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‘Bread or Guns?’: the dilemma that refuses to go away

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It may seem that the age-old ‘Bread or Guns?’ dilemma confronting Southern states in particular is simply refusing to go away. Should a state invest its financial resources on ‘Bread’, or development, or ‘Guns’, that is, security and defence? Expressed simply, this is the essence of the dilemma and in a world brought down by a pandemic, such as COVID-19,the vexatious poser tends to grow in magnitude.

What heightens the urgency of this poser in classical economics, for us in South Asia, is the decision by Sri Lanka to apparently to siphon substantial funds in the coming year to national security or ‘Guns’. It ought to be plain to see that this is the wrong direction in which Sri Lanka ought to go because the principal issue for most countries right now is economic survival.

How is the Lankan state intending to find sufficient food or ‘Bread’ to place on the tables of its citizenry in the coming months, now that economic distress is staring the global South in particular in the face more intently than ever before? It may seem that the simplest lessons in history are not being learnt. History will be compelled to repeat itself in the days to come.

The proverbial writing is already on the wall. As this is being written, a resurgent pro-democracy movement is already asserting itself on the streets of Bangkok. The political opposition in Pakistan is engaged in full-throated anti-government protests in some of Pakistan’s major cities and one of its main demands is more ‘Bread’. ‘You have snatched jobs from the people. You have snatched two-time a day food from the people’, some leading political opponents of Prime Minister Imran Khan were quoted as claiming in Karachi in well attended street demonstrations.

The rest of the South cannot afford to sit back and watch the happenings in Thailand and Pakistan, to take just two examples, with smug complacency. Economics usually have a determining influence on politics and almost all else and Southern governments would do well to ensure that sufficient food is on the tables of their citizens. It’s particularly noteworthy that Sri Lanka is currently facing a splurge of hard drugs related crime and the Lankan state would do well to examine in depth how the scourge could be laid to rest. Law and order measures, such as, putting drug kingpins out of action will bring short term gains but it is only a centrally planned economy that makes economic equity a reality that would ensure a degree of social stability and peace.

Equally importantly, the causes for the mounting demand for hard drugs among vulnerable sections need to be found out. Put simply, if there is a steady supply of hard drugs, it’s because there is a consistent demand for them and the reasons for the latter trend ought to be found in the area of psychological ill-health. Accordingly, if the generation of psychological health is considered a top priority by the Lankan government, the demand for hard drugs among the vulnerable could be managed better.

Southern governments in particular will be increasingly compelled in the days ahead to resolve, once and for all, the ‘Guns or Bread?’ dilemma in view of the fact that the economic devastation wrought by the current pandemic would be hard to bear. In fact, the pandemic will be here for the foreseeable future. Clearly, governments would need to choose ‘Bread’ instead of ‘Guns’, unless they opt to put down any social unrest resulting from the economic crunch by the force of arms. But the latter course is a sure recipe for chronic social disorder, which has time and again brought down governments. So, ‘Guns’, in the final analysis, is no wise choice.

As time goes by governments of the South are likely to realize that they cannot go it alone in the teeth of worsening world wide economic strife. As past decades of international economic interaction between the North and South have revealed, the relatively wealthy North would not be liberal with economic relief and development assistance. The South, most of the while, has had to manage with the ‘crumbs that fall off the rich man’s table’, and it has barely managed to survive without being severely scarred in the process.

The problem is compounded by the increasing popularity of the political Right in sections of the West; US President Donald Trump being an epitome of this deleterious political trend. The political Right is no staunch backer of equity in any form and governments with the Right at their helm would tend not to favour multilateralism. US-WHO relations bear this out.

If at all there’s a silver lining in the present multi-dimensional crisis that is upon the world it is the realization among the more thoughtful sections that neither North nor South could endeavour alone towards sustained economic and social well being. They would need to collaborate in a spirit of unity and co-habit closely in a mutually-supportive symbiotic relationship if they are to live through these crisis times. It is as if difficult circumstances are driving home to the world the validity of some of the founding ideals of the UN system.

Given the above backdrop, it is hoped that an appeal to the G20 group of countries by some progressive organizations, on behalf of the poorer countries of the South, would not go unheeded. The International Chamber of Commerce, the International Trade Union Confederation and the Global Citizen, for example, have called on the G20 to offer the South ‘a longer freeze in debt payments’ and other forms of urgently needed relief to enable it to manage its present economic problems. In the absence of such relief the South would face multiple social and economic cries, including steepening poverty and job loss. The South cannot make do with mere ‘crumbs’ coming off the tables of the rich any more.

