Glasgow 2014: The Sri Lankan Elephant in the Room

queen1By Rebecca Rajah

Off with a bang of a gay kiss and some illegal cycling, the 20th Commonwealth Games are now underway in Glasgow.

The Games are intended to ‘unite the commonwealth through sport’, championing the shared values of member countries and promoting the values enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter, which include ‘Human Rights’, ‘Democracy’ and ‘Freedom of Expression’.

Sri Lanka has been invited without question to Glasgow 2014. This is a country in the recent aftermath of what can easily be described as a state-perpetuated genocide, whose administration under President Mahinda Rajapaksa is effectively a militarized dictatorship. The UN estimates that 40 000 Tamil civilians were killed in early of 2009, in addition to upwards of 70 000 declared missing as the government military carried out its final attacks on Tamil strongholds in the Northeast. No one has yet been held accountable for these atrocities, and the unexamined lies that come out of Sri Lankan government prevent the country’s people from recovering from their trauma. While the Commonwealth Charter explicitly affirms each member states’ commitment to ‘a free and responsible media’, Sri Lanka currently ranks amongst the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist.

There appears to be an elephant in the room.

The ‘Sri Lanka’ page of the Glasgow 2014 website omits any mention of its recent, inescapable history, choosing instead to discuss the Sri Lankan elephant, which, by the way, is a subspecies of the Asian elephant. This omission is perhaps to be expected in the hands of multinational branding agencies, who sanitize and de-politicize events in the interests of their commercial success.

But the Commonwealth Games are inherently political.

The last Commonwealth Games held here in Scotland were in Edinburgh in 1986. Known as the ‘Boycott Games’ they were boycotted by 32 of 57 participating nations for Margaret Thatcher’s refusal to put sanctions on apartheid South Africa. For the self-proclaimed values of the Commonwealth Charter to go unquestioned whilst blatantly contravened is de-meaning to the spirit of sport.

The Glasgow 2014 Games are currently unfolding against the backdrop of the atrocities in Gaza. It is a heated time, and a reminder of the importance of protecting the integrity of the values shared by the people.

So it was great to see the Games kick off with a kiss celebrating Article V of the Commonwealth Charter, Freedom of Expression.

And it was great to see hundreds of Tamils protest Sri Lankan inclusion in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow on Wednesday.

And it’s been great to see the Queen, David Cameron and Mahinda Rajapaksa appear together live in George Square, dancing in spandex to Cyndi Lauper to protest war crimes in Sri Lanka, then later made demands to the Police that the Scottish Police College withdraw their training programs in Sri Lanka. 

It seems the games are off to a fitting start.

 



Categories: Commentary

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10 replies

  1. ???? I suppose the recent human rights record of Sri Lanka is pretty grim. We went on holiday there on in 1981 and travelled around the country and the people were very nice,,,, to us! Then there was the long-drawn out, and completely pointless war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, led by the reclusive but highly efficient Prabukaram (I forget his second name) and the Sri Lankan majority Sinhalese government forces. The conflict became very bloody with casualties in their hundreds of thousands. There should have been a negotiated settlement at the very beginning but the powers that be weren’t really interested – no oil I’m afraid.

    • Can one negotiate with Terrorrists and has it been done or is it being done? The LTTE were a fascist lot, killing all those who opposed it of any ethnicity. They held a nation to ransome, through terror tactics and while doing so extended its tentacles abroad through a very supportive Diaspora who lived in the some of the most economically stable countries. The common man could not go by public transport for fear of suicide bombers. Border villages were raized to the ground and thousands of innocent, poor people, mostly farmers of the Sinhalese and Muslim communities were wantonly killed in the most gruesome and inhuman manner. Children were forcibly conscripted to serve and the cowards the LTTE were, put them on the front line with nothing other than a pair of rubber slippers and a gun. The areas the LTTE controlled rolled back into what looked like the Stone Age depriving the people of a decent life. Are these the people this Rajah person is defending? The GOSL under Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse cleansed our country of a terrible curse and we will be ever grateful for getting back the freedom to walk and live without fear. The LTTE is no more. Learn to live with that. We are and doing very well without them. There is no room for separatist and fascist ideology. We are one nation and we will remain so, where all people can live in harmony without the interference of those who do not live among us. Sri Lanka is not a militarised nation. The writer talks through her hat. When an area has been under the guns of terrorists and it has since been liberated, any government concerned with National Security will ensure that there is proper security in place. Where there was a mother tiger, there is always the chance that she left behind baby tigers. We are not taking any chances, any more. Sri Lanka is a beautiful country and her people are friendly and hospitable. We are also a nation fond of sport, so let her be, to breath again and to follow our dreams of a better future for our children. We don’t need rubbish thrown at us by a biased, ill-informed, vindictive journalist.

