Interview with Alistair Burt on Sri Lanka

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The BBC’s Charles Haviland interviewed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs Minister Alistair Burt on 1st February 2013, during an official visit to Sri Lanka which saw the Minister meet with a range of stakeholders including the government, TNA and civil society as well as travel to the North of the country.

Groundviews recently participated in and archived a Twitter interview with Minister Burt on Sri Lanka, conducted after he returned to the UK. The interview with Charles Haviland is vital record of the Minister’s thoughts on Sri Lanka, including comments, in his official capacity, on the government’s human rights record, progress of reconciliation post-war, the prospects of a political settlement and concerns over the independence of the judiciary and arising from this, the question of whether Sri Lanka is suitable as a venue for the CHOGM meeting.

Since the interview has not been published anywhere else to date, including on the BBC, Groundviews is pleased, with permission, to reproduce it in full below.

  • Mary

    Hope the Minister will question himself on the answers he gave the interviewer after reading the comments on the twitter interview.

    A. Did the Minister ask to see anything particularly in the North after reading the multitude of reports by national, regional and international organisations and national, regional and international individuals(journalists, religious clergy, academics, ordinary citizens, …)?

    B. ”North is certainly progressing(@ 1.20)” made after being shown around a small fraction of the North by the occupation army for a few hours is not just utterly unacceptable but extremely dangerous in view of the reports in A.

    1.Mullaitivu District:
    a.What fraction of Tamils are left behind in their original coastal region in Mullaitivu District?

    b.What fraction of the IDPs has been allowed to go back to their own land?

    c.What fraction of the IDPs has not been allowed to return to their i.land and ii.villages because they are occupied by either Sinhalese brought from outside the District or new army/navy camps (mostly to protect the Sinhalese)

    d.What fraction of roads and schools newly built/renovated for Sinhalese ”settlers” is built/renovated for Tamil returnees?

    e.How many Hindu temples are demolished and how many Buddhist temples are built?

    f.Were you shown the i.war memorial opened by the President on 9 December 2009 (when A9 was closed to the public) on a site where a large number of people unable to walk out (and tugging at the people who were struggling to walk out) were left behind on 19 May 2009 and ICRC was not allowed to go in and ii. the newly built ”Lagoon’s Edge, a tourist hotel run by the army? (They are very significant in view of the reports (including WFP and ICRC) that aid agents are rsetricted from helping the returnees and that the returnees are struggling under tarpaulin sheets over their heads and hard to find livelihood – of course some have got paid demining work)

    g. One specific example: Namal Rajapakse (recently implicated in ”boats-to-Australia”) displaced these people. Where are they now please?: http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2012/11/returning-idps-in-kokulai-mullaitivu.html

    2.Kilinochchi District: when returnees have been struggling for drinking water, food and shelter
    a. i.28 Buddha statues along A9 from Omanthi to Kilinochchi built in 2010 and 2011: http://transcurrents.com/news-views/archives/8355#more-8355
    ii.many more Buddha statues in the interior
    b. very oppressive war memorial with a patch of cracks and a metallic bullet and a grand opening function in Kilinochchi:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEes9C-TB00
    c. another oppressive war memorial in Elephantpass:
    http://www.defence.lk/new.asp?fname=20100430_09
    d. swathes of land in the choicest places are grabbed for houses for the army camps and quarters, displacing original inhabitants.
    e. The overbloated army (

    All these take up not only a lot of precious space and material(sand for building purposes has been imported by Sri Lanka for decades and illegal sandmining along seashores is being carried out by the occupation army in the North to a very dangerous level) but are psychologically very oppressive and anti-reconciliation

    3. we are not talking about Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Amparai, Mannar, Jaffna -where Sinhalisation is ona much higher scale.

    4.Man on the street may judge ”development” by visible symbols but decision-makers urgently need to look at the structural basis:

    Politically, economically, socially and culturally debilitating administration of the whole of the North by the army, eg
    journalists are still attacked,
    Tamil parliamentarians are harassed
    even very small school events/functions cannot take place without them, including approving who the guests are
    the army are appointing themselves as teachers in schools
    overbloated army is recruiting women in Kilinochchi without hansard notices
    Presidential Task Force for Northern Development located in Cbo and consists of Sinhalese civil servants and representatives of all armed forces (?!)
    arbitrary arrests are taking place, ohhhh……….

    All these are steps backwards and not forwards – derangement and not development.

    When the whole world is going for sustainable development which can only be systemic development
    a company in the South is planning to put up a garments factory in Kilinochchi for export purposes. All these export markets are dying down and not even part of systemic evolution of economy. The army is doing farming, fishing, etc

    Tamils are being condemned to degenerate in all possible ways.

    Sri lanka has become a ”hillsborough” now. Years ago Prof Alston was calling for international monitoring of human rights – he was thinking of physical safety of Tamils then.

    NOW there is a much more urgent need for international minitoring about the whole existence of the Tamils – soon they are going to die down.

    ”Many good things are happening(@ 0.55), ”North is certainly progressing(@ 1.20), ”solid progress(@ 1.45), are evidence of what is said in the book, Paradise Poisoned(2005).

