23 September, 2020

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Omanthai Checkpoint’s Challenge To National Unity And LLRC

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The UN Human Rights Commissioner is visiting Sri Lanka during a time of peace, but it is indeed a fragile peace.  This month alone saw two major breaches of the peace which are reflective of deep seated problems in the country’s governance.  The army attack on the community level protestors at Weliveriya, and anti-Christian sentiment displayed, and the police inaction during the attack on a Muslim mosque in Colombo are still fresh in the mind of the general public and ethnic minorities in particular, even though a fortnight later most of the dust has cleared.   The efforts by the opposition parties to highlight the flaws in governance, and the acts of violence by the state, have been sporadic and short lived due to their weakness.  The weakness of the opposition and the ability of the government to co-opt or negate those who dissent are opposite sides of the same coin.  The role of the international community continues to remain important in upholding human rights standards.

Just two days prior to the arrival in Sri Lanka of UN Human Rights Commissioner, Navanethem Pillay, the government implemented yet another one of the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) by moving the Police Department out of the Ministry of Defence.  It did so by creating a new Ministry of Law and Order which has been mandated to implement the Police Ordinance.  The LLRC had said that “The Police Department is a civilian institution which is entrusted with the maintenance of law and order.  Therefore it is desirable that the Police Department be de-linked from the institutions dealing with the armed forces which are responsible for the security of the State.”  But indicative of continued resistance to a total de-linking, the government appointed a retired army general to be the Secretary to the new supposedly civilian-controlled Ministry.

The deployment of the police along with the military was not a recent phenomenon brought about by the present government but is a practice that has continued for many years.  This may account for the resistance to de-militarising the country after the end of war.  During the war, the police began to play an increasing para-military role on account of the need for more manpower to cope with the power of the LTTE.  The period of the Ceasefire Agreement from 2002 onwards led to the creation of a short-lived Ministry of the Interior which was responsible for the police.  But this ended when former President Chandrika Kumaratunga brought back the police under the Defence Ministry in 2004 so as to coordinate all the security forces under one unified command structure.   The negative dimension of bringing the police under the Defence Ministry was that it was that it would be used as an adjunct to the military even in matters of preserving civil order and the two could be used interchangeably by the government.

Omanthai Eyesore

The problems that could arise with the police being under the Defence Ministry became evident when, four years after the end of the war, the army stepped in to ruthlessly quell a community level protest over drinking water.  The killing of three civilians, including a school going child, at Weliveriya seems to have served as a wake-up call to the government about the dangers of military over-kill.  Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has shown an awareness of this larger dimension of the problem when he explained the desired approach of the police at the opening of a police Special Task Force training school.  He said, “Law and order, and a serene environment, were a must to attract foreign investors and tourists to the country to develop the nation. Therefore the police had to maintain a friendly rapport with the people.”  He had also reiterated the importance of using minimum force as much as possible to avoid a breakdown in the relationship with ordinary citizens of the country.

Unfortunately, however, the Defence Secretary’s vision of the security forces of the State maintaining a friendly rapport with the people is still far from being a reality in the North of the country where the last battles of the war were fought.  One of the eye sores and heart aches, of the past was the giant checkpoint complex at Omanthai, one end of which was managed by the LTTE and the other by the army.  This checkpoint enabled the LTTE to show its authority to the world at large, as it meant that no one from outside the North could get in except with their approval.  LTTE cadres who manned the checkpoints used to search the vehicles of travelers and open their bags and also check their identity documents and give them slips of paper as if they were visas.  They were often arrogant and hard hearted in their approach to hapless travelers.

It is ironic that four years after the end of the war that the Sri Lankan government should be continuing with a pernicious LTTE institution, meant to show the world that the country was divided. Today, Omanthai is the only place in Sri Lanka where travelers are compelled by the military to get down from their vehicles at all times of the day, even late at night when they are fast asleep, and carry their luggage by foot to be searched by soldiers.  Travelers are also questioned as to why they are travelling north or south as the case may be.  This causes a lot of heartburn as the war has ended.  Now to add to the harassment of travelers, the government has set up another checkpoint, at Elephant Pass, although the checking that goes on there is more superficial.  When I asked the soldiers on duty at Omanthai this past Saturday night why they are stopping vehicles they said it is for the country’s security.  When I asked if the LTTE is still around, they laughed and said no.  The yearning of all people whether Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim is to be free and to travel freely without being questioned, intimidated or bossed by persons in uniform.

International Pressure

The government has been making preparations to cater to the visit of UN Human Rights Commissioner Navanetham Pillay who has been a strong critic of its human rights practices.  The mandate of her office is to ensure that member countries abide by the commitments they have made in joining the UN system and acceding to various treaties and covenants.   The visiting Human Rights Commissioner has a tight schedule which the government has agreed to facilitate, including arranging for meetings with the President and his two brothers who hold key positions in the government. In the past, the government has gone into confrontation with her, as well as with her predecessor in office, Louise Arbour who visited Sri Lanka in 2007.  But the problems they disagreed about then have remained, and have grown. As she will probably not travel by road on her visit to the North, the soldiers on duty at the Omanthai checkpoint will not get an opportunity to check her vehicle too.

