Sri Lanka Brief
NewsUS Embassy Cables – Colombo – 2010 – 11 to 15

US Embassy Cables – Colombo – 2010 – 11 to 15

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11 Tissanayagam out of prison  
12 Post recommends not accepting Sri Lanka GSP petition for review 
13 Sri Lanka war-crimes accountability: The Tamil perspective 
14 Sri Lanka pledges its support for Haiti  
15 Sri Lanka: Elections update no. 8

11 Tissanayagam out of prison “PolChief met with him later in the day. He appeared in generally good spirits and health and was deeply grateful for the assistance the Embassy had provided. He was glad that he had been able to bring out the books we had passed to him, noting that the prison authorities did not check his baggage on the way out.”

12 Post recommends not accepting Sri Lanka GSP petition for review“the European Commission is moving to revoke Sri Lanka’s GSP plus trade benefits (on human rights grounds, not due to labor rights), and the public will likely conflate the United States’ GSP program with the EU’s GSP plus program.”

13 Sri Lanka war-crimes accountability: The Tamil perspective“There is an obvious split, however, between the Tamil diaspora and Tamils in Sri Lanka on how and when to address the issue. While we understand the former would like to see the issue as an immediate top-priority issue, most Tamils in Sri Lanka appear to think it is both unrealistic and counter-productive to push the issue too aggressively now.”

14 Sri Lanka pledges its support for Haiti BORING

15 Sri Lanka: Elections update no. 8BORING

Reference ID
Created
Classification
10COLOMBO30
2010-01-15 05:57
CONFIDENTIAL
10COLOMBO31
2010-01-15 11:46
UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
10COLOMBO35
2010-01-19 11:31
UNCLASSIFIED
10COLOMBO36
2010-01-19 13:40
CONFIDENTIAL
10COLOMBO45
2010-01-20 14:43
CONFIDENTIAL
No Support for GSP Removal
Comment: The Time is Not Ripe to Accept the GSP Petition
Accountability as a political issue
The Tamil perspective
Election related violence continues, three additional deaths
U.S. and Norway accused of bribes, post issues two statements
Elections commissioner gives up on police
Reference ID
Created
Classification
10COLOMBO30
2010-01-15 05:57
CONFIDENTIAL

REF:
A. 10COLOMBO 20
B. 09 COLOMBO 1176 
C. 09 COLOMBO 993   
D. 09 COLOMBO 855   
E. 09 COLOMBO 848   
F. 09 COLOMBO 333   
G. 09 COLOMBO 332  
H. 09 COLOMBO 281  
I. 09 COLOMBO 218    
J. 09 COLOMBO 171   
K. 09 COLOMBO 81     
L. 09 COLOMBO 54     
M. 09 COLOMBO 32    
N. 09 COLOMBO 25    
O. 09 COLOMBO 18    
P. AND PREVIOUS 
Classified By: ACTING DEPUTY CHIEF OF MISSION REBECCA COHN.  REASONS: 1.4 (B, D) 
1. (C) Imprisoned journalist J.S. Tissainayagam, who was granted bail on January 11, was released from prison today after processing of his court documents.  (NOTE: The non-computerized Sri Lankan court system is notoriously slow, and the two-day delay in Tissainayagam’s release was not out of the ordinary. END NOTE)  PolChief met with him later in the day. He appeared in generally good spirits and health and was deeply grateful for the assistance the Embassy had provided. He was glad that he had been able to bring out the books we had passed to him, noting that the prison authorities did not check his baggage on the way out.  “I think they were glad to see the last of me,” he only half-jokingly remarked.
2. (C) Tissainayagam did not know where he would be staying but would not stay at his parents’ home because of security considerations. He did not have professional security but his lawyers and others were helping him with accommodations. They believed it was important to maintain a low profile and heightened security until at least after the presidential election on January 26. He had to turn in his passport but otherwise had no other restrictions; he was not required to report periodically to a police station. He planned to see a physician soon for a general check-up, noting that he had taken vitamins in prison but the diet consisted mostly of rice.
3. (C) Finally, he expressed concern for the Tamil detainees being held without formal charges in jails throughout Sri Lanka, many of whom were now on hunger strike to force the government to either release or charge and prosecute them.
BUTENIS
Reference ID
Created
Classification
10COLOMBO31
2010-01-15 11:46
UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY

