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).
The tragicomedy revolves around three protagonists: President Maithripala Sirisena, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa and ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Sirisena served under president Rajapaksa in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) but decamped to run against and defeat Rajapaksa in the 2015 presidential election. Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) together with the country’s Tamil and Muslim minorities voted for Sirisena, who made Wickremesinghe his prime minister.
But the two failed to get along. Massive corruption among Wickremesinghe’s henchmen was one source of tension. Another was the class divide between a president with rural roots and the urban, liberal and pro-Western mindset of Wickremesinghe and his coterie. The latter’s disregard for Sirisena’s opinion when making important decisions was a constant irritant. So in October 2018 Sirisena overlooked constitutional constraints, fired Wickremesinghe and appointed Rajapaksa in his place.
When Rajapaksa was unable to command a majority in parliament, Sirisena prorogued and then dissolved the legislature. As the constitution prohibits dissolution until parliament has served four-and-a-half years of its five-year term, an interim Supreme Court decision stayed the dissolution of parliament until 7 December.
In the meantime, Asia’s oldest democracy claims two prime ministers. Wickremesinghe says Rajapaksa’s appointment is illegitimate and refuses to leave the prime minister’s residence, while Rajapaksa occupies the prime minister’s office and sits in the prime minister’s chair when parliament meets.
Tumultuous politics is compounding the crisis. Sirisena has reiterated he will not reappoint Wickremesinghe as prime minister. Rajapaksa’s ministers claim they do not require a parliamentary majority to oversee government, while the UNP, other parliamentarians and the Speaker demand that Rajapaksa prove a majority or sit in opposition. To boycott parliamentary sessions, Rajapaksa forces are scapegoating a hitherto dispassionate Speaker. And government servants are clueless as to who they should take orders from. All this amid a debt-ridden economy with a rising cost of living irking an increasingly disgruntled citizenry.
What are the troika’s motivations? Wickremesinghe has long craved the presidency and suspects he may prevail at the next election. While considered elitist and deaf to rural and grassroots concerns, the ongoing crisis allows him to mask such shortcomings and project himself as a saviour of democracy.
Despite committing to one term, Sirisena pines for another. The minorities and UNP supporters who voted for him in 2015 are not his base, and he has alienated SLFP supporters after defecting to the opposition and defeating Rajapaksa in the last election. Joining forces with Rajapaksa could bolster his popularity if they run as a team — Sirisena for another term as president and Rajapaksa as prime minister.
Rajapaksa cannot run for a third presidential term, but could dominate politics again as prime minister. Having defeated the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and being an unabashed Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist, Rajapaksa has the support of Sri Lanka’s majority Buddhists. Had he waited until the next parliamentary elections, he would have easily won the prime ministership. But the fear that charges for crimes perpetrated during his presidency could be brought against him, his family and cronies before the next elections made Wickremesinghe’s ousting an attractive opportunity.
But the controversial way Rajapaksa recaptured power, combined with his supporters’ forceful take-over of media, telecommunications and government institutions, resembles a constitutional coup. Continuing to claim the prime ministership despite suffering multiple no-confidence votes in parliament has diminished his stature. Despite this, Rajapaksa and his party still stand to do well at the next elections.
Recent constitutional reforms granting more power to the prime minister’s office mean Rajapaksa could lord over a cabinet of his choice and marginalise Sirisena if he retains his position. Rajapaksa is vindictive and once he consolidates his position he may even pick a family member to replace Sirisena. What he ultimately wants is to create a political dynasty with his oldest son as president.
Sri Lanka’s rulers have repeatedly disregarded the country’s best interests for personal gain. And despite eliminating the LTTE, no one has compromised Sri Lanka’s long-term standing as much as Rajapaksa. Domestically, he sought to further marginalise the Tamils even while granting impunity to those attacking the island’s Muslims. (Most among these minorities did not vote for Rajapaksa and he believed that the narrative against them bolstered his Sinhalese Buddhist credentials.) He did so while undermining democratic institutions and establishing an increasingly authoritarian regime.
From a foreign policy standpoint, Rajapaksa facilitated increased Chinese presence in Sri Lanka through non-transparent and corrupt dealings. This relationship unsettled India and the United States but benefitted Rajapaksa and his following. His return to power has elated China while deepening concern in India and the West. It is a return that does not bode well for Sri Lanka’s recuperating democracy or regional relations.
