Ranil Wickremesinghe garlanding the DS Senanayake statue, at the UNP’s 72 anniversary, two years ago. The UNP celebrated its 74th anniversary over the weekend without a single elected MP in parliament. Over a month after the general election, the party is yet to decide on the single National List nominee, with a section backing Wickremesinghe for that slot.
– new biography
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The late Elina Jayewardene (EJ), nee Rupasinghe, had strongly pushed for Ranasinghe Premadasa as her husband first executive President JRJ’s successor in the run up to the second presidential poll, in the late 80s, according to ‘Elina Jayewardene’, authored by journalist Sagarika Dissanayake.
The then first lady had insisted that Premadasa should get the opportunity as he was the most suitable person to take over the party, following JRJ’s retirement. This discussion, on the party leadership, had taken place near the Kalutara temple, while they were on their way to Mirissa. JRJ assured EJ of his decision to accept her proposal, as they got down from the vehicle at Mirissa.
The author attributes the revelation to Pradeep Jayewardene, the eldest grandson of JRJ and Elina. The author dealt briefly with EJ taking a stand on two crucial matters, namely JRJ’s decision to sack Rukman Senanayake, and the UNP’s next leader. Though JRJ ignored EJ’s strong protest against Rukman’s sacking, her suggestion, as regards RP, was accepted. EJ had felt Premadasa was the most qualified and she also had opposed any other successor that might reinforce accusations of power being always monopolised by the elite.
Sagarika Dissanayake, who had served the Lake House publication, ‘Silumina’, before being moved to its daily ‘Dinamina’, couldn’t have launched ‘Elina Jayewardene’ at a better time as the UNP struggled to cope up with the worst ever defeat the party suffered in its over 70-year history. The 2020 general election reduced the UNP to a solitary National List slot whereas its parliamentary group, in the last parliament, comprised 106 members.
The failure on the part of the UNP to resolve the leadership issue, even over a month after the last general election, is evidence of the deterioration of once the most powerful political force in the country.
Elina chooses JRJ over SWRD
EJ, the only daughter of one of the richest families in Sri Lanka, at that time, lacked a formal education, though she attracted the attention of young lawyer Junius Richard Jayewardene, as well as S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, subsequently the leaders of the UNP and the SLFP, respectively. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike had been able to get to know EJ before JRJ. Dissanayake dealt with how S.W.R.D gave up his love for EJ, after seeing her with JRJ, at the former’s residence, saying: “My congratulations.”
EJ married JRJ on the evening of February 28, 1935 at ‘Breamar’, Ward Place. Winning EJ’s hand hadn’t been easy for Junius Richard Jayewardene (Dicky to his friends) as her family was not so excited about the proposal from his mother Agnes Helen Jayewardene, the wife of the late top lawyer E.W. Jayewardene. Agnes Helen Jayewardene was a sister of press baron D.R. Wijewardene, of Lake House fame.
‘Elina Jayewardene’ is based on interviews with several persons, including Pradeep Jayewardene, Rukshan Amal Jayewardene (the second grandchild JRJ and Elina), Sharmaine Mendis, first wife of late Ravi Jayewardene (their only son), close relatives, Professor Asvini Fernando and Lakshmi Suneetha Subasinghe, Dr. Sathis Jayasinhe and Nalini Mapitigama. In addition to them, the author had interviewed several female aides, who had been with EJ until the very end. Among them were Galahitiyage Lilawathie, Hettiarachchige Magilin and Lilani de Silva. Pradeep Jayewardene’s younger brother, Amrik, hadn’t been so excited about the brief biography about their late grandmother, hence the author not getting an opportunity to speak with him. The author also quoted from the work of the late senior government servant, Amara Hewamadduma.
The author’s failure to interview JRJ and EJ’s only son, Ravi Jayewardene, is a shortcoming. “RJ was no more when I started working on this,” Sagarika Dissanayake told the writer. RJ passed away on April 3, 2017, at the age of 80.
EJ passed away at a private hospital in Colombo, on Nov 17, 2007, at the age of 95. Her death occurred 11 years after that of JRJ. The author dealt with how EJ’s son, RJ, and his second wife, Penny, interfered with the food provided to the ailing EJ, much to the discomfort of other family members, as well as those looking after her. The author, quoted Hettiarachchige Magalin as having said Pradeep Jayewardene argued with his father after the latter ordered that fish or meat should not be given to the ailing lady. The removal of the nurses, assigned to look after EJ, and a number of other issues, were dealt with, though there is no explanation why Ravi Jayewardene and Penny interfered with the staff looking after EJ. Pradeep Jayewardene didn’t mince his words as he faulted his father for the rapid deterioration of EJ’s health. May be the son didn’t want to prolong his mother’s vegetative state as she was literally unconscious, even before his father’s death, in late 1996.
EJ hadn’t been aware of JRJ’s passing away, for 11 years, as she never really recovered from her illness and never uttered a word during the last five years of her life. EJ had been with JRJ throughout his volatile political career during which he faced the second bloody JVP inspired insurgency, in the 80s, in the wake of the signing of the Indo-Lanka accord.
JRJ’s entry into politics
Having served as a lawyer for seven years, after getting married, in February, 1935, 32-year-old JRJ had entered politics through the Ceylon National Congress (CNC), functioned therein in the capacity of joint Secretary, till 1946. JRJ had served as a lawyer for a period of three years, before his marriage to Elina, after breaking up with two or three early relationships.
His entry into the colonial legislature, the State Council, in 1943, was made possible by his triumph over E.W. Pereira at a by-election for the Kelaniya electorate, following a novel polls campaign where JRJ used relatives and friends to personally visit each and every household in the electorate. JRJ’s campaign headquarters had been at ‘Manelwatte’ property, situated at Bollagala, about three miles away from the Kelaniya temple.