REF:
A) 2009 COLOMBO 795
B) 2009 COLOMBO 1037
1.     (SBU) Summary.  Post does not support accepting the AFL-CIO petition to remove Sri Lanka as an eligible country under the GSP program because Sri Lankan labor standards are among the best in the region, the apparel industry has a program to improve working conditions, and the political impact of reviewing GSP eligibility would be counterproductive. Most labor unions have not joined the GSP petition, and even union signatories candidly admit that their purpose is not to lose GSP but to use the review process as leverage to gain additional labor rights. Labor union leaders agree that Sri Lanka’s labor laws are strong, although they see serious problems in implementation. The local office of the International Labor Organization (ILO) is implementing a USG grant to improve labor standards. Labor unions in the public sector and state-owned enterprises are primarily tied to political parties, and many of their actions are politically motivated.  The apparel industry has a ‘garments without guilt’ program that provides audits of apparel factories to improve working conditions. Finally, the timing is not right to review the petition. Since early October, the Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) has made positive steps on freedom of movement and facilitated returns for internally displaced persons (IDPs), and has begun to make progress on human rights. Accepting the GSP petition for review now could diminish our ability to push for additional progress on our highest priority objectives:  the continued return and resettlement of IDPs; accountability; and progress on human rights. End Summary.
No Support for GSP Removal
2.    (SBU) The GSP petition is supported by few unions in Sri Lanka, and even these union supporters acknowledge that their purpose is not to remove GSP benefits. The International Labor Organization works with 17 major trade unions which it considers representative of unions in the country, and only four of the seventeen unions were signatories to the GSP petition. Tine Straermose, director of the regional ILO office, thought that Sri Lanka was moving toward internationally recognized worker rights, and that the GSP petition did not reflect the conditions on the ground (see reftel A).  Econoff recently met with Palitha Atukrale, President of the Progress Union, which signed the GSP petition. Atukrale candidly told Econoff that no one wants the United States to actually remove Sri Lanka as a GSP-eligible country, but the unions do not think that the GSL is listening to them, so the GSP petition creates leverage to force the GSL to provide additional labor protections. Labor Laws Are Good; Problem is Enforcement 
3.    (SBU) Labor conditions in Sri Lanka appear to be far better than in many countries in the region.  Anton Marcus, head of the Free Trade Zones and General Service Employees Union and one of the leaders of the GSP petition, thought that Sri Lanka had good labor laws, but the problem is enforcement. Econoff has spoken to several NGO officials who commented that the working conditions in Sri Lankan factories were the best in the region. Sri Lanka has also avoided other problems.  Marcus and Kumari Witharana of the Solidarity Center both told Econoff that companies paid the earned wages in the Export Processing Zones (EPZs), where the GSL Board of Investment supervises the companies, although they thought that this could be a problem outside the EPZs. Kumar Mirchadani, an apparel industry leader, said that the minimum wage was 6,500 Rs per month ($57 USD), but his factory (which was representative of apparel factories) paid 8,500 Rs base pay ($74 USD), and that most of his workers received substantial overtime. In addition, labor and industry leaders agreed that there is no child labor in the formal sector. Finally, Witharana of the Solidarity Center said that the GSL was not targeting labor leaders now (as stated in the petition), although she alleged that private companies are still firing union leaders to keep their shops union free.
4.    (SBU) Labor union leaders thought that labor conditions had remained the same since post’s comprehensive description last August (see reftel A). The GSL has plans to increased the labor fines for violations of the Industrial Disputes Act from 20,000 Rs (approximately $175 USD) to 100,000 Rs ($887 USD), but the draft regulation has not been implemented. Similarly, the unions report that it is still difficult to gain access to the EPZs to organize the workers (although this is disputed by the employers). The Solidarity Center tried to overcome these restrictions by setting up ‘welfare centers’ with televisions and books right outside the EPZs to meet the workers.  Similarly, labor tribunals have not sped up, nor has the GSL changed the requirement that 40% of the workers must support the union before the union can apply to represent the workers.
