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Midweek Review

Easter Sunday carnage: How P CoI boomeranged on former Prez Sirisena

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Polonnaruwa District MP Maithripala Sirisena leaving P CoI recently

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Many an eyebrow was raised when Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, intervened in the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI), tasked to inquire into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage.

The Diocese of Colombo stepped-in, in the wake of accusations that attempts were being made to suppress the investigation. The then President Maithripala Sirisena, who named the P CoI, on Sept 22, 2019, wouldn’t have anticipated the P CoI to boomerang on him.

Sirisena, who is also the beleaguered leader of the SLFP, constituted the P CoI, ahead of the seven-member Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) submitting its report to the Parliament, on Oct 23, 2019. The PSC sittings took place between May-Oct 2019.

Sirisena, who had been away in Singapore, at the time of the coordinated suicide attacks, on the morning of April 21, 2019, returned on the following day, to take charge of the situation. Initially, the public didn’t find fault with the President, whereas the then Premier Ranil Wickemesinghe was mercilessly attacked. Within days after the attacks, Sirisena appointed his first P CoI to probe the attacks. The P CoI, headed by Supreme Court Justice Vijith Malalgoda, included former IGP N.K. Illangakoon (July 16, 2011 to July 11, 2016) and retired Secretary to the Ministry of Law and Order Padmasiri Jayamanne.

It would be pertinent to mention that the Easter Sunday carnage mastermind Zahran Hashim stepped up his clandestine activities, during Illangakoon’s tenure, as the IGP. By August 2015, Hashim had reached consensus with a group of Muslim politicians, and the parties they represented.

Sirisena named his second P CoI, in response to the PSC named by the then Speaker Karu Jayasuriya. Headed by Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri, the PSC consisted of SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem, Ravi Karunanayake, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka. M.A. Sumanthiran, PC, Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa , Prof. Ashu Marasinghe, and Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne, PC. The PSC summoned members of the first P CoI, on August 20, 2019. Illangakoon and Jayamanne also appeared before the PSC, on July 25, 2019.

 

Special status for Prez, SIS head

Sirisena declined to appear before the PSC. Instead, the PSC visited him at the President’s House, on Sept 20, 2019. Sirisena received kid glove treatment. Let me reproduce what the PSC stated in its report on meeting Sirisena:

“Committee, having observed the evidence of H.E. Maithripala Sirisena, the President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, who was the Minister of Defence at the time these incidents took place, would be very helpful and important in preparing the final report of the Committee, decided to make a request to H.E. the President to give the Committee an opportunity for that.”

Sirisena named his second P CoI two days after his chat with the PSC, on Aug 20, 2019. The then head of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena too received special status when his testimony was recorded in camera, at the Parliamentary Committee Complex (formerly Agriculture Ministry) located at Rajamalwatta Road, Battaramulla, at 7.00 p.m., on July 24, 2019. The hearing continued till 1 a.m. the following day. Jayawardena, having joined the Police, as an ASP, in February, 1998, received appointment as Senior DIG, in late Feb 2019. Interestingly, even after the PSC named Jayawardena as the main culprit, the incumbent SLPP administration appointed him Senior DIG, in charge of the Eastern Province. Jayawardena received the appointment on Jan 1, 2020.

Obviously, Sirisena never expected the second P CoI to really go into the Easter attack. Perhaps, Jayawardena, too, didn’t anticipate any devastating exposure, at the second P CoI.

Sirisena concluded his testimony, on Nov 25, having appeared before the P CoI, on eight occasions, with Shammil Perera, PC, Counsel for the Diocese of Colombo, giving the former President a very hard time. Sirisena, now an SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) MP for Polonnaruwa, ended up having to produce his medical reports to the P CoI.

The on-going second P CoI comprises Court of Appeal Judge Janak de Silva, Court of Appeal Judge Nissanka Bandula Karunaratne, Retired High Court Judges Nihal Sunil Rajapaksa, and A.L. Bandula Kumara Atapattu and former Secretary of the Ministry of Justice W.M.M.R. Adikari. Secretary to the Commission is H.M.P.B. Herath.

Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith refrained from seeking changes to the P CoI, though President Gotabaya Rajapaksa requested the Archbishop of Colombo to make suggestions. Instead, the Church had Counsel therein to raise pertinent issues. Perhaps Sirisena felt confident that he could deal with the situation. However, the proceedings have taken a nasty turn with the Counsel for disgraced former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando questioning Sirisena whether he lied before the P CoI.

Responding to Fernando’s Counsel, Sirisena, on Nov 24, acknowledged how his son Daham’s wedding had to be shifted from the Shangri-La Hotel, where Zahran Hashim, and another, carried out suicide attacks, to Hilton Colombo. Sirisena also defended visiting Tirupathi, before Singapore, where he claimed he received treatment, whereas Fernando’s Counsel insisted he was there for a regular checkup. The Counsel also challenged Sirisena’s excuse for not taking an earlier flight, in spite of the unprecedented national security emergency.

 

Diocese of Colombo responds

The Island

sought an explanation from His Lordship Rt. Rev. Dr. J. Winston S. Fernando, S.S.S., President, Sri Lanka Catholic Bishops’ Conference and Bishop of the Diocese of Badulla as regards the intervention made by the Church.

Asked whether the decision to employ legal counsel had been taken by the Sri Lanka Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Dr. Fernando explained how the Diocese of Colombo could take the relevant decision as the Easter Sunday attacks took place within the area coming under its authority. The senior clergyman pointed out that the church, attacked in the Batticaloa district, didn’t come under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Batticaloa. Responding to another query, Dr. Fernando said that the intervention of the Sri Lanka Catholic Bishops’ Conference depended on the nature of the issue at hand. On behalf of the Sri Lanka Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Dr. Fernando strongly endorsed the measures taken by them to ensure justice for those who perished in terror attacks.

