President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa in conversation in Parliament on Feb 11, 2021. It was President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s fourth visit to Parliament since the inauguration of the new session (pic courtesy PMD)
By Shamindra Ferdinando
National Freedom Front (NFF) leader, Wimal Weerawansa, MP, recently caused quite a political storm by calling for the inclusion of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) decision-making hierarchy. In spite of efforts to settle the issue, amicably, strong statements made by SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris and its General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam at the regular weekly media briefing at Waters’ Edge underscored the simmering problem (report on media briefing on page 1)
Weerawansa’s call triggered an extremely angry response from the ruling SLPP with its General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam lambasting the former JVPer. Flanked by Kalutara District SLPP MP Sanjiva Edirimanne and SLPP Administrative Secretary Renuka Perera, Attorney-at-Law Kariyawasam dismissed Weerawansa’s call.
The briefing at the SLPP Nelum Mawatha Office, Battarmulla, revealed unprecedented deep resentment towards Weerawansa whose unexpected appeal took the SLPP by total surprise. Newcomers Kariyawasam, a National List MP and Edirimanne, who polled 105,973 preference votes in the Kalutara district at the last parliamentary election in August 2020, teamed up with Perera. The SLPP ‘blitz’ shook the political scene.
The SLPP primarily targeted Weerawansa on two issues, namely the NFF leader had no right whatsoever to call for removal of SLPP leader Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the NFF maintained clandestine links with two foreign intelligence agencies.
A section of the media thrived on the unexpected political controversy caused by Weerawansa. The former JVP Propaganda Secretary couldn’t have made that call without realizing the far reaching consequences. Those seeking to exploit the SLPP-NFF dispute tried to capitalise on the situation. The SLPP, too, contributed to that strategy. In its haste to attack Weerawansa over his interview with the Lankadeepa in its Feb 7, 2021 edition, the SLPP forgot the NFF leader wanted a specific political role for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Does President Gotabaya Rajapaksa require a political role? Does he deserve such a role? Can President Rajapaksa be denied a leadership role in the SLFP, undoubtedly the most powerful political party today? Can Gotabaya Rajapaksa ‘operate’ outside the SLPP, thereby depriving him an opportunity to intervene in political matters?
The SLPP’s drastic response to Weerawansa’s timely suggestion underscored President Gotabaya Rajapaksa lacking much needed political clout. Over a year after the last presidential election in Nov 2019, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa remained a man without SLPP membership. In fact, the SLPP on its own should have considered how to accommodate President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Had the SLPP acted wisely, Weerawansa wouldn’t have had to risk a preventable political crisis. The SLPP actually owed an explanation why it failed to consider a suitable position within the hierarchy. It would be pertinent to mention that Weerawansa secured two other interviews on Feb 7, the day the Lankadeepa published the controversial discussion. Mawbima, published by the Ceylon Newspapers Pvt Limited owned by SLPP National List MP Tiran Alles and Communist Party mouthpiece, ‘Aththa’ (Truth), a name borrowed from the former official Soviet CP newspaper Pravda.
The writer found the Aththa interview conducted by its Editor (name not given) quite critical of the incumbent Rajapaksa administration. In fact, Weerawansa therein asserted that there had been much better internal discussion within the SLFP-led coalition during the previous Rajapaksa presidency (Nov 2005-January 2015). There had been no reference to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa being given a political role whatsoever. The NFF leader who spearheaded a campaign within the SLPP against the hotly disputed government decision to hand over to India 49 per cent stake in the East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo port, in Feb 3, 2021 sought to explain the common stand taken by some parties within the SLPP. Instead, Weerawansa created an enormous political issue that overwhelmed the ruling coalition.
Perhaps, someone should remind Weerawansa how he fired the first salvo against the previous Rajapaksa administration by seeking a consensus with the late Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha. The meeting in the second week of July 2014 set in motion a spate of events leading to SLFP General Secretary Maihripala Sirisena switching allegiance to UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Attack on influential clique
Responding to an Aththa query, Weerawansa explained the weaknesses in the SLPP. Alleging the absence of a regular discussion among constituents of the SLPP, Weerawansa said that though all contributed to the overwhelming victories at the 2019 and 2020 national elections, today a small clique sustained the power. When the actions of that clique caused trouble, the administration sought the help of all others to face the crisis. Declaring he had made his position clear on the extremely unhappy situation, Weerawansa alleged that the government suffered due to lack of internal discussions. Compared to the situation today, the previous Rajapaksa administration handled internal issues better. The views expressed at that time received some recognition. The absence of internal discussions had resulted in challenges to the incumbent administration.
