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Geneva odyssey: More confrontation or new approach?

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by Rajan Philips

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa who made the surprising call for the government cancelling the ECT deal with India and Japan, has made another surprising and really a gallant announcement giving the green light for allowing burials for Muslim and Christian victims of Covid-19. If the Ministry of Health has been caught unawares by the PM’s statement in parliament, well, they had better get used to it. But no sooner had the government appeared to have cremated the burial issue than Cardinal Malcom Ranjith raised a new headache for the government – threatening to take his case for justice for the victims of the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks to international courts, if there is no assurance of justice through domestic investigations. That is a shocker even though it is no more than a threat for now.

The Cardinal is manifestly unhappy with the course of the investigations so far. Not only does he want to uncover those who masterminded the attacks, he also wants those who ignored prior warnings about the attacks to be exposed and punished. It is over the latter part that the government seems to be getting tied up in the usual coverup knots. As a straightshooter the Cardinal wants total transparency, but Sri Lanka parted with transparency in investigating political crimes decades ago. What has become is a culture of opacity and coverup.

If His Eminence could use his spiritual capital to successfully shake up Sri Lanka’s culture of opacity in the cover-up of crimes by successive governments, he would have brought deliverance to all Sri Lankans in this world before they even get to the other world or into the cycle of rebirth. Without that deliverance, or getting on the path to it, Sri Lanka cannot get out of the muddle it has made for itself at the UNHRC and cannot avoid the annual pilgrimage to Geneva.

Put another way, it is the culture of opacity and the web of cover-ups involving political crimes that seriously undermines the government’s nationalistic assertions against war crimes investigations at the UNHRC. Conversely, Tamil leaders who insist on international war crimes investigations/prosecutions against Sri Lanka are cynically unconcerned about doing anything about the broken-down domestic criminal justice system. A troubling intersection of these two tendencies has come about in what the Amnesty International has called, “the collapse of Joseph Pararajasingham murder case.”

Amnesty International was responding to the acquittal of of MP S. Chandrakanthan and four others in the 2005 assassination of TNA MP Joseph Pararajasingham, and the announcement by the Attorney General’s Office that it would be dropping the charges against the suspects. According to AI, this is “another sorry milestone in the Sri Lankan authorities’ continued failure to ensure justice for crimes committed during the armed conflict.” It is also disturbing for the silence among the Tamils over this particular travesty of justice. And Sri Lanka’s parliament cares nothing about accountability for the murder of one its own MPs, but welcomes those accused or convicted of murder so long as they are able to become MPs, not by winning a direct election but by getting a spot on the winning list of a political party. Once on the nomination list, criminals can campaign for mercy votes to avoid conviction. And they succeed!

Old JR’s New Mutation

For Amnesty International, the collapse of the Pararajasingham murder case is a natural outcome of the government’s withdrawal in February 2020, from the UNHRC resolution (30/1) committing the country to promoting reconciliation, accountability, and human rights. A less natural outcome is the alleged intention of the government to take away the civic rights of opposition political leaders and public servants based on the contentious report of a controversial Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Political Victimization. True to its name, and without any irony, the Commission would appear to have prepared its own list of names for political victimization by the government that appointed it.

Forty years ago, President JR Jayewardene invented the devise of presidential commission of inquiry to deprive his chief political opponent Sirimavo Bandaranaike, and two others from her government, of their civic rights. That was a disgraceful and damaging exercise of political power and no successor of JR Jayewardene wanted to repeat what Sri Lanka’s inaugural President did. Until now, that is, and that too with a long list of names. The list allegedly includes Ranil Wickremesinghe, Patali Champika Ranawaka, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem and TNA leader R. Sampanthan. Perhaps, more can be added and merrier it would be for Sri Lanka’s democracy.

