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Seeking Linkages

Swarna Rajagopalan

By N. Manoharan
Samskriti, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 279, Rs. 650.00


N. Manoharan prefaces his book with the lament that not one study links ethnic violence and human rights in the Sri Lankan context. This is exactly what he then sets out to do. The relationship between escalating (or de-escalating) ethnic violence and levels of human rights protection is both an obvious and challenging subject of study. In and of themselves, both violence and human rights are tricky, sensitive research topics and Manoharan is first and foremost to be congratulated for pulling off a carefully researched case study that looks at both.   Structured in the manner of a social science dissertation, this book begins with a detailed literature review through which the author seeks to define the concepts whose relationship he studies: human rights, ethnicity and violence. The author briefly outlines a range of approaches to studying ethnic violence and justifications offered for it. The same chapter goes on to map human rights violations and international human rights regimes.   Having set out the intellectual and legal context for his case study, Manoharan’s next stop is his case study: ethnic violence in Sri Lanka. He dutifully provides descriptions of Sri Lankan geography, economy and demography and a historical narrative from the colonial period till March 2007. The same chapter clarifies Manoharan’s operational definition of ethnic violence in the context of Sri Lanka as including autonomist and separatist campaigns, as well as both inter- and intra-ethnic clashes. He later identifies four forms that it takes: intra-ethnic violence, riots, vengeance killings and assassinations. Manoharan seeks to explain the occurrence (and escalation) of this violence and identifies several causal factors: ideology, leadership, violence by the state’s security forces, economics, social change and cultural resistance, the influence of other liberation ideologies and movements and finally, the role of external actors (in this instance, India). The next chapter discusses violations of human rights in two broad categories that reflect what the author identifies as first and second-generation rights (p. 6), civil and socio-economic rights. For each violation identified, Manoharan describes in detail the nature and magnitude of the problem, as well as the legal protections and remedies available and efforts made to address it. Under the rubric of civil rights violations, he includes disappearances; torture; displacement; arbitrary arrests and detention; extra-judicial executions; restrictions on freedom of movement and finally, curbs on freedom of expression and censorship. Economic, social and cultural rights, he holds, are violated through ...

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