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Does Geneva matter to Sri Lanka?

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Any action matters only if the motive is genuine and not clouded by double standards and inconsistency. The UNHRC, from top to bottom is biased, and seems to be controlled by the Western powers. Just look at the way its High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet’s behaviour as regards Sri Lanka.

Her biased attitude was on display when the mass grave in Mannar was discovered in 2018. Now, she is on a witch hunt against Sri Lanka and is going beyond her mandate in interfering in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs. The UNHRC is silent or does the least about massive human rights violations by big powers, not only in their own countries but in other parts of the world too, where rich natural resources are available, like the Middle East. They have no scruples about killing millions on the pretext of human rights, just to get their hands on the oil. They have no hesitancy on grounds of conscience in supporting big violators of human rights, like Saudi Arabia, which killed and dismembered the body of dissident Jamal Khashoggi inside their Turkish embassy. And UNHRC does very little in such instances, except to issue a statement condemning the incident. On the other hand, even with no evidence, Sri Lanka is hauled over the coals and if possible dragged before the International Criminal Courts.

Judgment on the bones found in Mannar were passed even before the carbon dating reports were available, and separatists were in great expectation that evidence for their genocide claims were forthcoming. UN ‘s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, herself took the lead in this respect and issued a statement in consonance with the separatist sentiments. She spoke about past mass graves and future ones too, and the important role the Office of Missing Persons has to play in this regard. She had obviously jumped the gun and also given hopes to the separatists. All their hopes had been dashed to the ground by the lab reports. Ironically, it was a laboratory in the US, the country that originally cosponsored the UNHRC Resolution, which had carbon tested the bones. If it had been China or Russia there would be hell to pay.

UNHRC Resolution 30/1 cosponsored by Sri Lanka at the behest of a minister in the ‘yahapalana’ government, is totally lacking in substance and substantiated evidence. The whole thing had been fabricated according to the agenda of the West, well supported by the Tamil separatists. Both parties are angered that

their pet terrorist organization, the LTTE, had been defeated by our armed forces, something that nobody had done anywhere in the world. The West, which assumes the role of the global policeman without any qualifications to do so, would like to teach Sri Lanka a lesson for disregarding their ‘orders’ to let the LTTE, the most ruthless terrorist organization in the world, escape. LTTE was a tool in their hands, which they used to destabilize Sri Lanka, and as the LTTE is no more the West uses fabricated HR issues to pressure us to do their bidding.

These Resolutions reveal the depth of depravity that the UNHRC, which is supposed to be a respected organization of the UN, could descend to. Of the ten organizations of the UN that are concerned with human rights, the UNHRC is the largest and is the one that is representative of the different views across countries. Forty seven countries hold its membership, which changes periodically. Some of these countries are not democracies, and there are human rights allegations against most of these countries. Some of the democratic countries such as India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka are also accused of HR violations. The Western powers are seldom accused, though they commit HR violations not only in their own countries but elsewhere too, as mentioned above. Thus its a mixed bag of members in relation to HR that comprise the UNHRC. The stand they take on issues such as the Resolutions against Sri Lanka would be decided, more often than not, by political reasons rather than the merit of the individual case. The US and the West resort to cheque book diplomacy, and have the power to influence a majority of countries to support their point of view. China and Russia wield similar power but to a lesser degree, but their sphere of influence is growing.

Therefore, the decisions taken by the UNHRC at Geneva and most of its activities are political in nature, and lacks a basis of human rights considerations. The (mis)guiding light in this regard obviously is its High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet. Not that her predecessors were any better. These are people with high qualifications and who have held high posts. Bachelet is a physician and was twice the president of Chile, a country which produced democratic leaders like Salvadore Allende who was killed by the CIA of the US, and also despots like Augusto Pinochet who was supported by the US. The High Commissioners of the UNHRC, of the past as well as the present, are capable of fair and just words and actions, but they don’t seem to do that, for they are under the thumb of the Western powers which finance and control the UN and its organizations. Bachelet had, without compunction of conscience, done her utmost to lay the blame of the Mannar skeletons on Sri Lankan armed forces, before scientific evidence was available. This is unbecoming, to say the least, of a person who holds such a responsible post. Could she or the organization she heads be taken seriously.

