Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Climate Change and indigenous groups
Thalif Deen

As the United Nations readies for a key climate change meeting in Poland next month, a London-based human rights group warns that any new deal on global warming would be seriously compromised if the most vulnerable groups, specifically indigenous peoples, are shut out of the negotiations.

“The entire U.N. process will be flawed if communities that have firsthand experience of dealing with climate change are not allowed to participate,” says Minority Rights Group (MRG).

Mark Lattimer, MRG’s executive director, says “because we naturally think of climate change as affecting us all the whole planet there is a tendency to resist considering the effect on particular groups.”

Human rights advocates, he said, have also arrived late to a debate that has been long dominated by environmentalists.

“Yet indigenous peoples living in fragile environments are not only more likely to be affected adversely by climate change, they are already being affected, sometimes in devastating ways,” Lattimer told IPS.

The upcoming U.N. meeting in Poznan, Poland scheduled to take place Dec.

1-12 is expected to agree on a programme of work in advance of a major U.N. conference on climate change in Copenhagen in December 2009.

Both conferences will be working towards a comprehensive climate change regime to be established after 2012 when the Kyoto Protocol, which requires developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, runs out.

Asked if the international community is to be blamed for the continued marginalisation of indigenous peoples, Lattimer said inter-governmental negotiations frequently marginalise civil society, which has taken decades to find an effective voice in U.N. human rights and development processes.

In the climate change negotiations, which are much more recent, they are still largely excluded, often deliberately, he added.

“Governments think of indigenous communities, who may face displacement or even the eradication of their homelands, as being part of the problem, when in reality they should be seen as part of the solution,” he added.

Speaking at a U.N. seminar last year, Daniel Salau Rogei of the Simba Maasai Outreach Organisation, and a member of Maasai tribe in Kenya, said his community was nomadic and largely made of farmers dependent on their traditional lands and affected by changing weather patterns.

The Maasai considered themselves to be part of nature and, indeed, more than 75 percent of Kenyan wildlife species were found in Maasai territory.

But the territory was under threat from climate change, as well as from encroachment and predation by logging companies and other international business concerns that were actively wiping out natural resources and biological species, he added.

The MRG study says the impact of climate change hits indigenous and minority communities the hardest because they live in ecologically diverse areas and their livelihoods are dependent on the environment.

There are two reasons why minority and indigenous communities are more affected than others as the world’s climate changes.

Firstly, because they have a close and unique relationship with nature and often the entire community’s livelihood depends on the environment, the study said.

Secondly, because these communities are already living in poor, marginalised areas, and in some countries are already victims of state discrimination.

The livelihoods of indigenous and minority communities, including Sami reindeer herders in Norway, Sweden and Finland and Khmer Krom rice farmers in the Mekong Delta in south Vietnam, depend heavily on the environment.

Indigenous communities in particular live in fragile ecosystems, ranging from small islands in the Pacific to mountainous regions, arid lands in Africa and the ice-covered Arctic.

The report also points out that melting ice caps and desertification occurring as a result of climate change prevent animals accessing food and hinders herding and livestock rearing.

“This leads to loss of livestock, which in turn curtails incomes and leads to poverty, hunger and food shortages,” it says.

The eventual long-term impacts include death or migration to cities, often condemning generations to poverty, and a shift from traditional ways of life.

Asked if future climate change negotiations, including the plight of minorities, will undergo a radical change when the new administration of U.S. President Barack Obama takes office in January next year, Lattimer said that Obama has indicated that under his presidency, the U.S. will become both more environmentally responsible and take a more multilateralist approach to international affairs.

“This is welcome, but the US has traditionally been sceptical of indigenous peoples’ rights,” he noted.

He said the U.S. was one of only four countries that voted against the U.N.

Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, agreed by the General Assembly last year.

“Indigenous groups are hoping for a change of approach, but they are likely to be disappointed,” he warned.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Obama not the only minority president
The late President John Kennedy was the first Irish/Catholic to be elected to office representing a minority community. He was assassinated. His brother Robert Kennedy was assassinated the day he won the Presidential Primaries. JFK’s son John Kennedy Jnr. and his wife Caroline both died in a mysterious plane crash.

The post of President of the USA has primarily been controlled by WASPs (White Anglo, Saxon Protestants). Obama’s election as 44th President of the USA is, in my opinion, a highly political one plotted and planned to defuse the unpopularity of America. It could have been seen from the media exposure, given to Obama during his campaign, that Joe Biden, his running mate, now VP, only received 1 per cent exposure. The propaganda worked; America has re-emerged as The Most Powerful Country in the World! Its imperialistic stance shown previously has also been de-fused giving way to its image as the country espousing democracy, fraternity, and equality.

Incumbent President Bush will be remembered for (a) Deposing and executing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein whose reign resulted in: the Iran/Iraq war which lasted eight years and killed a million on each side. ‘the invasion of Kuwait, and the ill-treatment and genocide of Northern Iraq’s Kurds. (b) ousting Taliban rule in Afghanistan. whose actions reeked of fundamentalist Islam, directed mostly at Afghan women who lost the right to work, to dress as they liked and whose lives were made miserable by Islamic militants (c) for weakening Islamic fundamentalism (d) for decreasing terrorist attacks by Palestinian extremists on Israelis (Saddam Hussein used to handsomely reward the families of Palestinian suicide bombers whose suicide vests were provided by him) and (e) foe introducing Democracy to the Middle East. The Middle East has a long way to go, but they are finally on the correct path. These are the things Bush will be remembered for, not now but much later.

