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Does Geneva matter to Sri Lanka?



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. S. AMARATUNGA

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Daring siege of the Cultural Ministry



The University of Colombo, Sri Lanka was established in 1979 in accordance with the provisions of the Universities Act No. 18 of 1978. The university was given all the land from the road joining Bauddhaloka Mawatha and Reid Avenue (later named Prof. Stanley Wijesundera Mawatha) right up to the Thummulla junction.

There were the court premises set up to try the insurgents of 1971, the Curriculum Development Centre (CDC), the Queen’s Club, an unauthorized temple which had everything else like car wash, canteen, night life, etc, except what should be found in a temple.

Of these the university was able to get rid of the bogus temple. The request to get the CDC premises did not materialize as the then Secretary of Education turned it down. Later these buildings were taken over to house the Ministry of Cultural Affairs.

One day in the early 1990s just prior to closing time the Senior Assistant Registrar in charge of Student Affairs came into my office and told me that the Students Union is planning to take over the Buildings of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. Their plan was to wait till dusk and get in surreptitiously two by two. I told the Senior Assistant Registrar not to divulge this to anybody else and to wait till the following morning to see the outcome.

When we reported for work the following morning, I asked the Senior Assistant Registrar as to what had happened. He said the mission had been successfully accomplished and now the students were occupying the buildings. It seemed that what the university had been trying to get for a long time, the students had successfully achieved in one night!

On the second day the students who were occupying the buildings were a little agitated, telephoned me and asked whether the Special Task Force (STF) was planning to surround the building with a view to oust them as the STF personnel were occupying vantage points on buildings in the vicinity . I telephoned and inquired from the OIC of Cinnamon Gardens Police station, and he told me that there was no such plan and that they were only watching the situation. I conveyed this to the students and allayed their fears.

A meeting was convened at the Ministry of Higher Education to see how the problem could be sorted out. At the meeting a student showed a copy of a Cabinet decision where agreement had been reached to hand over the CDC buildings to the University of Colombo. The Minister of Cultural Affairs at that time, Mr. Lakshman Jayakody, was surprised and asked the student as to how he got the copy of the decision as even he had not seen it. The student stated that he did not want to divulge the source.

The Minister stated that his immediate need was to get the pay sheet and cheque book as the employees had to be paid their salaries. The students were adamant not to surrender, and they stated that this was done as they needed hostels. Hence the decision to lay siege to the buildings. Mr. Jayakody agreed to vacate the buildings so that the university could make use of them.

That ended the saga of the famous siege of a Ministry building by a few daring undergraduates. The buildings were used to house the newly established Faculty of Management and Finance. The undergraduates were accommodated in other buildings in Muttiah Road and Thelawala, which were handed over to the university to be used as hostels.



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Professor Dayantha Wijeyesekera



Professor Dayantha Wijeyesekera who passed away a few days ago was a dynamic personality who headed not one but two national universities in Sri Lanka. It was as the Vice-Chancellor of the Open University of Sri Lanka (OUSL) that I first encountered him, an encounter that highlighted Professor Wijeyesekera’s powers of perseverance and persuasion. During the late 1980s, I was happily ensconced at the University of Colombo when I started receiving messages from Professor Wijeyesekera to ask me to consider moving over to the OUSL. The proposition did not seem very viable to me at the time and I ignored his calls But for almost two years, he persisted until I finally gave in and shifted my academic career to Nawala- a move never regretted.

OUSL at that time was in the throes of changes and innovation, most of which were spearheaded by Professor Wijeyesekera who had taken over the leadership of OUSL in 1985 at a most controversial time. Perceptions of the OUSL were negative and the authorities were even considering closing it down. With his characteristic vigour, Dayantha Wijeyesekera set about putting things right bringing in changes, some of which were most controversial and even considered detrimental to OUSL.