5.    (U) The International Labor Organization is preparing work plans to implement new projects based on a $400,000 USD USG grant. The work plans will focus on:  1) creating stronger worker and employer organizations and other capacity building; 2) revising labor laws to address any shortcomings and bring them into full compliance with international labor standards; 3) establishing mechanisms for labor and management cooperation, including on health and safety concerns; and 4) strengthening the labor inspection system and improve dispute resolution capacity. The ILO will implement these work plans over the next eighteen months. Post will follow the progress of these work plans closely. Politicized Unions in Government and State-Owned Enterprise Sector
6.    (SBU) The unions representing government and state-owned enterprise workers are very different than the private sector unions. In the public sector, unions are controlled by political parties and several unions represent workers at the same work place. In November, as described in reftel B, the unions associated with the opposition UNP and JVP parties engaged in a ‘work to rule’ labor action at four utilities, but workers in the government-affiliated unions continued to work and even protested against the labor action.  Econoff met with Leslie Devendra, Secretary General of the government-affiliated SLNSS union, with 88,000 members, who said that the claims of the GSP petition were ‘completely blown out of proportion.’ The November work to rule labor action did have some economic aims, but most observers believe that their primary goals were political.  Garments Without Guilt Program
7.    (U) Sri Lanka manufacturers are working to improve their image and working conditions through the ‘Garments Without Guilt’ program. This program advances the principles of:  1) ethical working conditions; 2) no child labor; 3) no forced labor; 4) no discrimination on any grounds; and 5) freedom from sweatshop practices. The Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF) has hired an international audit company to conduct audits of their members; 130 audits have been completed so far.  The audits have overwhelmingly found only fairly minor issues, and these companies have three months to implement a correction plan.  According to JAAF, some companies have failed the audit, making it credible. The Garments Without Guilt program particularly focuses on ensuring payment of overtime. The Sri Lankan apparel association has marketed the Garments without Guilt program to buyers in order to establish Sri Lanka as a niche producer of ethical manufacturing.  Labor leaders such as Anton Marcus dismiss the Garments Without Guilt program as an attempt to avoid labor unions, and he claims that the monitors are not independent.  Nevertheless, the Garments Without Guilt program appears to be a genuine effort by employers to police the working conditions of their members.  The local office of the International Labor Organization thought that although Garments Without Guilt was a marketing tool, workers in participating companies had much better working conditions than in some other factories.
Comment: The Time is Not Ripe to Accept the GSP Petition
8.    (SBU) In post’s view, there are five good reasons for the USG not to accept the GSP petition at this time.  First, labor conditions in Sri Lanka appear to be good, with ethical working conditions and strong environmental standards in place and manufacturers working to police and improve working conditions.  Second, Sri Lanka will hold a Presidential election on January 26, and any USG announcement on GSP will immediately become a campaign issue. The USG is neutral in the election, and is determined not to be seen by Sri Lankans as supporting one candidate. Third, after months of prodding, the GSL began in early October to make positive steps on freedom of movement and facilitated returns for internally displaced persons (IDPs), and has begun to make progress on human rights. If the USG accepts the GSP petition, this decision will be negatively received by the GSL and would likely affect our effectiveness in pushing for progress on IPD returns and resettlement, human rights, political reconciliation and accountability for war time incidents. Fourth, the European Commission is moving to revoke Sri Lanka’s GSP plus trade benefits (on human rights grounds, not due to labor rights), and the public will likely conflate the United States’ GSP program with the EU’s GSP plus program. Fifth, the U.S. Department of Labor plans to send a team to Sri Lanka and the Maldives in February to evaluate progress on labor rights. Following the Department of Labor visit, the USG will have more information upon which to base the decision whether to accept the GSP petition for review. End Comment.
BUTENIS
Reference ID
Created
Classification
10COLOMBO32
10COLOMBO32
SECRET