The North’s own economic and social questions in the current pandemic are of such a magnitude that it cannot ignore the situation of the South. Inasmuch as the South needs the North, the North needs the South on account of the economic interdependence that has grown over the years between the hemispheres. For instance, the North badly needs the markets of the South and its investment zones.

Accordingly, the ‘Guns or Bread?’ poser will need to be resolved by governments opting for ‘Bread’ because the latter is the basis for a country’s social stability. Economics always drive politics.

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Govt.’s choice is dialogue over confrontation

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By Jehan Perera

Preparing for the forthcoming UN Human Rights Council cannot be easy for a government elected on a nationalist platform that was very critical of international intervention. When the government declared its intention to withdraw from Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of the October 2015 resolution No. 30/1 last February, it may have been hoping that this would be the end of the matter. However, this is not to be. The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report that will be taken up at the forthcoming UNHRC session in March contains a slate of proposals that are severely punitive in nature and will need to be mitigated. These include targeted economic sanctions, travel bans and even the involvement of the International Criminal Court.

Since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s visit in May 2009 just a few days after the three-decade long war came to its bloody termination, Sri Lanka has been a regular part of the UNHRC’s formal discussion and sometimes even taking the centre stage. Three resolutions were passed on Sri Lanka under acrimonious circumstances, with Sri Lanka winning the very first one, but losing the next two. As the country became internationally known for its opposition to revisiting the past, sanctions and hostile propaganda against it began to mount. It was only after the then Sri Lankan government in 2015 agreed to co-sponsor a fresh resolution did the clouds begin to dispel.

Clearly in preparation for the forthcoming UNHRC session in Geneva in March, the government has finally delivered on a promise it made a year ago at the same venue. In February 2020 Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena sought to prepare the ground for Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from co-sponsorship of UN Human Rights Council resolution No 30/1 of 2015. His speech in Geneva highlighted two important issues. The first, and most important to Sri Lanka’s future, was that the government did not wish to break its relationships with the UN system and its mechanisms. He said, “Sri Lanka will continue to remain engaged with, and seek as required, the assistance of the UN and its agencies including the regular human rights mandates/bodies and mechanisms in capacity building and technical assistance, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies.”

Second, the Foreign Minister concluding his speech at the UNHRC session in Geneva saying “No one has the well-being of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural people of Sri Lanka closer to their heart, than the Government of Sri Lanka. It is this motivation that guides our commitment and resolve to move towards comprehensive reconciliation and an era of stable peace and prosperity for our people.” On that occasion the government pledged to set up a commission of inquiry to inquire into the findings of previous commissions of inquiry. The government’s action of appointing a sitting Supreme Court judge as the chairperson of a three-member presidential commission of inquiry into the findings and recommendations of earlier commissions and official bodies can be seen as the start point of its response to the UNHRC.

 

 

NEGATIVE RESPONSE

 

The government’s setting up of a Commission of Inquiry has yet to find a positive response from the international and national human rights community and may not find it at all. The national legal commentator Kishali Pinto Jayawardene has written that “the tasks encompassed within its mandate have already been performed by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC, 2011) under the term of this President’s brother, himself the country’s Executive President at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa.” Amnesty International has stated that “Sri Lanka has a litany of such failed COIs that Amnesty International has extensively documented.” It goes on to quote from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that “Domestic processes have consistently failed to deliver accountability in the past and I am not convinced the appointment of yet another Commission of Inquiry will advance this agenda. As a result, victims remain denied justice and Sri Lankans from all communities have no guarantee that past patterns of human rights violations will not recur.”

It appears that the government intends its appointment of the COI to meet the demand for accountability in regard to past human rights violations. Its mandate includes to “Find out whether preceding Commissions of Inquiry and Committees which have been appointed to investigate into human rights violations, have revealed any human rights violations, serious violations of the international humanitarian law and other such serious offences.” In the past the government has not been prepared to accept that such violations took place in a way that is deserving of so much of international scrutiny. Time and again the point has been made in Sri Lanka that there are no clean wars fought anywhere in the world.

International organisations that stands for the principles of international human rights will necessarily be acting according to their mandates. These include seeking the intervention of international judicial mechanisms or seeking to promote hybrid international and national joint mechanisms within countries in which the legal structures have not been successful in ensuring justice. The latter was on the cards in regard to Resolution 30/1 from which the government withdrew its co-sponsorship. The previous government leaders who agreed to this resolution had to publicly deny any such intention in view of overwhelming political and public opposition to such a hybrid mechanism. The present government has made it clear that it will not accept international or hybrid mechanisms.