Linda van Schagen,
Mt. Lavinia.

www island.lk

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Veddahs’ world is a no man’s land

Citizens’ rights continue to elude Lanka’s original inhabitants. Many of them live at poverty level, and do not possess birth or marriage certificates

The country’s oldest residents, a people whose history goes back a couple of thousand years at least, are in the humiliating position of not being even able to call themselves proper citizens of this country.
The Veddhas, Sri Lanka’s Aborigines, live much as they did generations back, in comparative poverty, and shunned by the rest of society, except for the occasional tourist, or journalist who meets them out of curiosity.

Most Veddahs do not have birth certificates, and few Veddah parents possess marriage certificates.
Meanwhile, little or nothing has been done by the authorities to improve the lot of the Veddahs, or to make them feel a part of Sri Lanka’s multi-ethnic community.

Veddahs: a neglected people
Once upon a time, the Veddahs lived largely along the Mahaweli River. Up to around 1945, a community of Veddhas lived in the Bibile area. In more recent times, the Veddahs have moved out to districts such as Moneragala and Ampara, living in remote villages such as Rathugala and Nilgala.Some 78 Veddah families live in Rathugala.

Sudubandiyala Aththo, one of the Rathugala residents, said his father came to the village from the Senanayake Samudraya area. He said the it would take the Veddahs years, even generations, to catch up with the modern world.

Veddah children, he said, face many obstacles in getting an education. They are shunned at school by the other students, and are made to sit at the back of the class. They are called names and taunted. Many Veddah children refuse to go to school because of the unkind treatment they get.Sudubandiyala says he has to travel 50 miles in order to collect get his Samurdhi allowance from the state.

Thalabanda, one of the village elders, said life in the modern world was difficult, and finding the basics a challenge. “I am the leader of the Pollebadda tribe of Veddhas, and it is true that we have a very hard life,” he said. “Sometimes I wonder whether it would not be better to go back to our ancient bow-and-arrow way of life,”

In 1997, Thalabanda’s tribe gave up its traditional habitat and moved into village areas to begin life as farmers. Ten Veddah families were given a 10-acre piece of land by the state. The land was inadequate for the Veddah community. There was only one well for irrigation purposes, and this would run almost dry in the dry season.

Meanwhile, the Veddahs’ movements are strictly restricted to the land they have been allotted. If a Veddah is found to have strayed outside the limits of the reserve, he or she is liable for a fine of between Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 50,000. Veddahs do not have this kind of money to pay penalties, and so errant Veddahs end up in prison.

The Veddahs also have a housing problem. There are only 22 permanent houses, and the other 78 living spaces are mere shacks. The villagers wonder how they will manage with the limited land when the village population expands.

Worst of all, most Veddahas have no birth or marriage certificates. The lack of documentation means they face insurmountable problems when they try to find employment or interact with society at large.
A Veddah youth said it was time the Veddahs were given a better deal and treated like other Sri Lankan citizens.

“The authorities should give us our rights,” the 24-year-old said. “We deserve better. We too are human, like the rest of society.”

Friday, November 7, 2008

Civilians Turn To Those Who Provide Security/Freedom/Peace!

A history- making election in the USA.....................................by Shanie A history-making election in US

Blow ye the trumpet, blow!

The gladly solemn sound

Let all the nations know,

To earth’s remotest bound:

On New Year’s Day in 1863, exactly one hundred years before the assassination of Martin Luther King, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation ostensibly to free the slaves. A large group, like many other blacks all over the northern states, had gathered at a Baptist Church in Boston to await news of the signing. Immediately the news reached them, they broke into the hymn that begins with the words quoted above. This was during the American Civil War when there nearly four million slaves. The actual abolition of slavery did not happen until nearly three years later after the Civil War had ended and the 13th Amendment had been passed.

Now, one hundred and forty five years later, the dream of the founding fathers of the United States of America is finding a resonance in the election of Barack Hussain Obama as the next US President. The founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence declared: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness..." But slavery and segregation were a blot on American society, and violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. Forty seven years ago when Obama was born, segregation was common and accepted. It was some years later than segregation was also abolished. In July this year, the US House of Representatives passed a historic resolution acknowledging the inhumanity of slavery and segregation and apologised to the African Americans for the injustice done to them.

When segregation was completely abolished throughout the US, nobody would have thought that forty years later, the people of the US would elect a black man as their President. Obama’s father was a Kenyan, his mother was American, he grew up as a school kid in Indonesia and Hawaii and had his graduate studies in Ivy League Universities in the US. That is why, it is said, he used to joke that his family occasions were like a mini UN General Assembly. He has been elected to the Presidency not because of his colour, not because of his ethnicity or religion but because the US voter found in him a leader who had the ability to change the faltering direction in which their country was moving. They elected him despite his colour, despite his middle name which identified his mixed background. As he stated in his victory speech at Chicago’s Grant Park: "If there is anyone out there who doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our Founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."

