Phir Ek Baar Mahinda Sarkar: 2019 elections & Modi to Mahinda
By Kusal Perera
Many interpretations and analyses on the “Modi phenomenon” have already flooded the public domain after 2019 Lok Sabha elections concluded in India. For Indians Modi’s explosive return would have different meanings than to her neighbours. For Sri Lanka, it would be as much the same as all that for the Indians with SL elections only 06 months ahead.
Phased out Indian Lok Sabha elections with over 67 percent of the 900 million registered voters going to polls with 15 million “first time voters”, proved the BJP theme
slogan "Phir Ek Baar Modi Sarkar" (Modi once more) was more than valid. In alliance with Shiv Sena, AIADMK, Janata Dal and with 17 other tiny regional parties, forming the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), BJP won a phenomenal 303 seats for itself while the NDA totalled around 354 seats in the 543 seat Lok Sabha. BJP polled over 38 percent of the total votes polled.
Comparisons with the 2014 Lok Sabha elections show BJP as a “Modi phenomenon” has gained greater dominance in all sectors of the Indian population and in most States, across caste and class. In 2014 elections the BJP polled 17.7 percent from Scheduled Caste (SC) votes and have increased that almost twofold polling 34.3 percent this election. BJP polled 38.2 percent from Scheduled Tribes (ST) in 2014 and increased it to 42.2 percent this time. From the poorest 20 percent of the population BJP polled 31.9 percent in 2014 and increased that to 39.2 this election. From the richest top 20 percent, the BJP increased from 27.8 in 2014 to 33.1 percent. Considered the rich urban middleclass, the second 20 percent from the top, also voted more with BJP increasing from 27.7 percent in 2014 to 33.0 percent. On the rural-urban divide too, the BJP increased its number of constituencies from 190 in 2014 to 207 this election in rural India and from 53 to 58 in semi urban India, while maintaining the same 40 urban seats.
Where the BJP lost or was comparatively reduced was in Constituencies with high Muslim concentrations of over and above 30 percent. While that was obvious or was close to what should be obvious, everything else in this Modi victory is not “obvious”. Seen steadfastly gaining ground as lead campaigner of the Indian Congress Party led alliance, Rahul Gandhi was firing on “false promises” by Modi and accusing him “Modi ne loota hai” (Modi has looted), but lost his seat Amethi in UP, the ancestral constituency of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Firebrand student leader from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Kanhaiya Kumar who was charged for sedition in 2016, contested as CPI candidate for Begusarai once known as “Leningrad” of Bihar. He emerged as the star campaigner backed by high profile personalities like Shabana Azmi, Javed Akhtar and Swara Bhaskar. A seat, Kanhaiya Kumar was expected to win, but lost to BJP hard line Hindutva Candidate Giriraj Singh by a huge margin of over 422,000 votes.
Modi wiped out all others in most States except in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra. How did Modi become post independent India’s most charismatic vote puller? India’s “independence movement” led by Gandhi, Nehru and the likes of Ali Jinnah, Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajagopalachari, Lal Bahadhur Shashtri to name just a few, was turned into an inclusive national dialogue with respected and popular literati like Rabindranath Tagore, Subramania Bharathi, Muhammad Iqbal, Chattopadhyay, feminist campaigners like Sarojini Naidu and Begum Rokeya, champions of social justice like Ambedkar providing an extremely broad and diverse platform. Politics of the “independence movement” thus came to be sealed as both secular and inclusive. Post independent India led by the Congress Party with Jawaharlal Nehru, and a Constitution which identified and accepted regional diversity on “linguistic differences” carried with it a democratic, secular and an inclusive social psyche.
What gave way for the Modi phenomenon was the fact he accepted “linguistic diversity” but turned “religious diversity” into a “religious divide”. In democratic, nationalist and secular India constituted as a “Republic” did not accept “religious diversity” as a political factor in its independence movement though Hindu reformist and revivalist movements were alive. By 1925 Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s “Hindu Nationalism” was given organisational form as “Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh” (RSS) by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar a physician in Maharashtra. By 1946 Ali Jinnah added another dimension to religious politics demanding a separate State on the basis of Islam as a religion. Proscription of RSS first after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, thereafter during Indira Gandhi’s emergency rule during 1975 to 1977 and then for its role in the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 gave legitimacy to RSS as a Hindu nationalist campaigner, while Jinnah’s political move in creating Pakistan, East and West of India, provided RSS with undue advantage of peddling Hindu ideology as “anti Islam”.
Yet for more than 02 decades time wasn’t right for Bharathiya Jana Sangh (BJS) formed in 1951 to be accepted as an “alternate” to secular politics of the Congress. BJS came to be recognised post 1977 after secular democratic politics of Congress went into crisis with poverty and economic stagnation. Contradicting its own “democratic” tradition, PM Indira Gandhi clamped down “Emergency Rule” in 1975. With a crisis around, RSS had begun militant activism with the early formation of affiliates like the “Vishva Hindu Parishad” (VHP) that later led to the formation of the BJP and also far more extreme new groups like Abhinav Bharath, Shiv Sena, asserting themselves aggressively in Hindu society. Emergence of the BJP with RSS backing thus became an alternative to secular politics of Nehru-Gandhi Congress with a Hindutva ideology tied to free market economics. After many electoral upsets, the RSS and BJP worked towards a strong Hindu voter base with an “anti Muslim flavour” that was being created outside political parties. There wer e violent attacks on Muslim communities like in Gujarat, Malegaon, Samjhauta train bombing, Ajmer Dargha blast and in Hyderabad the Mecca Masjid bombing.
The RSS by then had groomed its successor to Vajpayee in Narendra Modi who was publicly accused as responsible for the massacre of Muslim people in Gujarat, one year after he became the Chief Minister. Spate of attacks on Muslim people and on Mosques hardened Hindutva politics that by 2013 qualified Narendra Modi to be declared the BJP prime ministerial candidate. Modi’s 2014 election campaign therefore was basically a challenge to democratic secularism of Congress on a Hindutva nationalist platform within the free market economy.
BJP with Modi was heavily funded in their electoral campaign by the Corporates. That clearly indicated the Hindu Corporate lobby too wanted a Neo liberal leader of their own. Their election campaign was more about “development” showcasing the “Gujarat model” under Modi as the most vibrant alternative to Congress politics. Election campaign was a two-tiered campaign with RSS and its affiliates working on the ground ensuring a large Hindu turn out at polls, while the BJP and Modi downplayed their Hindutva image at national level. Modi’s efforts in making him look secular and a determined “development Guru” against “corruption” attracted the Urban middle class that came out on streets with Anna Hazare, against mega corruption of the Congress government.
The explosive comeback of Modi at this 2019 elections, should therefore be assessed on two different aspects of “politics in governance”. One, politics of his image building as a strong Hindu leader, and two, his politics in economic policy focussing the urban and rural middle class with populist offers to the poor. In the first two years as PM after the 2014 elections, Modi worked towards centralising the otherwise devolved State power. He had a bill passed in Lok Sabha to have more power in appointing Judges and reducing that of the judiciary. In his first year itself Modi took advantage of accusations and allegations against the policy designing apex body “Planning Commission” for inefficiency and lack innovative development programmes, to replace it with his own; National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) – Aayog. This in effect reduced horizontal accountability in developing policy and space for State governments to negotiate with the Central government despite promises for “co-operative federalism”. His appointments to high posts too were aimed at more centralised power around him. He thus gave himself greater ability to stand above executive power of the government.
Government economic policy could thus be implemented without a Lok Sabha “nod” and they became “Modi policy” more than BJP government policy. His heavy stress on social media in emerging as a strong national leader, thus appealed to youth and the urban middle class. This creation of a strong leader in Modi, was backed by bringing RSS into active mainstream politics and allowing Hindutva goons to go about lynching, attacking, vandalising Muslim life with impunity. His image with greatly centralised executive power was thus moulded within brutalised “Hinduism” of RSS as a political force and not within religious “fundamentalism”.
A strong leader at the Centre, who could manage and sustain an economic growth, was seen as the most formidable alternative to Rahul Gandhi and his Congress when April 2019 elections were approaching. Inability of Congress politics to challenge inequality, social injustice and anti Muslim violence backed by the Modi rule within a truly democratic development alternative left Modi with his Hindutva majoritarianism as the dominant factor in current Indian politics. A free market economy Modi sustained with a 7.0 percent growth rate as the fastest growing economy, tied the growing middleclass with Modi rule. Thus, while anti Muslim violence was moving around with impunity, there was no social questioning, how 01 percent of the richest in India under Modi could accumulate 73 percent of the wealth created in 2017. How 67 million people who are the bottom half of the poorest in India was left with only 01 percent increase in wealth. There is also no social debate on how 09 billionaires till year 2000, galloped to 101 in 2017 and now to 119 billionaires, just 05 years with Modi. It is said, a minimum wage worker in rural India would take 941 years to reach the income of a top executive in a leading apparel sector company in India. (Oxfam - https://www.oxfam.org/en/even-it/india-extreme-inequality-numbers)
Summing up this socio economic crisis, Professor Himanshu of JNU is on record saying, “What is particularly worrying in India’s case is that economic inequality is being added to a society that is already fractured along the lines of caste, religion, region and gender.” Yet when they are not brought to mainstream politics as major issues by Opposition political parties, when urban middleclass and social intelligentsia goes without demanding serious answers, Modi gains social and media space to run his own Hindutva agenda. Over the past years, everything negative and brutal including corruption was brushed with a new and an aggressive “Hindutva” fragrance breathed into society to project Modi as the nationalist leader for India to emerge as a world power. Nationalist image for a super power was lacking in Rahul and his Conservative politics, while Modi used recent conflicts with China and Pakistan to his advantage. He gave them the spin on his election platforms to project him as the patriotic Hindutva leader who dictated terms for the benefit of India.
In a nutshell, despite all orthodox challenges to his economic policy, Modi proved he could manage the free market economy for the benefit of the Hindutva majority and keep India safe and growing, with violence against Muslims, savagely widening inequality and crying social injustice all ignored and covered up by an aggressively dominant Hindutva campaign to poll 38 percent of the Indian vote that gave him a disproportionately large comeback that makes him a political legend in post independent history of India.
This same majoritarianism is more than apparent in Sri Lanka. Recent violent and brutal Easter Sunday attacks on 03 Catholic churches and 03 super luxury hotels in Colombo by a small extremist group that does not seem to have much training and expertise. It was more like self-hypnotised few Islamic extremists walking in wearing back-packs with explosives to explode themselves. But these brutal attacks were immediately turned into anti Muslim politics with violent attacks on innocent Muslim people far away from where the extremists exploded themselves. They are now being justified with unbelievable anti Muslim stories, the mainstream political leaderships don’t dissociate from. The RSS, the VHP and the like have similar anti Muslim violent outfits, patronised by mainstream politics. Fumbling of the economy and mis-governance by the present UNP allows the main Rajapaksa opposition to go one step beyond Modi, with the advantage of challenging a fractured and a feeble government. President Sirisena is making a valiant bid to be relevant within the now emerging anti Muslim, Sinhala Buddhist politics. The ground is being readied for elections that would take the same campaign trail, which brought back Modi with unexpected and uncalculated margins that none ever thought was possible other then Modi and his extreme Hindutva politics.
In months to come, with all indications of dressing up Modi like, the slogan here could also be "Phir Ek Baar Mahinda Sarkar" (Mahinda once more). The “Lotus bud” voters can then sing praise "Chalo Ek Baar Phir Ham Mahinda Sarkar Banate Hai / Garv Ke Sath Desh Ko Age Badhate Hain/ Phir se Kamal Khilate Hai (lets elect Mahinda government again, let’s move the country ahead with pride, let's help lotus bloom again)".
That being the irony we are faced with.