Asked to comment on some SLPP constituents taking a common stand on the ECT issue leading to the SLPP targeting the NFF leader, Weerawansa said that representatives, including lawmakers met at his official residence on January 30, 2021, to take a common stand on the issue at hand. Altogether 10 political parties had participated in the discussion and, at the conclusion, they decided to continue with the grouping. “We decided to meet once a month to discuss developments. Discuss required changes. Discuss the government strategies,” Weerawansa said, revealing they reached a common understanding meant to bring both the government and the country under pressure. The Minister declared that at that time they met to discuss ECT exclusively, subsequently a decision was made to continue with the project. Weerawansa said that they would try to obstruct those trying to take President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on a wrong path.
Weerawansa, in his interview with Aththa, emphasised how the Western powers went even to the extent of exploring the imposition of economic sanctions on Sri Lanka against the backdrop of the 46th session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) at a time the country was mired in a deepening crisis due to rising foreign debt. Weerawansa didn’t mince his words when he acknowledged daunting economic challenges and the failure on the part of the government to achieve the much-touted economic objectives. Weerawansa blamed the Covid-19 pandemic mainly for the economic downturn. The former JVP heavyweight warned of dire consequences if the country couldn’t raise over USD 4 bn annually to settle loans obtained by successive governments, particularly the previous yahapalana administration taking commercial loans at high interest rates. Weerawansa alleged the UNP-SLFP administration went for excessively costly loans in the wake of their humiliating defeat at the last Local Government elections on Feb 10, 2018.
In other words, Weerawansa acknowledged that there couldn’t be any justification in ‘boru shows’ at a time of the rapidly developing crisis that could overwhelm the national economy. It would be the responsibility of the SLPP to ensure political stability both in and outside Parliament. An internal crisis within the SLPP now can cause irreparable damage.
Time for politics
Wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa entered active politics in the wake of the enactment of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 2015. The 19th Amendment deprived President Mahinda Rajapaksa of an opportunity to seek a third presidential term. One-time SLFP strongman and war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa failed in his hotly challenged bid to secure a third term in 2015. Having launched civil society groups Viyathmaga and Eliya at the onset of the yahapalana administration, Gotabaya Rajapaksa slowly but steadily pursued a political strategy that ultimately paved the way for him to secure the SLPP’s presidential nomination in August 2019. Yet, Gotabaya Rajapaksa didn’t publicly receive SLPP membership. Gotabaya Rajapaksa launched Viyathmaga in early 2016 to take his message to the masses. Viyathmaga was followed by Eliya that focused on countering moves to introduce a new Constitution at the expense of the country’s unitary status.
Viyathmaga emerged as an influential group within the SLPP parliamentary group with eight out of nine contestants gaining entry into Parliament at the August 2020 general election. The SLPP won 145 seats, including 17 National List slots. The Parliament comprises 196 elected and 29 appointed members.
Of the SLPP winners, retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera (328,092) and Dr. Nalaka Godahewa (325,479) polled the highest preferential votes in Colombo and Gampaha electoral districts, respectively. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fielded the group on the SLPP ticket whereas former Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal and Dr. Seetha Arambepola were accommodated on the National List.
Of the successful Viyathmaga members, only Weerasekera has represented Parliament before having served the Navy for over three decades and retired as its Chief of Staff. Weerasekera represented Digamadulla electorate during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second tenure (2010-2015) as the President.
Viyathmaga nominees Prof. Channa Jayasumana (Anuradhapura/133,980), Gunapala Ratnasekera (Kurunegala/141,991), Nalaka Kottegoda (Matale/71,404), Tilak Rajapaksha (Digamadulla/54,203), Dr. Upul Galappatti (Hambantota/63,369), and Udayana Kirindigoda (Mahanuwara/39,904) entered Parliament at the expense of those who represented the last Parliament on the UPFA ticket.