The JVP leader has colourfully told President Gotabaya Rajapaksa what to do with the Commission’s report. The question is what is the President thinking that he can do with the report, its list, and its recommendations? After precipitously withdrawing from the UNHRC resolution on postwar reconciliation, the government seems to be incubating more Sri Lankans to go to Geneva to pitch their grievances against the government before the UNHRC. The Commission on political victimization seems to be setting up everyone in the opposition – from Ranil Wickremesinghe to R. Sampanthan, to seek justice outside Sri Lanka for injustice within Sri Lanka.

Already, a line up of Sri Lankans seeking redress in Geneva seems to be starting. International justice and journalist organizations are reportedly urging the UNHRC to adopt a new resolution asking the Sri Lankan Government to “cease harassment, surveillance and attacks against journalists and law enforcement officers who investigated attacks on journalists,” and to immediately release former CID Director Shani Abeysekara. It will not be long before, if not already, UNHRC will be petitioned for similar resolutions on behalf of long detained human rights lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah, whose only palpable cause for detention without charges is that he is a Muslim. No one knows what the future holds for another Muslim professional, Dr. Mohammad Shafi, or whether he too will be forced to seek redress in Geneva.

 

Withdrawal Effects

We do not know what plans the government had to deal with UNHRC when it unilaterally withdrew from the Council’s resolution co-sponsored by the previous yahapalanaya government. Perhaps, the withdrawal was more for dramatic political effect at home than for strategically dealing with a serious matter in Geneva. One year after, there is no plan to see, and the government has neither results at home nor a new strategic plan to show in Geneva. If anything, the exercise of the political victimization commission will only be an embarrassment for the government delegates in Geneva. On the other hand, the government’s Tamil and Muslim detractors will be citing Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith’s threat of going to international courts, with much approval and for maximum effect.

The vacuum created by the government’s inaction, not to mention unnecessary misdoings, is being filled locally and in Geneva in ways that the government clearly has failed to foresee. Regardless of what position one takes on it, the latest report of UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet on Sri Lanka is an escalation from its predecessors. For the first time, the Commissioner is calling for targeted punitive actions by member states against perpetrators of human rights violations in Sri Lanka. 

As Dayantha Laksiri Mendis has cogently pointed out (The Island, Friday, February 12) a new proposed Geneva Resolution could be “devastating for Sri Lanka if it is based on the Report of the UN High Commissioner for HR.” He goes on to suggest that “it is desirable at this point of time to draft a counter resolution and outline Sri Lanka’s proposals relating to reconciliation and accountability without taking a confrontational approach.” Specifically, Mr. Mendis’ advice is to “draft a counter resolution and identify how we intend to deal with reconciliation and accountability taking into account ground realities, constitutional provisions and the political ramifications.” So, will it be more confrontation or a new approach to reconciliation and accountability? That is the question.

The local withdrawal effects have been quite a few, and the government should be wise to emerging new mutations of opposition and protest and learn to engage with them more positively and unlearn the old ways of counterproductive confrontation. There are signs of both within the government, although the confrontational approach is clearly having the upper hand. The most blatant and ill-advised sign of confrontation is the government’s withdrawal of the high security detail provided to TNA MP M. A. Sumanthiran because he participated in the P2P protest march in violation of a court order. Technically, he was in no such violation, and even if he was it was a matter for the courts and not a government minister to act upon.

As for P2P, the alliterative abbreviation for the five-day march from Pottuvil in the east to Polikandi in the Jaffna Peninsula, it is an instance of local political filling the void of government inaction in the north and east. The purpose of the march was to highlight the yet unresolved issues of missing persons, denial of space and right to commemorate their memory, return of land, the fate of people indefinitely detained without any legal process, and the new concern over the present government’s archaeological expeditions. The march was organized by Tamil political groups with participation by Muslims and plantation Tamils and the highlighting of their concerns. One would hope that the government would have the wisdom to view this development not as a challenge to be put down, but as an opportunity to engage with the people in the north and east and their representatives to address their day to day problems. It is also an opportunity for President Rajapaksa to extend his much vaunted village visitations to include the villages in the two, as SJV Chelvanayakam called them, “deficit provinces” of Sri Lanka.

