Colombo, Human Rights, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance

Travels in a Militarised Society – 4

Human Rights Watchdogs, Neo-colonialism and the Stray Dog Population of Colombo

International human rights organisations accuse the Sri Lanka government, the LTTE and the paramilitary groups operating under the aegis of government portfolios or official military protection—like the EPDP and the TMVP—of continuous violations and killings. The government and its supporters scorn these accusations as neo-colonial interventions in the affairs of the nation and counter that these foreign NGOs ignore LTTE brutalities. In public spaces, on Television and other media, a conspiracy theory is disseminated about these neo-colonial criticisms and outsiders’ attempts to undermine the progress of our war. In Colombo and island-wide a poster asks: “We ate budgerie (cheap grain) during the OTHERS’ war, why can’t we be patient with the hardships we endure for OUR war?” Another poster says, “This government fights Human Rights Neo-colonialism and LTTE Separatism.”

In Colombo, Jaffna, the East, Vayvuniya, and elsewhere people continue to disappear. There are no investigations and no local or national records kept of who or how many they are. From one day to the next, people forget because another incident has occurred.

However, things are not all bad: last year the government decided it must stop the killing of stray dogs—not the right to be happening in a Buddhist country. The dogs have taken advantage of this ethical decision and packs of strays trot around enjoying the freedom of the capital city.

2008 – The Year of War: We will Show the World How to Exterminate Terrorism!

On December 31st 2007, the Lanka-e-News website reports that the opposition MP T. Maheswaren has visited the Jaffna peninsula. He says that in Jaffna District six or seven people are being killed every day by paramilitary groups who are protected by the Sri Lankan military. He promises to announce the details and name names when Parliament reconvenes on January 8th.

On my way home from New Year celebrations, between midnight and 1 a.m., I notice an Airforce vehicle moving around and stopping for soldiers to jump out and put up posters that read, “Gotabe the Great”. Emerging from my hangover later that morning, I hear the news that Maheswaren has been murdered inside a Hindu temple in the Colombo High Security zone. He is the third MP to be assassinated since 2005. A good start for the Year of War.

Following their victory in the East in 2007, the government strategy for 2008 is focused on the Vanni, the next Tiger area they intended to capture. However, the LTTE has also changed its strategy to random and indiscriminate killing of civilians in the South and the North Central province and bombs in the capital. As a result, the entire country is now the warfront.

The government continues to recruit civilians as Home Guards, Civil Guards and other categories. At the end of 2007 at Tissamaharamaya in the South following the Ranminithanna atrocity, they recruited 2,000 civil guards in one day. In January 2008 after the Bootala incident, they recruited another 2,000. And last week, the civil defence commander, Colonel Sarath Weerasekara, announced that they would recruit another 25,000 as an Urban Civil Defence force. If this continues, soon only the grannies and the under-fives will be without guns.

I cannot claim to understand either the government or the LTTE strategies as I am simply an ordinary civilian. Still, it seems to me that this massive distribution of guns to the population is a danger worse than missiles or rockets. Over the past 30 years, the LTTE has operated at different times as a conventional army and as a guerrilla army. In the present phase, as guerrillas, they may no longer be interested in holding land. They can move—and do move—anywhere and the consequences for civilians are irrelevant to them. So the government’s idea of capturing their territory may be misguided. After all, where is Al Qaeda’s territory?

In the mid-90s Brecht’s play The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui was staged in Colombo. At the time we believed that the dictator had finally gone. We were wrong. At present we are still watching the shadowy figures manoeuvre in the background, smelling the blood and waiting to see the dictator himself emerge. Perhaps the play should be staged again—but perhaps not.

“Is the Eastern Province under Military Rule?” Lanka-e-News, December 20th 2007
25,000 new recruits to the Urban Civil Defence Force, January 20th 2008, Sunday Lakbima, Internet version
2,000 Home Guards for Tissamaharamaya, Lanka-e-News, January 20th 2008

Also read:
Travels in a Militarised Society – 3
Travels in a Militarised Society — 2
Travels in a Militarised Society — 1