11th March 2001

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Moves to bring child laws in line with UN Convention

In keeping with the UN Convention on children, Sri Lanka will raise the defined age of a "child" from 14 to 18 in addition to bringing in a number of other amendments to the Children's and Young Persons Ordinance.

Presently, anyone under 14 years is considered a child, but under the new law, anyone under 18 years will be defined as a child.

The Government is in the process of implementing new laws and making amendments to existing laws relating to children. Commissioner for the Department of Probation and Child Care S. Rannuge said that observations and suggestions on the areas that need to be amended have been forwarded to the Legal Draftsman.

Among the amendments that are to come into force are the separation of abused child victims from child convicts. Under the present law, both victims and convicts are institutionalised in the same home or centre which is not a healthy practice, Mr. Rannuge said.

He said the amendments would help to institutionalise the children in separate homes.

He said the Department was trying to minimise the intake of children to homes / rehabilitation centres and instead send them to an extended family member or one in the immediate family who would look after the child with love and care. Meanwhile the Law Commission has recommended the setting up of juvenile courts in each district.

Two Lankan pilgrims killed in accident

Two Sri Lankans were killed and 22 injured in a motor accident while they were travelling to Medina after their Haj pilgrimage in Mecca, reports said.

Those killed were identified as Moulavi Lafir and his mother from Weligama. The injured were not in a serious condition.

According to reports, the bus carrying them was involved in a collision with another vehicle about 200 kilometers from Mecca.

On the eve of the Haj festival, three Sri Lankans were among those reported killed in a stampede in Mina near Mecca.

Tennakoon explains

"Gracious" or disgrace?

Royal Thomian Match Organizing Committee chairman Sunil Pieris said yesterday the Cricket Board's Acting Chief Executive Anura Tennakoon had sought permission from them to accommodate Minister S. B. Dissanayake's son and few of his friends in the grand stand.

Mr. Peiris denied reports that Mr. Tennakoon had acted on his own.

Earlier in the week Mr. Tennakoon referring to a news item published in The Sunday Times last week said:

"A board official brought to my notice that the Minister S B Dissanayake's son and a few of his friends were outside the BCCSL premises without tickets to witness the Royal-Thomian match. As all tickets to the grand stand had been sold out at that time, he appealed to me to make some arrangements for them to witness the game.

"I then spoke to some members of the Royal-Thomian Match Organizing Committee who graciously permitted the minister's son and his friends to be allowed to the grand stand as standing spectators."

COPE guns for corrupt bodies

By Chandani Kirinde

The UNP's John Amaratunga who took over as chairman of a key parliamentary committee after his party pulled off a minor coup, said they would summon officials of some of the country's top institutions to answer corruption charges.

Mr. Amaratunga who was elected chairman or the Committee on Public Enterprises by a 5-3 vote while four PA members were absent said COPE would meet the Auditor-General and Treasury officials next week to initiate inquiries.

He said that as a matter of urgent public interest, it was proposed that the Ceylon Electricity Board , the target of major corruption charges, be the first to be probed. CEB Chairman Arjuna Deran-aiyagala resigned on Thursday citing personal reasons. Mr. Amaratunga said the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and the Urban Development Authority might also be the target of inquiries.

Striving for peace amidst hate and fear

By Radhika Coomaraswamy

There is a spectre that haunts Sri Lanka; the spectre of peace. But for a people mired in a history of distrust and antagonism, peace is a deeply disturbing phenomenon. It challenges once learnt but now naturalised habits of antagonism, hate and fear. It unsettles assumptions. The peace process itself makes many feel insecure, fearing a loss of control, suspicious of decisions that are being made outside one's sphere of influence. There is a constant and insatiable demand for certainty, transparency and security. For some it resembles Chamberlain flirting with Hitler at Munich.

For others it is a sellout, a refusal to accept the imperatives of the right to self-determination. For peace activists, the present historical moment poses the greatest challenge since the beginning of this terrible conflict.

Branded as traitors and the targets of hate speech, they have to continue their work in a murky environment of suspicion and fear. Sinhalese peace activists have to face a daily barrage of epithets and hate speech, the possibility of grenade attacks and a government and community hardened by years of betrayal and conflict. Tamil peace activists have the task of convincing both parties that it is in their interest to talk to each other even as they have to come to terms with the ideas and emotions that constitute the concept of the "Tamil nation".

Tamil political leaders in the 20th century from Arunachalam onwards have insisted that there are two nations inhabiting the island of Sri Lanka, one Tamil one Sinhala. Influenced by nationalism in Tamil Nadu, they have insisted on distance and difference from the Sinhala nation.