The antibodies within the government to the virus of confrontation are admittedly weak, but nonetheless deserve due acknowledgment. It is remarkable that the Socialist Alliance leaders are consistently principled on the question of devolution and the continuation of the provincial council system. Equally heartening is the fact that the Lawyers’ Forum for the People held their news conference last week to warn about the ridiculous recommendations of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into political victimization (PCOI), at the Dr. NM Perera Center in Colombo. They could not have found a more appropriate place for it.

To modify what Colvin R de Silva said about his legal luminary colleague S. Nadesan, NM Perera was a unique Sri Lankan who could have talked constitution to any forum anywhere in the world. In Sri Lanka, as Pieter Keuneman said it, NM was the jewel of parliament. And it is too much to expect the current parliament to live up to the high standards that were set by NM and his generation of parliamentarians. What should be worrisome at the same time, is that the current parliament has got itself a majority to enact a new constitution drafted by a committee that has no political or constitutional experience at all. Whether what they will create would be appropriate for a future UNHRC resolution is a different matter that we can only wait to see.



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An air of discontent prevails

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We have had a series of “Avurudhu parties” here in Aotearoa. No shortage of Kavum, Kokis, Athiraha, and even Wali Thalapa. Buffalo curd available locally and of course imported treacle in abundance. Yours truly has assumed the role of a fly on the wall during these festivities and gleaned much information, worth talking about.

First to get on to the Pearl, the talk of the botched-up vaccination plan and running out of the second dose of vaccine. Bizarre permutations as to what would happen if the second dose was not available on time and to who would be press-ganged into getting the “dodgier” types of vaccine from China and Russia, etc. The possible repercussions of getting a second dose of another type of vaccine to the original, the speculations of which left me rather glad that the general populace of Aotearoa has not been vaccinated to date. The talk moved on to the Easter bombings and the recent comments by leaders of the Roman Catholic church as to the possible perpetrators of the attack. Some increasingly obvious conclusions as to those responsible for the planning and funding of same are being reached by those other than some of us who dared to voice our opinions over a year ago! This combined with the increasing and very rapid unpopularity of the person they elected to high office hoping he was genie of the magic lamp type, and the possible reverse of Hong Kong that could take shape on the reclaimed land near the Colombo port, does not bode well for an already dubious future. By reverse of Hong Kong, I mean Hong Kong is trying to hold out as a bastion for democracy, whilst the proposed port city seems to be modeled on the opposite!

Moving on to Aotearoa, the rest of the world seems to be praying for a leader such as our own Jacinda Ardern, but the fat cats of Aotearoa are getting rather sick of her. Those who own multiple houses and have been setting off their interest payments against their taxes due to a loophole in the law that has now been plugged are grumbling. The fact that most young people can’t afford to buy their first houses due to rich people and property developers snapping up all available property, happily funded by banks who are only interested in the bottom line, is of no consequence to them. The fact that this could lead to so much discontent that it could even lead to armed insurrection doesn’t bother them. They seem to have forgotten that we have had almost no deaths and hardly any Covid 19 cases in our community when they say that the lockdowns, we underwent were too excessive and how the economy and business sector has suffered. These very people throng the stadia during the rugby and cricket games and enjoy music concerts with gay abandon. Megacorporations are not happy about the restrictions that are coming on with regard to the use of Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) due to environmental concerns. To top it all off I had a lecture from my 13-year-old daughter about how I am being “led by the nose” by Jacinda Ardern and her propaganda! Where she got that from could only be from her elder brothers whose get rich quick schemes have seen a setback due to certain leftist policies coming in from the Labour government that is in power with an absolute majority.

I laugh to myself and think about other examples I have seen of self-proclaimed pundits never being content with their lot. My education was in a very large Government school. As a perfect and a member of some sports teams we handled the administration and some of the governance of this school. Later in life when my children were attending a private school I got involved in the Executive committee of the PTA of that school. The “problems” faced by the private school and the vast dramas that were involved in trying to solve those problems were laughable when compared to those faced by even us, senior students (a much lower level in the administration) of the Government school.