Viyathmaga nominated Businessman Anura Fernando who nursed Colombo (north) electorate failed to get elected, whereas Ali Sabri, PC, who also served Viyathmaga, was accommodated in Parliament through the SLPP National List and not as a member of Viyathmaga.
Can the SLPP continue to ignore the need to bring in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, formally into the decision- making apparatus of the SLPP?
Mahinda Rajapaksa switched his allegiance from the SLFP to the SLPP less than two weeks after the constitutional coup staged by the then President Maithripala Sirisena in late Oct 2018. Mahinda Rajapaksa received membership on Nov 11, 2018 from SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris in the presence of its General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam. The well attended event took place at Premier Rajapaksa’s official residence at Wijerama Mawatha. Thirty other UPFA lawmakers received SLPP membership on that day.
MR takes SLPP membership
Mahinda Rajapaksa made the surprising move, close on the heels of the Supreme Court suspending President Sirisena’s decision to dissolve Parliament on the night of Nov 9, 2018, and called the general election on January 5, 2019. Sirisena had no other option after the then Joint Opposition and SLFP failed pathetically to prove a simple majority in Parliament. Violence caused by the Joint Opposition in Parliament didn’t serve any purpose other than to bring the entire parliamentary system to disrepute.
The Supreme Court issued its ruling on Nov 14, 2018. Among those who moved the Supreme Court were the UNP, TNA and the JVP. A jubilant UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, while hailing the Court ruling, tweeted that the people have won their first victory. “Let’s go forward and re-establish the sovereignty of the people in our beloved country.”
If the SC ruling went against those who moved the Court, perhaps the political situation would have been much different today. The political situation would have been fashioned on the outcome of the January 5, 2019 general election. Perhaps, the UNP on its own could have secured the largest block of seats in Parliament and form a government with the support of a section of SLFP lawmakers with or without Sirisena. In the last Parliament the UNP had 106 elected under the ‘Elephant’ symbol. The January 5, 2019 general election would have thwarted a disastrous split in the UNP a year later that ultimately led to annihilation of the UNP at the August 2020 general election. The UNP managed to secure just one National List slot. It would be pertinent to examine whether the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) resorted to the Easter Sunday carnage on April 21, 2019 if the general election was held on January 5, 2019 as envisaged by President Sirisena.
Top academic Rajan Hoole speculated in his immensely interesting and controversial ‘Sri Lanka’s Easter Tragedy: When the Deep State Gets Out Of Its Depth’ launched in the run-up to the 2019 Nov presidential election how the failure on the part of the NTJ to secure parliamentary representation at the 2015 general election may have led to the Easter Sunday attacks. If general election was held as President Sirisena wanted the NTJ would have had an opportunity to secure some of its people elected to Parliament via Muslim political parties. Had that happened, perhaps it wouldn’t have resorted to the Easter Sunday attacks, he reasoned.
Who knows spice merchant Mohamed Yusuf Ibrahim whose sons detonated explosives at the Shangri-La and the Cinnamon Grand hotels on April 21 would have found a place in the Parliament. The JVP never explained why Ibrahim was accommodated on its National List at the 2015 general election.
Ibrahim’s sons — identified as Ilham Ahmed Ibrahim and Imsath Ahmed Ibrahim —detonated their explosives at the Shangri-La and the Cinnamon Grand hotels, respectively.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s emergence as the SLPP presidential candidate should be examined against the backdrop of an extremely sensitive political environment following the Easter Sunday carnage. The UNP, the SLFP, JVP, TNA and all political parties represented in Parliament played politics with the issue. A naïve government allowed extremists to go on the rampage weeks after the Easter attacks. The failure to protect the Muslims is definitely as bad as allowing the NTJ to strike in spite of specific warnings received from India. The government never explained how extremists stormed Minuwangoda in the second week of May, 2019. The then Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake, having failed to prevent the Easter Sunday attacks and anti-Muslim violence, exploited the situation to seek a political career. The Army Commander, too, should have been held responsible for both failures as he also had at his disposal one of the country’s biggest intelligence operations run by the DMI. Senanayake who couldn’t even secure 50,000 votes at the last presidential election, contrary to much publicized promises, refrained from contesting the last parliamentary election. Perhaps he reslised that he had already been badly exposed.