JRJ, however, lost Kelaniya, at the 1956 general election, called by Sir John Kotelawela. Having experienced relentless political turmoil, JRJ led the party to a historic victory, at the 1977 general election, to pave the way for a parliamentary dictatorship that plunged the country into unprecedented crisis. Grandson Pradeep talked lovingly of the period he and his brother spent with their grandparents, between 1956 and 1977, as JRJ struggled as an Opposition member. There was reference to food shortages and the affluent people’s practice of buying rationed essential commodities from the poor, at a much higher price, than they bought at the market.
The author pays a glowing tribute to JRJ for quitting active politics, in 1989, at the zenith of his political power. The author discussed how EJ made available her inexhaustible wealth to assist her husband’s quest for political power and subsequently lavishly spent on those who sought her help. Perhaps, JRJ couldn’t have realized his political ambitions if not for his wife’s financial backing as he struggled to cope up with family commitments, in the wake of his father’s death, at the age of 58. JRJ had nine siblings. EJ, however, never played an active role in JRJ’s political career, whereas Sirimavo Ratwatte, who married S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, became Sri Lanka’s first woman Premier, after the assassination of her husband, in late Sept 1959. She served three terms.
The Jayewardenes had always lived at their private residence, ‘Breamar’, though they could have chosen to live at the President’s House. Incumbent President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, too, chooses not to move into the President’s House, or utilize Temple Trees. There had been instances of both the President’s House and Temple Trees being used by the same party, contrary to the accepted norms.
However, the author refrained from at least briefly discussing how JRJ caused political calamity by depriving the people of the parliamentary election, scheduled for 1983. Having won a second six-year presidential term, in Oct 1982, JRJ held a sham national referendum, in Dec 1982, to give an opportunity for the people to extend the life of parliament by six more years. JRJ’s move was meant to maintain a five- sixth steamroller majority in parliament, the UNP won, in 1977, at the expense of democracy. JRJ introduced the Proportional Representation (PR) system at the 1989 general election. Obviously, the UNP believed no party could secure two-thirds, or at least come close to the magical 150 mark, under the PR system, though both Mahinda Rajapaksa (April 2010) and Gotabaya Rajapaksa (August 2020) proved the UNP wrong. Mahinda Rajapaksa won 144 seats whereas Gotabaya secured 145.
Although the author maintains that EJ always intervened, on behalf of the people, and courageously expressed her views on matters of grave political interest, there is no indication of her stand on JRJ’s disastrous decision to put off the general election, scheduled for 1983, by six years. EJ knew of what interested JRJ as she used to read aloud, what she considered, important news items, from the daily newspapers, at the breakfast table.
Children move in to ‘Breamar’
Pradeep (1960) had been only 11 years when his mother left him and his younger brothers, Rukshan (1961) and Amrik (1962), following a long standing dispute with his father. Ravi J had been faulted for the break-up of his marriage to Sharmaine nee Vandakoon. They divorced, in 1969, after being separated for a year.
Among the issues discussed, in brief, in “Elina Jayewardene’ was the arrest of Ravi Jayewardene, over his alleged involvement in the first JVP-led insurgency, in 1971, and his release within 24 hours, after JRJ lambasted the government in parliament over his son’s arrest.
Both Ravi J and Sharmaine had been experts in rifle shooting, as well as trained pilots. The author passionately discusses the developments, leading to the breaking up of their marriage leading to both re-marrying. The children ended-up with their grandparents. The children had been also bothered by their father’s somewhat troubled relationship with their grandmother, whose love for dogs gladdened them.
Their grandfather following Canadian Air Force exercise regime, in the morning, having been a schoolboy boxer and rugby player, and grandmother, walking in the backyard of ‘Breamar’, as it was not safe to walk in public grounds due to threats posed by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, seemed fresh in the minds of the grandchildren. EJ never had female aides and always received no assistance in readying for official functions. The Jayewardenes never kept even the expensive gifts received from foreign leaders and officials.
The author dealt with elder Jayewardenes’ struggle with their three grandchildren. Rukshan recalled how his grandmother slapped him, on more than one occasion, for not being obedient, and grandfather once delivered a thundering slap after JRJ found him arguing with his grandmother. In the wake of the breaking up of Ravi Jayewardene’s marriage, JRJ had built a three-roomed house, next to ‘Breamar’, for the grandchildren. The author provided an excellent description of the life at ‘Breamar’, and its adjoining house, until the health of the former declined with them both hospitalized together, simultaneously. JRJ had prevented EJ visiting him at the hospital as he felt the sight of him being on a hospital bed would dishearten her.
The Chapter, based on what Ravi Jayewardene’s first wife, Sharmaine, said, was truly interesting. That Chapter dealt with Ravi Jayewardene proposing to Sharmaine, her parents rejecting the suggestion, Sharmaine learning Kandyan dancing from Heenbaba Dharmasiri and Niththawela Gunaya at the Sinhala Cultural Institute in Colombo, a chance encounter with EJ and rifle shooting practices at the Negombo Rifle Club, leading to their marriage, in 1959. In spite of the breaking up of their marriage, JRJ and EJ had maintained an extremely cordial relationship with Sharmaine who acknowledged her husband having several other relationships, leading to him leaving their Gregory Road home. The conversation between Sharmaine and JRJ, after the latter realised his son, was not with the family at their newly built house at the Gregory Road, Colombo 7 revealed how JRJ calmly received the breakup of their marriage, though it devastated both JRJ and EJ.