The Geopolitics of Sri Lanka’s Transitional Justice
By Ana Pararajasingham
On March 21, at the 40th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Sri Lanka was granted another two-year extension to implement Resolution 30/1, “Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka.” The resolution was originally passed on October 1, 2015, meaning the extension will give the Sri Lankan state almost six years to implement the resolution. Furthermore, unlike prior resolutions passed between March 2012 and March 2014, Resolution 30/1 did not insist on the probe into crimes committed during the civil war to be conducted by international investigators. Instead, it provided for a hybrid arrangement involving both international and local judges and prosecutors to participate in the investigations.
In the meantime, there has been hardly any pressure on Sri Lanka to meet its obligations. This was despite President Maithripala Sirisena declaring on November 2017 that there won’t be “international war crimes tribunals or foreign judges,” Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, on February 16, 2019, asking the Tamils to “forget the past and move forward,” and the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, announcing on March 20, 2019 that the country’s constitution does not allow foreign judges, dismissing the idea of a hybrid court, an integral part of Resolution 30/1.
It is plain that as far as the Sri Lankan government is concerned there is no intention to implement Resolution 30/1. More to the point, it appears even the states that backed the resolution are not serious about its implementation — a major shift in the approach pursued prior to January 2015.
This shift became evident in April 2016 when Samantha Power, then the U.S. representative to the United Nations, declared that Sri Lanka had, “since January 2015 emerged as a global champion of human rights and democratic accountability” — this despite no progress being made by the Sri Lankan state to implement Resolution 30/1. In a similar vein, on January 28, 2019, ignoring the ongoing protests by the mothers of the disappeared, the continued militarization of the Tamil homeland in northern Sri Lanka, and the Sri Lankan army, navy, and air force continuing to occupy private land owned by civilians, the U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka, Alaina B. Teplitz, tweeted that “Celebrating differences while embracing a single national identity is a value the US & #LKA share.”
Prior to October 2015, resolutions passed by the UNHRC were followed by pressure on Sri Lanka to implement these resolutions. For example, in November 2013, seven months after the UN had passed a resolution calling for independent investigations into alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka, then-Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper boycotted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in Colombo, citing the absence of accountability by the host country for serious violations of international humanitarian standards during and after the civil war. Then-U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron attended CHOGM in Colombo but pressed for a credible investigation into alleged war crimes and laid an ultimatum before the Sri Lankan government for a probe into the charges of human rights violations and war crimes. In December 2013, the United States warned Sri Lanka that the international community’s “patience would start to wear thin” over Colombo’s failure to investigate war crimes allegations. Then in February 2014 Nisha Biswal, then the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, during her visit to Sri Lanka, went onto express U.S. concerns about the worsening human rights situation.
In dealing with Sri Lanka’s alleged war crimes, the approach pursued by the international actors prior to 2015 was thus markedly different to that pursued since 2015. The change clearly highlights the geopolitics behind the war crimes-related resolutions passed at the UNHRC since March 2012.
Until January 2015, Sri Lanka’s president was Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had strengthened the Colombo-Beijing axis in return for China’s assistance in crushing the Tamil rebellion. Wen Liao, chairwoman of the U.K. based Longford Advisors, pointed to this this in an article aptly titled “China Crosses the Rubicon,” written within a month of Colombo’s Beijing-assisted victory. According to her, for two decades China was guided by the concept of “peaceful rise,” but “on Sri Lanka’s beachfront battlefields, China’s ‘peaceful rise’ was completed.” Today, having gained a foothold in the strategically significant island of Sri Lanka, China seeks to shape the diplomatic agenda in order to increase China’s options while constricting those of potential adversaries.
This did not go unnoticed by Washington. A December 2009, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee report, “Sri Lanka: Re-charting U.S. Strategy after the War,” noted that Sri Lanka’s “strategic drift” toward China “will have consequences for U.S. interests in the region.” Declaring that “the United States cannot afford to ‘lose’ Sri Lanka,” the report called for increasing “U.S. leverage vis-à-vis Sri Lanka” by adopting a multifaceted, broader and more robust approach to secure U.S. interests.
The opportunity to pursue such a policy presented itself in March 2011 when a UN Panel of Experts appointed by the UN secretary general found “credible allegations” that as many as 40,000 civilians may have been killed in the final months of the civil war, mostly as a result of indiscriminate shelling by the Sri Lankan military.
Armed with this report, the United States sponsored a resolution that was passed at the UNHRC in March 2012 calling on Colombo to address alleged abuses of international humanitarian law. In March 2013 and in March 2014, the UNHRC adopted similar resolutions calling on Sri Lanka to undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes.
In late November 2014, there was an unexpected development when one of Rajapaksa’s senior ministers, Maithripala Sirisena, resigned his position to run against Rajapaksa in the presidential election to be held in January 2015. The West-leaning United National Party (UNP) endorsed Sirisena as a “common candidate,” further undermining Rajapaksa’s attempt to seek an unprecedented third term in office. Sirisena won the presidential elections and promptly appointed Wickremesinghe, the leader of the UNP, as the country’s prime minister.
With a West-leaning prime minister in office, and the China-friendly Rajapaksa gone, Washington began to ease its tough stand on Sri Lanka’s alleged war crimes. The first indications came when Sri Lanka sought and obtained Washington’s help to postpone the release of an UNHRC report on Sri Lankan war crimes from March to September 2015. At the September/October UNHRC hearings on Sri Lanka’s alleged war crimes, the United States secured an extension of two years for Sri Lanka to implement the UNHRC Resolution passed on that occasion (Resolution 30/1), which called for the investigations to be undertaken by a hybrid court instead of an independent international court unlike the previous resolutions. In March 2019, when Sri Lanka was found to have made little progress, a further extension of two years was provided.
Apparently, as long Sri Lanka’s government leans toward the West, the “stick” has been abandoned in favor of the “carrot,” underscoring the geopolitics that underpin calls for accountability over Sri Lanka’s war crimes.
Ana Pararajasingham was Director-Programmes with the Centre for Just Peace and Democracy (CJPD). He is the author of “Sri Lanka’s Endangered Peace Process and the Way Forward” (2007) and editor of “Sri Lanka 60 Years of ‘independence and Beyond” (2009).
Just four days short of a month after the April 21 Easter Sunday tragedy that could have been averted, this country is still left in panic mode, in fear of terrorist attacks.At least that ‘fear’ is what’s carried over and sustained in this post-Easter Sunday period. Yet, all that we see around us is Sinhala-Buddhist extremism, in their most violent “anti-Muslim” outbursts.
By Kusal Perera
It is being whipped up in vulgar forms through fake notices, unconfirmed and unsubstantiated stories, gossip and through some mainstream Sinhala media. Initial debates about Muslim political leaders having links with the now proscribed extremist National Tawheed Jama’ath organization have become less important. The opposition to the Burka cultivated in Sinhala - Buddhist society was brought out loud and the Government decided to restrict it in public with All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama, an organization of Muslim clerics consenting.
Debates and conflicts among different ideological interpretations like Wahhabism, Sufism, Salafism and other smaller fundamentalists were becoming irrelevant within the Muslim community in facing violent Sinhala-Buddhist extremism.
Their ideological differences apart, they were being bundled together as one single extremist community. For the Sinhala-Buddhist extremists, ideological differences within the Muslim community mattered little in their campaign to ‘Cleanse this Sinhala land of Gauthama Buddha'.Sleeper cells of numerous Sinhala-Buddhist extremist groups, that played low-profile after the crackdown on them post 2018 March Digana mayhem, came into the open with loud demands on social media to marginalise or eliminate the Muslim community.
In such context, schools that were on vacation till the 22 of April were left closed till the 29 of April after the Easter Sunday attacks. The Government thereafter decided to reopen them on May 6 with the Security Council providing clearance on April 26. Yet, on May 2, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith announced all private Catholic schools would remain closed until further notice. This contradicted the clearance given by the Security Council and led to unwanted panic immediately among the Catholic community.There are a large number of Catholic and Christian Government schools across the island since the 1962 take-over of schools. Catholic parents of children attending these Government schools were left in a dilemma after Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith’s announcement. The obvious reaction was, all parents decided it wasn’t safe to send children to school, though schools were to reopen on May 6.The previous night, Sunday, May 5 saw the first direct attack on Muslim property and on a Mosque in Negombo starting from Pothupitiya and spreading to adjoining areas.People in those areas feel disturbed that a few Catholic priests were “behind the scene” instigators. With curfew clamped in Negombo, this again created uncertainty in society and kept all schools almost empty. From Negombo, the anti-Muslim violence went over to Chilaw, again with a Catholic priest implicated. With far more organized attacks on Muslim people, Kuliyapitiya and surrounding small towns were set ablaze since Sunday last, for almost three consecutive days.These savage attacks saw curfew being clamped on the whole island while SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera MP rushed to the Police Station allegedly to have his men released on Police bail.
Especially in attacks and arson against Muslim businesses and homes in Kuliyapitiya and its surrounding areas, widespread allegations are that Police either came too late or with inadequate numbers to stop goons on a rampage and that both Police and armed forces were too slow in saving people and property.A common statement is that “They allowed goons to run amok before intervening”.Between the Negombo attacks on May 5, and those in Kuliyapitiya from 12 to 14 May when Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith announced on May 09, private Catholic schools would reopen on May 14 depending on the situation or else may get extended till after Vesak, brought the entire school education to a pathetic standstill.While his newly acquired popularity more among Sinhala Buddhists than among the Catholic flock, gave him an undue advantage in dictating terms to the Government.He wasn’t too innocent not to have understood the consequences of ignoring the security clearance and keeping private Catholic schools closed. He wasn’t unaware I believe when he told the popular Al Jazeera TV there is information received from international sources about possible terrorist attacks in the coming weeks.It is common sense in a very uncertain, panicky situation where everyone is made to suspect the ‘other’, public statements by a leading clergyman on possible terrorist attacks and therefore keeping private Catholic schools closed, drives the whole society into further panic and into a fear psychosis.Let’s not ignore the fact, destabilizing the entire school system had its effect on the entire society. Unlike during schools’ vacation, this virtual closure through fear kept all State sector institutes also in doubt and dysfunctional.
"It is being whipped up in vulgar forms through fake notices, unconfirmed and unsubstantiated stories, gossip and through some mainstream Sinhala media"
This also allowed anti-Muslim sentiments to be openly displayed in Government schools and offices and in public spaces. Teachers were not allowed to schools wearing the Hijab, which left the face uncovered.Lady officials were told to remove their Hijab when reporting for duty. Three-wheelers and cabs preferred to refuse Muslim customers.Breakdown of normal daily life with Sinhala-Buddhist extremism on the rampage was creating a threatening atmosphere within minority communities.Clamping down an all-island curfew on two consecutive days when violence was only seen in a few places within the Kurunegala District, was difficult to be understood in civil society.But in practical life, night curfew that covered even far off sleepy districts like Jaffna, Moneragala and Hambantota helped sustain uncertainty and fear.All that prompted moderates in the Muslim community to speak about ‘integrating’ with the ‘Sri Lankan’ culture, that had no other meaning but compromising with extreme ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ demands.
Mano Ganesan contradicting Minister Samaraweera said:“We have to accept Sri Lanka is a Sinhala-Buddhist country”, virtually saying his Ministry for National Integration, Official Languages, Social Progress and Hindu Religious Affairs can be simply scrapped without wasting public funds.And there is no debate this UNP Government is being pushed to the wall, unable to cope with the growing anarchy and contradictions within. The Government leadership does not know what’s happening and where. PM Wickremesinghe is still in his Neo-liberal world and believes the Government is having ‘international’ support and expertise in facing “Global terrorism”, while Sinhala-Buddhist extremism is busy destabilising the whole country. His “internationalism” is basically the US with its few Western allies wanting to decide world politics. With more US military and “intelligence experts” seen in Colombo after the Easter Sunday tragedy, big funds pledged by Washington too, Sri Lanka’s absence along with US and India at the Beijing summit on its Belt and Road Initiative, saw President Sirisena making a quick trip to Beijing on Tuesday to attend the Asian Civilisation Discussion on Development.