*Neil DeVotta is Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Wake Forest University in the United States.
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.
China cannot do to the Philippines what it did to Sri Lanka -- use the “debt trap” to acquire key sea outposts -- because the Philippines economy doesn’t resemble Sri Lanka’s.
Sri Lanka’s debt trap saga began with Beijing lending that country funds needed to have its ports upgraded by Chinese construction companies. When Sri Lanka couldn’t pay back the loans, Beijing turned them into equity. And that gave China ownership and control of Sri Lanka’s two major ports.
Recently, China and the Philippines signed agreements for several infrastructure projects to be financed by Beijing. But there are a couple of things that make China's Sri Lanka strategy very unlikely in the case of the Philippines.
One of them is that the Philippines is better in managing foreign loans than Sri Lanka.
That’s according to Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines' Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea. “The Philippines is smarter and more experienced in managing loans,” Batongbacal’s quoted saying in GMA NEWS OLINE.
Apparently, Mr. Batongbacal is referring to the Philippines’ ability to avoid outright debt crises seen in other emerging market economies.
Then, there’s the size of the Philippines economy. The Philippines GDP is roughly four times that of Sri Lanka’s—see table.
Philippines vs Sri Lanka Key Economic Metrics
And there’s the state of the Philippines’s economy, which doesn’t run the risk of a debt crisis anytime soon, as Sri Lanka did early this year.
To begin with, the Philippines economy has been growing at a robust pace. As of the September quarter of 2018 the annual growth was standing at 6.1%—well above the 3.79% for the period 1982-2018.
Then there’s the country’s tamed Current Account deficit. It stands at 0.80%, close to the average of -0.45% for the period 1980-2017. That means that the country is living close to its means, thanks to remittances by overseas Filipinos, of course.
Most notably, government debt stands at 42.10% of GDP, well below the average of 56.25% for the period for the period 1990-2017, which makes it very unlikely that the country will run into any debt crisis any time soon.
And if it does, it has plenty of foreign reserves to deal with the situation. The Philippines’ Foreign Exchange Reserves stand at $74722 Million, well above the average of 16341.45 USD Million for the period 1960-2018.
These statistics stand in sharp contrast to those of Sri Lanka’s, where the GDP grew at an annual rate of 3.70% in 2018, well below the 5.88% average for the period 2003-2017.
Philippines Equity Market/KOYFIN
Sri Lanka is running a Current Account deficit of 2.60% of GDP, half of the -5.47% average for the period 1980-2017. That means that the country is living beyond its means, relying on foreign money to sustain its living standards.
That could explain the country’s large government debt, which stands at 77.60% of GDP—well above the average of 69.69% for the period 1950-2017.
Meanwhile, foreign Exchange Reserves stand at 1386166.90 LKR Million in July of 2018—well below the average of 250901.90 LKR Million for the period 1975-2018.
The bottom line: China cannot turn the Philippines into another Sri Lanka, because its economy is large and growing fast. Filipinos live within their means. And the country’s central bank has the foreign currency reserves to deal with the prospect of a debt crisis.
* Professor and Chair of the Department of Economics at LIU Post in New York.He also teaches at Columbia University.
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.
The schemes of Maithripala Sirisena, the president of Sri Lanka, are blowing up in his face. On November 13th the Supreme Court suspended his order dissolving parliament and calling a snap general election. The next day the reinstated parliament raucously approved a motion of no confidence against the government that the president had only just installed. It was a stinging rebuke to Mr Sirisena, who had stretched the constitution in his attempt to replace a supposed ally, Ranil Wickremesinghe (pictured, sitting), with a supposed enemy, Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The president has put Sri Lanka in a constitutional quandary. It now has no clear government. Mr Rajapaksa’s team have occupied all the ministries, but Mr Wickremesinghe’s insists that it remains the legitimate cabinet. “We went from one prime minister to two prime ministers to no prime minister in a span of 20 days,” says Thishya Weragoda, a bemused lawyer.
The crisis began on October 26th, when Mr Sirisena abruptly sacked Mr Wickremesinghe’s government—a power the constitution reserves for parliament, under an amendment Mr Sirisena himself ushered into law. The president denounced Mr Wickremesinghe as arrogant and stubborn. He replaced him with Mr Rajapaksa, a populist former president in whose cabinet Mr Sirisena had served from 2005 to 2014, before allying with Mr Wickremesinghe to defeat Mr Rajapaksa in the presidential election the following year. Mr Sirisena later accused Mr Rajapaksa of corruption and even of plotting to kill him.
