Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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Archive for April, 2014

Right royal battle; the BBS vs. Bathiudeen

Posted by harimpeiris on April 24, 2014

Right royal battle; the BBS vs. Bathiudeen

By Harim Peiris

(Published in The Island and Groundviews)

 The Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), a recent and chilling phenomena of Sri Lanka’s post war political landscape is locked in a battle with Minister Rishard Bathiudeen, leader of the All Ceylon Muslim Congress (ACMC), a constituent party of the ruling UPFA. The Minister accuses the BBS of desecrating the Holy Koran, attacking Mosques and Muslims, while the BBS accuses the Minister of supporting or providing political patronage to displaced Muslims encroaching in the Wilpattu forest reserve. The former is a violation of the penal code, while the latter is not. Accordingly, the Police are supposedly investigating the BBS for hate crimes.

The Vision for a Sinhala Buddhist Eelam Chinthanya 

 It was my old friend, colleague and fierce LTTE critic, Dr. Ram Manikkalingam, one time Senior Advisor to President Kumaratunga, who introduced me to the term “Sinhala Eelam” as opposed to the Peoples Republic of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is multi ethnic, multi religious, pluralistic and diverse. But there has been and is, another vision of life on this Island, mono ethnic (or mono ethno religious), intolerant, non accommodative of diversity and narrowly ethno nationalist. In the North and East, this vision was promoted and fought for through terrorism by the LTTE for a Tamil Eelam. Fortunately that endeavor was comprehensively defeated in 2009. Conversely and regrettably, in post war Sri Lanka, there is an attempt by extreme Sinhala Buddhist nationalist groups, such as the BBS (& its ideological incubator the JHU) to turn Sri Lanka in to a Sinhala “Eelam”, a mono Sinhala Buddhist, ethno religious enclave, unaccomadative and unwelcoming  of ethnic and religious minorities, where the Hallal label is banned on products, where Muslim women cannot wear their traditional religious attire, where mosques, churches and places of minority religious worship are attacked, where Christians cannot worship in homes, where Christian children are forced to perform Buddhist rites in public schools, where joint press conferences between Buddhists and Muslims are attacked with impunity, where prominent Muslim business ventures are vandalized, to name just a few of the fascistic features of what Sinhala Eelam looks like. Nothing like a democratic and pluralist Sri Lanka.

President Rajapakse refutes President Kumaratunga

 A few weeks ago, President Kumaratunga’s public policy think tank, the South Asia Policy Research Institute (SAPRI) released a report on religious intolerance in Sri Lanka. The report had been prepared by SAPRI, through high level interfaith dialogue between clergy, as its methodology and arrived at recommendations to promote religious amity and tolerance. The objective of President Kumaratunga’s intervention was to try and take the conclusions and recommendations of the interfaith dialogue to the current political leadership of the country, both in the government and in the opposition. While the opposition accepted the report and indicated engagement with its contents, in the course of public meetings, President Rajapakse rejected the contention that there was religious intolerance in the country. It is difficult to fathom the basis on which President Rajapakse believes that the BBS and it’s like minded fellow travelers are a non violent, tolerant and pluralistic organization. Evidence to the contrary is after all widely available on video footage.

The Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC), a respected American based research organization has listed the BBS as a “terrorist” organization. A few months ago, in an issue of Time magazine (print edition banned in Sri Lanka) but online editions widely available, the “face of Buddhist terror” was the cover article, featuring the anti Muslim hate campaigners in Myanmar. Recent press reports claimed the BBS had invited the head of the Burmese anti Muslim hate group to visit Sri Lanka. It became incumbent on Media Minister and Government Spokesman Kheliya Rambukkwella to defend the BBS as not being a terrorist organization, but to also concede that there have been numerous claims of religious intolerance and violence in the country.

Minster Vasudeva Nanayakkara, an old leftist firebrand and Minister of National Integration has recommended that the BBS be banned. Former deputy mayor of Colombo, Azzath Salley, also sought to take on the BBS, including through legal action, but backed down after been detained by the Defense Ministry under the PTA.

A Basil acolyte verses friends of Gota    

Minster Rishard Bathiudeen, from his days in the President Task Force (PTF) for Northern rehabilitation headed by Minster Basil Rajapakse, has been and is, a loyal and close associate of Minster Basil Rajapakse.  The Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and its ideological incubator the JHU (most of the BBS leaders were one time in the JHU) on the other hand have been publicly associated with Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse, including at the controversial opening of the BBS, Galle headquarters. Notwithstanding all the drama regarding the BBS and its controversial anti minority, mono ethno religious “Eelam Chinthanya” vision for Sri Lanka, there is a right royal battle verses an acolyte of Minister Basil Rajapakse (Bathiudeen) and an organization (BBS) whom political insiders, link with overt sympathies and covert support to the Defense establishment of Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse. Neither is backing down. The President seems unwilling or incapable of defusing the situation. The Muslim community is fed up of assaults against it and the President and the UPFA cannot lose Rishard, in a situation where Rauff is waiting  for an opportune moment to leave the Government. But he is also unwilling to crack the whip on the BBS, which has snatched the leadership of extreme Sinhala Buddhist nationalism away from the JHU, by becoming even more extreme than the JHU. Interestingly there seems to be a clash of visions for Sri Lanka’s future between the Basil acolyte and Gota’s friends. Whether this clash of vision, extends up to their political patrons, only time will tell.

Meanwhile the UNHRC process in Geneva, on an international inquiry on violations of human rights rolls on, while the battle for Sri Lanka’s future, a pluralist Sri Lanka or a mono ethno religious, Sinhala Buddhist Eelam, continues between power elites.