 

 

SEQUENTIAL IMPLEMENATION

 

In the preamble to the establishment of the COI the government has made some very constructive statements that open up the space for dialogue on issues of accountability, human rights and reconciliation. It states that “the policy of the Government of Sri Lanka is to continue to work with the United Nations and its Agencies to achieve accountability and human resource development for achieving sustainable peace and reconciliation, even though Sri Lanka withdrew from the co-sponsorship of the aforesaid resolutions” and further goes on to say that “the Government of Sri Lanka is committed to ensure that, other issues remain to be resolved through democratic and legal processes and to make institutional reforms where necessary to ensure justice and reconciliation.”

As the representative of a sovereign state, the government cannot be compelled to either accept international mechanisms or to prosecute those it does not wish to prosecute. At the same time its willingness to discuss the issues of accountability, justice and reconciliation as outlined in the preamble can be considered positively. The concept of transitional justice on which Resolution No 30/1 was built consists of the four pillars of truth, accountability, reparations and institutional reform. There is international debate on whether these four pillars should be implemented simultaneously or whether it is acceptable that they be implemented sequentially depending on the country context.

The government has already commenced the reparations process by establishing the Office for Reparations and to allocate a monthly sum of Rs 6000 to all those who have obtained Certificates of Absence (of their relatives) from the Office of Missing Persons. This process of compensation can be speeded up, widened and improved. It is also reported that the government is willing to consider the plight of suspected members of the LTTE who have been in detention without trial, and in some cases without even being indicted, for more than 10 years. The sooner action is taken the better. The government can also seek the assistance of the international community, and India in particular, to develop the war affected parts of the country on the lines of the Marshall Plan that the United States utilized to rebuild war destroyed parts of Europe. Member countries of the UNHRC need to be convinced that the government’s actions will take forward the national reconciliation process to vote to close the chapter on UNHRC resolution 30/1 in March 2021.

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Album to celebrate 30 years

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Rajiv Sebastian had mega plans to celebrate 30 years, in showbiz, and the plans included concerts, both local and foreign. But, with the pandemic, the singer had to put everything on hold.

However, in order to remember this great occasion, the singer has done an album, made up of 12 songs, featuring several well known artistes, including Sunil of the Gypsies.

All the songs have been composed, very specially for this album.

Among the highlights will be a duet, featuring Rajiv and the Derena DreamStar winner, Andrea Fallen.

Andrea, I’m told, will also be featured, doing a solo spot, on the album.

Rajiv and his band The Clan handle the Friday night scene at The Cinnamon Grand Breeze Bar, from 07.30 pm, onwards.

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LET’S DO IT … in the new normal

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The local showbiz scene is certainly brightening up – of course, in the ‘new normal’ format (and we hope so!)

Going back to the old format would be disastrous, especially as the country is experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases, and the Western Province is said to be high on the list of new cases.

But…life has to go on, and with the necessary precautions taken, we can certainly enjoy what the ‘new normal’ has to offer us…by way of entertainment.

Bassist Benjy, who leads the band Aquarius, is happy that is hard work is finally bringing the band the desired results – where work is concerned.

Although new to the entertainment scene, Aquarius had lots of good things coming their way, but the pandemic ruined it all – not only for Aquarius but also for everyone connected with showbiz.

However, there are positive signs, on the horizon, and Benjy indicated to us that he is enthusiastically looking forward to making it a happening scene – wherever they perform.

And, this Friday night (January 29th), Aquarius will be doing their thing at The Show By O, Mount Lavinia – a beach front venue.

Benjy says he is planning out something extra special for this particular night.

“This is our very first outing, as a band, at The Show By O, so we want to make it memorable for all those who turn up this Friday.”

The legendary bassist, who lights up the stage, whenever he booms into action, is looking forward to seeing music lovers, and all those who missed out on being entertained for quite a while, at the Mount Lavinia venue, this Friday.

“I assure you, it will be a night to be remembered.”

Benjy and Aquarius will also be doing their thing, every Saturday evening, at the Darley rd. Pub & Restaurant, Colombo 10.

In fact, they were featured at this particular venue, late last year, but the second wave of Covid-19 ended their gigs.

Also new to the scene – very new, I would say – is Ishini and her band, The Branch.

Of course, Ishini is a singer of repute, having performed with Mirage, but as Ishini and The Branch, they are brand new!

Nevertheless, they were featured at certain five-star venues, during the past few weeks…of their existence.

 

 

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