Mr Sirisena now insists that Mr Rajapaksa is the best candidate for prime minister. To avoid learning parliament’s view, he suspended it for three weeks. Meanwhile, he swore in a new cabinet. But Mr Wickremesinghe refused to give way, calling his sacking illegal. The bureaucracy fell into near paralysis.
In response to growing pressure, Mr Sirisena grudgingly called for the legislature to convene on November 14th. He gambled on gaining the required 113 votes in the 225-seat parliament to validate Mr Rajapaksa’s appointment. MPs claim they were offered cabinet portfolios and millions of dollars to support the new order. Even so the numbers looked to be falling well short. So on November 9th Mr Sirisena dissolved parliament altogether and announced a snap election—again, a move that appeared to exceed his constitutional authority.
Mr Wickremesinghe’s backers complained to the Supreme Court. After two days of hearings, the three-judge bench—including the chief justice recently appointed by Mr Sirisena—suspended the presidential decree dissolving parliament. The ruling applies until December 7th, when the court will take up the case again.
That led to chaotic scenes in parliament. Mr Sirisena did not turn up to deliver the president’s customary statement at a re-opening. Mr Rajapaksa took the seat allotted to the prime minister. His supporters disrupted attempts to vote on the no-confidence motion with a show of hands, so 122 MPs signed a letter saying they had voted for it. The speaker notified Mr Sirisena, who declared the vote irrelevant.
Mr Rajapaksa’s supporters are defiant. Dinesh Gunawardena, an MP, tweeted that they would not accept the decision as “there was no vote taken”. They argue the speaker is biased. But in a triumphant press conference, Mr Wickremesinghe warned police and public officials not to follow “illegal orders from the purported government that has failed to demonstrate the confidence of the people”. He invited Mr Rajapaksa to propose a fresh vote if he had difficulty accepting the legitimacy of the one that had already taken place. Mr Wickremesinghe said his administration will take steps to ensure the government in place before October 26th will continue. How he will do that remains to be seen.
Mr Sirisena, angry and defiant, retains nominal control of the army and police while Mr Rajapaksa, sullen and chagrined, enjoys widespread public support. That is the crowning irony: had he simply waited for elections in two years’ time, he would probably have walked into the job.
This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition of Economist under the headline "Putsch-tush"
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.
By Prof. Liyanage Amarakeerthi
His Excellency, Mr. Cheng Xueyuan ,
Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka.
Dear Mr. Cheng Xueyuan ,
I hope this finds you well. I hope very much that you are extremely happy about Sri Lankan political mess to whose making you have contributed as well. I am a Sri Lankan citizen, a university professor and an honest tax payer and, by extension, a committed contributor to the huge repayment installments of the loans we have taken from your country.
I have seen the Hambantota Harbour from where you are able to launch military-naval activities of the Indian Ocean. You know what? I am extremely grateful to you for holding India at bay – I mean quite literally at ‘the Bay of Bengal.’ I have also seen the Shangri-La Hotel by the Galle Face Green – an imposing building that belittles the statue of our beloved former Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. Recently, our equally beloved former secretary of defense, Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa held one of his political meetings at Shangri-la. Our villagers praise you to the sky for letting him have that epoch-making meeting at Shangri-La. Since those villagers sing your praise in Sinhala you might not understand it. Here I am reporting the facts to you. You know what your Excellency- if you help our hero GR to come to power you are certainly opening a crucial niche in the market for another Chinese product: White Van. Make them reliable, and user-friendly at night.
Slightly narrower with better ground clearance would be better so that those vans can traverse narrow and pot-holed streets on which normally under-paid journalists live.
Speaking of Shangri-La, your excellency, we did not bother about who owns that prime piece of land because you have come here to save us from the West and also from the North – the immediate north-India. India gave us Buddhism. But now, in order to protect that Buddhism, even from India, we need China. I know that you have brought us nothing but China. For example, even a little toy that my daughter plays with is from China. They are very good. For one thing, they break quickly so that my daughter does not have to play with a single set of toys for a long time. I go shopping in my own home town and buy some other toys which are also from China.