It led me to believe that people always grumble. They are never content with their lot and there is always someone plugging their case and trying to sow the seeds of discontent among the populace. If those living in Aotearoa, in the present situation and well aware of the chaos and mayhem that is prevailing in the rest of the world are dissatisfied, when will anyone be satisfied? Everything is relative and one should try to step outside the confines of one’s own situation and look at the broad picture. In the words of learned barristers, I rest my case!

This week’s missive will not be complete without a tribute to the memory of Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh. He lived through some of the best and worst times of human existence on this planet and conducted himself impeccably. He showed his humanity and his failings, with a few bloopers down the line but most of those had an undercurrent of humor and couldn’t really be construed as offensive, despite the best efforts of the media and others to make them so. He served as consort to her Majesty the Queen with loyalty and aplomb and he leaves behind an enviable legacy in the world of conservation and youth affairs. It is hoped that his heirs will be up to the task for they face a task which in cricketing terms could be classed as coming into bat after the great Sir Vivian Richards had just scored a century, in his prime. Something very difficult to surpass in skill and entertainment value. Unfortunately, the Duke made just 99. May he rest in peace!

 

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We have much to learn; and emulation is no disgrace

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“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” said Oscar Wilde who, through sharply ironic wit, often proclaimed the absolute truth.

Cassandra quotes him today as she wants to point out how much we in Sri Lanka can benefit by reaping some ideas from the recent royal funeral in Windsor. And she does not excuse herself for placing stress on our mediocrity as juxtaposed with greatness. Nationalists may shout themselves hoarse and bring down a few more majestic trees by decrying the comparison. They can justifiably claim we have a cultural heritage of two and a half millennia but have we remained cultured, following faithfully and correctly the four great religions of the world? A loud NO from Cass, echoed by millions of others. Though Britain’s development of the English language, culture, arts and science was later than our civilization, they outstripped all countries at one time and are again elevated, while we are poised on bankruptcy, with the begging bowl in hand and thugs and thieves as legislators. We in Sri Lanka are mediocre if not degraded against the greatness shown by the Brits in many spheres. This is no Anglophile speaking but a dame who was born when the Brits were leaving us to govern ourselves and grew up with our statesmen doing a jolly good job of it; Sinhalese, Tamil, Burgher, and a few Muslims taking the lead graciously and effectively with complete honesty, to serve the people. They maintained and improved our country so it was admired by others and even some desiring to imitate Ceylon as Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew admitted. And where are we now? Except the Rajapaksa family from Medamulana, wearing rose tinted glasses or with eyes shut by arrogance, and their followers and throngs of sycophants, others see our country and our people for what it, and the people, really are. No need to elaborate.

 

The funeral of Prince Philip juxtaposed against customs here

The low-key funeral observing all Covid-19 restrictions was noteworthy for being utterly devoid of bombast and vainglory. It was dignified and moving. Cass wonders how many of her readers watched the funeral on Saturday 17, late evening here. Prince Philip had detailed all arrangements from the Navy being prominent and other Forces joining in plus the substitution of the gun carriage with a jeep he had helped design. The horse carriage he was adept at racing was stationed close by the entrance to the chapel. He has bequeathed it to the daughter of his youngest son and Sophie; the Wessexes having been very close to him and the Queen.

The entire proceedings proved first and foremost that the royal family observed strict pandemic restrictions like mask wearing and physical distancing. There was no one rule for them and another rule for us, thus proving beyond doubt that England (usually), and more so the Royal Family (definitely) are a country and an institution despising double standards. The monarch decreed and abided by the same regulations that have restricted everyone else in the UK, sharing their fate. An anecdote is relevant here. The Queen learned that lesson long ago. She was 14 when her mother said, after Buckingham Palace was bombed in September 1940, that she “could look the East End in the face now.”

