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23 November 2001
No. 126

In this issue:
    Strategy in Afghanistan
  2. NEWS in Brief
    China - Giant step causes both trepidation and joy for China
    Philippines - Farmers' Protest Halts Zamboanga Mining Operation
    Indonesia - Afghan Deployment Could Bolster Military
    Burma - Legislation Outlawing Forced Labor in Burma Has Limited Impact
    India - Churches Support Dalits Conversion to Buddhism
    Sri Lanka - Party politics a threat to peace
    Afganistan - US buys up all satellite war images
    ENI - Aid workers urge foreign political intervention in Afghanistan
  3. Urgent APPEALS
    Malaysia - Violation of the rights to movement and association
    Seminar on Codes of Conduct in the Textile Industries


1. FEATURE - top

Strategy in Afghanistan

By Ali Gohar and Ron Kraybill


Initial responses to September 11 focused on the question of how to eliminate Osama bin Laden and the threat of terrorism. In recent days a broader set of related questions are emerging. First, how do we relate to the people of Afghanistan? This is a key question. Second, how do we gain support of Afghanis to apprehend bin Laden and take him to trial? This is an immediate question. A longer-term question, but nearly as important to the success of efforts to address terrorism and support the emergence of stability in the region is, third, how do we assist the creation of a credible government in Kabul?

This paper draws on:
strategic lessons from peacebuilding efforts in the wars of Africa and the former Yugoslavia and
"insider" knowledge of Afghani culture in exploring strategic options for dealing with the Afghanistan situation.

The paper proposes use of the jirga, a traditional Afghani forum for decision-making, as a means for involving Afghanis in discussion about their future. In contrast to some current discussions about beginning with a high-level jirga, this paper proposes a series of jirgas at lower levels, preparing the way for a high-level loya jirga.

Lessons from Peacebuilding in Africa and Asia

"Rogue Elements" and the Population Bases in which they operate

Peacebuilding experience in Africa and the former Yugoslavia in the last decade teaches that "rogue elements" (e.g., warlords, war criminals, terrorists) cannot be contained or brought to justice in the absence of viable governance or substantial consensus within the populations in which these agents move about how to proceed. It is not enough simply to focus on removal of "rogue elements".

It is important also to:

  • understand the needs rogue elements meet in the populations in which they move, so those needs can be addressed thus reducing their impact and;

  • understand and immediately utilize procedures for decision making and problem-solving that are familiar to and trusted by affected populations, so they can be consulted to identify response strategies most likely to gain the support of the population;

  • conduct the first two activities in ways that feed into and support the eventual creation of credible, sustainable processes of decision making and governance.

In summary, the dual tasks of responding to rogue elements and establishing sustainable decision making/governance processes are closely related. Creating processes for consulting with affected populations and involving them in planning and decision-making is an essential task from the very beginning of efforts to respond to situations where rogue elements operate.

Rooting Strategic Processes in Affected Cultures

Peacebuilding experience in a wide variety of global conflicts has taught that deeply rooting planning, negotiating, or implementation processes in cultural, traditional resources improve the odds of long-term sustainability of any agreement or strategy. When processes build on existing traditions for bringing people together (e.g., the indaba of South Africa , which was repeatedly used to achieve breakthroughs during the political transition; the Middle Eastern sulha; the "council of elders" in Melanesia; the panchayats of India) the odds of success are significantly higher.

Cultural contexts offer an abundance of such resources for problem-solving in various categories including:

  • * unique individuals (e.g., South Africa’s Desmond Tutu)

  • * uniquely constellated groups (e.g., in South Africa a group of black and white religious and business leaders who had longstanding relationships and met on several occasions to use their broad connections to keep the South African transition process from faltering)

  • * special types of persons (e.g., religious leaders, elders, "peace chiefs")

  • * special processes or institutions (e.g., indaba, panchayat)

The Current Afghanistan Situation

A long-standing feature of Afghani Pashtun culture is the jirga, an assembly of elders to resolve conflicts. The jirga goes back thousands of years and continues to serve as the primary means by which public and private problem solving is conducted among the Pashtun. An important characteristic of the jirga is that it is independent of control by any one institution. By tradition, anyone can speak and decisions are made to reflect the collective will of the people, rather than any one person or institution.

Convened at local, regional and national levels, the jirga commands enormous respect among a large number of Afghanis. Not only is it a forum for internal deliberation, it has traditionally been convened for problem solving with external parties. The British used the jirga as their primary means of maintaining relationships with Afghani tribes during the years they ruled Afghanistan. Pakistanis use it for decision making and problem-solving with Afghani refugees living in Pakistan.

Use of the jirga in responding to Afghanistan’s difficulties is by no means a novel idea. For nearly a year there has been conversation about convening a loya jirga, the largest and broadest kind of jirga, to build consensus for a widely supported government. For a variety of reasons, this discussion remained only talk until recently. Since September 11 there has been a flurry of meetings with former king Zahir Shah in Rome to explore such a possibility. We believe that convening a loya jirga is a goal that deserves the highest priority.