Dr. Fernando underscored the pivotal importance of maintaining cordial relations among communities as the investigation progressed. Colombo is among altogether 12 Dioceses which constitute the Sri Lanka Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the Supreme body responsible for the overall direction of the community. Rt. Rev. Dr. J.D. Anthony Jayakody, Auxiliary Bishop of Colombo, functions as the Secretary General of the body.

In October 2020, the supreme body had the courage to reject the much touted 20th Amendment to the Constitution. Instead, it called for the appointment of an independent constitutional council to draft a new constitution. It also called for tangible measures to plug the loopholes that could lead to multiple interpretations.

Thanks to apt strategies adopted by the Church, the P CoI inquiry attracted unprecedented attention with the Counsel going ahead with no holds barred questioning of no longer privileged ex-President Sirisena which would have been unthinkable a year ago. Did Sirisena realize how the P CoI inquiry could boomerang on him! Obviously, consequences are catastrophic and irreversible. The impact on the Muslim political leadership too is quite devastating and likely to undermine their longstanding relationship with major political parties. If not for the tough stand taken by the Church, utterly corrupt political party system could have easilysucceeded in suppressing the investigation.

The releasing of Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) Vanni District lawmaker Rishad Bathiudeen’s brother, Riyaj, taken into custody over his alleged involvement with one of the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) suicide bombers, by the incumbent government, is a case in point. Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC called for an inquiry into the release of Riyaj. However, law enforcement authorities are yet to take him back into custody.

 

Pompeo’s questionable claim on Easter Sunday attacks

Outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, at the end of his official talks in Colombo on Oct 28, 2020, directly blamed ISIS for the Easter Sunday attacks. Let me reproduce the relevant section of his statement verbatim: “Finally, this afternoon, I’ll travel – it’s important for me to take a moment to go and visit the Shrine of St. Anthony, one of the five sites that were attacked by ISIS on Easter Sunday of 2019. I’ll shortly have the chance to pay my respects to the hundreds of victims of evil terrorists, including five Americans. I’m proud that the State Department has offered substantial counterterrorism assistance to help Sri Lankans bring killers of Americans and their own people to justice. These Easter Sunday attacks represent the kind of sectarianism that Sri Lankans are ready to leave behind forever. Sri Lankans of all backgrounds – Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims alike – want a peaceful nation where their human rights are respected.”

Two senior intelligence personnel, a retired official and a serving officer categorically denied ISIS culpability, though the organization claimed responsibility for the Easter Sunday carnage, several days after the attack. Both having access to an entire range of information, emphasized that at the time the suicide bombers struck, the ISIS hadn’t been aware of the operation. Referring to the US Secretary of State’s claim, they underscored the need to set the record straight as the perceived ISIS leadership could divert government and public attention, away from the real perpetrators.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, they explained that the ISIS claimed responsibility for coordinated bombings at churches and high-end hotels on Tuesday (23) after a youth, 21, from Matale, who had been in Qatar before, contacted the ISIS. The CID later arrested the suspect.

The ISIS offered no evidence to back its claim, initially announced in Arabic, carried by its Amaq news agency, on April 23, 2019. The news agency claimed the attackers were ‘among the fighters of the Islamic State.’

ISIS later issued a longer, formal statement, identifying the seven suicide bombers, who detonated explosive-laden vests, at the churches, and hotels, and a housing complex, on that particular Sunday.

Elusive ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a week later, reiterated his fighters carried out the attack.

In spite of Sirisena continuing to deny knowledge of the NTJ build-up, there had been three briefings on Zahran Hashim at the National Security Council (NSC) before the Easter Sunday massacre. In addition to them, the Defence Ministry received nine comprehensive reports on the extremists. The DMI, on several occasions, in the run up to the Easter Sunday attacks, suggested that Zahran Hashim be arrested and dealt through legal means.

 

Who really masterminded the Easter Sunday carnage?

What really triggered the Easter Sunday attacks? Did negligence on the part of the political leadership, and the security apparatus, paved the way for this high profile terror project? Who masterminded the overall operation? If Zahran Hashim wasn’t responsible, who actually picked the targets? Did Thowheed Jamaat suicide bomber Atchchi Muhammadu Hastun’s Tamil wife P. Pulasthini Rajendran alias Sarah, 24, leave their Sainthamaruthu hideout, on April 28, before troops, and the police, cordoned off the area. Pulasthini remains an enigma, well over a year after a series of blasts, within the hideout, claimed the lives of 15 persons, including six children. Troops captured Zahran Hashim’s wife and child following the confrontation at Sainthamaruthu.

Although Pulasthini was widely believed to be therein, later multiple sources claimed she escaped. Had the P CoI been able to verify claims Hasthun’s wife fled to India, in September 2019, suggesting the possibility of she being one of the informants, run by Indian intelligence?

The Indian intelligence warning, in spite of being ignored by Sri Lanka, revealed the true status of the Indian operation that enabled New Delhi to alert Colombo, well over two weeks before the coordinated terror strikes. Perhaps, Sri Lanka’s response to intelligence warning wrong-footed New Delhi, as Indian interests here were provided enhanced security. On the other hand, New Delhi certainly knew the attackers’ preparations, hence additional warnings.

The confidential Indian memo provided names, addresses, phone numbers, even the times in the middle of the night that one suspect would visit his wife.

If one examined the testimony of Sirisena, and fallen SIS Chief Jayawardena, who appeared before the P Col, for at least 20 days, the bone of contention is nothing but the latter’s failure to tell President of the Indian warning, received on April 4th. Zahran Hashim’s group carried out thespate of blasts, on April 21. Who would believe Sirisena didn’t receive the alert against the backdrop of revelation at the P CoI where there were at least 20 telephone conversations between the two from April 4 to April 21 period alone.

