Review by: Chandre Dharmawardana, Ontario, Canada; Dec-2013
III- Focus on Sri Lanka – Canadian Parliamentary Hearings on Human Rights-III
Review of the presentation by Directors, Foreign Affairs, 19- Nov- 2013
The separatist conflict in Sri Lanka and the souring of Canada against Sri Lanka.
Document – 3
Hearings from officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs, 19-Nov. 2013
Susan Gregson Assistant Deputy Minister, Asia, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (TD); Deborah Chatsis Director, South Asia Relations, DFA-TD; Jeff Nankivell Director General, Development, Asia, DFA-TD.
The source material used may be accessed from the above link.
Our comments have been updated in Dec.2013. Our reactions are given in Light Blue shaded text .
|This document reviews the hearing of the Human Rights subcommittee of the Canadian Parliament where the professionals at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, trade and development report on the situation in Sri Lanka. The views of these officers are important as they have to brief the government, and also construct a case to justify the political stance and narrative of the government in power.We argue here, within the context of the HR-committee review, that (i) Canada has lost its capacity to influence Sri Lanka because it has been widely viewed, for several decades, as a hostile power by a majority of Sri Lankans, and continue to brandish the big stick of “retribution”. (ii) The yardstick of Human-Rights accountability, same-sex relations etc., that apply to a prosperous, peaceful, educated society cannot be blindly applied to societies that have been subject to two generations of war and thereby impoverished both economically and morally. (iii) The TNA, the political wing of the LTTE, would normally be the target of retributive justice for its part in aiding and abetting the tigers who took up arms against the state. The SL-government spared the TNA of this and brought it into the political mainstream in a great act of reconciliation; but the DFA analysts have failed to emphasize or even note this.
Canada needs to change its foreign policy stance vis a vis Sri Lanka if it wishes to be influential in Colombo and the SAARC countries.
Sri Lanka has a soured perception of Canada, as having supported LTTE activities for decades. If not for this, Canada might have been able to influence Sri Lanka, using its experience in dealing with Quebec separatism, in regard to the claims of Tamil nationalism. However, the Tamil North in Sri Lanka cannot be converted into an `exclusively Tamil’ enclave as attempted by the Tigers, and as desired by Tamil nationalists; in fact many more Tamilophones live outside the North. It has a mere 5% of the population in an area of 8884 sq.km, dependent economically on the South which even supplies its TNA-political leaders, and hence the Canadian or Indian models are inapplicable.
Our discussion of two earlier sittings of the parliamentary subcommittee on human-rights may be accessed from:
Hon. Scott Reid (Conservative, Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington)
Chairman of the sessions.
The Chair Scott Reid
Order, please, colleagues. This is the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. Today is November 19 and this is our third meeting. This meeting is televised.
Our witnesses today are from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. That’s to say, we have with us today Susan Gregson, Jeff Nankivell, and Deborah Chatsis, who are here to advise us about the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. [….]
Susan Gregson ADM, Asia, DFA-TD.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. Thank you very much for inviting the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development to contribute to your study on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.
I have with me today, Jeff Nankivell, Director General for Development, Asia, and Deborah Chatsis, Director for South Asia Relations. We will be happy to respond to any questions from the committee following my opening statement.
As you know, Prime Minister Harper did not attend last week’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, or CHOGM, in Sri Lanka. In 2011, Canada joined Commonwealth consensus to accept Sri Lanka’s bid to host the 2013 CHOGM. However, Prime Minister Harper laid down conditions for his attendance, and we were hopeful that the Sri Lankan government would improve human rights conditions and take steps towards reconciliation and accountability. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. The human rights situation remains poor and is deteriorating in many ways.
Since the end of the nearly three-decade civil conflict in 2009, Sri Lanka has made obvious progress in reconstruction and infrastructure development. Atrocities associated with the war, such as the massive displacement of citizens, have ceased, and the government has resettled more than 300,000 internally displaced persons. However, while the Government of Sri Lanka won the war, it has not yet won the peace; it has not attempted tangible and sustainable reconciliation, and we fear that this failure exposes all Sri Lankans to the danger of renewed strife and suffering.
We continue to urge the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of its own Commission of Inquiry on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, LLRC. Prior to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay’s August 2013 mission to Sri Lanka, the government announced some measures to demonstrate progress towards reconciliation, including adding new LLRC recommendations to its national plan of action and appointing a commission to investigate wartime disappearances. We fear, however, that because of the clear lack of follow-through these and other recent announcements were largely cosmetic and timed ahead of Pillay’s visit and CHOGM.
We welcomed the provincial council elections in September, including the historic ballot in the Northern province, but were disturbed by efforts at intimidation leading up to these elections, and are discouraged by a continuing lack of commitment to real devolution of power to councils.
|1. First we need to ask what yardstick is being used by Ms. Gregson, ADM/DFA-TD in the speed and level of implementation of what she calls “reconciliation”. Do we take the case of Iraq after 4 years since the withdrawal of the West? Do we take Punjab after the suppression of the Kalisthan secessionist movement in India?. Or do we look at Cambodia which waited many decades before even trying to return to the past? Has japan even begun to face the truth about Japanese atrocities during WWII?. By any reasonable yardstick, a society under the trauma of a 30-year war cannot be expected to move faster than, say Canada did after a few weeks of FLQ terrorism in Quebec – how long did Canada take to put back those events and achieve “reconciliation? For how many year since then has the Bloc Quebecois continued to walk out when the Canadian Anthem is played? So reconciliation may need a couple of generations?2. The claim that there has been no attempt at ‘reconciliation’ is vitiated by several major facts.
(a) It should be noted that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) consists largely, with just a few exceptions, of individuals who constituted the political arm of the LTTE, the latter deemed to be a terrorist entity by most countries. Under normal circumstances, these members would face trial for aiding and abetting terrorism and for sedition against the state; the TNA could have also been banned. This was NOT DONE in the hope of reconciliation. It was argued that the TNA should be treated just as General Karuna, K. Pathmanathan (arms procurer for the LTTE), other top LTTE men like Daya Master (media head of the LTTE), their families, etc., and a large number of LTTE cadre who surrendered were treated, by absorbing them into main-stream society. Are they not steps to reconciliation?
(b) The government allowed the elections to go ahead even before the de-mining of the North etc, and knowing that the land-owning high-caste old-guard who ruled the North since the 1930s would come back to power, since there has been no time for a politically educated Northern polity to form. Was this not a huge conciliatory step?
(c) Government concentrated on building the basic infrastructure that had been destroyed by the Tigers. The wealthy diaspora, anchored in a history of support to the LTTE, did not move in to help. However, many Tamil capitalists have began to invest in the North, as Hon. Joe Daniels, Hon. Chungen Leung, and Marlene Gallyot found. on their visit to Sri Lanka. Ms. Marlene Gallyot was even able to speak in Tamil and talk to the locals. So to claim that there is “no reconciliation” is misleading.
(d) As many observers have noted, there are four kinds of Tamil-speaking people in Sri Lanka. The antagonism and sedition have been mainly orchestrated by ONE of these groups, constituting about 5% of the population who are led by a coterie of land-owning high-caste Tamils who don’t even live in the North. (d) Reconciliation is not based on retaliation; unfortunately, the Tamil Diaspora, and the political process in Canada are directed towards retaliation, but touted as “accountability”. If reconciliation is the final objective, an investigation that cannot yield conclusive results (about culpability in HR-violations) would simply further polarize the two communities and destroy what ever hope there is for it.
Susan Gregson ADM, Asia, DFA-TD. There continue to be two distinct areas of focus for the international community in terms of human rights in Sri Lanka. First are credible allegations of violations of human rights by both the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, and government forces during the conflict, and second are ongoing violations of human rights since 2009.
On the first point, Canada continues to urge Sri Lanka to establish an independent investigation into alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law committed by both sides during the conflict. This was a key element of the March 2013 Human Rights Council resolution on Sri Lanka, which Canada co-sponsored.
Unfortunately, the Government of Sri Lanka continues to oppose these calls, even last week as it hosted CHOGM. High Commissioner Pillay’s report to the Human Rights Council in September noted that she detected no new or comprehensive effort to independently or credibly investigate these allegations. She encouraged Sri Lankan authorities to engage in a credible national process with tangible results before the council considers the implementation of this year’s resolution at its March 2014 session.
|Unfortunately, Sri Lankan Government on the one hand, and Western Nations like Canada on the other, are conducting un dialogue de sourds . If ‘war crimes’ are to be addressed even superficially, Sri Lanka will have to bring to book TNA members of parliament who collaborated with the LTTE. Some even celebrated the LTTE-assassinations of prominent persons. It will have to look at Western and local NGOs that acted in collusion with terrorists, provided materials, communication equipment, earth-moving equipment, and funds to the LTTE. In dealing with alleged “mass graves” found in LTTE areas, the question of whether the LTTE, or the army were responsible can never be established unequivocally, especially given (a) the utter unreliability of witness accounts in war situations (b) the lack of a sharp distinction between the LTTE cadre and even old civilians being regarded as ‘makkal padai’ combatants. Clearly, any attempt to lay blame on prominent members of the Tamil community or the army without definitive evidence would rouse strong passions, re-igniting violence. Mr. Laith Weeratunga, Secy. to the President of Sri Lanka presented this type of view in Washington recently, explaining how ‘chaos’ would engulf Sri lanka if the type of investigation envisaged by the USA were attempted.The other component of the dialogue de sourds has to deal with a strident diaspora demanding retaliation and crying genocide. Canada is responding to this narrative of its electorates with a heavy Tamil-Diaspora presence. It was created by well-funded pro-LTTE organizations like FACT, WTM, TRO etc. that are now banned, and their work has been taken up by other organizations. So-called “eye witness accounts”, or movies like those of Channel-4 made up of old propaganda footage has been familiar to many who followed LTTE agitation and propaganda. They have reappeared in Channel-4 to become the emotive “facts” of this campaign.
