by Larry Marshall email@example.com Project Officer, Australian Studies, Latrobe University
Last month, a sixth round of peace talks, brokered by Norway, was held in Geneva between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan Government. The parties again declared their respect for upholding a ceasefire agreement made in 2002. However, the cruel reality on the ground is that air force bombers roar through the sky, rebels attack navy ships and tens of thousands have fled their homes. Over 3000 people have been killed in the past twelve months and more than 65,000 have died in a war that has lasted more than two decades.
The minority ethnic group, the Tamils, make up 16 per cent of the population. They speak Tamil rather than Sinhalese and are Hindus rather than Buddhists. The Tamils want high autonomy in the north and east of the island, their traditional homelands. They believe they face discrimination and prejudice from the Sinhalese majority (74 per cent) who control the government in the southern capital Colombo. The Tamil-speaking Muslim community (8 per cent) are caught between the protagonists and are beginning to make their own demands.
The issues have grown increasingly complex as the post-independence (1948) ethnic conflict has moved from a demand for equal language rights to include fair access to public service jobs, university places, religious freedom and finally to a separate state of ‘Tamil Eelam’. This all in response to the nationalising Sinhalese governments of the Bandaranaike clan (in the 1950s, 60s and 70s), which made Sinhalese the official language, then Buddhism the state religion and enforced a quota on the Tamil minority’s access to universities and the public service.
The LTTE (branded as terrorists by some governments) has been ruthless and effective in the guerilla war in the north and east, although the equally brutal government forces are not in danger of losing the south. There is no military solution to this war only a political one. Many analysts feel that a move to a federal system with clear power sharing between Colombo and an autonomous Tamil state may be the only viable alternative.
In 2004 the previously monolithic LTTE suffered its first major split when Colonel Karuna from the east of the island challenged the omnipotent leadership of reclusive Tiger rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. The government has supported this breakaway group, thus driving a wedge deep into the Tamil community.
In December 2004 the tsunami struck Sri Lanka, causing over 35,000 deaths and widespread devastation in the east and the south. For a moment there seemed to be a chance that the billions of dollars promised in aid might be jointly dispersed by the government and the LTTE but this was scuttled by a junior partner in the government coalition.
There are hawkish factions on both sides of this divide who appear to feel that a return to war is the only solution to the ‘no war no peace’ hiatus. Elements in the army and government believe the LTTE is weaker after the split and with its sea forces damaged by the tsunami, is now ripe for attack. Similarly, the LTTE sees war as the way to re-establish its leadership of the whole Tamil community.
One hopeful sign has been a bipartisan pact signed on 26 October by the usually vitriolic Sinhalese parties in Colombo, recognising that the eventual solution to the ethnic issue will not be a military one. Nevertheless, the international community still has a crucial role to play in Sri Lanka.
It must insist on a new ceasefire agreement and assist in constructing a serious long-term peace process which involves the Muslim community and civil society. A political solution can be a win-win for all concerned and allow the people of Sri Lanka to enjoy their island of Serendipity.
Comments on this article may be directed to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org
INDONESIA'S CONSTITUTIONAL COURT AND THE DEATH PENALTY
by Simon Butt email@example.com, Associate Director of Asian Law Group Pty Ltd, who is completing his PhD on Indonesia's Constitutional Court at the Faculty of Law at the University of Melbourne
In recent times, the imposition of the death penalty by courts in Indonesia (and other parts of Asia) for crimes such as drug trafficking and terrorism has drawn much attention and controversy in Australia. Many of these convictions are likely to be appealed, but they might not be overturned. This article discusses an avenue available in Indonesia to dispute the death penalty – Indonesia’s new Constitutional Court – and the likely outcome of a constitutional challenge.
The Constitutional Court, established in 2003, is the first Indonesian judicial body to be granted power to review whether statutes enacted by the national parliament contradict the Constitution. Using this power, the Court can invalidate statutes that infringe Indonesia’s new constitutional bill of rights, which draws upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Included within this bill of rights is the right to life.