But there is no doubt that the UN Human Rights Commissioner will come to Sri Lanka well briefed about the past and present.  She is also scheduled to meet with a cross section of both the government and society, including families of the missing and civil society groups.  The latter groups are hopeful that international pressure will have an impact in producing potentially positive outcomes within Sri Lanka.  Recently the government responded positively to international pressure and agreed to a joint needs assessment of those affected by the war in the former war zones along with United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  This opens the possibility of more, and much needed, international assistance to those who continue to languish in poverty and are neglected due to low priority being given to them by the government’s budgetary allocations which gives priority to massive infrastructure development.

The government should also consider removing the checkpoint at Omanthai, as it will be in accordance with yet another of the LLRC recommendations regarding demilitarization of the North. Prior to Ms Pillay’s visit and apart from setting up the new Ministry of Law and Order, the government has appointed a presidential commission to investigate into persons who went missing during the war.  Another step forward has been to commence prosecutions into the extra-judicial executions of five students on Trincomalee beach during the war period.  The holding of the Northern Provincial Council elections can also be attributed to international pressure.  To the extent that some measure of power-sharing comes about between the centre and provinces and between the ethnic majority and minorities, there will be positive engagement.  These are all in conformity with the recommendations of the LLRC, on which the visiting UN Human Rights Commissioner is tasked with reporting back to the UN Human Rights Council at its next session which commences in October.

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Latest comments

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    shit no kidding . this moron who is payed by NGOs and missionaries is not happy about something .

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      Jehan-NGO [Edited out] says

      “Omanthai ..When I asked if the LTTE is still around, they laughed and said no. The yearning ..be free and to travel freely without being questioned..”

      Yes, LTTE is no more but JEHAN PERERA , who is writing against Sinhalese Lanka is still alive, so Omanthai should check all, because Jehans & likeS travel North to attAck Lanka & Military only, find out faults ..& to find out how LTTE can COME BACK With All GLORY again.

      Mind you this Checking for Terror Supporters like Jehan is also something Jehan writes about….
      ..Just imagine the HATE this NGO paid writer has for SRI LANKA.

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        I was at that check point last Dec.. I can tolerate 15 mins delay and military servants (my fathers, brothers, sisters pay their salaries) siting on chairs and my family standing in front of them and answering there questions..
        I noticed buses stopped there and all locals were standing in queues to get clearance from Sinhalese army. When you compare size of Vavunia city to all near by villages, there should be lot of daily travelers who pass Omanthai check point to go to work in Vavuniya ..
        How pathetic..
        Anura

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    This poor soul [Edited out]

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    JP: Do you think LTTE sympathizers are all now Born Again innocent passengers? Can you assure us that they are not plotting to harm us or kill us? Are you 100% sure there are no LTTE cadre hiding and getting instructions from their financiers in the west? can you guarantee that not one weapon or explosive item is not smuggled between cells of Tamil Terrorists Tigers who pretend to be civilians?

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      LTTE is trying their best to get up but they can not. It is very clear with their protests against the Movie MADRAS CAFE. That movie says how LTTE killed Rajiv and why LTTE was supported by the western powers to engage in a long protracted war.

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    One of a kind shameless person. Better be a beggar than earning money this way.

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    Oh yes the checkpoints are very much alive as witnessed during a recent trip. How does one explain this to a foreign visitor in the car when they too have to get down, show thier passport and go through the whole hassle?? It’s an utter disgrace but a clear reminder of the military state we live in.

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    From the pathetic responses to the article so far I don’t see any enlightenment in the Sinhalese extremist thinkers.

    All the window dressing by MARA junta is false.

    Jehan Perera, the society has a long way to go before the majoritarian mind set is transformed into a wholesome one.

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      It is obvious that the ‘wholesome’ you mean is a minority rule like in the days of the British Raj.

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    good work Jehan Perera

  • 0
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    Jehan is talking the truth and some readers cannot swallow it

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    It is time the Omanthai check- point is closed. I find it incomprehensible that this government fails to understand that it reminds the Tamils and other visitors that they are entering a different part of the country . It reminds those like me of the days when the LTTE ruled the roost beyond Omanthai and felt we were leaving Sri Lanka and entering Thamil Eelam. It was an annoying experience for me , though was a dream come true for many others. The stupidity of this government apparently is boundless, especially since 2010.

    Further, it is funny that only bus passengers and foreign passport holders have to alight from the vehicles to walk through the checkpoint with their baggage, while those travelling by car or vans need not do so. This is is also a different form discrimination. The Foreign passport holding Tamils are probably the largest segment of the tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka and yet they have to undergo passport checks at both Katunayake and Omanthai. They are reminded that they are entering a different country within this island at Omanthai! Who is pandering to the whims of the Eelam- thirsty Tamil Diaspora?