We showed in our discussion of HRW’s view of the death toll of the last phase of the war, how numbers have been blown up from about 1400±10% to hundreds of thousands, and how such speculation has been accepted by many NGOs. We showed how incorrect food-supply figures are being continually quoted by NGOs and UN bodies. We discussed other patent fallacies rigidly held by NGO spokespersons from HRW and AI. So how can a ‘credible international inquiry’ be held when the prevailing belief structure is already so skewed that there can be no possibility of an independent jury?
Susan Gregson ADM, Asia, DFA-TD. With regard to post-war human rights, during her visit, Pillay heard complaints about the continuing high levels of harassment and intimidation meted out to human rights defenders, lawyers, and journalists. Voices of protest and dissent have been silenced by arrest, detention, and even abduction in white vans.
Parliamentary Secretary Obhrai heard this last week, as did Senator Hugh Segal, Canada’s special envoy to the Commonwealth, during his fact-finding mission to Sri Lanka in March 2013. Freedoms of expression and association are violated and the space for political dissent continues to shrink. According to Reporters Without Borders, Sri Lanka is among the most dangerous countries for journalists, ranked 162-nd in its press freedom index. Government inaction to protect dissenting voices results in self-censorship in mainstream media.
|We discuss the issue of white vans later in this text.
While it is true that many journalists have been attacked, and some have been even killed, these reports fail to mention that in most cases the perpetrators are the LTTE or its agents. By omitting this fact, it is made out to the bona fide observer that this is all the fault of the government.
The Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) recently (2013) released a list of 19 `journalists’ claimed to have been killed since 1992 in Sri Lanka. CPJ includes 39 journalists killed worldwide in 2013, but NONE killed in Sri Lanka since the end of terrorism.
Those who take up arms against the state become targets of the army, just as happened in the short FLQ uprising in Quebec. The 19 killed are said to be journalists, but who among them were terrorists, killed in action etc., are not stated by CPJ and this leads to a false impression. They are
- Shoba, alias “Colonel Issipriya” of the LTTE; we discussed Issipriya’s case in the HRW testimony.
- Puniyamoorthy Sathyamoorthy. He was an LTTE reporter and fighter who was killed in battle in the Mullaitheevu district on February 12, 2009. There was little distinction between civilians, journalists and photo-crew of the LTTE who were all required to fight.
- Lasantha Wickramatunga ; editor-in-chief of the weekly The Sunday Leader, killed by unidentified gunman – 8 January 2009; i.e., during war time. The criminals have not been apprehended. Lasantha worked closely with Government politicians, the opposition leaders, the Indian RAW, and the LTTE, working as a multiple secret agent in return for information that he traded among his antagonistic clients. He lived a dangerous life, and purportedly left behind a letter predicting his ultimate assassination.
- Rashmi Mohamed; Killed by LTTE. He died on October 6, 2008 at a political rally in Anuradhapura targeted by a LTTE suicide bomber, killing Maj. Gen. Janaka Perera (political candidate) who died along with 27 others.
- Paranirupasingham Devakumar; Jaffna correspondent for the independent channel News 1st, was stabbed to death when he was attacked by supporters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), may 2008.
- Suresh Linbiyo, T. Tharmalingam, Isaivizhi Chempiyan LTTE broadcasters, Voice of Tigers (LTTE-radio) – killed on November 27, 2007, during an airstrike in Killinochchi (i.e., ancient Giranikke), in the war zone.
- 14 others names , murdered deep into the war period. The majority of them were undoubtedly killed by the LTTE. Some, like Dharmeratnam Sivaram alias Taraki, the (LTTE) Tamilnet.com editor, is alleged to be linked to the murder of two PLOTE (tamil) dissidents, and his murder is shrouded in Tamil internecine warfare. More details of these cases can be found from at The Sri lanka defence ministry website and also from a posting in 2009. The government side of the story in regard to the journalist Tissanayagam is also given in that website.
Mr. Tissanayagam is the only recognized journalist who has been taken into custody on suspicion of having connections with terrorist activities, by the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) of the Sri Lankan Police, during the war. He had worked closely with Taraki, the LTTE-Tamilnet.com editor; but he was known as an NGO worker who got Swiss-government funding for the ” North Eastern Herald” that he edited with Taraki, promoting LTTE causes, and partly funded by the LTTE.
On 06 March 2008, the TID raided two neighbouring offices at a Shopping complex in Kotahena, a northern suburb of Colombo with many Tamil-Catholic residents (who have even tamilized the place name to Kotta-chennai!). The raid was based on information that the LTTE was running a press and propaganda hub there. The raid revealed a press owned by Mr. Jaseekaran under the name E-kuality Graphics Private Ltd. The next-door office was that of Outreach Multimedia Private Ltd. TID took Mr. Jaseekaran and Miss Valarmadhi into custody. Later, on information revealed, Mr. Tissanayagam was taken in to custody on 07 March 2008.
These facts are ignored by Western write ups, and the release of a list of 19 journalists killed is used against the Government and military forces, claiming that the nation is bordering on `authoritarian’ rule (e.g., as stated by Navi Pillay), ignoring the existence of regular elections (monitored by independent organizations) conducted at a very high standard for a country emerging from war. Politicians are voted in and out of office at these elections, instead of being returned continually as in authoritarian or tradition- bound societies.
These reports claim that journalists are afraid to criticize the Rajapaksas. Thus they ignore articles in many local newspapers and cartoons depicting Rajapaksa as a dictator, a Hitler, a puppet, a clown etc. The JVP, LSSP, CP, the UNP, TNA and other opposition newspapers routinely carry articles accusing the “Rajapaksa brothers” of being a family syndicate, and allege their corruption and collusion in injustices. Unlike in the West, the newspapers are NOT owned by some towering press Mogul like Rupert Murdoch, or a major syndicate.
|However, the MR government has very unwisely blocked some English language websites run by NGOs or government critics, well-knowing that they have little impact on local opinion. The attacks on the government in Nationalist Tamil language news sheets tend to be extremely biased and personally insulting, but these are mostly ignored by the government; they too have little effect on public opinion (including local Tamil opinion). However, Tamil news papers that are known to have been pro-LTTE are kept under surveillance, and violent incidences have been reported. Their journalists, and their Diaspora connections are responsible for building a narrative hostile to Sri Lanka.
Susan Gregson ADM, Asia, DFA-TD. Regrettably, we are also observing growing intolerance of and violence against religious communities, and again a lack of action against perpetrators. This includes attacks on the places of worship and business belonging to minority religious communities, and increasingly violent pressure against Muslim communities.
On August 10, a mob, including Buddhist monks, attacked a mosque in Grandpass, resulting in injuries, but no immediate arrests. Violence against Christian churches and worshipers is also on the rise, with no serious government efforts to prevent or punish attacks. Andrew Bennett, Canada’s Ambassador of Religious Freedom, has been active in raising our concerns.
Susan Gregson ADM, Asia, DFA-TD. The government’s inaction and tacit support of a culture of impunity have badly damaged the rule of law and democracy. Of particular concern is the January 2013 dismissal of Chief Justice Bandaranayake following a highly politicized impeachment process that lacked basic transparency and respect for due process. The impeachment is a high-profile example of the Sri Lankan government’s failure to uphold the Commonwealth (Latimer House) Principles setting out the relationship between the three branches of government.
High Commissioner Pillay confirmed that sexual violence remains a major concern both in terms of its scope and its systematic nature. Violence against women in northern Sri Lanka is on the rise, especially since 2009, and war widows are particularly disadvantaged. Other vulnerable groups, such as lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered persons, particularly activists, face harassment and intimidation, sometimes by authorities. In the lead-up to CHOGM, LGBT activists were threatened with arrest if they continued their advocacy activities.
|With the elimination of the LTTE, attacks on Muslims in Sri lanka have gone down, and have become more like what is found in most other countries in the world. We have seen the rise of anti-Islamic sentiment in many parts of the world after 9/11. In Canada many of the individuals subject to arbitrary arrest ( e.g., Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati, Muayyed Nureddin, and Maher Arar ) were associated with Islamic culture. The Gallup evaluation of Islamophobia in the USA should be used as a measure of what could happen even in an advanced country, leave aside a country which has languished thirty years behind in human-rights development because of its wars.
In our view, the ant-Islamic sentiment in Sri Lanka is due largely to the activities of the Wahhabi sect that has undermined the balance with traditional Islam. Traditional Muslims have worked with the government, and against the LLTE that practiced “ethnic cleansing” by ejecting Muslims and Sinhalese from the North, claiming it to be an “exclusively Tamil homeland”.
The Wahhabi supporters have began to create new Mosques using their-Saudi-based funding. The creation of evangelical churches and mosques without the permission of urban authorities, e.g., by relabeling a private house as a ‘place of worship’ has been very common. It has led to clashes, mostly with the majority religion (Buddhism), when the unauthorized ‘place of worship’ attempts to expand. There have also been clashes between Evangelical Christian groups, and supporters of established Christian churches.