That appears more like Beijing wanted President Sirisena with them than Sirisena wanted to be there. This geopolitical conflict that leaves PM Wickremesinghe and President Sirisena on two different and opposing platforms has left the Government further distanced from handling anarchy on the ground. That hesitancy and inability on the part of the Government leadership has paved the way for two serious developments.One is that in the absence of an effective and responsible Government, the whole society is left more and more dependent on security forces for their safety. That ‘security dependency’ too has a Sinhala-Buddhist flavour, with many Muslim and some Sinhala moderates complaining over deliberate lethargy in cracking down on violent Sinhala-Buddhist extremism on the rampage. Two, the Sri Lankan society is being polarised with Sinhala-Buddhist extremism displacing the moderate. That Sinhala-Buddhist extremism is now destabilising society, creating a Sinhala mindset that demands a new ‘Rule’ under a ‘Benevolent’ Sinhala Dictator.Preface to such change is being written already.
On Saturday last at St. Lucia’s Church, Kotahena, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith was reported as having told the Congregation:
“Not only the officers but also the country’s leadership should be held responsible for the failure to prevent Easter Sunday’s bomb attacks…..They cannot absolve themselves from it. They have to be penalized. That is by expelling them from their office. Those who are unable to take up responsibilities are unfit to govern our country. They have to be removed. Some are still at large though. Some behave as if they did nothing. They think they can get away from this,” (DM of 13 May 2019).Rajapaksa is there in waiting, using exactly the right tongue to project himself as the stern and ‘fair to all’ leader. Stressing on this Government’s inability to have proper security in place, Rajapaksa had tweeted, reports DM on 15 May, “Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa today urged all members of any political party, including those of his, to maintain law and order and not to aggravate the already sensitive situation.“The responsibility of protecting all citizens and maintaining law and order by us as leaders is the need of the hour,” he tweeted. It would not be long I presume, before posters with the slogan “Dissolve Parliament, hold elections” come on city walls.
The truth about Geneva Human Rights Council Resolution
By Mangala Samaraweera
During the past few weeks, I have been watching the many headlines, debates, misinformation, misrepresentation of facts as well as self-congratulatory statements by some members of the delegation that went to Geneva to participate in the 40th session of the Human Rights Council where the High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet presented the Report on Sri Lanka as requested by the Human Rights Council.
As the person who held the portfolio of Foreign Affairs when resolution 30/1 of 01 October 2015 was adopted, I feel that it is my duty to respond to some of the malicious arguments being made and misrepresentation of facts.
I saw some statements claim that the initial delegation to the Human Rights Council’s 40th session in March 2019 was changed. This, like most reports attempting to mislead the public, is false. There is also an abundance of gossip about the delegation and undignified attacks against devoted public servants. Contrary to what is being said, there were no plans to send anyone to Geneva originally for the 40th session as we have a competent, experienced, respected diplomat as our Ambassador to the UN in Geneva who is well-versed in procedure and substance and who has always managed things in a professional and dignified manner, based on instructions, with no attempts to blow his own trumpet like some do. And unlike some others who held this post earlier, the present Ambassador is completely apolitical with no hidden agenda to embarrass the Government of the day or our country.
Initially I thought that the diplomatic event at the 40th session of the Human Rights Council would be a show of Sri Lanka’s diplomatic maturity, skill, finesse and grace in handling matters rationally on the international stage. After all, Sri Lanka’s position in the world, its global recognition as a trusted partner and sovereign nation is an issue of critical importance to us all. And what could be more important today, ten years after the end of a brutal fratricidal conflict? What could be a better opportunity to showcase our democracy especially after a tilt towards autocracy was defeated by the people, by Parliament and by the Judiciary? Indeed, the 40th session was an opportunity to tell the world of our difficult yet committed journey towards strengthening democracy, reconciliation, sustainable peace and achieving equitable economic development and prosperity for all. What I had hoped to see therefore was a serious, compassionate, and well-informed discussion on true reconciliation.
However, I note with deep concern that such an enlightened and rational approach is confined to our hopes and wishes and not what we have in reality. In Geneva, rather than demonstrating diplomatic skill, finesse, grace and maturity, we made a spectacle of ourselves.
Let’s call a spade a spade: much of what is presented today as debate on the recent Human Rights Council session amounts to little more than a display of egocentric one-upmanship, emotional manipulation and nationalistic propaganda calculated to stir frenzy, deceive the public and create fear to gather possible votes in the emerging electoral scenario.
What we see from many in our political spectrum – from those holding the highest positions to those in obscure positions – is a plethora of contradictory, improvised and exaggerated accounts. So much so that it is difficult to discern which is the most notorious of these utterances, or the most embarrassing, as each appears to want to outdo the other. Some managed to reduce their participation in the most important human rights forum in the world to self-important, gossipy, exaggerated tales about their supposed heroic roles in correcting the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the former President of Chile Michelle Bachelet who has been a Minister of Defence in her country, and the chief of UN Women, the foremost global institution on women’s rights.
On behalf of all sane, rational, decent, sincere, compassionate, serious-minded and honest Sri Lankans who fervently wish to consolidate peace and reconciliation in our country, heal the wounds of our fellow citizens, and ensure non-recurrence of conflict, to lead us towards economic prosperity, I offer an apology to High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, a true friend of Sri Lanka’s people, a champion of the Global South, and herself a survivor of the horrors of torture. High Commissioner Bachelet, you did not deserve the misrepresentation of your statements.
But let’s focus on the biggest misrepresentation of them all: the version that Sri Lanka has somehow managed to produce an accusation against itself. A tale disseminated by members of the delegation that went to Geneva to participate in the Human Rights Council session. This is a tale of self-incrimination or incompetence because if these gentlemen talk today of their heroic exploits stopping the impetus of the world, how did they manage then to ensure that the resolution passed without a vote, by consensus, and with our co-sponsorship? And why did they, at substantial cost to our coffers, celebrate by hosting a reception after the adoption of the resolution?
But enough with the fake news. What exactly and truly transpired in the 40th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva? What is resolution 40/1 “Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka”?
Quite simply, it is a resolution passed unanimously by the 47 members in the Council with co-sponsorship of 46 countries including Sri Lanka and our neighbour Maldives, ensuring the roll over or extension of two previous resolutions: resolution 30/1 of 2015 and resolution 34/1 of 2017 (itself a rollover/extension of resolution 30/1).
A similar rollover was co-sponsored in 2017 and signed by the then Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN in Geneva, the present Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who was himself a member of the delegation this time. When he signed to co-sponsor resolutions in 2015 and in 2017, he was not made to bear the indignity of accusations being levelled at the present Ambassador of betraying our nation and its defence forces.
The decision to request for a technical/procedural rollover this year was taken after consulting both H.E. the President and the Hon. Prime Minister in February 2019 ahead of the organisational meeting of the 40th session of the Human Rights Council on 16 February 2019. Instructions pertaining to co-sponsorship were merely conveyed to Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Ambassador A.L.A. Azeez by Mr. Mano Tittawella, Secretary-General of the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM) which comes under the Prime Minister’s Office. The SCRM was formed by the Cabinet of Ministers in 2016 for the overall coordination of reconciliation activities including implementation of resolution 30/1. The Minister of Foreign Affairs Hon. Tilak Marapana was also fully aware of these instructions which were conveyed by him to Ambassador Azeez as well. Minister Marapana had also asked Ambassador Azeez to coordinate matters with respect to the resolution with Mr. Tittawella, and had kept the Secretary to his Ministry Ravinatha Aryasinha informed.
So, what does a rollover/procedural extension mean exactly? It means that instead of the world castigating Sri Lanka, as so often happened before January 2015, for human rights violations and impunity, the world reiterated its confidence that Sri Lanka is a nation which is firmly on the road towards reconciliation. The world reaffirmed that Sri Lankans are a responsible, mature, dignified people determined to work on tackling difficult issues to provide truth, justice, and reparation to the nation aimed at healing, upholding the rights of all and establishing the rule of law to ensure the non-recurrence of conflict, ushering in stability required for economic growth, development and prosperity for all in the long-term.
In the words contained in resolution 40/1,
“…it is the responsibility of each State to ensure the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms of its entire population”. Yes! This is our responsibility and no one else in the world has appropriated that responsibility, as certain people have said recently!
A rollover of a resolution is not a sanction in any way. I challenge any member of the delegation that went to Geneva and participated in the rollover of the resolution without a vote, to show what sanction is contained in resolution 40/1, or in resolution 30/1 which is the original one adopted on 01 October 2015.
Resolution 30/1 which Sri Lanka co-sponsored in 2015, in pursuance of the mandate that President Sirisena received from the voters to implement the 100 Day Programme and take charge of Sri Lanka’s sovereign right to solve its own problems locally, is no more and no less than a historic agenda to ensure durable peace and reconciliation in our country.
Contrary to what is often being said, the content of resolution 30/1 was based on Sri Lanka’s own proposals for truth-seeking, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-recurrence presented to the Human Rights Council by me on behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka on 14 September 2015. The content of this Statement was both discussed and approved by His Excellency the President as well as the Hon. Prime Minister at meetings that were held following the swearing-in of several ministers including me by the President after the Parliamentary Election held on 17 August 2015. It is as a result of this resolution (30/1) that prospects for international action initiated through resolution 25/1 of March 2014 and the OISL (OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka) that was adopted during President Rajapaksa’s regime was effectively halted. It is important to remind everyone that it is if we as a responsible and sovereign nation fails to act that we place our citizens in grave peril because the message we then send out to the world is that we are unable or unwilling to do our job. If we fail to deal with our issues ourselves, then others will step in, and international action as well as universal jurisdiction will apply.
I must recall here that following the adoption of resolution 30/1, the President convened at least two rounds of an All-Party Conference regarding implementation of the resolution for reconciliation while even at that time, expressing reservations regarding the involvement of foreign judges. In order to broaden the scope of implementation of the resolution, the President sought the views of all political parties that participated in the All-Party Conference. However, some of the political parties including the members of the so-called Joint Opposition that go around the country making unfounded accusations didn’t even bother to give written observations or suggestions at the time.
If you look at the content of Resolution 30/1 carefully, you will understand the objective of the reconciliation agenda which contains a series of measures covering reconciliation, rule of law, security and confidence-building. All these are measures that were derived directly from our promises to the Sri Lankan people at the election of January 2015: that we would overcome hate, that we would overcome arbitrariness, that we would overcome fear – all conditions that are necessary for long-term development of our nation. Nothing more and nothing less.
Many of these measures have been implemented, and in some others the progress has been partial but is ongoing. Every citizen that has not been living under a rock, or under the rock of prejudice, will recognize those measures that include: creating institutions to ensure the rights of victims as well as the future safety, security and wellbeing of all citizens; constitutional reform, so that we can all live, work, and prosper together in dignity; addressing shortcomings so that everyone can enjoy peace in their own lands and houses.
The measures of resolution 30/1, that was rolled over without the need of a vote, recently, include:
· The establishment of an Office on Missing Persons, to undertake the humanitarian and compassionate task of determining the fate and whereabouts of the missing along the history of all our past conflicts and crises. The OMP, quite simply, restores the right of every Sri Lankan family, of any background, language or religion, to know what happened to their missing loved ones and to take measures to impress upon our nation’s soul, the non-recurrence of disappearances in future. As it has been noted, the missing in our country includes hundreds if not thousands of families of our soldiers as well as police personnel, missing in action. Who in their right mind with a beating heart could deny such a basic right to their grieving fellow citizens – mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and children? Isn’t this the compassion that Gautama Buddha has spoken of?
· The creation of an Office for Reparations, which has been approved in Parliament and which has passed constitutional muster, to ensure that all the persons affected by conflict have a fair opportunity to rebuild their lives, to receive adequate reparation, to be recognized in their dignity as human beings and citizens to receive appropriate satisfaction. The Office will be a permanent mechanism that will formulate policy which can help all citizens even in unfortunate events in future. What is threatening about helping those who suffer to rebuild their lives? Is it not a state’s sovereign responsibility to help all citizens in need rebuild and restore their lives and livelihoods?