During October 24 P CoI proceedings, President’s Counsel Shamil Perera watching the interests of the Catholic Church, revealed how Sirisena and Jayawardena engaged in a 159-second telephone conversation, beginning at 7.59 am on the day of the attacks. The first blast hit St. Anthony’s Church, at 8.45am. The bomber targeted the Tamil service. However, the PSC, in its report, asserted that the suicide attacks, on St. Anthony’s Church, as well as St. Sebastian’s Church, Katuwapitiya, were carried out at 8.45 am. The next blast, at The Kingsbury Hotel took place at 8.47 am, Shangri-La at 8.54 am, Zion Church, Batticaloa, at 9.10 am and the sixth explosion at the Cinnamon Grand at 9.12 am.

There were two subsequent blasts at Tropical Inn, Dehiwalaand the Dematagoda house of spice tycoon Mohammad Yusuf Ibrahim, at 1.30 pm and 2.25 pm, respectively. Ibrahim’s two sons were among those who carried out attacks. When police surrounded the Dematagoda residence, Ibrahim’s daughter-in-law detonated explosives. Ibrahim who had been on the JVP’s National List, at the 2015 general election, is still in detention, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

Counsel Perera produced a document before P CoI, in the presence of Sirisena, that proved the then President and hisspy chief had been constantly in touch. The list proved that there had been altogether 221 calls, from January to April 2019, therefore claim of Jayawardena didn’t receive an opportunity to pass such vital information, is highly questionable.

Similarly, can the possibility of Premier Wickremesinghe receiving the intelligence warning be ruled out, asJayawardena had shared security alert, received from New Delhi, with the then IGP Pujitha Jayasundera and CNI (Chief of National Intelligence Intelligence) retired DIG Sisira Mendis? Both IGP Jayasundara and Mendis wouldn’t have received appointments if they weren’t the UNP’s favourites.

 

Political background

The NTJ struck a couple of months after UNP leader Wickremesinghe regained the premiership, following Sirisena’s abortive bid to have the general election ahead of the presidential poll, which eventually took place on Nov 16, 2019. If the UNP-TNA-JVP combine hadn’t been successful in its legal challenge, the general election would have taken place on January 5, 2019. Had that happened, who would have taken the upper hand? Under whatever the circumstances, the SLPP wouldn’t have secured a near 2/3 majority by winning 145 seats. The result could have gone either way. Most importantly, the then UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa wouldn’t have an opportunity to contest the general election, under a new symbol. In other words, in case the SLPP won the Jan 2019 general election, envisaged by Sirisena, with a slim majority, the main Opposition would have been the UNP. What we should also take into consideration is that if Sirisena managed to sustain his strategy, his SLFP would have had a far bigger share in the SLPP parliamentary group. The SLFP managed to obtain 13 seats, under the SLPP ticket, and one on its own, in the Jaffna peninsula, at the Aug 2020 general election, after the judiciary reversed the then President’s strategy.

The NTJ mounted attacks after Wickremesinghe regained premiership though the police couldn’t be brought under the UNP. Sirisena would have been in a far more comfortable situation now if he gave in to the UNP demand to have the police under its control. However, an adamant Sirisena retained both the defence and police portfolios thereby automatically taking responsibility for the Easter Sunday carnage.

As claimed by academic Rajan Hoole in his explosive ‘Sri Lanka’s Easter Tragedy: When the Deep State gets out of its Depth, ‘launched ahead of the Nov 2019 presidential election, the failure of high profile NTJ’s political project to get some parliamentary representation, at the 2015 general election, may have prompted the Easter Sunday attacks. According to Prof. Hoole, the NTJ sought an arrangement similar to that of the LTTE having its interests represented in Parliament, through the TNA. An in depth examination of political factors is certainly essential as part of the overall investigation which is still at a very early stage.

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Midweek Review

Is Obama a humanist?

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By Dr Janaka Ratnasiri

Several reviews of President Barack Obama’ book, A Promised Land have recently appeared, and in one of them Obama is called a humanist. Is this true? A humanist, by definition, is a person having a strong interest in or concern for human welfare, values, and dignity. If one considers his deeds and words during his tenure as the US President, to what extent does he fit into this definition?

True, at the beginning of his tenure as the US President, he spoke about his Muslim ancestry in Kenya and about his wishes to live in peace with everyone, particularly with Muslims. In June 2009, President Obama told a gathering at the University of Cairo, “I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition.  Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings”.

People had great expectation that Obama would steer the US along a new path leading towards peace, particularly diffusing the tension between America and the Muslim world. The expectations were so great that within 10 months of Obama swearing in as President, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 to him “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”. It was obvious that the award was made not on any of his achievements like in the case of all other Nobel Prize winners, but solely on his rhetoric. It was a case of granting an award in anticipation because the Nobel Committee mistakenly thought Obama would deliver all what he promised during and after his election campaign.

The attack on US military headquarters, the Pentagon, on September 11, 2001, damaged the pride of America. It showed the world that the terrorists were indeed smarter than all the security advisors and the intelligence think tanks in the US. Not one of them had imagined that a civilian aircraft could be used as a weapon deadlier than an intercontinental ballistic missile loaded with nuclear warheads. The impact of the Pentagon attack was worse than the attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre where thousands of office workers and several rescue workers died.

In his address to Congressmen, Senators, Cabinet members and key security advisors made in May 2009, President Obama said, “My single most important responsibility as President is to keep the American people safe.” So, President Obama declared that he was going to attack any country, be it Pakistan, or East Africa and Southeast Asia or even Europe and the Gulf, suspected of providing refuge to terrorists. Now, who has given the authority for the US to attack any country from Europe to East Asia merely on suspicion of harbouring and training terrorists killing civilians in the process? Don’t human rights apply in such instances? Doesn’t this violate the ideals of the Nobel Committee, which has hitherto only recognized individuals or institutions that actually promoted peace on Earth?