Though the ideas of Tamil separatism existed, no one took them seriously. In 1976, SJV Chelvanayakam resigned his seat and contested on a platform of a separate state. He received overwhelming support with over 70% of the electorate voting for a separate state. Something very radical happened between 1956 and 1976 in the Tamil community. Understanding that transformation will help us come to terms with the major obstacles we face in bringing the Tamil community aboard "the peace train".

Between 1956 and 1976, the Tamil leadership did become more aggressive and separatist in its advocacy. History will judge their actions accordingly. In addition the Tamil community was faced with a great deal of overt discrimination. The Sinhala Only legislation, the refusal to guarantee physical security to Tamil people living outside the North and East, standardization of university admissions which discriminated against Tamils, perceived discrimination in employment and the refusal of successive governments to honour their commitments with regard to negotiated devolution agreements are now the standard litany of discrimination that Tamils recite when asked to justify the call for a separate state.

The lack of economic and educational opportunities due to the slow growth of the economy also added to the sense of frustration and isolation. In this despairing reality for young Tamils who were Tamil speaking, the idea of "the nation" finally captured their imagination. The nation became the panacea for all their problems.

Val Daniel in a recent article shows how the concept of nation state "promises to soothe and heal.... the modern nation has promised to provide refuge to those whose lives have been rendered chaotic by catastrophic events...." By the 1980s, the concept of a Tamil nation had become the mainstream idea in vernacular Tamil writings and articles. A whole generation of young Tamils has grown up taking this nation for granted.

The other decisive moment in Tamil construction of recent history is July 1983. Once JR Jayewardene told a group of Tamil leaders that they speak of 1983 as if it is the demarcating line between BC and AD. In many ways it is. Until 1983, the champions of Tamil nationalism were primarily parliamentarians and democratic political leaders, who may have flirted with violent groups but who were generally committed to non-violent agitation. After 1983, that radically changed. The LTTE had less than seven hundred members in June 1983. By January 1984, their cadres were in the thousands. A whole generation of young Tamil men exist who have had to negotiate with the call to armed insurrection.

Since the Vaddukodai Resolution of 1976, Tamil politics of Sri Lanka has been integrally linked to the concept of "The Tamil Nation". It is this concept that has driven thousands of Tamil boys and girls to willingly or otherwise commit suicide in pursuance of what they perceive is a heroic death. Revelling in the life of the imagined community, they are inspired by tales of martyrdom, bonding and brotherhood. Dousing the passions associated with this way of life will be a major future challenge of the peace initiative. It is also this concept of nationalism that may eventually prevent Tamil political and military leaders from making an honourable peace with the Sri Lankan government.

Where has nearly 30 years of the relentless, violent pursuit of the nation and nationalism got the Tamil community? What has it meant for the every day lives of ordinary persons? Professor Val Daniel in his recent work and writings has spent a great deal of time speaking to Tamil victims of violence. As we think of peace and the possibility of a peace process, it is important to revisit his work. The voices of the people he interviewed are the voices of silence that must be heard. They tell a different story. A story of so much pain and suffering that it is a testament to the need for peace in its own right.

When Val Daniel asked a young Tamil refugee in the United Kingdom what he thought of Tamil nationalism in the context of today's world, this was his response.

"You ask me about Tamil nationalism. There is only Tamil internationalism. No Tamil nationals. Never was. Never will be. This is Tamil internationalism. Being stuck in a windowless room in Thailand, or a jail in Nairobi or Accra or Lagos or Cairo or America. Or being a domestic servant in Singapore and Malaysia for a rich Tamil relative. Being part of a credit card racket in London. Crossing Niagara Falls into Canada. I am told that there is even a Tamil fisherman on a Norwegian island near the North Pole. All internationals. And don't forget the briefless barrister at Charing Cross who tries to hawk his speciality as an immigration lawyer to anyone who is gullible enough to believe him. He is a Tamil too." The relentless fight for the Tamil nation and Tamil nationalism through war and violence has basically resulted in Sri Lanka being cleansed of Sri Lankan Tamils. NU Jayawardene has gone on record stating that the war should continue since at the present rate of attrition, Tamils will soon become numerically so small that they will be a "manageable minority".

History then will provide us with the greatest irony. The call for a Tamil nation may have actually resulted in the decimation of the Tamil people. Internationally the image of who is a Tamil is also changing. Tamils who once nationally were considered to be civil servants, accountants and professionals are emerging on the international radar screen as smugglers, drug couriers, arms dealers and members of organized crime.

