December 26th 2009

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: A reflection on Christmas

CANBERRA OBSERVED: The new Opposition team

ENVIRONMENT: Copenhagen summit ignores 'Climategate' scandal

FINANCIAL CRISIS: Can the world expect a sustainable recovery?

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: The challenge of China

HUMAN RIGHTS: Commonwealth's double standards over Sri Lanka, Fiji

CULTURE: The sexualisation of girlhood

IDEOLOGIES: Radical environmentalism: the new socialism

CIVILISATION: What now after the cultural revolution?

MEDIA: Why America's newspapers are dying

IDEAS: Why haven't more people heard of G.K. Chesterton?

OPINION: Paid maternity leave and the war against women

A new name for News Weekly? (letter)

Why the democracies should support Taiwan (letter)

BOOK REVIEW: BLOODY VICTORY: The Sacrifice on the Somme and the making of the Twentieth Century, by William Philpott

Books promotion page

Commonwealth's double standards over Sri Lanka, Fiji

by Dr John Whitehall

News Weekly, December 26, 2009
In May this year, the Sri Lankan Government finally defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who, for some 25 years, had led the struggle for autonomy for ethnic Tamils in their traditional region, the lowlands of north-east Sri Lanka.

Today, some 150,000 men, women and children of the Tamil race barely subsist in concentration camps run by Sri Lanka's Sinhala majority.

Despite the appalling plight of the Tamils, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), held in Trinidad last November, has selected Sri Lanka to host its meeting in 2013.

This honour, said the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence afterwards, was an "endorsement" by the entire Commonwealth and "singularly demonstrates the recognition of Sri Lanka's adherence" to the values and principles of the Commonwealth where it is "one of the most vibrant democracies".


However, it appears CHOGM leaders have disregarded Amnesty International's Open Letter to the Heads of Government and its global campaign to "Unlock the camps". The letter details abuses of human rights by the Sri Lankan government, including:

• Restrictions of liberty of those held in camps, and their vulnerability to re-imprisonment when released without documentation.

• Military rule over all aspects of the prisoners' lives and the denial of "basic legal safeguards".

• Prohibition of humanitarian organisations from access to the camps, even from "talking to" inmates to provide legal aid or assist with family reunification.

• Lack of transparency and accountability in the handling of suspected former Tamil Tigers, "which is conducted outside any legal framework (with) increased dangers to detainees when they are held incommunicado".

• Impunity for the government from any investigation of "humanitarian law violations committed during the war" in which thousands of Tamil civilians are believed to have died from artillery fire.

• The maintenance of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Public Security Ordinance which grants "extraordinary powers to authorities to arbitrarily arrest and detain individuals almost indefinitely", despite the fact that the Tigers were defeated seven months ago. Amnesty cites the example of journalist J.S. Tissainayagam who was sentenced in September 2009 to 20 years' harsh imprisonment for criticising the Sri Lankan treatment of Tamils during the war.

• Restriction of freedom of expression and association. Amnesty declares that "there is a pattern of regular threats and unchecked attacks against journalists, lawyers, witnesses against state forces and human rights defenders by unidentified attackers presumed to have links to the state", which has "eroded public faith in the justice system, and has had a chilling effect on freedom of expression and association".

Sri Lanka is a member of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) which was created by CHOGM to deal with violations of their Harare Declaration, which "lays down the Commonwealth's fundamental political values". These values include liberty of the individual under the law, equal rights for all citizens, and the inalienable right of the citizen to participate in framing the society. They oppose racial oppression and are committed to the principles of human dignity and equality, etc.

On September 1, CMAG expelled Fiji to "protect" the values of the Commonwealth, and later complained of continued violations of human rights under Fiji's Public Emergency Regulation, urging that law be rescinded "immediately". CMAG requested the Commonwealth Games Federation to seriously re-consider Fiji's participation in 2010.

CMAG has been conspicuously silent about the far worse violations of human rights occurring in Sri Lanka's concentration camps.

China is partly responsible for these camps because it was a leader of the gang of 29 nations which, in May, vetoed examination by the UN Human Rights Council of abuses during the war under the higher righteousness of "sovereignty".

The Sinhalese government is grateful for the Chinese weapons with which it won its dirty war against the Tamils, and the political help and money with which it is winning "the peace". The latter includes $2 billion for a seaport and airport in the south (adjacent to the Indian Ocean shipping lanes), roads, a power station, economic zones and mining, all of which complement China's drive to extend its power in
India's neighbourhood.

American citizenship

However, while the Chinese are moving in, leaders of Sri Lanka appear ready to move out … to America! The former chief of defence staff, now presidential contender, Sarath Fonseka, has a Green Card which he won in a ballot, and a home in Oklahoma where his children are schooled despite his rupiah salary. His accomplice in the bombing of Tamil civilians, Gotabaya Rajapakse, who is secretary of defence and brother of the current Sri Lankan president, possesses American citizenship.

The US Department of Homeland Security is reported to be interested in the behaviour of both men, but legal defence would appear not to be a problem for it will be assured by a prestigious New York firm on retainer by the Sri Lanka government.

Given that Sri Lanka was bailed out by the International Monetary Fund, I wonder how much international aid ensures that many third world military leaders can find sanctuary under the star-spangled banner?

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