· The establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (for which a Concept Paper is before the Cabinet of Ministers) that will clarify the events of the conflict, including those most disputed and controversial, in order to lift the veil of secrecy and speculation, and to listen to all the victims and survivors, in a compassionate and dignified way. Everyone can tell their story. This includes the military. Who is afraid of letting our brothers and sisters from all walks of life, from all parts of our nation, speak, to enable truth-seeking, and thus facilitate measures for healing and non-recurrence of such grievous hurt in our land? Who is afraid of truth-seeking to such an extent as to oppose such a local exercise by calling it some conspiracy or international intervention? Is truth a foreign concept for Sri Lankans who are blessed by the teachings of Gautama Buddha, the Vedas, Prophet Mohammed and Jesus Christ?
· The establishment, within our national legal system, of “a judicial mechanism with a special counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law”, a mechanism that the Resolution explicitly calls “a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism” not an international one, in which there would be the participation of foreign jurists.
This, of course, is the measure that has motivated the most terror and indignation among the spoilers of reconciliation and healing. Therefore, let me review it carefully for the benefit of all those with a sincere desire and willingness to try to understand it.
-This proposal is not to establish a foreign mechanism in some foreign land outside Sri Lanka. Literally, it is a proposal to establish a Sri Lankan local mechanism. And the participation of foreign jurists is in no way a strange or unheard-of practice in Sri Lanka. After all, it was the government led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa which established the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) in 2005, led by no less than the 17th Chief Justice of India, the illustrious justice Bhagwati. This is not the only instance either. Moreover, several Sri Lankan jurists have participated as judges and investigators in international courts. Some of our former judges and officials of the Attorney General’s Department have been appointed to judicial bodies in Fiji as well.
-No provision in our Constitution requires judges serving in our system to have Sri Lankan nationality. Of course, some could argue that the Constitution should clarify that point explicitly, but is this something we should get caught up arguing about and toss reconciliation out of the window just out of a newly discovered antipathy for the word “foreign”?
-The resolution says that the Sri Lankan justice system must investigate and adjudicate on allegations of the most serious human rights violations. Now who could oppose that? Even the gentlemen who went to Geneva this time in March 2019 say precisely that. Let’s assume that it is because of this fundamental agreement that they did nothing to prevent the adoption by consensus of the resolution! Should we not acknowledge the need to investigate allegations? Are we not bound by our own Constitution to provide for the equal protection of the law? Shouldn’t we do justice to all our citizens including our security forces personnel by investigating allegations so that those who may not be guilty of a crime do not have to carry the weight of an allegation with them to the grave? Should we let allegations remain without investigations and make our security forces personnel vulnerable to be subjected to universal jurisdiction? Do we not owe our institutions of the army, the navy, the air-force and the police the right to justice just as much as we owe all our citizens who have been wronged? This is called abiding by our own Constitution. Nothing more, nothing less.
The Human Rights Council is not a court of law. That is not the place to argue and debate over the number of dead or missing. All these including the information obtained by Lord Naseby are matters for Sri Lankan processes including the Sri Lankan justice system.
-The participation of foreign experts, in the capacity that we decide, within our national system is nothing new or controversial. We have already done it in the past. Instead of making this a Manichean discussion of “yes” and “no”, let’s have a practical discussion of how, and in what way do we ensure that justice tackles the most serious allegations, in an independent manner, and with the support of the best jurists of the world. As I have asked recently in my response to the Hon. Mahinda Rajapaksa, why would we, a country of the Global South deprive ourselves of the expertise of our brothers and sisters in other countries of the Global South? Why not reach out to the Argentine experts who have identified the fate of the missing in their native country and around the world? Why ignore the contribution of our Tunisian friends who have examined the corruption and human rights violations of their past dictatorship? Why slam the door on South African lawyers who are even now uncovering the horrors of Apartheid and contributing to the construction of a diverse, proud Rainbow Nation, as they call their beautiful country? Why ignore the know-how of Colombian experts striking the delicate balance between peace and justice after a long conflict? Why shy away from even asking the High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet who has been a torture victim and later a Minister of Defence and President of her country to share her own experience in these matters with us?
-We have the expertise of numerous Sri Lankan experts who have participated in courts around the world. We have the recommendations of thousands of Sri Lankan citizens who appeared before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission as well as the Consultation Task Force to give recommendations about justice. We have the willingness of the best legal minds around the world to share their opinion and expertise.
· What else is in the resolution? Our commitment to pass new, modern laws to prevent the repetition of the past; a better legal framework to fight terrorism; legislation to prevent forced disappearances. This, as any legislation is not retroactive. Who could be against preventing future crime? Who could be against preventing disappearances in the future? Only those who may want a free hand to commit crime! Only those who would not hesitate in unleashing again the horror of the White Van phenomenon!
· The resolution also encourages the return of land to its rightful civilian owners. This is quite a self-evident task: once the defence imperatives are addressed there is no necessity to use the land of civilian owners. We are a nation of laws, and every Sri Lankan, no matter their background and state in life has the right to own property and make a living, however modest. And, as the High Commissioner has noted, we are making significant progress in this regard. Who could be against ensuring that someone recovers a house, a plot of land, a fishing ground, so that everyone can enjoy the simple happiness of building a family, working hard, dreaming of a better future?
· The resolution also encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to introduce effective security sector reforms as part of its transitional justice process, which will help to enhance the reputation and professionalism of the military. Who in his or her right mind would want to deny the military of the opportunity to enhance its reputation and professionalism? Can those who call themselves patriotic really deny the military the opportunity to serve the noble cause of Peacekeeping around the world?
When I read the resolution to try to explain what every task in the resolution is, I cannot help but wonder, who in their right mind could oppose such a common sense, compassionate, and reasonable measure? It should be a rhetorical question. It should be evident that rational persons couldn’t oppose any of these measures.
Regrettably, it is not self-evident.
Ten years after the end of the conflict in the North and the East, thirty years after the end of the second insurrection in the South, we seem to continue those fratricidal conflicts in our hearts, with the anger of the fighter, instead of the compassion of the peacemaker and peacebuilder. Instead of using the capacities of the state to rebuild, reform and reconcile, we try to stop rebuilding, reform, reconciliation and healing. Instead of recognizing the inherent human dignity of all persons, we ask first for their language, their religion, their identity!
And it is sad to note that those who do so, proclaim themselves good Buddhists. No philosophical system and no religious revelation, in particular the sublime teachings of Gautama Buddha, should be used to justify heartlessness and lies.
The sad reality is, then, that there are those who oppose any measure to achieve accountability and reconciliation, because they don’t want justice. They want victor’s justice. They don’t want the peace of the living, they want the peace of the cemeteries. They calculate that by appealing to our worst instincts: by mobilizing the base emotions of fear and hate, they will grasp power.
I trust that they are wrong. I trust that, at the end of the day, every Sri Lankan of goodwill is capable to feel in their heart the suffering of any living being and any other Sri Lankan. I am convinced that, even if we humans are imperfect and are capable of great evil, we are also capable of magnanimity, of goodness, of beauty, kindness, compassion, justice and dignity.
I trust that our citizens are capable to see beyond the lies, and I invite all professors in our universities, all community leaders, all leaders of our security forces, all religious leaders to discuss, to inquire, to inform themselves better than we politicians have informed them or the media has informed them through sound bites and news clips. I invite every responsible citizen to read the resolution that I have plainly explained here, and whose validity we have extended. Also read and observe and understand how actual UN and Human Rights Council processes work instead of being misled by fear mongers and liars.
In 2015, we ceased to be the pariah nation we were in the period immediately before that where we were fighting everyone and cornering ourselves. We took control of the accountability and reconciliation agenda, and we put the world as our witness. Nothing less, as I have said, and nothing more. We regained our place as a responsible sovereign nation alongside the rest of the world, because we had regained our heart, and our identity as a compassionate, proud, diverse nation, full of hope and inspiration to march forward, holding our heads up high, to be the best that we could be.
That, and not the lies and exaggerations, is what will win in the end: our love for our Mother Lanka, our freedom, our wonderful diversity, our faith, our capacity to reconcile, and our capacity to live and work together with unity of purpose – to make our country the developed country it deserves to be with no space for recurrence of conflict.
How to respond to an assault on humanity
By Sajith Premadasa
Every suicide bomber has a dream, a fantasy of how their destruction will consummate cataclysmic change. Sri Lanka stamped out such heinous desires once before. Now we are called upon to do so again.
At a May Day rally in 1993, a suicide bomber assassinated my father, President Ranasinghe Premadasa. My father was the second ever head of government to be killed by a suicide bomber. My father’s killer walked up to him and detonated his vest leaving a cruel circle of death. Just as the blast destroyed seventeen lives, it shredded the hearts of seventeen entire families, including my own. Nothing can ever fill the void left in the hearts of myself, my mother and my sister, or of the other sixteen families who lost loved ones that day, or of the many suicide bombers who have struck since.
These so-called ‘Tamil Tigers’ used suicide bombers without a second thought to slay dozens of lawmakers, including several Tamils. In 2009, our military eradicated the Tigers, relegating them to the dustbin of history. Ever since, Sri Lankans of all ethnicities and religions have lived together in peace and prosperity. Easter Sunday marked the end of our decade-long respite from terrorism. The so-called “Islamic State” targeted churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, killing over 250 innocent worshippers and tourists while maiming hundreds more in the carnage. Most died instantaneously, while peacefully praying before the altar of their God. As a Buddhist, I find solace in the fact that these tranquil final prayers might serve as blessings in their next lives.
Next month, my father would have turned ninety-five years old. For the last 26 years of my life, every moment I have cherished or battle I have won has been hollowed by my father’s absence. I know that the future holds similar struggles for the hundreds of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives haunted by the final words and smiles of those they lost. In honor of the fallen, we have a duty to seek justice, and prevent further attacks.
Sri Lankans across the board have risen to the occasion. First responders and medical staff risked themselves to save others. Our police and military have already unraveled much of the terror cell, arrested several insurgents, foiled follow-up attacks and saved countless lives. Religious leaders united Sri Lankans of all faiths.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith took the lead, rising to the occasion and preventing retaliatory violence by expressing solidarity with the Muslim community. He and local Muslim leaders made crystal clear that there is nothing “Islamic” about the Islamic State. Sri Lanka’s Muslims stand against these barbarians, just as Tamils before them stood against the Tigers. Especially In the shadow of such remarkable leadership, those who launched political campaigns on the back of such a tragedy are willing customers of terror.
History will remember this attack as Sri Lanka’s “9/11”. In2001, al-Qaeda hijackers killed nearly three thousand in the United States, then a country of 285 million. On Easter Sunday, IS bombers killed over 250 in Sri Lanka, a country of just 21 million. Reports emerged that US authorities were warned of the 2001 attacks. Similar reports have emerged that Sri Lankan authorities sat on critical intelligence.
These attacks should spark a paradigm shift in the psyche of our civil service, away from a bureaucratic passing of the buck towards a dynamic culture in which public officials exercise autonomy and accountability. Officials must learn to take snap decisions, not to delegate and delay. The world’s priority after September 11, 2001 was unity – standing together against those who sought to divide and destroy through violence. Just as NATO declared then that an attack against one nation was an attack against all, the world has rallied around Sri Lanka, offering unprecedented assistance.
The living will judge us by how we avenge the dead and how we honuor them. It is essential that we assist those who lost loved ones and care for the injured. They cannot withstand more pain. Whatever they need, we must provide.
Sri Lankans have rallied before, whether rebounding from the 2004 tsunami or becoming the only country in the world to have eradicated terrorism. We must rekindle this unity, set aside our differences and erase ISIS from our country. We will do so.
Sri Lanka’s military and police have never failed us in a crisis.When we stand as one, it is only a matter of time before these terrorists meet the same end that befell Vellupillai Prabakharan and his Tigers.
To those who ask how they can help Sri Lanka, my request is plain. Terrorize the terrorists. They want you to be afraid: afraid of Muslims, afraid of entering churches, temples and hotels, and afraid of countries struck by terror. Deny them your fear. I call on the world to adopt a radical counter-terrorism doctrine to deter future attacks.