Undoubtedly, some of those sentenced to death for involvement in terrorism (such as the Bali, Marriot or Australian Embassy bombings) or drug-trafficking (such as some of the so-called Bali 9), will object to the validity of the death penalty. They are likely to argue that the death penalty violates citizens’ constitutional right to life. The Court has, in many of the cases heard since its establishment, been concerned to uphold the bill of rights, so it is likely to at least closely consider such an argument.
However, it is unlikely that the Court can help those already sentenced to death. For the Bali 9, the Court’s standing rules appear to allow only Indonesian citizens to bring a claim before the Court. And for Indonesian citizens, the Court’s approach in a case it decided in 2003, offers little hope.
In that 2003 case, one of those convicted for being involved in the 2002 Bali bombings claimed that the 2002 Anti-Terrorism Law under which he was investigated, prosecuted and convicted was unconstitutional. He argued that the statute attempted to authorise police and prosecutors to investigate and prosecute him using an Anti-Terrorism Law that was passed after the bombings took place. A bare majority of the Court invalidated the law, deciding that the law infringed the defendant’s constitutional right to not be prosecuted under retrospective laws.
Some of the Bali bombers were also convicted under
criminal laws that existed before the bombings took place. The Court
did not invalidate these laws, so their convictions stand. But what
of defendants who were convicted only under the 2002 Anti-Terrorism
Law? If they were convicted under an unconstitutional law, then why
are they still in jail – and some on death row?
The answer seems to be: because the Court has declared that its decisions operate only prospectively. That is, statutes that the Court declares unconstitutional are invalid only from the time the court declares them unconstitutional, not from the time they were passed.
The net result is that the convictions of the Bali bombers were not ‘undone’ after the Constitutional Court’s decision. Only people tried and convicted under the anti-terrorism laws for a crime committed before those retrospective laws were passed but after the Constitutional Court’s decision in the Bali bombing case could have their convictions overturned. The ramifications of this seem clear for the Bali 9 and other people currently on death row in Indonesia. Even if they could convince the Court to grant them standing and to accept that the death penalty is unconstitutional, the Court is unlikely to invalidate their convictions.
This month we profile Sandra Wilson, Associate Professor in the School of Social Sciences and Humanities at Murdoch University.
When did you become interested in studying Asia and why?
Q: What are your current preoccupations?
during the Manchurian crisis of 1931-33 and on the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, and I wanted to know more about it: in particular, how Japanese nationalism has changed over time. But right now, my biggest preoccupation is writing a new undergraduate unit for next year on the Pacific War.
Q: How do these fit into the contemporary scene?
Q: What are your hopes for Asian studies in
She wrote on Japanese religious policy in Mongolia and became fascinated by the clashes and intersections of interest between the Mongols and the Japanese.
In 1998 Nara joined the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies in Copenhagen, which turned out to have a more wide-ranging and interactive academic culture than anything she had previously encountered. She was happy though when a job came up at the Australian National University because of its strong Asian Studies reputation. She now teaches Japanese history and language, as well as general thematic courses on Asia. Her students are most excited by the dramatic--war and conspiracies--and by topics relevant to contemporary society. Nara’s own research field covers Japan and broader Northeast Asia. She is particularly interested in Japan's relations to other Asian countries. In 2003 she and Robert Cribb edited Imperial Japan and National Identities in Asia, 1895-1945, see http://www.routledge.com
http://rspas.anu.edu.au/rmap/newmandala/ New Mandala
offers analysis of current issues in mainland Southeast Asia and aims
to stimulate broader discussion of Southeast Asia's many social, political,
environmental and economic issues. Reader comments and interaction are
Rodan from the Asia Research Centre at Murdoch University wrote recently
in the Far Eastern Economic Review that the Singapore government hoped
for significant returns when it invested approximately $85 million
to host the September 2006 meetings of the International Monetary
Fund and World Bank. The 16,000 delegates represented a captive audience
to promote the Singapore’s finance and tourism industries. What
transpired, he argues was a public-relations disaster for the ruling
People’s Action Party. See Singapore's founding myths vs freedom