19 A paves the way for GR
If not for the 19th Amendment, Gotabaya Rajapaksa wouldn’t have received SLPP nomination even though a significant section of the electorate appreciated the wartime Defence Secretary’s entry into politics at the highest level. Lawmakers Kumara Welgama, an SLFP heavyweight and Democratic Left Front (DLF) leader Vasudeva Nanayakkara opposed Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s entry. Welgama had the strength not only to take a public stand against Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s emergence as the SLPP candidate but switched his allegiance to the newly formed Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) at the parliamentary election. Welgama entered Parliament from Kalutara.
In utterly appalling Sri Lankan politics, the country shouldn’t be surprised to see the bankrupt SJB and the JVP trying to exploit Weerawansa’s declaration. State Minister Ajith Nivard Cabrral recently reminded the real status of the SJB. Responding to SJB leader Sajith Premadasa’s query on the Katuwana branch of the Bank of Ceylon granting D.S. Gunasekera Company Rs 3.1 bn loan, a smiling former Central Bank Governor asked Premadasa where was he when the BOC subsequent to the then government’s intervention granted the Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) a staggering Rs 10 bn in 10 minutes.
Premadasa formed the SJB after losing to Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the last presidential poll. A section of the civil society in a shameless bid, obviously on behalf of the UNP, moved the judiciary against Gotabaya Rajapaksa claiming he was not eligible to contest. A highly jittery SLPP fielded the then UPFA MP Chamal Rajapaksa as an independent candidate in case Gotabaya Rajapaksa suffered an unthinkable setback. The judiciary ruled in favour of Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the rest is history.
The government tackled the crisis caused by Weerawansa’s intervention. Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga visited the ‘Made in Sri Lanka exhibition’ on Feb 12 on Minister Weerawansa’s invitation where he declared the issue has been settled while issuing a warning to smaller parties. On the following day, Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa visited the exhibition on Weerawansa’s invitation as the top leadership sought to settle the dispute. The SLPP initially hit back hard by calling a media briefing at Ape Gama on Feb 11 where Sanjiva Edirimanna, MP and several others strongly opposed the NFF’s intervention in what they called an internal matter. The government needs to examine contentious matters seriously. In addition to Weerawansa’s stand on the ECT and comment on the SLPP leadership, the former JVP firebrand clashed with the SLPP over the original 20th Amendment as well as an alleged attempt to influence NFF lawmakers. The clash between Weerawansa and SLPP National List MP Jayantha Ketagoda in Premier Rajapaksa’s presence in Parliament highlighted the torrid relationship between the two parties. Obviously all is not well within the ruling coalition. Those who exercised their franchise for the SLPP in 2019 and 2020 expect the ruling coalition to address internal issues, swiftly and decisively or be ready to face the consequences.
Former OMP Chief now at BASL helm
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Editor of ‘Annidda’, Attorney-at-Law K.W. Janaranjana, in a piece in its Feb 21, 2021, edition that dealt with the election of Saliya Pieris, PC, as the President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), asserted that the government hadn’t made a special intervention in the contest.
The government hadn’t made political intervention, though a group of people, including the Secretary of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), and its National List MP, and Attorney-at-Law Sagara Kariyawasam, made a bid to secure the backing of the government for Saliya’s rival. Such attempts made at the provincial level, too, failed to produce the desired results.
Saliya Pieris, who succeeded Kalinga Indatissa, PC, polled 5,093 votes at the election conducted on Feb 24. His rival, Kuvera de Zoysa, PC secured 2,797 votes. The winner secured a staggering 2,386 vote majority – just 321 short of the number of votes polled by De Zoysa.
Janaranjana, a leading member of the civil society grouping Purawesi Balaya, who played a significant role in the yahapalana political campaign, claimed that some of the lawyers who represented top government figures, too, backed Saliya Pieris. Emphasizing that all of them worked for Saliya’s victory, Janaranjana dismissed assertions that the victory achieved by Saliya Pieris was a severe debacle suffered by the Rajapaksas.
Janaranjana attributed the President’s Counsel’s victory to his commitment to the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and human rights throughout his legal career.
A battle between SLPP and Opp.