REF:
A. 09 COLOMBO 1180 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR PATRICIA A. BUTENIS. REASONS: 1.4 (B, D)
1. (S) SUMMARY: There have been a few tentative steps on accountability for crimes allegedly committed by Sri Lankan troops and civilian officials during the war with the LTTE. President Rajapaksa named a committee to make recommendations to him on the U.S. incidents report by April, and candidate Fonseka has discussed privately the formation of some form of “truth and reconciliation” commission. Otherwise, accountability has not been a high-profile issue — including for Tamils in Sri Lanka. While Tamils have told us they would like to see some form of accountability, they have been pragmatic in what they can expect and have focused instead on securing greater rights and freedoms, resolving the IDP question, and improving economic prospects in the war-ravaged and former LTTE-occupied areas. Indeed, while they wanted to keep the issue alive for possible future action, Tamil politicians with whom we spoke in Colombo, Jaffna, and elsewhere said now was not time and that pushing hard on the issue would make them “vulnerable.” END SUMMARY.
Accountability as a political issue
2. (S) Accountability for alleged crimes committed by GSL troops and officials during the war is the most difficult issue on our bilateral agenda. (NOTE: Both the State Department Report to Congress on Incidents during the Conflict and the widely read report by the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) also detailed many incidents of alleged crimes perpetrated by the LTTE. Most of the LTTE leadership was killed at the end of the war, leaving few to be held responsible for those crimes. The Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) is holding thousands of mid- and lower-level ex-LTTE combatants for future rehabilitation and/or criminal prosecution. It is unclear whether any such prosecutions will meet international standards. END NOTE.) There have been some tentative steps on accountability on the GSL side. Soon after the appearance of the State Department report, President Rajapaksa announced the formation of an experts’ committee to examine the report and to provide him with recommendations on dealing with the allegations. At the end of the year, the president extended the deadline for the committee’s recommendations from December 31 until April. For his part, General Fonseka has spoken publicly of the need for a new deal with the Tamils and other minorities. Privately, his campaign manager told the Ambassador that Fonseka had ordered the opposition campaign to begin work planning a “truth and reconciliation” commission (ref B).
3. (S) These tentative steps notwithstanding, accountability has not been a high-profile issue in the presidential election — other than President Rajapaksa’s promises personally to stand up to any international power or body that would try to prosecute Sri Lankan war heroes. While regrettable, the lack of attention to accountability is not surprising. There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power. In Sri Lanka this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country’s senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General Fonseka.
The Tamil perspective
4. (S) For different reasons, of course, accountability also has not been a top priority for most Tamils in Sri Lanka. While Tamils have told us they would like to see some form of accountability, they have been pragmatic in what they can expect and have focused instead on securing greater rights and freedoms, resolving the IDP question, and improving economic prospects in the war-ravaged and former LTTE-occupied areas. Indeed, while they wanted to keep the issue alive for possible future action, Tamil leaders with whom we spoke in Colombo, Jaffna, and elsewhere said now was not time and that pushing hard on the issue would make them “vulnerable.”
5. (S) The one prominent Tamil who has spoken publicly on the issue is Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP, self-proclaimed presidential candidate, and Prabhakaran relative M.K. Sivajilingam. Breaking from both the TNA mainstream and the pro-government Tamil groups, he launched his campaign because he believed neither the government nor the opposition was adequately addressing Tamil issues. Sivajilingam has focused on creating a de-centralized federal structure in Sri Lanka with separate prime ministers for the Sinhalese and Tamils, but he also has spoken about accountability, demanding an international inquiry to get justice for the deaths and suffering of the Tamil people.
6. (S) Other Tamil politicians have not made public statements on accountability and are generally more pragmatic in their thinking. In our multiple recent discussions with TNA leader R. Sampanthan, he said he believed accountability was important and he welcomed the international community’s — especially the diaspora’s — interest in the issue. But Sampanthan was realistic about the dim prospects for any Sri Lankan government to take up the issue. Granting that governments in power do not investigate their own, Sampanthan nevertheless said it was important to the health of the nation to get the truth out. While he believed the Tamil community was “vulnerable” on the issue and said he would not discuss “war crimes” per se in parliament for fear of retaliation, Sampanthan would emphasize the importance of people knowing the truth about what happened during the war. We also have asked Sampanthan repeatedly for his ideas on an accountability mechanism that would be credible to Tamils and possible within the current political context, but he has not been able to provide such a model.
7. (S) Mano Ganesan, MP and leader of the ethnic Tamil Democratic People’s Front (DPF), is a Colombo-based Tamil who counts as supporters many of the well-educated, long-term Colombo and Western Province resident Tamils, and was an early supporter of Fonseka. The general made promises that convinced him that if Fonseka were to win, ethnic reconciliation issues would then be decided by parliament, not the Executive President. On accountability, Ganesan told us that while the issue was significant accountability was a divisive issue and the focus now had to be on uniting to rid the country of the Rajapaksas.
8. (S) TNA MP Pathmini Sithamparanathan told us in mid-December that the true story of what happened in the final weeks of the war would not go away and would come out eventually, but she also said now was not the time for war crimes-type investigations. Finally, on a recent trip to Jaffna, PolOff found that local politicians did not raise accountability for events at the end of the war as an issue of immediate concern, focusing instead on current bread-and-butter issues, such as IDP releases, concerns about Sinhala emigration to traditional Tamil regions, and developing the local economy.
COMMENT
9. (S) Accountability is clearly an issue of importance for the ultimate political and moral health of Sri Lankan society. There is an obvious split, however, between the Tamil diaspora and Tamils in Sri Lanka on how and when to address the issue. While we understand the former would like to see the issue as an immediate top-priority issue, most Tamils in Sri Lanka appear to think it is both unrealistic and counter-productive to push the issue too aggressively now. While Tamil leaders are very vocal and committed to national reconciliation and creating a political system more equitable to all ethnic communities, they believe themselves vulnerable to political or even physical attack if they raise the issue of accountability publicly, and common Tamils appear focused on more immediate economic and social concerns. A few have suggested to us that while they cannot address the issue, they would like to see the international community push it. Such an approach, however, would seem to play into the super-heated campaign rhetoric of Rajapaksa and his allies that there is an international conspiracy against Sri Lanka and its “war heroes.”
BUTENIS
Reference ID
Created
Classification
10COLOMBO35
2010-01-19 11:31
UNCLASSIFIED
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA PLEDGES ITS SUPPORT FOR HAITI

