Monthly Archives: November 2012

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Global Public Square

By International Crisis Group

The International Crisis Group’s Robert Blecher, director of ICG’s Israel/Palestine Project, discusses the latest outbreak of violence between Israel and Gaza, and what it means for the region. The views expressed are Blecher’s own, and are based on a video interview conducted today.

Why is the violence we’re seeing today so much worse than in recent years?

The violence today between Israel and Gaza is the worst that there’s been since Operation Cast Lead four years ago. Israel right now is in an election season and the government is running on a platform of security and stability. It makes them look completely impotent if they can’t stop hundreds of rockets from raining down on their citizenry. The citizenry has a real demand for safety and security.

Also, from the perspective of the Israeli government, they want to change the rules of the game. They want to…

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Amanthi’s Story

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Amanthi’s Story

Let me introduce you to a fourteen year old girl I met in Sri Lanka this summer. Her name is Amanthi, and we met not in a coffee shop or shopping mall but in a courtroom. She was there for her hearing, and I was there for a lack of a better idea. Although I didn’t have a camera with me I can tell you every physical detail about this girl, such was the impact she had on me. She stood at the front of the court, her eye’s fixated on the floor never looking up, not even to answer any of the questions asked to her by the magistrate. She was so thin, that you would think she had recently recovered from a great illness, her skin was as pale as snow. Her hair was long and straight yet wild and uncontrollable, which she used to hide her face so people would not be able to see her. She wore a red top and an old skirt made of denim, her arms were joined at her back as if she were restrained, but there were no cuffs. She stood there, barefoot and alone, in front of the crowd of onlookers.

What was she doing there, what was her crime? As the hearing unfolded I discovered her reason for being there, she had escaped a children’s correctional facility. The judge asked her why she had been sent to the facility in the first place. She was silent, the question was asked again but she remained silent, her eyes still fixated on the floor. After a few moments she spoke, in a sad tone of voice, she said she couldn’t answer that question in front of the entire court room. The judge, who by the way is my aunt, called her into chambers to speak to her privately, and asked me to join them as well.

We were now alone just the three of us. Amanthi looked at me, and for the first time I saw her eyes. They were red from the tears she had been fighting back. Her eyes looked at me as if to ask why was I there, and if I could help her. My aunt looked at her and told her who I was, and that she could talk freely in front of me. It was then that I heard the saddest and most shocking story of my life.

Amanthi told us of how she had been raped by her grandfather when she was thirteen, and how her parents had disowned her because of it and abandoned her at a police station. While at the police station an officer who did not know what to do with the girl, had her sent to the local magistrate, to decide what should become of her. That magistrate decided, as a temporary measure, to have her sent to the correctional facility until something more permanent could be done for her. A year passed, and she remained in the correctional facility, her plight was ignored by everyone who could have helped her. She spoke to us at length regarding the conditions in the facility, and how poorly treated she was by the staff and of the beatings she had endured from the other girls in the facility. As she told her story my eyes widened and I looked at my aunt with sheer confusion printed all over my face. I thought to myself how could this happen, this girl has been treated as though she was a criminal when in fact she was the victim of a heinous crime that stole her innocence.

After half an hour Amanthi had finished her story, and now she began to beg to my Aunt not to send her back. Then she turned to me, and stared at me sobbing uncontrollably. I realized she wanted me to say something, to try to help her, but what could I say, I was not a lawyer or a social worker, but in my heart I realized I had to say something. So I told my aunt the only thing I could say, “You can’t send her back.” Yet, she had no choice, she couldn’t just remove her from the facility without finding a place to send her. As I discovered an orphanage was out of the question, because they were full up with legitimate orphans. So, there was no choice but to send her back for now.

A court officer was called into the room to escort her back to the courtroom where the hearing would continue. But, Amanthi wouldn’t leave, she refused to move and had to be dragged out of the chamber by the officer. She didn’t fight for a moment, she just cried and fell to the floor. As her body was dragged passed me I remember thinking to myself, “Grab her, don’t let this madness continue, get her out of there.”  Then my brain kicked in and asked me what would you do once you got her out of there, who would look after her, where would she go? These were questions to which I had no answers so I watched as this poor girl was pulled out of the chamber, and I didn’t even move a muscle.

After she was dragged out of the chambers I sat down and told my aunt that I just had to do something for her. My conscience wouldn’t let me just walk away from what I had just seen and heard. We talked for a while and eventually came up with an idea, to help her overcome the trauma of her experience I would pay for her to undergo counselling sessions. I would do this by funneling money through my Aunt who would make sure she received the service. As such to this day I have been sending $125 a month to try to help Amanthi overcome the demons that have taken over her life. However, last night I  received the most disturbing of news. Amanthi has again escaped the facility and has yet to be found. She escaped four days ago and according to what I have been told there is little chance of finding her now. I don’t know whether to be happy or sad that she has escaped that god awful place. I hope that she finds a better life but I also fear for her survival out there in the world, on her own.