However, accomplishing this raises serious difficulties in practice:

  • The jirga is by tradition inclusive, bringing together all key actors and interested parties for deliberations. A loya jirga may involve several thousand people. This presents logistical questions, which will require several months of preparation to work out. Conceivably a smaller jirga could be convened, but this is less likely to carry the weight and sustainability of agreements reached at a full loya jirga.

  • An enormous amount of conflict has taken place in Afghanistan in recent decades. It will be difficult to simply bring a large number of people into one place and begin discussing the future. Complex personal, familial, tribal, and political histories will stand in the way of collaboration.

  • Difficult questions of location exist -- will the Taliban allow a loya jirga to be convened inside Afghanistan?

  • There is danger that international determination to quickly eliminate bin Laden and deal with terrorism will create pressure to use the structure of a jirga to install a government that suits the interests of outsiders, but does not enjoy widespread support in Afghanistan. If this happens, the jirga structure will be discredited and ineffective as a vehicle for governance or interaction among the Afghanis and with the outside world.

Proposed Strategy for Use of the Jirga

The following strategy of jirga use would, we believe, address these potential difficulties:

  1. Aim to convene a loya jirga as soon as possible. Whether this could be done in a matter of months or years remains too early to determine.

  2. Begin immediately to lay the groundwork for a loya jirga by convening a series of smaller jirgas at grassroots and middle levels.

Purposes of the smaller jirgas would be:

  • to begin immediate consultation with Afghanis themselves about how to deal with bin Laden and the Taliban;

  • to enable participants to develop relationships and a sense of common purpose before attempting a major, comprehensive loya jirga, and to consult widely regarding protocols and procedures for the eventual loya jirga.

  1. Many of the people best equipped to provide leadership of a future Afghanistan no longer live there. Over two million Afghanis live in refugee camps in Pakistan and a large number of educated Afghanis also live in the U.S. and Europe. A first round of jirgas with these Afghanis abroad would provide opportunity to explore the dynamics of a jirga in settings where the political space is uncontested. Because Afghanis abroad are in close communication with people at home, progress there is likely to have impact on the situation inside Afghanistan.

  2. Who should initiate and/or sponsor such a strategy? The odds of success for any consultation or decision-making process are significantly higher if the process is initiated by persons or organizations with maximum credibility among the participants. A large number of Afghanis recognize the former king Zahir Shah as a person enjoying sufficient stature to convene a loya jirga.

    The smaller jirgas may possibly be better facilitated by organizations or persons more cleanly removed from the politics of the Afghani situation. Possibilities might include the UN, a respected religious body or NGO, or possibly a coalition of credible organizations. This would enable constructive experiences to take place and allow room to recover from mistakes or unexpected dynamics without tarnishing prospects for the eventual loya jirga.

    Could or should the U.S. government initiate a jirga process? U.S. sponsorship would probably contaminate the credibility of the effort due to the U.S. role as a recent victim and, hence, a major protagonist. The U.S. government could, however, encourage jirgas and would benefit significantly from the jirgas as a source of valuable information and guidance regarding U.S. dealings with Afghanistan.

  3. How could conversation outside of Afghanistan be linked with political processes inside Afghanistan? It is difficult to formulate specific strategies for this critical ultimate goal because the variables are many. Nevertheless, the following points could be made:

  • Pakistan would be an invaluable ally in this. The Taliban, after all, was sponsored by Pakistan and, recent events notwithstanding, remains highly vulnerable to Pakistani pressure. Pakistan would likely be supportive of strategies to involve Afghanis in deliberation about their own future, particularly if the method of involvement were local in style rather than western/international. Moreover, the Pakistanis have a great deal of experience in use of the jirga in their own deliberations with Afghanis.

  • The flow of information from outside Afghanistan via informal networks should not be under-estimated. Borders cannot remain sealed forever. Radio broadcasts will always be possible.

  • It is more important to begin an inclusive, culturally appropriate process of decision making now than to, at this time, have specific answers for how it will end. At some point, it seems obvious, Afghanis will need to be enabled to broadly participate in discussion about their future. Rather than wait to begin such discussion until the major international actors have completed their own actions, it would seem wise to begin such discussion immediately, even in the face of limitations.

  • A key part of the task in any such discussion is establishing a recognized process for planning and discussion among Afghanis. Even if it remains unachievable to use this process inside Afghanistan for a long time, it would be a significant accomplishment were it possible to convene a series of inclusive conversations among Afghanis outside of Afghanistan. This would set a precedent, help develop necessary negotiation and problem-solving skills, and foster norms of constructive engagement essential for that time when political space does open inside Afghanistan. Were outsiders to make it possible for such a process to become established, it would also strengthen the confidence of Afghanis that others seek to make them the primary shapers of their own future, and not mere pawns in the destiny of others.

Eastern Mannonite University - Conflict Transformation Program

A Pakistani national of Afghan Pashtun descent, Gohar is a Commissioner with the Commissionerate of Afghan Refugees in Peshawar. In support of his work with Afghan refugees over the last decade, Gohar has studied and often used the jirga as a forum for negotiation and decision making with Afghani refugees in Pakistan. Currently he is on an 18-month study-leave as a Fulbright Scholar in the Conflict Transformation Program at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Kraybill was deeply involved in the South African political transition from 1989-1995 as Director of Training at the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town, and as Training Advisor to the National Peace Accord. Since 1995 he is Associate Professor of Conflict Studies in the Conflict Transformation Program at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia. He has served as a trainer and advisor to peacebuilding processes in several dozen locations in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. In 1999-2000 he spent 10 months living, studying and teaching in India.



