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Development comes to its own in the wake of global perils

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One positive outcome from the current Covid-19-linked global health crisis is the return to the centre of world discussion of equity and its important implications. Thanks to progressive organizations, such as the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), it is possible to give international discussions on development this focus on equity and redistributive justice.

Over the decades, except at UN fora, development, correctly understood, has not received the attention it deserves from the international community. There has been a notable tendency for world discussion to focus more on growth than development and this has cost humanity very dearly. Increasing wealth inequalities within and among countries is the best proof of this distortion.

Growth, as is known, has more to do with an increase in material wealth, irrespective of how fairly it is distributed at national and international levels, but equity, which is at the heart of development, has been sidelined generally. And simply put, equity is synonymous with redistributive justice within countries and internationally. This was what the UN-initiated ‘New International Economic Order’ concept of the seventies, for example, was all about and which is today unheard of.

However, the latter concept was almost the talking point in development discourse, prior to the international glorification of market economics in the mid seventies and after. Since economic and political liberalization made it to the headlines, so to speak, with the collapse of the Cold War in the early nineties, less attention has been paid by governments, think tanks and opinion-moulders to development, defined essentially as equity or equality and its policy implications.

However, there seems to be a late rally, as it were, for development with the CHRI policy position that accessibility must be ensured for the marginalized and the poor of the world on a priority basis when it comes to distributing a Covid-19 vaccine. It is on record as having urged the Commonwealth Secretariat that manufacturers and governments must put ‘people before power, price and profit when production and distribution of the vaccine begins.’

One of the most encouraging developments for progressive sections in this connection is the fact that CHRI is firmly backing a call by India, South Africa, Kenya, Pakistan, Mozambique and others that the marginalized receive priority attention in any future vaccination distribution effort. That is, key states in the developing world are coming to the fore in the name of equity and justice in this momentous project of protecting the vital interests of the vulnerable and the powerless in the distribution of the eagerly-awaited vaccine.

Why the weak should be foremost among beneficiaries in this connection ought to be plain to see. In most countries they constitute the backbone of the economies in question by virtue of the fact that they make-up the informal sector and are main among SMEs. They are the ungarlanded economic heroes whose efforts in the upkeep of economies go unrecognised by governments and others who matter.

CHRI and other organizations that are currently taking up the cause of the weak need to be commended but the hope of progressive sections the world over is likely to be that there would be much more support from the international community for the poor and marginalized in recognition of the vital role they play in economies. Hopefully, these initial efforts at bringing relief would assume the proportions of a global movement.

The above developments should be seen as a vindication of the role played by the UN and its specialized agencies over the decades in making development and not merely growth a world wide reality. The UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) continue to stand as the essential benchmarks in international development. Zero poverty and increasing equity are key among these SDGs and it is plain to see that these goals could be achieved to a degree through an appreciation of the part played by the marginalized in the economic upkeep of countries, coupled with efforts to empower them and alleviate their lot.

Very rightly, the UN and other concerned sections have championed the empowerment of women over the years and if there is a section among the vulnerable which has emerged as needing continuous empowerment in the current crisis it is women. The latter are silent and unobtrusive contributors to any economy on account of their role in the upkeep of families and a fatal blow could be dealt to the material well being of the world as a result of women suffering major setbacks of any kind in the present crisis. For example, the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2020 report discloses, among other things, that women entrepreneurs across the world have suffered disproportionately in the present emergency. The latter has had the effect of setting back the fortunes of a generation of women in business. Some 87 per cent of women business owners are on record that they have been severely affected. This would translate into an overwhelming economic shock for the world, considering the largely unrecognized but crucial economic role played by women everywhere.

However, development needs to be conceived holistically. It denotes human well being and equity and much more. The UN SDGs taken together constitute development in the truest sense of the term. The 17 SDGs represent different dimensions of development that complement each other effectively. For instance, those facets of development discussed thus far could not be viewed in isolation from environmental stability and well being. Accordingly, climate change issues too must figure in any discussion on development. Consequently, the discussion on ‘greening the world’ too needs to be stepped-up and its goals effectively promoted.

Fortunately, the US, the world’s mightiest economy, would probably be on the side of the ‘greening’ camp with the coming to power of Democrat Joe Biden. He has promised to enlist the US’ support for the land mark Paris Climate Change Accord, which President Trump shelved, and this would prove crucial in the battle against global environmental destruction, provided words are translated into deeds.

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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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