Invest in Sri Lanka and other democracies struck by terrorism.Let it be known that every country struck by terror will be strengthened. Leave such countries stronger, economically and politically, than before they were attacked. It is high time terrorists got the message, loud and clear, that the world will rally around every nation they dare to strike, and that fresh attacks will only hasten their demise.
Together, let us show these fanatics that an attack on any countryis an attack on every country, that their brutality has no place in the civilized world and that their dreams were doomed to die the instant they resorted to barbarism and mass murder.
What Mahinda says is false; There is no resolution against Sri Lanka
By Mangala Samaraweera
Member of Parliament from Kurunegala and current Leader of Opposition Mahinda Rajapaksa has published a statement on 17 March 2019 instructing the government of Sri Lanka on what its position should be when the UN Human Rights Council that is at present meeting in Geneva discusses Sri Lanka’s progress on national reconciliation.In his statement, as usual aimed at hoodwinking the masses, he assumes a commanding and almost martial tone. Packing it with misinformation to mislead the public, he seems to forget the small detail that he is no longer the President or even the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka – fake or otherwise. As the citizens of our country – Asia’s oldest democracy – remember very well, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s attempts to usurp the position of Prime Minister a few months ago failed miserably in the face of the determined resistance of our citizens and our independent institutions including our judiciary. My recommendation to Mahinda would be, in true friendship: lets put aside the airs. It really is impossible to engage in constructive dialogue if you give instructions and orders on policy to a government that is trying very hard to fix the several troubles that you yourself, your close advisors and those you appointed to high positions during your time as President created, especially since the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009.
And let us be serious. Any advice on policy must be placed on facts, not on fake or exaggerated assertions, which a quick scan of Mahinda’s statement reveals:
The opening line of Mahinda’s statement asserts that “The government has announced that they will co-sponsor yet another resolution against Sri Lanka.”
What Mahinda says is false. There is no resolution “against” Sri Lanka, and there has been no resolution “against” Sri Lanka since 2015. In 2009, the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government spearheaded a resolution in the Human Rights Council calling it a ‘victory resolution’ and got it adopted by a division in the Council. The Rajapaksa Government included in that Resolution, the Joint Statement between the Government and the United Nations that was adopted during UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit and also commitment to the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Non-implementation of this resolution adopted by a vote led to a series of resolutions which the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government claimed to boycott but could not stop from being adopted. Finally, in March 2014, this led to the Human Rights Council adopting a resolution setting up the first known international investigation on Sri Lanka which is called the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL). Sri Lanka was cornered internationally and was in a pitiable state. Mahinda’s Government put all his eggs in one basket in terms of our economy, borrowing at commercial rates and not being able to repay them. Our military which Mahinda claims to be the guardian of, was losing heavily as they were deprived of military-to-military cooperation with the countries which have the most advanced militaries in the world. They were deprived of training opportunities, participation in UN peacekeeping, and in joint exercises.
After Mahinda’s defeat at the election on 08 January 2015, the new Government managed to reassert Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and regain Sri Lanka’s independent right to take charge of discharging the responsibilities of the Government towards its own citizens. As a result of taking charge of handling our own problems ourselves in consultation with all our own citizens, international action that would have followed as a result of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka that was established under Mahinda’s regime in March 2014 ceased. As a result of Sri Lanka taking charge of discharging its own responsibilities towards its own citizens, international efforts became focused thereafter on support for Sri Lanka’s efforts. Contrary to Mahinda’s narrative, there are no resolutions AGAINST Sri Lanka in the Human Rights Council anymore. The resolutions since 2015 are to work together with our partner nations in the world so that our citizens benefit from the best expertise in the world, and we work with all our citizens to set up processes that would help us put behind decades of distrust, violence and impunity and promote, protect and advance the human rights of all our citizens. I urge you to pause to think a little. If this resolution that Mahinda speaks of is AGAINST Sri Lanka – then there should be strictures on Sri Lanka through the resolution, or an investigation established as in March 2014 when Mahinda was President, or there should be sanctions. The resolutions from 2015, on the contrary, do no such thing. They have instead been the basis to secure economic benefits for all our citizens both in the short-term as well as in the long-term. They have been the basis for re-establishing and renewing trust and confidence of our own citizens. They have been the basis for establishing engagement with the international community to benefit our citizens, our administrators, our prosecutors, our forensic experts and our security forces with greater opportunities overall. They have been the basis for the doors of opportunity being open to us to develop Sri Lanka as a hub in the Indian Ocean and pursue a prosperous future for all.
Mahinda repeats old false allegations and assertions about the Office on Missing Persons. What a tragedy Mahinda has bound himself in! Mahinda has forgotten the days when he stood up against disappearances and worked to give voice to the pain and anguish of the families of the Missing. He alleges in his statement that “Government bodies at all levels including the armed forces and intelligence services are mandatorily required to render fullest assistance to the OMP even in contravention of the Official Secrets Act.”
Mahinda says that if a criminal taking illegal advantage of an official position abducts and kills a citizen, the law must be forbidden to investigate such a crime? What kind of rule-of-law would exist in our country if inquiries on abuse of power were stopped on the grounds of official secrets? The notion of an “official secret” can only apply to legitimate national security concerns. Since when would finding the fate of a missing soldier be a violation of our national security? In what way is our national defense affected by families including the families of missing soldiers finally exercising the right to hold a dignified funeral for their loved ones?
Mahinda alleges that The Prevention of Enforced Disappearances Act enables an alleged enforced disappearance in Sri Lanka to be investigated and prosecuted in a foreign country as if it was an offence committed in that country.
Mahinda appears unware that any country in the world can already investigate and prosecute disappearances and other war crimes alleged to have taken place in any other country in the world, because most countries in the world today have already signed treaties to deny safe haven to war criminals! This is a right that those countries already have which is not determined by whether Sri Lanka accedes to the convention or not. Therefore, our accession to the International Convention Against Enforced Disappearances does not give other countries a right they already have. That is why, in September 2018, Germany charged an ex-LTTE member residing in that country, with war crimes committed against 16 of our brave soldiers. I wonder whether Mahinda has not heard about that case. Of course Mahinda has heard of it, but he hides it and chooses not to mention it in his statement or in any of his speeches because it disrupts his false narrative of international justice aiding terrorism.
International justice is activated when national justice fails to act. It was Chile’s lack of action against General Augusto Pinochet which prompted Spain and the UK to arrest him in 1998 and determine his need to appear before justice. This process has not stopped. There are hundreds of universal jurisdiction cases open in the present day, everywhere in the world. These cases could well work against alleged criminals who might travel outside their safe havens to spend their ill-gotten fortunes.
Apart from criminalizing Enforced Disappearance with a view to preventing our citizens from ever going missing again like they did for several decades in our country irrespective of ethnicity, language, geographic location, religion or gender, what the Prevention of Enforced Disappearances Act does is to enable us to act on those crimes, so we assert our jurisdiction. In fact, the Act even gives us, Sri Lankans, the capacity to investigate and prosecute disappearances happening in any other country in the world, in case future Pinochets try to spend their time in our beautiful island home.
Mahinda alleges that “The UN Human Rights Commissioner in her report on Sri Lanka to the current session of the UNHRC, has called on member states of the UNHRC to investigate and prosecute those suspected of war crimes in Sri Lanka under the principle of universal jurisdiction.”
I’m sure this happens to all of us. We all fall asleep in the middle of a movie sometimes, and when we wake up, for a moment we can’t understand what is going on in the movie. I think this is what has happened to Mahinda. But without admitting it, he wants to try to tell our citizens that he knows the plot. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, as a result of the acts and omissions of Mahinda’s regime of impunity, holds the view that Sri Lanka’s judicial system has not made necessary progress. Therefore, the High Commissioner notes that any state can investigate war crimes in Sri Lanka, but this is IF and ONLY IF we don’t do it ourselves! But Mahinda ignores the first part of the movie (the inaction which his regime is responsible for) and he goes on to tell the story leaving out a crucial part.
As a nation responsible to all our citizens including our military personnel and policemen, we should not fail in our commitment as a sovereign, independent, democratic state to investigate the several emblematic cases of human rights violations currently in our legal system. We must set up a system to investigate and deal with allegations of human rights violations. If we fail to do this, we place our citizens in grave peril because the message we will be sending out to the world will be that we are unable or unwilling to do our job. If we fail to deal with our issues ourselves, then others will step in.
Mahinda says that “Lord Naseby has obtained from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office copies of the dispatches filed by Lt Colonel Anton Gash… Five renowned international experts in the law of armed conflict namely, Sir Desmond de Silva QC, Professor David Crane, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, Rodney Dixon QC, and Professor Michael Newton have examined the allegations against Sri Lanka and provided written opinions to the effect that no violation of the law of armed conflict had taken place…”
This is rich, coming from the same person saying that future mechanisms to deal with human rights violations should not have the support of international experts! Mahinda claims he is the one and only protector of sovereignty and yet finds safety behind the robes of British lords and the whips of British colonels! No, Mahinda: we will never fall for this undignified maneuver. Global expertise is needed. We collaborate and work with international experts on almost everything that we do in this country. In fact, we are blessed with the philosophy and teachings of a foreigner – Gautama Buddha, an Indian Prince who became enlightened, and whose teachings were conveyed to us by the son and daughter of an Indian Emperor called Asoka. You brought so many foreign experts to Sri Lanka whose names you have cited in your statement. There is no reason to deprive ourselves from continuing to learn from our brothers and sisters in the Global South, who have already dealt with the legacies of their own conflicts. Why should we slam the door, for example, on Latin American forensic experts, or South African reconciliation experts, or Tunisian fighters against corruption? Sri Lanka should continue, as you yourself have done, to engage in such cooperation and collaboration, but on our terms, and in the capacity that we decide, based on our requirements.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, seemingly frustrated by his failure to grab power illegally, gives a series of instructions and finishes his statement by saying that …all members of the delegation representing the government in Geneva should clearly understand that anything short of what he says will be a betrayal of the people of Sri Lanka.
By giving such a peremptory instruction, Mahinda is effectively asking the members of the delegation to determine whether they are representatives of Sri Lanka or whether they are Mahinda’s puppets; whether they follow the instructions of the government or the injunctions of the defeated Presidential candidate who failed to grab power illegally last October.
The Government will continue to defend Sri Lanka’s sovereignty by reaffirming our commitments to seek durable reconciliation and promote and protect human rights of all. We will, as the resolutions clearly say:
- ·Ensure justice through our national system, in free and fraternal cooperation with experts of other nations going through similar transitions, based on our requirements.
- ·Affirm the honor of the institutions of the army, navy and the air force, and project their professionalism including in UN peacekeeping missions, and increase their opportunities for collaboration with the best militaries in the world, by investigating allegations and prosecuting any abuse that may have taken place in accordance with the due process of the law.
- ·Affirm the rights of ALL citizens including citizens in the north and the south, military and civilian, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Christian, and others to establish sustainable peace, reconciliation, and prosperity for all;
- ·Affirm the rights of ALL by determining the fate and whereabouts of ALL the missing including security forces personnel and police;
- ·Provide for those left behind – for all citizens in need – with integral reparation to rebuild their lives and strive for national development.
- ·Forever forbid the recurrence of horrors of our past like torture, sexual violence, war and white van abductions.
Nothing more and nothing less is what this government is committed to do for ALL the people of Sri Lanka. We will, in this journey, work with the international community. They will be our partners as they have always been. They will also be our witness as well as supporters of this solemn undertaking, and they will tell our story so that others too in this world can learn from Sri Lanka’s example of reconciliation.
No doubt our journey has been difficult, with ups and downs, achievements and disappointments, but those who caused the trouble in the first place, have very little authority to criticize us. Those who embraced and never investigated child abductors and war criminals like Karuna, can’t tell Sri Lanka what a war hero is. Those who paralyzed the country on 26 October 2018 to send our economy into free fall cannot be allowed to continue their attempts to sabotage the progressive path of our nation.