The level of anti-Islamic sentiment is much weaker in Sri Lanka than in Canada with 246 events, 531 events in France, and 6276 events in the UK (using figures from Islamophobia watch, for the period since 2005-2013). But a very small number of very high-profile demonstrations have occurred in Sri Lanka, while none had resulted in deaths. Clashes between Muslim groups (Wahabis and pre-existing Mulsim groups) have also occurred. The fear of Buddhist areas being “taken over” by wealthy Muslim organizations has led to much litigation, and some sporadic uprisings. The total number of events per capita is much less than in India, France, etc., where the Front national has pushed public demonstrations against the proliferation of Islamic institutions.
It should be noted that many such post-LTTE anti-Muslim hostilities in Sri Lanka (e.g., the contentious Halal labeling of food) were amicably solved (or shelved), while a few other events have led to public flare-ups. The approach of the authorities has been to let the Muslim politicians, and Sinhala-Buddhist Nationalists to settle their differences by one-to-one talks. This has been accepted by both sides who have usually NOT gone to courts, and it has worked in most cases. Clearly, the attempt to blame the government by foreign observes, HR-NGOs, and Ms. Navy Pillai is largely due to their lack of a valid yardstick in evaluating the anti-Islam sentiment.
|Sexual violence against women. It is stated here that Violence against women in northern Sri Lanka is on the rise, especially since 2009, and war widows are particularly disadvantaged . Violence and rape of economically and socially depressed women by men, especially upper-caste young Tamils, was a standard feature of the rural North dominated by the caste system. During the war, the LTTE used women as the most pliant form of cannon fodder. Many of the suicide cadre were women. In the early days of the LTTE, the Tigers forbade sexual relations among its men and women. But this stopped when the Tiger leaders themselves began to have relationships. Data regarding sexual harassment under the LTTE is unavailable, but it may be assumed that this was no different (or possibly higher) than in traditional caste-driven Tamil society where upper castes had access to the women of lower castes by tradition. Hence the claim that sexual violence has increased after 2009 is based on ignorance of the situation before, or during the conflict.
One reason for claiming that the army is responsible for rape and sexual violence is in the context of the so-called `militarization’ of the North. In this sense, focusing only on “Northern Sri lanka” by Ms. Gregson is interesting. The army is also stationed in many other parts of Sri Lanka, including the South. There are, by all accounts, many more war widows in the South. However, the HR-NGOs and even Ms. Navy Pillay have only expressed concern about the North! This would appear to Sri Lankans as a biased response to the shrill narrative of the Tamil Diaspora in the West.
Soldier’s behaviour has to be kept in check, be it in the North or South Sri lanka, or in the West. We only have to look at the sexual harassment in the RCMP or the US army, and the suppression of information about such HR-violations. Pentagon officials announced in May that sexual-assault incidents have increased by 35 percent between 2010 and 2012, bringing the annual total to 26,000 cases for 2012. The HR-observers of Sri lanka should expect violations similar to that found in the RCMP or the US army, but set back in time by about 30 years (when matters were much worse), as a 30-year long war is not helpful for developing HR-values.
LGBT rights Here again, consider Canada’s attitudes 30 years ago! What yardstick is being used by Ms. Gregson and Ms. Navi Pillay here? Ms. Gregson should consider the conscientious views of some members of this HR-subcommittee on LGBT matters to set right the slant on Sri Lanka. The Hon. Scott Reid voted against the Martin government’s same-sex legislation in 2005, after consulting his constituents on the issue. That is, the views of the society are paramount in how to deal with LGBT issues. The Hon. David Sweet was head of an organization that equated gays and lesbians to drug addicts. What could have been their opinion in a society three to four decades delayed in HR-thinking, as would be the case of a society held in the grip of a war? So, this is the issue of the “yardstick”.
Sri Lankan society peacefully harbors Lesbians, Gays, Kandyan polyandry, Muslim polygamy etc., but open public display of sexuality and even heterosexual love are strongly disliked. Naturally, LGBTs coming out of the closet is not socially accepted as yet. Public kissing even between married hetero-sex couples is not the norm in Sri Lanka. Those who break these social mores can expect censure or worse, just as what may have happened three or four decades ago in Canada. Same-sex marriage (SSM) is not yet acceptable to Sri lankan electorates. However, we note that an Indian writer (Ms. Alaka M.Basu) a Cornell university academic, reported in 2012, that there is far less sexual harassment of women in Sri Lanka, than in India (or Italy), and that there is actual respect. We noted elsewhere that When Catherine Russell (US Ambassador at Large on Women’s Rights) requested a visit to Sri lanka, it parried the request by citing it to be an “inconvenient time”. The reaction of most Sri Lankans was approval of the government action, with Linda van Schagen, an Eurasian lady living in Colombo writing to a local newspaper that “What would an American woman know about the rights of Sri Lankan women when American women face violence on a daily basis in their own country – date rape, gang rape, mugging, domestic abuse, murder are part of US life”. This letter was supported the next day by a former (lady) Principal of the Asian Int. School, Colombo. Judging by other correspondence (pro and con) regarding Catherine Russell, the government seems have overwhelming support for its defiant position with respect to such investigative foreign emissaries. So, be it Rajapaksa or Scott Reid, politicians have to respect the views of their constituency, and not the views of Ms. Pillay or Catherine Russell.
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Susan Gregson ADM, Asia, DFA-TD. Economic pressures on most families are increasing as the price of essential commodities rises. According to the International Labour Organization, Sri Lanka had the fastest-growing income inequality in Asia in 2012. Of particular concern is the militarization of a number of economic and social sectors to the detriment of local economies and long-term development. Yet the Government of Sri Lanka continues to refuse to engage constructively with the international community, as we saw last week at CHOGM. Perhaps most astonishing were the unconscionable public attacks by Sri Lankan officials on the professionalism and objectivity of High Commissioner Pillay during her mission, and their almost immediate rejection of her report.
|(1)Economic Inequality. Canada, that did not face a 30-year war, or the need to import oil with a third-world has also not fared well in regard to economic inequality, even though it did not fall into the 2008 crisis triggered by the Housing-mortgage collapse in the US. Ann Golden (Ryerson university says “the top 1 per cent of Canadians took home a third of all income growth from 1998 to 2007, with the top incomes growing 13 times faster than the bottom incomes. With the economic crisis in 2008, things became much worse in the West and even in Canada, with growth slowing down and inequality increasing. One the other hand the post-war Sri Lankan economy took off with impressive growth rates – and this normally means inequality will increase during the growth spurt, as we have seen in China, Malaysia, Taiwan and South Korea. So Ms. Gregson cannot single out Sri Lanka here. In any case, world economic trends in the end determine and constrain little nations much more than big nations.
(2) Engaging the International community. (IC). Is it being suggested that “engaging constructively with the IC” will solve the “economic pressures on most families (due to the) increasing price of essential commodities? The economic problems of the country, emerging from the war, and confronted with the collapse of western markets, PIGS economies in Europe, do not seem to be recognized as basic causes by Ms. Gregson.
Is engaging with China, Japan, South Korea and India etc., to obtain funding for development, not a form of engaging with the ‘international’ community? Is the IC made up only of the West?. Perhaps Ms. Gregson is suggesting that Sri Lanka should expose herself to the open market and allow western capitalism to come-in unbridled? How Western Capitalism exploits any disaster including civil war has been discussed by Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine, The rise of disaster capitalism. Some one may interpret Ms. Gregson’s remarks as implying that if Sri Lanka does not ‘engage the international community”, the latter will make matters harder by applying trade sanctions?
(3) regarding militarization of a number of sectors We are sure that Ms. Gregson is familiar with Mr. Harper’s from helmets to hard hats idea for inducting returning soldiers to civilian life. With the end of the Eelam war, the government has a huge job of reconstruction of roads, sewers, water and irrigation systems, de-mining, power lines, building houses, etc. It has to even deliver kerosine and basic fuels to war-ravaged areas where there are no roads. The destruction of infrastructure by the LTTE can be illustrated by just examining the vital rail-link between Colombo and Jaffna that existed since 1905.
Most of the competent local population (be they engineers, doctors, electricians or masons), have moved to Canada and other countries, while the others, held captive by the LTTE are the sick and war-shocked ex-IDPs who are trying to settle down. There is a shortage of skills, and a shortage of investment. Is it not logical to use the man power, equipment, engineering know-how and organizational abilities of the army to get the work done? It also achieves the objective of gradually moving the soldiers to civilian ways of life, since an idle army can be dangerous. That is, what the Western observers have termed “militarization” is simply civilification of an army. Napoleon understood it. The army strength during the hay day of the last Eelam war was about 42,000 in the North. Today it has dropped to about 12,000 soldiers.
It should be noted that `low-caste’ Tamils have welcomed the fact that the service sector and even grocery shops are run by the army. The Tamil entrepreneur with means has always been a high-caste Tamil who did not allow low-caste Tamils to enter into shops except by the back door, in a least conspicuous way or in the night. Many services were denied to low caste Tamils who had to get them by adhering to a hierarchical process. On the other hand, the army shops treat every customer equally, irrespective of caste. We have discussed this aspect of the problem previously, and given references to the writings of Sebastian Rasalingam, a ‘low-caste’ Tamil welcoming army shops in the North.
Sri Lankans do not under-estimate the threat of renewed kindling of terrorism by instigators from Tamil Nadu. Prabhakaran’s rise was directly linked to such Indian aid. There is also the danger of illegal immigration of Indians to Sri Lanka, a long-standing problem. Given that the majority of the 12,000 army cadre stationed in the North are working in the civil sector, there is every reason to hold a small fighting force in the North.
Many examples of simmering sessionist activity can be given.
