By Jehan Perera
There is no longer any doubt that a resolution on Sri Lanka will be presented at the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council later this month. This resolution will be presented by a core group of countries, led by the United Kingdom and will be supported by the United States which, though not a current member of the UNHRC, has opted to return to it under the presidency of Joe Biden. This will be a powerful combination for a small country like Sri Lanka to challenge. It does not appear that Sri Lanka will present its own counter resolution. There was perhaps a miscalculation of the waning power of the western countries in the face of the rise of China. The western powers continue to dominate international institutions. The absence of a coherent foreign policy is reflective of the much greater power of the countries that Sri Lanka is having to contend with.
President Biden has made it his administration’s policy to work in tandem with his country’s traditional and like-minded allies on issues requiring international cooperation. Sri Lanka would be an example, or test case of the new US administration’s foreign policy priorities. The indications are that they will be oriented towards human rights and the strengthening of international institutions set up over the past several decades. President Biden’s early appointees have been weighted in favour of those with internationalist perspectives and a significant number of them are of South Asian origin, the most important of whom is Vice President Kamala Harris. They are likely to consider Sri Lanka to be a country of special interest.
In itself Sri Lanka is an interesting and important country for world politics at present. This can be seen in the changes the government is making in rapid succession in its dealings with foreign powers which appear to be pressuring it on all sides. The geopolitical location of the country makes it important to the security of both neighbouring India and to the sea lanes that all the big powers utilize. This can be the only explanation for the sudden reversals of decisions such as in the case of the denial to India and Japan of the Eastern Terminal at the Colombo Port, the inability to proceed with the Chinese bid for a solar power project on three islands off Jaffna and the withdrawal of the invitation to international cricket icon Imran Khan, now Prime Minister of Pakistan, to address Parliament. For the reason that Sri Lanka is important to all these countries, and to the world, it may become an example for others to learn from. The government has a duty to do its best by its citizens and being a small country this will be best done without antagonizing any powerful country or bloc of countries.
The government’s successful election campaigns of November 2019 and August 2020 highlighted the issues of national sovereignty and the resolve not to permit international intervention detrimental to the national interest. The emergence of the new government with a large majority gave a sense of confidence that the government would be able to forge its own path in international politics. The government leaders made promises not to brook any foreign interference in internal affairs. The government’s withdrawal from Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of UNHRC Resolution 30/1 of 2015 was a vindication of that promise. There was hope that the majority of countries in the UNHRC would accept this withdrawal which was bolstered by the pledge by China and Russia not to permit other countries to take any UN-sanctioned collective action against Sri Lanka. However, the question is that if a country had invited assistance from many countries to sort out their internal armed conflict could they now assert that this was an internal matter only. In fact, the countries that gave assistance may themselves be held accountable for the violations that took place.
The draft of the forthcoming UNHRC resolution and its operative paragraphs have made their appearance in the media. The overall political context that the drafters of the resolution see is “accelerating militarization of civilian government functions, erosion of the independence of the judiciary and key institutions responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights, ongoing impunity and political obstruction of accountability for crimes and human rights violations in “emblematic cases,” policies that adversely affect the right to freedom of religions or belief, surveillance and intimidation of civil society and shrinking democratic space, arbitrary detention, allegations of torture and other cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment and sexual and gender based violence, and that these trends threaten to reverse the limited but important gains made in recent years and with the recurrence of policies and practices that gave rise to the grave violation of the past.”
Some key parts of the resolution are as follows: Concern about the decision to mandate cremations for all those deceased from COVID-19 which has prevented Muslims and members of other religions from practising their own burial religious rites; A comprehensive accountability process for all violations and abuses of human rights committed in Sri Lanka, including those by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam; The importance of democratic governance and independent oversight of key institutions and ensure that all provincial councils are able to operate effectively in accordance with the thirteenth amendment to the constitution of Sri Lankan; Requests the Office of the High Commissioner to enhance its monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, including progress on reconciliation and accountability. Recently the cases against the security forces have been withdrawn or recommended for withdrawal with no reference to judiciary at all by the Political Victimization Commission which is a matter of controversy.
The silver lining in this draft resolution from the government’s perspective is that it does not mention the intention to take the country to the International Criminal Court or any international or hybrid tribunal. The draft document seems to expect the national, or local, judicial system to deal with these issues. However, the draft document also has a section in which it calls on the UN system to ensure that evidence of violations of human rights are preserved and analysed for future use. This suggests that if the national judicial system fails to meet their obligations, there will be the option to resort to the international system to fill the gap. This approach is not dissimilar to that of Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith who has unexpectedly become an advocate of international justice. The Cardinal effectively gives leadership to the Catholic Church on political issues. It is a clear warning that there is something that has gone wrong in the state of Sri Lanka.