2. NEWS in Brief - top


Giant step causes both trepidation and joy for China
 Antoaneta Bezlova

By becoming a full-fledged member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) last weekend, China completes a long and arduous journey in achieving a national milestone.

Yet when Chinese officials signed the official documents for China's admission into the trade body at the WTO fourth ministerial meeting in Doha, Qatar (Nov 9-13), they may be feeling more trepidation than joy.

Despite all the talk of China's immunity to the global economic downturn, Chinese leaders are now being forced to slow down major parts of their reform programme at a time when the economy can least afford it.

Two policy reversals - one to halt the sale of government stakes in the state-owned enterprises on the stock markets, the other ordering a freeze on the bankruptcies of larger state enterprises - indicate that market forces are being thrown overboard in favour of government guidance.

Making a transition to a modern market economy while addressing internal pressures from economic restructuring, battling economic recession abroad and satisfying its commitments to external authorities such as the WTO will be daunting.

Mounting internal pressures

Chinese leaders vow to live up to WTO commitments. "Following entry to the WTO, China will stand by its word and see actions through to the end. Keeping one's word is one of China's fundamental moral concepts," said China's chief trade negotiator LongYongtu this week.

Yet a worsening global economy and mounting internal pressures might test the depth of China's commitment. China has suffered less economic turbulence compared to its regional neighbours but declining exports and bulging inventory levels all point to an increasingly bleak picture.

For the eight months to August, Chinese exports worldwide rose 7.3 percent, a dip from a 34.6 percent increase during the same period last year. The Sept 11 terror attacks, and the US retaliatory strikes on Afghanistan, could deal a blow to China's expectations of a flood of inward investment following its accession to the WTO.

Trade and foreign investment account for over 40 percent of China's gross domestic product, so a significant decline in both sectors next year could jeopardize the country's rapid economic growth and undermine Beijing's ability to cope with the swelling unemployment from the restructured state firms.

If past experience is taken as a guide, Beijing tends to slow the pace of its most painful reforms whenever economic growth falters and global recession looms.

The most recent reform programme started in 1997 and laid out ambitious goals for divesting state ownership and restructuring through mergers. A year later, the Asian financial crisis hobbled most of the restructuring effort.

In 1998, the government's immediate response to the recession abroad was to stop privatisation and increase government interference in the economy. What is happening in the economy now is being compared to the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis.

Centralised social security fund

Last month, the central government announced its decision to scrap the planned disposal of state shares on the state markets, only three months after the scheme was introduced. Ten percent of the proceeds from selling state shares were to become a funding vehicle for centralised social security fund China still lacks.

Unwinding a 50-year legacy of corporate welfare, Beijing is trying to make state companies responsible for profits and losses but not for "cradle-to-grave" support of their workers.

However, without a national network to support unemployed and retired workers, many state enterprises would have to slow the pace of worker layoffs, hurting efforts to make them purely commercial entities.

Some experts defend government's decision to ride on markets' rescue by halting the sale of state shares. "Shock therapy is not suitable for China's stock markets," argues Zhang Liqun, research fellow at the State Council Research and Development Center.

"The transfer of ownership is one of the most crucial issues of China's economic restructuring," Zhang says. "It is not possible that you proceed with all the other reforms gradually yet you demand that market reform is done rapidly."

Other experts, however, see the policy shift as a major setback in China's economic reform. "It is a bad sign. This would have helped reduce the role of the central government in the economy," said Shawn Xu, head of the research at China International Capital Corporation Ltd.


What clouds China's economic outlook further is Beijing's order to provincial courts not to take on bankruptcy cases worth over 50 million yuan (US$6 million).

Over the past few years, bankruptcies were seen as an extreme but necessary tool in reducing excess production capacity. Although Chinese reformers have embraced the need of bankruptcy law, they have proceeded cautiously, fearing social unrest.

Now, with a virtual freeze on any significant bankruptcies, the task of transforming China's 300,000 overstaffed state firms into modern companies that can compete in international markets appears even more formidable. All of this is made even more significant because of China's entry into the WTO.

In theory, WTO rules will help China make its state sector more efficient and force it to introduce more transparency and less bureaucratic intervention. However, it remains to be seen how Beijing adheres to its international commitments when domestic considerations of preserving social stability weigh so heavily.

[Source: IPS]


Farmers' Protest Halts Zamboanga Mining Operation

More than 100 farmers have been pitching camp at a mining site in Zamboanga del Sur for more than a month to block the operation of a local mining company. The protesters prevented the entry of a drilling machine owned by A Dynasty Multipurpose Cooperative last October 3 at Barangay (Village) Dalapan.

According to KARAPATAN-Western Mindanao, the mining concession of A Dynasty Multipurpose Cooperative that would extract marble and bentonite deposits covers 2,025 hectares affecting nine barangays in the towns of San Miguel and Guipos.