- In 2013 several groups of LTTE detainees escaped to Tamil Nadu. The Naam Thamizhar Katchi (a pro-LTTE Tamil-Nadu party) activists attacked the Mihin Lanka airline offices. In March 2013, Chennai students demonstrated against Sri Lanka. These were followed by attacks on Sri Lankan visitors, students, monks and pilgrims. The Tamil Nadu political leadership has made many belligerent statements against Sri Lanka and pushed the central government against it.
- LTTE detainees in prisons in Welikada, Vavnyia and Jaffna were found with satellite phones and evidence of communication between them and foreign groups. The incident at the Vavuniya Prison, Northern Province, when LTTE detainees held prison officials hostage had evidence of direction from outside.
- Jaffna University pro-LTTE students attempted to used the Deevali festival (in November) as a pretext for commemorating dead suicide bombers as ‘martyrs’.
- Other incidences of civil unrest involving law-enforcement and political militants have been established.
- There is continual confrontation between Indian and Sri Lankan fishing flotillas.
- Smugglers and piracy acts occur continually across the Palk straits.
Susan Gregson ADM, Asia, DFA-TD. At the end of her mission to Sri Lanka, Ms. Pillay described Sri Lanka as “heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction”. A prominent Sri Lankan observer has described the situation as the government’s failure to bring its country out of a “post-war” context and into a “post-conflict” one. The lack of tangible reconciliation and accountability since 2009, as well as continuing violations of human rights and the rule of law, will continue to be key concerns for Canada and the international community. That said, it is not too late for the Government of Sri Lanka to change direction, engage in a genuine process of reconciliation, and build a united country in which all Sri Lankans can live in freedom and security.
My department will continue to closely monitor the human rights situation in Sri Lanka and engage with the international community and the Government of Sri Lanka to promote real and much-needed progress. Canada is not alone in expressing concerns. Other foreign governments, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and international jurists are among those also unsatisfied with the lack of evidence of improvements since the terrible conflict ended. Canada’s principled foreign policy requires that necessary actions match words.
Thank you very much for your attention. Merci beaucoup.
|Ms. Gregson has stated that “A prominent Sri Lankan observer has described the situation as the government’s failure to bring its country out of a “post-war” context and into a “post-conflict” one, and repeats the accusation of lack of reconciliation and accountability. Nowhere in her address did she designate what amounts to `reconciliation’, and between what parties.
Perhaps she is thinking of the government and the (less than) 5% population of Tamils living in the North, since the other three tamil-speaking groups, in the East, in the Tea country, and in the South, have been ex-existing peacefully since the 1983 clashes. It also seems that, in her view, the period 2009 to 2013 should be sufficient to achieve all these objectives of ‘reconciliation and accountability’.
Many western governments, while not even embroiled in war, have not succeeded during this period to come out of the deep economic crisis and the alienation that has been created between the `haves’ and `have-nots’ in these societies. We also noted that the USA, dealing with Katrina IDPs (comparable in number to the Sri-Lankan IDPs freed from the clutches of the LTTE) have not been completely settled yet (2013). The much smaller numbers of Aboriginal flood victims in Manitoba and elsewhere still languish in temporary shelters. So the timescale given to Sri Lanka seems absurd.
Besides, the percentage of people involved from a political point of view is 5% of the total population in the country, living in the Northern province, but with the anomaly of its Tamil political leaders (of the TNA) living in Colombo.
Ms. Gregson called their election an historic event, forgetting that the same elite (`upper-caste’) set of ‘Cinnamon gardens’ Tamils and their descendants have ruled this tradition-bound society since the time of the Donoughmore commission (1931) and before. So the 2013 election of the TNA, or the 2001 election of the LTTE-TNA, or the 1977 election of the TULF, or the 1965 or 1960 elections of the ITAK etc., is the traditional response of a traditional society that always elected its aristocratic masters, with no change. The problems of oppression (of `low-castes’ by `upper-castes’) and of women in Hindu society go back many decades before the war. However, the new, unprecedented infrastructure and roads development in the North should sow the seeds of social change, as well as the erosion of the TNA or the emergence of a new TNA.regarding ‘reconciliation’, appears that Ms. Gregson’s main thrust for reconciliation is based on retributive justice, but applied asymmetrically, sparing the TNA who was the political arm of the LTTE.
Given that the TNA were collaborators of the Tiger, no Sri Lankan government can transfer much power without committing political suicide. Perhaps a future Tamil political party that enjoys the trust of the South as well as India might be able to get more powers to their hands. The situation of the 5% Tamils in the North is far better than the position of the 5% aboriginal Canadians whose legitimate treaty rights have not been granted by any Canadian government so far, (in spite of a century of protest now becoming `idle no more’), let alone in a short post-war four-year period.
|In fact, a group who collaborated with the LTTE declared to be a terrorist group that rose against the state would normally be subject to arrest and trial for sedition (c.f., the French collaborators of the Nazis). However, the Sri Lankan government did not follow that route in the name of reconciliation. This was an enormous, politically bold step (enraging the Sinhala nationalists), but totally ignored by Western NGOs, reconciliation pundits and political analysts.
||The TNA, being the political arm of the Tigers, never condemned the LTTE for its assassinations, attacks on civilians, use of civilians as human shields, ethnic cleansing, torture of prisoners, use of child soldiers etc. Here an LTTE platoon leader is training a child, amma (‘mother’), akka (`sister’) and `atthaikal’ (aunts) to become soldiers. (click to enlarge) â†’
|| The Sri Lankan government ignored the TNA’s collaboration with the enemy in the name of reconciliation. The picture shows TNA’s nexus with the Tigers in the 2001 general election.
(click to enlarge) â†’
The Chair Scott Reid
Thank you, Ms. Gregson. […]
David Sweet Ancaster-Dundas-Flamboroug-Westdale, ON Conservative
Thank you very much, Ms. Gregson, for your testimony.
You mentioned High Commissioner Pillay and the attacks the Sri Lankan government had upon her, public verbal attacks anyway, and then they subsequently dismissed her report. I notice also that eight hours ago the BBC had a report of their total dismissal of any of Prime Minister Cameron’s comments while he was criticizing their human rights record. They not only dismissed everything he said, but then they criticized his terrible breaches of protocol when he made the unconscionable decision to go up to the north to see exactly what kind of human rights infractions were being made.
My concern with this regime in Sri Lanka right now is that they will continue this, where they feel everybody else is wrong and they’re totally right. You mentioned the people who were persecuted, which is just about everybody: the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered community; Christians; human rights defenders; Muslims; reporters. It seems no one can be safe around them if they disagree.
Thank you for your comments. In fact these are areas of immense concern for the government. We understand that much of the population is so relieved by the conflict ending they’re not really looking at issues of human rights.
Of course the minority communities and those groups that are affected are very concerned, and they do bring it to the attention of those of us in the outside world who are willing to listen and provide assistance. We provide programming assistance to NGOs in Sri Lanka in order to try to influence opinion and to effect some change. We’d be happy to talk further about those efforts, if you’re interested.
You mentioned in your testimony the shrinkage in public space for dissent. That’s what I really want to focus in on.
I mentioned all the groups you talked about in your testimony who are being really persecuted. In many cases they fear for their lives; they fear being picked up in white vans. In what other ways do we see this…?
| This allegation of”being picked up by white vans” need to be substantiated, instead of being bandied about without supporting evidence, since making such allegations is very easy.
In fact, pro-LTTE south Indian groups who are trying to raise anti-Sri Lankan sentiment in south India have even made Videos with the theme “they come in Army uniforms or in civil clothing. You will be taken away in a white van”. Thus it was Tamil-Nadu LTTE film maker Leena Manivekaali alias Rani Manivelkalai who released the film “The white Vans”, first in South India, then in Canada and elsewhere. She also made a movie named Sengadal, accusing the Sri Lankan Navy of attacking Tamilnadu fishermen and claiming that the Sri Lankan offensive was really against the Dravidians, and not against the LTTE. The Tamil diaspora in Canada have used Manivelkali’s propaganda material for fund raising, disinformation and raising hostility against Sri Lanka.
So it is regrettable that the Hon. David Sweet has simply made these allegations. If such evidence existed, it should have been submitted to the LLRC commission. If he can gather current specific evidence, then it should be taken up with the Sri Lankan mission in Ottawa, via the Sri-Lanka Canada parliamentary group. However, we note that Ms. Gregson has also made allegations of “white-van pickups”. It is unfortunate that the position of the Sri Lankan mission is not recorded here, since hearing cannot be simply one-sided.
Back in Canada, aboriginal people have made allegations, for many decades, against the police in Manitoba and other regions, of picking up aboriginal people “loitering in city centers” in police vans, and transporting them far out of the city and leaving them to freeze to death, invoking the theory that “a good injun is a dead injun”. It is clearly very easy to make such allegations. Such practices, if they exist in countries like Canada, are not surprising in war-torn countries. However, Canada’s approach to these problems (be it in the Middle-East or Sri Lanka) will not help engage these countries.
You’re saying that still the majority feels this relief. Are they not seeing this wanton lack of justice on behalf of their government?