    • This article is a joke and references Tamil Guardian who use stories from Tamil Net, a well known Eelam supporting website. So where is the objectivity in this article. In srilanka many communities have suffered, however communities, business and NGOs are taking the country forward. We may not support GOSL, however any boycott of srilanka only jeopardises the positive work happening in srilanka. The Sinhalese and Tamil diaspora are irrelevant. The people living in srilanka matter.

  2. Isn’t it great how the twin mantras of “not bringing politics into sport” or “sport really does transcend politics” are implicit in every commentator’s breathless coverage? Let’s all ignore the fact that the Commonwealth is itself is a highly political construct, and the sub-text is how great Great Britain is (together) and has always been, and that our former colonies still love us enough to participate in the “Friendly Games”. Didn’t we bring them freedom, civilisation and democracy as in… er… Sri Lanka… or, um, Nigeria? Pakistan? Uganda?

    Having worked in overseas aid in the 90s I learned just how cynical, corrupt and corrupting that apparent benevolence is, and how the British tentacles applied through the Commonwealth are ruthless in ensuring UK taxpayers’ money makes a good return. Projects are planned with the express purpose of bringing in British expertise – i.e. a “British” company will be awarded the lucrative contract, so ensuring the majority of the investment benefits “Britain” (even if the company is actually registered in some good old British outpost like, say, the Cayman Islands so it doesn’t have to pay that nasty UK tax).

    Of course, the beneficiary government will have to pay the usual bribes and backhanders, and it’s only right that the ruling dictatorships take their cut on behalf of the people to, ahem, rest in that potentate’s Swiss bank account. And don’t worry because the MOD and the DTI will have been present at the same negotiations as the DFID officials to make sure that our UK taxpayers’ aid money is utilised, unofficially and informally, to secure orders for, say, some fighter jets or tanks or other additions to their arsenal. The supplying companies run a risk, of course, so all order will be underwritten by the UK taxpayer in case any of these unreliable johnnies from the colonies get inconveniently deposed or otherwise renege on their payment obligations.

    I admit to hypocrisy here – I love sport and am actually mildly thrilled at the Commonwealth Games being in my home city, even if I don’t live there anymore, but it’s all Bread & Circuses when it comes down to it and all those subtle little buttons they press for the Pavlovian response – the Union Jack on the England cycling team’s helmets, the Red Arrows trailing red, white and blue, the BBC talking up future British Olympic hopes when 20-year old Ross Murdoch wins gold – make me puke. Today I read a Maylasian cyclist is to be reprimanded and possibly excluded from competition for bringing politics into the games – he wore a glove saying ‘Free Gaza’ apparently. Forget historic and current British culpability in creating the situation in Palestine – that former colony who never get invited to the Games – the chap simply went beyond the pale bringing politics into sport. Like the Queen, Sport is above politics.

    The clowns in the circuses sometimes make me laugh, but most of the time I find them horrific.

  3. If we do the right thing in september referendum, a popular consultation should also take place re monarchy and membership of the brit commonwealth. both are well beyond the use-by date.

  4. If Rebecca Rajah’s sputum is supposed to be what Scottish journalism is, pity the Scots. Mahinda Rajapaksa may have many faults, and if he has acted improperly, he will have to face the consequences as that is what all Buddhists believe in. However, he ended 30 years of tyranny that all communities living in Sri Lanka had to suffer in the hands of the worlds most ruthless terrorist. People who now breathe freely without fear, who move around anywhere in the country without fear, will be eternally grateful to him, and even if he has erred, the overwhelming majority of the Sri Lankan population will stand by him against the supporters of the LTTE who this apology of a journalist is barracking for. Those LTTE supporters who Rebecca Rajah holds in high esteem are the one’s who funded the LTTE leader Prabakaran for 30 years, and who had direct responsibility for the atrocious massacres of innocent women and children and old men and women that Prabakaran and the LTTE committed. It is a disgrace for the Bella Caledonia to entertain someone like Rebecca Rajah who has ears only for those who have consistently distorted the truth (and probably paid many to write about untruths) without following the basic ethics that any journalist worth her salt should have done.in checking the information that’s been fed to her without regurgitating it on an unsuspecting public. I suggest that gonzalo1 visits Sri Lanka now to see for himself/herself what the country is like today and perhaps write to this web paper so that readers will get the true picture about what Sri Lanka is like today., whether it is a Military dictatorship or whether it is a country that had local government elections, provincial council elections, general elections and Presidential elections since the end of the war in 2009, and where the ruling coalition had won all elections except the Northern provincial council election which incidentally was won by the major Tamil political grouping in the North. The current Sri Lankan leadership has been elected by the people and endorsed at all elections held. Please, please Rebecca Rajah, dont write crap and mislead your readers.