Apart from my daughter’s toys and the white vans I want you to export to us in future, I have another attachment to China. I am a big fan of Chinese literature. In my courses in comparative literature I often use Chinese literary works in Sinhala translations and Chinese literary theory in English translations. I do not read Chinese. But I am familiar with scholarly books by Stephen Owen, Earl Minor and others who have written wonderfully about Chinese literature and theory. I use some Chinese films in my classes, and To Raise the Red Lantern, Red shogun, and Farewell My Concubine are my all-time favorites. And there are many others that you might not particularly like because, as any good art work does, they are critical of the status quo of the society of their origin, i.e. the China you are ‘ambassadoring’ here.
So, your Excellency, you can see that I am more than qualified to write this letter to you. I am reporting a certain sentiment prevalent in my country these days. Following observations are not necessarily mine. Thus I have heard – to use a phrase found in canonical Buddhist texts:
Rumour has it that you are behind some of the political dealings taking place in our country today. You must have seen, if you have good Sinhala translators in the embassy, our beloved former minister S.B. Dissanayake trying to cut a deal with a parliamentarian on the opposite side. Did you see the number? I do not know how to write that number here. It is about RS 500 millions. How did they get that kind of money? India is known to be stingy even though she wants to be the regional super power. The US is an already an imperialist in her retirement- at least she pretends to be so. For many Sri Lankans you are the only source of political bribe-money circulated in my country today. People claim that that your Port-city, the other half of Hambantota harbour, a part of Colombo harbour, and other stuff, known and unknown, are at stake, and you are required to throw in a bit of cash. That much I have heard both in august assemblies and on the street.
Prompted by those rumours, here I am writing to you. In addition to being a university professor, I am working to build a truly democratic society that respects the rule of law. “Democracy” and “the rule of law” might not mean much in China. Over there, perhaps “rule by law” matters the most (That is also an argument heard everywhere in Sri Lanka.) But here, in my country, we have a long history of democracy- no matter how flawed that democracy is. If “democracy” sounds like something “crazy” to you, let me tell you this: some of us are working to build a socialist Sri Lanka. Does “socialist” sound familiar to you, your Excellency? Or is it already archaic in China? To achieve that (socialist Sri Lanka) I am working with a group of left parties. But if you throw in insane amount of Chinese money to our political scene, how can we practice principled politics? And you know very well that Embassies such as the US would not tolerate at least mildly socialist regimes. They are the ones who created the mass murders such as Pinochet's nearly everywhere. Now, despite your socialist history and the legacy of great Mao Zedong, you are bringing corrupted despots to power or supporting them to stay in power.
Your Excellency, if your money is used in the political game played here today, would you mind taking it back and holding onto it at least until the parliament of Sri Lanka resolves the crisis? After that you can invest that money in our country and bribe your way into winning huge development projects as you usually do (another fact heard on our streets), after the power struggles are settled domestically.
Please let us settle this issue ourselves and take your bribe-money back. If you happen to know other embassies that throw money into this insane game please forward this letter to them as well.
University of Peradeniya
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.
By Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda
“My country has been betrayed again” –Pablo Neruda, Memoirs
In his explanation of why he removed Ranil Wickremesinghe from the office of Prime Minister, President Maithripala Sirisena cited policy and personal differences between the two.
An analysis of his speech shows that personal reasons are stronger than policy reasons and the personal is very much political. The text of President Sirisena’s address to the nation reminds the citizens of the explanation he offered in the latter part of 2014 as to why he left his former political boss, Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa. There too, the personal was political.
In this note, I will try to show how, after October 26, the political is personal and devastatingly personal for me.
October 26 was a Friday. Although I am not a superstitious person, I look back at that rainy, gloomy Friday as the day I felt personally betrayed too. I can no longer think of Mr. Maithripala Sirisena as a symbol of political hope for the citizens of this country, and particularly for the younger generation. His actions that Friday marked a shockingly tragic end to the political hope and promise he had epitomised since November 21, 2014.
I campaigned actively for the newly formed opposition front, which fielded Mr. Sirisena as its Presidential candidate for the 2015 January election. I did so primarily because of Mr. Sirisena, or Maithri, as we began to call him affectionately. If Ranil were the candidate, I would have just voted for him merely as an act of protest against Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, but would not have actively campaigned for his victory. It is Maithri who made me active in electoral politics again, against a backdrop of many political disappointments with other leaders, including Chandrika and Ranil.