I’m sorry to be the one breaking the news, Mahinda, but someone has to say this: you do not have the authority to impose a fine on a badly parked tuk-tuk, much less give instructions to an official delegation representing Sri Lanka overseas. Your pretension to be Prime Minister in October 2018 failed several months ago. Stop trying to deny to a legally established government, the democratic authority it is endowed with. The journey toward reconciliation will continue. The people of our country are tired of pessimists and compulsive liars and fear mongers. They know that their future lies not in fear but in truth and that the economic prosperity of our nation depends on achieving sustainable peace, non-recurrence of conflict, strengthening the rule of law and democracy, and protecting and upholding the rights and dignity of all, and in working towards our goals together and in partnership with all the countries of the world and international organisations in which Sri Lanka is a member.
* Response by Minister of Finance Mangala Samaraweera to Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa's statement titled "The stand Sri Lanka should take in Geneva" on 17th of March 2019.
“Mums and Wives drag their sons and hubbies to salon, to have their beards shaved.” Said a tweet a few days ago. Another tweet said “Burka banned but not hijab. Face to be excluded from covering.” Al Jazeera reported “Cardinal Ranjith asked all Catholic schools to be closed till further notice. News from international sources of more attacks, Ranjith said.”
Those now in their retired life, I mean those who were teens or kids in the 60’s and the 70’s may well remember Muslim ladies young and old coming out of their houses with the “fall” of their saree pulled over their head and the end of it tucked at the waist. “Saree” is a dress borrowed from Indian culture that became the traditional dress of Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim women. There was that “commonality” in culture that made little difference in their first appearances, yet carried their own identity within that “commonality”. The “pottu” on the forehead and small white Jasmin flowers on their hair of Tamil Hindu women and the saree covering the head of Muslim women leaving the face uncovered, gave them their own cultural identity, different to Sinhala women. Among Sinhala women too, there is a distinction in how the Low country and the Kandyan women drape their sarees. Kandyan saree draped with frills around the waist is called the “Osariya”.
Muslim men, I mean the ordinary folk, with no long and unruly beards wore a plain “sarong”, a shirt neatly tucked in and a stretchable broad black belt over the sarong at the waist, when they went about their daily work. Some wore an “off white” thick cotton coat over the white shirt. Their Muslim identity can even now be visualised with a red woollen, round cap that had a flat top, commonly called a “Fez” and a pair of painted wooden slippers commonly called “katta sereppu” worn around in their errands. A fair number of urban Sinhala men who wore long trousers for their daily work later switched to the “national” dress after “Sinhalisation” of the Southern society after 1956, again an adoptation from South India. Tamil Hindu men wore a white cloth called the “veitti”, each maintaining their own cultural identity.
From wherever they came Centuries ago, whether from the Arabic world, from the South of the Indian sub-continent or from the Malaysian-Indonesian island society, they integrated themselves with their own cultural identities into the common Sinhala and Tamil culture that also evolved through Centuries integrating with South and East Indian cultures. In all these cultures, what is called a “Pure Sinhala”, “Pure Hindu” or “Pure Muslim” culture is their own “richness” gained by assimilating “other cultures”. Pre and post independent “Ceylon” was that until the end of the decade of seventy. Slow and restricted life with little contradictions between ethno-religious groups while still co-existing, except that Sinhala Buddhist dominance in politics was quite evident. Exposure to the world in that era was also very much restricted and was not sought for by society. Knowledge and information were very much local even among the English educated small urban elite communities in Colombo. Communication in a very much closed society was restricted to the government owned radio and few privately owned newspapers that provided a fairly well edited, decent news coverage. Personal communication was very much restricted to fixed line telephones rarely available in private homes and that too very much in urban society.
In that less vibrant society, the Muslim community remained what they were from their earliest entry into ancient feudal Lankan society. Traders in most parts of the country and landed agri farmers and labourers in the Eastern province where the concentration was very much more and also expansive. East was comparatively poor and Muslims in the East were less assertive. Within this Muslim culture till the end of the 70’s, higher education was not considered important in life to be successful. Religious education and knowledge were nevertheless very important and that came down within mostly Sunni traditional teaching of the Quran. Muslim religious education was very much traditional, organised around the Mosque. Success in life was measured in how successful one was in business as a practising true Muslim. Muslim people were very much dominant in gemming, hardware, betel and tobacco, small cafeterias and beef and mutton trade. They came down the family line, from generation to generation.
This slow and tidy lifestyle took a deep turn with the introduction of the open market economy in early 1978, at the end of the decade of seventy. With a free market that allowed unrestricted import and export of goods, travel abroad was also unrestricted. The almost dormant private sector thus saw a speedy expansion and new investments coming in, making the private sector more dominant in an economy that had State controls released. This new evolving market brought about many changes and challenges. First, it became increasingly competitive. Two, it gave space for a new growth within the formal sector and a growing new informal sector. It also added new services that brought profits quick and fast. It was becoming diverse beyond imagination and that needed new knowledge, new management skills and improved technology. This became a challenge to the Muslim business community to remain in business.
Muslim community that did not give higher education much importance previously, immediately adopted to the changing socio economic situation and took education more seriously than ever before. In the following 02 decades after trade liberalising, Muslim youth went into higher education and became qualified professionals in many disciplines; IT experts, Medical doctors, lawyers, Financial managers, Chartered and CIMA qualified Accountants and in many more areas including Mass media. Most qualified themselves in professional fields from foreign universities than from State universities here in Sri Lanka. Also, the emphasis on education in the urban middleclass paved way for more Muslim girls to enter higher education, stepping out of their conservative Muslim homes and then getting employed in various fields of their choice.
As it did to the Sinhala and Tamil communities, all this opened up the once docile, traditional Muslim community to a new world with new ideas, new debates, new knowledge and a new culture. Information and knowledge about their own religion that was once the privilege and the monopoly of the Mawlawi, opened up for other educated people to participate in. Unrestricted travel allowed personal interactions with other Islamic societies outside Sri Lanka. Radicalisation of Islam in the Arabian and North African societies, could be watched and studied from anywhere in the world within a hi speed communication belt. The internet allowed access to numerous debates and discussions and also dissenting arguments that were taking place within the Muslim world. While the new generation Sri Lankan Muslims got exposed to this radicalisation, they also got access to a new culture that evolved in the Arabian world, including the dress.
It wasn’t much different in the Sinhala society as well. Sinhala culture also evolved both in terms of food and dress. If one dares to compare general consumption of food and beverage in this free market economy with those in the 60s and the 70s, there is a massive change we have not even noticed while we evolved to who we are now. While Chinese type food is now served by roadside little “hut cafes” in every nook and corner, “fried rice” has almost replaced “rice and curry” lunch for the urban employed. From “Kottu” to “Coca Cola”, from “Broiler chicken” to “BBQ chicken”, the whole eating culture in Sinhala society has changed. Bakery chains, Takeaway shops and lunch parcels add more to a new food culture. The ordinary man on the street who had a “bun and a plain tea” is no more. Now it’s the “Chinese roll or a pastry and a Nescafe”.
So has the “dress” changed in Sinhala society. The long skirt and blouse or the “Cheeththe and hatte” (cloth and jacket) that was just ordinary wear of women in the 50s and the 60s are no more. With no difference in age and gender, the “denim slack” has replaced all that and has come to stay. Mostly in urban Sinhala society, extremely short “shorts” are in vogue among young girls. T-shirts, short blouses, baggies, skinnies, tights are common words in the dress market. The lingerie market has lately become one of the most profitable markets in apparels with designer wear sought for. Mothers and Grandmothers in urban and semi urban Sinhala households who were in saree almost the whole day even as housewives, now live only in memories. Now they are also in slacks, even at home.
All societies “changed”. Yet within the Sinhala and Tamil majority life, these cultural changes don’t stand out as visually different. All that “change” over the past three decades seems just common and normal and is taken for granted. It’s the ‘burka’ and the long unruly ‘beard’ that stands out visually different from the norm that new changes made. The “beard” came with the long tunic. This “change” in Muslim attire, the black “burka” and also the “niqab” became conspicuous over 25 years ago. The change in Muslim attire is sometimes explained as the result of large numbers of Housemaids leaving regularly to the Middle East countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar. This explanation tends to say those “housemaids” returned with the “burka” and the “niqab” and that made it a common dress among the Muslim community.
There is a major misconception in this common, simplified explanation. Till the Eastern province was “cleared” in 2008, large majority of the housemaids who went to Mid East were Sinhala Buddhists and they never came back with either the “burka” or the “niqab”, even if they had to wear it in their country of employment. The “burka”, the “niqab” and the “hijab” had become popular long before increased numbers of Muslim women went to the Mid East as housemaids. Moreover, it is extremely doubtful housemaids from very poor Muslim families even if they came back with the “burka” or the “niqab” could influence the urban middle class. Norm is the other way round. It’s the urban middleclass that brings in new fashion and is then copied by others. The urban Muslim middleclass had left their conservative homes and was exposed to the world before the “burka” and the “niqab” came. There is also the OPEC factor and Saudi Arabia that adds more ideological support for this change. With the first Summit of Heads of State and Government in Algiers in 1975, that called for “cooperation in international relations in the interests of world economic development and stability”, led to the establishment in 1976 of the “OPEC Fund for International Development”. Saudi Arabian support for religious education is seen in the increase thereafter, especially in countries that are majority “Sufi”. Dissenting voices among Sufi Muslims, those who believed the Quran has a different interpretation than what they are taught by conservative “Sufi” Mawlawis, perhaps came with cyber browsing and more with scholarships and religious education through Saudi Arabian sponsorship. Rich and pro US Saudi Arab is the home of “Wahabism” and is opposed to the type of moderate “Sufism” in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. In late 80s the Sufi faith experienced a new order within them as the “All Ceylon Thareekathul Mufliheen” led by M.S.M. Abdullah, popularly known as “Rah.” His new Muslim sect ran into conflict with the traditional Sufi Muslims and with Kattankudi based Wahabism.
By then the Eastern Muslim community was coming out of their limbo after armed Tamil politics emerged in Tamil parts of the East. First Muslim political party was formed by Lawyer A.H.M Ashraf from Kalmunai East giving them a political voice they never had. Conflicts with Tamil armed groups and then the LTTE provoked Muslim youth to counter Tamil dominance with their own identity given a militant upgrading. Meanwhile Wahabism faced dissent within them creating many organised Sects commonly called “Tawheed Jama’ath”. They were being influenced by different fundamentalist ideologies that came from Saudi Arab and from other radicalised Wahabi streams. They all picked on the long tunic and the “beard” for their identity. They not only wanted to be different in “beliefs” but also wanted to look different to the traditional, conservative Sufi Muslims. The “burka” and the “niqab” followed long unruly bearded men in long tunics, with wives and sisters falling in line.
But that alone wouldn’t make a “burka” and “niqab” trend grow. Middleclass and markets grow together. When the middleclass choose to change their attire for whatever reason, market responds quite quickly. Market response then creates a vogue too. We therefore saw shops specialising in “burkas, niqabs and hijabs” coming up in predominantly urban middleclass Muslim areas. The fast growing “burka” and “niqab” is thus a milieu of religious radicalising and the market response for profits.
Increasing visual presence of especially the black “burka” was propping up Sinhala perception that the Muslim community is fast growing and is taking over space the Sinhala people should have. This was in the backdrop of Sinhala Buddhist politics looking out for a new “bogey” after they declared the Tamil Tigers completely annihilated in 2009 May. “Burka” and the “niqab” therefore became visual icons in daily life in lifting the anti Muslim campaign.
This in fact is a “cultural factor” that was politically exploited by Sinhala Buddhist extremism as the “burka” and the “niqab” stands out as “alien Islamism” in Sri Lankan popular culture. As one that took the traditional Muslim identity away from Sri Lanka. One that dragged the Muslim identity into conflict in a context where traditional Muslim majority was perceived as compromising with “extremist ideology”. There is definitely no complete turn around possible now and immediately. Yet compromising with Sinhala extremism will not help the Muslim community to challenge Islamic extremism within their own community. Muslim leadership both religious and community, needs to be more open and assertive within their community in challenging bomb laden “extremism” and not be part of decisions the government takes in pleasing Sinhala extremism. Compromising with extreme Sinhala demands will only lead to more dissent and strengthen explosive Islamic extremism. Having wasted time, this conflict now need time to turn around and determined, uncompromising neutrality in social interventions. For now, that patience and determination seem absent in both Sinhala and Muslim leaderships. A readymade decoction for further crisis.