JRJ and EJ, along with several others, including Pradeep Jayewardene, had been in India, on the day the LTTE assassinated President Ranasinghe Premadasa on May Day 1993. Ironically, JRJ had been there to deliver the keynote address at Rajiv Gandhi’s commemoration. The LTTE assassinated Gandhi on May 21, 1991, in Sriperumbudur, India.
Premadasa had been blown to bits at the time JRJ, having delivered the speech, was returning to his seat. They returned home immediately, after the May Day blast, near Armour Street, claimed the life of JRJ’s successor along with several of his bodyguards. The assassin happened to be a person who had infiltrated President Premadasa’s inner circle for some time.
Premadasa’s assassination paved the way for Ranil Wickremesinghe’s emergence as the UNP leader, though Dingiri Banda Wijetunga took over the presidency in the wake of Premadasa’s assassination. Gamini Dissanayake, the remaining challenger, was assassinated by the LTTE, in Oct 1994 in the run-up to the presidential election, after having briefly got the UNP leadership, not without a struggle with Ranil. The author quoted Galahitiyage Leelawathie, an aide to EJ, as having alleged Wickremesinghe didn’t help even if EJ asked. Leelawathie alleged Wickremesinghe flatly refused to help her eldest son, receiving admission to D S Senanayake College, when her husband, Arnolis, Jayewardene family’s chief man servant, requested him to do so. Subsequently, Arnolis talked directly to the then DS Principal Alles and got their eldest son admitted. The family got all four boys admitted to DS, one with the help of Minister Nissanka Wijeratne.
Continuing UNP crisis
The UNP is in a deepening crisis, unprecedented in its history. The failure on the part of the party to resolve the leadership issue, over a month after the last general election, is testimony to what has been its indecisive plight, under Ranil, all these years. The UNP is still struggling to cope up with the catastrophic setback against the backdrop of the SLPP’s emergence as the most powerful political force in the country. Having been reduced to just one National List member, in the 225-member parliament, the UNP is in such a mess, with over a half a dozen defeated candidates, and former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, seeking to succeed Wickremesinghe, whereas the latter wants to continue, till the Provincial Council polls. The once invincible UNP, to suffer such a humiliating setback, could be its death knell. JRJ’s eldest grandson, Pradeep, has ended up as a member of the Colombo Municipal Council, while Ranasinghe Premadasa’s son, Sajith, now commands the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), a political outfit, recognized under controversial circumstances, at the expense of the UNP. Premadasa made his move having failed to convince Wickremesinghe to give up the leadership, ahead of the last general election. Wickremesinghe, and those close to him, remained convinced UNPers would remain committed to the elephant symbol, though they exercised their franchise in support of Premadasa, who had the backing of the vast majority of the parliamentary group, in the last parliament. In the absence of proper leadership, the UNP moving directionless as the SJB takes the lead in opposing the controversial 20th Amendment to the Constitution proposed to replace the 19th enacted at the onset of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration, in 2015. Will the 20th Amendment prove to be so controversial so as to make it a rallying point for the Opposition, under the SJB’s leadership?
leaves out Gash dispatches, Swiss embassy abduction drama and India’s accountability
by Shamindra Ferdinando
Veteran journalist Tim Sebastian interviewed Foreign Secretary, retired Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage, in the immediate aftermath of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopting accountability resolution in respect of Sri Lanka.
Twenty-two countries voted for the resolution, 11 against, whereas 14 abstained. The vote on Sri Lanka took place on March 23. Among those who abstained was India whose intervention here in the 80s caused a war that was brought to a successful conclusion in May 2009. But Sebastian was only interested in accountability on Sri Lanka’s part. He wasn’t concerned about Adele, who played a significant role in building a female fighting cadre for the LTTE, either.
“In the last few days, the UN Human Rights Council passed a landmark resolution highlighting your government’s failure to ensure accountability for human rights violations and mandating UN investigators to collect and preserve data that can be used in the future judicial proceedings. They did that Mr. Secretary because your abject failure to do it yourself and because of the worsening human rights climate in your country. Aren’t you ashamed of that?”
It was internationally acclaimed Sebastian’s opening question to Foreign Secretary Colombage in ‘CONFLICTZONE’ interview titled: Is Sri Lanka on the brink.
Admiral Colombage responded: “Well, Tim let me say the World War ended 78 years later… earlier and we still see the residual effects on the environment on the physical things and the Good Friday agreement was in 1998 and there are 116 walls which is called peace walls. Still…”
Sebastian interrupted Colombage. “We are not talking about Northern Ireland; Mr. Secretary We are talking about Sri Lanka and your failure to ensure accountability for human rights violations… which you have denied in other interviews.”
One-time Navy Commander, and the Additional Secretary to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Foreign Relations, Prof. Colombage received appointment as the Secretary to the Foreign Ministry following the last general election.
Admiral Colombage, who had served the SLN for 36 years, was its 18th Commander. He received the command in 2012, three years after the end of the war. Following his retirement, Colombage served as the Director of the Centre for India-Sri Lanka Initiatives and Law of the Sea Centre at the Pathfinder Foundation. At the time of his appointment, as Foreign Secretary, Colombage was the Additional Secretary to the President on Foreign Relations and the Director General of the Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL).
Relying on a backbencher’s speech
Let me examine the latest Geneva resolution against the backdrop of the ‘CONFLICTZONE’ interview and the Daily Mirror interview, titled ‘Govt. committed two mistakes’, with one-time Permanent Secretary to the Justice Ministry Dr. Nihal Jayawickrama published on March 27, 2021.
Responding to a query, Dr. Jayawickrama asserted: The mistake that the government appears to have made was to think that it was all about “40,000 deaths”, and to rely on a backbencher’s speech made in the House of Lords. It was never about that. Another mistake that the government appears to have made was to convince itself that the Resolution was initiated by “Diaspora Tamils” when it was not.”