In spite of the government refraining from taking a stand, as pointed out by Janaranjana, the contest received unprecedented attention, with the lawyer electorate turning it into a battle between the SLPP government and the Opposition. Saliya Pieris, in an exclusive interview with Janaranjana, also published on the Feb 21, 2021 edition of Anidda, three days before the election, flayed the rival group. Pieris emphasized the responsibility, on the part of the BASL, to take a principled stand on contentious issues, regardless of the consequences. Pieris explained his public role since the arrest of High Court Judge Mahanama Tillekaratne, in 1998. Essentially, Pieris flayed the BASL for its failure to take up issues, such as the alleged attack on the Mannar Court by supporters of the then Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidential term. However, Bathiudeen, leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC), now represents the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB).
Pieris also referred to the impeachment of Chief Justice, Shirani Bandaranayake 43, also during the previous Rajapaksa administration. However, there hadn’t been any reference at all to the BASL receiving Rs 2.5 mn sponsorship, in 2016, from disgraced Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) in support of a high profile event conducted at a leading hotel, with the participation of the then Chief Justice, Attorney General, Solicitor General, the President and the Prime Minister. The BASL never explained why funds were obtained from PTL, despite its perpetration of Treasury bond scams, in Feb 2015, and March 2016.
The BASL should be also be seriously concerned about Hejaaz Hizbullah, a prominent lawyer arrested on April 14, 2020 over his direct involvement with the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks. Hizbullah was recently produced in court on a directive issued by Attorney General Dappula de Livera. The lawyer’s arrest, too, caused a sharp division among BASL members and contributed to the overwheming victory achieved by Pieris.
When the writer asked a lawyer, who voted for the winner, why he did so, he explained his position, on the condition of anonymity. The lawyer said: “Voted at the DC polling booth in Colombo. I didn’t vote last time. Lawyers preferred an anti-establishment candidate since the independence of the bar is paramount. On the other hand, lawyers detested hitherto unseen level of inducements being offered to win votes, as well as fabricated false accusations. Anonymous accusations and despicable strategies resulted in further revulsion towards the losing candidate. Unprecedented number of members turned up to ensure a resounding mandate to the winning candidate.
Saliya Pieris responds
The writer sought views of the newly elected BASL President as regards several issues.
(Q) What would be your priorities?
(A) Securing the rights of lawyers in the profession; making a positive impact on issues pertaining to the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and protection of fundamental rights; supporting juniors in the profession and supporting the welfare of the membership.
(Q) You served as first Chairman, OMP (Office of Missing Persons), an apparatus set up in terms of the 2015 Geneva Resolution. GoSL in March 2020
quit the Geneva process. What can BASL do to address accountability issues, both during the conflict and the post war period?
(A) The role of the BASL is different from the OMP. As I have stated, upholding the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary will be a priority. All domestic institutions which address these issues must be independent so that the people who seek relief from them trust these institutions and have confidence in them.
(Q) You secured well over 2000 votes than your rival. How do you intend to win the confidence of those who voted against you?
(A) I have received support from lawyers, across the country and from every community and area. My support cut across all lines, be it party, race, religion or area. On the very day of the announcement of my election, I reached out to all those members who did not vote for me and will continue to.do so. At the same time, I am sure that the members who voted otherwise at the elections will work with me for the betterment of the bar.
(Q)What would you do to prevent deaths in police custody?
(A) Police torture and deaths in custody affect the rule of law and should be condemned. There must be zero tolerance. The Bar must carefully examine these issues and, if needed, lobby the government to ensure fair investigations and that the perpetrators are punished.
(Q) What is your stand on implementation of death penalty and presidential pardon?
(A) These have not been discussed at the Bar Council as yet. My personal view is that I am opposed to the implementation of the death penalty. On presidential pardons, I am of the view that the power of pardon must not be used unreasonably, and must be done by taking into account several factors including the nature of the crime and the views of the aggrieved party.
Let me remind the readers of nine previous BASL Presidents, before Saliya Pieris, who won the presidency: Desmond Fernando, PC (2005 – 2006), Nihal Jayamanne, PC (2006 – 2008), W. Dayaratne, PC (2008 – 2010), Shibly Aziz, PC (2010 – 2012), Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC (2012 – 2013), Upul Jayasuriya, PC (2013 – 2015), Geoffrey Alagaratnam, PC (2015 – 2017), U. R. De Silva, PC (2017 – 2019) and Kalinga Indatissa, PC (2019 – 2021).