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

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      It is easier to travel from tamilnadu coast to jaffna by boat than from colombo to jaffna via road.
      :-)

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        I travelled to Jaffna and back by car a week back. The one way trip from Colombo to Jaffna too six hours. My national ID was only glanced at Omanthai check point.

        Dr.RN

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      The Omanthai checkpoint is an Army project that cannot be touched by the Govt. lead by President Mahinda. It is part of another Govt. that is growing in power within the country. It is an institution of the Sinhala chauvinists in the Army to show the Tamils they are a subject
      people. It is possible during Mrs Pillay’s visit this may be dismantled
      and re-introduced after she leaves. Was Mahinda’s R’s boast, when he spoke in Tamil in Tamil soil, yet another deception (“Naam ellam oru makkal” We are all one people)

      Backlash

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    Holding of NPC Elections can also be contributed to International pressure says our own NGO here.

    Mr Perera seems happy that he helped his paymasters..

    Removing Check points in another story.

    What would our inhabitants prefer?. Bearing Balls and Nails in the head and the body or an eye sore?

    Inhabitants I am sure haven’t forgotten that the NGOs were part and parcel of the Prabkaran’s Transport and Logistics Network.

    With the Vellalas now forming a coalition with the most militant segment of the Diaspora next to Rev Emmanuel, and primed to run the show in the North with their own police, the need for these Check Points is more important until such time that the TNA produce tangible evidence that their only mission is to help the inhabitants in the North to lift their living standards to the level of their mates in Colombo,and live as equals.

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    This geezer talks about the police inaction during the attack on a Muslim mosque in Colombo (Grandpass). But he doesn’t tell the truth.

    There is only one mosque along Swarna Chaitiya Road in Grandpass. It is evident that there has been no damage to it because not a single stone was thrown at it.

    It all started when some Muslims connive the people in Swarna Chaitiya Road and the neighbourhood to turn warehouse into a mosque. When opposition against turning the warehouse into a mosque grew, Muslims asked protesters to allow them to use it as a mosque till the end of Ramadan. In fairness to everyone and peace and harmony monks have agreed to Muslim proposal. Mullahs and monks even signed an agreement to that effect with police as witness.

    After Ramadan Buddhists expected the warehouse remain what it was. To the surprise of the protesters, Mullah came up with a new permit, issued by the ministry of Religious affairs to use the warehouse as a mosque. A Muslim politician is said to have greased the corrupt puppets of the said ministry.

    Koran 3:54 says “And they (the disbelievers) schemed, and Allah schemed (against them): and Allah is the best of schemers.” As advised by Allah Mullah decided to go back on said agreement. On the strength of a permit that was never there Mullah decided to backtrack the agreement. We have a saying ‘thambi harenne thoppiya harena harena athatai’ (Thambi change the way his cap turns) That caused to throw stones.

    In the end, Muslims decided to leave warehouse building as a warehouse and go back to the old mosque. And this NGO dollar shark Jehan picks on anything to blame Sinhala Buddhists and the government.

    Like Lee Kwan Yew said in 1989 about the need to maintain Chinese majority in Singapore, these organisations are saying, Sinhalas are the majority in Sri Lanka and they have a heritage and they must keep it that way. The more Sinhala are educated about vile verses in the Koran, they more they will suspect Muslim motives.

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      Patriot,
      What do you say about the many buddhist temples and buddha statues erected in the north,in areas where there are no buddhists?

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    I don’t know whether Navi Pillai has to go through security clearance at Omanthai check point.

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    Jehan’s nedeyek awilla (Relative has arrived).
    lets go and handover our complaints toooooooooooooo.

    My next door thangatchchi has diverted her love to the newly arrived aunty from the UN and away from me.
    I am now being harassed & mentally tortured.
    What do I do ? Complaint to Aunty Pillay saying she is disturbing our peace.

    • 0
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      Our Dev Furzana Thondamanaru is insane since the arrival of Ms Pilai.
      His broom face uncle ran suddenly to see Lukashenko as if they are good buddies.
      What a comical soul he is. The other uncle I mean BAPPA Gota is so busy with drunkard Gnanasatan and Ravana Balaya mongal Saddha to create a scenario against Ms. Pillai.

      Looks like the quota is going to be over so is the curse of the country.

  • 0
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    when did 9/11 happen ?

    Has Guantanmo closed ?

    what is US – home security is all about ?

    • 0
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      US not fighting/killing their own citizens.
      :-)

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    Jehan Perera:

    All over the world Church priests sexually abused children for almost a century. Transnational govt Catholic govt in Vatican was silent about those things.

    Pillay was silent about those things. Neither you talked about those ?

    How about the human rights of those children ?

    UN has a charter specially for children too ?

    All neglected.

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