by Rajan Philips
The 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that started proceedings on August 13, is already remarkable for two new developments. The first is the enabling of the UN High Commissioner to update in real time the charge sheet against the Sri Lankan government. This is not due to any arrogation of powers on the part of the High Commissioner, but is entirely the result of the government forever piling on its past follies with new ones. The indictments in Geneva are becoming serial only because the government’s misdoings in law and order are already serial.
The second development is more hilarious than serious, and it is about competing letters that are reported to have been sent to the High Commissioner by Tamil political personas. News about the letter writing tamasha was restricted to the Tamil media, until DBS Jeyaraj brought it out to laugh out loud in the open. It is difficult to project the future trajectory of the new letter writing politics, but there are plenty of political tamashas from the past that will fit the present episode into a familiar pre-war pattern.
High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s opening statement on Sri Lanka has more references to the current goings-on than any past occurrences. Early In her third paragraph, Dr. Bachelet alludes to the “corrosive impact that militarization and the lack of accountability continue to have on fundamental rights, civic space, democratic institutions, social cohesion and sustainable development.” In the very next, fourth paragraph, she takes on the “new state of emergency” and expresses concern that “emergency regulations are very broad and may further expand the role of the military in civilian functions.” Then the sting, “the Office will be closely monitoring their application.”
There you have it. The monitoring of the application of Emergency Regulations is now on the UNHRC radar. It is not that UNHRC is not going crash the sky down on the Rajapaksa presidency, but so long as the Sri Lankan file remains open in Geneva the list of charges and indictments against the Rajapaksa government will keep growing. The Commissioner’s statement lists all the recent transgressions of the government in addition to declaring Emergency Rule.
The highlights include excessive force on peaceful protesters, and their arrests and detention in quarantine centres; continuing deaths in police custody besides torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials; the suspension of the case against former Navy commander Wasantha Karannagoda for the enforced disappearances of 11 men in 2008 and 2009; and the Presidential pardon of Duminda Silva, who was convicted for murder.
The unenviable task of defending the indefensible fell to the new Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Prof. GL Peiris (GLP), who has returned to his old portfolio after a ragged stint as Minister of Education. He had little to say about the current goings-on and not too much to say about the positive achievements of the government. He of course rejected the suggestion of any “external mechanism to investigate issues in Sri Lanka.”
There may never come a time when an external mechanism gets established in Sri Lanka. But talking about it will never end until Sri Lanka has a government that finds the will and resources to put its own house of disorder into order. If there has been any lingering illusion that the present government may yet rise up to this task, that was blown away, yet again, by the thuggish antics of State Minister Lohan Ratwatte in the Anuradhapura Prisons.
Apparently, he held the portfolio for Prison Reforms and Prisoners Rehabilitation, and Gem and Jewellery Industries – a very ‘methodical’ (the term President GR has used to explain the logic behind his cabinet assignments) combination of duties. After the Anuradhapura fiasco, Mr. Ratwatte remains State Minister of Gem and Jewelry Related Industries, minus Prison Reforms and Prisoners Rehabilitation. He half-resigned after Anuradhapura and the President accepted the half-resignation without fully firing him. Talk about domestic mechanisms!
Mastermind and the Scapegoat
Not surprisingly, the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings have also become a permanent item of concern for UNHRC. The Commissioner expressed solidarity with the victims and religious leaders and their cry for truth, justice, and full accounting for the tragedy. She also expressed the Commission’s deep concern about the prolonged detention of Lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah (now over) 16 months under the Prevention of Terrorism Act without trial. Similarly, Ahnaf Jazeem, a teacher and poet, has been detained without any trial since May 2020.
The case of Lawyer Hizbullah has been on UNHRC’s radar for some time. And the Sri Lankan government took note of it and referred to it during a media briefing in Colombo, on September 10, by Defence Secretary, General Kamal Gunaratne. The briefing became a headlined story and General Gunaratne reportedly appeared at the briefing “flanked by Navy Chief VA Nishantha Ulugetenne and IGP C.D. Wickramaratne.” The principal purpose of the meeting was to ‘decry’ alleged efforts by interested parties to implicate the President in the Easter bombings.
