Colombo, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War

Harvard University rubbishes Sri Lanka newspaper’s allegations

Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government (KSG) asked a Sri Lankan newspaper for a retraction, as the newspaper carried a “severely distorted,” news article regards a panel discussion that had taken place at the School.

A Sri Lankan newspaper, The Nation last Sunday in a front page story titled ‘LTTE threat to disrupt Harvard discussion on Lanka turns into damp squib’ carried an article detailing a panel discussion attended by Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN Palitha Kohona, and said a journalist who had been convicted for 20 years in Sri Lanka and is now a Nieman Fellow had attempted to block the event. The Kennedy School in a letter to the editor that it also carried on its website said that The Nation’s article “presented a severely distorted account” of the seminar and carried “a number of inaccurate claims about individuals associated with the event.”

Ambassador Nicholas Burns, former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs and now professor of Diplomacy and International Politics at Harvard, who moderated the discussion said in a signed statement, “It (the article) fails to mention the criticism of the Sri Lankan government’s wartime conduct voiced by panelists, the audience, and by me.”

The Nation’s article had also criticised Ambassador Burns’ management of the event by saying that while he gave an opportunity for different Tamil interest groups to put forward their views, “…he effectively curtailed available response time.” Ambassador Burns in rebutted this by saying that article was “inaccurately claiming response time was curtailed.”

The Nation said last Sunday in a front page story said that an attempt was made “by a Sri Lankan Tamil journalist who was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in jail for terrorist related activities …” to “arrange a boycott” but “failing that, had threatened to stage a ‘hartal’ to disrupt the panel discussion. Despite The Nation not naming the journalist, the only journalist in Sri Lanka who was sentenced to 20 years in jail and is now a Nieman Fellow at Harvard is Mr. J.S Tissainayagam.

Ambassador Burns in his statement said, “Your claim that J.S. Tissainayagam, a Sri Lankan journalist and Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, organized a mass protest of the event is simply untrue. Mr. Tissainayagam attended and participated in the event, contributing greatly to the audiences understanding of the end of the war and challenges ahead for Sri Lanka.”

The Nations article also said LTTE had “packed the audience occupying most of the seats in advance” and “the rump LTTE bombarded the Kennedy School with more than 500 emails and phone calls threatening public disturbances.” However, Ambassador Burns refuted this in his statement saying the LTTE had no role in this event and that the audience was composed of students and fellows from the Kennedy School of Government and community members interested in the topic. “The claim of over five hundred protest e-mails and phone calls greatly exaggerates community response,” said Mr. Burns.

The Kennedy School statement took pains to describe attendance at the panel discussion was by the Tamil community and not the “LTTE rump” as alleged by The Nation. The statement points out that the tone of the discussion was critical of the Sri Lanka government.  Harvard University demanded that The Nation publish Mr. Burn’s statement and give it equal prominence as the distorted article it carried.

Mr. Burns’ statement can be accessed on the Kennedy School website here. The Nation’s article can be accessed here.

The India and South Asia program of the Kennedy School of Government organized a seminar on March 1st called “War, Peace, and Reconciliation: The Way Forward for Sri Lanka”. Sri Lanka Permanent Representative Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka Democracy Forum’s Ahilan Kadirgamar, and Vasuki Nesiah, Associate Professor of Practice, New York University were on the Panel. The Panel was moderated by Nicholas Burns, Director, India and South Asia Program, and Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics. David L. Phillips Director, Peace-building and Rights Program, Institute for the Study of Human Rights, Columbia University and Nieman Fellow J.S. Tissainayagam were invited by Mr. Burns to make special interventions.

  • Vasanthi

    Sri Lanka Government tells lies ….lies…. and more lies ….

    Shameless Sri Lanka Prez Rajapaksa said that there were ZERO civilian deaths in the war

    Now.. they go to the extent of telling the lies even in the Sri Lanka Parliament.

    Prageeth Ekneligoa disappeared on his own accord….

    People arrested by Sri Lanka Gov and “ disappeared “ went to the
    foreign countries

    No one woman was raped by Sri Lanka Army

    No resettlement due to heavy mine infestation, but as soon as the same land was sold the Sinhalese and declared “ mines free “ the next day

    LEN organized the ‘Soosa & Bootha’ attack on their own office….