The world by now knows that Sri Lankan forces did not commit HR violations; on the contrary, they saved about 350,000 civilians from the clutches the terrorists and in the process took heavy casualties themselves. However the vote on the Resolution against Sri Lanka would be decided by the members of the UNHRC, which as mentioned above, would not look at the truth of the matter but would be guided by their political affiliations. Therefore, the result will not be a fair by Sri Lanka. For instance India has not shown a consistent position on this matter, and has changed its stand according to its own interests rather than on the matter at issue; it has voted for and against the resolution and also remained neutral at different times. Several other countries have similar difficulties in sticking to one position. Thus could the upcoming vote at Geneva be taken seriously. Should Sri Lanka be morally bound by the goings on in Geneva. In short, should Sri Lanka be so much bothered about Geneva?

Several commentators have attempted to make Geneva appear to be crucial, and one of them has attempted to give it a different meaning. He has said Sri Lanka is stuck with the UNHRC in the foreseeable future, unless and until the Sri Lanka government enlightens itself to find an internal solution to its external problem, which actually is an externalised internal problem (Rajan Philips – Sunday Island 08.03.2021). No doubt what he means by an “externalized internal problem” is the so-called Tamil Problem. He goes on to say that the problem has dragged on for 70 years, from the time GG Ponnambalam asked for 50% representation for minorities in the legislature from the Soulbury Commission, in 1946. He has let the cat out of the bag. Have no doubt, what he means is that UNHRC Resolution has nothing to do with human rights. It has everything to do with Tamil separatism. And he says “Speculating about motives of the US or other core countries is not going to help Sri Lanka”. What he probably means is someday we will have to give in to Tamil separatism.

Another columnist has commented on the possible unsavoury HR record of some of the countries that may support Sri Lanka such as Russia, Belarus, Venezuela etc. However, he is silent about the HR record of countries which may vote against Sri Lanka.

So we are dealing with a human rights problem which is not a human rights problem. What then is the problem? The problem for Tamil separatists, it appears, started 70 years ago and if the government agrees to grant a federal state or a near separate state, they will not support UNHRC resolutions against Sri Lanka, and they will forget about the baseless allegation that 40,000 civilians were killed by the armed forces. Similarly, the problem for the US-led West is China and the geostrategic place Sri Lanka occupies in the Indian Ocean. If Sri Lanka signs agreements like the MCC, ACSA, SOFA of the US and play ball with them, and generally spurn China, there will be no UNHRC resolutions.

In view of the above, should Geneva be taken seriously? Even the authors of the Resolution, the core countries, seem to be not sure of themselves. Bachelet proposed that Sri Lanka should be hauled before the International Criminal Courts, subjected to universal jurisdiction and placed under targeted sanctions. Recommendations in the draft stage, however, have only targeted sanctions. How could the UK, one of the core countries, which recently passed laws banning legal action against their armed forces who are tainted with war crimes in Iraq, pass judgment on Sri Lanka or its armed forces who have not committed any HR violations. The Government of Sri Lanka must deal with UNHRC on its merits, and must reject all baseless allegations, and tell them our internal affairs are not their business. The Government must be resolute in its stance on Tamil separatism, constitution and national assets and must not capitulate as its predecessor did and give in to the dictates of the West.

 

N.A.de S. AMARATUNGA



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Opinion

Today’s call for ‘Health Promotion’

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As a nation, we have reached a really critical stage with the corona pandemic. This is what The Hindustan Times reported on the 2nd of May, 2021: “Sri Lanka’s health authorities have issued new tough guidelines, including banning wedding receptions and gatherings at religious sites, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as the Island nation continued to record a spike in daily infections”. The time has come for all citizens of the country to understand the gravity of the disaster. Anyway, we have witnessed a section of Sri Lankans enjoying, despite many restrictions. It can be seen that people travel here and there without face masks, and organising events and parties amidst this situation. There is a problem with discipline. Also, I have observed that there is a segment of people who violate health guidelines and post messages on social media criticising the authorities. This “duplicity” must be interesting social research for investigators to read people in a different microscope.