Is this really a country that has to be monitored by the West almost every day? The President of the APPG on Sri Lanka thinks not.
Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena (Front C) arrives during a commemorative ceremony marking the ninth anniversary of the end of the island's civil war. Credit PA images.
About 6 months ago I was conscious that the UN Motions on Sri Lanka would be reviewed in March 2019 by the UNHCR in Geneva. I decided I should try to initiate a debate as near to Independence Day on February 4th as I could.
After all it is nearly four years since these resolutions were passed; being originally moved by the USA and the UK and co-sponsored by the Government of Sri Lanka who welcomed help.
Specifically, two resolutions were adopted by the UNHCR in September 2015 & again in March 2017. The resolutions were entitled ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’.
The motivation for the alleged need for the resolutions at all was the very heavy lobbying by that section of the diaspora in the USA, UK and Canada who in their heart of hearts still wanted an independent state ‘Eelam’. They had lost the war when the LTTE Tamil Tigers were finally defeated on the battlefield on May 18th 2009. It was no secret that many of those lobbying had been closely associated with the LTTE Tamil Tigers indeed some were actual members.
My reading was they wanted to see some sort of revenge against the leadership of the democratically elected Government who according to the Diaspora and their media friends had carried out War Crimes in particular the alleged killing of 40,000 Tamil civilians in a genocide along with a host of other allegations. We now know from the UK military attache that the real numbers of civilians killed were about 6,000 and furthermore, the Sri Lanka armed forces took real trouble to look after the fleeing Tamil Civilians.
Interestingly, the USA has recently withdrawn from being a sponsor. My guess is the US Government assess the Sri Lanka Government has done a huge amount to meet the UN requirements, so sees little purpose in prolonging what is in effect almost a policing surveillance of the actions of another sovereign state now 71 years old.
The UK government has been helpful in the reconciliation process through its Conflict, Security and Stabilisation Fund. Halo Trust have done a wonderful job helping with clearing the near 1 million mines left by the Tamil Tigers. I have visited Halo in action twice and marvelled at the painstaking, dangerous work of a Sri Lanka operative clearing a square metre a day.
The UK have assisted in setting up the Office of Missing Persons. I reflect that hundreds if not thousands of Tamil Cadres or sympathizers vanished abroad claiming asylum or were just winkled out through Tamil Nadu in India or wherever. Even recently a whole activist Tamil family believed missing came to light in France.
The Sri Lanka government themselves has passed an Act to establish an Office for Reparations and a proposal to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
In reality, Sri Lanka has taken positive steps on the four pillars of transitional justice-truth, reconciliation, accountability and guarantees of non-recurrence which must be taken into account by the Human rights Council. Add to this the continuing cooperation Sri Lanka has maintained with UN Human Rights mechanisms and the international community, The Question has to be asked what is the point of the continuation of this resolution.
It is just ten years since the end of the war. Surely now is the time for closure and to let this proud Country stand on its own two feet.
Is this really a country that has to be monitored by the West almost every day.
My view as President of the All Party British Sri Lanka Parliamentary Group is NO.
I shall put all these points & more in the Debate. I shall finish by reminding Her Majesty’s Government of the old adage 'keep your friendships in repair'. We may well need Sri Lanka’s friendship again soon over Brexit.
Lord Naseby is a Conservative Member of the House of Lords.
The deadly Easter bombings that rocked Sri Lanka bring significant political and social implications to the forefront. The attacks, which have rattled most Sri Lankans, have added yet another layer of complexity to a country that has always faced sectarian divisions. And, the tragic events will clearly be exploited by the country’s political opposition, led by former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Sri Lanka’s current president Maithripala Sirisena is extremely unpopular (and that’s been true for quite some time). Similarly, the present administration, led by the United National Party and its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who is also the prime minister of the country, is weak and rudderless.
A Mahinda Rajapaksa-led opposition is resurgent. A party he backed dominated the local government elections in February last year. It was widely believed that Rajapaksa’s brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, would contest the presidential election later this year; on 26 April, he declared his candidacy. He is likely to be the frontrunner in the election.
As Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa oversaw the defeat of the ruthless Tamil Tigers and ended the 25-year civil war in 2009. He’s still venerated by many Sinhalese as a war hero. As secretary to the ministry of defence, Gotabaya Rajapaksa played a significant role in the war as well. The Easter attacks make it even easier for the Rajapaksas to use their wartime credentials for political gain.
The attacks point to a major intelligence failure, which is an outcome (at least in part) of the infighting between President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. It’s widely known that the relationship between the two leaders has been in a terrible shape for a while now.
Investigations into the attacks are already underway; the process should include significant international involvement to ensure it is credible. Thoughtful, meaningful and non-partisan intelligence reform should also be on the security agenda.
Fear of anti-Muslim backlash
It’s important to keep in mind that ethnic Sinhalese dominate the country’s institutions, including the security apparatus. A careless state response targeting minority communities would exacerbate tensions and further destabilise the already-precarious situation. In that context, President Sirisena’s move to give the military sweeping police powers, followed by parliament’s passage of very broad emergency regulations, is extremely troubling. Such tools have long been instruments of state repression.
Besides, the government already has a draconian anti-terrorism legislation – the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) – in place that gives state security personnel broad powers to conduct searches, make arrests and detain people. Historically, the PTA has been used to target the Tamil community.
More than a week into the Easter attacks, some locations still remain under curfew.
In addition to these, there’s also a very real prospect of widespread communal violence between different ethnic or religious groups.
Again, Sri Lanka’s history is replete with such instances, like the anti-Muslim violence in 2018. With Islamic State taking credit for the bombings, Islamophobia and the possibility of violence against Muslims are major concerns.
Forthcoming national elections – both presidential and parliamentary polls – won’t just be about the failures of President Sirisena, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and the former coalition government. Rajapaksa and his allies are likely to stoke the flames of ethnonationalism.
Terrorism, national security and law and order are set to be big issues as well.
There is grief, anger and tension in Sri Lanka. Several terror suspects are still at large. The US State Department says that “[t]errorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Sri Lanka”. Concerns regarding Sri Lanka’s future are not unfounded.
*Taylor Dibbert is an Adjunct Fellow at Pacific Forum.
By Eleanor Kingwell-Banham
The history of the spice trade conjures up exotic images of caravans plying the Silk Road in storied antiquity, as well as warfare between European powers vying for control of what, pound for pound, were among the most valuable commodities in the known world.
One of the most valuable of the spices was clove—the versatile immature bud of the evergreen clove tree (Syzygium aromaticum) which is native to the Maluku Islands or the Moluccas in the Indonesian Archipelago. Prized for its flavour and aroma, and also for its medicinal qualities, clove quickly became important for its use as a breath freshener, perfume, and food flavouring.
We believe we might have found the oldest clove in the world at an excavation in Sri Lanka, from an ancient port which dates back to around 200BC. This port, Mantai, was one of the most important ports of medieval Sri Lanka and drew trade from across the ancient world. Not only that, but we also found evidence for black pepper (Piper nigrum), another high-value, low-bulk product of the ancient spice trade.
These cloves found at Mantai in Sri Lanka are believed to be 1,000 years old.
Ancient historyWestern knowledge of Sri Lanka dates back to at least 77AD, when the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder wrote about the island as Taprobane in his famous Natural History. This is the earliest existing text which mentions Sri Lanka, however Pliny states that the ancient Greeks (and Alexander the Great) had long known about it.
Sri Lanka, wrote Pliny, “is more productive of gold and pearls of great size than even India,” as well as having “elephants … larger, and better adapted for warfare than those of India.” Fruits were abundant and the people had more wealth than the Romans—as well as living to 100 years old. No wonder then, that ancient Sri Lanka drew trade ships not only from the Roman world, but also from Arabia, India, and China.
Decades of archaeological exploration has sought to uncover evidence for the rich kingdoms of ancient Sri Lanka. Mantai (also written as Manthai and known as Manthottam/Manthota), on the northern tip of the island, was one of the port settlements of the Anuradhapura Kingdom (377BC to 1017AD) and has been recently radiocarbon dated to between about 200BCE and 1400AD.
Today, the site is barely visible from the ground—but it is still an important location with Thirukketheesvaram temple sitting in the centre of the ancient settlement. From the air, the defensive ditch and banks of ancient Mantai can be seen covered in trees, as can the area where the defences were cut away to build the modern road.
The site was excavated in the 1980s—during three seasons of excavation an amazing array of artefacts were uncovered, including semiprecious stone beads and ceramics from India, Arabia, the Mediterranean, and China. But in 1983 Sri Lanka’s civil war broke out, bringing an end to archaeological exploration in the Northern Province, as well as many other areas of the island. Unfortunately, many of the records related to this archaeological work became lost or were destroyed, including detailed stratigraphic information of how the layers of soil excavated related to one another, which would have been used to identify how and when the site developed, prospered, and came to an end.
Mantai revisitedIn 2009-2010, after the end of the civil war, a multinational team of researchers went back to Mantai and began new excavations. Work was jointly carried out by the Sri Lankan Department of Archaeology, SEALINKS, and the UCL Institute of Archaeology. This project aimed to collect as much evidence from these excavations as possible, including fully quantified and systematically collected archaeobotanical (preserved plant) remains. The plants remains recovered include some of the most exciting finds from the site. Crucially, these include what were incredibly valuable spices at the time when they were deposited at the site: black pepper and clove
Scenes from an excavation.
Only a handful of cloves have previously been recovered from archaeological sites, including these from France, for example—other archaeological evidence for cloves, such as pollen from cess pits in the Netherlands, only dates from 1500AD onwards—and there are no examples from south Asia.
Earlier finds of clove have been reported from Syria—but these have since largely been discredited as misidentifications. The clove from Mantai was found in a context dating to 900-1100AD, making this not only the oldest clove in Asia—but we think the oldest in the world.
We also found eight grains of black pepper at Mantai, plus a further nine badly preserved grains that we think are probably black pepper too. The earliest are dated to around 600AD, the time when international maritime trade became increasingly large and well established across Asia, Africa, and Europe.
Spice warsClove was one of the rarest and most expensive spices in the Roman and Medieval worlds. It was not grown in Sri Lanka, but came from the Maluku Islands of South-East Asia (some 7,000km away by sea) for trade onwards to Europe, China, or one of the other many regions that traded with Mantai.
Black pepper was also traded along these routes, and was most likely grown and harvested in the Western Ghats of India. Although less rare and valuable than clove, it was still known as “black gold” on account of its value in the Early Modern Period from 1500AD to about 1800AD.
From the 16th century, Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) was colonised by various European powers, from the Portuguese (1500s-1600s) to the Dutch (1600s-late 1700s) to the British (late 1700s-1948). They were all drawn by the island’s profitable trade in spices—although the British turned the fledgling coffee industry there into an incredibly lucrative tea trade which is still important to the island’s economy to this day.
But, whether or not the cloves we unearthed at Mantai turn out to be the oldest in existence, the presence of the spice at this 2,000-year-old site is solid evidence of the ancient spice trade that existed long before these wars of conquest.
Eleanor Kingwell-Banham, research associate, UCL. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.
The entire world remains confronted with the horrors that unfolded yesterday throughout Sri Lanka. Whilst the country remains under curfew, the authorities have pinned the blame for the attack on an obscure group called National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ). NTJ is reportedly an Islamist terror group that as noted by Sri Lankan authorities, has multiple links to foreign countries. The links to foreign countries appears to hold the key to determining who is really behind the attacks. Notably, it has been reported by journalists that the group trains in Chennai in Tamil Nadu – the same location where LTTE had previously trained. Others yet claim that NTJ is such a small and obscure group that even if it wanted to pull off such an attack, it did not have the capacity to do so.