    Tamil MP Sridharan stage-managed the attack on himself….

  • eureka

    Thw world didn’t know for a very long time what exactly has been going on in the island. Now there are many human rights organisations academic departments of universities and Tamils who have been fleeing sri lanka over the last 55 yrs(Prabhakaran must have been a toddler 55 yrs ago?) who can tel the world what has been wrong with the governments.
    ABOVE ALL many conscientious Sinhalese have gone up to tell LLRC how the ethnic minorities have been done injustice from 1948.
    It’s shameful and disgusting for Sri Lankan newspapers to speak lies any more. They should start saying the truth for the country to prosper peacefully. They can start saying about what’s happening in the Northeast. It’s hiding what has been happening in the Northeast from the South that was the problem all along.
    There are a lot of true Buddhists who would have opposed all the injustice if only they had been told the truth about 1958, etc, etc.
    It isn’t too late – start speaking the truth about what actually is happening in the Northeast will bring peace and prosperity for ALL.

  • Not-A-Rajapaksa

    A little anecdote would be relevant here.

    At the time that a senior journalist of the Nation was severely assaulted and there was suspicion that the government was behind it, the President (the same one we still have) responded to the effect that it was ludicrous for anyone to make such a suggestion because “the Nation is our paper” or words to that effect. In fact, a person by the name of “Rajapaksa,” domiciled in Britain, was named at the time this paper moved from Arpico’s ownership to that of the current principals.

  • Ruwani

    The present owner of The Nation newspaper company is Prasanna Wickremasuriya, a brother of Jaliya Wickremasuriya who is the Sri Lankan Ambassador in Washington D.C. These are President’s cousins. The Nation newspaper is a loss-making venture. Naturally, it has to concoct lies like this to sell the paper.

  • Asi Panditharatna

    Why pay any attention to the Nation anyway? Tell me does `Groundviews’ challenge any of the incorrect articles or pieces on Tamilnet or other pro-national sites that just constantly criticise SL. I am sure Groundviews wont publish this message since they dont like hearing other points of view that challenge their so called `journalism’.


  • TT

    Shame on the SL newspaper concerned to lie.

    LTTE has been decimated in SL and it is a banned terrorist organisation in USA!

    Therefore there is no way LTTE can do any of these things in USA.

    These are done by those who sympathise with the Tamil Elam campaign. The way to punish them is not by concocted lies but by eliminating all possibilities of Tamil Elam from the island of SL by creating multiethnic peace villages in the north so that Tamil Elam will become an impossibility.

    A newspaper cannot do this. State sponsorship is a must.

    When Tamil Elam becomes an impossibility, world wide Tamil Elam campaign will die a natural death. No violence needed. Even if they refuse to give up then, no problem, there will never a Tamil Elam if people of all ethnicities live in the north in large numbers.

    Looks like the government has lost its way after winning the war. This nation needs another DS Senanayake.

    • Lol, TT, still plugging your plan of Sinhalese colonisation of the NE? 😀 “Peace Villages”, are they now? I’m still waiting for you to show us even a single piece of evidence on how colonisation has been effective as you claimed. While you’re doing that, do tell us why you claimed that rape was also effective.

      The route to peace is through harmonious policies that ensure the well being of all Sri Lankans, not by forcing the minority to accommodate the majority.

      • TT

        [Edited out]

        [Dear TT and DB, please address the topic of the article. Thank you. GV.]

      • TT

        Dear GV,

        First time you edited out my comments! 🙁

        I’m sorry for creating the need to do so but can’t figure out how I violated the site guidelines.

  • mandy

    Time for the Sri Lanka newspapers to tell the truth. You can mess about telling lies in Sri Lanka but not in the West, journalists will be sued for wrong information.The editor should resign for giving false information.

  • You can fool all of the people some of the time…and some of the people all of the time…and you can definitely fool a majority of the majority in Sri Lanka each and every time! (since 1948 to be exact).

  • wijayapala

    Dear Dunce,

    you can definitely fool a majority of the majority in Sri Lanka each and every time! (since 1948 to be exact).

    How did D.S. Senanayake fool the majority of the majority in 1948?