"If mining operation will continue, it will also affect the ricefield, fishponds and waterways in the lowland areas in the towns of Guipos, Dinas, Dimataling, Pitogo, San Miguel, Tabina and Illana bay," said Felizardo Calayca, chair of the local alliance Kusog sa Katawhan Nagbatok sa Mina sa Guipos ug San Miguel (KKNM-GSM). The landowner could not produce any legal documents, instead he always referred to the mining manager to discuss the legality of their operations.

The continued mining protest has resulted in the formation of anti-mining alliances among the affected communities, religious sectors and support groups. One such group is the Kahugpungan sa Ocapan ug Dalapan Supak sa Development Agresyon (KOSDSDA). An inter-municipal alliance called the Kusog sa Katawhan Nagbatok sa Mina sa Guipos ug San Miguel (KKNM-GSM) has also been formed.

The alliance demanded the municipal official in San Miguel to file municipal resolutions to cancel the mining permit of A Dynasty Multipurpose Cooperative. The mining issue was also presented to provincial board members.

The mining exploration by A Dynasty Multipurpose Cooperative started in 1997. In a stone test, it found a first class marble in the world and bentonite minerals, which is best for marmols and the making of plates and glasses.

Former Environment Secretary Antonio Cerilles approved the operation permit for open pit mining last year while a permit for operation was signed last September 2001 by San Miguel Mayor Loquias. The firm was supposed to start its operation last October 3.

[Source: Bulatlat]


Afghan Deployment Could Bolster Military

Indonesia has offered to send peacekeepers to Afghanistan as part of a United Nations operation. The offer appears to contradict Jakarta's criticism of the U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan. But by contributing to a primarily Muslim U.N. force, Jakarta can reconcile its differences with Washington without stirring militant Islamic sentiments at home.

The offer of troops serves a two-fold purpose. First, it allows Jakarta to strengthen political, economic and military ties with Washington, London and Canberra. Second, by participating in a primarily Muslim U.N. force, Indonesia can defuse underlying tensions at home generated by fundamentalist and militant Islamic elements. The decision to send peacekeepers under a U.N. banner rather than as part of a U.S.-led coalition gives Jakarta greater room to reconcile differences with Washington while avoiding stirring militant sentiments at home.

Ultimately, this could provide Indonesia's armed forces with greater latitude to ensure the nation's stability -- necessary to attract foreign aid, investment and debt restructuring. The military's past efforts, however, have left it with a poor human rights record that has strained relations with Washington and limited foreign investment for years.

[Source: Stratfor]


Labour team critical of regime but sees glimmer of hope

The widespread use of forced labour under Myanmar's military regime appears to have eased slightly, but there is still "disturbing evidence" of rampant and often brutal requisitioning of unpaid labour, according to a high-powered International Labour Organisation team.
In a tentative report just published, the distinguished four-man team appointed by the secretary-general of the ILO to investigate Myanmar's claims to have abolished the practice said its initial scepticism over these claims were "amply justified".

The investigators found particularly worrying apparently rampant use of forced labour in hinterland areas where members of ethnic minorities were frequently forced into unpaid work that "all too often was accompanied by acts of cruelty".

The investigatory report, scheduled to be considered by the ILO's governing body in Geneva at the end of November, is considered a critical step in the regime's attempts to convince the world that it is genuinely willing to embrace widespread concern over human rights abuses, and by extension to embrace political change.

If the team that spent three weeks in Myanmar last month was critical in its observations, it also admitted that the regime - or at least many of its senior members - appeared ready to grasp an "historic opportunity" for the country to turn its back on an ugly, if ancient, practice and enter the modern world.

A uniquely damning ILO commission described in 1998 conditions akin to that of a slave society in many parts of Myanmar, with a "climate of fear" that permitted officials to press gang men, women and children on, in many places, a whim. That report and its 6,000 pages of documentary evidence of forced labour led to the unprecedented suspension of Myanmar from the ILO.

Some critics of the regime suspect the ILO's call last year for countries to consider sanctions against Myanmar was one of the triggers that led to surprise closed-door talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi after a long period of repressive measures against her National League for Democracy party.

The team conceded that the fact it was allowed to take its own interpreters and travel nearly everywhere it wanted was a positive mark for the regime.

It met not only regime officials but also members of the opposition, including Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, leaders of ethnic groups and "perhaps all interested parties".

The four are Sir Ninian Stephen, the former governor-general of Australia; Nieves Roldan-Confessor, former Philippines secretary of labour; Kulatilaka Ranasinghe, a retired chief justice of Sri Lanka; and Jerzy Makarczyk, a judge in the European Court of Human Rights.

They quickly discovered that the regime's claims to have "banned" forced labour often had little bearing on the local situation, especially where there was a heavy military presence. In some areas, notices banning the practice - and local meetings to explain the new rules - appeared to have appeared just before the team arrived.

The principle laws on forced labour had not been replaced, merely overridden by "orders" that much of the population, including officials, appeared not to understand. The team also said it was clear ordinary people were frightened to report abuses, and not a single criminal case of forced labour had occurred.