Of those 17,200 eligible to vote at the Feb. 24 election, approximately 8,000 voted, though usually only about 6,500 voted in previous years. In other words, nearly 47 per cent chose not to participate in the process.
Who betrayed the country?
Janaranjana discussed how the rival camp depicted Saliya Pieris as a person who betrayed the country by being involved in a treacherous international conspiracy to undermine the armed forces. According to Janaranjana, the rival camp exploited social media and other propaganda means to depict Saliya Pieris as a traitor whose election would lead to the division of the country, on ethnic lines. Janaranjana pointed out how the unprecedented victory achieved by Saliya Pieris proved the failure of the rival camp’s strategy.
Against the backdrop of unsubstantiated allegations, directed at Saliya Pieris, as regards his role as the Chairman of the OMP, it would be pertinent to examine the failure on the part of the BASL to genuinely address accountability issues related to Sri Lanka’s war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The OMP was one of the four mechanisms established in terms of the controversial resolution 30/1 ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka.’ The four apparatuses are (i) A hybrid judicial mechanism with a Special Counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law (ii) A Commission for truth, justice, reconciliation and non-recurrence (iii) An Office for Missing Persons and (iv) and Office for Reparations.
The previous UNP-SLFP administration established the first permanent official body, tasked with tracking down missing persons, in terms of Act No. 14 of 2016. This was done in line with one of the recommendations in the 2015 UNHRC Resolution co-sponsored by the Government of Sri Lanka. Due to political turmoil, the government was able to establish the OMP two years after the Act was passed. The OMP initiated ‘operations’ in May 2018 with members visiting Mannar to meet the families of those disappeared in that District.
The OMP’s mandate, according to Part II Section 10 of the Office on Missing Persons Act, No. 14 of 2016:
(a) To search for and trace missing persons and identify appropriate mechanisms for the same and to clarify the circumstances in which such persons went missing;
(b) To make recommendations to the relevant authorities towards addressing the incidence of missing persons;
(c) To protect the rights and interests of missing persons and their relatives as provided for in this Act.
(d) To identify avenues of redress to which missing persons and relatives of missing persons are entitled to, and to inform the missing person (if found alive) or relative of such missing person of same.
(e) To collate data related to missing persons obtained by processes presently being carried out, or which were previously carried out, by other institutions, organizations, Government Departments and Commissions of Inquiry and Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry and centralize all available data within the database established under this Act.
(f) To do all such other necessary things that may become necessary to achieve the objectives under the Act.
Saliya Pieris received the appointment as Chairman, OMP on May 1, 2018. The civil society activist quit the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) to take the leadership of the OMP. The outfit comprised Saliya Pieris, PC, Ms. Jayatheepa Punniyamoorthy, Major General (Rtd.) Mohanti Antonette Peiris, Sriyani Nimalka Fernando, Mirak Raheem, Somasiri K. Liyanage and Kanapathipillai Venthan.
The now defunct Constitutional Council picked the OMP members. The then President Maithripala Sirisena finalized their appointments. It would be pertinent to mention that OMP member Mirak Raheem had been a member of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTFRM), headed by Attorney-at-Law Manouri Muttetuwegama. The outfit called for full participation of foreign judges in the proposed inquiry.
OMP’s intervention helps Lanka
The then Joint Opposition campaigned both in and outside the OMP, alleging the outfit would pave the way for unprecedented international scrutiny of the war-winning armed forces. However, thanks to OMP’s intervention, Sri Lanka was able to disapprove the high profile accusations, pertaining to the Mannar mass graves. Whatever the accusations, the OMP helped Sri Lanka to counter an extremely serious allegation raised in the run-up to the March 2019 Geneva sessions by UN human rights Chief Michelle Bachelet.
Bachelet served as the Chilean President for nine years, beginning 2006. Bachelet had been in an indecent hurry to pressure Sri Lanka over accountability issues and she blindly blamed the Mannar mass graves on the Sri Lanka Army before a leading US lab, contacted by the OMP, tested the bones and found them to be several centuries old and belonged to the colonial period. Unfortunately, the then government never bothered to further examine the Mannar mass graves case as part of an overall investigation into unsubstantiated allegations. In fact, Sri Lanka never properly examined the campaign conducted by interested parties to undermine post-war Sri Lanka.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009. Wartime disappearances are certainly politically sensitive issues, exploited by political parties here, as well as various other interested parties.
