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Commonwealth leaders endorse Rajapakse

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Tamils executed by Sri Lankan army soldiers, May, 2009

 

By Peter Main

There will be no limits on the extravagance of the ceremonies that will greet the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) when they arrive in Sri Lanka. As they are whisked from the airport to their hotels along the newly completed Expressway, built and operated by Chinese capital, they will see no end of posters and flags celebrating the achievements of their host, Mahinda Rajapakse.

There will also be no limits to the hypocrisy to be displayed by the Heads themselves. According to the Commonwealth Charter, its members are united by core values that include democracy, human rights, freedom of expression, and the rule of law. Rajapakse’s government has trampled each of these ‘values’, and many others. The holding of the CHOGM is a ceremonial whitewashing of his crimes.

Nor can the Heads claim ignorance of those crimes. A UN report estimates that between 40,000 and 70,00 Tamil civilians were indiscriminately killed in the final months of his war against them. Many Tamils, both men and women, have been abducted and then raped and tortured in “rehabilitation centres” by Sri Lankan security forces; a BBC programme spoke to a young woman who was raped every three days while in detention.

Although it is undoubtedly the Tamil community that has borne the brunt of the regime’s brutality, increasing repression of all opponents is inevitable under a government like Rajapakse’s. With the great bulk of public spending passing through the hands of his family and cronies, the opportunities for corruption are boundless, and that itself generates a need for secrecy and extra-judicial measures.

 

The role of the army

The Sri Lankan Army comes under the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development. The Minister in overall charge is Rajapakse himself, but day-to-day control is in the hands of his brother, Gotabhya, a former high ranking Army officer who was at one time seconded to the USA’s infamous Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. The Ministry is responsible for reconstruction in the war-devastated Tamil regions, where it is building military installations and repopulating the area with Sinhalese settlers. Elsewhere, it is developing tourist resorts and demolishing the homes of some 70,000 people in central Colombo to make way for hotels and corporate office blocks. Needless to say, all this generates opposition that is then condemned as “unpatriotic” or even “terrorist”, which justifies further repression.

Government protection of corporate interests also generates opposition. For example, when local people in Weliweraya protested against the pollution of their drinking water by a factory making rubber gloves, which also operates rubber plantations on the island, their demonstration was attacked by military units, leaving three dead and more than 20 seriously injured.

In January, President Rajapakse removed the most senior judge, Chief Justice Sharina Bandaranayake. The Supreme Court ruled the impeachment of the Chief Justice as “unconstitutional” – Rajapakse simply installed a new Chief Justice more to his liking. This episode underlines the impossibility of removing his government by normal constitutional means.

Under such a regime, democratic demands, ranging from defence of the rights of the Tamils through to independent control of elections, repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the removal of censorship will play a major role in mobilising the mass action that can force the government from office. For the working class movement, however, that should not mean only raising such demands.

The Sri Lankan section of the League for the Fifth International, the Socialist Party of Sri Lanka, does not oppose participation in demonstrations for democratic demands initiated by, for example, the United National Party (UNP) led by the former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe. However, it does oppose any political endorsement of such figures, as has been given by the Nava Sama Samaaj Party (Fourth International) and the United Socialist Party (Committee for a Workers’ International).

But the key to removing Rajapakse is in the building of an independent working class mass movement that campaigns not only for democratic rights but also for the specific interests of the working class including: the repeal of laws inherited from British rule that limit trade union organisation; across the board wage increases to compensate for inflation; reversing all privatisations without compensation; and a programme of public works, under workers’ control, to upgrade housing, transport, health and education provision.

All the forces that can be won to such a programme should also commit themselves to the founding of a new workers’ party that can oppose not only Rajapakse but also the system that brought him to power.

 

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