In the same speech, he acknowledged the difficulties he would be facing when he took office: "Two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century." Then in a spirit of candour, he said: "The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. There will be setbacks and false starts, but I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face." Two years earlier, when he launched his campaign for the Presidency, he had said: "I imagine they (the American people) are waiting for a politics with the maturity to balance idealism and realism, to distinguish between what can and cannot be compromised, to admit the possibility that the other side might sometimes have a point." That was the realism and humility that ensured for Obama such a decisive victory.

The US still remains the world’s largest power. Her politics and her economy impact on the rest of the world. This is why the rest of the world took a keen interest in the US Presidential Election. In almost all countries, a substantial body of the opinion-makers appeared to favour an Obama victory. He was one who seemed to have the vision and idealism and the realism to understand the hurdles he had to clear. He has now shown that he has the overwhelming support of the American people and goodwill from people all over the globe. Despite limited experience in Washington, he has everything else going in his favour. There is therefore every hope that he will be able to deliver both to the American people and to the world.

War, Peace and Civilians

The public have a right to information, though, in times of war, some sensitive information may have to be withheld. But feeding the public with disinformation can and will be counter-productive. In recent weeks, the Government spokespersons have been more circumspect in their reporting. The public were earlier given the impression that the Army were on the verge of taking Kilinochchi. One senior political figure at an election rally in the NCP even thought that it would happen before the NCP election was over. This may have been just election rhetoric but, when propaganda does not become reality, disillusionment sets in. The more cautious reporting in recent weeks is therefore to be welcomed.

Also to be welcomed is the possibility that proposals for a political package to bring about a settlement to the National Question may be released soon. President Chandrika Kumaratunge presented her proposals whilst pursuing military action against the LTTE. It is good that President Rajapakse also seems to have around to the same view. He must engage the Tamil civil society and attempt to win over the minds of the civilians. This cannot be done by using elements whose mindset and actions are as fascistic as that of the LTTE. The people of the East (and North) continue to be in the grip of violence because of these elements. The ordinary peace-needing civilians will turn to a group who will provide them with security and freedom from harassment and violence. The Government has the opportunity to use its security forces to provide just that security to the civilians. By using fascist elements with their own personal agendas, the Government is sadly losing that opportunity and allowing a resurgence of activity that terrorises the civilian population.

Good Governance

Along with a political settlement, President Rajapakse needs to change his thinking on two other matters. First, is the question of getting the GSP+ facility renewed for our apparel industry. Non-renewal of that privilege will have enormous and permanent effects on our economy. It centres on ensuring that we implement fully the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It has been pointed out that there are a number of ICCPR rights which are still not recognised by the Sri Lankan Constitution or law. These include the right to life; freedom from negative discrimination on the basis of national or social origin; freedom from forced or compulsory labour; the security and liberty of persons deprived of liberty; the right to compensation for unlawful arrest or detention; right to require free consent to medical or scientific experimentation; right to leave the country; rights of minorities, including in respect of religion, language and culture; and the right to privacy. Surely, there can be no objection to ensuring that we specifically recognise and incorporate them into our statute book. The loss of the GSP+ privilege is not a temporary loss of employment for thousands of our young people who need this income. If the apparel industry decides to move to other countries that have no problems with recognising ICCPR rights, it will have long-term effects on our economy.

President Rajapakse must also, not waiting for Supreme Court strictures, fully implement the 17th Amendment and set up the Constitutional Council. Abiding by the provisions of the Constitution not just ensures good governance; it benefits not only the people but the Government as well. Not to do so will inevitably lead to growing dissatisfaction with the Government. People will want to see that justice is being done, even if they do not always receive justice.

www island.lk

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Barack Hussein Obama: Who is he?..............by Dinesh Iriyagolle Weerakkody

This article was written a few days before the US Presidential Election. It is widely expected that the US will see its first black president in the White House after the elections. The president and vice president-elect are scheduled to be inaugurated on January 20, 2009 and take control of the White House.

Parents and birth

Barack Hussein Obama (Jnr), was born on 4 August 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., a Black Muslim from Nyangoma-Kogel, Kenya and Ann Dunham, a white atheist from Wichita, Kansas. His parents met while attending the University of Hawaii, where his father was a foreign student. They separated when he was two years old and later divorced. Obama’s father returned to Kenya and saw his son only once more before dying in an automobile accident in 1982 when Obama (Jnr), was 21-years-old.

After her divorce, Dunham married Lolo Soetoro, when the younger Obama was six years old, and the family moved to Soetoro’s home country of Indonesia in 1967, where Obama attended local schools in Jakarta until he was 10-years-old. He then returned to Honolulu to live with his maternal grandparents, while attending Punahou School from the fifth grade in 1971 until his graduation from high school in 1979. Obama’s mother returned to Hawaii in 1972 for several years and then back to Indonesia to complete fieldwork for her Doctoral Dissertation. She died of ovarian cancer in 1995.

School and religion

His religion was an issue in the election campaign. His stepfather, Lolo Soetoro, was a Muslim from Indonesia. When Obama was six-years-old, the family relocated to Indonesia. Obama attended a Muslim school in Jakarta. He also spent two years in a Catholic school. Although the elder Obama (father), was raised as a Muslim, no evidence supports the claim that he was ever a "radical Muslim," and Senator Obama’s family histories note that his father was an atheist or agnostic (i.e., no longer a practicing Muslim), by the time he married the young Obama’s mother.