    • Dear Neloufer and Mr. Gonsalkorale,

      This is an article about Sri Lanka within the Commonwealth and its contravention of the values that Commonwealth member states supposedly share.

      It is not my wish to mislead anyone.
      The facts are simple: the United Nations believes that there is sufficient cause* for the investigation war crimes for the atrocities that occured in Sri Lanka under its current administration. I believe this alone is reason for people to question the Sri Lankan president’s invitation to the Commonwealth Games.

      I write as an independent who makes her home in Scotland.
      I take no ‘sides’. But my deepest support and sympathy goes to the people who have suffered in the conflict, those who have lost loved ones and cannot recover from their trauma because of the lies and whitewashing in the conflict’s aftermath.

      There has been a clear international demand** for an independent inquiry into the atrocities Sri Lanka in the final stages of its conflict, and we’ve seen independent advocacy for this during the Glasgow 2014 Games. This is not to bring shame to Sri Lanka – but to demand that the country comes to terms with the truth of its recent history and that all appropriate parties are brought to justice.

      I have nowhere in the above article expressed support for the LTTE or any side within the conflict in Sri Lanka. In the last paragraph of this article, where I said it was ‘good to see’ a gay kiss and it ‘good to see’ protest- I meant it was good to see people taking action to call these values into question. Perhaps that requires clarification.

      Best,
      Rebecca

      * See: http://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/Sri_Lanka/POE_Report_Full.pdf
      ** See: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/27/un-step-sri-lanka-war-crimes-inquiry

      • Thank you for the reply. You have been judge and jury, like the many Western journalists who have written on the subject. People as insensitive as you abound because you get on the bandwagon created by those who profess to know the truth without actually having lived among us and been witness to the thousands of horrendous events that preceded the ‘last days’ of the war. It is ironic that every person who writes uses the words ‘the last days’ of the war when we in Sri Lanka WERE in our last days, if not for the bravery of our underpaid, poor soldiers who had, for the first time, proper leadership from the govt. and the heads of the armed forces.

        What one needs to understand is that this was never about ethnicity. The LTTE were a fascist and racist group of terrorists. When the JVP – a Southern, Sinhalese insurgent group – created havoc in the country in the 70s and 80s and an estimated 30,000 youth were killed, NOT ONE international organization – not the UN or a western country – lifted a finger to help or raised a voice in condemnation as it was considered to be a ‘home and home’ matter. The ‘Sinhalese’ Govt was killing Sinhalese youth. When a group resorts to violence against the State and her citizenry and unleashes a campaign of terror, where does ethnicity come into the picture? The LTTE introduced the suicide bomber to the World. Colombo and her suburbs suffered 367 suicide bombings which killed over 6,000 people. It eliminated ALL Tamil political leaders, starting with Mr. Duraiappah,the Mayor of Jaffna in 1976 and anyone who opposed their ideology. You say the facts are simple. It is easy for you to say so. Where was the UN representatives at the end of the war? They had evacuated their staff by the 10th of May. It was the ICRC who were there. Why hasn’t the ICRC corroborated the ‘estimated’ figures? The official count was 7,400. People like Frances Harrison claim there were 40,000 deaths. How does she claim these numbers and then go on to refute them later? She is a journalist who never stepped on to the war front, let alone being present in the final days. Have you read the Wikileaks excerpts on conversations between the US Ambassador and the UN expert? You should listen. They are eye openers.

        It is very creditable that your deepest support and sympathy goes out to the people who suffered. I take it then that they go out to all of us too, for we suffered enormously from the death of our families – we were left without parents, brothers, sisters and children. We not only lost lives but also lost breadwinners, our education and some, the ability to see, walk and lead normal lives. Save for some countries, the international community did not speak up for the Human rights of those who died, were maimed or were left behind without breadwinners to support them. Yes, there have been a lot of lies and whitewashing but people like you have already decided who lied and what was whitewashed. As you say, it is simple enough to do. The US invades another country to kill Osama BL. It is ok and the World watches avidly and the President and his buddies actually watch the entire episode live from the confines of the air conditioned White House. How gruesome is that? Sri Lanka is hung and quartered for ending a bloody reign of terror but we are castigated for allegedly killing thousands of civilians. So where are the 40,000 bodies? Were they dumped in the sea? Congratulations to the Tamil Diaspora for a job well done. Hats off to them for the propaganda machinery that rolls on so efficiently, for all the proactive work they do with governments in the West, for funding political campaigns.

