like generations before and after him he learned to speak in the Arwi tongue, more commonly known as Arabo-Tamil which is a written register of the Tamil language that uses an Arabic alphabet. The language was an outcome of the cultural synthesis between seafaring Arabs and Tamil speaking Muslims of Sri Lanka.”
Angelo Fernando, in addition to being a long-standing columnist in the Lanka Monthly Digest (LMD) is also the author of a new book, Chat Republic: How Social Media Drives Us To Be Human 1.0 in a Web 2.0 World.
We begin our conversation on matters digital and online by looking at how Angelo’s father in particular networked socially in the world of brick and mortar, and how this shaped the author’s take on online social networking and new media. After going into how Angelo started to get interested in new media, and web based communications and communities, we talk about his take on media literacy, and its importance today.
The processes surrounding the Sri Lankan government’s EVE are deeply flawed. The EVE’s survey and subsequent statistical analyses lack rigor and are shrouded in opacity. The EVE has resulted in the production of highly questionable information. More than four years after the conclusion of war, the present administration maintains that far fewer deaths (less than 8,000) occurred during war’s final phases than most people think. As TSA noted more than a year ago, the government’s dubious claim lacks merit and should not be taken seriously.
“If the bad guys win, the centre of gravity of Sri Lankan politics and society will shift still further to the right. It may even impact upon the choice of candidacy. If the neo-con project with its totalitarian notion of national security succeeds, the present dispensation will appear in a roseate afterglow as an era of tolerance and democracy.”
The fact is, there are peaceful Sri Lankans all over the country, who contribute heavily to the society, love Sri Lanka as much as anyone else, and could not dream of being anything other than Sri Lankan. These people are having their rights and lifestyles threatened by those who seemingly wish to create a racial and religious hierarchy. Sri Lankans are being treated as outsiders in their own land, and as fellow human beings, we cannot and will not stand for that.
Many Sri Lankans remain in denial about the horror of those years and resist calls to unearth (sometimes literally) the evidence. Some, obviously, are fearful that what they – or those close to them – did, or failed to do, will be exposed, while others may prefer to shy away from confronting the scale of suffering. The fact that certain leading figures in the government and opposition may be implicated has added to the pressure to let the past stay buried.
However this refusal to get to grips with what happened is not only unjust to the dead, the bereaved and the traumatised but may be largely to blame for the massive violence that has taken place in twenty-first century Sri Lanka and ongoing ethnic, religious and social divisions. What is more, all civilians are at risk when the state is regarded as unaccountable to anyone, able to torture, burn and kill with impunity.
The secretary of defense once mentions that Sri Lanka is a “democratic nation with an extremely popular political leadership”, and then expresses fear of free public exchange of ideas! Why should an extremely popular leader in a truly democratic Nation be scared of free propagation of ideas? Did the cat jump out of the bag here? I urge the distinguished academics on the new MPhil/PhD Programme to study the role of pseudo-democracy in the deterioration of public security with a bold academic approach. In this regard, I refer the distinguished academics to a statement shown on the Roosevelt Memorial – “they (who) seek to establish systems of Government based on the regimentation of all human beings by a handful of individual rulers…call this a new order. It is not new and it is not order.”
However, there are several important strategic political policy issues that General Fonseka and the democratic party particularly needs to decide on as it surveys the opposition landscape and explores its options, chooses its policies and decides on its course of action.
“As the Editor of Groundviews, I was invited by World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN/IFRA) to give a presentation on Sri Lanka at the 20th World Editors Forum (WEF) and the 65th World Newspaper Congress, held recently in Bangkok, Thailand.
As the only Sri Lankan invited to speak at the Forum, I focussed on challenges facing governance, human rights and democracy in Sri Lanka, over four years after the end of the war. I also spoke about the violence against independent media, and the culture of near total impunity against those who have killed, abducted, harmed, forced into exile and murdered journalists.”