It’s certainly something we try to raise with the Government of Sri Lanka at every opportunity. One area I mentioned earlier was self-censorship of the media, for example. Quite often these issues are not even in the public sphere for public discussion, as it were. Some journalists have been threatened and have left the country. Others exercise self-censorship so that they can avoid these kinds of attacks. So I guess there’s a question about how much information is out there in the public domain for people to look at.
|We already discussed the list of journalists released by the Committee for the protection of Journalists (CJP) and showed how the crimes of the LTTE agents are blamed upon the government. Similarly, we have pointed out that Sri Lanka has parliamentarians and law-enforcement officers who have grown up during three to four decades of war. In the USA, even a decade after WWII, Senator McCarthy and Richard Nixon could carry out devastating witch hunts against journalists and intellectuals who were branded as “commies”. Even today, the clarion call of the US-far right, and some movements close to home in Canada have not let go the cold-war mentality against “commies”. So, when Ms. Gregson and the Hon. David sweet position themselves with a yardstick that is only applicable to some sort of ideal society, and trying to judge Sri Lanka, they are putting Canada into a foreign-policy approach that will bear absolutely no fruit.
What about the efforts of the Sri Lankan government right now in reparations in the north, where there was damage to personal property-households, etc.-in the conflict? Is there reconstruction happening? Has it diminished and the human rights infractions have increased?
Deborah Chatsis, Director, South Asia Relations, DFA-TD
From what I understand, there has been some reconstruction in the north. I would say, though, that many people have said it has not been to the benefit of the communities in the north-the Tamil communities-and a lot of the buildings are government controlled in some manner or another. So it is happening, but it is not benefiting all of the communities.
|Ms. Gregson, in her opening statement said `Since the end of the nearly three-decade civil conflict in 2009, Sri Lanka has made obvious progress in reconstruction and infrastructure development”. This is a more definitive statement than what Ms. Chatsis is making.
We would contend that the slant given by Ms. Chatsis is completely the opposite of what information we have regarding reconstruction. Also, Ms. Chatsis’s view disagrees with the press-conference made by the Hon. Joe Daniels and the Hon. Chungsen Leung after `seeing it for themselves’.
I think conservatives political analysts will agree that while the government deals with capital intensive infrastructure and security-intensive issues like de-mining, the private sector must play the role of pushing the reconstruction in the softer civil sector. The SL govt. can justly claim the following:
- It has, in a very short time rebuilt the main A9 highway connecting Colombo to Jaffna, and most of the Northern railway destroyed by the tigers.
- It has set up electricity grids, restored water supplies and irrigation reservoirs, causeways and ports, bridges, culverts and minor roads.
- Ferry services that had been closed have been re-opened.
- It has repaired a large number of schools, dispensaries and hospitals.
- The army has been reduced from some 48000 to less than or about 12,000. The latter are used in a civilification program of helping to settle the IDPs and in rehabilitation work.
- Thus the army has removed over a million landmines by mid 2013.
- The army housed and fed 300,000 IDPs and gradually moved them to habitations in the North, as those areas got de-mined.
- The army has constructed nearly 2000 homes, and also handed over some 700 homes, reclaimed from the LTTE and at first occupied by the army. It has also returned to civilian use 25,000 acres of land previously used by the army for security zones etc.
- many donor governments (with India, Japan and China as the leaders) have also began to construct houses for displaced persons. Re-settling them in their old villages is not considered suitable as this would restore the caste-based village organization of the pre-Eelam era. Typical village groceries were not freely open to the low-caste Tamils, while army shops are. This has been emphasized by a number of Tamil writers (e.g., Sebastian Rasalingam who writes Army Kadaigals, bane or boon? , and expresses satisfaction that the army is ensuring peace in the North.
- The government banking institutions (e.g., Bank of Ceylon, People’s bank) and private banks have opened branches through out the North.
- Private cellphone companies have linked the whole North, and major tourist chains are building hotels and beach resorts. A number of regular bus tours, as well as flights connecting Colombo with Jaffna are now available. Many wealthy expatriate Tamil businessmen have begun to invest in the North. They have expressed satisfaction that the army is maintaining security in the North.
The pace of reconstruction has been much faster than many recently war-raved countries in South Asia, or in the context of some natural disasters like Katrina in the US.
Perhaps I could just add to that. We’re also concerned about the confusion between military and civil authorities. The military are also responsible for urban construction and so have taken over many of the functions that would normally be assigned to the public service. This has also led to some sense of insecurity on the part of many of the Tamils residing in the north, particularly the war widows, of which there are some 40,000.
There are 40,000 war widows.
|We have already dealt with this allegation of “militarization” and the “mix up” with the civil sector several times, and adequately.
This number of 40,000 war widows in the North has been mentioned. The Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) 2009/2010, of the Government Department of Census and Statistics, reveals that, out of some five million households in Sri Lanka, 1.1 million (23%) households are headed by women, while 50% of them are widows, and 4.5% are reported as never married. So, if the Hon. David Sweet is concerned about 40,000 essentially Tamil widows in the North, there are many more in the country. The government is going about it meaningfully with census data in hand, providing loans and vocational training to single-household women.
It is also often alleged that the the widows are harassed by the army. An Indian film maker claimed that they are “taken away in white vans” etc, etc. The army is employed in civil works in many parts of the South and the East as well, but the HR-organizations are uninterested in the widows living there. The fact that Canada and the Western NGOs have always focused on the Tamil war widows of the North, while ignoring the problems of the South, has accentuated the feeling in Sri Lanka that Canada is driven by the pressures of the Tamil diaspora resident in Canada, and that it is not taking a fair approach to Sri Lanka’s problems.
You mentioned in your testimony, I believe, that there was some intimidation already beginning in the upcoming elections. Are both sides, the LTTE as well as the government, involved in this campaign? Do we have any idea of who’s responsible?
For violence with regard to the upcoming elections?
I’m sorry, I’ll have to get back to you, Mr. Sweet, with regard to that question.
Do you sense there’s any receptivity at all? Of course, I don’t, certainly when I read this BBC news report. Is there receptivity at all of having an international forum and investigation on reconciliation in Sri Lanka?
It’s an area that we urge the Sri Lankan government to take up on a regular basis. It’s one of the commitments they have made. But, unfortunately, any criticism of the current government from the outside world, including Canada, is portrayed as coming from sympathizers to the LTTE.
That’s surprising to me, considering this government was very clear on the position of the LTTE and the fact that it was doing terrorist acts, and was of course actually even getting funding here in Canada. What’s the justification for that? A partner that was already against any kind of terrorism that they were dealing with now wants to see truth and reconciliation transpire.
Well, I think the motivation is just to create a sense that they are under attack. Again, the government does enjoy popularity because of having ended the conflict. That’s just what we’re seeing.
|The fact that the Harper government banned the LTTE and its Canadian front organizations in 2006 was thankfully received by the Sri Lankan public. Many Lankans had been so disappointed with the liberal party being tolerant of LTTE fund raising etc. So, when the conservatives banned the LTTE in 2006, many even joined the Conservative party in droves. However, was it a punishment for the Tamil diaspora for having supported the liberals? Once the electoral power of the Tamil-Eelamist diaspora became clear, all three Canadian political parties began to woo them! Many ex-members of the banned LTTE organizations re-emerged as Human-Rights fronts, as recorded by the Tamil-Canadian Journalist D. B. S. Jeyaraj who lives in Toronto.
When viewed from the perspective of most Sri Lankans, the net effect of Mr. Harper’s stance against Sri Lanka, and the rough, seemingly undiplomatic articulations by the Hon. John Baird and Hon. Deepak Obhrai, serve to lump the present Conservative government with the liberals, making Canada look like a hostile nation. Canada’s role at the UNHRC meetings, playing the handmaiden of the US, has exacerbated the matter. Thus we have lost all leverage on public opinion in Sri Lanka. The country is in fact a democracy in the sense that frequent elections are held, and the government’s receptivity to Canada is based on how Sri Lankans see Canada.
In our view, the Canadian approach to Sri Lanka will prove to be totally fruitless. Judging from the CHOGM, even the Australians have rejected the approach of Canada and Britain.
Wayne Marston Hamilton East-Stoney Creek, ON NDP
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank the officials for the comprehensive information they’re giving us. But it is disheartening to hear. We have observed in many different countries that when people in government wish to abuse their own folks, they point to someone else as being the cause of their problems. What I’m hearing today is that the situation, in terms of human rights, may well be worse than during the war, or at least close to that, and it’s very, very troubling.
One thing I took note of is that there seems to be a similarity between the Buddhists attacking the Christians and the Muslims, it seems, to what we’re hearing happening in Burma. There’s a situation where the Buddhist community seems to be going on the offensive there. Is this something that’s common in that part of the world? Or are there just two completely different sets of reasons for it?
Well, I would be speculating. I think that every country has its own particular situation, and both Burma and Sri Lanka have emerged from very difficult periods that lasted several decades.
You mentioned the gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexuals. It sounds like a common denominator in this. Anybody who’s activist-based in their thinking and in their actions just comes under automatic attack. I’m not so sure it’s because of their sexual orientation at all as much as just activism. At least that’s my read of what I’m hearing. Would you agree with that?
|We explained that the attitude to sexual orientation in a country like Sri Lanka which has been retarded by a three-to-four decades war should be viewed with a yardstick comparable to what Canada was some four decades ago. In reality, lesbians and gays are fully tolerated as long as they do not make a public display of their orientation. Even today, in Canada, there are a sizable number of MPs who oppose same-sex marriage.
Wayne Marston Hamilton East-Stoney Creek, ON It goes across media. It goes across about anybody’s critiquing. The obvious question is how are we going to reach them, the government that is? If the people are disengaged because they just want peace, how do we motivate a government like that from the outside?
Susan Gregson We have to take three tracks. One is to continue on a bilateral basis to engage the government and raise our concerns. Two, we have to engage with the like-minded in the multilateral community, as we do in forums such as the Human Rights Council. There will be some consideration coming up in March of the situation in Sri Lanka. Finally, it’s through the work that we do with civil society in Sri Lanka.