Tamil Diaspora, based in the UK, Australia, and Canada, vigorously circulated the article in the wake of accusations the government compelled the newspaper to ‘kill’ it. The paper denied the accusations. The Global Tamil Forum (GTF) spokesperson Suren Surendiran tweeted: “Remarkably honest replies from Dr. Jayawickrama to some pertinent questions from the “Daily Mirror” Surendiran posted the entire text alleging government-imposed censorship.
Dr. Jayawickrama referred to Lord Naseby as a backbencher whereas Sebastian never referred to the Conservative Party politician’s disclosure in the House of Lords on Oct 12, 2017 or Admiral Colombage cared at least to mention it. If the government relied on Lord Naseby’s revelations, as Dr. Jayawickrama asserted, the former could have exploited the disclosure. The incumbent government conveniently refrained from taking advantage of Lord Naseby’s ‘work’ much to the dismay of the former Royal Air Force pilot who exposed the British duplicity.
A fresh Geneva initiative
Sebastian’s reference to fresh authorisation for UN investigators to collect and preserve data that can be used in the future judicial proceedings should have prompted Admiral Colombage to remind British television journalist and novelist how the UK government suppressed wartime dispatches from its High Commission in Colombo (January-May 2009). The proposed inquiry is scheduled to take place over a period of 12 months, commencing Sept 2021. In fact, during the entire interview, Sebastian conveniently never referred to how the UK suppressed dispatches from Colombo. Lord Naseby obtained some sections of the dispatches after nearly a three-year struggle. He had to seek the intervention of the UK Information Commission to lay his hands on those dispatches.
Leader of Sri Lanka Core Group in addition to being UNHRC member, the UK still refuses to release dispatches despite Geneva authorising a new Inquiry Team, led by a Senior Legal Advisor, to collect all available evidence pertaining to the war and post-war events. Those desperate to prevent the full disclosure of British dispatches from Colombo, obviously advantageous to Sri Lanka, call it a political statement. It was certainly not. Former Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva, in an interview with ‘Get Real’ anchor Johnney Mahieash, and subsequent queries from the writer, asked why the UK wanted to suppress dispatches from its own man in wartime Colombo Lt. Col. Anthony Gash who served as the British Defense Attaché throughout the Vanni war. The former CJ was of the view that Geneva should seek access not only to the UK dispatches but from other major countries, particularly the US, India, Germany and Canada. He pointed out that the wartime US Defense Advisor Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith contradicted war crimes accusations in 2011, six years before Lord Naseby revealed the existence of British wartime dispatches.
NPC and GTF back thorough inquiry
The Island sought National Peace Council (NPC) Executive Director Dr. Jehan Perera’s views on the following query: “Geneva set up a new inquiry mechanism at a cost of USD 2.8 mn to gather and examine evidence and information pertaining to the whole gamut of war crimes allegations and current developments. What is your stand on SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris public call to the UK to submit Gash reports against the backdrop of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Dr. Harsha de Silva, who once led the government delegation to the UPR (Universal Periodic Review) of Sri Lanka’s human rights record at Geneva backing the government call? Dr. de Silva’s all available info should be made available to the new Geneva inquiry team.”
Dr. Perera responded: “All evidence should be placed before the UN investigation unit and this includes the dispatches of Lt Col Anthony Gash as revealed by Lord Naseby. The UN unit needs to seek that information itself to get a rounded perspective on the problem.
“On the other hand, if the government formally makes a request for the Gash reports it will be accepting the legitimacy of the UN unit which is not its current position. Instead I would wish that the government resolves the issues laid out in the various UN reports through internal mechanisms that have the support of the political parties, including the minorities, within the country.
“It is only if the country is internally united that we can go on the path of development that the government intends and respond successfully to international pressures. Otherwise it looks like our country is locked in a vicious cycle.”
Dr. Perera represented the country at the Geneva sessions during the yahapalana administration.
The writer posed the same question to GTF’s Surendiran, who, too, backed examination of all evidence and information available. Surendiran said: “Of course all available evidence should be made available to the investigative team that will collect and analyse this evidence. No one should hinder that process of collection of evidence, be it the UK Government or the Government of Sri Lanka. In that regard, Sri Lanka if it has nothing to fear about should allow the investigators free access so that the collection process can be comprehensive and complete.”
In fact, Wikileaks revelations pertaining to Sri Lanka, too, should be examined along with submissions received by the UNSG’s Panel of Experts’ (PoE/Darusman Report) that paved the way for the 2015 co-sponsorship of an accountability resolution. Would the new Geneva re-visit previously collected information, particularly by the PoE, covered by UN a 20-year confidentiality clause (2011-2031)?
UK bending backwards to protect
relations with Lanka
The FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office), in its objections filed with the Information Commission, following Lord Naseby’s bid to gain dispatches from Colombo, stated; “Lt. Col. Gash was the FCO’s defense attaché at the British Commission in Colombo during the closing stages of Sri Lanka’s civil war. Many of his dispatches contain information provided directly to him by his contacts in the Sri Lankan government, the Sri Lankan Army or other military sources. His reports indicate, he had access to reports on troop movements, Sri Lankan military strategic thinking, the movements of the LTTE and assessments of casualty figures. The effective conduct of international relations depends upon the free, frank and confidential exchange of information such as this. If the UK does not respect these confidences, then its ability to protect and promote UK interests through international relations will be hampered which will not be in the public interest.