Of his mother’s religious views, Senator Obama wrote: For my mother, organized religion too often dressed up closed-mindedness in the garb of piety, cruelty and oppression in the cloak of righteousness.

This isn’t to say that she provided me with no religious instruction. In her mind, a working knowledge of the world’s great religions was a necessary part of any well-rounded education. In our household, the Bible, the Koran and the Bhagavad Gita sat on the shelf alongside books of Greek and Norse and African mythology.

On Easter or Christmas Day my mother might drag me to church, just as she dragged me to the Buddhist temple, the Chinese New Year celebration, the Shinto shrine and ancient Hawaiian burial sites. But I was made to understand that such religious samplings required no sustained commitment on my part. Religion was an expression of human culture, she would explain, not its wellspring, just one of the many ways - and not necessarily the best way - that man attempted to control the unknowable and understand the deeper truths about our lives.

In summary, my mother viewed religion through the eyes of the anthropologist she would become; it was a phenomenon to be treated with suitable respect, but with a suitable detachment as well.

The religious debate - a Muslim or a Christian

In his 2006 book, ‘The Audacity of Hope’, Obama elaborated on his early schooling, explaining that he attended both Catholic and Muslim schools in Indonesia - not out of any particular religious affiliation, but because his mother wanted him to obtain the best education possible under the circumstances.

During the five years that we would live with my stepfather in Indonesia, I was sent first to a neighbourhood Catholic school and then to a predominantly Muslim school; in both cases, my mother was less concerned with me learning the catechism or puzzling out the meaning of the muezzin’s call to evening prayer, than she was with whether I was properly learning my multiplication tables.

Barack Obama describes himself as "a Christian," says that he is "rooted in the Christian tradition," and his association with the United Church of Christ began over 20 years ago, long before he contemplated a political career. (Obama was first elected to the Illinois State Senate in 1996, but he has been involved with the United Church of Christ since the mid-1980s.)

Obama, marijuana and cocaine

As an adult Obama admitted that during high school he used marijuana, cocaine and alcohol, which he described at the 2008 Civil Forum on the Presidency, as his greatest moral failure.

Harvard Law School
and an Attorney

Obama entered Harvard Law School in late 1988. At the end of his first year, he was selected, based on his grades and a writing competition, as an editor of the Harvard Law Review. In February 1990, in his second year, he was elected president of the Law Review, a full-time volunteer position functioning as editor-in-chief and supervising the Law Review’s staff of 80 editors. Obama’s election as the first black president of the Law Review was widely reported and followed by several long, detailed profiles. During his summers, he returned to Chicago, where he worked as a summer associate at a law firm. Obama graduated with a Juris Doctor (J.D.) magna cum laude, from Harvard, in 1991.

Family and personal life

Obama met his wife, Michelle Robinson, in June 1989, when he was employed as a summer associate at a Chicago law firm. Assigned for three months as Obama’s adviser at the firm, Robinson joined him at group social functions, but declined his initial offers to date. They began dating later that summer, became engaged in 1991, and were married on October 3, 1992. The couple’s first daughter, Malia Ann, was born in 1998, followed by a second daughter, Natasha (‘Sasha’), in 2001.

2008 presidential

On February 10, 2007, Obama announced his candidacy for President of the United States in front of the Old State Capitol building in Springfield, Illinois. The choice of the announcement site was symbolic, because it was also where Abraham Lincoln delivered his historic ‘House Divided’ speech in 1858. Throughout the campaign, Obama has emphasized the issues of rapidly ending the Iraq War, increasing energy independence, and providing universal health care, at one point identifying these as his top three priorities.

Obama, LTTE and Tamil Eelam

Characterizing the conflict in Sri Lanka as a "vicious civil war," Senator Barack Obama, said during an interview that, "the problem of the 21st century is the problem of the other." He described this phenomenon as the inability of people to accommodate others "who are not like us," and mentioned Sri Lanka as an example, pointing out that war rages even when "everybody there looks exactly the same." This clip can be seen on YouTube:http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=-u2B2XfXezI

Characterization of conflicts in the 21st century this way, Obama said, is an extension to the American Civil Rights era activist W. E. Dubois’ quote "The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line."

This problem of "the other" afflicted places like Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland and the issue of race within the United States, he said.

Obama also criticized the Bush administration’s "war on terror" as the cause for suppressing civil liberties, saying: "Part of my job as next president is to break the fever of fear that has been exploited by this administration. We are told to be afraid of terrorists, immigrants, and each other. This becomes the means, by which our civil liberties are subverted, [and] our values are distorted," implying policy changes are in order.

He promised a break from the Bush-Cheney diplomacy: "a willingness to speak to our adversaries," and cited President Kennedy, saying "we should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate."

"The notion that not talking with leaders we don’t like makes us look tough is fundamentally flawed. It makes us look arrogant and sends a message to the world that we are not listening."

He said that if he becomes president, he would lead diplomacy with Iran, even though Tehran was a "grave threat," because the acquisition of nuclear weapons could spark another arms race and Iran had assisted terrorist activities by Hezbollah and Hamas.

This does not mean conceding any positions to Iran, but listening to Iran to see where the US could "find common ground," he added. He criticized the Bush administration, saying it had "repeatedly rebuffed gestures [from Iran] that might allow for some resolution of these conflicts in a non-military way."

