Kingston Peace News - June 2009

Sri Lanka

This edition comes to you at a momentous time for the people of Sri Lanka. Reports indicate that Velupillai Prabhakaran, leader of the notorious Tamil Tigers, is dead and the Sri Lankan Government is claiming victory in the civil war that has raged for 26 years. Scenes of jubilation are being projected on our TV screens but what is the real story behind it all?

Commentators say that the war is over and this may be true but the conflict that lies at the root of the violence has not been resolved - the Tamil people do not feel that their needs can be met by the Sinhalese government and they seek autonomy. The Tamil Tigers may not have responded to this in an admirable way but they did represent a voice of the Tamil people that insisted on being heard. Although the Tamil people might not have agreed with all of the Tiger statements or methods, they may now feel that they have been left without leadership and motivation, and this will be a source of confusion and frustration.

As you'll read in the excerpts from a BBC article entitled, "Joy and Wariness in Sri Lanka," Sri Lanka today represents a divided people. What happens over the next few months and years will be crucial to the stability of the region - I think the most significant times are yet to come for this devastated country.

The latest developments in Sri Lanka are all the more poignant as they have taken place in a year given to a focus on reconciliation. In Resolution 61/17, the UN declared that 2009 would be known as the International Year of Reconciliation, in order to officially recognise that processes of reconciliation in divided societies are a prerequisite for sustainable and durable peace. Violent conflict is an outward expression of societal wrongs and deep-rooted frustrations. When war ends, the real work begins because violence is often a symptom more than a cause of the opposing sides. When war ends, peace is not necessarily the result but the goal to aim towards.

So how can peace be achieved after a long, violent history like that of Sri Lanka? Of course, there are no easy answers to this but reconciliation and restoration or building of relationships must be a goal. There are deep divisions between the people, which have developed over many years and these will not be resolved quickly but rather with patience, hard work and time. I would suggest that the origins of the conflict must be considered - history plays a big role in civil conflict and it is important to hear the story from both sides. In fact, the telling of these stories can be extremely cathartic to those involved and it is this that has a healing quality. There is no expectation that one side will concede and accept the other version of the story as truth. This brings to mind a well-used phrase, "forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past." How true this can be!

Reconciliation can mean a series of baby steps. Community projects that bring together people from all sides of a conflict in a practical way often provide a means of rehumanising the other - drawing attention to the fact that everyone involved is human and hurting, as, in civil conflict, everyone is a victim.

'This is all lovely but it would never work in Sri Lanka,' I almost hear you say. At this point in time, I agree. There is so much foundational work that needs to take place, not least of all that the Government needs to allow the Tamil people an audience and open consideration of their claims and requests. Until they have been able to articulate these and have them seriously addressed, the frustration and deep emotion will continue, whether with or without violence. The resettlement of over 250, 000 internally displaced people will be a major point of contention. All eyes will be focused on the Sri Lankan Government for some time to come and we can only hope that they begin to atone for their participation in the violence by recognising the needs of all people in Sri Lanka.

"Joy and wariness in Sri Lanka"

When we read the newspapers, it can be very easy to forget that the statistics we talk about are real people. Whilst we read about the atrocities taking place, there are human beings suffering them. We cannot for one moment imagine what it feels like to be in the middle of this conflict, which has affected generations in Sri Lanka. We recommend an article on the BBC website in which people tell of their feelings about the reported 'end' of the war and their hopes and fears for the future.

[The paper copy of the Kingston Peace News contained extracts of the statements made by the people in Sri Lanka. Ed.]

How can I get involved?

As you read the Kingston Peace Council newsletter, you may be thinking that it's all very interesting but it's not really changing anything. This is where you come in! Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." This section gives you some ideas about action you can take to get involved. Don't limit yourself to just these and if you have any ideas you'd like to get more people involved with, let us know.

United Nations International Year of Reconciliation

Reconciliation is not just some fluffy notion that peace activists talk about - it can involve some very real but simple actions of reaching out to people. Why not:

Write to your MP

In our system of democracy, we have a responsibility to inform and to hold to account those we have elected to speak for us in Parliament. To find out who your MP is, go to, insert your postcode and click on 'Find MP.' We would encourage you to write to your MP about the following matters:

Kingston Peace Council

We are a varied group who meet on the second Wednesday each month to share our passion for peace and nuclear disarmament. We discuss meetings and rallies we have attended, plan events of our own and consider how we can share this information with the public. Why not:

'A leader in responsible business worldwide?'

This year shareholders at BAE System's AGM had to register in advance if they wanted to ask questions and then were called to speak in turn. Much better for peace activists because it meant we got a proper hearing and had time to make our comments as well as ask questions.

Dick Olver, the Chairman, talked a lot about 'leadership', 'responsibility' and of course 'defence' at the AGM. The fact remains, though, that the high tech weapons BAE sells are mainly bought by rich countries - predominantly the USA but also the UK, Saudi Arabia and other wealthy nations, and used in poor countries like Afghanistan. In modern warfare 9 out of 10 of those killed are civilians - a complete reversal of the historical situation when 9 out 10 deaths were of those in uniform.

The world spent $1.3 trillion on weapons and warfare in 2008 and BAE's profits increased significantly. You might think that the credit crunch would change this and governments would save money by spending less on 'defence'? But wait a moment. The crunch has tipped more people into extreme poverty increasing the likelihood of conflict over scarce resources. Protests over food shortages too may lead to governments turning to repressive measures. The credit crunch is no time to start letting weapons stocks run down. BAE Systems has a full order book.