Subsequently, the FCO asserted that it was of the view that releasing the information redacted on the basis of section 27(l) (a) would be likely to prejudice the UK’s relationship with Sri Lanka and would negatively impact on the information that they would be willing to exchange with the UK in the future. It further stated, the disclosure of the withheld information, in this case, was not in the public interest as it would be likely to damage the bilateral relationship between the UK and Sri Lanka. This would have the effect of reducing the UK government’s ability to protect and promote UK interests through its relations with Sri Lanka.”
The Information Commissioner, on June 26, 2016, dismissed Naseby’s appeal for full disclosure of the Gash dispatches.
So, according to the FCO, disclosure of Gash dispatches would harm the UK’s relations with Sri Lanka. In the absence of proper examination of British role in promoting terrorism in Sri Lanka, successive UK governments allowed the LTTE a free hand. Wikileaks exposure of a secret meeting between the Norwegians (handling disastrous peace process) and LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham in the immediate aftermath of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar’s assassination in August 2005 underscored the privileged status enjoyed by the LTTE. Balasingham, one-time British High Commission employee who received British citizenship for services rendered to Her Majesty’s government lived freely there until his death due to natural causes in Dec 2006.
Over the years, the UK provided the wherewithal required by the LTTE to wage war in Sri Lanka. The British. contribution grew over the years in the wake of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in May 1991. It must be noted that the UK only removed the LTTE International Secretariat, established in London for many years, only after it assassinated Rajiv Gandhi for the obvious reason that its presence there was becoming too embarrassing even to the British. In fact when a visiting journalist from The Island, accompanied by a group of media persons from several countries, raised the issue of the LTTE having a big presence in the British capital during a visit to BBC Headquarters at Bush House in Central London around the time of the Rajiv assassination that year, he was given the lame excuse that the Tigers had not violated any UK laws. Despite the much-publicised British proscription of the LTTE, the latter operated a major fund-raising project that funded their war until the very end.
Perhaps, Foreign Secretary Colombage, during the interview with Sebastian, should have referred to the Wikileaks revelation of the then British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner making a desperate bid to halt the military offensive on the Vanni east front. Towards the end of the ‘CONFLICTZONE’ interview, Sebastian queried about Inspector Nishantha Silva fleeing the country in the immediate aftermath of the 2019 presidential election.
Focus on Shani, Nishantha
Referring to the arresting of SSP Shani Abeysekera, Director, Criminal Investigation Division (CID) who inquired into several key human rights cases, Sebastian said: “…and another Nishantha Silva from the same Division had to leave Sri Lanka because of threats immediately after the last presidential election and you tell me that is the way a democracy which you claimed to have pursues justice does not look like it? Does it? Questioning how Nishantha Silva left the country suddenly, Prof. Colombage alleged it was all part of a conspiracy while strongly denying Sebastian’s accusation the officer was threatened. “All these things were planned. They were probably given lots of money to do these things…” Sebastian insisted: “You do not know that Mr. Secretary…”
It would have been better if Prof. Colombage pointed out that the Swiss Embassy involvement in the Nishantha Silva affair against the backdrop of one of its employees Garnier Francis (former Siriyalatha Perera) falsely accusing government agents of abducting her outside the mission and sexually abusing her. Sebastian conveniently refrained from referring to Garnier who had been Silva’s contact at the Swiss mission. The Swiss went to the extent of trying to evacuate Garnier and her family in a special air ambulance after their project meant to smear President Gotabaya Rajapaksa went awry. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa opposed the move to evacuate them. If not Garnier, too, would have ended up in Switzerland and a key campaign issue against Sri Lanka.
At one-point Sebastian chided Prof. Colombage whether he was proud of living in a country where child killers get presidential pardon? Sebastian was referring to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa releasing a soldier convicted of killing several persons, including children in the Jaffna peninsula. Colombage responded well, pointing out how post-war, Sri Lanka rehabilitated 12,000 terrorists, including children. Colombage posed a pertinent question whether presidential pardon is available only in Sri Lanka. Sebastian insisted he focused on Sri Lanka and not the rest of the world. Perhaps, Prof. Colombage should have reminded Sebastian how funds made available by those living in the UK prolonged the war in Sri Lanka. None of those shedding crocodile tears today bothered to protest when the LTTE used children as cannon fodder. The fact that children were used in suicide attacks, too, cannot be forgotten. Didn’t Rajiv Gandhi perish in a suicide attack carried out by a female Tiger cadre? A proper inquiry is required to ascertain and identify those members of Sri Lankan terrorist groups living in the UK and the rest of the world. The proposed new Geneva probe can facilitate Sri Lanka’s efforts to track down those living overseas, under assumed names, while they continued to be categorized as war disappeared.
Sebastian also raised the issue of disappearances and missing. In fact, former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe explained the cases of missing and disappearances during the yahapalana administration. Wickremesinghe pointed out how the so-called disappeared either died in combat or were now living overseas.
Prof. Colombage responded: “…most of the human rights defenders are receiving money from the West. We know their bank accounts. We know how much they have received.” The Foreign Secretary alleged they were not bona fide human rights defenders. Sebastian hit back: “You just smeared the whole lot of them in one sentence…”
Now that Prof. Colombage has quite rightly raised funding received by NGOs/civil society groups, let there be a public disclosure of the funding secured over the years. A Norwegian examination of its involvement in Sri Lanka released in 2011 revealed substantial funding made available to various civil society groups. The Norwegian report revealed how generous Oslo had been to those who facilitated its Sri Lanka project. As Geneva stepped up pressure on the country, the government should approach the issues at hand sensibly. Geneva should be priority No 1. The government cannot forget that no less than Commander of the Army Gen. Shavendra Silva, earlier the General Officer Commanding (GoC) of the celebrated 58 Division/formerly Task Force I was blacklisted by the US. Sebastian warned Prof. Colombage of dire threats posed by targeted sanctions imposed by individual countries. Member states might start applying targeted sanctions, asset freezers and travel bans against your state officials and others…. Are you ready for that?