For me voting for Rail was purely instrumentalist. In contrast, campaigning for Maithri was a politico-moral duty.
Not only me. 51.28 percent of Sri Lankan voters found that at last there was now a man they could trust, identify themselves with, and entrust their democratic political destinies. He was actually the last hope of democracy in Sri Lanka, at a time when Sri Lankan politics under the existing regime, was moving in the direction of what we political scientists call ‘hard authoritarianism.’
To stop that nightmarish drift, a regime change was needed. For a regime change, a credible presidential candidate other than Ranil Wickremesinghe was needed. A man or woman who could personify the democratic political hopes of future generations of our citizens, particularly the young ones and first-time voters, needed. The new leader had to be one who had not earlier tasted political power as a government leader, and therefore unsullied by a record of corruption, abuse of power, megalomania and personalised rule, and limitless political ambitions.
Maithripala Sirisena fit the bill. He could turn the tide of political despair and cynicism. Somewhere towards the end of November 2014, two young vegetable sellers in rural Neluwa, Hiniduma, articulated to me in simple language the hope that I too had shared: “Who else can we trust except Maithri?’
And Maithri was willing to take tremendous personal risks. His daughter has now narrated in detail all these risks in her glossy political biography of her father.
It was the ethicality of candidate Sirisena’s message that had the greatest political aesthetics in 2015. Sri Lanka needed a new leader who valued political morality over ambition and compassion over the ruthlessness of power. It is the political morality of Maithri’s slogan yahapaalanya that fired the political imagination of more than half of Sri Lankan voters in 2015.
By 2015 I had not ever met Mr. Maithripala Sirisena. I had only seen him once in 2002 at the Shanthi Vihar Restaurant, near University of Colombo. At that time, he was out of power, but still the General Secretary of the SLFP. He was wearing a pair of trousers and a long sleeved, and slightly oversized, white shirt. A former GA of Polonnaruwa, whom I knew, and two others were at the lunch table. When I talked to the former GA across the lunch table, Mr. Sirisena and I only shared mild smiles.
My absolute lack of personal acquaintance with Mr. Sirisena did not prevent me from developing a personal admiration for him. In his public persona, I saw him as a mild mannered, gentle, and restrained individual with no ruthless political ambitions. Based on that judgment which now appears to me naive, I reached a political conclusion: To personify the hopes and aspirations of democratic revival in Sri Lanka, we needed a man or woman of gentle and kind disposition with moderate temperament who would not have the inner capacity to become a hardline ruler. Democracy is after all a government by the moderates who would exercise political power, being aware of, and faithful to, its inherent limits.
For this essential personal requirement of a democratic politician, Sirisena was insulted, slighted, and ridiculed by some of his opponents, calling him by abusive nicknames. And all of them have now begun, after October 26, to admire him and see great political virtues in him, of course, for wrong and utterly opportunistic reasons.
After he became Sri Lanka’s president, I have met Mr. Sirisena probably less than five times. I found him to be a charming and sincere political leader, not corrupted by the pretensions of the Colombo’s political elite. My first face –to- face meeting with him rekindled another naïve illusion I had been maintaining: a politician with rural social background and uncorrupted by urban class arrogance and sophistication would be a better democrat.
We all knew that President Sirisena and his Prime Minister failed to develop a stable working relationship to lead the government which they jointly formed.
We also knew that both leaders were not adequately sensitive to the popular mandate that brought them in to power in 2015. We also learned that our President and Prime Minister were amateurish in their political management of conflicts that occurred within the coalition government. We all were hoping against hope that the two leaders would not damage the process of Sri Lanka’s democratic recovery.
But, I never expected President Sirisena, amidst all the unpleasant political and personal problems he had with Prime Minister Wickremasinghe, to single handedly reverse Sri Lanka’s path to democratic recovery and consolidation. He did so by, as far as I understand the constitution, violating both the letter and spirit of the 19th Amendment of which he was a co-author. To justify that violation, he seems to have got legal advise, among others, from those who were pathologically opposed to the essence and spirit of 19th Amendment. Some others were political sycophants who saw a great chance in a President who has a not-so-strong understanding of the intricacies of constitutional law, in order to promote their own political self-interests.