He said the detention facility in Guantanamo should be "closed down," rendition should be ended; Habeas Corpus restored and end warrantless wiretaps.

Senator Hillary Clinton, in the Democratic Presidential Primaries, had earlier urged a more nuanced approach to armed non-state actors and identified Tamil Tigers as one of the groups deserving such consideration.

Early this year, in a campaign "celebrating a century," the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), said of the Liberation Tigers: "Needless to say, the Tamil Tigers are among the most dangerous and deadly extremists in the world. For more than three decades, the group has launched a campaign of violence and bloodshed in Sri Lanka."

The U.S. government has designated the Tigers a foreign terrorist organization, so their activities in the US are illegal. We’re determined to stop them, using the full range of our investigative and intelligence capabilities," the FBI said.

Considering the status of the LTTE in the US and the research material available, it is believed and hoped that once in office, Obama will be not in a position to deviate radically from the current US policy in relation to the LTTE.

(The writer is a resident of Australia and is practicing as an Australian Solicitor and Barrister. He can be contacted on dweerakkody@hotmail.com)

www island.lk
Note from WTRF:
LTTE was created by Sinhala racism,oppression,brutality,pogroms,massacres, discrimination and marginalisation of Tamil people!If you remove these, then all the problems solved!Why don't you all understand this basic fact!!!

Sunday, November 2, 2008


The origin of the Burghers and from where they came
Excerpts from the Keynote Address of J. B. Müller at the Second AGM of the Burgher Association of Sri Lanka Saturday, 13th. September 2003 held at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall Colombo

The Burghers are not an ethnic minority. The Burghers are an ethno-socio-cultural group of people of European descent, of dual parentage, European and Asian, even perhaps some African, virile hybrids as all hybrids are and exotic and of rootstock definitely from the continent of Europe since 1500.

Our ancestors were humble, God-fearing peasants and towns-folk, who possessed extraordinary courage to venture out on perilous seas and to come thousands of kilometres to an unknown land.

My own ancestors came from Mosel in the Rhineland, Western Germany, along with several other families: The Christoffelsz, Kochs, Eberts, Zimmermanns, Försters, and Langenbergs. They fled religious intolerance and persecution to seek refuge in Groningen and Hoorn in the Netherlands from where they then joined the Duke of Württemberg's Regiment of Germans formed to protect the mercantile interests of the United East India Company in South Africa, Java, Sri Lanka and South India and reached in Sri Lanka.

We are best described as an exotic ethnic and cultural cocktail and a very potent one at that because the Burgher influence from that pivotal date began an irreversible process of change on this Island home of ours.

The Burgher Association is not a racist organization. It has been formed to promote and protect the wider interests of the entire community of persons of European origin, of mixed ancestry, and of dual parentage born, nurtured and domiciled on this Island.

I am sure most Burghers would like to know what their origins were whether they came here through Portugal, the Netherlands or Britain.

The Rozários, Da Silvas, Menezes, Pieres, Ferreiras, and Moreiras were Portuguese families;

The Fernandos, Ferrers, Rodrigoes, Correiras were definitely Spanish. Many of the Pereiras, Diaz, Gomes, and Garira, Ferdinand, Carvalho, and Paiva families were Iberian Jews who were forcibly converted as 'New Christians,' and shipped out. Many Iberian Jewish names are to be found amongst the Sinhalese and Tamils in a corrupted form where Nunez became Nonis, Mendez became Mendis, D'Alves became De Alwis, Souza became Soysa and De Mello became De Mel.

We have the descendants of German Protestants with such names as Koch, Ebert, Christoffel, and Förster.

French Huguenots named Brohier, La Franais, Raux, and De Neise.

Those who came from Neuchatel in Switzerland with the De Meuron Regiment with such names as Toussaint, Mortier, Bolling, Raymond, Rôdet, and Thomét.

Milanese such as Sansoni, Raffa, Ludovici, Conradi and Pappilli.

Flemings named Auwardt, Vanderputt, and De Vos. Walloons named De L'Isle, Melot, and Anjou.

Dutch named Leembruggen, Simmons, Verwyk, Krikenbeek, and Juuriansz.

Luxembourgians named Rabôt. Swedes like Foenander, Danes like Overlunde and Anderson.

Scots like Brodie, Campbell, McLeod, and Balfour. English like Austin, Beven, Cooke, Darling, Eaton, Gray, Marshall and Wright.

Welsh such as Jones, Morgan, and Evans. Irish such as Kennedy and Meloney.

Prussians named Altendorff and Neydorff, Poles such as Cadenski.

Therefore, it would be desirable for us to understand and accept the fact that we are the distilled product of many and varied bloodlines and a remote ancestry that gives us a unique versatility. It also puts paid to any notions of so-called quote/unquote purity of genealogy that some people fondly like to believe in.

Indeed, the modernization of Sri Lanka as a Nation can be ascribed to the Burghers. They produced modern Sri Lanka's first physicians and surgeons, attorneys, magistrates and judges. Its first journalists and editorialists to which tribe I proudly claim affiliation. The country's first political leaders came from this community. This City of Colombo even had a Burgher Mayor.