    ”End of terrorism(1.32) is absence of reactive visible violence.

    Not discerning the causative structural violence is equivalent of gas chamber for the oppressed in an island in geopolitically strategic location.

    • Ward

      Mary

      Thank you for uncovering the whole maze of deception, 65yrs and counting.

    • Sarath Fernando

      Hi Mary,

      It is indeed the use of these fly-by expert-views from the know-it-alls that brought shame to the World Bank, and misery to many a poor nation, in the 1980′s. The common joke was that if a World Bank officer flies over a country – he qualifies as an expert; if he flies over in day light, he becomes an authority!

      Obviously, the practice continues in other institutions as well!

      I think the only choice we have to avoid further degradation of Sri Lanka is for the responsible citizens to open their eyes – and demand fairness all around, and not be fooled or silenced by the political cacophony!

      • Mary

        Sarath Fernando
        I don’t understand what you’re talking about.
        Pl put it in plain English.

    • Off the Cuff

      Dear Mary,

      you say “2.Kilinochchi District: when returnees have been struggling for drinking water, food and
      shelter…”

      Mary, your concern is touching. The Majority of Tamil civilians have been struggling to get drinking water long before independence and time immemorial.

      Not just drinking water, they struggled even to travel by Public Transport within “Tamil Areas”. They struggled to practice their religion as equals. They struggled to get an education as equals even in a Christian school and had to sit either on the ground or had to carry a low stool from class to class.

      In 1847 a hundred and sixty five years ago, Mr Arumuga Navalar, resigned his post as a teacher, when the Principle Peter Percival admitted a Low Cast child to his Christian School. Yes Mary, the majority of Tamils in the so called “Tamil Areas” had a constant struggle to live as Humans in a Tamil dominated North.

      Do you know about the Northern Riots of 1871, 1923, 1929 and 1931?
      All of them had a common thread.
      Tamils fighting Tamils.

      I explained to my grand daughters, born in Canada, that their grandmother’s elders came from India to work in Ceylon, and also returned to India with their savings, walking through the snake-infested, malarial forests of the Vanni. They could not even comprehend it. “Why wouldn’t they take the train, or something like the Greyhound bus”? Till almost the end of the 1940s, many estate workers did not dare to take the train, even if they had the money. If they managed to procure a ticket, they would only stay in the train till about Vavuniya or before. Once the train enters the “Tamil areas”, they knew that they could be beaten and thrown out of the moving train, with truly tragic results. Even in walking through the Vanni, they had to follow designated paths, avoiding high-caste villages, camp for the night and take water only from designated locations. Such locations could be suddenly torched and “cleansed” by zealous upper-caste Tamils who may even be Christians. Or, the walkers may have to do some work for a Periya-dorei, free of charge, to secure right of passage. Even in more recent times, low-caste train passengers going beyond Vavuniya knew the perils. Amazingly, no social scientists or “human-rights” researchers have bothered about delving into such matters.(Mr. Sebastian Rasalingam, Torornto, Canada http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2011/07/keeping-tamil-culture-and-uprooting.html)

      The story was different in the Sinhala dominated South. The Tamils had a different experience of being able to share a cup of Tea with their Sinhalese counterparts.

      I too moved from Jaffna to Mannar, and from there to Hatton, and finally to Colombo in the 1950s. Coming from a “low-caste”, and having married an Indian Tamil woman in Hatton, I was truly an out-caste paraiah among the Tamils. Although most Tamils could readily get a housing loan from the “Bank of Ceylon” run by Mr. Loganathan, especially at the Wellawatta branch, I found that I could not even open an account even with a government pay cheque. However, although I was an outcaste among the Tamils, I found that my Sinhalese mates invited me to have tea with them – a strange experience for a man who was always spoken to by Tamils in the curt “inga va” Tamil. (Mr Sebastian Rasalingam, Toronto, Canada. http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2011/06/sinhalization-of-north-and-tamilzation.html)

      The above first hand evidence, gives us a rare glimpse of the Cast and Race Bias that existed within the High cast Tamil dominated, government bureaucracy, in the 1950s. It shows who the REAL oppressors were

      Mr Chelliah Loganathan hailed from Jaffna and was the powerful General Manager of Bank of Ceylon. He was reputed to be a slave driver and an autocrat. He was the father of Ketheeswaran Loganathan who was assassinated by the LTTE. Now we know how the Tamil High Cast members bought up Land in Colombo. They had unofficial help from the Tamil GM in charge of the State Bank “The Bank of Ceylon”. This evidence is emanating from a Tamil who was subjected to High Cast Tamil discrimination. It is a very rare piece of first hand evidence of how the high cast Tamil dominated govt bureaucracy used their position to aggrandise themselves in the 1950s. It is an indictment on the state of affairs of govt in the 1950s. Only a few people who were at the receiving end of Cast and Racial bias in the 1950s would be living with us to tell the tale. Only a few of them would have the integrity and the bravery to come out with such details.