[Source: SCMP]


Churches Support Thousands of Dalits in Their Conversion to Buddhism

In an attempt to escape a rigid caste system that has made them social outcastes, thousands of
Hindu Dalits embraced Buddhism at a mass conversion ceremony here on 4 November supported by churches and Christian groups.

In a three-hour initiation ceremony, the Dalits formally rejected the caste system along with their Hindu faith. Buddhist monks shaved the heads of the ceremony leaders, while many other Dalits arrived at the ceremony having already tonsured their heads.

Some churches and Christian organisations publicly expressed their support for the ceremony seen as an exercise of the Dalits' right to choose their religion.

"As long as Dalits continue to support Hinduism, they and the country will continue to suffer," said Udit Raj, chairperson of the All India Confederation of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe Organisations (AICSC/STO), who shed his Hindu first name, Ram, during the ceremony.

Caste-based religion theoretically and openly justifies lifelong inequality and discrimination. It is a manipulative device and system to enslave the minds of the majority for the sake of the upper castes.

Although the caste system is Hindu in origin, it has become part of Indian social life and is also followed by many Christians and others, especially in rural areas. Under the system, society is divided into Brahmins (priestly class), Kshatriyas (warrior class), Vaishyas (trading class) and Sudras (Serving class) in descending order of superiority and social status.

The status of Dalits, who number about 200 million in India, is considered so low that they are outside the caste hierarchy. Dalits, along with tribal people, are officially referred to as members of "scheduled castes and scheduled tribes", and have long been treated as "untouchable".

Dalits are duty bound under the caste system to carry out menial, often degrading, jobs for the upper castes while, in many areas, living in segregation from them.

"The whole church is behind the Dalits of the country," said Joseph D' Souza, president of the All India Christian Council, a lay ecumenical forum, towards the end of the ceremony. "We are supporting the cause of the Dalits."

Both the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) and the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) issued statements endorsing the Dalits' right to convert to Buddhism.

The NCCI said that it was in complete solidarity with the right to conversion. The NCCI also cautioned that this constitutional right should not be tampered with, and the government machinery should ensure that this right is protected at any cost. The NCCI is a forum of 29 Orthodox and Protestant churches.

In its statement, the CBCI said: "The constitution of India guarantees its citizens the right to assemble, live in freedom and profess and propagate their faith. We support this fundamental right of the Dalits to choose the religion of their choice, guaranteed by the constitution of the country."

Raj confirmed that the Dalit organisation had appealed to the Christian groups for support. He said the Dalits were "prepared to accept support from any one" in their bid "to stand on our feet instead of being the appendage of the Hindu society".

Claiming that the conversion ceremony in Delhi "marks the beginning of a movement to assert Dalit dignity", Raj said that similar conversion rallies would be held soon in the southern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and be followed by other states.

[Source: ENI]


Sri Lanka: Party politics a threat to peace

By Jehan Perera

Viewed from a global context, the Canadian government's recent ban on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) could be seen as further fallout from the United States-led war against terrorism.

The Financial Institutions (SFIC) of Canada issued a new list of terrorist organizations which for the first time included the LTTE, to all Canadian financial and insurance institutions. The new list includes 83 names of terrorist individuals and organizations, said a Canadian Finance Ministry official. The latest development in Canada follows its measures to introduce new laws aimed at suppressing terrorism funding. and also at freezing the assets of the listed groups.

According to the SFIC, it has instructed financial institutions to be vigilant on the transactions of the LTTE and other listed organizations and alert the financial intelligence task force and the Canadian Intelligence Service if any dealings are found.

Canadian Finance Minister Paul Martin and Foreign Minister John Manley recently announced the implementation of tough anti-terror regulations in line with the September 28 United Nations Resolution on curbing terrorist funding.

With US officials saying that the war on terror could continue for a long time, even for 10 to 15 years, the prospects of an independent state for Tamils headed by the LTTE will necessarily recede. As much as the Sri Lankan government has been urged to find a negotiated, and necessarily compromise, solution to the ethnic conflict, the same pressure, if not more, will be on the LTTE.

It must be remembered that only a few months ago Martin was criticized both in the Sri Lankan and Canadian media for taking part in a function organized by an alleged LTTE front organization. The Canadian politician justified his attendance on the grounds that those who invited him were members of Canada's multi-ethnic society. There are more than 150,000 Tamils of Sri Lankan origin resident in Canada. Now, however, it appears that the international fallout of the US-led war against terrorism overrides these domestic political compulsions.

The Canadian decision to place the LTTE on its list of terrorist organizations has come at an opportune time for the Sri Lankan government. It faces an uphill struggle in the December 5 general elections. Since the British ban on the LTTE in February of this year, the government has had little to show by way of success in its battle against the LTTE, and two major intervening incidents were setbacks to the government.

The first was Operation Agni Kheela, which saw the army in Jaffna suffer heavy casualties in attempting to gain territory. This was not only a military defeat but also a political one because it came at the end of a four-month unilateral LTTE ceasefire. The military offensive launched by the government cast doubts as to its commitment to the Norwegian-initiated peace process.