The scientific findings of Beta Analytic Institute of Florida, USA, in respect of samples of skeletal remains, sent from the Mannar mass grave site, quite upset the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). TNA appointed then Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswarn rejected the US findings. 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.
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.”
Disappearance of Ekneligoda
However, Sri Lanka cannot ignore the issue as disappearances took place during successive governments. Disappearances took place during the conflict and also in the post-war period. The disappearance of media personality Prageeth Ekneligoda on the eve of the 2010 January presidential election, is a case in point. The failure on the part of Sri Lanka to address Ekneligoda disappearance increased international pressure on Sri Lanka. The government owed an explanation as regards the media personality’s disappearance over a decade ago. There cannot be any rationale in blanket denial of accusations. In fact, efforts to deceive the public, and the international community in respect of perhaps isolated cases such as the Ekneligoda disappearance had facilitated the high profile Western strategy meant to subvert Sri Lanka on unsubstantiated war crimes allegations.
With Saliya Pieris at the helm of the BASL, it can certainly play a significant role in Sri Lanka’s effort to ascertain the truth. The new BASL Chief, with valuable experience as a member of the HRCSL as well as the Chairman, OMP, can undertake a thorough examination of events/developments leading to the final confrontation between the Army and the LTTE on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, in the Mullaitivu district, on the morning of May 19, 2009. The BASL had been largely silent on the Geneva issue though one of its high profile members, TNA lawmaker M.A. Sumanthiran, declared, in mid-2016, the acceptance of foreign judges in local war crimes investigation mechanisms. The declaration was made in Washington in the presence of the then Sri Lanka’s Ambassador there Prasad Kariyawasam. The Foreign Ministry remained conveniently silent on the issue. In August 2017, Kariyawasam received the appointment as the Foreign Secretary, whereas President Sirisena brought in Tilak Marapana, PC, and a one-time Attorney General as the Foreign Minister. Marapana, too, followed the UNP strategy. The UNP-led government turned a blind eye to the UK House of Lords disclosure on Oct 12, 2017 how the British government suppressed confidential dispatches from its Defence Advisor in Colombo Lt. Col. Anthony Gash (Jan-May 2009). The UK, now leading the Sri Lanka Core Group targeting the country in Geneva, in the absence of the US, continues to shamelessly suppress dispatches, pertaining to Sri Lanka, as the disclosure of such would jeopardize the Western campaign against the country.
Perhaps the appointment of Saliya Pieris couldn’t have taken place at a better time for the country. The respected lawyer received the BASL leadership, the day Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena responded to Michelle Bachelet’s damning report. The writer is of the opinion that Minister Gunawardena, in his speech, should have requested Michelle Bachelet, as well as the 47-members of the UNHRC, to re-examine all available evidence, information and data. Minister Gunawardena should have formally requested the UK, a member of the UNHRC, to disclose all such dispatches sent by Gash to London. The UK released only a section of heavily censored dispatches, following the unprecedented intervention made by Conservative Party veteran Lord Naseby. Sri Lanka pathetically failed to exploit Gash dispatches in spite of Lord Naseby raising the issue, ahead of the Geneva sessions. Let me reproduce the relevant question raised by Lord Naseby and the response received.
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, on Feb 16, 2021, told Parliament that the UK Government had not received any request from the Geneva Council for copies of dispatches written by the former defence attaché at the British High Commission in Sri Lanka Gash about events in Sri Lanka related to the civil war, and had not provided any.
Lord Ahmad was responding to Lord Naseby’s query raised on Feb 4, 2021, whether the UK government provided to UNHRC any (1) censored, and (2) uncensored, copies of dispatches from Lieutenant Colonel Gash, the former defence attaché of the British High Commission in Sri Lanka about events in that country between 1 January and 18 May 2009, relating to the civil war.
Unfortunately, Sri Lanka for some strange reason, refrained from raising the the US disclosure, in 2011, that battlefield executions didn’t take place, or confidential UN report that contradicted the main Geneva accusation the military massacred 40,000 civilians.