      Any Human Rights Activists who want to understand the conflict in Sri Lanka should record the evidence of people like Mr Sebastian Rasalingam and Mr Thomas Johnpulle.

      Mr Thomas Johnpulle states, upcountry Tamils and Colombo Tamils are also treated ‘differently’ by Jaffna based Vellalar Tamils. No intermarriages, political marriages and even cultural marriages are allowed between these groups by Jaffna Tamils. (http://www.colomboherald.com/world-politics/tamil-caste-discrimination)

      You say “a. i.28 Buddha statues along A9 from Omanthi to Kilinochchi built in 2010 and 2011:
      http://transcurrents.com/news-views/archives/8355#more-8355
      ii.many more Buddha statues in the interior”

      I read your reference written by Mr Imaad Majeed
      Extract
      Alongside statues there has also been a Dagoba built in the Mankulam town. What is striking is that the majority of these statues have been erected towards the North end of the roads beyond Vavuniya, an area that is strictly Tamil, having a 30 year history of conflict with Sinhala parties (i.e. the Sri Lankan Army). A Buddhist statue was erected in Kanakarayankulam, near a tank, causing the Tamil community of the area to voice resentment.
      End Extract

      The ancient Sinhala name of Kanakarayankulam is GANARAJAWAEVA
      Tamilised as Kanagarayankulam, Kanakarayankulam, Kangarayam kulam. (Traditional Sinhala place names in Sri Lanka and their Tamilized forms by Dr. Chandre Dharmawardana. (http://dh-web.org/place.names/)

      The quadrant from Sinnaththampanai,Tunukkai, Murasumoddai, Nilaveli contains at least 167 Ancient Buddhist sites. Please remember there were Tamil Buddhists. Ancient Buddhist ruins have been Listed in 1982 by Archaeological Department.

      You say “According to TNA member M. A. Sumanthiran, the presence of Buddha statues in these areas is a “message that the character of the area has been changed. It is a cultural intrusion”. He also mentioned an ancient Hindu temple that was demolished in Kanniya, Trincomalee, and a Buddha statue built in its place. The foundation of the kovil now holds a Buddhist flag, adding insult to injury. Sumanthiran added that, “the issue at hand is a question of trust. Will this type of behaviour help build trust among the communities?”

      History repeating itself.

      “The politics of the Tamils in the Ramanathan era was Caste Politics. Ramanathan wanted the caste system written into the Ceylon constitution. The Tamil politics put into place by G. G. Ponnambalam and S. J. V. Chelvanayagam was Race Politics vis a vis the Sinhalese.” (Mr Sebastian Rasalingam, Toronto, Canada.
      http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2011/06/sinhalization-of-north-and-tamilzation.html)

      Tamil writers,and budding politicians like Ponnambalam began to attack the Mahavamsa. He went to political meeting claiming that the Tamils have always ruled the Sinhalese, and that the Sinhalese were “a race of hybrids” and an offshoot of the Tamils. The Dutugamunu-Elara story was used by “Ceylon Tamil agitators ? (as) an historical justification for the sense of grievance which they were so carefully nursing, and it was used to suggest that Sinhalese perfidy in the name of Sinhalese Buddhism would be the accepted practice in the future as well as in the past” (Russell, p. 154). Meanwhile, the Tamils continued to insist that they are effectively a majority community (Morning Star, January 2, 1934).

      Mr Sebastian Rasanayagam states
      At a meeting in Navalapitiya in 1939, Ponnambalam attacked the Mahavamsa and the Sinhalese in such extreme terms that the people attacked him, and the first Sinhala-Tamil riots began, with clashes in Navalapitiya, Passara, Maskeliya and even in Jaffna (reported in full in the newspaper, Hindu Organ November 1, 1939. This paper is said to be available at the Jaffna University Library). The British government rapidly put down the clashes and so they did not become extensive as in the post-1950s clashes.

      When Colombo began to push socially progressive legislation like universal franchise, free education, women’s rights, worker’s rights etc., the Colombo Peria-Dorei class couldn’t stand it any more. The building of causeways giving access to depressed villages was followed by attempts to upgrade village councils to town councils, town councils to urban councils, and urban councils to municipalities.

      “Enough is enough”, said the Chelvanayagams, Ponnambalams, and other absentee land lords of these village councils and urban councils as they could not see why they should pay higher taxes for these “developments”. The idea of Eelam was born decades before “Sinhala Only”, as you can appreciate by a modern re-reading of the Hansard of the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s.

      Check how the upgrading of Jaffna to a municipal council was opposed tooth and nail by our Tamil leaders! Taking control of the North and East, away from Colombo, was the only possibility if the ruling class of the Tamils are to remain in the saddle.
      (http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2011/07/keeping-tamil-culture-and-uprooting.html)

  • Ward

    ”the interview has not been published anywhere else to date” ??

    Unbelievable.

    Thanks for your service, GV.

  • Rita

    Dear Minister
    Thank you: ”unfair is unfair”

  • Rita

    Question and answer on accountability. OK.

    What about accountability in the reports held back in the 15 commissions/committees appointed by the President in the last seven years please?