I do know how I feel about her story though. I feel ashamed of the society that did this to her. How could we as a people abandon a young girl the way we did, didn’t she deserve more? I feel ashamed of myself for not doing more, in hindsight I see I just did the bare minimum, so I could feel better about myself. I should have done a lot more and I will live with that for the rest of my life. I feel sorry for the many children who have similar stories to Amanthi’s. On average 25% of cases before Sri Lankan courts deal with abuse of children, yet very few of them end with a succesful prosecution, this number could be even greater when we take into account those that do not even go to court out of fear. Today in Sri Lanka four girls under the age of sixteen are raped everyday. That number is also increasing constantly as more children are raped each successive year. Just for a moment click this link and see how bad it truly is.

Yet, how can we stop this, how should we take Amanthi’s story to heart, we being those fortunate enough to have a better life, to attend university, to have personal security. I believe it is our responsibility to create a new world society where injustices like this are not overlooked and their victims are not forgotten. By sharing this message with you I hope to take a step to doing just that, and by being informed about it you take a step as well in the right direction.  I think the following words by Robert Kennedy show just what we can learn from Amanthi’s story.

“For the fortunate among us, there is the temptation to follow the easy and familiar paths of personal ambition and financial success so grandly spread before those who enjoy the privilege of education. But that is not the road history has marked out for us. All of us will ultimately be judged, and as the years pass we will surely judge ourselves on the effort we have contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which our ideals and goals have shaped that event.”

Sam’s Story

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Last week I had the good fortune of attending the South Asian Film Festival (SAAF) here in Vancouver, Canada. The festival showcased artistic films from numerous south asian countries such as India, Bhutan, Nepal and even Sri Lanka. I’ve always enjoyed watching films from different parts of the world and evaluating them using my very modest and highly limited skill set. However, I had never seen a full length Sri Lankan film before and was very excited by the prospect of breaking this boundary.

The film was titled “Sam’s Story” and this was its world premiere, not only that but it was also the director’s first full length film, a man by the name of Priyankara Vittanachichi. I considered the moment highly auspicious because I would be among the first members of the public anywhere in the world to watch the film. As I sat there waiting for the film to begin a horrible truth dawned on me. I was the only one in the cinema! I looked around at the empty seats and I had a real mix of emotions. Firstly, it felt nice to be the only one in the cinema, I could scream or laugh as loudly as I wanted and didn’t have to worry about disturbing anyone. Yet the second and more powerful emotion I felt was sadness, here was a film somebody had spent so much time working on and nobody except me had show up to watch it. You would expect that with such few opportunities to watch Sri Lankan movies on the big screen here in Canada that at least a few Sri Lankans would have shown up. It really was a shame because as I soon discovered they missed out on a wonderful film. The clip below is meant to be a trailer.

The story is about the life of Siriratne or Sam as he was named by a western couple that had employed him as a domestic. What makes Sam special is that he is handicapped and the story explores how Sri Lankan society treats him. Throughout his life he encounters many people, some who take advantage of him in the worst possible ways and others who show him kindness.

In understanding this film it is important to recognise two different kinds of films, the artistic and the popular variety. Artistic films are those that are shown at film festivals and are centred around neo-realism, in which they try to showcase the human condition as real as possible. Example’s of these are Deepa Mehta’s trilogy of Fire, Earth and Water. They are never seen by mainstream audiences while popular films are those that you see at theaters and compromise 95% or more of total film production. They are filled with song and dance and over the top action as well as over dramatized situations. I’m sure you can come up with a plethora of movies that fit these characteristics.

Sam’s story is an artistic one in every sense of the word. It explores the social treatment of handicapped people in Sri Lanka through the interaction Sam has with other characters. Also it explores the political frustrations of people living in a country divided by war and the tensions between the Tamil and Sinhalese ethnicities. It also explores the structure of the family and their devotion to each other. These all serve to imprint upon us the lives of average Sri Lankans, their hopes, dreams, desires and fears.

I wouldn’t want to go into too much detail about the movie but there was one realization that came out of it that really hit home. I don’t consider myself truly Sinhalese because I’ve been raised abroad so the difference between Sinhalese and Tamil is really not something that influences me as much as it would others, in fact I’m barely Sri Lankan. So the movie really spoke to me because it showed how the violence in Sri Lanka had affected both ethnicities and was not concentrated against either of them. During the film we learn that everyone both Tamil and Sinhalese have lost loved one’s due to the conflict and that the people the conflict affects the most are the poor who have everything to lose and barely anything to gain from it.

Sam’s Story is a wonderful tale of human life and the struggle of every day life. I doubt many of you will be able to see it but if you ever get the chance to then go for it, you won’t be disappointed.