In his recent pronouncements, and in leading a protest at the Katuwapitiya Church that suffered from one of the suicide bombings on Easter Sunday, 2019, the Cardinal expressed his disappointment at the government’s inquiry into those bombings that specially targeted the Catholic community. He participated in a silent protest by hundreds of Catholics including families of the victims, to oppose the Cabinet Committee appointed to study the reports compiled by the Presidential Commission probing the April 21st attacks. The Cardinal pointed out that the Presidential Commission of Inquiry which comprised five intellectual judges, gave their recommendations and decision so that the government and the Attorney General can take action. He added that he would call for an international investigation if the national investigation was undermined. He has subsequently added that he would appeal to the Vatican, which is the power centre of the worldwide Catholic Church.
Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith’s recent position is a reversal of his previously held position on similar issues. In the aftermath of the war in 2009 he was a staunch opponent of international interventions in support of accountability for human rights violations. He consistently took the position that Sri Lanka had the internal resources in terms of history, culture and integrity to find its own solution based on justice to post-war issues and challenged the double standards of the international community. The change in the Cardinal’s position is a wake-up call to the government that it risks losing the support of even those civic and religious leaders who have been supportive of its efforts to keep the international community at arms-length with regard to finding solutions based on justice. Instead of trying to combat the forthcoming UNHRC resolution, the government needs to take actions that win back the confidence of those who presently call for international intervention out of frustration that justice is not available within Sri Lanka. This may be done by the government acting upon the pledge of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to be the President of all Sri Lankans and be willing to correct the wrongs done to any section of the Sri Lankan population.
Sohan…adapting to the ‘new normal’
Surprisingly, the Coronavirus pandemic seems to have galvanised our entertainers into action.
True, most of the big bands are finding the going pretty tough, these days, as most public shows, like concerts, sing-along, and dances, have been put on hold.
Fortunately, we do have artistes who capitalise on unexpected situations to continue to keep the public, and their fans, entertained – of course, doing it differently
Band leader Sohan, of Sohan & The X-Periments fame, who is always innovative, when it comes to music, has hit upon a novel idea, in order to keep his band occupied, for the next three months.
He has decided to put The X-Periments into ‘recording mode.
Says Sohan: “I’m getting them involved in doing in-house recordings at my home studio.”
And, what’s more, I’m told that Sohan has found a secret sponsor, so the boys will be paid, too. Obviously, it’s a win-win situation and that makes Sohan extra happy!
The veteran artiste/entertainer went on to explain that the main CD will contain cover versions of his favourite songs, and will also include a duet with his daughter Erandika who is scheduled to be in Sri Lanka, hopefully, in May. She is currently in the States.
The song, Sohan has in mind, is that immensely popular golden oldie, made popular by the late Nat king Cole (and daughter Natalie Cole) – ‘Unforgettable.’
Clifford Richards will be seen in a virtual concert, along with Corrine Almeida, and Sohan
The second CD will feature Sohan’s original songs, both western and oriental.
Sohan will be working with Shobi Perera, Kumar de Silva, Rajiv Sebastian, Roshan de Silva, Chrys Wikramanayake, Rukshan Perera and Damian Wikkramatillake on his novel project, while Krishantha de Silva, who manages Sonexco Enterprises, will take on the role of coordinator.
Although this project will keep The X-Periments, busy, one day of the week will be designated as ‘recording day’ and they have a deadline of three months to complete this project, said Sohan.
There is also a possibility of Sohan inviting a few of his friends to join him in the vocals but that will depend on the materiel he decides on.
“There is no point in hanging around, waiting for work. Musicians have to innovate and create work to keep going, during these challenging times.”
Sohan is also working closely with Corinne Almeida and Clifford Richards and has an idea of doing a virtual concert, with the same line up that was featured at the Valentine show, called ‘Love at the Edge.’
Rajitha, of Misty, is helping them with the technical details of the show,
No doubt, things are looking a bit rosy for Sohan & The X-Periments, and Trishelle..
The guys are also working with Benjy and Aquarius, on a mega event, for Richard de Soysa, to be held at Nelum Pokuna, which is scheduled for mid- May, of 2021, and will feature 10 leading artistes ..
Remembering Dr. Neville Fernando
This tribute is in remembrance of my father-in-law, the late Dr. Neville Fernando who would have celebrated his 90th birthday on 9th March 2021. He passed away unexpectedly on the 4th of February 2021 due to the deadly COVID-19 virus.
His birthday will be remembered with an almsgiving to the priests at the Kotikawatta temple to invoke merits on him to attain the Supreme bliss of Niravana. Religious observances on his birthday were an annual occurrence even during his lifetime.
As I ponder his memories, being ‘no more’ is the saddest thought that crosses my mind. I suspect that if you are reading this you understand what I mean logically. Death means that our loved ones never grow a year older, although logic does little to clear up our confusion when his birthday continues to happen year after year.
His memories and deeds throughout his life brought back towards the day I joined his family, when I was just a medical house-officer at the Nawalapitiya Hospital in 1982, through the marriage to his only daughter. Even then he was known to be a real legend and an honest politician. Today, I am in this position as a cardiologist due to his encouragement, loving care and continuous assistance in whatever means. My mind is full of memories of those loving moments shared together. He was a loving, kind and straight gentleman. I may also use the words handsome and charismatic leader. He will inspire us throughout our lives. His pleasant disposition will charm anyone and uplift our mood.
