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Full understanding of Geneva Fiasco

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My intention in this brief note is to point out some important matters that Dr. Sarath Gamini de Silva has omitted, and also facts of history that he has not correctly interpreted in his letter titled “Problems in Geneva : Facts that brought us here” (The Island 26.02.2021). When one deals with the “facts that brought us here” with reference to the UNHRC Resolutions against Sri Lanka, the history, the nature and the present status of the Tamil Problem are of vital importance, as that problem is the core issue leading to the Geneva Fiasco. Further, an assessment of the UNHRC activities, particularly its lack of neutrality due to Western pressure and influence which has made Sri Lanka reject the Resolutions calling them a political campaign, is critical in a discussion of this subject.

The fact that Western powers use the UNHRC to exert pressure on Third World countries on the pretext of human rights, to make them do their bidding has been totally disregarded by Dr.S, while he finds fault with the Sri Lankan governments for not doing enough in the implementation of the UNHRC recommendations. Further, the fact that the Western powers make use of Tamils to destabilize Sri Lanka, as they did with the LTTE, to get it to fall in line and that Tamil separatists are willing partners in this project, has not been considered by Dr. S. It is naive to think that mishandling or not solving the Tamil Problem “brought us here” and resulted in Geneva Resolutions.

One cannot discuss Geneva disregarding the Tamil Problem. To understand the nature of the Tamil Problem, and why it remains apparently unresolved, one must examine its history and origin. It has its origin in Tamil separatism which dates back to 1930s. Tamil separatism is a Tamil construct. When independence for Ceylon was being considered by the British Raj, as it was uneconomical to maintain their empire, the Tamil leaders petitioned the British Government requesting a separate state for the Tamils. A case had been prepared for this claim well in advance. Mudaliyar C. Rasanayagam in his book titled “Ancient Jaffna” (1926) attempts to show that an independent kingdom existed in Jaffna before it was conquered by the Portuguese in 1619. This is a distortion of facts. Mudliyar Rasanayagam’s views on Tamil habitation in Sri Lanka have been proved to be baseless, and less than a scholarly discourse of the matter by Prof. K. N. O. Dharmadasa (2007). Prof. Indrapala Karthigesu’s research work had shown that there is no evidence of Tamil habitation in Sri Lanka before the 10th Century CE. If there were Tamil kings in Jaffna, there should be inscriptions in Tamil, but not a single one has been found. On the contrary the earliest inscription found in Jaffna could be attributed to a Sinhala king, Parakramabahu II, who ruled Jaffna from Polonnaruwa.

In this context, it is important to see how this issue is being pursued at present. Former Chief Minister Wigneshwaran, has called for the creation of a Federal State for the Tamils, and to substantiate his claim had made reference to the ancient Tamil Kingdom and he has said Mahawamsa is fiction.. TNA leader R Sampanthan, speaking in the Parliament on the 8th January 2020, drew attention to the hitherto unresolved Tamil man’s problem (The Island, 10.01.2020). He has said 85% of Tamils have voted against Gotabaya Rajapaksa, which he says is an indication that their problem has not been addressed and that the Tamils have at every election repeatedly voiced the need for a solution to their problem. Since most of the economic, social, political and cultural needs of the Tamil community, in the Sri Lankan context, have been sorted out, one wonders what other grievances could be bothering the Tamils. However, when one reads Sampanthan’s speech, one would understand that his problem is the nature of the state of Sri Lanka as defined in the present constitution. What he wants obviously is to replace the word “unitary” in Chapter 1 Clause 2 of the Constitution, with the words “united, undivided and indivisible”. These words place the single sovereignty concept in jeopardy, and opens the way to federalism and separatism.

The above facts show how the Tamil leadership has made the Tamil Problem an intractable issue. Dr. S says, successive governments have failed to discuss these matters beginning from early times, and points out that the “50- 50” demand made by GG Ponnambalam, in 1939 in the State Council, and then to the Soulbury Commission in 1945, should have been discussed. When 50% of representation for the minorities is demanded disregarding population ratios, which is a crucial factor in universal franchise, could it be discussed? Similarly could the Thimpu Principles of recent times (1985) which the Tamils said were non-negotiable be discussed? Further, the TNA has submitted its proposals to the Experts Committee drafting the new Constitution, and these amount to a demand for an almost separate state for the Tamils. Are the Tamils serious in negotiating a solution?

The UNHRC Resolution 30/1 and the subsequent resolutions on Sri Lanka were sponsored by the Western countries, who indirectly supported LTTE terrorism and almost stopped the war being conducted to its finish. The Resolutions are biased because they make unsubstantiated accusations that the Sri Lankan armed forces have committed war crimes and these have to be investigated by international judges. No examination of the witnesses by the defense is allowed. Further no consideration whatsoever has been given to the available evidence that shows no war crimes have been committed by the armed forces. The evidence provided in the diplomatic dispatches filed by Lt. Col. Anthony Gash the Defence Attache of the British High Commission, and the revelations by Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith the Defence Attache of the US Embassy, which could be considered as reliable as these officers were aware of the ground situation during the final stages of the war, have totally been disregarded by the UNHRC and the sponsors of the Resolutions. Recently Lord Naseby has written to the UNHRC about these evidence, and he has brought these facts to the notice of the British House of Lords.

Is it such a UNHRC and its dubious resolutions that Dr. S wants our government to take seriously as the “day of reckoning” closes on us as Dr. S puts it? Does Dr. S think that the West is genuinely motivated by human rights issues? Surely he knows that they are the worst HR violators. Would the West withdraw these resolutions if we implement their recommendations? As a matter of fact, had we agreed to sign the MCC, ACSA and SOFA agreements of the US there would be no resolutions against Sri Lanka. And Mitchel Brechtlet would play a different tune. UNHRC Resolutions against Sri Lanka are nothing but tools of hegemony and imperialism.

Further the International Community, whose opinion and dictate Dr. S wants our government to pay heed to while dealing with human rights and UN Resolutions, is nothing but the Western power block, which uses human rights as a bludgeon against small countries while murdering millions of civilians all over the world. Is China with the largest population or Russia the largest country included in this International Community. The UK just a few weeks ago passed a law prohibiting accusation of war crimes against their armed forces. And their armed forces are not innocent of war crimes either, their brutal excesses in Iraq are well known. And it is the UK that led the crusade against Sri Lanka in Geneva.

It is very easy to say that if the government looks after the minorities there would be no Geneva resolutions against us. But when we are dealing with minorities who know that they can exploit the geo-political situation that exists in the Indian Ocean region to their advantage, by helping the West to get a grip on the strategically situated Sri Lanka, it is difficult to negotiate a solution that would be fair by all stakeholders. The Tamil separatists know this and they will make the Western powers pressure the Sri Lankan government to give in to their demands. The minorities will want to dictate terms and get their pound of flesh. However, the minorities must realize that everybody stands to lose if the imperialist West is allowed to take a stranglehold on our country. Tamils must give up their campaign which they started before the time of independence, and ask for a reasonable and realistic solution.

 

N.A.de S. AMARATUNGA



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Opinion

Today’s call for ‘Health Promotion’

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

Ownership and Empowerment:

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

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

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

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

 

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

Prof. NALIN ABEYSEKERA

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

– nalinabeysekera@gmail.com )

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Opinion

Political interference aggravating Deadly Pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

SENIOR MEDICAL CONSULTANT

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Opinion

Making O/L English literature more accessible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

SUSANTHA HEWA

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