President Obama started attacking Libya with no reason at all. President Muammar Gaddafi was not a threat to America by word or deed. So, why was he attacked? It is obvious that America had a hidden agenda. Certainly, such deeds cannot be expected of civilized countries practising religious faiths, let alone from Nobel Peace Laureates. Is Libya a better country now than what it was before Gaddafi was killed? The US military forces under the direction of President Obama during eight years of his tenure, launched air strikes or military raids in many countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan, killing hundreds of thousands of unarmed civilians including women and children on the pretext of attacking terrorist hideouts. He also funded rebels in Iran and imposed trade sanctions which even affected Sri Lanka not being able to import crude oil from Iran. Could such a person be described as a humanist?

The US has spent over USD 6.4 trillion on post-9/11 wars and military action in the Middle East and Asia, according to a report from the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University, released in November 2019. The report also finds that more than 801,000 people have died as a direct result of fighting. Of those, more than 335,000 have been civilians. Another 21 million people have been displaced due to violence. Who is responsible for all these casualties? Can the US President be called a humanist?

While President Obama’s arrogance in military activities is well known; it was displayed by him in getting the entire world to change its plans for meeting the challenge of climate change to his liking merely to satisfy his ego, is little known. The Kyoto Protocol under Climate Change Convention imposed mandatory Greenhouse Gas emission reduction commitments amounting to an average of 5%, on developed countries beginning 2008 and ending in 2012. Various parties had submitted different proposals to enhance commitments on developed countries beyond 2012.

The Conference of Parties (COP) to the Climate Change Convention held in 2009 in Copenhagen, having considered these proposals, appointed a committee of five countries, Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa and China (BRISC) to recommend additional mandatory commitments both in terms of amounts and time frame the developed countries should be called upon to make beyond 2012. The developing countries on the other hand were not subject to any such mandatory commitments though they are also required to initiate action to reduce emissions to the extent feasible.

The BRICS Committee was having discussions behind closed doors up to the night of the last day of the conference. When the meeting was about to close, President Obama barged into the committee room and made an intervention. This was an unprecedented act and only President Obama could do, and there was no one in the room with the courage to show him the door. Instead, they accommodated him. Hitherto, countries like China and India protested vehemently while the US was trying to impose any emission restrictions on them. President Obama told the BRICS members that the US would mobilize USD 100 billion annually to help developing countries to undertake emission reduction projects if they undertook them voluntarily.

The Committee apparently gave in when they saw this ‘carrot’dangling before them. President Obama also told the Committee that developed countries should be asked to shift from mandatory targets themselves to voluntary targets to reduce emissions, a deviation from the Kyoto Protocol. Though this recommendation was tabled at the Plenary, it was not discussed as it was past mid-night of the last day of the meeting. The Conference report recorded that the COP only made note of this recommendation. However, the matter was in the agenda of subsequent COP meetings where its modality of implementation was discussed.

The COP took six years to finalise an agreement acceptable to all Parties on how to implement President Obama’s proposal. The Paris Agreement (PA) was the outcome of these negotiations and it was adopted at the COP meeting held in Paris in 2015. The main objective of PA is to reduce emissions enabling the global surface temperature to remain within two degree C beyond what it was at the turn of the last century. In keeping with President Obama’s pledge, many heads of states made undertakings at this meeting for providing finances during 2016-2020, totaling USD 48 billion. Among the key contributors are Japan (USD 10B), EU (USD 11B), UK (USD 8.7B), France (USD 6.6B), Italy (USD 4 B) and USA (USD 4B) (UNFCCC website).

In his address to the Plenary, President Obama came out with the motive for his proposal. He said that while the US would initiate actions to reduce emissions the way they want but without being told by others how to do it. So, the entire developing countries are now called upon to undertake emission reductions voluntarily while releasing developed countries from their mandatory reduction targets. Even the least developing countries with hardly any emissions are now called upon to submit reports to the Climate Change Secretariat describing their activities undertaken to reduce emissions. Even the funding is not given on a platter, but will have to be requested by submitting detailed project proposals. Sri Lanka is still struggling to prepare these proposals.

It is noteworthy that the US, which spearheaded the abolition of mandatory emission reductions by developed countries and getting developing countries on board with them on the promise of mobilizing USD 100 billion annually by 2020, pledged only a paltry USD 4 billion as contributions up to 2020. During President Donald Trump’s tenure, the US withdrew from the Paris Agreement leaving the developing countries high and dry, with no money forthcoming as pledged by president Obama. Now, under President Joe Biden, the US may re-enter Paris Agreement and make firm commitments towards emission reductions and also towards the Climate Fund.

Up to end of 2020, the Climate Fund had collected only USD 22 Billion; another USD 58 Billion had been mobilised through other sources making available USD 80 Billion for disbursement among developing countries, which is nowhere close to USD 500 Billion promised by President Obama up to 2020. He could have stopped at offering increased funding to developing countries to get them to agree on voluntary commitments, without removing the mandatory emission reduction commitments on developed countries already in force. This, he did merely to satisfy his ego as admitted by him. Can such a person be called a humanist?

According to a report issued by the National Geographic Society in November 2019, the majority of the carbon emission reduction pledges for 2030 that 184 countries made voluntarily under the Paris Agreement aren’t nearly enough to keep global warming well below the two-degrees-Celsius target, and it is likely that the world is on a pathway to between 3 and 4 degrees C by the end of this century. That pathway risks triggering natural feedbacks such as massive thawing of permafrost or widespread forest die-offs, which could lead to additional uncontrollable warming. Scientists have called this the Hothouse Earth scenario, where sea levels could rise 10 to 60 meters and large parts of the planet become uninhabitable. The day this happens, people will curse President Obama.