        The majority of Tamils live in Colombo and her suburbs. The Sinhalese are a minority in the capital where the Tamils and Muslims dominate businesses and comprise 74% of the population. The Tamil Diaspora need to understand that The LTTE is dead forever, that those who have decided to adopt other countries as their own have thereby lost all rights in Sri Lanka and that the so called Trans National Govt of Tamil Elam (TGTE) can turn summersaults trying to establish a separate State in Sri Lanka but never can. They should be talking to Madam Jayalalitha in India to share Tamil Nadu, for isn’t that where 80 million Tamils live? You think there should be an international inquiry into alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka. Don’t you also then think that there should be an international inquiry against all those nations who walked into Iraq, Afghanistan and Lybia? If you did, it would mean putting Britain on the spot and you could not support that. It would mean that Britain is unfit to hold the Commonwealth Games. If you did, it would not bring shame to Scotland.

  5. Rebecca, what is good for the Goose must be good for the Gander – If this is the case Sri Lanka will comply with any international investigation

    I think Neloufer has said what I would have wanted too say, only ts been done better! At least what has been said by neloufer should kindle some enthusiasm in you to open your eyes and ears to see and listen to others, particularly the other side of the story as there is always two sides to any story. It is only the double standards practiced by the West that angers the Sinhala Buddhist community in Sri Lanka. I wont repeat what Neloufer has so well articulated. I will only add that the Sri Lankan government has never been against any enquiry, but only against enquiries that are selective in nature and time spans. It is common knowledge (I say common knowledge as it has been admitted by former leading Indian cabinet ministers) that India initially funded ad trained emerging Tamil Tigers (LTTE) in order to create instability in Sri Lanka in the early Eighties. Subsequently other countries helped the LTTE directly and indirectly (by looking the other side when the LTTE accumulated large caches of arms and ammunition during the ceasefire brokered by Norway). Sri Lanka has always welcomed any investigation provided such investigations extended to the entirety of the armed conflict which began after the Tamil Mayor of Jaffna, Alfred Durraiappah was murdered by none other than Prabakaran himself. Sri Lanka had always taken the view that it would be totally unjust to take a couple of years of a 30 year conflict and investigate the activities of the government forces. The resolution that was passed finally at the UNHRC extended this to cover he period after the ceasefire of 2002, and also to include both the LTTE and the government forces in their investigations. Sri Lanka still opposes this as it ignores all atrocities committed by the LTTE prior to this period and also as it ignores the role of foreign governments in this conflict. Any war is not a picnic, and we can see this in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and in some other parts of the Middle East. Have we seen any enquiries similar to the one that the UNHRC has instituted in these countries although even primary school students will know that the atrocities committed in these countries, some of whom are asking fr Sri Lanka to be held accountable when they themselves have committed worse crimes against humanity in these countries and got away bh holding their own “internal” enquiries. Sri Lanka believes that what is good for the Goose must be good for the Gander, and they would fully cooperate with the UN system if it can be demonstrated by them that the treat every country in the world equally. I would challenge you Rebecca to ask yourself whether there will ever be any UNHRC enquiry to what is now going on in Gaza where Isreal supprted by the USA is wantonly killing children taking refuge in UN compounds despite enough and more information given to the Israel forces.

    For your information Rebecca, Sri Lanka has now appointed three international personalities of impeccable eminence to advice the domestic enquiry being conducted (ongoing during the last 12 months) on missing persons since the begining of the conflict. Sri Lankans consider this as the appropriate thing to do.The terms of this enquiry has been widened to include the entire period of the conflict and also to investigate any possible crimes against humanity.

    So Rebecca, I suggest you do some reading and look at this entire issue objectively and think whether the Tamil Diaspora supporters of the LTTE had any right to protest against the Sri Lankan President attending the Commonwealth Games as the current chair of the Commowealth, and the likes of you to even say that it was good to see protests in support of some values. What values may I ask? The Tamil Diaspora elements who financed the LTTE to kill their own people and now protesting to uphold the value of such mercenary work? Come on.

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  1. Glasgow Games Monitor 2014

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