The damage done on October 26 evening and continues to be done thereafter to Sri Lanka’s democracy, and the democratic futures of the young generation to which the children and grand children of both President Sirisena and I belong, is a devastating personal setback to me.
Now on, recovery of democracy for Sri Lanka’s next generation is likely to be preceded by another phase of grave violations, setbacks, violence, resistance, and tragically, bloodbath.
Thus, for me, political is the personal too.
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.
by Anura Gunasekera
( November 3, 2018, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Never has the truth of that hackneyed cliche’, “ in politics there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies, but only permanent interests”, been so aptly demonstrated than in the drama that is being currently played out in our theatre of the absurd.
In an act of unbelievable political expediency President Sirisena betrayed all the noble principles of the Rule of Law, Constitutional Democracy and Good Governance that he so sanctimoniously vowed four years ago to uphold, and handed back the reins of power to the supremacist whom he ousted; at the risk of his life as Sirisena himself said at that time.
Maithripala Sirisena, a colourless man with a colourless career, for a greater proportion of that an unthreatening presence to his more ambitious colleagues, will now be remembered for ever for two epochal events, both occurring in the evening of his political life. Without those two episodes, in the normal course of events he would have faded away as many other politicians of his calibre, eventually to be forgotten even by his constituents.
The first event was when, in November 2014, he stood before the nation, flanked by his campaign companions and supporters and declared his challenge to the most powerful and most charismatic politician this country has seen since Independence. In the context of the time and the nature of his opponent it was a courageous gesture and a moment of genuine greatness in an otherwise singularly unremarkable life
Given the history of the Mahinda Rajapaksa operational style, the possible risk to his life was not an exaggeration. The number of Rajapakse opponents and critics who were neutralized through violent death, inexplicable disappearance, summary dismissal from public office, incarceration and expulsion or permanent flight to other countries, represents a compelling body of evidence of the peril inherent in throwing down the gauntlet at Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The second event was just a couple of days ago, when with a terse message addressed to sitting Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe, he betrayed the trust of 6.2 million people and released to the land the spectre that he had once helped to contain. With one stroke of his pen he re-launched the Rajapakse dynastic project which he himself once helped to derail. Unless something miraculous happens the project is now on track and in my view miracles do not happen. The Rajapakse cabal will not make the same mistakes again. It is not that they will reform. They will simply act with greater ruthlessness, with excessive care and certainty, ensuring that the opposition will not rise again.
Irrespective of the arguments in support of Sirisena’s action, particularly by G.L. Peiris, that unrepentant apologist for a succession of unscrupulous rulers, the entire episode of unseating Wickramasinghe and appointing Rajapakse carries with it all the elements of a constitutional coup, secretively configured and suddenly executed, carefully hidden from the victim till the very end. The Parliament, the Speaker and the nation, which includes the many people who propelled both the victim and the perpetrator in to power, were kept in the dark. It is something that should never have happened in a robust democracy. It is exactly what happens in a typical “ banana republic”, which the Rajapaksa regime helped to usher in. So far there has been no shooting, as would be normal in a banana republic, except in a parallel development at the Ceypetco office. But, unless there is a reasonable and democratically acceptable solution to this crisis, the shooting may also soon take place elsewhere.
What Sirisena has done is unparalleled in the recent history of a democratic entity, anywhere. In his subsequent address to the nation, he attributed to his action a long litany of purported misdeeds of the Prime Minister to which he also attached the cultural gulf that existed between the two of them. He stated that Wickramasinghe conducted the business of running the country in consultation with a just few close associates of his, who belonged to a privileged class. That statement would be laughable if not for the ominous consequences that the nation will face under Rajapakse rule. Does Sirisena seriously expect Mahinda Rajapaksa to act differently or more democratically than Wickramasinghe? Under Rajapakse the country will be governed by him, in consultation with his family and a couple of associates and friends, as was the case in the nine years of his stewardship. Of course, there will be one cardinal and singularly important difference between the two regimes. Under RW, criticism of the regime and its actions was permitted to a ridiculously candid extent. As opposed to that extreme of freedom of expression, one has only to consider the history of dissent under Rajapakse governance. Elaboration is unnecessary.