Perhaps, the BASL, under its new leadership, can examine the whole gamut of issues, with the focus on the UNSG’s Panel of Experts (PoE) report (March 31, 2011) that prevented examination of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations on the basis of which Sri Lanka co-sponsored the 2015 Geneva resolution. According to the PoE (paragraph 23, titled Confidentiality of the Panel’s records), the examination of unsubstantiated allegations wouldn’t be allowed till 2031 in terms of the UN directive. Even after the 20-year period of classification as confidential records, those unsubstantiated allegations wouldn’t be examined without a declassification review. Let us hope the BASL undertakes a thorough study on accountability issues. Pieris, is certainly the most qualified to lead the inquiry.
Two colliding and coexisting Asian giants
CHINA and INDIA – History, Culture, Cooperation and Competition Editors
– Paramita Mukherjee, Arnab K. Deb and Miao Pang
SAGE Publications India Pvt. Ltd. (www.sagepub.in)
Reviewed by Lynn Ockersz
This book is itself proof that India and China, two Asian political giants, could come together in peace and work constructively and cooperatively towards worthy ends. ‘China and India – History, Culture, Cooperation and Competition’, is a product of profound, combined political science scholarship between India and China, which could not have come into our hands at a more appropriate time.
The reason for the latter observation ought to be plain to see: after a months-long military stand-off on their disputed border in the Ladakh sector, in particular, which at times claimed lives, the giants have decided to withdraw their troops, giving negotiations a chance. In fact, constructive engagement rather confrontation has been the dominant feature in India-China relations over the past few decades, although negative quarters, including those among the international media, have chosen to see otherwise.
That said, it could not be denied that India-China relations have been badly ruptured at times by divisive questions and conflicting interests. Some of these differences have been grave enough to prompt the giants to resolve them on the battle field. For example, their border dispute drove these powers to resort to a full-blown war in 1962. Other issues remain to be resolved as well.
However, Siparna Basu in his paper in ‘China and India…’ titled, ‘Multiple Paths to Globalisation – The India-China Story’, commenting on the history of India-China ties, reveals how India’s first post-independence Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru reportedly declined an offer, backed by the US in the mid fifties, to allocate a UN Security Council seat to India, proposing that the offer should be made to China instead. Apparently, India considered this offer as a move against China. It is a measure of the cooperative spirit which existed between India and China at the time.
But the numerous papers in this book of combined scholarship, while being evidence of the unity of purpose the regional heavyweights could achieve, open revealing windows to also the achievements in numerous fields of the Indian and Chinese civilizations over the centuries.
The countries are revered civilizations that have fertilized the human spirit everywhere through their enduring and ennobling achievements and the papers in this book give us an ample description of these accomplishments, besides updating the reader accurately on the latest developments in India-China ties, in a multiplicity of areas, including inter-state politics.
A strong merit of ‘China and India..’ is the ample space it devotes to economic cooperation between India and China on the one hand and the numerous exercises in such cooperation featuring these key powers and their neighbouring states, on the other. That is, we are kept very much abreast of the latest developments relating to groupings, such as, BRICS, BIMSTEC, BCIM, SCO, to name just a few. This is as it should be because it is economics in the main that is driving international relations currently and not so much politics and military conflict, although the dominant tendency among major opinion moulders, such as the media, is to focus on ‘geopolitics’ to the detriment of economics.
In keeping with the overall spirit of the book, researchers continually focus on the huge potential for bilateral economic cooperation between India and China, besides drawing attention to the benefits of regional collaborative efforts in commerce, trade and investment. Just two papers that are of immense worth from this viewpoint are: ‘Driving Force and Constraints of BCIM Economic Corridor’ by Li Jingfeng and ‘Regional Inequality over the Post-globalization Era: A Study on India and China’ by Arindam Banik and Arnab K. Deb.
Accordingly, ‘China and India…’ gives us the actualities in India-China ties lying behind the smokescreen of sensational military developments between the countries. Besides, it’s a remarkable update on the potential for inter-country economic cooperation in the Indian Ocean region while focusing also on the major economic forces driving global and regional political change.
By Lynn Ockersz
With kingly poise he glides,
This milk-white wonder,
Whom we take for granted…..
The quickening Beira waters,
For him holding no terrors…
But study his every deft action,
And behold a stand-alone splendour,
Of the country’s ravaged eco-system,
Who is at peace with himself,
And is in no need,
To beg, steal or borrow,
Or cut deals that bring him dishonour.
Playing politics with science!
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