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Cheers for Covid-19 vaccine; local answer to this and a very busy Minister

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Britain – the first Western country to use the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine – importing it in all its dry ice maintaining a minus-several-degrees temperature, was used today, December 8, for the first time. The injectee, so to say, who will surely go down in history, not as remarkable as Rosa Parks or Margaret Thatcher but much more than Pavithradevi, is Margaret Keene who turns 91 next week. She was given the first shot in the University of Coventry hospital – lovely city, beautiful university. She does not look her age, lucky dame!

We should cheer loud and sing hossanahs to the saviour vaccine. Russia has been doing mass jabbing with its produced vaccine and so has China, whose scientific inventions and advancement cannot be critiqued, having seen on TV its probe to the moon which is busy collecting dust and rocks to bring back to Earth. But conservative Cass, believing hordes of sensible, cautious thinkers, cannot really trust either of these. She places her implicit trust and pins her hopes on the Oxford vaccine now in its last stage of being tested to obtain more than

95 % potency sans any risks.

Give it to the British to pioneer matters. They have bought the Pfizer vaccine with all its complicated wrapping and transport modalities without waiting for its own vaccine and started vaccinating health workers and the over 80s. Sure for free too, though the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine costs much. It’s beyond poor Sri Lanka’s means. But no great matter; the Oxford vaccine with one of our own scientists in the inner team will soon be in full production and WHO is sure to make it available to us poor Third Worlders. Cass supposes the huge amount of money our country received some time ago for Covid 19 protection has been spent for that purpose and not siphoned off for personal use like some of the generously donated tsunami funds were.

Thailaya for everything

Sri Lanka, admirably, is not far behind with its own panacea for Covid-19. Cass offers plaudits to the person who brewed the ayurveda potion of just five ingredients. The Health Minister sipped it with cameras flashing as assurance it has no adverse effects, even if it may not be equal to combat that speck of fat covered protein.

Busy busy Minister

Yes, Cass means Pavithra Wannniarachchi, holding that all important ministry as of now. She threw pots of holy water to a river to save our nation; announced she was ready to sacrifice herself to the waves of the Indian Ocean to save dear ole Motherland, and then she acted guinea pig to the locally made cure cum prophylactic for the ‘flu that is raging in every populated place and keeping other masses indoors who, of course emerge to shout and protest about the inadequacy of Rs 5,000, conveniently forgetting it is a free gift, even if hardly adequate. We have nouveau riche multimillionaires with political power coated palms; so why don’t a couple of them come forward to help these suffering countrymen? No need to hide amassed lucre under bushels, or stash them away in foreign banks or give to local entrepreneurs to invest who become billionaires in just one generation. Spend a bit during this season of giving instead of procuring helicoptered choice meals, racing in exorbitantly priced cars and living it up though heavily curtailed with travel abroad banned, and even parties verboten.

The latest attention grabbing move of the Minister of Health, Pavithradevi, is sacking SLMC president and council members. With one fell swoop she attempted unseating most eminent, much respected persons who have rendered excellent service to the nation. She has had the audacity to sack Specialist Paediatrician Prof Harendra de Silva who we remember as such an efficient Head of the Child Protection Society; plus distinguished others. No less than a former Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and acting Vice Chancellor of the University of Colombo, Vidyajothi Lalitha Mendis, Emeritius Professor, has protested the move. Cass heard it said it was unlawful to dismiss members of the SLMC Council. Hinted at or rather implied in the media was that a powerful trade union was instigator of the move. These king makers are clever at pontificating and struck work at the drop of a stethoscope during the previous regime. Of course we know Pavithradevi’s hand is ordered, not merely guided but pushed to action like a puppet on a string. She’ll dance to any Royal Command. In all her starring roles the most starkly etched in disgusted minds is the way she led the rioting in Parliament in September 2018. Remember her shouting as if she were in a fish market and egging on the rioting MPs to smash furniture, rip microphones off, throw bound volumes. Closely and loudly associated with her was Dr Sudharshi Fernandopulle, now newly appointed State Minister in the health sector. No woman of decent breeding would go to those lengths that made other women hang their heads in shame, during the Parliamentary turmoil caused by a catastrophic misjudgment of the then Prez.

No Whispering Hope?

Are there no silver linings? No hopes or reason for optimism? Covid-19 is raging in the country but not once has it been told us officially that social contagion is well on its way. It could have been contained in clusters; but no.

Cass met with three other women to break bread together in this desert of social contact- in-person. It was such a breath of fresh air. Talk inevitably reverted to the vaccine. One said she would try the peniya made of five ingredients including bees honey and nutmeg, the others kept secretly tight in the traditional closed fist of the inventor. Ayurvedic medicines are not injurious to the system; they cause no adverse effects. The peniya claims to be both prophylactic and curative against Covid-19, but is supposed to cause the runs. Thus the friend who said she would take this averred she would not get herself injected with even the Oxford vaccine. We accused her of being mean enough to wait and watch our reactions to it. Anything is better than nothing and much better to take the jab when it comes, was the general opinion.

Very choosy courier service

Usually unruffled Cass is akin to a cyclone roused sea. She is, in short, frothing mad. A service that calls itself a local courier service, when phoned as she needed to dispatch a parcel, says this prompt service does not accept anything in glassware, ceramics, nor food items. Then what does it carry, Cass queried: flowers and human parts?! Typically locally circumscribed; contrary to advertisement!

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Features

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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Features

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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Features

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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