In spite of opposition, he stuck to his vision and it is testimony to his persistence that a number of changes have lasted to this day – Faculties headed by Deans instead of Boards of Study headed by Directors, Departments of Study and not Units, a two-tier administrative system akin to the conventional university system of Council and Senate. To help support students who needed to come to Nawala for workshops and laboratory classes, he established student hostels-another move deemed by his critics as undermining the concept of Distance Education. The hostels still stand and have even been expanded.

Other changes were welcomed such as his indefatigable pursuit of state –of the art technology for OUSL. The OUSL’s centre for Educational Technology was a gift from Japan due to Professor Wijeyesekera’s efforts. And it was in his period of stewardship at OUSL that the first ever language laboratory to be established in a Sri Lankan university was set up in the Department of Language Studies – a gift from KOICA, the South Korean aid agency.

During Professor Wijeyesekera’s tenure as Vice Chancellor, the OUSL experienced growth and expansion in academic sectors too. During the 1980s, the university had only a handful of centres but under Dayantha Wijeyesekera the number rapidly grew- there were Regional Centres in major cities such as Colombo, Kandy and Jaffna. Study centres were set up in towns throughout the island and he was more than supportive when requested permission to establish teaching centres for English in smaller urban conglomerations such as Akkaraipattu .

Academic programmes blossomed. The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences for example had just one Bachelor’s degree, the LLB, during the 1980s. In Professor Wijeyesekera’s time this grew to include a Bachelor of Management Studies, a Bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences and the first ever Bachelor’s degree in English and English Language Teaching. The first degree programme for nurses in Sri Lanka, the BSc. In Nursing, was established at the Faculty of Science with support from Athabasca University in Canada. In addition there also sprang up a whole cohort of Certificate and Diploma programmes catering to the diverse needs of professionals all over the island.

The growth of the university was reflected in the expansion of facilities. New buildings sprang up on reclaimed land bordering the Narahenpita-Nawala Road – a new Senate House which offered space to all the administrative sections and had a spacious facility for Council and Senate meetings. A three-storey building was provided for the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and a new Library building took shape near the Media Centre.

In addition Professor Wijeyesekera reached out to international centres of Distance Education and Open Universities across the world. In the early 1990s, he hosted with aplomb the Conference of the Association of Asian Open Universities (AAOU) and OUSL became a respected member of the AAOU as well as of the Commonwealth of Learning.

Dayantha Wijeyesekera began his career at OUSL in 1985 when the fate of the OUSL hung in the balance. Under his stewardship, the university burgeoned into a national university, a leader in Distance Education which others sought to emulate.. When he joined the OU, the student enrolment stood at 8,000. When he left, nine years later, there 20,000 students registered at the university. It was his hard work, his dedication, his commitment to academic progress that helped transform the OUSL.

May his soul rest in peace.
Ryhana Raheem
Emeritus Professor,
Open University of Sri Lanka

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X-Press Pearl disaster



It will be a crying shame if we fail to get the much wanted and much spoken about compensation due to us for the monumental maritime disaster caused in around our shores when the X-Press went down.

Our government and all those departments and ministries responsible had ample time to make a water tight claim to make the compensation 1claim to the right place. The best available brains and talent to deal with this complex problem involving a host of subjects including the ecology, marine biology, shipwrecks, the law of the sea, maritime laws and whatever else should have been organized to fight our case.

The moment the disaster occurred, all concerned should have acted with single minded dedication to make a strong claim for compensation. Much video and other evidence of the damage done is available. All of us are aware of the shoals of fish, turtles and other sea creatures that died and were washed ashore and the plastic and oil pollution of our beaches. Some of those creatures that died live for over 100 years.

What we saw on our shore post-disaster was a heartbreaking sight. I don’t think it’s possible to assess the ecological damage done in monetary terms. The plastic nurdles the ship has been washed as far as Matara and it is said the acid pollution caused will be with us for a century. Fishermen have suffered great hardship by the loss of catch.

The case filed is being heard in Singapore. I hope the verdict will temper justice with mercy. The damage and misery suffered through no fault of ours is untold.

Padmini Nanayakkara, Colombo-3.

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