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 Post subject: Handle INGO Issue with caution
 Post Posted: Wed Nov 08, 2006 9:07 pm 
Sri Lanka Needs to Handle INGO Issue with caution
INGOs (and NGOs) are tools of U.S. Government Foreign Policy

Sat, 2006-10-07 07:12
Daya Gamage – News Analysis to Asian Tribune
@ Asian Tribune

Washington, DC, 07 October (Asiantribune.com): The Government of Sri Lanka, last week, decided to withdraw visas issued to members of four International Non Governmental Organizations (INGOs).

The Parliamentary Select Committee, appointed to report on activities of the NGOs and INGOs have, after its investigation, recommended the withdrawal of the visas to the four INGOs identified as MSS France, MSS Spain, MDM France and Doctors of the World USA.

In fact, these INGOs have been declared persona non grataby the Government of Sri Lanka although it doesn’t say so.

Conveying the government decision, chief spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told the Colombo press that these organizations have violated the immigration, customs and Defense Ministry regulations compelling the government to cancel the entry visas for its members.

One newspaper report originating from Sri Lanka said that the Defense Ministry sources confirmed that they had been warned by the select committee about the clandestine activities these INGOs, who, under the pretext of engaging in rehabilitation work, particularly in the North and East, had been supporting the Tamil Tigers or the separatist LTTE.

One of the INGOs declared by the Government of Sri Lanka persona non grata is a U.S.-based Doctors of the World-USA, and when contacted by Asian Tribune U.S. Bureau, categorically refuted the Government of Sri Lanka’s label that it was operating in favor of the separatist Tamil Tigers when in fact Doctors of the World-USA’s operation was confined to the deep south district of Hambantota with the supervision and concurrence of the Sri Lanka’s ministry of health.

Hambantota is the political base of the country’s president Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are part of a vibrant, democratic society and the United States will continue to support their work despite some governments’ attempt to stifle them, said Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Paula Debriansky on April 5 this year in Washington when the State Department released its annual report Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record, 2005-2006.

She further said “NGOs are some of our most important partners in speaking out against human rights abuses and undemocratic practices, holding governments accountable for their actions and giving a voice to citizens’ concerns.”

Earlier in March, Barry F. Lowenkron, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in an interview on eve of the release of US State Department Annual Report on Human Rights Worldwide said “a lot of countries feel that NGO activities need to be constrained or else NGOs would be a fundamental threat to their rule.”

INGOs and NGOs are a corner stone and an important plank in U.S. foreign policy and its foreign assistance program for a considerably long time, and since the U.S. Government’s overseas economic assistance agency, Agency for International Development (USAID) was brought directly under the purview of the State Department appointing the USAID director as a senior official of the Department early 2005, the Bush Administration further vitalized the INGO operations to go simultaneously with the foreign assistance program.

This year, the Bush Administration successfully exercised pressure on the Putting Administration in Russia to tone down the NGO legislation brought before the Russian Duma, its parliament.

Doctors of the World-USA, which the Government of Sri Lanka has declared persona non grata last week, was founded in 1990 by a group of physicians and is an autonomous affiliate of Medecins du Monde (MDM)/International, a network of 12 organizations in Europe and the Americas. It is headquartered in New York. It has recognition of the USAID because of its philosophy of working across national boundaries to protect and promote the basic human rights to health care.

The DOW-USA project was involved in improving access to and quality health services for the Tsunami-affected populations, specifically, the 138,000 individuals and families displaced in the Hambantota and Matara Districts in Sri Lanka’s Deep South.

It was providing badly needed basic medical equipment and supplies to Tangalle’s Nakulugamuwa and Ranna Rural Hospitals in the Hambantota region, according to the DOW-USA. It also provided mobile health clinics and trained medical staff while engaged in health education initiatives in the project districts.

When contacted by Asian Tribune, the Executive Director of New York-based Doctors of the World-USA Thomas Dougherty told “we began operations in Sri Lanka in July 2005, under a project developed in partnership with the Sri Lankan Ministry of Healthcare, Nutrition, and Uwa Wellassa Development and funded in large part by private donors in the United States. DOW-USA activities focused on the rehabilitation and renovation of two rural hospitals serving tsunami-affected populations. We also provided community-based health education and related services. All project components were done in accordance with a memorandum of understanding with the MOH.”

Mr. Dougherty continued to say that “the program activities in Sri Lanka have been limited to the Hambantota district, and we have never worked in the north or east of the country, and that the reports to the contrary are simply untrue.”

This US INGO then goes on to give the following critical remarks about the environment in which INGOs worked in Sri Lanka: “While DOW-USA has completed it’s mission in Sri Lanka, we are gravely concerned that organizations conducting health and development activities in partnership with the Sri Lankan people are being subject to harassment and targeted with false charges .Humanitarian organizations currently in Sri Lanka, where 17 Action Against Hunger (AAH) humanitarian aid workers were murdered in August, report that there exists a general climate of suspicion, accusations, restrictions, and surveillance of NGOs. While in Sri Lanka, DOW-USA was subject to repeated investigations and harassment, all in the absence of any charge or complaint.”

DOW-USA continued to say “currently, critical aid and development programs are in jeopardy, increasing the suffering of thousands of civilians, and aid workers fear for their lives.”

There are several factors need to be taken into account: (1) DOW-USA operation was confined to the Deep South districts of Hambantota and Matara. (2) Its operation was under a MOU signed with the Ministry of Health and that operation was under the scrutiny of the ministry. (3) It never operated beyond the Districts of Hambantota and Matara and definitely not in the north and east where Tamil Tigers operate. (4) It has brought to the notice now, with its revelation to Asian Tribune, that the Sri Lanka administration is creating a non-conducive atmosphere for the INGOs to operate, and that these INGOs are been harassed. (5) International aid workers, and local too, fear for their lives.

The INGO in question is a US-based one that generally maintain a rapport with the US government’s overseas economic assistance arm the USAID, and USAID’s main plank is to work very closely with INGOs and NGOs when disbursing overseas economic assistance funds. Most of the overseas projects of the USAID are implemented in collaboration with INGOs and NGOs. The Bush administration and the Department of State have taken a very strong view of governments that stifle International Non Governmental Organizations without cogent explanations.

The worst that can happen to the Government of Sri Lanka is when the United States finds out that the person who has been in judgment on the fate of the four INGOs, which include an American organization, is a leading member of a political party that has been advocating in opposition to the operation of INGOs and NGOs in the Sri Lankan soil. The government took the decision to declare the four INGOs personal non grata, though it rescinded its decision for a temporary period, on the recommendation of the parliamentary select committee that was appointed to probe the activities of INGOs and NGOs. The chairman of the committee is parliamentarian Vijitha Herath, a political bureau member of the Marxist JVP whose party’s important policy plank is that the operations of INGOs and NGOs should be controlled by the government with drastic restrictions in the national interest.

Is the Rajapaksa administration prepared to open another battle front? Undoubtedly there is a wide spread resentment about several NGOs who have, in recent times, have contributed to complicate the political atmosphere that has given fillip to the separatist Tamil Tiger propaganda machinery in Sri Lanka and abroad: but here, we are talking about an INGO, a US-based organization, and the Government of Sri Lanka needs to come out with cogent explanation to refute the explanation given by the chief executive of the DOW-USA to Asian Tribune.

- Asian Tribune -

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