Ownership and Empowerment:

At the moment we could not see any “ownership” of this disaster among Sri Lankans. Still, we can see only “health education” in the country, and we need to change this to “health promotion”. The country needs to consider this as top urgent, under these circumstances. The government should carefully use some stakeholders in this mission of “Health Promotion”. Refer to the following diagram for some selected sectors to take the initiative.

The role of the Health Promotion Bureau should be redefined. And the role of the Ministry of Education should not be underestimated in this context, to communicate messages to relevant parties — including schoolchildren and parents. In this task force, there can be community leaders, experts in the industry, representatives of the media, and some researchers as well. All members should have a Clear Plan (short-term strategy and long-term objectives) to address this pandemic situation. We have seen many times the media reporting how people violate health guidelines. But rather than concentrating on the ‘negative’ side, there can be ‘positive’, reporting as well. (As an example, a worker in the Colombo Municipal Council adhering to all guidelines by showcasing an example for the community). This is the time we need to have positive news. ((http://www.ft.lk/columns/Negative-and-positive-news-Rare-corpse-flower-set-to-bloom-at-Royal-Botanical-Gardens-Peradeniya/4-658936) for better immunity of people!

Also, there are many success stories that need to be followed by a task force of “health promotion”. In this context, we can discuss the success story of Vietnam. As the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reports, on 10th March 2021, “Swift introduction of containment measures, combined with aggressive contact tracing, targeted testing, and isolation of suspected COVID-19 cases helped keep recorded infections and death rates notably low on a per capita basis (IMF,2021). “Also, as per fitchratings.com “Vietnam’s economy has been more resilient than most other markets in the Asia-Pacific, as the local authorities have had greater success in containing Covid-19. It was one of the few economies in the region to report GDP growth in 2020 (fitchratings.com, Thu 22 Apr, 2021). More importantly, like in Vietnam, we also should have a successful communication strategy. Refer below:

“Vietnam’s successful communication strategy catalyzes the active participation of both governmental and private sectors as well as communities. The government centers its people in an active role with the slogan translated as “every citizen is a soldier”. In addition, non government-led initiatives, including the donation of funds and personal protection equipment by entrepreneurs and individuals, have contributed positively to social stability. For example, “the rice ATM” – a free rice dispenser reserved for the most vulnerable people, including those who lost income due to the pandemic, the elderly, students and disabled people. Students have been mobilized to assist in epidemic control by engaging them in various roles, such as data entry, sample collection or provision of phone counselling for COVID-19 suspected people. However, the number of students who joined the COVID-19 taskforce was very small (124 volunteer medical students) compared to its capacity. At the central level, a relief bill of approximately 80,600 VND billion was signed by the government to address the financial burden resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 62,000 VND billion of these funds were allocated to individuals who were poor, near poor, with meritorious services or under social protection schemes. The remaining funds were allocated to support small to medium production and business establishments.” The COVID-19 global pandemic: a review of the Vietnamese Government response – https://www.joghr.org/article/21951-the-covid-19-global-pandemic-a-review-of-the-vietnamese-government-response)

 

The time has come for Sri Lanka to think differently, learn, and work with responsibility. This is a disaster in which we need to stop the “blame game” and understand the situation with more responsibility. If we can use “health promotion” in an effective way, it would be one of the success stories for the world, always helping for long term sustainable development of the nation.

Prof. NALIN ABEYSEKERA

(Professor of Management Studies, Faculty of Management, Management Studies, The Open University of Sri Lanka

– nalinabeysekera@gmail.com )

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Opinion

Political interference aggravating Deadly Pandemic

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Humankind is in the middle of the deadly COVID pandemic, the worst ever seen in our lifetime. The virus, with all its ongoing mutations, is causing havoc all over the world, leading to untold misery and death. In the absence of any effective curative medication, and inadequate vaccine cover, prevention, with strict public health measures, based on sound scientific evidence, remains the fundamental way out of this impending catastrophe.