Wayne Marston Hamilton East-Stoney Creek, ON That was going to be my next question, on civil society on the ground. Do you find any particular group being effective? Perhaps when we’re televised that might not be the best of questions. In general terms do you find that community is actually starting to be effective?
Susan Gregson We’ve seen some measurable results from some of the initiatives that we’ve invested in. I don’t know if Jeff wants to add anything to that.
Jeff Nankivell Director General, Development, Asia, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Sure. In terms of our long-term development programs, I won’t speak to particular local partners, but we work through some Canadian non-government organizations, international non-government organizations, and agencies of the United Nations system on projects aimed at helping the communities in the north, households in those communities that are coming back to places where they haven’t been for many years to re-establish their livelihoods. We are having some impact there through those programs to get people back into their occupations and to start to rebuild civil society in the broadest sense, which includes local private sector and economic activity. We have found that it is possible to do this work, but it is challenging and it does vary from month to month and over the last few years because what one does locally is very susceptible to the political circumstances of the time and it’s difficult. There are challenges for the international, including Canadian, NGOs, to operate in that environment because the government does control the space in which one works.
Wayne Marston Hamilton East-Stoney Creek, ON When you’re talking government are you talking about the national government, as opposed to municipal governments, or are they both pretty well on the same track relative to how they view human rights?
Jeff Nankivell I wouldn’t be in a position to say for particular local governments. My understanding is that it varies depending on the locale and who is actually in administration locally, but central control remains very strong, particularly in the north, and there’s a heavy military presence.
|To the extent that the Canadian agencies, and Canadian NGOs are viewed with suspicion and hostility by Sri Lankans, Canada’s efforts would be futile. This hostile view had developed over several decades, when Canada allowed LTTE agents to collect war funds with impunity. The recent strong language of the Hon. Mr. Harper or the Hon. Mr. Baird have not helped in the least. The view expressed by Mr. Nankivell is correct; that is, the “government does control the space in which one works”, in the sense that it applies to both the Canadian government, and the Sri Lankan government.
However, the wrong conclusions are drawn from his “there’s a heavy military presence”. The fact is, the Northern part of the country is still in the shadow of the war.
Wayne Marston Hamilton East-Stoney Creek, ON You would think on the ground that people would welcome support to re-establish their communities, to get people back to work and to bring the displaced persons back. I hear a sense of reservation in your voice when you talk about that. On a scale of one to a hundred what would you say the percentage of success is relative to the need?
Jeff Nankivell That would be a very difficult assessment to make because through our partners we are targeting the areas where we feel the most progress can be made. There’s a degree of self-selection. If you’re trying to run a statistically valid experiment, it would be hard to say because our partners are going to the places where they think they can make some ground, but we are getting results. I think there are some places where we would say we can achieve 80% or 90% of what we’re trying to do. But there are other areas where we’re not doing anything. It would be hard to give a generalized opinion.
Wayne Marston Hamilton East-Stoney Creek, ON That gives us an idea. What’s the status of the LTTE as an organization within the country? Do they still exist, for all intents and purposes, or were they wiped out at the end of the war?
Deborah Chatsis I believe there still are remnants of the organization, but it’s not in the state it was prior to the conclusion of the war. I think there’s some dissent within the organization but some support still.
Nina Grewal Fleetwood-Port Kells, BC Thank you, Chair. Earlier this year the Sri Lankan government removed Chief Justice Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake from the office of chief justice through an impeachment. How independent is Sri Lanka’s judiciary branch, and what implications does that have for securing human rights in Sri Lanka?
Susan Gregson I think you have raised an area of concern. The replacement was appointed by the government, and Canada has expressed reservations about the extent to which the executive is separate from the judiciary.
Nina Grewal Fleetwood-Port Kells, BC Recognizing that the Sri Lankan civil war ended in 2009, what strategies or mechanisms have the Sri Lankan government implemented to address war crimes or other serious violations of human rights laws committed during the civil war? In your opinion, have these offered any improvements to the situation?
Susan Gregson I’ll ask colleagues to weigh in on this one, but I think one of the concerns we have noted is that there has to be not only restorative justice, but also retributive justice, and there’s not necessarily enough progress in that area. Deborah, did you want to jump in here?
Deborah Chatsis As Susan mentioned earlier, the government established a commission to look at the lessons learned and reconciliation. The report that was issued contained a large number of recommendations, some of which have been put into a plan of action the government continues to work on. Although they have made some progress in some areas, I would say the general opinion is that they haven’t done nearly enough.
Nina Grewal Fleetwood-Port Kells, BC Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index ranked Sri Lanka as having a fairly corrupt public sector. How can Canada help to improve the democratic institutions in Sri Lanka?
Susan Gregson We have to work along three tracks. We try to do capacity building in our work with civil society. We try to engage the Sri Lankan government on a bilateral basis. And we try to work with Sri Lanka in partnership with organizations or colleagues we regard as like-minded.
Nina Grewal Fleetwood-Port Kells, BC Considering that the UN Human Rights Council resolutions calling for Sri Lanka to implement recommendations were passed within the last two years, what is the approximate time frame in which Canada would expect to see the recommendations implemented? Is there a specific year in mind?
Susan Gregson We would like to see the recommendations implemented right away, and we would still hope to see some significant progress in the coming months and years. There has been some commitment to making progress on these fronts, but we haven’t seen the amount of progress there should be, so we will continue to work with like-minded people and organizations, including through the Human Rights Council, to try to move this forward.
|The recommendations of the UNHRC call for retribution in the guise of reconciliation, and cover only the last five months; any such action will have to cover those leaders and spokesmen of the LTTE who have survived the conflict. These are just the men who have been elected to office in what Ms. Gregson termed an “historic election”, failing to realize their antecedents. The attempt to hand out retribution to the Tamil leaders on the one hand, and the Sinhala military for their alleged HR-crimes, would not only be impossible in practical terms, but it would also plunge the country back into war.
Nina Grewal Fleetwood-Port Kells, BC I’ll pass my time to my colleague.
David Sweet Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, ON Thank you, Nina.
|Previously covered ground on “militarization”, “war widows”, alleged harassment of war widows by the army are repeated in a number of questions. Hence we do not repeat them here. The reader should consult the original sources from the House of Commons website]
The Chair Scott Reid Professor Cotler, it’s your turn.
Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC Thank you, Mr. Chairman. In the course of the second Universal Periodic Review in 2012, Canada made a number of recommendations. Basically the focus of its recommendations included the need to expedite reconciliation measures, to improve the handling of the return of internally displaced persons, and to ensure that security detainees are not held incommunicado or without access to legal representation and redress. Why did Canada focus on these three issues? For example, it could have focused on the issues you’ve mentioned today, the harassment of journalists, the culture of impunity, the sexual violence. My second related question is how did Sri Lanka respond to the recommendations that Canada made and what has been the practical effect of those recommendations?
Susan Gregson With regard to the internally displaced people, it’s our understanding that many of them have been allowed to return to their homeland but have not necessarily been allowed to reclaim their lands. There’s still concern about the detainees and lack of access to them. So the International Committee of the Red Cross doesn’t necessarily have the access one would expect to take a look at the conditions in these detention facilities. Why have we concentrated on these other areas in the presentation? I think all of these areas are of concern and this is why we do cosponsor the human rights resolution. We’ve done so in the past couple of years and, depending on the content of course, we’ll probably cosponsor again this year. These are areas of concern. In terms of the response of the Sri Lankan government, my understanding is that there’s a certain amount of acceptance and commitment, but we just don’t see the results we would expect.
Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC In terms of a parliamentary approach, you mentioned, for example, the approaches of a bilateral nature, of a multilateral nature, of engaging in civil society. What might be the distinguishable role that Canadian parliamentarians could play, given both the concerns you outlined during the Universal Periodic Review and those you mentioned in your presentation today?
Susan Gregson To the extent that there are any parliamentary associations with Sri Lanka, people to people is always a good way to engage and to influence thinking. So to the extent to which parliamentarians are able to visit Sri Lanka or have contacts with parliamentary associations in Sir Lanka, that would be one way to get your views across.
The Chair Scott Reid We’re going to move on to Mr. Schellenberger.
Gary Schellenberger Perth-Wellington, ON Thank you, Chair. To our witnesses, thank you for being here today. What is the economy like at present? And is there any hope that it may improve, that it could maybe lead to better governance in the future?
Susan Gregson That’s a good question. What we’ve seen is quite a bit of inflation. Purchasing power is diminished. The price of commodities is going up, and so the pressure on households has been difficult. The IMF has refused another loan to Sri Lanka because they feel that it would be used to deal with national pressures as opposed to paying down their debt. It’s not a very positive picture that we’re seeing on the economic front either, which is why we continue to work through our development assistance programs on efforts to improve the ability of people to engage in commercial activity.
Gary Schellenberger Perth-Wellington, ON Are there any UN efforts happening on the ground right now with visible observers, or anything, throughout Sri Lanka?
Jeff Nankivell They would be principally on the humanitarian side through agencies like the UN Development Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Food Programme, all of which maintain very substantial operations. Apart from the other things we’ve been discussing, Sri Lanka is a country that suffers frequently from natural disasters. There was the tsunami in the last decade but also floods in the last few years that demanded a humanitarian response, so those agencies are on the ground with staff in short- to medium-term programs in the affected areas.
Susan Gregson If I can just add, there is also a UN country team on the ground.