The Burghers have done great things that they could be proud of for their Motherland—Sri Lanka. Just yesterday around this time the Institution I work for commemorated the 96thy. Birth anniversary of a great Burgher: Professor E.O.E. Pereira, the Father of modern engineering education in Sri Lanka. He created this country's first faculty of engineering and for over 20 years produced this country's homegrown engineers.

He obtained two Bachelor's degrees with first class honours from London and Cambridge universities, where, incidentally, he also won the Mechanical Sciences Tripos with first class honours. He followed Sir Ivor Jennings to become the fifth vice chancellor of the University of Ceylon in 1969. He was chairman of the National Science Council and of a dozen more government boards and commissions. He was honoured with the title Vidya Jyothi in 1986 and passed away in 1988.

He joins a galaxy of Burghers who served Sri Lanka with integrity and loyalty. Let me just reel off a few names in order to encourage you:

There were honourable justices of the Supreme Court--- Jacobus Petrus de Wet. Names like M. C. Sansoni, Percy Colin Thomé, and Sir Francis Soertsz, justices Swan, Gratiaen, Keuneman and De Kretser.

Leading lawyers like Sir Richard Morgan and Charles Ambrose Lorenz.

Artists like J. L. C. Van Dort, Aubrey Collette, and George Keyt.

A photographer like Lionel Wendt and a host of writers: Christine Wilson, Dr. R. L. Spittle, Dr. R. L. Brohier and his daughter, Dame Deloraine Brohier; Dr. Bernard Swan, Christopher and Michael Ondaatje, Maureen Seneviratne née Milhuisen, Jean Arasanayagam née Solomons and Carl Müller.

Education had A.E. Buultjens who was the first Sri Lankan principal of Ananda College; the university had professors Lyn Ludowyke, E.F. Bartholomeusz and H.A. Passé. Ludowyke specialized in English; Bartholomeusz was the first professor of Engineering Mathematics and Passé, of European Classics.

Agriculture has been advanced by Dr. A. W. R. Joachim and there's Wester Modder still at it at the Tea Research Institute up at St. Coombs.

Dr. Alice de Boer was this country's first woman doctor. My own family had a number of leading physicians and surgeons, the Drs. Müller; the cinema and stage had Arthur Van Langenberg.

The Police had an army---Van Sanden, Leembruggen, Altendorff, Van Twest, Muller, Van Cuylenberg, Wambeek and others unnamed of the same caliber.

When Burghers like the people I just mentioned staffed the Civil Service and worked in almost every government department — the Police, Customs, Excise, Prisons, the Railway, the Harbour, the Survey Department, the PWD, Health, Education, and so on, tell me, did any one of you of the older generation present here today ever hear the words "Bribery and Corruption?" No! Never!

The Public Services were as clean as a whistle! Justice and equity prevailed. Promotion was strictly on the basis of merit, not on the basis of race or caste or religious affiliation!

We had a superb public administration staffed by able, even eminent public servants that took both duty and responsibility very seriously. We had the best judicial system in Asia. We had a model Police Service and the Treasury was full. We had people coming here from Malaysia, Singapore and even African countries to study the set up and replicate it in their countries. We were a model country, the former 'Jewel in the Crown' of the worldwide British Empire that had not lost its lusture.

We must examine what happened to bring this once proud community to a position of insignificance and marginalization, of poverty, helplessness and hopelessness.

When the British Government granted internal self-government and universal suffrage or 'one man, one vote' in 1931, the leaders of the Burgher Community should have taken notice that great changes were on the way. During World War II, actually in 1944, when the Soulbury Commission was appointed to study the constitutional change precedent to the granting of Dominion Status, the Burgher leaders should have taken notice. When independence was granted in 1948, the leaders of our Community sat back complacently in their comfortable Middle Class cocoons and did not proactively represent the vital interests of the Community. When 1956 happened, they were thunderstruck by the events that followed even though they had prior warning ever since 1931!

Yes! A lack of vision, an inability to accept ground realities, a refusal to acknowledge inevitable change eroded the leading position of the Burghers. The option they sought was to emigrate, to Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and even Brazil. Really, that was no solution. We had to adapt — that is the Law of Nature — adapt or perish! Those who left were compelled to adapt to newer and harsher environments, not only climatically, but also socially and culturally as any Burgher who has returned from abroad will tell you.

Darwin once said: "It is not the strongest species that survives, not the most intelligent but the one most responsive to change." The Burghers must become dynamically proactive in leading change and building up an irreversible momentum of change that will transform Sri Lanka once again into a land of peace and tranquility, a land flowing with milk and honey.

Indeed, the Burghers, those people of European descent who were on this Island at the capitulation of the Dutch to the British in 1796 transformed themselves from 'nobodies' to 'somebodies' between 1800 and 1900 and risen to greater heights from 1900 to 1950. During this time, the Burghers came to represent QUALITY and CLASS in the life of this country. Did you know that this was Britain's premier Crown Colony, that is, the first, the best Crown Colony? Because it had a peculiar people — the Burghers — to give it an unsurpassed quality and class out of all the then British Empire!

They have lived peacefully and in harmony on this Island home of theirs for nearly 500 years now as the most law-abiding, loyal citizens of the land.

Indeed, our forefathers made a wise choice in settling here amongst the friendliest people on the globe bar none.