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Midweek Review

Recordings of the island’s history as seen by the compilers of the Mahavamsa

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‘A man loses contact with reality if he is not surrounded by his books’ – Francois Mitterand

 

By Usvatte-aratchi

I was delighted to read Haris’ (GPSH de Silva) new book ‘Sri Lanka, a brief history based on the Mahavamsa and …of the British Governors’. Living as we do, embalmed in fake news and entombed by the SARS-CoV-2, it is a relief to read anything so fresh. It brings one into contact with reality. The pleasure was compounded because Haris, with another, is the oldest friend I have. I cherish the first meeting with Haris on the corridor of Ramanathan Hall overlooking the river. I was walking to my room, lonely and forlorn, when a fellow freshman accosted me, ‘I am Haris. Who are you?’ (Well, I am not a historian but a plain Jane economist, no not even an economic historian!) I was the first entrant from my school to the university and here was a stranger, friendly. I was full of remorse when I failed to find Haris in Victoria Station, when both of us happened to be in London in 1963. I was away for most of my adult life but we saw each other every time I came back home. Because of our growing disabilities we have, in fact, not seen each for several months. His new book was a most welcome emissary.

It is a straight forward record of rulers in this land from the second century BCE (before the beginning of the Common Era). He was ‘dealing with the recordings of the island’s history, as seen by the compilers of the Mahavamsa…to jog the interest of the general reader as well as some students of history…’. It is brief, indeed, a mere 148 pages, including a bibliography. Among the entrants to our universities are many students who have never read any history after Grade 8 or 9, and that most unsatisfactorily. They will graduate with little familiarity with even an outline of the history of the island and even less of its literature. Without glorifying that which requires sober assessment, this little book may help to interest young people in what happened in the far past as well as in the near past of the people of this land. There is a lot of snake oil on this subject that is sold by interested parties. Here is the genuine stuff as is recorded in the old book of recipes, the Mahavamsa. It is small enough to fit in a back pocket of a person, as Haris was fond of doing when he was an undergraduate. It makes a nice gift to anyone interested in or might benefit from some familiarity with the history of this island.

It is not a history of the people but a list of rulers as presented in ‘chronological order’ but nor is Mahavamsa, as made clear by Haris. There are some brief notes about major events, especially those of a religious nature and those having to do with irrigation. Once reservoirs were built and irrigations system well established, life seems to have gone on with a certain degree of monotony. Mahavamsa does not tarry with even the momentous changes in religious beliefs and practices brought forth with the Chola invasions. However, with the introductory chapter in this book the ambitious reader can obtain some ideas about the life of the people. The author’s useful reference to epigraphical and archeological evidence helps out to imagine what may have been life in those days. From the account of British governors covering 41 pages, compared to the 100 pages for all rulers from the beginning, we learn of the innovations in transport, communications and other government activity. Perhaps, there is more written information on these besides what was given in the Mahavamsa. In the introduction, Haris has commented as follows: ‘Beyond religion, religious architecture, irrigation and literary works, evidence for (of?) dedicated scientific research on natural phenomena or any other worldly subjects is hard to come by…..Apart from the political history, it is seen, that, say unlike the ancient Greeks or ancient Chinese, the Sinhalese had not generally interested themselves in any scientific inquiries, concerning nature or natural history;..’. If one reads the literary works from amavatura to kusa jataka kavyaya, it is evident that the philosophy of knowledge (epistemology) that the Sinhala espoused, constricted themselves to works in the nature of atthakatha and tika on Buddhist teachings. The exceptions are the sandesa poems of the 15th century. (This is well written up in Rapiel Tennakone, ‘ape parani asun kavi’.)

At the end of the book, there is an appendix which gives the names of kings and their regnal years from Vijaya to Srivikrama Rajasingha and the Portuguese captains-General. The first list of names was published by Polwatte Buddhadattta (1959) in his Pali Mahavamso. The second list was written by K.M. de Silva in his A history of Sri Lanka(2005). Now we have a third in this book. It might be interesting to compare the lists but I cannot spare the time. My interest was aroused in an examination of the names of kings in the several periods of history, so divided by the principal capitals. When kings ruled from Anuradhapura there were three names for kings, that occurred frequently: Aba (abhaya), Tissa and Naga. Examples are panduka+abhaya, devanampiya tissa and chora+naga. When the capital moved to Polonnaruva, a new epithet appears frequently: Vijayabahu, parakramabahu, buvanekabahu. That tradition goes all the way down to Kotte. The bahu ending raises a question. Is it a different form for abhaya or aba? (Perakum+ba sirita has golu+aba for Gotabaya.) What does bhaya (fear, danger or risk) otherwise mean or signify? From Sitavaka began Rajasingha and the Sinhale monarchy ended in Maha nuvara with Sri Vickrema Rajasingha. What accounts for those changes and what do those changes signify? Haris did not set out asking those questions but they are not irrelevant.

After reading the book, three questions arose in my mind. The first, I raised in the previous paragraph. The third is in the last paragraph. The second is why did the Mahavamsa remain out of reach for the Sinhala reader for 14 centuries? In fact, it was read in French and English before it was read in Sinhala. The language of the Mahavamsa simply denied the expectation of its author ‘sujanappasada sangvegatthaya kathe mahavamso.- written for the enjoyment of the good people, as the sujana had no access to what he wrote. Haris has a short discussion on the language of the Mahavamsa but this is not one of the questions he raised; perhaps, it was not a subject fit for historical inquiry; I am not limited by that constraint. It is mentioned in the book itself, ‘Thera Mahanama, who compiled the earliest part from Cap 1 to Cap 37.52, was supposed to have used Sihalatthakatha Mahavamsa as the main source …’ Adikaram mentioned 19 sihalatthakatha that existed before Mahavamsa came to be written. Yet Mahavamsa was written in what Tennekone called bambabasa (the language of the brahmas) with which almost all people were unfamiliar. Did Mahanama want only bhikkhu and a few privileged laymen to have access to what he wrote? Then why were the motives of sihalatthakatha compilers, who came before him, different from those of Mahanama?