Prof. Colombage responded: “If individual countries have a separate agenda not necessarily human rights but using human rights as a weapon there is very little we can do. Let us wait and see.” However, the former Navy Commander missed a golden opportunity to ask Sebastian what he thought of the Tamil community overwhelmingly voting for war-winning Army Chief the then General Sarath Fonseka at the 2010 presidential poll. Fonseka won all predominately Tamil speaking electoral districts in the northern and eastern districts, including Jaffna. In fact, bogus human rights campaign should have ended the day, Tamils declared their support to tough talking Fonseka, who survived a suicide attack in April 2006 to finish off the LTTE. If the LTTE succeeded in eliminating Fonseka and the then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa in 2006, terrorism would have triumphed. But fortunately for Sri Lanka both survived two separate LTTE suicide attacks targeting them in Colombo itself. That is the undeniable truth.
Convincing storytelling with engaging dialogue and three-dimensional characters
‘10.34’ By Aditha Dissanayake, a Vijitha Yapa Publication
Reviewed by Nandasiri (Nandi) Jasentuliyana
Former Deputy Director-General, United Nations.
’10:34′ is a dramatic love story of a poetic and tender quality written with a deep respect for both the beauty and the danger to our blue planet seen from space as a vulnerable blob in the vast universe.
It is a contemporary romance that follows a woman, a committed environmentalist, as she navigates her life among men with differing feelings of the imperative of conservation stewardship.
This book is Gratiaen Award winner Aditha Dissanayake’s fourth novel, by far the best. This book is enjoyable to read due to the simplicity of the prose style and vividness of imagination. Though simple but thoughtful, the story is fun enough, and the unexpected twists and turns keep the reader engaged.
It is the story of two people finding love in unusual circumstances, albeit differently than either of them intended.
Aditha narrates a 24-year-old schoolteacher’s unexpected detour of accompanying her banker fiancé and migrating to New Zealand. The deviation begins when Kumi alights the morning Udarata Menike to visit her hometown in the fictional village of Maliyadda on the banks of the Kothmale Oya. She goes there directed by her Uncle in London to make the final arrangements to sell her grandfather’s ancestral property. Kumi finds the dilapidated property a piece of heaven on earth. Lush greenery with a creek flowing through the property has become the perfect home for all that nature creates. An ideal home for her as well she realises. She could hardly tear herself off from the allure of the place to return to Colombo, which she must, to see her fiancé off. He was going ahead to settle affairs in the new country they were moving to before Kumi arrives.
During her vacation to her ancestral village, abandoning her plans to stay at the bed and breakfast place where she had an eventful night with an unexpected visitor, she moves into the abandoned house that had once belonged to her grandparents. Kumi also struck a friendship with Vino Coomaraswamy, an editor of a publishing house in Lancaster, on holiday in Maliyadda, searching for his roots.
On return to Colombo, she finds her favourite mango tree, that shaded her room and to its rustling sounds which she fell asleep in the night, had been a victim of the insensitive confidant who failed to understand that perhaps her first love is nature. Incensed by the developments that followed and tugged by the spell cast over her by the sanctuary in Maliyadda, she makes an unintended quick return to the place she had felt at peace.
There, she finds comfort in her friends Vino and a Professor turned recluse whom she had met on her previous visit. The Professor was intruding on the property to record the often-ignored weeds and lesser-known plants in the mid-country for his next book.
Abandoning her plans to move to New Zealand with her urbanized banker boyfriend, she decides to make home the abandoned house that had once belonged to her grandparents. But in addition to preventing her Uncle from selling the land, Kumi must also prove to the Professor that she has no wish to harm the plants that he so loves.
Easily the best part of the book is how, as the story unravels, it becomes clear that Kumi and the Professor progress towards saving not only nature but themselves from their toxic relationships and past mistakes.
An essential aspect of the book is the author’s tender, discerning look at nature that is ever-present and is the thread that runs through the novel.
Aditha makes her characters very vibrant and three-dimensional and true to life. The main characters are compelling and enigmatic. Kumi is beautifully drawn – warm, bold, outspoken, intelligent, and kind to all living beings, whether human or part of nature, the type of character that carries an endearing story. Vividly portrayed, the men around her – Nadush, bright and bold as an up-and-coming banker, Kavan, intelligent and warm as a professor, and Vinoo, intelligent and outspoken as an editor would be.
The characters in this book are remarkable. The author shows a deep understanding of their roles and places them cleverly to keep the story moving. There are also secondary characters introduced for a few cameos. Even some of those who barely appear have a chance to shine, which tell us a lot about the storytelling.
The book is sprinkled with enjoyable dialogue, which is hard to write – and extremely hard to write well. Two people merely talking are not always engaging on the page, no matter how scintillating the dialogue. Novel writers are not screenwriters whose story is brought to life by an entourage of directors, actors, sound engineers, cinematographers. A novelist must describe the setting and provide all five senses for the reader. Readers will not know what things look like unless you show them.
Aditha’s text reads like a screenplay. The conversation between Kumi and the Tuk Tuk driver is such that a reader can hear it as if spoken aloud; the words do not lie inert on the page. When discourse flows, it’s easy to read and understand; it’s funny, revealing, poignant, and devastating all in one single sentence. The story is interspersed with engaging dialogue, and that’s part of what makes it effective. The dialogue is so catchy, so snappy, so utterly say-able, that the story could easily be made into a movie…
This is a wonderfully written novel with a captivating story that touches your heart, an engaging plot with so many twists, and endearing characters who were believable. The book affirms the depth of humanity’s relationship with nature and adds particular urgency to the cause of protecting the environment that nourishes all living beings. It is a delightful book.