The constitutional and legal validity of RW’s removal will continue to be debated and can be finally resolved only by a ruling of the Supreme Court, assuming that the Rajapakse juggernaut that is rapidly steamrolling the RW administration will permit the issue to be canvassed at that forum. Mahinda Samarasinghe, over electronic media, triumphantly read out two letters, first the one addressed by the Speaker to the Acting Attorney General seeking clarity regarding the issue, and second the latter’s response to it. The reply appeared to be deliberately equivocal and certainly does not lay the matter to rest. As I, and I am sure most reasonable people in this country would understand it, the crucial determinant of legitimacy of governance is provided by a parliamentary majority. That I believe is the litmus test.
The prorogation of Parliament, notwithstanding all the logic attached to it by its proponents, is really a strategy to enable MR to gather, through cash purchase and any other means possible, the additional numbers he needs to legitimize an illegitimate promotion. The consolidation of Rajapakse power over the administration before reconvention of the Parliament, may eventually be an impediment to the delivery of an impartial legal opinion on the matter. The medium term objective of this constitutional coup is also to provide Sirisena a path, as a Rajapakse lackey, for a second presidential term, which the UNP would have denied him.
Irrespective of the legal and constitutional arguments, Sirisena, with his precipitate action, has set in motion an unprecedented constitutional crisis, locking two men in an internecine struggle for the prime ministerial seat and the right to govern. It has brought in to question the very validity and legitimacy of the existing constitution. Sirisena has created the conditions for civic disobedience in the country and that is an environment in which Mahinda Rajapaksa thrives. It has always been his political bread and butter. In a contest in which the quickest path to victory is the use and abuse of power and extra-legal intimidation, coercion and paramilitary suppression, there can be only one winner.
A perfect example of the above is the violence unleashed on Rupavahini and the ITN within hours of the proclamation of MR as Prime Minister. The unambiguous threats of forcible eviction of RW from Temple Trees, delivered by Wimal Weerawansa over electronic media are also simply echoes of his master’s voice.
It is not the purpose of this writing to either demonize Rajapakse or to sanctify Wickramasinghe. Both are unscrupulous in different ways and equally power-hungry. The difference with RW is that physical intimidation not excluding murder, is not the preferred method of stifling dissent and enforcing personal writ. What is at stake here is not the desirability of one individual over the other as the Prime Minister of the country but the legitimacy of democratic rule in the country. That is infinitely more important than the two individuals concerned.
Under a new Rajapakse rule one has to expect certain immediate and inevitable consequences. Firstly, there will be the dismantling of all the ongoing investigative processes in to financial irregularities and other crimes-including politically motivated murder- committed during the previous Rajapaksa regime. Selected criminals currently serving sentences are likely to be pardoned. It may not be too long before Galaboda Gnanasara exchanges his prison jumper for the robes that the Buddha sanctified and commences his rampage against Muslims. Duminda Silva may soon be addressing political rallies once more. The Armed Forces, the Police Department and the Judiciary are likely to see Rajapakse favorites in crucial positions. The areas of public service which are expected to deliver impartial outcomes to the nation will once again become willing adjuncts to the Rajapakse project.
President Sirisena has created a situation which is pushing a country, already beleaguered by a faltering economy and massive public fraud, in to total chaos at all levels. It is his responsibility now to resolve it. In January 2015 he said that he risked his life in order to do the right thing on behalf of the nation. That is exactly what he needs to do again, despite the certain knowledge that the risk is now of a greater magnitude. The Rajapaksa's do not forgive those who betray their cause; certainly not a second time.
On that eventful day four years ago, almost immediately after Maithripala Sirisena’s victory over Mahinda Rajapaksa was officially confirmed, I received a call from a friend, once one of the most highly regarded civil servants of then Ceylon, for long living in retirement in England. I was euphoric, as Sirisena’s win over Rajapakse represented to me, literally, the triumph of good over evil. My friend brought me down to earth with the words, “ Never place your faith in politicians. I have, for years observed their operations at close quarters. Sirisena himself may one day create the path for Mahinda Rajapaksa to come storming back”.
Those were the exact words of Neville Jayaweera, Chairman and Director General of the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation from 1967-1970 and, at different times, Government Agent, Jaffna and Vavuniya. A prophetic utterance, from a man who had seen the best and worst of politicians, in an era when most politicians were of a different breed.
Maithripala Sirisena has defined himself, irrevocably, as a man of straw. Inevitably, it is they who are first consumed by the conflagrations that they fuel.
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