    • Well Wijeyapala,

      DS who was brought up in a devout Buddhist family, entered the Anglican school S. Thomas’ College on his father’s wishes, and converted to Christianity. He later converted to Buddhism in order to become a ParleyMutt in the majority Buddhist Sri Lanka. Ha…ha…ha…one of the first instances of a majority of the majority being fooled by a

      ps. todays ParleyMutts enter the ParleyMutts building from one party and then jump over to the ruling party side, all because they want to strengthen the hand/arm of the PresiDunce…

      • wijayapala

        Dunce, thank you for responding.

        What do you think about how Ranil fooled the majority of the majority that he could actually convince the LTTE to stop murdering people- that the LTTE was interested in peace?

      • TT


        I doubt it. It certainly benefitted them that’s why the majority supported these moves. The only time the majority was fooled (at least came close to it was) in 2001-2004. The govt called surrender, “peace”. The majority was fooled but only for a few years. They realized it and that led to the premature collapse of the govt. It was a dramatic collapse, I must add.

        OTOH the govt that tore the CFA won by a landslide in 2010.

  • LankaLiar

    I thought it was the LTTE which organized this discussion oops I mean SLTE. Please believe the Nation. They don’t lie. I too dont lie. I am a Sri Lankan

  • TT

    Re: “the article fails to mention the criticism of the Sri Lankan government’s wartime conduct voiced by panelists”

    War chimes not war crimes!

    Sadly those who cry about SL’s war chimes (they call these war crimes!) don’t know anything about the Geneve Conventions and other governing laws. SL conducted the war STRICTLY by the book so no war crimes. They also failed to realize that these war crimes laws were drafted and approved by the BIGGEST CIVILIAN KILLING nations of the world! This means they left HIGE loopholes in the war crimes laws to be exploited.

    Those who cry against SL’s war chimes don’t realize these FACTS. They are thinking of utopian war crimes laws.

    There is a parallel in their definition of democracy.

    They say the 1972 and 1978 consitutions are not very democratic and not beneficial for Tamils. They said the same thing about the 1931 constitution! However, they all agreed that the 1947 constitution was a good one. Alas! Did they? Oh yes! Under the 1947 constitution, the Citizenship Act was passed (1948), Official Language Act was passed (1956) and many similar DEMOCRATIC acts took place. And they are against it! What does it mean?

    Even the MOST democratic constitution couldn’t promote/protect Tamil (racial) aspirations! Only an utopian constitution may do so. Just like war chimes!

    The botomline is the problem lies not in democracy, constitutions, war chimes (crimes), etc., but within these people.

    1. Either they should resolve their problems by shedding their demands, or,
    2. SL should seperate it’s territory from the political power of individuals holding such views through a process of multi ethnic recolonization of the north.

  • veedhur

    Why such a hullaballoo about the ‘Nation’ lying when we as a Nation don’t bother with truth? Are too lazy to find out what happened in the last days of the war – instead believing what the Govt and LTTE media dish out since those confirm to our respective prejudices. Some even demanding that we not seek the truth as it will be too problematic!

    ‘The Nation’ Lies! So what Nation?

  • NAK

    isn’t it all funny, the obsession of the US with war chimes in srilanka as TT called it.
    This same US is MUM on Saudi arabia sending troops to suppress unarmed civilian bahraini protesters. Basically they don’t much care about the suppression of protests in the middle east where their stooges rule.They are only interested in Libya where there is (was) a chance to get rid of their former enemy. US OF A has amply exhibited its nakedness when it comes to human rights issues and it is high time they realize its best for itself to end this feint and address some real issues.

    • TT

      Of course they are war chimes compared to what USA, UK, Bahrain, Saudi, Israel, etc. do.

      Its a waste of time even to talk about their hypocricy.

      They treat dignified people and subsevient people differently; whites, blacks, yellows and browns by skin colour differently; Christians and others differently; Muslims and others differently; even Shiite and Sunni Muslims differently!!

      Best thing is to rapidly re-colonize the north with people of all races so that NO ONE can split SL, EVER. At the moment seperatists are the majority in the north. If this changes, there is no threat to unity. Make life miserable for anti-SL elements in SL so that they will find no option than to leave SL.

      War crimes allegations against SL is not becaus they care about civilians, etc. (they don’t care at all) but because it is a tool to pressurise SL.

      And play the geopolitical game RIGHT.