‘Human Rights’ And Ecological Crisis In Sri Lanka
‘The origin of the contemporary ecological and social crisis can be traced to the colonial period and the incorporation of the country into the global capitalist economy.’
By Prof. Asoka Bandarage
The recent UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution A/HRC/46/L.1/Rev.1 of March 16 has brought extensive charges against Sri Lanka over alleged human rights violations, but is arguably seriously flawed. Opportunistic and strategic use of human rights by the western powers to maintain hegemony continually ignore violations of the rights of nature and humanity rooted in the destructive model of economic development the same powers introduced to the world.
Ancient Sri Lanka was known for its Buddhist eco-centric approach to life. The origin of the contemporary ecological and social crisis can be traced to the colonial period and the incorporation of the country into the global capitalist economy.
Vast tracts of forest were cut to establish mono-cultural coffee, tea and rubber plantations and local people lost rights to ancestral lands and resources. Deforestation destroyed water resources that irrigated the rivers leaving village tanks dry. Multi-crop subsistence agriculture was undermined, leaving people to become dependent on imported food supplies.
Sri Lanka’s forest cover declined from 84% in 1881 to 70% in 1900 and to around 50% in 1948, when the British left. Deforestation and plantation development laid the basis for land erosion and loss of animal habitats and biodiversity.
The origin of the current human- elephant conflict is attributed to deforestation starting in the British era, along with the widespread colonial practice of killing animals for sport and trade. The revered elephant was declared a pest and a reward of a few shillings was given for the head of an elephant.
With the introduction of the Open Economy in 1977, Sri Lanka became subjected to neo-liberal policies such as privatization and structural adjustment, largely as conditions to loans from the World Bank and the IMF. The massive Mahawaeli River Development Program of this period provided access to land for the poor and a significant increase in the country’s food production and power resources. However, the construction of dams and irrigation networks, roads, and similar infrastructure also radically altered soil and water systems including degradation of watershed conditions and loss of wildlife habitat and populations.
A related agricultural reform began in the 1960s (the “Green Revolution”), with a campaign to promote the use of agrochemicals and transgenic crop varieties, resulting in the loss of original indigenous seed varieties. The Mahaweli program and irrigation have supplied the water for most of the rice cultivation in the North Central Province. This area is also – likely not coincidentally – the site of the nation’s highest incidence of chronic kidney disease among poor farming communities.
The rich industrialized countries in the Global North are responsible for nearly 80% of historical global carbon emissions. Yet poor countries in the global South, such as Sri Lanka – whose carbon footprint is negligible – are the greatest victims of climate disasters. The current and looming impact of climate change on Sri Lanka is massive:
Annual mean air temperature has significantly increased by between 1961- 1990 increasing 0.016 °C per year;
Annual average rainfall over Sri Lanka has decreased by about seven percent between the 1931-1960 period and the 1961 to 1990 period;
Forecasting the rise in sea level, Sri Lanka is faced with a predicted devastating coastal erosion rate of 0.30-0.35 meter a year, with adverse impact on nearly 55 percent of the shoreline.
The 2004 tsunami drastically highlighted the vulnerability of the low-lying plains in the coastal zone to any future rise in sea level. Northern and eastern coastal areas claimed as traditional ‘Tamil homelands’, are vulnerable to submersion as they are flatter than other coastal areas. This has serious implications for both population displacement and renewed political conflict, concerns totally absent in UNHCR Resolutions that focus on identity politics and calls for political devolution.
In 2015, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC), an international aid NGO, identified Sri Lanka ‘as the country with the highest relative risk of being displaced by disaster in South Asia. For every million inhabitants, 15,000 are at risk of being displaced every year in Sri Lanka’.
In 2017 alone, the country experienced seven disaster events, mainly floods and landslides, and ‘135,000 new displacements due to disaster. Sri Lanka is also at risk from slow-onset impacts like soil degradation, saltwater intrusion, water scarcity, and crop failure’.
Sri Lanka was ranked second among countries most affected by extreme weather events in the Global Climate Risk Index 2019 and sixth in 2020.
Deforestation is considered the greatest environmental threat facing Sri Lanka today. Sri Lanka ranked fourth among countries with worst deforestation of primary forests in the world in the 2000-2005 period. Forest cover, which had declined to about 50% at the end of British rule, has further declined to 44% in 1956 and 16.5 % in 2019.
A highly controversial current case is the housing development supposedly constructed for internally displaced persons (IDPs) on Willpattu National Wildlife Park. The housing will remain despite a recent court judgement that declared it illegal. The ‘polluter pays’ principle was upheld, but this only requires that the offender reforests other lands ‘in any area equivalent to the reserve forest area used for re-settlement of IDPs’. Even this court decision is under appeal by the 7th respondent, former Minister of Industry and Commerce, Rishard Badiuddin. Moreover, as ecologists point out, mere tree planting elsewhere will not lead to recovery of the intricate forest eco-systems that were destroyed.
Another major controversy involves the Sinharaja Rainforest covering an area of 18,900 acres. It is home to over 50% of the country’s endemic species and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Deforestation is now taking place in the Sinharaja area for the construction of a road for an isolated village bordering the Forest Reserve and for the suspected building of hotels, shops and other encroachments.
A National Plan based on surveys and clear demarcation of boundaries of Forest Reserves, Wildlife Sanctuaries and Conservation Areas and enforcement is urgently needed to avoid conflict and encroachment over remaining forests.
A recent announcement was made by the Government Minister of Irrigation, Chamal Rajapaksa, regarding proposals to construct two irrigation tanks inside the Sinharaja, each spanning an area of five acres, with Chinese involvement. A 30-kilometer water tunnel to transport fresh water to areas in the South (including possibly Chinese controlled Hambantota port) is also reported. This announcement has raised alarm over environmental impact and likely loss of the UNESCO World Heritage status.