The second setback was the LTTE attack on the Katunayake airport, which destroyed several military aircraft, half of the international civilian fleet and undermined the foundations of the country's dependence on foreign trade to sustain its economy.

As a result of these setbacks, the government's credibility as an effective problem solver of the conflict is cast in doubt. This was its strength in the past, but now the image is one of a strong LTTE and of a weakened economic base from which to resist it.

The opposition United National Party's (UNP) siren call that there is an easier and less costly way to dealing with the LTTE becomes more attractive to voters who see little or no prospect of an end to the war under the present government.

Nevertheless, the Canadian ban on the LTTE will help the Sri Lankan government to argue that at the international level the government continues to have the upper hand over the LTTE. The latest ban, which follows ones imposed on the LTTE by the Indian government in 1991, the US government in 1997 and the British government in February 2001, will be offered as evidence that the government's strategy of dealing with the LTTE has incrementally been a successful one. The ban will further add conviction to the government's political attacks against the UNP's apparent readiness to compromise with the LTTE to obtain a respite from the war and its associated economic debilitation.

However, it is one thing for the government to claim political credit for the success of its international strategy against the LTTE and the division of Sri Lanka. It is quite another for the government to repeatedly claim that the UNP has a secret deal with the LTTE and to seek to alienate the people from the major opposition party on that score. By making this claim, the government is laying the seeds of suspicion and fear in the minds of people that could block any future peace process with the LTTE.

The ethnic conflict, and its associated northeast war, has emerged as the most potent weapon in the government's campaign arsenal. This reflects the undoubted importance of the conflict in the life of the country. However, the fact that leading government politicians, including President Chandrika Kumaratunga, are using the ethnic conflict in a negative and emotive manner to discredit their political opponents is electioneering at its worst. After all, it was to end the war through political dialogue with the LTTE that the government consented to Norwegian mediation two years ago.

An election campaign, with its emphasis on mass rallies and media talk shows, offers one of the best opportunities to create awareness among the people on the course of action that a political party hopes to follow if it forms the government. After the elections they can justifiably claim that the people gave them a mandate to pursue the course of action that they presented in outline during the election campaign.

This indeed was what Kumaratunga did with such great power and courage in her 1994 election campaigning, which saw the birth of a new and much more enlightened attitude towards the ethnic conflict and its solution.

The peace process involving the Norwegians - and who are waiting to do more - called for engagement and relationship-building between the government and LTTE as the best way to restore peace to the country. An opposition that seeks to form the government is also entitled to similar relationship-building. Much to its credit, the UNP appears to have gathered a multi-ethnic coalition of parties around it ready to form a government that will be representative of all the ethnic communities in the country.

Recent opinion polls have revealed what common sense itself would suggest, that the two most important issues to the electorate are the economy and the war, and in that order. The government probably believes that it cannot compete with the UNP with regard to the management of the economy. There is a widespread belief that the right-wing UNP is better at delivering economic results than the center-left alliance of the government. Therefore, it is on the issue of the war, and the sense of threat that it brings with it, that the government is concentrating its attack.

At present, the government appears to be following a two-pronged line of attack against the UNP. The first is to accuse its leadership of having direct dealings with the LTTE, and to put the burden of proof of innocence upon the UNP. In courts of law, the accuser would be asked to furnish proof of the other's guilt, but in the court of the people it is the accused that is often called upon to provide proof of innocence.

However, the government's second line of attack has more substance in it, though it can be damaging to the peace process. This is to point to the close connection between the UNP and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) of four Tamil political parties. Word has gone out to voters in the north and east that the alliance of the Tamil United Liberation Front, the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization, the All Ceylon Tamil Congress and the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front - has the tacit backing of the LTTE.

The government points out that the TNA's sympathies lie with the UNP. And that in the event of a coalition government in which the UNP teams up with the TNA, it would be the LTTE that will be determining the policy of the new government. It is not surprising that this type of election rhetoric makes the voters perturbed about the possibilities of a new government.

Perhaps the UNP should take a leaf out of Kumaratunga's 1994 election campaign. At that time, when she promised peace through peace talks with the LTTE, the then UNP government attacked her for being in league with the LTTE. Instead of backing down, she rose to the challenge and answered her critics with sincerity and resolve. In like manner, without backing down on its promise of peace, the UNP needs to show that it will follow the Norwegian-facilitated track of peace talks in a more skilful manner than the government.

Looking beyond the elections, the highly partisan and unconstructive rhetoric of the election campaign, and the possibilities after it, demonstrate the need for a de-politicized mechanism that will ensure that the search for a political solution to the ethnic conflict is taken out of the domain of partisan politics.

This is why it becomes necessary to set up a mechanism to resolve the ethnic conflict on the lines of the 17th Amendment meant to de-politicize key institutions, such as those dealing with elections, public administration, the judiciary and police.



US buys up all satellite war images

The Pentagon has spent millions of dollars to prevent western media from seeing highly accurate civilian satellite pictures of the effects of bombing in Afghanistan, it was revealed yesterday.