Larger countries, where politicians ignored professional advice, based on science, and took politically popular decisions, saw the inexorable spread of the disease causing much preventable deaths. Brazil, the USA (during the Trump presidency), and India, at present, are classic examples of this unfortunate situation. Countries like New Zealand, Australia, Israel and South Korea, taking decisions based purely on scientific advice, despite causing temporary hardship and restrictions on the people, have managed to return to near normal pre-COVID status.

Sri Lanka has a literate population.It also has a well-established public health service responsible for prevention and even eradication of many diseases, which are still ravaging many South Asian countries. The country is held out as an example of a success story in this regard by even the World Health Organization (WHO). As such, we should have succeeded in controlling the epidemic by now.

What went wrong in Sri Lanka, still causing the epidemic to escalate on a daily basis with ever increasing morbidity and mortality? The associations of doctors, other healthcare professionals, and even the laboratory technologists have been giving well considered advice and issuing guidelines to curtail the epidemic. But mostly, such advice appears to have been ignored by the political authorities, taking their own decisions instead. The COVID Control Task Force, being headed by the Army Commander, and the Vaccine Task Force, being under an elderly non-medical administrator, are classic examples of this ignorance. It is obvious that both these positions, as well as a majority of the membership of the task forces, should be held by medical professionals. The initial apparent success was hailed by politicians taking full credit, leading to them doing well at the elections. Most such decisions were directed at increasing the popularity of those in power or financial gain for people close to them. This has led to much bungling in decision-making, summarily listed below.

1. Health regulations were not strictly enforced . There was an escalation of the number of cases soon afterwards.

Health regulations were not strictly enforced during the general election last year.

2. The controversy on disposal of dead bodies; the scientifically correct decision to allow burial was taken by the politicians only after much heartburn of the community and even humiliation in the international scene.

3. Allowing and openly promoting unproven native medication, making the people ignore public health guidelines.

4. Conducting the Lanka Premier League (LPL) cricket tournament in Hambantota, bringing in players from countries with a roaring epidemic. One of the players found to be PCR positive then is alleged, though without proof, to have brought in the UK variant of the virus.

5. Entertaining tourists from Ukraine, where authorities had no control over the fast spreading disease. It is an open question whether the quarantine procedures were properly implemented. Same mistake is being made now, with Indians being allowed to come in for so called quarantining purposes. It is well known that the financial interests of acolytes took precedence over the health of the people.

6. Messing up the vaccination process. Notwithstanding the somewhat unforeseen situation in India, timely action should have been taken to obtain adequate supplies of approved vaccines. The authorities appeared to depend on the donation of an unapproved vaccine from a friendly country. The priority list for vaccination was disrupted, thus exhausting the supplies of the vaccine. As a result, only an insignificant proportion of the people have received the first dose, with no guarantee of the second.

7. Allowing free movement of people during the festivals, largely ignoring recommended preventive guidelines. These were openly patronised by the kith and kin of the political leaders.

8. In many meetings and other gatherings organised and attended by the politicians at the highest level, scant regard is given for public health precautions.

9. Claiming success until a few weeks ago, and reducing the PCR testing and other measures until caught unawares with a rapidly rising case load.

10. Restriction of movement and isolation of areas is hampered by political interference. This was well illustrated by what happened recently in Piliyandala, where the isolation of the area, on medical advice, was reversed within a few hours at the behest of a political bigwig.

11. All social gatherings were banned a few days ago. However, it was comical how largely attended weddings were allowed for a few days more, obviously to accommodate someone close to the centers of power. Though rumours abound, the beneficiary of this anomaly is still not known for certain.

To what extent the hierarchy in the medical administrators of the Health Ministry contributed to this dismal situation is open to question. The general impression is that they are succumbing to political pressure, without standing their ground. It is widely suspected that even the correct statistics are not divulged to avoid embarrassing the politicians. However, knowing how overpowering the politicians could be, it may be unreasonable to blame the hapless officials doing a thankless job under trying circumstances.