Towards the end of the briefing, General Gunaratne brought up the arrest of Lawyer Hizbullah and the fact that “the Lawyer’s arrest had been raised at the highest level at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council.” He went to assert that “in spite of representations made to the UNHRC on behalf of the lawyer, they had irrefutable evidence regarding the detainee’s involvement in Easter carnage.” The question is if there is even plausible, let alone irrefutable, evidence why could not Mr. Hizbullah be put on trial?
Those who follow this matter in Sri Lanka and quite passionately outside Sri Lanka say that there is not even a shred of evidence against Mr. Hizbullah. And government lawyers in the Attorney General’s Department have lately gone quiet on the matter. Earlier one of them even described Mr. Hizbullah as a behind-the-scenes terrorist operator during a court hearing. If government lawyers could be so unkindly indifferent to the plight of one of their colleagues and a lawyer of some repute, what fairness could others expect from their system of justice.
To be clear, the reason why Defence Secretary General Gunaratne brought up the arrest of Hizbullah at the media briefing likely has nothing to do with prosecuting the long detained lawyer. It also may not have been intended as a rebuke to the UNHRC. A plausible, not necessarily irrefutable, reason could be that he wanted to prop up the detained lawyer as a scapegoat for Easter bombings to divert attention from the gossipy search for the ‘real’ mastermind behind it.
The attempted diversion would seem to have backfired. You cannot scapegoat Hizbullah any worse than he has been hurt so far. But the tag of mastermind may have escaped the gossipy underworld and got stuck in the respectable public domain. To be fair, General Gunaratne did not use the term ‘mastermind’; other Rajapaksa supporters did, but only to ‘decry’, just as the General did, the mastermind allegation that was mostly social media gossip. Not anymore. And no one can ask for proof of any kind, since the government itself is not interested in proving or disproving anything about the Easter bombings but for His Eminence, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith.
How far the Cardinal will go in his search for truth and accountability for the Easter carnage is not a matter for mortal minds. He seems to have indicated that he is prepared to go to Geneva via the Vatican. And he has demonstrated to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa that a Sri Lankan Head of Government or State can go to Italy or Rome, or New York, as much as they want, but to visit the Vatican, they will need a visa from the Local Church. But there is more than a stroke of irony in the Cardinal’s search for truth and accountability through the western medium of Human Rights.
“Monavada me manawa himikam (What are these human rights)?,” Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith haughtily asked in a sermon at St. Matthew’s Church, Ekala, in September 2018, as the Journalist Sanjeewa Fernando has poignantly reminded us (Daily Mirror, 15 September 21). I wrote about it then, with a picture of Elanor Roosevelt holding the English translation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, because the Cardinal’s sermon and reports about it hit Sri Lanka when the UN was celebrating the 70th anniversary of the universal declaration. This was also when Ranil Wickremesinghe and Mangala Samaraweera were being savaged by nationalists for co-sponsoring the infamous UNHRC Resolution 30/01 in Geneva. Now no one asks, what are these human rights? If at all, the question could be, who are you to ask?
Resolution 30/01 has now grown to Resolution 46/01 and the ‘progress’ in between has been less than a handful going by what Minister Peiris listed as his government’s achievements in his address to UNHRC. Included in his list are the work of agencies that were established through the efforts of the late Mangala Samaraweera in the face of opposition by the SLPP and others. Despite earlier threats to dismantling these agencies (The Office on Missing Persons (OMP), The Office for Reparations (OR), and The Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR), the government is now taking credit for their work. But UNHRC resolutions are not going to end and what has become a bi-annual UN audit on the government is likely to continue indefinitely. The government’s frustrations are obvious even though it has far worse things to worry about.
There is also growing frustration of a different kind in Tamil political circles and that seems to have been the trigger behind the recent letter politics involving Tamil MPs and ex-MPs. In a matter of weeks, three letters are reported to have been sent to High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet – all three letters reportedly dealing with developments in Sri Lanka affecting the Tamils after the Commission’s March 2021 Resolution 46/01. And all three letters have been sent by people associated with the TNA, with the sole exception of CV Wigneswaran, the former Chief Minister and now MP, who is no longer with the TNA. He reportedly signed the first letter along with six current and former MPs belonging to TELO and PLOTE organizations.