The images, which are taken from Ikonos, an advanced civilian satellite launched in 1999, are better than the spy satellite pictures available to the military during most of the cold war.
The extraordinary detail of the images already taken by the satellite includes a line of terrorist trainees marching between training camps at Jalalabad. At the same resolution, it would be possible to see bodies lying on the ground after last week's bombing attacks.

Under American law, the US defence department has legal power to exercise "shutter control" over civilian satellites launched from the US in order to prevent enemies using the images while America is at war. But no order for shutter control was given, even after the bombing raids began 10 days ago.

The decision to shut down access to satellite images was taken last Thursday, after reports of heavy civilian casualties from the overnight bombing of training camps near Darunta, north-west of Jalalabad.

Instead of invoking its legal powers, the Pentagon bought exclusive rights to all Ikonos satellite pictures of Afghanistan off Space Imaging, the company which runs the satellite. The agreement was made retrospectively to the start of the bombing raids.

The US military does not need the pictures for its own purposes because it already has six imaging satellites in orbit, augmented by a seventh launched last weekend. Four of the satellites, called Keyholes, take photographic images estimated to be six to 10 times better than the 1 metre resolution available from Ikonos.

The decision to use commercial rather than legal powers to bar access to satellite images was heavily criticised by US intelligence specialists last night. Since images of the bombed Afghan bases would not have shown the position of US forces or compromised US military security, the ban could have been challenged by news media as being a breach of the First Amendment, which guarantees press freedom.

"If they had imposed shutter control, it is entirely possible that news organisations would have filed a lawsuit against the government arguing prior restraint censorship," said Dr John Pike, of Globalsecurity, a US website which publishes satellite images of military and alleged terrorist facilities around the world.

The only alternative source of accurate satellite images would be the Russian Cosmos system. But Russia has not yet decided to step into the information void created by the Pentagon deal with Space Imaging.

[Source: The Guardian]


Aid workers urge foreign political intervention in Afghanistan

By Paul Jeffrey

Church-sponsored aid workers here on the border with Afghanistan say time is running out for the international community to prevent a bloodbath inside Afghanistan.

"We need a massive influx of troops, not under the guise of protecting humanitarian aid, because we know best how to do that, but rather to simply stand between the warring armies and stop the country from falling into chaos," said a European church worker here who asked not to be identified.

While church workers on the Afghan-Pakistani border are not afraid to speak openly about relief operations, many say they are reluctant to make public political statements because they have to carry out their work in a treacherous political landscape.

In this dusty frontier town filled with more than a million Afghan refugees, aid workers fear they are about to watch history repeat itself. Following the ouster of the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan in the early 1990s, the country was torn apart by civil war.

Aid workers say the ethnic Uzbek, Tajik and Hazara warlords of the Northern Alliance, who have taken over several cities inside Afghanistan, are not very different from the Taliban, who came from the country's large ethnic Pashtun population.

"They are the liberators of Kabul today, just as the Taliban were the liberators of Kabul five years ago when they freed people from the grasp of the guys who form the Northern Alliance today," said Geir Valle, director of operations here for Norwegian Church Aid.

Valle argued for a rapid intervention by armed United Nations troops rather than US and British soldiers. "The UN has more legitimacy and would be more acceptable to more Afghans at this point," Valle told ENI. "And the British have been thrown out of Afghanistan three times in the past. Do they want to be kicked out a fourth time? It's always good to take a lesson from history."

Valle said he thought former King Zahir Shah, who lives in exile in Rome, had the best chance of bringing feuding Afghans together around a common political project. "It's time to give the king a chance," Valle said.

The king favours calling a council of tribal leaders to craft a political solution. He is more acceptable to the majority Pashtuns than former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik, who is now in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Rabbani today said that the British presence in Afghanistan was not unwelcome, according to reports.

Shiite Muslims in Kabul are particularly worried about Rabbani. Karim Khalili, the leader of the Shiite faction in the Northern Alliance, has marched his 3000 troops to the edge of the capital to bring pressure on Rabbani to share power. Khalili has called on the UN to send peace-keeping troops, something Rabbani opposes.

"It may be too late already," lamented another aid worker, noting that Northern Alliance troops have demanded the removal of British troops from the Bagram air base north of Kabul. "We may have come too far down the road towards the ethnic factions re-establishing control at a local and regional level. The warlords want the foreign troops removed so that they can further consolidate their hold on their little pieces of turf."

The aid worker said it would be best for the intervention force to be multilateral in nature, but acknowledged that hammering such a force together may take too much time. "And time is one thing we don't have now. The warlords are rushing to take control of as much territory as they can."

The United Nations was expected to put together a conference of Afghanistan's many ethnic groups in Berlin this weekend to address the political future of the country, according to reports.

According to Masoom Stanezkai, director of the Agency for Rehabilitation and Energy Conservation in Afghanistan, a central task of an international force would be to disarm the warring factions. "For ordinary Afghans, ethnicity is not a problem if the guns are put away," Stanezkai told ENI. His organisation is supported by Action by Churches Together (ACT), the Geneva-based international network of church aid agencies.

According to Julia McDade, the representative here for Christian Aid, a British organisation, a key element to resolving the conflict is whether the Afghan people will perceive a negotiated solution as something that has emerged from their own troubled political culture or something that has been imposed from outside.