This shows that it's vital that the campaign goes on - nothing has changed at BAE except the surface veneer.

Mary Holmes, 16 May 2009

See also Terry MacAlister's report on the BAE annual meeting on the Guardian web site.

Stop the War Coalition Meeting Report

Yesterday I attended the one-day conference held by the Stop the War Coalition and presented the Kingston Peace Council resolution which was unanimously adopted. 'Stop the War' Coalition is now the largest peace activist movement in Europe. There was a large number of excellent speeches including those by Tony Benn, Seumas Milne (of the Guardian), Sami Ramadani, Craig Murray and Rose Gentle of Families Against the War..

Sami Ramadani is a senior lecturer in sociology at London Metropolitan University and was a political refugee from Saddam Hussein's regime. He painted a picture of conditions in Iraq which is seriously at odds with that presented by our politicians and the media; speaking of a profoundly corrupt and deeply unpopular government, widespread hardship and disease, lack of electricity so that sewage systems do not work and sewage is discharged into the rivers, etc.

Craig Murray is a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan. He claims he was recalled from his Tashkent posting because he criticised the use by the UK of intelligence obtained under torture in that country. When ambassador he highlighted civil rights abuses in Uzbekistan including the imprisonment of a mother whose son was apparently tortured to death with boiling water in 2002. Mr Murray has been trying for five years to put his case to the government. A hearing was eventually scheduled for the end of April. (at the time of going to print the outcome of this hearing was unknown)

Rose Gentle's son was killed in Iraq and she is determined that those who are responsible for her son's death are held to account. She told, in passing, of one mother who went to Iraq, to collect the body-bag containing her son's remains. When she got it home she discovered that it contained two left legs.

The meeting was conducted in an admirably democratic manner. The main speakers were only allowed to talk for ten minutes each. Others were allowed to talk for three of four minutes.

I am also working with George Farebrother and others on a two day conference to be held in London in September. George Farebrother is president of the World Court Project which was instrumental in obtaining the World Court of Justice's Advisory Opinion that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is illegal under international law. The purpose of the conference is to discuss, and explore solutions to, the difficulties experienced by citizens when they attempt to engage with government in the conduct of affairs especially in relation to matters of law.

Jim McCluskey, 26 April 2009

Voting for thugs isn't a solution

Some parts of the media seem very keen to tell us that the MPs' expenses uproar means that, as a protest, we will be casting our votes in record numbers for racist thugs. I think they have a very low opinion of us if they think people in the UK will be goose-stepping to the polling stations any time soon.

Don't get me wrong, people are right to be disgusted with Members of Parliament, and not just because some of them have squeezed everything they could out of the expenses system. The governing classes have become increasingly distant from the general population, politically as well as financially.

Whilst I am irritated at having to fork out a few grand to have someone's pergola dusted or whatever it was, that is as nothing compared to what I think of the £15bn MPs voted to spend on Trident - something that we will, thankfully, never use.

I would be happy to pay for a minister's dog food if, in exchange, they don't send our troops off to fight in illegal wars. I reckon there is a net saving to be made with my system. We could even call it performance-related pay.

They curb airport expansion and we buy them Hobnobs. Fair is fair, after all, and I wouldn't begrudge them something to dunk in their tea under those circumstances. They could even have the chocolate sort when they are particularly good - like if they reject privatisation or public-sector cuts.

We should punish the mainstream politicians who have become too comfortable and too complacent. We can help them understand how disconnected they have become, but it doesn't mean we have to vote for racists, liars or scumbags. I doubt any of the xenophobes have much of a plan to address the recession or tackle climate change. I suspect that many people will, like me, try to use the ballot to make the world better, not worse.

The BBC might think the only issue is parliamentary corruption, but I've not put my wider hopes on hold. I won't be supporting racists just because the parties of government can't keep their fingers out of the till.

The UK is not ready to park Panzers on Parliament Square just yet. Let's go for positive alternatives - punishing bigots and fraudsters at one and the same time.

Jim Jepps, The London Paper, 19 May 2009

Tricycle Theatre

The Tricycle Theatre is located in Kilburn High Road in North West London and for the past few months has been showing an incredible trilogy of plays about Afghanistan called, "The Great Game." Part 1 looks at the years between 1842 and 1930: "Invasions & Independence." Part 2, entitled "The Mujahideen & The Taliban," is an analysis of 1979 to 1996 and the final part considers the most recent period between 1996 and 2009: "Enduring Freedom." These are still showing and a calendar of events can be found at

In addition, there are two events at the beginning of June that may be of interest. On Monday 1 June, Christina Lamb, best selling author of "The Sewing Circles of Heart" and Sunday Times Foreign Affairs Correspondent will be giving a talk. On Tuesday 2 June, a panel discussion will be held and this will include Tony Benn, Sir Menzies Campbell, Pankaj Mishra and Matthew Waldman. Tickets are priced £5 and are available from the box office on 020 7328 1000.

Newsletter Editor for this issue was Fiona Brown.

Disclaimer: It is the nature of a newsletter like KPN that views cannot be sought on everything that appears herein, so views expressed are almost never the agreed opinion of the group.