 

Perhaps, the answer is in the intervention of Buddhaghosha, who lived not far earlier than when Mahanama wrote the Mahavamsa. Malalasekera tells us that Buddhaghosha, collected all sihalatthakatha into a pile high as three fully grown elephants and set fire to them all. Buddhaghosha himself wrote his commentaries in Pali. Like all vanities, it was thought that writing in Pali exhibited one’s learning and writing in Sinhala was below the dignity of any man of learning. You can see that attitude among writers after Anuradhapura with the onset of Hindu and Samskritc cultural norms, well exhibited in Angkorvat and in Java. As I once pointed in this newspaper, it is remarkable that between the 5th century, up to which there had been Sinhala writings, Sinhala writing dried up until the 13th, excepting when in the 9th century Siyabaslakara, Dham piya atuva getapadaya and Sikha valanda (and vinisa) appeared, all of them samskrt and pali than Sinhala. A new Sinhala literature began at the end of the 13th century, when Lilavathie was queen, after a long eight centuries of drought.

The production of this book has been an amateur job by the publisher. There seems to have been no attention to book design, no copy editing and entirely inadequate proof reading. There are copy editing, grammar checks and spelling checks programmes which are common ware in computers now. No attempts seem to have been made to make use of those in preparing the typescript for print. I interrupted reading Rapiel Tennakone’s ape parani asun kavi running into 1175 pages, when I received Haris’ thin volume. Tennekone’s book has 350 pages of index, most taxing work. It was published in 1960 or so by M.D. Gunasena . The entire massive volume must have ben written by hand and proof-read several times over. I had read up to page 497 and had not found one error. There is responsible publishing. An author writes a book with labour and by the time he reads the typescript for the fifth time, there are no mistakes in it at all. However, when the fresh smelling copies come home, you feel it would have been better that you had not written. I am not trying to vent my spleen on this publisher but this malady is of epidemic proportions and the best-known publishers in the country publish fine authors with error filled volumes. I reviewed in these pages a few months ago a large volume and was furious that the publishers got away with scores of errors. It is time that our publishers took a lesson or two from those that came before them and from publishers overseas.

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Midweek Review

A daunting task for Justice Nawaz

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa shakes hands with Justice Nawaz after appointing him as the President of the Court of Appeal on January 20, 2021 (pic courtesy PMD)

Geneva proposes asset freezes, travel bans ahead of HR sessions

 By Shamindra Ferdinando

An Extraordinary Gazette notification, pertaining to the nomination of Justice Abdul Hameed Dileep Nawaz, as the Chairman of a three-member Commission of Inquiry (CoI), to investigate, inquire into and report, or take required actions, regarding the findings of the former Commissions, or Committees, that investigated human rights violations, serious violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and other such offences, was issued on January 20.

The Extraordinary Gazette notification was issued, close on the heels of a ceremonial sitting of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, to welcome Justice Nawaz, Justice Kumudini Wickramasinghe and Justice Shiran Gooneratne. They were among six new Supreme Court justices, named on Dec 1, 2020, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, enacted two months before. The other new justices are Janaka de Silva, Achala Wengappuli and Mahinda Samayawardhena.

The new Amendment approved with a two-thirds majority, resulted in the expansion of the Supreme Court bench, from 11 to 17, and the Appeal Court bench, from 12 to 20.

Having won the presidency in Nov 2019, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa promoted Nawaz as the President of the Court of Appeal. The appointment made on January 20, 2021, is President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s first high profile judicial selection. The appointment didn’t receive the media attention it really deserves.

With the elevation of Nawaz to the Supreme Court, Justice Arjuna Obeysekere received the appointment as the President of the Court of Appeal. The CoI, chaired by Justice Nawaz, includes one-time IGP Chandra Fernando, the incumbent Chairman of the National Police Commission, and retired District Secretary Nimal Abeysiri.

Nawaz is the first sitting judge and the senior-most judicial officer to have been charge-sheeted by the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC), during his time at the Attorney General’s Department, but cleared by courts during the tenure of the previous regime itself. So many actions, initiated by the CIABOC, judicial decisions and proceedings during the previous yahapalana administration, are under a cloud.

 The CoI has been entrusted with the following tasks: (a) Find out whether previous CoIs, 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 (b) Identify the findings of the CoIs, and Committees, related to the serious violations of human rights, serious violations of international humanitarian laws and other such offences and whether recommendations have been made on how to deal with the issues at hand (c) The status of the implementation of those recommendations, so far, in terms of the existing law, and what steps need to be taken to implement those recommendations further, in line with the present Government policy and, finally (d) Ascertain whether action is being taken in respect of (b) and (c).

The CoI, headed by Justice Nawaz, is expected to finalize the report, within six months from the date of the appointment.

 

AG on role of judges

 Welcoming the newly appointed Supreme Court Judges on Jan. 20 and Jan 21, Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, declared: “The credibility of a judicial system, in a country, is dependent on the Judges who man it. Judges must be persons of impeccable integrity and unimpeachable independence. A Judge must discharge his/her judicial functions with high integrity, impartially and intellectual honesty. Speaking of Intellectual honesty; the law would be like a ball of clay in the hands of an erudite Judge. Therefore, Judges should be ruthlessly honest, independent, and impartial and possess a judicial conscience to ensure that the ball of clay is moulded, according to the law. For over 2000 years of the island’s long history, the Courts of Law have occupied a unique place in the system of government. Public acceptance of the judiciary, and public confidence in the judiciary, is necessary for the rule of law to prevail in the country. Public confidence in the judiciary is dependent on the independence and integrity of the judiciary.”

 The President’s Counsel further said: “The Judges in the exercise of judicial functions should be immune from outside control and influence and intimidation. That independence is also necessary from the other branches of government and from private and partisan interest. Judges should be above suspicion and should not leave even a glimpse for that suspicion to occur.”