"If the people can own the solution that the international community is brokering with Afghan leaders, then they will reject the Arabs and the others who supported the Taliban, and turn them in," McDade said. "But if their sense of hope for the future is squashed, then the Taliban will be given a chance to reorganise. This solution has to come about soon, or the suffering of the people will be prolonged."


3. Urgent APPEAL - top

MALAYSIA: Harrassment & Violation of the rights to movement and association and opinion

The International Secretariat of OMCT in Geneva has received new information regarding the following situation in Malaysia.

New information

The International Secretariat of OMCT has been informed by a reliable source of the violation of the rights to movement, association and opinion and the harassment of Dr. Ustaz Badrul Amin in Malaysia.

According to the information received, despite the fact that Dr Badrul Amin was released from detention on November 13th, 2001, he is reportedly living under strict restrictions imposed on him by the police. He has been placed under "restricted residence" in Gombak District, Selangor, where his house is situated, and is required to report to the nearest police station every week. He is not authorized to receive mail by the post, or to join public gatherings, or to be involved in any political activities. He is reported as saying that he feels subjected to heavier controls now than when he was in detention camp. The day he was released, he was warned that any participation in political activities would cause him to be thrown back into the detention camp.

As a result, Dr. Badrul Amin is considering not to run for re-election in the Keadilan Party’s Supreme Council, in spite of his nomination as one of the 20 members of this council.

The International Secretariat condemns the restrictions imposed on Dr. Badrul Amin by the Malaysian authorities, despite him having been officially released and discharged on November 13th. These restrictions amount to continuing violations of his rights to the freedom of association, opinion and of movement. Although OMCT welcomes his release, the conditions that have been imposed upon Dr. Badrul Amin following this release are unacceptable, and are designed to make it impossible for him to continue leading his political activites, in blatant violation of his fundamental human rights.

Brief reminder of the situation

The Keadilan leader Dr. Ustaz Badrul Amin was released November 3rd, 2001, from the Kamunting Detention Camp after having been sentenced to a two year detention order June 13th under the ISA. He had been detained for 287 days prior to his release.

According to the information received, an officer at the Kamunting Detention Camp had phoned the family of Dr. Badrul Amin to announce his release, but had given no reason as to why he had been discharged. Dr. Badrul Amin had been detained together with nine other Keadilan and reformasi activists under the ISA in April for alleged involvement in a militant attempt to overthrow the government (see Urgent Appeal Case MYS

Dr. Badrul Amin was arrested along with five other activists on April 10th, 2001 : Mr. Mahd. Ezam Mhd. Noor ; Mr. Chua Tian Chang ; Mr. N Gobala Krishnan (NY Secretary); Mr. Haji Saari Sungip; and Mr. Hishamuddin Rais. This was followed on April 11, 2001, by the arrest of Mr. Raja Petra Kamaruddin (Free Anwar Campaign website executive director), also under the auspices of the ISA.

Action requested:

Please write to the authorities in Malaysia urging them to:

i. put an immediate end to the persecution and harassment of Dr. Badrul Amin, along with all other opposition political activists in Malaysia;

ii. guarantee the respect of human rights and the fundamental freedoms throughout the country in accordance with national laws and international human rights standards.


Ybhg Tan Sri Musa Hitam,
Chairperson Malaysian Human Rights Commission,
C/o Kementerian Luar Negeri,
Wisma Putra, 50602 Kuala Lumpur
Fax : 603-2425043

Datuk Abdullah Ahmad Badawi,
Home Minister,
Jalan Dato Onn, 50502 Kuala Lumpur

Tan Sri Norian Mai,
Inspector General of Police,
Ibupejabat Polis Diraja Malaysia,
Bukit Aman, 50560 Kuala Lumpur
Fax: 603-22731326

Please also write to the embassies of Malaysia in your respective



Seminar on Codes of Conduct in the Textile Industries
26-30 November 2001

Many companies, especially in labour-intensive sectors like the textile industry, have adopted codes of conduct, in response to consumer's campaigns like the Clean Clothes Campaign.

These codes raise many questions. A very important one is to know whether codes of conduct are a effective tools to improve labour conditions of the workers in the whole production chain (including subcontractors), or if they are just a public relations exercise for the companies.

Since 1990, the Clean Clothes Campaign has been very active in many European countries. Until now, all these initiatives are strongly originated, oriented and dominated by actors in the developed world. Therefore, there is an urgent need to involve partners and organisations of the civil society in Asia. It is hoped that this seminar could be a starting point of discussion between friends in the developed world and NGOs in Asia on ways to make codes of conduct a tool in the hands of the workers and local groups. The seminar will discuss ways to use codes of conduct for workers' education and local organisations' empowerment, to build capacities and promote the involvement of workers and local groups/NGOs/unions in monitoring, labour rights promotion and defence.

Organised jointly by the URM and DAGA and with the co-operation of AMRC and HKCIC, this seminar will bring together labour activists from both the secular and ecumenical organisations. Also participating in this seminar are friends from the Bread for All in Switzerland, the Anglican Church in Canada and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility in New York.



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