1. (U) On January 19, PolOff delivered reftel points thanking Sri Lanka for their humanitarian assistance to Haiti to Sri Lankan MFA U.N. and Multilateral Affairs Director General (DG) Ambassador Aruni Wijewardene. Wijewardene informed us that the Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) had pledged $25,000 towards humanitarian assistance. SL will announce this pledge at the UN General Assembly’s special session on Haiti this week. Wijewardene noted that SL’s UN mission in New York had advised the GSL to provide this assistance directly to the Government of Haiti.  In addition to the pledged funds, Wijewardene highlighted that approximately 1000 SL UN Peacekeeping soldiers were providing on the ground assistance such as search and rescue and other emergency services. The GSL confirmed that four SL officers assigned to the UN HQ in Haiti had suffered minor injuries.
BUTENIS
Reference ID
Created
Classification
10COLOMBO36
2010-01-19 13:40
CONFIDENTIAL
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA: ELECTIONS UPDATE NO. 8

Classified By: AMBASSADOR PATRICIA A. BUTENIS.  REASONS: 1.4 (B, D)
Election related violence continues, three additional deaths
1. (C)(Rel to UK, CAN, AUS, SWITZ.) Election-related violence has caused three additional deaths since the last elections update cable from Post (Ref. A).  On January 16, a group of unidentified persons opened fire on a van carrying supporters of President Rajapaksa, killing one person and injuring ten, in the town of Chilaw, north of Colombo.  On January 17, a group of Fonseka supporters putting up campaign posters was attacked by six persons on motorcycles, with one of the Fonseka supporters killed.  On January 18, a grenade was thrown from a passing vehicle at the residence and campaign office of Jayarathna Herath, the Minister of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and also a government supporter.  One person was killed and four injured in that attack.  This brings the total number of deaths since the beginning of the presidential campaign to four, two on each side of the Fonseka-Rajapaksa rivalry.  Other violent incidents have occurred as well, including the stabbing of a local opposition leader in the town of Dambulla by a group of four men, early on January 18.  The victim was in intensive care at the Kandy Hospital at last report.
U.S. and Norway accused of bribes, post issues two statements
2. (C)(Rel to UK, CAN, AUS, SWITZ.) On January 15, Mohamed Muzammil, a member of parliament from the ultra-nationalist and often anti-American National Freedom Front (NFF), accused Fonseka’s campaign of offering him a 30 million rupee bribe (approximately USD 265,000) to end his support of President Rajapaksa and join Fonseka’s campaign.  Muzammil further alleged that the money for the bribe had been provided to Fonseka’s campaign by the U.S. and Norwegian governments. Post issued a statement the next day which reaffirmed our neutral position and “strongly condemned” allegations of support for one candidate over another.  The Norwegian Embassy also issued a statement denying any interference in the election.  On Monday, January 18, Ambassador issued a statement through Post’s public blog, reiterating the U.S. government’s neutrality in the election, and expanding on the importance of this election in Sri Lanka’s long, democratic history.  In the statement, the Ambassador called for an end to election-related violence and for a free and fair election that allowed Sri Lankans to choose whichever candidate they preferred without risk of violence or intimidation.
Elections commissioner gives up on police
3. (C)(Rel to UK, CAN, AUS, SWITZ.)  Local media reported that the Elections Commissioner had told the political parties on January 12 that he would no longer accept any of their election law violation complaints. He reportedly said the police were not following any of his orders and that government ministers were refusing to comply with his directives aimed at preventing state property and employees from being used in campaign work.  He called for a repeal of the election law that bans campaign posters in most locations during the official campaign period.
BUTENIS
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