Gary Schellenberger Perth-Wellington, ON Why is Canada focused on the Commonwealth as a venue to pressure Sri Lanka? And what comparative advantage does action at the Commonwealth level provide compared to bilateral actions on multicultural action in other forums?
Susan Gregson I don’t think it’s an either/or proposition. The value of the Commonwealth is that we have shared values of democracy, rule of law, good governance, etc.-sometimes observed in the breach by some of the members. But at least it provides a forum for Commonwealth countries to come together to reiterate our values and to urge one another to observe those values.
|However, while Ms. Gregson emphasizes “shared values”, Canada has been a lone voice emphasizing dissent. While the Prime minister talked of ‘boycotting the event’, Canada looked exactly like India that had got embroiled in its politics with Tamil Nadu. Hence, Canada’s actions were widely interpreted by Sri Lankans as a case where the Harper government is acting to please the Tamil Diaspora, just as the Indian head of state was trying to please Tamil Nadu.
Gary Schellenberger Perth-Wellington, ON How does Canada view the report and recommendations of the Sri Lankan Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission? What are the key positive and negative aspects of the commission’s work?
Susan Gregson I think we welcome the work of the commission. The issue is the follow-up to the recommendations. There has been a commission formed to do the follow-up, but we haven’t seen the progress that we’d like to see.
Gary Schellenberger Perth-Wellington, ON You may have the rest of my time, Mr. Sweet, if you have some questions
David Sweet Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, ON Thank you. The last time we looked at Sri Lanka we had some testimony before us about a demining process that was happening in Sri Lanka. Can you tell me if that’s still continuing on? Is there a relationship that Sri Lanka has with some other countries that are supplying their expertise to demine the north?
Susan Gregson Canada has engaged in some demining activities, but I don’t have exact details here. I don’t know whether any of my colleagues do. We’ll have to get back to you. I know Canada has contributed to that through our demining efforts.
David Sweet Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, ON So we don’t know if that’s still continuing right now?
Susan Gregson I can’t tell you but I will get that.
David Sweet Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, ON Another thing that concerns me with the testimony that I’ve heard here today is about how the human rights situation remains poor and is deteriorating in many ways. There was a program to take former LTTE combatants. They were to be counseled and rehabilitated. That concerns me. Exactly what’s happening with the Tamils who are being picked up? Is this still going on? And is the program a legitimate program or are there some concerns around that as well?
Deborah Chatsis We’ll have to get you an update on the current status of the program. I know that there have been some concerns, perhaps, about the approach taken with respect to the rehabilitation because of the focus on majority values, majority languages. It was the view coming from the central government, and from the south towards the north.
David Sweet Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, ON That’s exactly what I’m alluding to. If we have a regime right now where we are concerned about human rights violations and they are the ones who formulate the future thinking of these individuals who have surrendered and are detained now, I’m wondering what the outcome will be, particularly because the witness said they were spending, in the Sinhalese currency, 2.5 billion on this program. That was at that time, a couple of years ago. I don’t know if they’re still investing that kind of money or not in that program.
|Perhaps Ms. Chatsis is suggesting that the detainees were being instructed in Sinhala. This is in fact not true since they were instructed in Tamil, an official language. But we do not see why detainees should not be given the opportunity to learn the other official language of the country spoken by the vast majority. Even though there are only about 5% Tamils in the North, and approximately 5% Tamils in the south, Sinhala and Tamil are recognized as languages with parity of status in every part of the country, in spite of the 1:10 ratio. In Canada the French-English ratio is much more favourable to bilingualism, and yet its poor success after 4 decades of massive funding, have been noted by many scholars. That such bilingualism is a fatal error even in the Canadian context has been argued by no less than Hon. Scott Reid in his book Lament of a Notion that the Hon. David Sweet may have surely read.
The Hon. David Sweet is no doubt aware of how detainees are handled by the US in Guantanamo Bay, and how aboriginals have died in Australian prisons and how the recommendations of Royal commissions have not been carried out even after decades. So, if the problem is “majority values, etc”, given that the two cultures (Tamil and Sinhala) and the two languages are so extremely close, it would be useful if Ms. Chatsis could specifically mention a major point of conflict in the cultural or linguistic values.
According to information released by the Sri Lankan government:
- following rehabilitation, 5,586 LTTE cadres out of the 11,696 detained after the war have been integrated into the normal civilian life after vocational training, and in some cases school education in Tamil, during their detention in rehabilitation centers.
- The private sector firms have interest to recruit them, mostly in the apparel export sector. In June last year 400 rehabilitated female LTTE cadres received employment at a garment factory.
- Another 84 rehabilitated ex- LTTE cadres were released on Jan. 15 (2014) to coincide with Thai-Pongal festival (a Hindu-Tamil festival and this belies the accusation of imposition of “majority cultural values”).
- According to the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, there were only nine rehabilitation centres for ex-LTTE combatants now, compared to 24 in 2009. The Rehabilitation Chief said that of some 361 child soldiers who had sat the GCE (O/L) examination last year, 211 qualified to do GCE (A/L). The education was in their mother tongue.
Given these details, we believe that Ms. Chatsis is repeating the Tamil-Diaspora narrative about detainees, instead of the actual facts. As (John Thompson, President of the Mackenzie Institute in Ottawa , and other scholars have pointed out, the pro-LTTE diaspora attempted to falsely claim that the detainees were in “concentration camps” and the ‘rehabilitation” is a “process of brain washing. We suggest that the claims of a “focus on majority values, majority languages” etc., is just a weaker echo of the earlier loud claims of ‘brain-washing’ by the LTTE-diaspora.
Susan Gregson We’ll take your question and get back to the committee with an update on where that stands.
David Sweet Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, ON Also, whoever else is in the coalition of the demining, if you could make that known to us as well, other than our own country?
The Chair Scott Reid Thank you. Mr. Jacob, you have the floor.
Pierre Jacob Brome-Missisquoi, QC Thank you, Mr. Chair. In 2009, in the final stages of the civil war, the United Nations Human Rights Council examined the situation in Sri Lanka. There was a special session, co-sponsored by Canada. The council passed a resolution that Canada voted against. The resolution congratulated Sri Lanka for defeating the Tamil Tigers and loudly singing the praises of the government’s actions. In 2012-2013, the Human Rights Council passed resolutions critical of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. The council invited the Sri Lankan government to make more effort to establish accountabilities and reconciliation. Could you describe for us the inner workings of the United Nations Human Rights Council that led to the change we have seen between 2009 and 2012 and give us your opinion of why the tone of the 2009 resolution is so different from the tone of more recent statements from the council?
Susan Gregson I think the 2009 resolution came right on the heels of the peace agreement. I think it would be normal for the Human Rights Council to welcome the peace accord. In later resolutions, however, in later sessions of the Human Rights Council, it would be normal for the council to look at the progress that has been made towards observation of human rights in Sri Lanka and progress towards peace and reconciliation. In fact, the council found that wanting, so that was reflected in the resolution….
|There was surely NO peace agreement in 2009. There was a peace agreement in 2002, brokered mainly by the Norwegians. This was abused by the Tigers daily, with even the assassination of the (Tamil) Foreign minster o0f Sri lanka, viz., Kadirgamar. The ‘peace accord’ finally collapsed in 2006 when the LTTE closed an irrigation sluice gate and denied water to a large hinterland near Trincomalee.
What happened in 2009 was the end of the conflict with Prabhakaran and his top lieutenants eliminated. The whole world including India was extremely relieved that the LTTE, proscribed in 32 countries, and belatedly in Canada too, was eliminated. However, the Tamil diaspora and the TNA were extremely unhappy. They could not garner support in India as the congress party was electorally powerful and had no difficulty in ignoring Tamil Nadu politicians. Now the situation is very different, and with India abstaining or opposing Sri lanka, many other countries follow the West.
Pierre Jacob Brome-Missisquoi, QC Thank you. In your conclusion, you said that the country is heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction. You mention a lack of real reconciliation and tangible accountability since 2009. Might it be necessary to call for an international inquiry into the serious violation of international laws on human rights and international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka? What form could it take? Who could conduct it? In your view, what would the conclusions or the probable outcome be?
Susan Gregson I think our first recommendation would be for the Sri Lankan government to set up its own commission, an internal commission, and I believe that recommendation has been made. In order for an international commission to go into Sri Lanka, they would have to be invited by the elected Government of Sri Lanka. It would be a question as to whether that would be welcome or not. We have seen a deterioration in terms of failure to prosecute perpetrators of some of these acts of violence that I described earlier. So I guess it’s an open question as to whether there would be any receptivity on the part of the Sri Lankan government to accept an international investigation. Having said that, they welcomed the visit of Madam Pillay and allowed her to conduct her work even though her recommendations were dismissed after the fact.
Pierre Jacob Brome-Missisquoi, QC Thank you. In your opinion, what can Canadian parliamentarians do to encourage accountability and eventual reconciliation in Sri Lanka?
Susan Gregson As I indicated earlier in my response to a similar question from Mr. Cotler, in many countries there are groups of parliamentarians who have contacts with Canadian parliamentarians or parliamentary associations and friendship associations. I’m not aware of one with Sri Lanka but if there is one or if there were to be one that certainly would be a vehicle for raising Canada’s concerns. Otherwise, continuing to raise issues both publicly and with the government would be helpful.
Deborah Chatsis A report by this subcommittee would be very useful in helping to engage with the Sri Lankan parliamentarians and even the community itself.
Pierre Jacob Brome-Missisquoi, QC
Thank you. Mr. Chair, I am going to give my colleague the time I have left.