TELO and PLOTE are the smaller constituent parties of the TNA along with the dominant ITAK (aka Federal Party), and the purpose of the first letter was to pre-empt a letter that was to be sent on behalf of the TNA and was being prepared by TNA leader R. Sampanthan. The TNA leadership was obviously miffed by being upstaged by its smaller partners, and eventually sent its own letter under Mr. Sampanthan’s singular signature. The tamasha did not end with it. A rogue third letter was also sent allegedly by nine dissidents – all belonging to Mr. Sampanthan’s ITAK organization, who took exception to the TNA leader quoting (in his letter) a UN Experts Panel report that associated not only the Government of Sri Lanka but also the LTTE with potential war crimes and crimes against humanity.
It might be more challenging to keep pace with the egotistical, if not petty, goings-on in the world of Sri Lankan Tamil politics than to monitor the human rights violations of the government of Sri Lanka. Even the UNHRC will be constrained to focus on the latter and ignore the former. The irony is that the human rights situation in Sri Lanka may have become a permanently self-sustaining matter for the UNHRC in Geneva. And it will likely keep running its course, with resolution after resolution, even if there is no corresponding change on the ground in Sri Lanka. And nothing can change in Sri Lanka with a government that is increasingly going wayward, on the one hand, and with Tamil political leaders, on the other hand, who can do nothing more than write competing but redundant letters.
Dangerous rail travel by tourists: Why not create an opportunity?
Before the Covid Pandemic hit Sri Lanka, there was some debate and concern voiced about tourists standing at the door ways of trains and even hanging out, while the train is moving. Some pictures of a young couple hanging out of an upcountry train, while clutching on to the side rails, went viral, on social media, with debates of the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ reaching fever pitch. While certainly this is a dangerous practice, not to be condoned, If we ‘think out of the box’ could there be a way to make this seemingly popular, though dangerous pastime among some tourists, into an opportunity to be exploited. This paper aims to explore these options pragmatically.
By Srilal Miththapala
Social media, and even some of the more conventional media, were all a-buzz before the CoVid crisis, when some pictures of a young tourist couple appeared, hanging out of a Sri Lankan upcountry train in gay abandon, savouring the exciting moment. There were hot debates about this form of ‘promotion of Sri Lanka’, with many people talking about the dangers of such a practice, and that it would bring negative publicity for Sri Lanka if something dangerous were to happen. This part of the train ride, along the upcountry route, is arguably one of the most scenic train routes in the world.
And quite rightly so, I guess. I myself was one who joined the chorus who vehemently spoke against this.
However thinking out of the box, I got thinking – Can we create an opportunity here ?
The ‘new’, experience and thrill seeking tourist of today
There is no doubt that there is a new segment of discerning, younger, experience and adventure seeking tourists, emerging and travelling all over the world. They are very internet and social media savvy, seeking more adventurous and exciting experiences, and are usually very environmentally conscious. They are most often seen exploring ‘off-the-beaten-track’ holidays, planned out individually according to their needs and wants.
Through the ages, mankind has been pushing the limits of exploration: We have conquered land, sea and space. We have discovered many hitherto unknown wonders of our planet with our unabated thirst for knowledge.
Tourists are no different. To get away from their daily stressful life, they seek something different, even venturing into hostile or dangerous places to experience the excitement of discovery and the feeling of adventure. No longer is a clean hotel room with a range of facilities, good food and some sunshine good enough to a tourist.
According to booking.com, the yearning for experiences, over material possessions, continues to drive travellers’ desire for more incredible and memorable trips: 45% of travellers have a bucket list in mind. Most likely to appear on a bucket list are thrill seekers wanting to visit a world famous theme park, travellers looking to go on an epic rail journey or visiting a remote or challenging location. ()
Drive-reduction theory in psychology postulates that one is never in a state of complete fulfilment, and thus, there are always drives that need to be satisfied. Humans and other animals voluntarily increase tension by exploring their unknown environments, self-inducing stress and moving out of their comfort zones. This gives them a sense of achievement and self-satisfaction. ()
Therefore, unknown thrills, adventures and the ‘adrenaline rush’ does attract travellers.
What have other countries done ?
As mentioned many countries are developing unique , memorable and thrilling experiences into their product offering.
A few are described below
Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge
Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge
Small groups are taken on a walk along the massive, arched steel structured Sydney Harbour Bridge . The dramatic 360 deg. view from the bridge, 135 meters above ground, of the harbour, and the nearby Sydney Opera house, while being completely exposed to the elements, is, indeed, a rare and thrilling experience.
