President Rajapaksa's Oxford speech misleading
By Satheesan Kumaaran
June 19, 2008

President Rajapaksa gave a speech at the Oxford Union Society - the world's most prestigious debating society - on May 13, 2008, where many renowned leaders, including the Dalai Lama, have spoken previously. President Rajapaksa used the occasion to call upon the International Community (IC) to brand the LTTE as a terrorist outfit, one of the worst the world has ever seen.

He started out by saying he was going to talk on a subject of much interest to his country at the present time. He went on to speak a little on non-traditional security issues, then switched the topic to terrorism, which he considers of great importance because his political and economic survival depends on the Tamil national question. He expressed his disappointment that his State is fighting the LTTE on its own in order to guarantee democratic values, respect for human life and freedom of expression.

The International Community should help GoSL wipe out the LTTE
He said: "I must add that what I am doing is in no way different to what other democracies have done before, and continue to do in the face of terrorism. If we fail in our war against the LTTE, the world will fail in its fight against terrorism, and democracy will be the victim. This is the plain truth."

The Union had not invited a Tamil representative to participate in the debate. If they had, the world would have known who was right and who was wrong, and would have had many issues brought to light, which until now have been hidden from the IC. The crowd cheered the President, but his speech had many errors, and raised many questions: "Why would the President alert the IC over the LTTE? Is the LTTE a threat to the international peace? Who is behind the aerial bombardment of Tamil areas in Sri Lanka? Who killed over 80,000 civilians in the North and East? Who is sponsoring the so-called 'white-van' gangs in the Sri Lankan government areas, including Colombo? Who has killed journalists and academics? What happened to the thousands of Sri Lankan soldiers reported missing? The GoSL has the responsibility to answer these questions. It would be a great mistake to put the blame only on the LTTE. The GoSL has failed to try to find out the real cause of the problem. LTTE leader, V. Pirapaharan, once said he and his people are not making up their cause for violence. The Tamils have the grievances and should be allowed to live freely with dignity and justice without the interference of external forces.

The LTTE is responsible for the killing of its opponents, but unlike the many killings and abductions carried out by the State-sponsored groups, the LTTE targets key political and military figures who obstruct the Tamil cause. It is interesting to note that the LTTE was the creation of the Sri Lankan State after it systematically denied Tamils' rights, and indulged in massed murders, rapes, and looting of minority Tamil properties. So the genocidal actions were directed at the minority Tamils, long before the Tamil Tigers even existed.

The call for the IC to help crush the LTTE has no meaning whatsoever. The IC must take a lead role in exerting pressure upon both conflicting parties to return to the negotiating table and refrain from any further violence. Former People's Alliance President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, rightly but belatedly acknowledged that the Tamils have grievances, yet, as the country's President, she failed to fulfill the aspirations of Tamils. She even failed to implement the promises made at the donor conferences, particularly the LTTE's proposals for setting up of the Interim Self-Governing Authority for Northeast. If the IC helped the GoSL crush the LTTE, the ethnic conflict on the island would only deepen.

Is it democracy?
Sri Lanka's political institution is arguably the finest in Asia, next to India, because Sri Lanka had been under the direct influence of British rule with less influence from any other authoritarian or totalitarian regimes. However, the democracy that prevailed during the British era is totally different from what exists today. Rajapaksa expressed his pride saying that Sri Lanka adopted the universal franchise in 1931 just five years after it was adopted in Britain. The foundation was there, but the Sinhalese leaders who came to power did not make use of the great democratic institution, as India now does. The fundamental principal of plural democracy is to embrace minorities so that they never feel alienated by the majority, and to provide the minorities with equal opportunities. Britain followed this practice during its rule in Sri Lanka.

Things changed after Britain left the island, handing the affairs of all ethnic groups over to the majority Sinhala community. Tamil leaders, including Sir Pon Ramanathan, Sir Pon Arunachalam and G. G. Ponnambalam favoured living together with the Sinhalese. Tamil leaders began their peaceful campaign for autonomy after Sri Lankan leadership brought laws against the interests of Tamils, and further isolated the minorities from the majority Sinhalese.

