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Opinion

Justice in the Street

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Justice in the street is not a given. Dignity, too, through justice, is not where it might be, in the air or on the ground. This comment arises from the article by Tassie Seneviratne (TS) in The Sunday Times 20th Sept 2020 over a person sworn in as an MP, despite a criminal conviction record.

Oath of public office: The swearing in and the oath administered, and witnessed, raise questions as to its validity in law and on its effect on Justice and Dignity of public office. Mainly, the question is the purpose whether it has serious intention of the oath, not reduced to a plain utterance. Even the oath of office, as for justice and dignity ,is now in effect empty. Oath without dignity does not bind. Killing is not a disqualification for public office as legislators. It is contemptible to even think of such disqualification to hold public office in the Police, the Public Service, and the Judiciary. Even a questionable reputation of a remote distant relation of a candidate to public office was unacceptable to hold office. Promotions in public service depended much on the reputation of the aspirant, apart from some conviction. The reason is that their social background was important to swear an oath, in law and in society. It is impossible to think of killers, bribe takers and wastrels, in our public and police service, to pledge their word, since they cannot discharge their functions with such a murky character background. Only the clear could take their oath. With MPP there is little let or hindrance to take oath from unclear social background. Oath of public office is therefore not easily administered.

Oath of public office and the Law. It is even said the oath can be sworn as a ghost may swear. The effect of law on the oath of office is now, perhaps, only little beyond nominal. Legality and morality are also at odds with justice on the streets, as one sees. But sight again is only as one sees. Many have seen it one way and are shocked. To many others as they see, it is business as usual with some profit thrown in, in the while. Legal arguments are a waste of time if the return is good. Moral public concerns are still trying their utmost best, in Parliament and outside, even with less profit and takings. This is however the drama unfolding to hold the public in the pay off.

Many questions yet arise which reflect on administer of the oath and the validity of its attestation. These may be legal issues which may be explained away in various ways; that the words and the action are separate and hardly related to each other. These arguments will soon be forgotten. Where the law which is for justice does not help, one may then look to religion, at least for the reason that the oath is vowed with a religious intonation.

Oath of public office and Religion. Oath is subscribed to solemnly with a religious intonation. Religion too may then lend its claims and enter the fray but, apparently, does not help dignity of office. Many an oath is administered in the cloak of religion that is yet not worth the breath exhaled. Such is also the matter of everyday life experience of oath taking in medicine, in ethics, in many other professions, even law, and now in Parliament. Yet religion is spread through far and wide for other good effect in this country. Somehow religion barely matters to push dignity. Religious preaching is not at a loss, not less, though its effect is doubtful. If religion speaks to promote dignity in public life, the reality in Parliament and outside, may do much to help dignity in public office. The fault is still not with religion, but with those who may use religion otherwise. Public life nonetheless goes on, that even religious places may, perhaps, have uses that serve them better.

Oath of public office with conviction and with previous conviction. Into this void of a legal and religious effect of the oath, comes a social video, just at this time. Bribery and corruption took place there, the video said, before the very eyes of the dignitaries in those identical precincts dedicated to law and justice. In another sense, the market place has come into Hulftsdorf with transactions in and around the very pillars of justice. They were all involved, leaving no exception. They all are those who had subscribed to a solemn oath for justice and dignity with conviction, with no previous conviction. For every turn then of the administration in the law offices, taking extracts, moving files, and in the myriad interactions among these who alone are admitted to these premises, the exchanges are transactions, the video said. These are reduced to commodities for exchange at a price. The video says this clear and loud in the presence of police and other dignitaries who held a stoic face.

Oath of public office in the market. A market place, as described, in these hallowed precincts, is therefore yet another exercise to deal with. A form of market society has perhaps taken hold where much is up for buy and sale exchange, notwithstanding oath of public office. This scene in the area of the halls of justice, around the pillars of justice, is not easily countenanced with. The wigs, the robes, the pinstripes, the khaki, the flowing white banian, the variety, they did not cover that within. And all this is but some distance away from the Pettah market. Many would shoot the messenger who brought it to the public eye, the video compeer, as the only means they can think of to contend with reality.

Sworn to public office. Law does not help. Religion probably has other purposes. Can the public service, the public office, then steer through this morass? That has been the recurring problem diagnosed variously as problems of life; of a structural, of a systemic nature, of that between those in the public service and those who consider themselves beyond those niceties, the MPP, none of them resolved.

The public service, the police and many others, have therefore only to depend on themselves, as best or otherwise as they may. The issue with them still remains one of Justice, Public good and Morality. Dignity of public office goes with it. With it, dignity governs the conduct of public officers. This is the continuing problem for Public officers who occupy public office. Public servants have even to discharge their duties in courts where his duty makes a high call on his dignity. As a witness in court, the public servant’s dignity comes to the fore in the reception of his evidence. The public servant’s dignity then stands on its own. MPP have their speeches in Parliament untested in any manner. They are delivered with some narcissi glee and glow.