 

Tamil parties seek int’l intervention

 The appointment of the three-member CoI under the leadership of a Supreme Court Judge, should be examined against a section of Parliament demanding international intervention, by way of a new Resolution adopted at the forthcoming 46th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), scheduled for Feb-March 2021. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and two Northern Province, based new political parties – Ahila Illankai Tamil Congress (AITC) and Tamil Makkal Thesiya Kutani (TMTK) have written to 47 members of the UNHRC demanding punitive action against Sri Lanka on the basis that the administration quit the Geneva Resolution 30/1, co-sponsored by the previous yahapalana administration.

The three parties are represented in Parliament by 13 members. At the time Sri Lanka co-sponsored the controversial resolution against itself, in Geneva, the TNA had 16 lawmakers, including two appointed members, with its leader, R. Sampanthan, enjoying the privileged status as the Opposition Leader, though, ironically, the breakaway Joint Opposition (JO) commanded the confidence of well over 50 lawmakers. So that was how democracy was practiced then!

With the obvious blessings of Western powers, the Tamil parties, in a letter to UNHRC members, requested (a) Member States urge, in the new resolution, that other organs of the United Nations, including the UN Security Council, and the UN General Assembly, take up the matter and take suitable action by reference to the International Criminal Court and any other appropriate and effective international accountability mechanisms to inquire into the crime of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity (b) The President of the UNHRC refers matters on accountability, in Sri Lanka, back to the UN Secretary General, for action, as stated above (c) Member States to mandate the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to continue to monitor Sri Lanka for ongoing violations and have an OHCHR field presence in the country and (d) Without detracting from that which has been stated in Point 1 (above), take steps to establish an evidence-gathering mechanism, similar to the International Independent Investigatory Mechanism (IIIM,) in relation to Syria, established as a subsidiary body of the UN General Assembly, with a strict time frame of 12 months duration.

The TNA-led political grouping, backed by a section of the civil society that also supported a hybrid war crimes investigating mechanism, are backing the latest initiative against Sri Lanka.

The Ontario Centre for Policy Research, Canada and London Initiative, the United Kingdom have, however rebutted anti-Sri Lanka allegations with a timely comprehensive report recently to the UNHRC, especially in response to the growing threat of a new resolution. The lead Researcher and the Chairman of the Committee that prepared the report, Dr. Neville Hewage, and the UK-based practicing lawyer, Jayaraj Palihawadana, should receive public appreciation for countering the Western strategy. Let the public know of such initiatives and exert pressure on political parties to take up the Geneva challenge, together with the government.

Unfortunately, Sri Lanka’s defence in Geneva is likely to suffer in the absence of coordinated action and the failure on the part of those responsible to get their act together to attack the foundation of lies concocted by interested parties, hell-bent on hauling Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes court. With the UNP’s humiliating rejection by the masses, at the last general election, in August 2020, the TNA-led grouping, in spite of differences as regards political strategy, both in and outside Parliament, is confident of its new game plan.

 

The Swiss plot

 The Tamil grouping believes the return of the Rajapaksas is advantageous to their strategy. Sri Lanka would have been in bigger trouble if the Swiss project, meant to ruin Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s presidency, succeeded in Nov 2019. If not for war-time Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s refusal to allow Switzerland to evacuate Embassy worker Garnier Francis, who claimed that she had been sexually abused by government agents inside a vehicle close to the Swiss Embassy, within days after him being elected the President. Had that diabolical plot clicked with her being evacuated to Switzerland, in a special air ambulance, that had been brought down as part of the plot, the country would have been under heavy pressure now. Thanks to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa taking a tough stand on the matter, the Swiss plot went awry, much to the disappointment of those seeking to undermine the new administration. Investigations exposed those responsible for the diabolical propaganda offensive that had to be inquired into, taking into consideration unsubstantiated allegations directed at the SLPP presidential candidate, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, at a media conference, organized by the then yahapalana minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne.

 The CoI, headed by Justice Nawaz, will have to examine the overall campaign against Sri Lanka, without restricting its investigation in terms of the mandate received. It would be pertinent to mention Sri Lanka paid a huge price for not properly countering lies propagated by interested parties’ hell-bent on hauling Sri Lanka before hybrid war crimes investigating mechanism. In the wake of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s emergence as the President, with an overwhelming victory, over his nearest opponent, the same lot wanted Sri Lanka investigated by the international community.

 Sri Lanka has pathetically failed to comprehend the threat, hence the absence of proper defence, in spite of some elected members of Parliament working against the country. The government’s failure has allowed the TNA, that had no qualms in recognizing the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people in late 2001, and having being the mouthpiece of the world’s most ruthless terrorist organisation, to pursue a high profile strategy, detrimental to the country, while enjoying perks and privileges as a recognized political party.

The TNA-led campaign is part of an overall project meant to overwhelm Sri Lanka. The Swiss operation, if succeeded, could have impaired the Office of the President.

 

A wider examination of facts needed

 Let us hope that the Justice Nawaz-led committee would examine all factors, pertaining to the accountability issue, though its primary objective seems simple. Their responsibility in terms of the statement issued by the President’s Office, is to examine the previous CoI and Committees and the implementation of their recommendations. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) chaired by the late Attorney General C.R. de Silva, examined the conflict. The LLRC was appointed in response to a study undertaken by UN Secy. General’s so-called Panel of Experts (PoE). The PoE report, released in March 2011, is the basis for all subsequent measures taken by the UN though Sri Lanka simply ignored the threat. In addition to the LLRC, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Complaints of Abductions and Disappearances (the report on the Second Mandate of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Complaints of Abductions and Disappearances) examined the conflict. However, Sri Lanka cannot turn a blind eye to the PoE report, and related reports, as they remained the very basis of the Geneva initiatives, though the incumbent government quit the 30/1 resolution. Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena made the announcement on Feb 26, 2020 at the 43rd UNHRC sessions.