When the Tamils held peaceful protests, the Sinhala leadership met them with violence. When Tamil youths demanded autonomy peacefully they were subjected to capital punishment (some Tamil youths were tortured and eventually killed in front of the Bodhi trees). It is crystal clear that Rajapaksa used the word "democracy" out of context when he used it in his speech to the Union to portray the Tamil Tigers as terrorists.

In fact, Rajapaksa claimed that the UPFA government, which he leads, is partnering with Sinhala, Tamil, and Muslim communities and all other religious groups in the country. He said: "You will be hard pressed to find a similarly representative government in any of the other democracies of the world." His statement is again misleading because UPFA partners with the Tamil paramilitaries. Groups responsible for rights abuses, and who, during the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), forcefully recruited children and shaved their eyebrows and heads, so that they could not escape from these paramilitaries. These paramilitaries are the latest ploy by the GoSL to show the world that they are treating the Tamils equally.

Freedom of expression on the brink of decay
In his speech, the President claimed that his government is giving complete freedom to the press, and allowing freedom of expression to flow on the island. This statement is completely untrue. International media organizations have been asserting that Sri Lanka is one of the countries most notorious for lack of freedom of expression, and the threat to their people of the press.

Tamil journalists have been taken into custody to be interrogated and held for years without investigation. Nearly half a dozen journalists have been killed, including Tamilnet editor, Sivaram alias Taraki, and Nimalarajan of the BBC. Sinhala media outlets and their Sinhalese journalists have also been taken into custody and threatened with death if they write stories against the government. Many outspoken analysts fear expressing their opinions because of the fear of death by the GoSL. NGOs cannot release the fact-sheets because they will be punished by the GoSL if the reports condemn the GoSL. Clearly, freedom of expression is not prevailing on the island.

Why does GoSL have its representatives in LTTE-held areas?
Rajapaksa proudly announced that the GoSL treats everyone equally, both those living in LTTE-held areas and GoSL-controlled areas. He said: "There are no signs of obvious starvation in any part of the country. In fact for over 25 years, since the beginning of the LTTE's violent challenge to our very existence, to our sovereignty, the government has been sending food, medicine and educational material to the two districts dominated by the LTTE. Every single teacher, nurse, doctor, hospital and government official in the LTTE controlled areas is appointed and paid by the government in Colombo. Very few countries grappling with terrorism have been so accommodating. This itself illustrates the caring nature of our society."

This statement is also misleading and is meant only to hoodwink the IC into showing them how compassionate he is. In fact, the GoSL wants to appoint Sri Lankan civil servants in the LTTE-held areas to show the world that its administration is taking control. In response, the LTTE has never kicked the GoSL agents out of their territory. The GoSL wants these representatives in LTTE-held areas only so it can stay informed about what is taking place in those areas. For example, when the tsunami hit the LTTE-held areas, the IC leaders, including United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan were denied entry to LTTE-controlled areas by GoSL officials.

The GoSL promised the IC that their representatives were helping the affected people from the ground, and sought international aid. However, aid that reached the island did not reach the much affected areas in the North and East. The storages in the south were full of medicine and goods such as wheat flour and sugar for over six months. After they expired, private businessmen bought them on the black market and sold them to the general public at high prices.

Responsible leaders like Rajapaksa should not use the international platform to spread venomous lies. The reality is these political leaders often feel that they need to teach the general public hatred, greed and jealously in order to remain in power. Sri Lankans eagerly await new political blood, with the courage and determination to fix the image of Sri Lanka. A government made of younger generations who have grown up with good teaching and without hatred, greed, and jealousy. The general public who support leaders who teach hatred and intolerance should be stopped so that they will not become characteristics of future generations.

The basic tragedy on the island is that Sinhalese politicians have chosen to resort to war as a solution to the ethnic crisis instead of seeking a calculated way to appease the disgruntled Tamil community. By denying the existence of Tamil dissatisfaction and blaming the LTTE for creating an unjustified violent conflict, they waste money, energy and effort on a war they can ill afford.

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