MPP as Legislators hardly consider themselves to thus hold public office. Such constraints and niceties do not stay them. Inappropriate dress offends MPP dignity. Conviction for murder does not offend MPP sense of dignity. So there is confusion along the way, when dignity is, when dignity is not. The confusion is quite useful to some that there is space for manoeuvre to confuse many, of the validity of the oath, of their attire and much else, against dignity of public office. For much flows from dignity than from law and religion, and much else, now shows. Dignity of public office yet stands though it can be bulldozed away as one incident showed. The mangrove incident at Negombo showed the clash of the two interests and of the dignity of their respective offices. The dignity and the career of the public officer with the mangrove were razed away. The politician got his promotion.

Bribery and corruption are collectively the malady in the absence of justice and dignity. Waste and defalcation all follow in its train. In fact a series of other forms of misdemeanour have been vindicated in the political life of many in Parliament. None of the MPP stood up to protest their innocence or be exposed, when so challenged in Parliament. Dignity can wait the MPP said. But none of this rubbed on the body of the legislator. In Parliament all is different. Questionable conduct is even a proud distinction; it is a qualification. This apparently is the reason that none of the MPP who were dared to, did stand up and risk their conduct being exposed in Parliament. They only kept their seats wearing only a sheepish grin in contempt of the accusers. Speeches in Parliament are not restrained by oath or fraught by problematic social background, MPP are spared quandary.

Oath of public office then and now. Could an article, as this, have been written 50, 40, 30 years ago, then? Politicians, Judges, Lawyers, Police and Prison Commissioners, University dons, Election Commissioner (singular) Public servants, then, all were of repute and dignity. Do names need to be mentioned? What then and whence was the difference? Many reasons, now, are ascribed for the breakdown. The replacement of social values by market values in about 2008/09 with the financial crisis is given as the breaking point. That breakdown was ,however, coming, in slow change, before the crisis. Social institutions, political and religious organisations, law associations and traditions and much else, none excepted, were caught in the throes of this silent revolution. Money now mattered. None are clear. This opinion cannot be dismissed.

A matter of regret, then, is that much that is awry including law and order can be accounted so for this collapse. The dysfunction of law and order process has quite well set in now. Much of the malfunction though freely termed ‘laws delay’ is now, as in a market society, described even as a way of life! If one applies this same analysis around that is equally applicable to all.

Justice and dignity are yet in the street, not in the Hall.

 

Frank de Silva

Narahenpita.



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Opinion

Geneva Debacle: Forging a Way Forward

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By DHARSHAN WEERASEKERA

Attorney-at-Law

Alisdair Pal of Reuters says of the recent UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka, “the resolution allows the U.N. to “collect, consolidate, analyze and preserve information and evidence and develop possible strategies for future accountability….[it] is a “huge blow” to the Sri Lankan Government including President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.” (“What does the U.N. resolution mean for Sri Lanka, 24th March 2021, www.reuters.com)

To my knowledge, much of the commentary on the resolution follows a similar pattern, i.e. the focus is on what the resolution entails for Sri Lanka, but not the Council. It is vital to focus on this latter aspect in order to facilitate a future defence of Sri Lanka at the Council, and related international forums. In my opinion, the “Core Group” and the other nations that joined them in voting for the resolution, have destroyed the credibility of the UNHRC and thus the institution.

In this article, I focus on the “Core Group’ consisting of the U.K., Canada, Germany, North Macedonia and Montenegro that brought the resolution. I argue that the existence of such a group within the UNHRC makes a mockery of the principles and purposes behind the Council’s founding statutes, U.N. General Assembly resolution 60/251 and UNHRC resolution 5/1 (“Institution-building in the Human Rights Council”).

The UNHRC and the “Core Group”

The U.N. General Assembly created the Human Rights Council in March 2006 as a replacement for the U.N. Commission on Human Rights that had been functioning since 1993. Many people accused the Commission of having become too politicised and biased. Therefore, the “Charter” of the Council was formulated to ensure that the new institution would not follow its predecessor. Paragraph 4 of UNGA res. 60/251 states inter alia:

“The work of the Council shall be guided by the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity, constructive international dialogue and cooperation.”

Meanwhile, para 5 (e) states:

“[The Council shall] undertake a universal periodic review, based on objective and reliable information, of the fulfillment by each State of its human rights obligations and commitments in a manner which ensures universality of coverage and equal treatment with respect to all States; the review shall be a cooperative mechanism.”