Do all our people follow rules common to everyone? Oh! My heavens NO! There are differentiations according to layers in society. Shangri La would host a party for a hundred when only 30 are allowed to gather. During the height of the first wave when restrictions were strict, SLPP electioneering saw hordes thrust together and baby carrying, patting heads and hand clasping mostly by Mahinda Rajapaksha sans a mask. He has a charismatic bond with the masses but that needed to be curbed. Sajith Premadasa’s meetings were strict on physical distancing and mask wearing.

Only 30 were invited to the extremely solemn and yes, beautiful funeral service at Windsor Chapel. This meant eliminating even close relatives of the Family; but it was done. The Queen sat distanced from her daughter and sons and their spouses. Her now diminutive figure seated alone emphasized the loneliness she must be feeling after a close and successful marriage of 73 years.

This brings to mind our First Ladies. Cass steps out bravely to say that Elina Jayewardene was a gracious lady of restraint and dignity, the only perfect consort so far. Cass remembers Hema Premadasa beating her breast (true) and crying over the coffin of her late husband’s remains – in the true sense of the word – at the Prez’s funeral at Independence Square. There is dignity in restraint of even tears over a death in public. Among the women Heads of the country, the mother completely beat the daughter in dignity and ability.

We Sri Lankan women are now much more restrained in our mourning at funerals. Time was when widows even hoarsely wailed their sorrow, coiled and roiled with grief, and begged the dear departed “To look once more; say one word.” Cass in all the expressed grief of such funerals suppressed her laughter with difficulty. How would it be if the corpse obliged?

The choir at the funeral of Prince Philip was just four – one woman and three men. But their singing resounded in the high vaulted, completely majestic, centuries old church. The lone kilted piper within the Chapel evoked much. The service itself was short, just a Reading, prayers and listing of the multitude of honours bestowed on the Duke of Edinburgh, whose medals and decorations were on display beside the alter. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Dean of Windsor, David Conner conducted the service.

To conclude, the Duke of Edinburgh had advised and laid stipulations on a simple funeral with the necessary pomp and pageantry but low key and very unostentatious. The actual funeral was even more low-key with mourners requested not to be on the streets or place flowers. The latter they did in all the residencies of the Royal Family in appreciation of a man who faithfully stood by the Queen and in his own way gave service to the nation.

Coming back to Free Sri Lanka, we seem to stress on that first word Cass inserted to the country name, even in these dire times of no crowds. And the worst is milling crowds are apparently encouraged to boost popularity of certain VVIPs by sycophants and by the preference/orders of the VVIP himself.

Consider the funeral of Minister Thondaman: crowds in Colombo and all VIPs wishing to register their presence before the body, and then the commotion at the actual cremation Up Country. Consider this year’s Sinhala New Year celebrations which were very dignified at the President’s residence but were inclusive of all traditions and a large gathering in the PM’s home, even raban playing by the Second Lady, and milling crowds outside.

 

Roller coaster ride of the country continues

Cass is relieved she had a topic to write on; namely that we should emulate the manner in which the much admired Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral was conducted, abiding by his stricture of it being low key and the country’s Covid restrictions. Our leaders especially must accept the saying I quoted at the beginning.

The country continues its roller coaster bumpy ride with some crying out the country is being sold to the Chinese, we will be a colony of theirs after they occupy the Port City; and others in remote areas sitting down for days on end, some near 100 days, drawing attention to the human elephant conflict. Much is touted about the Bill relating to the rules to govern the Port City.

Cassandra listens to all, and is somewhat warned and frightened, but cannot comment. However, one matter she speaks about loud and clear. The people must be told the status quo of the pandemic – daily numbers catching the infection and numbers dying. This is not for interest sake or ghoulish appetites; but to know how things are so we relax a wee bit or shut in more stringently. The Covid-19 Task Force, or the Health High Ups (not Pavithra please) should tell the country of the true situ of the pandemic as it holds the country in its grip. We want to know whether the grip is tightening or weakening. Please give us daily statistics. This newspaper announces total numbers. No help. Are we expected to jot down figures, subtract, and give ourselves daily infection and death statistics? No! It goes to prove that other matters – political slanted, ego boosting and economics – are more important than warning, containing the pandemic, and saving lives.