Coiling Dragon Cliff skywalk, Zhangjiajie, China
In the northwest of China’s Hunan province, visitors can take a leisurely stroll along the walkway attached to Tianmen Mountain — 4,700 feet above the ground.
The glass-bottomed walkway is more than 300 feet long and only about five feet wide, providing an experience that is said to be exhilarating and frightening .
The CN tower Edge walk, Canada
The tallest attraction in Toronto lets people stand right at the edge of the CN tower and lean over. It is the world’s highest full circle, hands-free walk on a 1.5 m wide ledge encircling the top of the Tower’s main pod, 356m , 116 storeys above the ground. EdgeWalk is a Canadian Signature Experience and an Ontario Signature Experience.
A variety of unique trekking opportunities, in Rwanda and Uganda, allow you trek into the jungle to gaze into the eyes of the Gorillas in their natural habitat. It’s a completely unique African safari experience. This moment leaves a lasting and unforgettable impression, coming so close to this majestic wild animal.
These are just a few. So there are already a range of unique, visitor attractions that thrill tourists the world over.
The CN tower Edge walk, Canada
Safety – the one overriding condition
All these thrill seeking, and seemingly dangerous tourist attractions have one common denominator that is never ever compromised – Safety.
Safety is of paramount importance in all these activities and are subject to stringent checks and review, periodically. All personnel who guide and instruct these thrill seeking tourists are well trained and disciplined.
Any equipment that is used for safety, such as harnesses and safety belts, are designed to the highest standards and are periodically tested. Nothing is left to chance and if there is the slightest semblance of danger, due to any unforeseen environmental conditions, the attraction is closed down temporarily. ( e.g when there are strong winds the Sydney Harbour bridge walk is suspended).
Such safety measures are an imperative necessity, because any unforeseen accident can lead to serious and grave consequences of litigation and even closing down of the attraction.
So what about our train ride ?
The attraction of the Sri Lankan upcountry train ride (most often between Nanu Oya and Ella – the most scenic section) is the fact that a tourist can stand ‘on the footboard’ of the open train carriageway door, and feel the cool breeze against their faces while absorbing the beautiful hill country and tea plantations. This is something most western tourists cannot do back home, where all train carriageway doors are automatically shut when the train starts moving.
In fact I am told that some Tour Agents in Australia are specifically asked by tourists to arrange this ‘experience’ for them, when booking their tour.
So why not be creative and make a proper attraction out of this ?
Cannot we modify one carriage to have an open ‘balcony’ along the side where a person can stand ‘outside’ and ‘feel the open environment’? It could be fitted with proper safety rails and each person can be anchored to the carriage with a harness (like what is used in other attractions where the interaction is open to the elements). A special charge can be levied for this experience.
One factor that favours the safety aspect is that during traversing this stretch, due to the steep gradient, the train travels at a ‘snail’s pace’, unlike in foreign countries where speeds could reach 80-100 kms per hour.
This attraction could be used as an income generator for the Railway Department as tourists wanting to experience this ‘thrill’ can be charged a fee, for a specific time period that they could use the facility.
Although this may seem simplistic, in reality there may be several logistical issues that need to be addressed.
But, if there is a will, and the different departments involved can all see the opportunity, and get on to the same ‘wavelength’, cutting through the inordinate bureaucracy that usually prevails, then surely it would not be at all difficult.
But the overall point in this entire treatise, is that we have to ‘think out of the box’ and grasp at all possible opportunities that are available, especially as we gradually open up for tourists after the pandemic. We are quite used to ranting and raving about all the shortfalls that prevail.. But there’s so much that still can be done if there are a few motivated and dedicated people who can get together.
Tourism after all is really ‘show businesses’ and without creativity, panache, actors and showmanship, what is show business?
Remebering Prophet Muhammad’s legacy – ECOLOGICAL WELFARE
By Dr M Haris Deen
COVID-19 came and as yet remains, at the same time the world is plagued with another serious issue, that of global warming and other ecological disturbances. While remembering the birth of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) let us recall the contributions he made towards the applying Islamic principles of Islamic welfare towards protection of the environment.