The attempts to outlaw "terrorism" in western countries are very much a result of this new "Tamil internationalism". Tamil internationality is an outgrowth of Tamil nationalism but it is also a different phenomenon. Tamil internationality through life in the western underworld confronts Tamil nationalism and invests it with a great deal of cynicism. Heroic death at home does not always sit well with human smuggling abroad. While there is this standard picture of the Tamil diaspora funding and fighting a proxy war, this is true primarily of the early immigrants. While Tamil nationalism faces international challenges, Tamils who remain in Sri Lanka often find themselves without a voice and without agency.

Val Daniel's work consists of so many portraits that challenge our indifference. Tale after tale of enormous pain and suffering contrast with the strident tones of competing nationalisms. There is for example Kamalam. In 1985, the army took her son away and he never reappeared. She then worshipped his photograph and prayed for him daily until her house went up in flames when a gasoline bomb was dropped by a helicopter gunship. She now sits in a refugee camp in India and every morning she goes to the ocean and sits there staring out to sea. Whenever people ask her why, she says poignantly, "tomorrow my son might come".

In my work I have spent a great deal of time with women victims of violence. And yet we cannot forget the expectation and suffering of sons and boys. Because of the armed conflict, young Sri Lankan males, both Sinhala and Tamil have different role models for being "masculine". Gone are the images of the schoolteacher in Arya Sinhala or the young Tamil accountant/engineer. Increasingly being masculine in both communities' means wearing camouflage and carrying an AK 47. Increasingly being masculine means fighting, dying and shedding blood. Violence has become a central element of Sri Lankan masculinity. Being male in Sri Lanka is to be aggressive, violent and fearless.

It is not only the Tamils who suffer. Unfortunately there is not much scholarship on actual case studies of Sinhalese and Muslim direct victims of ethnic violence, written by those who are concerned with what has now come to be called "the anthropology of pain", even though there has been some recent scholarship on the JVP period. However, there are many fact-finding reports and third party accounts of the horrendous violence that Sinhalese and Muslims have had to suffer during the course of this conflict. There are also the stories of the Muslim families who have been driven out of their homes in the North and the East. NGOs working with these families in Puttalam have a great deal of evidence about the trauma and suffering of these victims. Internecine warfare was once common in the East and in certain parts of the East an uneasy equilibrium exists reflecting a very fragile peace between the communities. In the refugee camps and the welfare centres, Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims, one million strong, wait for handouts from the state. Homeless and displaced they have only one thing on their minds, how to survive the very next day. Whatever the future holds for Sri Lanka, the time must come when we must courageously take stock of the violence that we have suffered both individually and collectively.

South Asian scholars who have engaged closely with victims of violence point to the fact that silence is the common reaction of those who suffer violence. In my work as Special Rapporteur, I have found the same thing. When you speak to those who suffer unmentionable violence and ask them to tell you their story, they are often speechless. Some may never speak. Others claim that "words don't come", or that ideas do not form. I have often thought that for victims of violence, the pain is so deep and the anger so fierce that words fail them. Das and Daniel claim that it is even more than that. Being human inevitably entails communication and relationships, and therefore, the refusal to communicate, or the inability to communicate, is a refusal or an inability to be human. The silence is then a withdrawal from participating in humanity. Silence is before thought, before imagination. It is the void. It is terror. If peace talks are to begin, the victims of this war, both Sinhala and Tamil have to move beyond the terror of silence. Negotiators must be forced to remember that there is more to this conflict than the political resolution of constitutional boundaries. (This is an abridged version of an article written by the writer who is the UN special rapporteur on violence against women.)

UN to promote democracy in South Asia

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan hopes to promote democracy and better relations during a 10-day mission to South Asia.

Annan is expected to conduct talks concerning the reduction of nuclear competition between India and Pakistan, as well as reiterating his concern for the Taleban's plan to destroy non-Islamic cultural treasures in Afghanistan.

The secretary-general's itinerary will include visits to Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and India. He leaves for the sub-continent Friday.

While Annan is not scheduled to go to Afghanistan, a senior U.N. official said he might meet with a Taleban official. The group maintains a diplimatic mission in Pakistan.

There he will discuss the Taleban's harboring of accused terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, as well as the group's decision to destroy priceless relics.

The U.N. does not recognise the Taleban, which controls about 95 percent of the country.

Afghanistan's U.N. seat is held by an ousted government led by President Burhanuddin Rabbani, which controls a small part of the country's north.

The secretary-general has written to the Taleban asking that it rescind an order to destroy every statue in the country, an act which the U.N. has described as "an act of cultural and religious vandalism."

"We're very anxious that effective pressure be exerted on the Taleban to stop what they're doing because it is clearly irreversible if it's carried out," the official said.

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