It redounds to the eternal credit of the indigenous people that they accepted these aliens with equanimity, and took them to their bosoms in enduring friendship, so much so that the Burghers are now part of the Sri Lankan family, not metaphorically, but very, very literally. As a community we should never forget this. We should thank our God that we are not mistreated and spat upon as outcastes as happens in some other countries where there are communities of people like us.

Their European heritage bequeathed upon them and the indigenous people the enlightenment of the Renaissance, that great flowering of the human intellect and the spirit of free inquiry. It also imparted the knowledge and the understanding of science and technology and the skills that flowed there from in abundant measure. In the indigenous people, they discovered keen and intelligent minds able to grasp these new concepts and ideas and further develop them with brilliance. Certainly, the inheritance from Europe that began at the beginning almost of the 16th Century changed Sri Lanka forever as it climbed out of its own Dark Ages. The dynamic momentum generated by European modernism changed the face of the country and the benefits have been innumerable.

Unfortunately, in this day and age, it is the negative aspects that receive media attention and coverage. But, by and large, the great mass of law abiding citizens who uphold the Rule of Law and live by the codes and norms of civilized society owe that to the European heritage—the living heritage of the Burghers one and all.

That European heritage also gave us the timeless inheritance of Judeo-Christian values that have shaped the law under which we all live. It has given us morality and a code of ethics that permeates every aspect of life and those do in no way contradict the priceless heritage bequeathed on this Island by Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam, for all restate, in different terminology, universal truths common to the human family.

The diversity and variety to be found on this Island is our greatest strength because it endows us with superior intellects and the dynamism to achieve rare brilliance in any field of human endeavour. If we have failed it is because of a lack of vision and leadership, nothing else.

Today, a revitalized Burgher Community bids once again to play a significant role in shaping the future of this country in the 21st. Century, in the Third Millennium and this not with any ambition to dominate but to make this a 'Land like no other' on the face of the Planet, our homeland, or rather, our common homeland from sea to shining sea. Indeed, I strongly believe that 'the heritage of the past is the seed that brings forth the harvest of the future,' and, therefore, we must know where we came from and why if we are to finds out where we want to go.

We call upon our most distinguished guest, the representative of the Netherlands from which our forefathers set sail on perilous seas, to hearken to our cry. We need support for education and higher education, for technical, scientific and business education. We need to train trainers to teach teachers to go forth and teach English to the large mass of children marginalized by the ignorance of that global language. The Burgher Association needs to establish a Language Laboratory and Training Institute in Information & Communications Technology where Burgher children could be taught and trained in the skills of a rapidly globalizing and modernizing world. It could then provide the trained personnel demanded by Sri Lanka's developing and expanding mercantile, banking and industrial sectors.

That also means and implies the whittling down of welfare hand-outs or charity to those who could be gainfully employed. Help us, your Excellencies because, to use a figure of speech, "if you can help teach the Burghers to catch fish, they needn't have to come to you for cans of donated fish!"

The greatest single technological input of the decade of the Nineties absorbed by Sri Lanka has been information and communications technology. Everything else pales into insignificance in the face of the digital electronic revolution sweeping the country, and I might add, the world. And, you know what? This entire revolution is on a platform of English.

The Gospel according to John in the King James Version begins with the profoundly majestic phrase: "In the beginning was the Word…" As much as those words and that book shaped our values and gave us sustenance through good times and bad, today, the world is being shaped by another Word: Microsoft Word---and its applications—in the English language.

A knowledge of and mastery of that language which we wisely adopted in 1796, that is after the capitulation on 19th. February 1796, as our Mother Tongue, opens doors to advancement, to a career that has a sustainable future and which ensures economic sustainability fore each and every one of us. As natural English speakers, the Burghers have a head start in the great race that has begun. You must take advantage of your intrinsic strengths to move forwards, upwards and outwards from your current circumstances. English is the key!

Let me quote what Richard Lederer wrote in 'The Toastmaster:' "English is the most widely used language in the history of our planet, understood in some way by at least one out of every seven human beings around the globe. Half of the world's books are written in English, and the majority of international telephone calls are made in English. Sixty per cent of the world's radio programmes are beamed in English, and more than 70 per cent of international mail is written and addressed in English. Eighty per cent of all computer texts, including all web sites, are stored in English. English has acquired the largest vocabulary of all the world's languages, perhaps as many as two million words, and has generated one of the noblest bodies of literature in the annals of the human race." There, I rest my case for, indeed, English is the key.

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Stealing elections is what democracy is all about!by Selvam Canagaratna "Old burglars never die, they just steal away."
- Glen Gilbreath, on facing his 13th robbery charge (1958)

Yes, yes, of course the Republicans are at it again. Simply doing what they do best – wholesale thievery of the democratic process. As this is being written, with just over a week to go for the whole world to witness what is arguably the most historic election in America’s entire constitutional existence, alarming reports are surfacing of millions of Americans – about one-third of all eligible voters - having their names purged from the electoral registers for the flimsiest of reasons.

Oh, it’s been done before, over and over again. As Tracy Campbell explains in Deliver the Vote: A History of Election Fraud, an American Political Tradition - 1742-2004, election chicanery is "deeply embedded" in America’s political culture. Far from regarding cheating as wrong or anti-democratic, its perpetrators have treated it "as part of the game that one has to practice in order to counteract one’s equally corrupt competitors."