The Prophet of Islam (May peace be upon him) advocated during his lifetime the stringent application of Islamic principles in respect of ecological welfare. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) taught his followers to live on less, neither to be extravagant nor to be miserly and to protect animal and plant life and to worship the Creator by being merciful to His creations. He forbade the killing of any animal unless out of necessity to feed the people. Al Albani reports that the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “If the Hou r (meaning the day of Resurrection) is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it”. Imam Bukhari reported the Prophet (Peace be on him) as having said that “if a Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is regarded as a charitable gift (sadaqah) for him”. It is also reported in Ibn Majah that once the Prophet (peace be upon him) happened to pass by his companion Sa’ad (May God be pleased with him) and found him performing ablution (wudu) next to a river and questioned him “Sa;ad what is this squandering? And when Sa’ad asked in return “can there be an idea if squandering (israf) in ablution?’ the Prophet replied “yes, even if you are by the side of a flowing river”.
In another Hadith narrated by Ibn Majah, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Beware of the three acts that cause you to be cursed: (1) relieving yourself in shaded places (that people utilise), in a walkway or in a watering place”.
The Qur’an in chapter 56 verses 68 to 70 states “consider the water which you drink. Was it you that brought it down from the rain cloud or We? If We had pleased, We could make it bitter”.
Prophet’s companion Abu Dhar Al Ghaffari (May Allah be pleased with him) reported the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity” and in another Hadith authenticated by Albani, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “the believer is not he who eats his fill while his neighbour is hungry”. The Prophet further cautioned as reported by Tirmadhi and Ibn Majah that “Nothing is worst than a person who fills his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be : one third for his food, one third for his liquids and one third for his breath”.
Imam Bukhari reported an amazing story narrated by the Prophet (on whom be peace) that “A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way, there he came across a well. He went down the well, quenched his thirst and came out. Meanwhile, he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself. “This dog is suffering from thirst as I did, “So, he went down the well again, filled his shoe with water, held it in his mouth and watered the dog. Allah appreciated him for that deed and forgave him”. The companions inquired, “O Allah’s Messenger, is there a reward for us in serving the animals?” He replied: “There is a reward for saving any living being”.
Animals have a huge role in the ecological welfare system. The tenets of the Shariah Law towards animal rights make it obligatory for any individual to take care of crippled animals, to rescue strays and to guard birds’ nests of eggs’.
Sal Allahu Ala Muhammad Sal Allahu Alaihi wa Sallam. May Allah Shower His Choicest Blessings on the Soul of Prophet Muhammad.
Of course, I know for sure fans of the Gypsies, and music lovers, in general, not only in Sri Lanka but around the world, as well, would be thrilled to know that this awesome outfit hasn’t called it a day.
After the demise of the legendary Sunil Perera, everyone thought that the Gypsies would disband.
Perhaps that would have been in the minds of even the members, themselves, as Sunil was not only their leader, and frontline vocalist, but also an icon in the music scene – he was special in every way.
Many, if not all, thought that the Gypsies, without Sunil, would find the going tough and that is because they all associated the Gypsies with Sunil Perera.
Sunil receiving The Island Music Award for ‘Showbiz Personality of the Year’ 1990
It generally happens, with certain outfits, where the rest of the members go unnoticed and the spotlight is only on one particular member – the leader of the group.
Some of the names that come to mind are Gabo and The Breakaways (Gabo) Misty (Rajitha), Darktan (Alston Koch), Upekkha (Manilal), Jetliners (Mignonne), Sohan & The X-Periments (Sohan), and the list is quite lengthy….
Yes, the Gypsies will continue, says Piyal Perera, and he mapped out to us what he has in mind.
They will take on a new look, he said, adding that in no way would they try to recreate the era of the Gypsies with Sunil Perera..
“That era is completely gone and we will never ever look to bringing that era into our scene again.
“My brother was a very special individual and his place in the band can never ever be replaced.”
Will Sunil join this scene…at Madame Tussauds!
Piyal went to say that the Gypsies will return to the showbiz scene, in a different setting.
“In all probability, we may have a female vocalist, in the vocal spotlight, and our repertoire will not be the songs generally associated with Sunil and the Gypsies.
“It will be a totally new approach by the new look Gypsies,” said Piyal.
In the meanwhile, Piyal also mentioned that they are working on the possibility of having an image of the late Sunil Perera at the Madame Tussauds wax museum, in London.
He says they have been asked, by the authorities concerned, to submit a PowerPoint presentation of Sunil’s achievements, and that they are working on it.
It’s, indeed, a wonderful way to keep Sunil’s image alive.
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