The Chair Scott Reid Instead of doing that, Madam Sitsabaiesan, we’ll start again with seven minutes. We have enough time to give you a full seven-minute round. Why don’t we do that?
Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough-Rouge River, ON
Sure. Thank you. I thank everybody else on the committee for this.
To continue with the comment you just made, Ms. Gregson, I created a Canada-Tamil friendship association. Days later we learned of the Sri Lanka Canada Friendship Association being created or resurrected. Both of those exist right now. I’m not a member of both of them. I’m the chair of the Canada-Tamil Friendship Group. The friendship association has looked into the possibility of sending a delegation of parliamentarians to Sri Lanka, not as government or ministers, but just average members of Parliament who are concerned about the issue to see things on the ground first-hand.
Do you think the ministry or the government would support this type of initiative because it’s something you even suggested yourself?
Of course, that would be up to the government to decide. Should there be a decision to promote that visit then certainly you can count on the officials to provide support on the ground.
Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough-Rouge River, ON
You know from Navi Pillay’s impeachment of Chief Justice Bandaranayake and a lot of the white vans and the enforced disappearances by the white vans and intimidation that violations continue to happen.
What do you suggest we could be doing as parliamentarians in Canada, other than calling for an international, independent, impartial inquiry that’s led by the UN? What is on the ground here in Canada that we should be doing to pressure the Sri Lankan government?
Certainly, one avenue is through the parliamentary association. Also, engaging Sri Lanka on issues that as Commonwealth members we all ascribe to in terms of democracy, rule of law, etc., would be the way to try to engage. We’re seeing that culture of impunity now that’s a real concern and all of this white vanning. Even when apparently there are identifiable perpetrators, we don’t see charges being laid. There’s obviously quite a lot of work ahead of us.
|We already discussed some aspects of the alleged white vans phenomenon. No clear specifics or statistics have been presented. When there are “identifiable perpetrators”, and if they are known to Canadian or other officials, how is it that they omitted to put this on record in front of the LLRC commission? Instead, HRW, AI, CPA and other NGOs took the easy path of boycotting the LLRC. They could also supply such a list to the Sri Lankan mission and demand action. Such actions would been taken up at the CHOGM and it would have been more productive than empty histrionics of boycotting such meetings (n.b., Hon. Deepak Obhrai prefers to say that `Canada did not boycott the CHOGM’ since he went to Colombo and Jaffna on the eve of the CHOGM!).
Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough-Rouge River, ON To follow along with what Mr. Sweet had started about the rehabilitation of child soldiers or former LTTE cadres–I’ve forgotten the word they use-we don’t really know the outcome of it and I thank you for providing that information to us, the research or whatever you do have available.
Do you have information on the female-led families? I know from other sources or information that’s available from journalists that there are more than 90,000 widows from this war and there are many more people who are differently abled or disabled by dismemberment because of the war. What is being done to help the people who have been disabled to attain some sort of livelihood or be able to work again? Is there anything being done for the widows?
From what I hear on the ground from people, whether it’s my relatives who I speak to or just doctors and nurses or nuns who are helping out, women are continuing to be raped every day. Their children are being raped or women are being raped in front of their children. There’s continuous ongoing militarization as you mentioned at the beginning. There is development that’s occurring in the north but it’s not being used for the resettlement of the IDP, internally displaced people.
What is being done for these women and women-led families? How can we ensure that any type of assistance that Canada is providing is actually being used for the betterment of the community as a whole rather than just continuing the ongoing militarization of the entire country?
Thank you for raising the situation of women in Sri Lanka. This is an area of concern. We know that 52% of the population is female, yet only 6% of the government members are female. This is a very wide discrepancy. Of course, we know what kind of impact the greater participation of women has on a society.
|Three or four decades of war is not helpful because a country comes to a standstill or go backwards. Hence the comparison must be with Canada perhaps in the 1950s. Using the wrong yardstick leads to wrong policy decisions. Comparing this 6% females in the government, Ms. Gregson should also ask how many females are among the TNA MPs elected recently in what she mistook for a “historic election”, or in 2001 when the TNA were the only party allowed to contest in the North by the dicta of the LTTE. Unfortunately, Tamil orthodoxy is poor on women’s rights.
Susan Gregson In terms of follow-up on Canadian development assistance, I’ll turn to my colleague.
Jeff Nankivell I would say that it’s a very predominant theme running through the programming we support that’s related to rebuilding livelihoods in the north. A predominant theme in that is empowering women economically. Through skills training programs, for instance, we support through World University Service of Canada programs and local NGO programs of skills training with the emphasis on places for women. They’re generating good results relative to the baseline. Relative to the norm up to now, they’re generating good results in terms of raising the proportion of women who have access to those programs and graduating-
Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough-Rouge River, ON Do you know what language those services are provided in? The training.
Jeff Nankivell I believe they’re being done in Tamil as well as in Sinhalese, but I’ll get back to you on the specifics on that for the different programs.
Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough-Rouge River, ON Thank you. I have one quick question in my last bit of time left. You had mentioned in your opening remarks that you were happy about the most recent election in the north and that there needs to be more devolution of power to the provincial councils. Do you think it’s important for us as an other country to be recognizing the newly elected provincial council and speaking to them as well, because it’s been a very clear decision that was made by the people to change the direction of the government in that community?
|Ms. Sitsabaiesan ignores two important facts. (a)The members of the TNA were collaborators of the LTTE that had been banned in 32 countries as well as by the UN, and very belatedly by Canada itself. The leaders of the TNA defended terrorist actions of the LTTE, and even justified the assassinations of prominent Tamil dissenters. Normally, a group that supports an armed insurrection against the state can be tried for sedition. Instead, in an act of reconciliation, the government tired to absorb them into civil society. (b) Those who came to power were the very same land-owning elite-caste individuals who have ruled the Tamils since time immemorial. As we already noted, it is the usual male-Hindu orthodoxy running the show.
However, professionals who are engaged in foreign affairs should be able to see both sides of the picture. It is important for us in Canada to insist that these TNA-leaders recognize their part in human-Rights violations when they worked hand in hand with the LTTE. Unfortunately, David Cameron, Deepak Obhrai and other VIPs have traveled North during CHOGM and joined the Sri Lankan government in ignoring their gruesome LTTE-Human-Rights record, while the VIPS point the finger only at the Sri Lankan government. Is it possible that the DFA professionals have slated their testimony and selected facts to fit current Canadian Government policy?
Susan Gregson So you’re asking whether Canada should reach out to the elected officials?
Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough-Rouge River, ON Absolutely.
Susan Gregson I think that’s really a decision for the government to take. I understand that it’s quite normal to reach out and congratulate elected officials in other countries. I don’t know, Deborah, if you want to add to that.
I just want to add that Parliamentary Secretary Obhrai just met with the chief minister last week when he was in the north of Sri Lanka.
|However, there are 9 elected provincial governments in Sri Lanka. Of these, the East has also been under the LTTE and liberated, in 2008. There is a chief minister there, and the toll of the people there has been as painful as those in the North. However, every politician of countries where there is a large Tamil Diaspora head to the North, while neglecting the other parts of the country. The war ravaged all provinces since the soldiers, largely made up of Sinhalese, and a proportionately higher number of Muslims also died in the war. So the actions of David Cameron, Hon. Obhrai, and many others is very suspect in the eyes of Sri Lankans. Hence Canada’s capacity to influence public opinion in the country has evaporated more and more at each such event.
Reaching out to provincial heads who have no mandate for international relations, is somewhat akin to a diplomatic mission in Canada dealing directly with provincial governments. If there is an understanding available between the center and the provinces, this may be OK. But given the sensitive situation that exists between Colombo and Jaffna, it would be somewhat like France meddling in Canada’s affairs by directly dealing with Quebec City. Charles de Gaulles’s “Vive le Quebec Libre” will always come into the minds of Canadians. Since then, constitutional adjustments allowing Quebec to play a more independent role in international francophonie has come into being. If not for the soured view of Canada that Sri Lankan’s have, Canada might have been able to influence and encouraged Sri Lanka to follow the path of Quebec where applicable. Except that in Sri Lanka the militant Tamilophone community is a mere 5% of the population. Hence, based purely on demographics, our Parliamentarians dealing directly with provincial parliamentarians of Sri Lanka would be some what akin to French legislators dealing directly with First-Nations chiefs and their deputies in matters regarded as sensitve.
Gary Schellenberger Perth-Wellington, ON Thank you. I have one comment. I think, yes, for ordinary parliamentarians a trip to Sri Lanka would be great, but because there are two different factions in Sri Lanka…. You mentioned that there are two friendship groups here. The best way to make things work would be to bring those two friendship groups into one. Show the people in Sri Lanka that the Sri Lankan people, or the people from here in Canada, can get together and make things work. I think that would be a good first step. I happen to be chair of the Canada-Germany Interparliamentary Group. Twenty-five years ago in Germany a reunification happened-two different factions. I think it’s great.
|The Hon. Schellenberger’s remark is very important. Many members of the Tamil Diaspora in Canada originally collected money to fund the LTTE war chest, while Canadian law-makers wittingly or unwittingly aided and abetted it. Today many members of the same pro-LTTE diaspora is fueling hate and demanding retribution for what it claims to be “war crimes committed in the last phase of the war”. This has polarized the society of Canadian Sri Lankans, and also made it appear to the world that Canada is a country hostile to a tiny nation that is thousands of miles away from it, and has never been a threat to it.
The Chair Scott Reid
All right. We are now out of time. […] Thank you very much, all of you.
The meeting is adjourned.
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