Joanne Tan, a PhD candidate at the University of Adelaide, School of Psychology is conducting a research about what Chinese- Australians and Anglo-Australians (from SA, NSW, WA and Vic) over 55 think about ageing well, what expectations of older adults exist in society and what responsibilities towards older adults should prevail. If you are interested in participating in this research and are prepared to fill out a questionnaire, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
GODDESS: DIVINE ENERGY Exhibition, 13 October 2006 – 28 January 2007, Sydney. This is the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ major summer exhibition, which surveys the countless imaginative expressions of the divine female found in the Hindu and Buddhist art of India, Tibet and Nepal. See http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/media/coming/goddess
THE JADE GATE AND THE SILK ROAD, 26 November, Sydney. Jocelyn Chey, Visiting Professor at the University of Sydney, will talk about the strategic Jade Pass on the ancient Silk Road, one of the world's oldest and most historically important trade routes. This talk is one of the events accompanying the The Great Wall of China: dynasties, dragons and warriors exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, which runs until 25 February 2007. Infoline: (02) 9217 0444; http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/greatwall/
A NUCLEAR NORTH KOREA? 30 November, Canberra. Dr Rod Lyon, Program Director for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, will discuss North Korea’s nuclear ambitions at the Australian Institute of International Affairs’ headquarters, 32 Thesiger Court, Deakin at 6pm. RSVP by 28 November by email email@example.com or phone: 02-6232 4978
CONTEMPLATING VIOLENCE IN INDONESIA, Herb Feith Memorial Lecture by Ruth McVey, 30 November 2006, Melbourne. McVey is Emeritus Reader in Southeast Asian Politics at the University of London. 6.00pm refreshments for 7.00pm start at the Iwaki Auditorium, ABC Southbank Centre, Corner Sturt Street and Southbank Boulevard, Melbourne http://www.herb-feithfoundation.org
BOUNDARIES AND SHIFTING SOVEREIGNTIES: MIGRATION, SECURITY ISSUES AND REGIONAL COOPERATION 30 November-1 December 2006, Armidale. The 14th Malaysia and Singapore Society Colloquium will be held at the University of New England. See http://www.une.edu.au/malaysiasoc/14thColl.html
YOUTH, MEDIA AND CULTURE IN THE ASIA PACIFIC REGION, 30 November to 1 December, Melbourne. This symposium will explore themes such as youth consumption and production of media, the role of commercial media, public service broadcasting and community media. Monash University, Caulfield Campus. See http://www.arts.monash.edu.au/humcass/youthmediaculture/
ASIA-PACIFIC TRIENNIAL OF CONTEMPORARY ART, December 2006-May 2007, Brisbane. The Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT) will be the opening exhibition at the new Queensland Gallery of Modern Art. APT 2006 will present the work of over 30 artists from Asia, Australia and the Pacific. It will feature a performance and cinema program, as well as a children’s festival. See http://www.qag.qld.gov.au/apt
WORLD WITHOUT WALLS: 21st Century Perspectives on East and West, 3-7 December 2006, Sydney. The Oriental Society of Australia (OSA) is holding a fiftieth anniversary, international conference from 3-7 December. The conference title ‘World Without Walls’ reflects the belief of the conference organisers that the study of humanities, the arts and social sciences without Asia is incomplete. The conference is designed to break down traditional geographic country-based studies by organising panel discussions thematically, and bringing together scholars from different backgrounds to discuss common problems. University of Sydney; COST: $380 per person ($300 Early Bird Registration) ENQUIRIES: OSA2006 Conference Committee, OSA2006@arts.usyd.edu.au. See http://www.arts.usyd.edu.au/conference/OSA2006
CROSSING BORDERS, conference, 4-5 February 2007, Sarawak. The Research Unit for Study of Societies in Change (RUSSIC), Curtin University, with the support of Curtin University, Sarawak campus, is holding a two-day conference at Curtin’s Sarawak campus in Miri. The focus of the conference is on border issues relating to Borneo and the neighbouring region. If you are interested in attending or presenting, please contact: Anne-Marie Hilsdon firstname.lastname@example.org
ASIA-PACIFIC ECONOMIC AND BUSINESS HISTORY CONFERENCE (APEBH), 12-14 February 2007 Sydney. Call for papers on the theme of the ‘Business of the Chinese Diaspora’ for this conference http://ehsanz.econ.usyd.edu.au/ and the later Chinese Studies Association of Australia (CSAA) Biennial Conference (Brisbane, 27-29 June 2007. See http://www.csaa.org.au/)
The APEBH Conference theme is “Varieties of Capitalist Development and Corporate Governance”, with keynote speaker Professor Doug Irwin, a US-based leading authority on the history of international trade policy.