As the Muslim population of Sri Lanka is less than 8% of the country’s entire population, it is difficult to conceive that any genuine local Islamist group would seek to stage such massive attacks when the possibility of any material gain would be limited by the fact that not only is Sri Lanka’s Muslim population at harmony with the Buddhist majority, but the population of Muslims is incredibly small. This contrasts sharply with the situation in Syria where a Sunni Muslim majority was weaponized against a leadership comprised of the minority Alawite faction.
Therefore, due to NTJ’s foreign links, it is highly likely that a foreign entity, most likely a foreign state or state intelligence agency was behind the attacks and that the men on the ground who have been captured are merely pawns in a much larger and even more dangerous game. When it comes to seeking to pin-pointing the country with a clear motive for orchestrating the attacks, India is the one that springs immediately to mind, not least because NTJ reportedly trains where the LTTE once did.
India has a long history of seeking to manipulate the power balance in Sri Lanka in order to turn the country into something of an Indian protectorate. These attempts have notably been resisted by most contemporary Sri Lankan leaders who seek an independent foreign policy that aims at securing win-win friendship not only with India but crucially, also with China and Pakistan.
In spite of this, India was one of the first open backers of the LTTE’s reign of terrorism that gripped Sri Lanka beginning in 1983. India ultimately paid a price for its dithering in the early stages of the Sri Lankan civil war. By the end of the 1987, India had given up on LTTE and instead sought to influence the situation by committing a deeply controversial peace keeping force to Sri Lanka whose overall effect only served to provoke further violence. As a result of India’s 1987 decision to publicly “switch sides”, LTTE assassinated Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. In spite of this, it has been widely known in Sri Lanka and elsewhere that in spite of the official rhetoric in New Delhi, India’s RAW intelligence agency resumed covert support of LTTE later in the 1990s.
Since the end of the war against LTTE in 2009, India has sought to monopolise foreign influence in a post-war Sri Lanka that has developed ever more economic ties with China and plays a key role in the Belt and Road initiative. This has clearly been a source of consternation for an Indian state that has a track record of meddling in the affairs of both Sri Lanka and the much smaller Maldives. In both Sri Lanka and the Maldives, political factions are often divided by foreign observers into a pro-India side and a pro-China side. Although such divisions are not black and white, there is a level of truth to such descriptions. As such, India recently engaged in what geopolitical expert Andrew Kroybko described as a “electoral regime change in the Maldives”. This came after the prominent BJP supporter Subramanian Swamy called for a traditional war against the Maldives.
India was clearly looking to the south both in terms of Maldives and Sri Lanka for much of late 2018 and early 2019. Beginning in late 2018, Sri Lanka experienced a serious political crisis after President Maithripala Sirisena abruptly sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replaced him with former political rival (and former President) Mahinda Rajapaksa. According to Sirisena and his supporters, the proximate causes of Wickremesinghe’s dismissal were personal, cultural and class differences that Sirisena called irreconcilable. Furthermore, it was claimed by some in the Sri Lankan press that the sacking of Wickremesinghe was due to an Indian backed assassination plot against the President which resulted in the abrupt about face in respect of the Sri Lankan President’s loyalty. Later however, Sirisena assured Indian Premier Modi that he had never made such an accusation.
But while Sirisena took the time to assure India that stories regarding an Indian assassination plot are ‘fake news’, an inevitable geopolitical justification for Wickremesinghe’s sacking was offered from many quarters of Indian media.
According to the Indian narrative throughout the end of the 2018, the traditionally/”formerly” pro-India Sirisena dismissed the pro-India Wickremesinghe in favour of the pro-China Rajapaksa due to pressure from Beijing. Of course, no one has been able to present any evidence of any Chinese involvement in the matter while China itself has taken a diplomatic line on the matter that has respected Sirisena’s decision in a rather subdued manner.
Ultimately, the courts overruled Sirisena and Wickremesinghe has continued to serve as the country’s Prime Minister.
Whilst the saga which pitted Wickremesinghe against Rajapaksa on the orders of Sirisena does ultimately seem to have been a completely internal matter, India clearly has not forgotten that Sirisena had moved to install a Prime Minister who ostensibly was more favourable to China and less so to India. As Sri Lanka is a much larger country than Maldives, meddling in the political situation was clearly going to be more difficult than the “electoral regime change” that New Delhi pulled off in Malé. Beyond this, whilst Indian media did their best to meddle in the situation in Sri Lanka during late 2018 and early 2019, this may well not have been enough to satisfy elements of the Indian deep state seeking revenge against Sirisena.
Beyond this, the timing of the attacks is incredibly suspicious. After India’s recent provocation against Pakistan resulted in humiliation after Pakistan downed two Indian jets and safely captured and later released an Indian pilot, it can be logically deduced that India sought to create a different regional disturbance against a target that is generally seen as “softer” from the Indian perspective vis-a-vis Pakistan.
As Sri Lanka defeated LTTE ten years ago, the atmosphere of peace that had prevailed may well have created a false sense of security that was ripe for exploitation. Even before Colombo named an obscure Islamist group as the culprits of the attacks, Indian politicians up to and including Narendra Modi began banging the drums of jingoistic Islamophobia as is par for the course when it comes to the radical Hindutva BJP.
Therefore, when one connects the dots, one sees that India stands to uniquely benefit from Sri Lanka’s turmoil not only in terms of internal electoral politics but in terms of weakening a Sri Lankan government that in spite of its allegedly pro-India Prime Minister maintains healthy and growing ties to China and Belt and Road. Thus, the attack could well serve as a “punishment” for Sri Lanka’s “crime” of moving closer towards Belt and Road. Making matters all the more beneficial for India is that a relative of the Bangladesh Prime Minister’s family was also killed in the attack which took place on a five star hotel in which he was staying. It cannot be ruled out that RAW had knowledge of this and specially targeted the hotel in order to inevitably inflame Bangladeshi sentiment against Sri Lanka for its self-evident security failure.
Taken as a whole, India has clear motives for seeking to destabilise Sri Lanka at this time. What’s left for Sri Lankan investigators to do is make the foreign links of NTJ know to the wider world whilst Sri Lanka must also record and make public the voices of the surviving suspects so that experts can determine if the suspects speak in the language, dialect and vernacular that one would expect. Also, the bodies of the terrorists must be examined to determine whether they are circumcised or not. This is crucial as previous Indian false flag attacks have involved non-circumcised men (therefore not Muslims) participating in allegedly Islamist attacks whilst also, previous false flag attacks in India allegedly involving Pakistanis were later exposed due to the fact that the “Pakistani” suspects could not speak Urdu or any other official Pakistani language but instead spoke in languages and vernaculars common only to India.
Therefore, while it cannot be concluded with certainty that yesterday’s atrocity was a false flag attack, it can certainly not be ruled out. As such, anyone with a clear motive for conducting a false flag attack should be thoroughly investigated by the Sri Lankan authorities.
The hump-nosed pit viper has many oddities — starting with its name — but the most fearsome is the fact that there is no antidote available for its deadly venom.
That makes the hump-nosed pit viper (Hypnale hypnale), also called the hump-nosed moccasin for its pointed and upturned snout, a major killer endemic to Sri Lanka and the Western Ghats, a mountain range of South India. The standard polyvalent antivenom used for the four most poisonous snakes of the region — the Indian cobra (Naja naja), Indian krait (Bangarus caeruleus), Russell's viper (Daboia russelii) and Saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus) — does not work on hump-nosed pit viper venom.
A: Russell's viper/ B:Indian cobra/ C: Saw-scaled vipe/ D: Krait
Worse, the polyvalent antivenom, which is made in India and exported to Sri Lanka and several African countries, can result in massive allergic reactions when administered to a victim bitten by a hump-nosed pit viper or by a species other than the Big Four.
Following detailed studies in the 1990s, the hump-nosed pit viper was recognised as a medically important snake. As a result, researchers began questioning the prevalence of the Big Four in clinical, toxicological and biological studies, while other venomous species have remained neglected. Even now, most of the scientific literature on the hump-nosed pit viper is confined to Southern India or Sri Lanka.
“Because the hump-nosed pit viper was not seen to be as deadly as the Big Four, no study on its venom and treatment was carried out, resulting in high levels of mortality and morbidity,” says Sajeeth Kumar, researcher at the Government Medical College in Kozhikode, Kerala, and lead author of a study on poisonous snakes published in the International Journal of General Medicine.
“Where the bite of the hump-nosed pit viper was thought to result only in local envenoming it turned out that there were serious systemic effects as well with more than one organ affected,” Kumar tells SciDev.Net. “Our study of 1,500 toxic snakebite cases showed that hump-nosed pit viper envenomation typically brings on acute kidney injury leading to corticoid necrosis and death.”
Most bite victims suffer from coagulopathy, a condition in which the blood loses its ability to clot, resulting in internal bleeding that may last six days on average, calling for close medical management.
“Finding the particular component in hump-nosed pit viper venom that stops blood from clotting could be of major therapeutic importance,” says Kumar. He points to studies aimed at developing medicines from viper venom, such as blood thinners, that can prevent the unwanted clot formation responsible for cardiac arrest, stroke and hypertension.
The leading cause of death from hump-nosed pit viper bites is capillary leak syndrome, a condition in which fluid and proteins leak out of tiny blood vessels into surrounding tissue. This results in dangerously low blood pressure and a decrease in blood plasma volume.
“Capillary leak syndrome is refractory to any standard treatment measure and adds to the complications of treating a venomous hump-nosed pit viper bite,” says Kumar. “This is why lack of awareness, delayed hospitalisation and treatment by non-medical personnel add to the risk of mortality where hump-nosed pit vipers are concerned.”
In the absence of antivenom, basic medical facilities needed for the management of hump-nosed pit viper bites include blood dialysis machines that can help save the kidneys, ventilators in the event of respiratory distress and fresh, frozen plasma for use on patients that show signs of coagulopathy.
English: Highland Hump-nosed Pit Viper Binomial: Hypnale nepa. Sinhala: කදුකර මූකලන් තෙලිස්සා
“It is clear that we urgently need to develop and manufacture antivenom with activity against hump-nosed pit viper venom,” says Kumar. “We are hopeful that the polyvalent antivenom, presently undergoing clinical trials in Sri Lanka, would be useful in South India.”
The polyvalent antivenom being developed by Sri Lanka’s University of Peradeniya, in close collaboration with the Instituto Clodomiro Picado in Costa Rica, contains antivenom specific to Sri Lankan hump-nosed pit vipers.
Sri Lanka initiated the project after it was discovered that polyvalent antivenom being imported from India was not only useless against the hump-nosed pit viper, but also triggered severe allergic reactions in an unacceptably large number of cases.
Adverse reactions to the Indian antivenom makes it “part of the problem” of treating snakebite, says Sarath Kotagama, conservationist and emeritus professor of environmental sciences at the University of Colombo. “There are differences in the venom of Indian and Sri Lankan snakes, although both belong to the same species.”
According to Indian experts, variability in composition and potency of snake venom is common across species, so much so that India is now putting in place a policy of producing antivenom for specific areas. “Ecological and environmental factors, gender, age, diet and season are among factors that affect snake venom composition,” says Kartik Sunager, a researcher on snake venom at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.
The new, polyvalent antivenom has demonstrated, in pre-clinical trials, capability in neutralising the venom of Sri Lanka’s three main viperid species — the Russel’s viper, the saw-scaled viper and the hump-nosed pit viper. The inclusion of hump-nosed pit viper antibodies makes it the only antivenom available for the treatment of this species anywhere, but commercial manufacture is yet to begin.
“The danger from hump-nosed pit viper bites also has to do with its mottled grey and brown colouring overlaid with a pattern of dark spots that camouflages the nocturnal animal well as it rests during the day among dead leaves, bushes and fallen logs,” says V.T. Vijayakumar, an environmentalist who specialises in snakes. “Though slow-moving, it has an irritable disposition when disturbed and strikes fast.”
“It is well for unsuspecting farmers and trekkers to remember these attributes because, for now, the only way to prevent hump-nosed pit viper envenomation is to stay clear of the reptile,” Vijayakumar says.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Global desk.
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