 

SENIOR MEDICAL CONSULTANT

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Opinion

Making O/L English literature more accessible

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In his feature article, titled “Reduce O/Level STRESS”, appearing in The Island of 03 May, Anton Peiris makes a timely intervention to introduce an alternative mathematics course for O/L students, which will be tailored to suit the capacity of a considerable number of students who find the customary mathematics paper too challenging. This is surely a more pragmatic and student-friendly approach, because for the past few years we have been trapped in the split between two extremes: either in support of a pass in math to be made compulsory for all A/L students or the exemption of Arts students from this requirement. “Maths Studies” would be a happy compromise between the two extremes, which would stand in good stead for many O/L students. with a gift for Arts subjects to pursue their goals without math being an undue hindrance or, conversely, its total exemption turning out to be a free license for laxity.

O/L English literature seems to be another subject not available to many students due to at least two reasons: first, the want of qualified teachers and, second, the standards being set too high for the average student, as in the case of math. This deters many students who are not competent enough to meet the high-end demand for “appreciating literary texts” from gaining many other benefits literature would otherwise offer them, if provided as a more watered down package, as in “Maths Studies.” In short, the introduction of a less daunting variant such as “Literature Studies” for the average student, for whom the regular “English Literature” is virtually a taboo, can ensure the same gains “Maths Studies” intends to bring to those less proficient in math.

Such leniency would not be wholly out of tune with the learning outcomes of O/L English Literature, enunciated in the relevant syllabus issued by the NIE, which states:

The national goal of making an informed reader means a critical thinker as well. The learner must be able to appreciate any “well written” book and recognize a “good book” when he sees one. It is a training for life. But the whole enterprise of studying literature has been coloured by non-educational, even non-humanistic objectives. For most students and more for their parents, English literature has become a symbol of prestige, culminating in a fantasy of a distinction pass at the GC.E. (O/L) examination. (http://www.nie.lk/pdffiles/tg/e10tim130.pdf)

This goes to provide at least two good reasons for introducing a less demanding option like “Literature Studies” for the average student. As the latter part of the above paragraph admits, for many students, as well as their parents, studying English literature has become a “symbol of prestige.” This is sad because promoting such snobbery flies in the face of all the lofty ideals contained in the first three sentences, such as making the student well informed, critical and sensitized enough to appreciate good literature, etc. As such, it would not be undesirable, in the least, to aim at moulding a reasonably broadminded and sensitive person, by adjusting the syllabus to focus more on increasing their general awareness of the richness of world literature, without making the study of O/L literature a strenuous exercise of gaining a set of “skills,” which may be more suitable for the purpose of grooming critics rather than making students read for pleasure. Arguably, the emphasis on critical appreciation of the texts might be one reason why the students end up becoming stuck-up, as described in the above passage.

There is no doubt that the regular O/L literature course prepares the student to study literature at the A/Ls – hence the need for its continuation. However, a more student-friendly variant intended for encouraging the average student to read literature, without the unnerving prospect of having to write a critical essay on each of the prescribed texts she has to read, is sure to cultivate the reading habit among students. The performance evaluation defined in the NIE syllabus cited below proves the rigid test-oriented and technical nature of the process:

Appreciation of English literary texts is tested as a component of the G.C.E. (O/L) examination formatively as well as summatively at the end of a two-year course of study. At school level, it is assessed formally at term tests. It is also assessed informally in the classroom using a variety of techniques, both oral and written. Conventionally literature is tested by written examinations. The test items most frequently used are the context question and the critical essay. The context question is more effective since it directly tests the candidate’s familiarity with the texts.

Undoubtedly, a more student-friendly and less formulaic syllabus intended for coaxing the average student to read for pleasure, may ideally minimize the focus on critical writing aspect and the emphasis on a knowledge of the textual mechanics. Instead, such a syllabus may include a prudent selection of interesting biographical details of writers and their famous works, their dominant themes and the relevant social contexts, short samples of texts not intended for critical evaluation but for familiarizing them with various writing forms, etc. – anything that will stimulate the reading habit of the student who may even be encouraged to read the translations in their mother tongue, if time permits.

The most important outcome would be to make them keen readers. The essential fine-tuning with regard to the selection of teaching materials and testing can be done by the syllabus designers and teachers who know the terrain well. Thus, as in the case of math, the modified syllabus of literature would help students who are not adequately proficient to follow the standard literature course, to find a more manageable way of developing a liking for literature.

 

SUSANTHA HEWA

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