Proposals for either or both conferences are welcome on any topic related to the business organisation and practices of the Chinese diaspora, from the 19th century to the present Proposals for the APEBH Conference are due by 25 November 2006 and the CSAA 1 March 2007. Contact Dr Stephen L. Morgan, Co-Editor, Australian Economic History Review, University of Melbourne email@example.com
FIRST INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE OF ACEH AND
INDIAN OCEAN STUDIES, 23-26 February 2007, Banda Aceh. The
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, and the Rehabilitation
and Reconstruction Executing Agency for Aceh and Nias (BRR) are sponsoring
a conference which will cover topics as diverse as seismology, geology
and environmental impact; the history of Aceh and the Indian Ocean world;
post-tsunami relief, reconstruction and disaster mitigation; conflict
resolution, peace-making and democratisation;and Islam, law and society.
SOUTH ASIA ENGAGED, 27-29 April 2007, Los Angeles. The South Asian Studies Alliance is hosting its foundation conference with a focus on how South Asia is being integrated into the world. The proposal deadline is 18 February 2007. See http://sasia.org
CHINESE STUDIES ASSOCIATION OF AUSTRALIA, 10th Biennial Conference, 27-29 June 2007, Brisbane. Griffith University, will be hosting the conference at Southbank in Brisbane. Watch the website for details: http://www.csaa.org.au/news.html
2ND ASIAN AUSTRALIAN IDENTITIES conference, 28-30 June 2007, Melbourne. Call for Papers: deadline 30 November 2006. The organisers welcome papers and presentations exploring Asian Australian identities, histories, cultures and politics. All presentations should be of 20 minutes duration. Abstracts (max 200 words) and a short bio (max 200 words) should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the convenors, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
IN SEARCH OF RECONCILIATION AND PEACE IN INDONESIA, workshop 19 and 20 July 2007, Singapore. The Indonesia Study Group, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore is holding an interdisciplinary workshop to examine approaches to reconciliation and peace in Indonesia. Its aim is to provide insights into ways forward not only for Indonesia, but for conflict situations much more broadly. Call for Papers: deadline 15 December 2006. See http://www.ari.nus.edu.sg or contact the convenor, Dr Birgit Bräuchler email@example.com
You are welcome to advertise Asia-related events in this space. Send details to: firstname.lastname@example.org
What would be useful for you? Human interest stories, profiles of successful graduates of Asian studies, more news about what's on, moderated discussions on topical issues? Send your ideas to email@example.com
The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) promotes
the study of Asian languages, societies, cultures, and politics in Australia,
supports teaching and research in Asian studies and works towards an understanding
of Asia in the community at large. It publishes the Asian Studies Review
journal and holds a biennial conference. ASAA and the Centre for Language
Studies at National University of Singapore also co-publish an annual supplementary
issue of the Centre's fully peer-reviewed electronic Foreign Language Teaching
Journal (e-FLT). See http://e-flt.nus.edu.sg
The ASAA believes there is an urgent need to develop a strategy to preserve, renew and extend Australian expertise about Asia. It has called on the government to show national leadership in the promotion of Australia’s Asia knowledge and skills. See Maximizing Australia's Asia Knowledge Repositioning and Renewal of a National Asset http://coombs.anu.edu.au/SpecialProj/ASAA/asia-knowledge-book-v70.pdf
Asian Currents is published by the Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) http://coombs.anu.edu.au/ASAA/ thanks to a grant from the International Centre of Excellence for Asia Pacific Studies (ICEAPS) http://iceaps.anu.edu.au. It is edited by Francesca Beddie. The editorial board consists of Robert Cribb, ASAA President, Michele Ford, ASAA Secretary, Mina Roces, ASAA Publications officer, Tamara Jacka, ASAA Council member, and Ann Kumar, Director, ICEAPS.