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Toy Pistol Local Governance in Hambanthota

Posted by harimpeiris on April 22, 2014

Toy Pistol Local Governance in Hambanthota

By Harim Peiris

(Published in Groundviews and the Island newspaper)

 The country woke up a few days ago to news that a group of opposition UNP MPs on a fact finding visit to the new airport and port in Hambanthota had come under attack from goon squads. Subsequently, photographs showed His Worship (the UPFA) Lord Mayor of Hambanthota, Eraj Ravindra Fernando, chasing the UNP MPs with a pistol in his hand, closely followed by members of the goon squad. Subsequently the mayor was to claim that he was only acting to protect the MPs and that too with a toy pistol. The UNP has lodged a protest with the international Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU), a complaint with the Police, naming the Mayor as an alleged perpetrator, plan to raise a privilege issue in Parliament, under the Parliament Privileges Act and have requested the Speaker of the House and presidential elder sibling Chamal Rajapakse, to oversea the investigation into the attack on the MPs.

Flash back to Allevedy, Killinochchi and now Hambanthota

 Go back a few years, to June 2011, to Allevedy in Jaffna, when a group of TNA MPs meeting with a group of party supporters and activists were attacked by a group in military fatigues, which the TNA insists were military intelligence personnel. Or go back to March 2013, when another motley mob attacks a group of TNA MPs meeting in the TNA Killinochchi office. These attacks were reported to the police, raised in parliament, mentioned in the press and unfortunately was passed off, as yet another regrettable hardship of post war Northern Sri Lanka. The Sinhala polity was generally silent when the recipients of violence were Tamil democratic politicians from the North. Now the same situation has been repeated in the heart of the Sinhala South. The elected political opposition, in a country with a proud democratic history and a government which likes to insist that there exists effective domestic institutions and processes to deal with all ills,  obviously cannot visit Sinhala areas in the country’s south. What was happening in the North previously has now extended to the South. The assaults on the democratic freedoms of the Tamil opposition MPs in the North has now been extended to Sinhala opposition MPs in the South.

High Security Zones and the Police Spokesman

 As a former presidential spokesman, I have been amazed at current official state institution spokespersons brazen ability to dispense with factual accuracy, consistency, sometimes plain decency or plausibility when presenting official state responses to matters of public importance. Accordingly in the past, we have had police spokespersons make jokes about white vans, claim they have no information of attacks on religious minorities (when it is there for all to see on YouTube), the then Attorney General claim that disappeared journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda was living abroad and then claim in Court that only God almighty would really know that. However in the current situation, the usual excuses by the government spokesmen will not suffice. There is a complaint, there is photographic evidence, there are corroborating witnesses and there is an alleged lethal weapon (or the novel defense that it is a toy gun). Really His Worship the Lord Mayor of Hambanthota should stop playing with such toys.

The Mayor who first put all responsibility for his actions to a directive to him by MP, Namal Rajapakse has subsequently, when it became apparent that the Sinhala south was reacting negatively to the attack, retracted, that he received a phone call from the young MP and has taken full personal responsibility for his actions. Of course a check on his phone logs will reveal the truth, which should be ascertained. If he did receive instructions from anyone else, then there was a pre meditated conspiracy to attack.

Anyway, the incident raises some very important questions to which the government should be held to account.

  1. The first is that the environs of a national airport and sea port are high security zones, with tight security, which anyone who has passed through either of such places would know only too well. Sri Lanka is South Asia’s most militarized society, where with close upon four hundred thousand personnel in the law enforcement and security services, we have the highest per capita security personnel to civilian ratio in South Asia, according to various independent international security publications, including the Jane’s Defense Review. Despite this there was a serious breach of security.
  1. Secondly the Mayor of Hambanthota runs around brandishing firearms or toy pistols according to him, for the express purpose, supposedly of maintaining law and order in Hambanthota. Somebody should really inform the first citizen of Hambanthota, that according to the Sri Lankan Constitution, the Attorney General’s department and all relevant statutory provisions, law and order is the preserve of the police and of course under public security ordinance in force throughout the country, also the security forces, but certainly not those of elected local bodies, municipal, urban or pradeshiya sabhas. Mayor Fernando should read the Municipal Council Ordinance, to understand his powers, duties and responsibilities. What would happen for instance if TNA mayors and UC chairmen ran around the North with toy guns, the BBS, the JHU and NFF would have a fit.
  1. Thirdly, the police have as this article is being written yet to question Mayor Eraj Fernando. This despite the fact, that he is a suspect in an attack on no less than five elected representatives of the sovereign people of Sri Lanka. One almost  pities the police under the 18thamendment.

The UNP goes international

 The United National Party (UNP), generally an opposition that acts more like a party supporting the government but from the outside, sprang into some sort of action in defense of its MPs. But its statements and actions were telling. The UNP stated that the goon attack on its MPs in broad daylight in high security zones lends credence to the international community’s charges against the Rajapakse regime in the UNHRC in Geneva and thereafter the UNP complained to the international Inter Parliamentary Union. In both cases the UNP’s response was linked to the outside world, demonstrating its own assessment of the lack of an effective domestic remedy for the assault on democratic opposition. The likely police whitewash in the next few days, will only confirm that assessment. If the main democratic opposition UNP believes it has no avenue for redress from within the Sri Lankan State, then we now have only the regime insisting on the efficacy of domestic remedies. No one buys it Geneva, they don’t buy it Sirikotha, they don’t buy it in the Northern Provincial Council, they don’t buy it in the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress. The only insistence of its existence is in the corridors of power of the Rajapakse Administration and it is increasingly sounding hollow.

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