The government certainly owed an explanation why the appointment of the CoI to examine previous CoIs and Committees, was delayed till January 20, 2021. The continuing crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic shouldn’t be faulted for the government’s failure. For some strange reason, Sri Lanka continues to delay using Lord Naseby’s revelations, based on wartime British High Commission dispatches from Colombo (January-May 2009) as well as revelations made by Wikileaks to counter UN lies. Lord Naseby, in an interview with the writer in Sept 2019, regretted Sri Lanka’s failure to exploit his disclosure, made in Oct 2017. The senior Conservative politician said that he was quite disappointed and surprised by Sri Lanka’s response to information provided by him. The British diplomatic cables obtained by Lord Naseby, following a legal wrangle with his government disputed the PoE’s primary allegation. The information provided by Lord Naseby, when examined together with wartime US Defence attaché Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith’s explosive statement in 2011 (read US official’s defence of Sri Lankan military), exposed the UN lie.

 The primary allegation in PoE on Sri Lanka alleged that at least 40,000 civilians perished on the Vanni east front. In terms of the UN dictates, the accusations made against Sri Lanka by mystery accusers cannot be verified till 2031 due to a strange confidentiality clause. Where in the world do you get a system of justice where one is precluded from facing one’s accusers for 30 years, let alone challenge their specific allegations? Meanwhile, Sri Lanka is regularly bashed by interested parties on the basis of unverified accusations. Wouldn’t it have been better if Sri Lanka made reference to this most unusual confidentiality clause that effectively prevented examination of allegations? Perhaps, Sri Lanka will take it up at least now, well over a decade after the PoE report, and seven years after the country ended up in the Geneva agenda.

Having faulted the Sri Lanka Army, on three major counts, the PoE (Panel of Experts) accused Sri Lanka of massacring at least 40,000 civilians. Let me reproduce the paragraph, bearing no 137, verbatim: “In the limited surveys that have been carried out in the aftermath of the conflict, the percentage of people reporting dead relatives is high. A number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths. Two years after the end of the war, there is no reliable figure for civilian deaths, but multiple sources of information indicate that a range of up to 40,000 civilian deaths cannot be ruled out at this stage. Only a proper investigation can lead to the identification of all of the victims and to the formulation of an accurate figure for the total number of civilian deaths.

 

Key issues that needed CoI attention

 In the absence of a cohesive strategy to counter UN lies, vested interests, both here and abroad, propagated canards against the country to varying degrees. Let me mention issues that had to be examined in the overall defence strategy: (1) Dismissal of war crimes accusations by Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith in Colombo. The then US official did so at the May-June 2011 first post-war defence seminar in Colombo, two months after the release of the PoE report. The State Department disputed the official’s right to represent the US at the forum though it refrained from challenging the statement. (2) Examine the US statement along with Lord Naseby’s Oct 2017 disclosure, based on the then British Defence advisor Lt. Colonel Anthony Gash’s cables to London during the war. (3) Wikileaks revelations that dealt with the Sri Lanka war. A high profile Norwegian study on its role in the Sri Lanka conflict examined some cables. However, the Norwegian process never strengthened Sri Lanka’s defence. Instead Norway merely sought to disown its culpability in the events leading to the annihilation of the LTTE. One of the most important Wikileaks revelations cleared Sri Lanka of deliberately targeting civilians. The cable proved that our ground forces took heavy losses by taking the civilian factor into consideration. (4) Wide discrepancies in loss of civilian lives, claimed by UN, and various other interested parties. The UN estimated the figure at 40,000 (March 2011) whereas Amnesty International (Sept 2011) placed the number at 10,000 and a member of the UK Parliament (Sept 2011) estimated the death toll at 100,000. (5) Disgraceful attempt made by Geneva to exploit the so called Mannar mass graves during the yahapalana administration. The Foreign Ministry remained silent on the Mannar graves while Western diplomats played politics, only to be proved utterly wrong. Geneva faulted Sri Lanka before the conclusion of the investigation.

The then Northern Province Chief Minister Wigneswaran rejected scientific findings of Beta Analytic Institute of Florida, USA, in respect of samples of skeletal remains sent from the Mannar mass grave site. Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet went to the extent of commenting on the Mannar mass grave in her report that dealt with the period from Oct 2015 to January 2019.

Had the US lab issued a report to suit their strategy, would they have accepted fresh tests in case the government of Sri Lanka requested? The following is the relevant section bearing No 23 from Bachelet’s report: “On May 29, 2018, human skeletal remains were discovered at a construction site in Mannar (Northern Province), Excavations conducted in support of the Office on Missing Persons, revealed a mass grave from which more than 300 skeletons were discovered. It was the second mass grave found in Mannar following the discovery of a site in 2014. Given that other mass graves might be expected to be found in the future, systematic access to grave sites by the Office, as an observer, is crucial for it to fully discharge its mandate, particularly with regard to the investigation and identification of remains, it is imperative that the proposed reforms on the law relating to inquests, and relevant protocols to operationalize the law be adopted. The capacity of the forensic sector must also be strengthened, including in areas of forensic anthropology, forensic archaeology and genetics, and its coordination with the Office of Missing Persons must be ensured.” (6) Wigneswaran in his capacity as the then Northern Province Chief Minister in August 2016 accused the Army of killing over 100 LTTE cadres held in rehabilitation facilities. Wigneswaran, now an MP and leader of TMTK, claimed the detainees had been given poisonous injections resulting in deaths of 104 persons. The unprecedented accusation made by the retired Supreme Court Judge had been timed to attract international attention. Wigneswaran is on record as having said that a US medical team visiting Jaffna, at that time, would examine the former rehabilitated LTTE cadres, who he alleged had fallen sick because they were injected with poisonous substances at government detention or rehabilitation centres.

Sri Lanka paid a very heavy price for its pathetic failure to counter a web of lies fashioned by interested parties, both local and foreign, and well-funded by the West, to coerce the country to adopt a new Constitution to suit the separatist agenda. Had they succeeded, Sri Lanka’s unitary status could have been done away through constitutional means against the backdrop of eradication of the LTTE’s conventional power.

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