To my knowledge, there is no other mention of a specific mechanism through which the Council should carry out its work. Therefore, it is reasonable to suppose that the framers envisioned that the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was the best means through which the institution could carry out its work while conforming to the principles enunciated in para 4.

To turn to the Council’s other founding statute—UNHRC resolution 5/1 of June 2007—Annex 1 of the resolution sets out detailed instructions in regard to the Universal Periodic Review. Para 1 of the annex states that the basis of the review shall be: a) the U.N. Charter, b) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, c) Human Rights instruments to which a State is a party and d) voluntary pledges and commitments by States.

Meanwhile, Para 2 states: “In addition to the above and given the complementary and mutually interrelated nature of human rights law and international humanitarian law, the review shall take into account applicable international humanitarian law.”

The fact that the instructions for the UPR include a mandate to look into humanitarian law issues, means that the framers envisioned that if a particular country is accused of violating humanitarian law, such matters could also be reviewed through the UPR mechanism. Therefore, the following question arises: If, as alleged by Sri Lanka’s critics there are rampant human rights abuses going on in this country or humanitarian law issues that remain unaddressed, then why could not these issues be taken up through the UPR process rather than through country-specific resolutions?

Neither UNGA res. 60/251 nor UNHRC res. 1/5 prohibit the Council from resorting to country-specific resolutions. However, reason and common sense suggest that where recourse to a country-specific resolution is made, it should be for an occasion or crisis of a magnitude or urgency that cannot normally be dealt with under the UPR. Otherwise, it makes no sense to have the UPR.

It necessarily follows that, if the Council determines that a crisis of a magnitude or urgency that cannot be addressed through the UPR exists in a particular country, such determination must also be made through an open, objective and impartial process of assessing and evaluating the relevant evidence, including by giving the accused country adequate time and opportunity to speak in its defence.

Now, let us turn to the “Core Group.” In this regard, one must consider three points. First, the “Core Group” is a self-appointed group and does not have a mandate either from the Government of Sri Lanka or any U.N. organ, including the UNHRC, to monitor the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.

Second, some members of the group, notably the U.K. and Canada, have domestic political reasons to involve themselves in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs. In regard to this, the following matters are relevant. First, there is a 2009 Wikileaks cable by an American diplomat to his bosses in Washington, detailing his conversations with the head of the Sri Lanka Desk at the British Foreign Office. He says inter alia:

“Waite said that much of HMG and ministerial attention to Sri Lanka is due to the “very vocal” Tamil Diaspora in the U.K., numbering over 300,000 … .He said that with elections in the horizon the Government is paying particular attention to Sri Lanka with [David] Miliband recently remarking to Waite that he was spending 60 percent of his time on at the moment on Sri Lanka.” (“Wikileaks: David Miliband championed aid to Sri Lanka to win votes of Tamils in U.K.” The Telegraph, 22nd January 2012)

Some people might object that the above happened when the Labour Party was in power, and now that the Conservatives have taken over things are different. However, the Conservatives are under just as much pressure to win Tamil votes, and this is proved among other things by the conduct of former PM David Cameron on his visit to Sri Lanka in November 2013 for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. No sooner had he landed, he gave a speech scolding then President Mahinda Rajapaksa for his treatment of the Tamils and was whisked off to Jaffna to commiserate with the folks there. This behaviour shocked even some English people. The well-known columnist Rod Liddel wrote derisively:

“Normally, when one is a guest in someone else’s country, it is incumbent to be polite, even deferential. But the prime minister is aware that this does not apply to Sri Lanka …. So, it is to David Cameron’s immense credit that he struck the right tone when addressing his Ceylonese jonny. It is the tone of a member of the Eton upper sixth addressing some errant fag who has failed to buff his shoes to the correct level of shine, through either incompetence or negligence.” Rod Liddel, “That is the President of Sri Lanka, PM, not one of your fags,” Times of London, 17-11-2013, www.thetimes.co.uk)

Meanwhile, in the recent past, the Conservative Party in its manifesto for the 2019 Parliamentary elections, had a clause calling for a “two-State solution” in Sri Lanka, and that clause was corrected only after stringent protest from the Sri Lankan Government. To repeat, the Conservative Party has just as much reason as Labour to court the Tamil vote, and it is reasonable to suppose that with the present action at the UNHRC, PM Boris Johnson and his cohorts have achieved a veritable “coup” in that regard.

To turn to Canada, Martin Collacott, a former Canadian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, writing in The National Post in 2005, says, “LTTE-friendly community leaders are willing to ensure that liberal candidates win votes in Tamil-heavy urban constituencies provided the Federal Government turns a blind eye to fundraising” (Martin Collacott, “Canada’s role in Tamil terror,” The National Post, 26-1-2005). In sum, the U.K and Canada have ulterior motives to be interested in Sri Lanka, and this makes the motives of the Core Group as such suspect.