Mining, Dumping and Export-led Growth
There are, unfortunately, many other environmental controversies, the most destructive of which involve export-led growth and foreign companies.
In 2017, 263 waste containers carrying biomedical, plastic and other waste from the UK was brought for illegal dumping in Sri Lanka. Such toxic dumping by rich Northern countries in the poor countries of the South is sadly a common practice. After a legal victory by environmentalists, the containers are being sent back to the UK.
A proposed new project in the Eastern Province is the Eastern Minerals Project of Capital Metal, a company from the UK which plans to mine the ‘highest-grade’ mineral sands containing ilmenite, rutile, zircon and garnet. While it promises to be a highly profitable venture, environmentalists fear massive and irreversible damage to the vulnerable eastern coastline.
Yet another controversial mining project is proposed by Titanium Sands, an Australian company,that wants to mine titanium on the island of Mannar off the northern coast of Sri Lanka. Mannar is a bird paradise and local environmentalists blame the Australian company of ‘illegal conduct’ and plans to dramatically transform the ecosystem and limit land use by the local community.
Just as the world is at the cusp of a new era of technological and corporate authoritarianism, Sri Lanka, with its strategic location in the Indian Ocean, is also at a decisive historical juncture. The island is facing new forms of external intervention and competition primarily involving the expansionist and national security efforts of China, USA and India. These three countries are also the biggest carbon polluters, pursuing unbridled economic growth despite the impending global climate catastrophe.
Sri Lanka is centrally placed in the maritime route of China’s Belt Road Initiative. China is now in control of the Hambantota port, the Colombo Port City, a terminal of the Colombo port and a hybrid renewable energy project on three islands off the Jaffna peninsula, just 50 km from the Tamil Nadu coast.
The Quadrilateral Alliance of the USA, India, Australia and Japan is challenging this Chinese expansion, and is, in turn, in control of key strategic positions and natural resources.
India, for example, is in control of the British colonial era Oil Tank Farm in the seaport town of Trincomalee. It is reported that the development of the west terminal of the Colombo port will also be given to the company of Indian billionaire Adani.
The US Millennium Challenge Corporation’s proposed Compact with Sri Lanka was turned down by Sri Lanka due to local protests over resource exploitation, land grab and an effort to splinter Sri Lanka into two separate entities under the control of the United States. However, there is suspicion that some of the main objectives of the MCC to digitalize land registers and privatize land to make them available for development by transnational corporations maybe be continuing in other ways.
The US signed an Acquisitions and Cross Services Agreement (ACSA) with Sri Lanka in 2017 making the island a ‘logistics hub’ allowing US military vessels open-ended access to Sri Lanka’s seaports and airports. The ACSA is part of the ‘grand strategy of a united military front between the US and India in the Indo-Pacific’.
A Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the USA and Sri Lanka, which could turn Sri Lanka into a US military base, has been proposed but not yet signed due to local protest.
Neo-Colonialism and Eco-Social Implications
While the implications of Neo-Colonialism for Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity have been much discussed in recent media, the ecological and social implications remain relatively unexplored. Some of these include:
Conflicts between Chinese interests and farming families around the Hambantota port over Chinese offers to buy ancestral properties of locals.
Protests and legal action by environmentalists over Chinese Port City, especially coastal sand excavation and dumping of chemical waste.
Control of the west terminal of the Colombo harbor by India’s controversial Adani Group, which has a history of environmental and financial violations in Australia and India.
Effects of militarization of the island under the ACSA and possible SOFA agreements and military confrontation between the Quadrilateral Alliance and China in the Indian Ocean.
Future Survival with the Wisdom of the Past
Sustainable agriculture has a long history on the island, as in any long-lasting indigenous culture, and it needs to be brought back to the fore. Local self-sufficiency and agro-ecology are the only solutions to future food scarcity and surviving the vicissitudes of the global economy.
Both Sri Lanka and the world have enough natural resources to support people if resources are shared equitably and sustainably used. It is the apocalyptic destruction of the unregulated greed of neoliberalism that must end.
For this to happen, policies of corporate regulation must be put in place at both the national and global levels. These policies also need to incorporate a broader definition of human rights that includes the rights of nature and people’s rights to natural resources and livelihoods. 250 major civil society organizations from around the world have signed a declaration calling for an end to ‘corporate control and cooptation’ of the United Nations including the U.N. Convention on Climate Change. Indeed, the moral authority of the United Nations and its partisan approach to human rights need serious questioning.
There is an urgent concurrent need for environmental education that transcends political party and ethno-religious divisions and unites people both with each other and with a survivable environment. Environmentalism is also humanism that looks to the future, and the rights and survival of future generations.
Cabraal: Prez appoints members to Port City Economic Commission
Rise of Cheena Saubhagya
Two hotels to be built obstructing elephant corridor in Sinharaja – MONLAR
7-billion-rupee diamond heist; Madush splls the beans before being shot
Unfit, unprofessional, fat Sri Lankans
The Burghers of Ceylon/Sri Lanka- Reminiscences and Anecdotes
Features6 days ago
How confidence has been eroded
Sports6 days ago
When failures boast of success
Features7 days ago
A senior cop remembers April 1971
Opinion5 days ago
A Cabinet reshuffle needed
news7 days ago
British Ayurveda Medical Council established in the UK
Politics7 days ago
The British will not learn English, let’s not kid ourselves
news5 days ago
Proposed law will turn Port City into a province of China – JVP
news5 days ago
PM intervenes to iron out differences among coalition partners