"Election fraud is a crime that usually pays," writes Campbell.

What the Republicans are attempting in 2008 is the same ploy they successfully used to ensure a second term in the Oval Office for George, the cowboy Prez. In 2004 they arm-twisted the investigative agencies of the federal government to manufacture a hot campaign issue of alleged fraudulent voter-registration by a community organization the Republicans claimed favoured the Democrats. Ditto in 2008, with Barak Obama the pin-up boy this time. [It’s true. The FBI are confident of arresting one such hora voter just days before he violates the law and casts his vote pretending to be Mickey Mouse, while that other quack, Donald Duck, was last spotted in Alaska.]

Such allegations are, of course, intended to distract from the real criminal activity going on in earnest behind Republican screens. During the third and final Presidential Debate, McCain laid it on real thick about a nonprofit advocacy group that was "on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history" and "may be destroying the fabric of democracy." [John, himself, may have been carelessly destroying only the fabric of truth.]

That McCain outburst prompted the New York Times to editorially note that Republicans weren’t "saying anything about another more serious voter-registration scandal: the fact that about one-third of eligible voters are not registered. The racial gaps are significant and particularly disturbing. According to a study by Project Vote, a voting-rights group, in 2006, 71 percent of eligible whites were registered, compared with 61 percent of blacks, 54 percent of Latinos and 49 percent of Asian-Americans. Much of the blame for this lies with overly restrictive registration rules."

Permit me to momentarily dip back into the history of election rigging in America, courtesy of Tracy Campbell. For starters, Campbell serves this juicy bit: "George Washington won his seat in the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1758 by spending 40 pounds on booze for his neighbours", adding that historian Samuel Eliot Morison had, in 1916, concluded that the passage of the Massachusetts Constitution in 1780 appeared to have been the work of election thefts.

Writes Campbell, "Rampant voter fraud existed in the Colonial era, when voting was generally limited to white, property-owning men. To swing local elections, corrupt campaigns would arrange for the landless to gain title to property in return for their vote, after which the land would be returned. The purchasing of votes was so popular in Rhode Island that the practice became known as ‘Rhode Islandism’." [So, by that yardstick, our island paradise got "Americanized" way before McDonalds and Pizza-Hut arrived!]

A blogger on the internet explained how Republican-leaning bureaucrats take advantage of a problem caused by bureaucratic inflexibility to promote partisan agendas. It is very common for immigrants to the US, within weeks or months of arrival, to have a plethora of documents – a US immigration document, a social security card, a driver’s license or a state ID card, all having different versions of their names. This can be further complicated by state welfare records and other records with further variations on their names.

Those from Latin America, for example, may have a version of their name where their paternal ‘last name’ becomes their middle name or initial and their maternal last name becomes their last name. An example of bureaucratic incompetence, said the blogger, was the Social Security Administration’s handling of his wife’s Social Security card. "In the end she had four cards with four different names - one because the SSA processor insisted in violation of law that my wife should carry my last name (which is not her legal name) and her last two names because apparently the employee was semi-literate and misspelled her name (twice). In the end, we could not even get them to take the three wrong cards back. This name confusion should not be reason for disenfranchisement."

But Greg Palast, the famous BBC investigative journalist and author [The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Armed Madhouse] says there’s more to it than mere buceaucratic bungling. He believes the 2008 election has already been stolen by you-know-who. In 2006, 40 percent of citizens who were purged from the voter rolls in California had Islamic, Vietnamese, Chinese and Hispanic names, says Palast. These names were at most risk for misspellings. The New York Times appeared to confirm Palast’s findings on mass voter purges in its report last week, noting that tens of thousands of eligible voters were being illegally purged ahead of the 2008 elections.

In the crucial swing states of Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio, the Times reported that Social Security databases were being used to verify voters, as opposed to more accurate state databases. Federal law requires Social Security databases to be used for verification only as a last resort. By removing voters from the registration rolls within 90 days of the presidential election, two other swing states, Michigan and Colorado, were also in violation of federal law, the Times said.

Palast noted that when a name was purged from the voter rolls, election workers would hand out a provisional ballot, and warned, "Once you sign that provisional ballot, the chances are officially one in three that your ballot will be thrown in the garbage can." To make his point, Palast reminds Americans that 1.1 million provisional ballots went uncounted in the 2004 election.

In a specially-prepared nonpartisan voter guide, Palast and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a voting rights attorney, advise that a provisional ballot will most often render a vote uncounted; seek adjudication on the spot, by calling a voter’s rights hotline instead of accepting and signing the provisional ballot. "Don’t go postal," are Palast’s final words of advice, urging voters not to mail in their ballot.

"All you need is the most minor error. Not enough postage, for instance, cost a third of a million votes in the US the last time around, because most ballots are two stamps, not one. There’s a million ways to not count your vote on a mail-in; don’t do it."

Top Republicans are unquestionably a bloody-minded bunch of plutocrats pushing the myth of concern for working Americans – yes, those very Americans, millions of them, who’ve had to toil through eight bruising years at home and abroad and bear the brunt of an unprecedented financial debacle triggered by Republican misrule and fiscal profligacy.

The Party’s evangelical base, however, has faith in God, believes Bush’s poppycock, and eagerly swallows McCain’s crap.

A nice fit, that.

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