Finally, to my knowledge, the “Core Group” has not submitted to the Council any report explaining that the purported human rights problems they see in Sri Lanka cannot be pursued through the Universal Periodic Review, and must instead be addressed through country-specific resolutions.

Conclusion

To accept what the Core Group has done is to accept that rich and powerful nations joined by poorer nations that they can coerce, cajole or influence, can decide by themselves that a particular country has a human rights “problem”, and proceed to take action against such nation at the UNHRC, without ever establishing before the Council that the “problem” of which they complain actually exists, and all the while violating the purposes and principles of the Council as well as the right to a fair hearing of the targeted nation. Sri Lankans must do everything in their power to hold the Core Group accountable for their actions.

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Opinion

Regulate sports in popular schools ahead of big matches

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The Big Matches between popular schools in Colombo and main outstation cities are round the corner. In the past school sports was in the hands of former sportsmen and sportswomen who loved the game as well as their school. They devoted their time and money to coach the budding youth without any monetary gain for themselves.

But, see what has happened today. Sports coaches selected by the schools demand millions of rupees to coach the students. And this is readily agreed and paid by the school authorities. In the good old days the members of School teams were provided free meals during match days and also Sports equipment. But it is not so now. The school earn millions of rupees from big matches played for a duration of two, or three days in some cases, and this money could be utilised to buy the required cricket gear such as bats, pads gloves, boots, etc,. I understand a pair of cricket boots is in the region of Rs.18,000 to 25,000. Can a poor village lad who is enrolled to an affluent schools in Colombo, based on his performance in Education and Cricket afford this? These lads should be given all the support to continue in their respective sports rather than drop out due to financial constraints

Coaches in some schools are in the payroll of big-time businessmen whose children are, in the so called pools. Parents of children engaged in a particular sport should not be permitted to come in as sponsors as this would be rather unethical.

The Big Matches between popular boys schools are around the corner and I suggest that the Sports Ministry ensures performance based selections rather than on other criteria.

 

D.C.Atukorala

Colombo

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Opinion

‘Post turtle’ revisited

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I have written about this amusingly thought-provoking creature, the ‘post turtle’ to ‘The Island’ around three years ago (appeared in the opinion column of The Island newspaper on the 19th of June 2018, titled ‘The post turtle era’). The story, which I am sure most of you have heard/read already, is obviously not a creation of mine and I happened to come across it somewhere, sometime ago. 

And for the benefit of those, who haven’t heard the story, it goes like this:

“While surturing a cut on the hand of an old Texas rancher, the doctor struck up a conversation with the old man. Eventually, the topic got around to politics and then they discussed some new guy, who was far too big for his shoes, as a politician.

The old rancher said, ‘Well, ya know he is a post turtle’. Not being familiar with the term, the doctor asked him what a ‘post turtle was’.

The old rancher said, ‘When you are driving down a country road and you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, well, that’s your ‘post turtle’.

The rancher saw a puzzled look on the doctor’s face, so he went on to explain. ‘You know, he didn’t get up there by himself, he doesn’t belong up there, he doesn’t know what to do while he is up there, and you just wonder what kind of a dumb ass put him up there in the first place’.”

Now I was having this nice, little siesta, the other day and suddenly there appeared ‘the turtle’ in front of me, sitting on a fence post, seemingly doing a precarious balancing act as the post itself was too high for it to give it a try to jump down to the ground. Not that it probably wanted to do it anyway for it looked quite contended and happy sitting there doing absolutely nothing. And no doubt some loyal and dumb all rolled into one, must have put him up there and been feeding it well too, for it looked quite contended and fat showing a thick head that kept turning to the left and then to the right, while its tongue kept on lolling out as if it was saying something, which must have been absolute gibberish and rubbish anyway.

What a fitting and symbolic representation, 

I mean this ‘post turtle’, of the lot, or the majority of it sitting across ‘the oya’, I mused on after I woke up from my snooze.

Many of them get there thanks to the gullible voter, who while ticking the boxes, thinks: he/she will surely deliver the goods this time as promised! 

And those two-legged post turtles inside the edifice, bordering the Diyawanna, like the one in the story, keep uttering sheer rubbish and spitting out incomprehensible mumbo jumbo, all in return with thanks to those, who tick the boxes in their favour.

Their statements such as ‘what is oxygen for, to eat?’, is just one among many such stupendously stupid utterances of theirs and I don’t want to tire you with the rest, for they are well known and far too many.

Now I have only one question for you before I end this:

When are we going stop being ‘those dumb asses’, once and for all?

Laksiri  Warnakula  

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