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Do you pump Octane 95 Petrol to your car to get better performance?

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If your answer is YES, this article is for you

Dr. Saliya Jayasekara.

Senior Lecturer Department of Mechanical Engineering
University of Moratuwa

Many passenger vehicles, including three-wheelers and motorcycles are fueled by octane 95 gasoline when octane 92 gasoline (petrol) is available at a lower price. 

Otto engine (petrol engine) is an internal combustion spark ignition engine invented by a German engineer Nicolaus Otto in 1876 and used in most of the light weight vehicles including cars, three wheelers and motor bicycles. Otto engines can burn most of the hydrocarbon fuels (including hydrogen and ethanol) that can mix with air by evaporation (low boiling point). But the combustion characteristics of different hydrocarbons are not the same when burned inside an engine. If an Otto engine is designed for a particular fuel, it would not perform similarly with a fuel that has a different chemical composition.

In a well-tuned Otto engine run on gasoline for which the engine is designed, the combustion of the gasoline (petrol) / air mixture will continue smoothly from the spark plug to the piston head by igniting successive layers of the mixture as shown in Figure 1 (a).

If low grade gasolines are used, the combustion of some of the air/ fuel mixture in the cylinder does not result from propagation of the flame front initiated by the spark plug, but one or more pockets of air/fuel mixture explode (Detonate) outside the envelope of the normal combustion front as shown in Figure 1 (b). This detonation can cause severe damage to the piston and the head of the engine while deteriorating thermal performance of the engine (low efficiency)

Gasoline is a petroleum-derived product comprising a mixture of different hydrocarbons ranging from 4 to 12 carbon atoms in a carbon chain with the boiling point ranging of 30–225°C. It is predominantly a mixture of paraffins, naphthenes, aromatics and olefins. Additives and blending agents are added to improve the performance and stability of gasoline. The engine designers learned that straight-chain paraffin have a much higher tendency to detonate than do branched-chain paraffin.

The tendency of a particular gasoline to detonate is expressed by its octane number (ON). Arbitrarily, tri-methyl-pentane, C8H18 (iso-octane) is assigned an ON of 100, while the straight-chain paraffin n-heptane, C7H16 is given an ON of zero. Hence, a fuel sample with the same anti-detonation quality as that of a mixture containing 90% iso-octane and 10% n-heptane is said to have an ON of 90. Gasoline is made up of a mixture of mostly branched-chain paraffin with suitable additives to give an ON in the range 90 –100. It was also learned through experiments that the ON of a gasoline blends (e.g. gasoline and ethanol) can be calculated by using weighted average ON of each compound. Most importantly, the octane number has nothing to do with the heating value (Calorific value) or the purity of the fuel.

Engine thermodynamics show that engines with a high compression ratio offer higher thermal performance than engines with a low compression ratio. These engines having high compression ratio require high octane gasoline (for example octane 95) to avoid detonation. However, using gasoline having higher octane ratings for the engines designed for a low octane rating (for example, 92 octane) would not provide an additional benefit or loss, other than increased fuel cost.

Therefore, it is important to know the designed octane number of the engine before fueling (refer owner’s manual of the vehicle). For example: the minimum ON requirement for two and three wheelers in south Asia is 87 (The World Bank). Most of the Toyota, Honda and Nissan models including hybrid engines recommend 92 octane gasoline.

Dr. Saliya Jayasekara received the B. Sc. degree in mechanical engineering from university of Moratuwa in 2001, and the M.Sc. and PhD degrees in decentralized power generation systems from Royal institute of technology Sweden and the Melbourne University Australia in 2004 and 2013 respectively. He has well over 13 years of national and international experience in design and installation of centralised/decentralised power plants, boilers (utility/package) and heat exchangers. Currently he is serving as a senior lecture at University of Moratuwa, a visiting lecturer and fellow at Deakin University Australia.

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