He led a good life and now has a left a good legacy of four children( three boys and one girl) whom any father would be proud of, nine grandchildren and five great grandchildren loved by everyone. He is now no more and no one can fill the void nor bring back the warmth and love he exuded.
We all have courage and we have our convictions, but rarely have the courage of our conviction. His kindness and compassion were his key attributes that made him so special. He had been a good general practitioner before coming to Parliament defeating a formidable leftist politician Leslie Goonewardene who represented Panadura for decades. It was a landmark victory for the UNP in 1977. He was a kind and compassionate doctor who served the rich and poor alike in Panadura for many years and was sought after by his patients for his well known ‘athguna’ (healing hands). This is where he earned his loyal fan base to enter into politics.
Among many things he achieved in Panadura establishing the “Kethumathi” Maternity Hospital, the only one of its kind outside Colombo, helping Sri Sumangala Girls College expansion programme, starting Agamathi Girls school and Janadhipathi Boys School and self funding the Sri Saugatha Vidyalaya Pirivena building at n the Rankoth Viharaya temple in Panadura. Likewise he helped many Buddhist temples during his tenure.
He also started an industrial zone in Modarawila, Panadura which was an abandoned marshy area before that. He had provided the first computer lab and two acres of additional land to expand the Sri Sumangala Vidyalaya which is spoken with gratitude by the students of his alma mater. He did not expect anything in return.
He was a fearless ,principled and honest man who opposed JRs’ motion to takeaway Mrs.Bandaranaikes’ civic rights as he never wanted to compromise his basic human qualities over politics. Very soon he left the Government before any attempt to expel him and formed a small party with few other honest politicians. Later he joined SLFP on the invitation of Mrs.Bandaranaike and worked in the party as an Assistant Secretary for the progress of the country.
He was a maverick par excellence ,an entrepreneur ,extraordinaire and a businessman with a foresight. As one of the pioneers in the hospitality industry, he built hotel Swanee, subsequently he started JF and I, one of the most modern printing and packaging factories in the country to date. He also pioneered a porcelain factory called “Royal Fernwood Porcelain” in Kosgama. Which provided so many employment opportunities and in time to come, helped to economically develop the area.
Continuing his political career, he entered Parliament again as an SLFP opposition member. Later on in 1994 he decided to give up politics.
His divestments in the Porcelain factory enabled him to purchase Asha Central Hospital which was developed with latest equipment and brought to international standards. This is the time I had to take a difficult decision to leave the Government as a Consultant Cardiologist and join Asha Central Hospital in 1998 to help him in his endeavour. He developed and managed Asha Central Hospital till 2007 and subsequently sold it to start his new venture SAITM or South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine with the encouragement of the then Min.of Higher Education Wishwa Warnapala.
Infact I was very much concerned about the new development because of the past experience in the country with the North Colombo Medical College. He always used to tell “every child should have the right for a decent education either in a government or non-government organisation”. His main vision was to give a higher education opportunity for the students .Therefore apart from medicine he also established nursing, engineering , IT, management programmes with the help of esteemed academics who believed in his vision. He established the Dr Neville Fernando Teaching hospital (NFTH) in Malabe to provide clinical training for his students at the medical faculty .It was a impressive state of the art hospital with 1002 beds and latest medical equipment . All of this was done during his 80s which was a remarkable achievement.
SAITM gave him immense pride and a lot of pain at the same time. He was very proud of the fact that he was able to give so many scholarships to deserving students (close to Rs.600 million scholarships during his time).In addition to saving a tremendous amount of foreign exchange he was also able to give an opportunity to students to stay in Sri Lanka with their parents, without having to go overseas for their education leaving behind all family and friends.
However, he had to face many obstacles during this period and was socially and politically crushed due to SAITM. With time, he made a decision to give the NFTH to the Government in return for the clinical training of the medical students of SAITM. In 2017 SAITM was closed down by Maithripala Sirisena who gave in due to the heavy opposition made by the unions against private medical education.
At 89 years of age he was an avid Facebook warrior and used to keep abreast of what was going on in the social media. He was a big cricket fan and never missed watching a cricket match day or night.
Writing about this unique personality cannot be limited to a few words. His life is a monumental story full of new chapters. He dreamed big and his dreams were of public service, even when he was no longer a politician. He yearned to make this country a better place for people to live in, even in his eighties.
May his journey of Sansara be a short one and may he attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana!
Dr Mohan Jayatilake
Boogie Night with Suzi
Yes, music lovers, get ready to boogie the night away, this Saturday, March 13th.
From 9.00 pm to 10 pm, you would be given the opportunity to see Friends’ former female vocalist, Suzi Croner (Fluckiger) boogie away on Facebook, on Talent Network Group (TNG).
Suzi is excited about this new scene, which will be live streamed, worldwide., and she plans to belt out songs from the Friends’ era (’80s and ’90s), country, and rock ‘n’ roll.
She is already working on her repertoire and says she will make ‘Boogie Night with Suzi’ a real exciting event.
TNG is a Dubai-based project, administered in Dubai, with moderators, worldwide.
And, that means, the whole world is going to see Suzi boogie away.
Several local artistes have already been featured on TNG.
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