By Saman Indrajith
Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris says Sri Lanka has gone out of its way to refrain from interfering in the domestic affairs of other nations and expect non-interference by other nations in the country’s internal affairs.
Participating in the third reading debate on Budget 2021, the minister said on Wednesday (25) that Sri Lanka entertained expectations that other nations would respect without question the right of Parliament and the people of Sri Lanka to determine the country’s own destiny.
Prof Peiris said: “As we debate the foreign policy in this august assembly, circumstances in the world at large are certainly not propitious. COVID-19 has proven to be a calamity. There are many lessons to be learnt from this situation. One of the most important lessons is that no nation, no single country, no culture has a monopoly on wisdom. Nobody can claim to know all the right answers. The contemporary experience of the world demonstrates convincingly that there is no room whatsoever for arrogance, bigotry and self-righteousness. Today, more than at any other time in our history if we survive this crisis at all it can only happen on the basis of humility with spontaneous sharing of experiences and readiness to work hand in hand in a spirit of comradeship and solidarity.
“The cornerstones of the foreign policy of our country are crystal clear. They were set out with the exemplary clarity by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at his inauguration in the hallowed precincts of the Ruwanweliseya in Anuradhapura. We seek friendship with all nations. We go out of our way to refrain from interfering in the domestic affairs of other nations. At the same time reciprocally we entertain expectations that others will respect without question the right of Parliament and the people of Sri Lanka to determine our own destiny. This is the rationale underpinning the statement made by Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena at the Human Rights Council in Geneva barely three months after the assumption of office by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The government Minister Gunawardena unequivocally rejected the resolutions of the Human Rights Council 30/1, 34/1, and 40/1 respectively of 2015, 2017 and 2019. These resolutions were not only supported but also co-sponsored by the Yahapalana government of that time. This is scarcely believable when one considers the content and the impact of these resolutions. Undisputedly those resolutions dealt with matters which were within the purview of national institutions in Sri Lanka. They required the re-arrangement of Sri Lanka’s constitutional provisions, the restructuring of our armed forces and police, the repeal of major legislations such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act. These resolutions also empowered foreign and commonwealth judges to adjudicate on grave allegations relating to war crimes which were leveled against the armed forces of Sri Lanka. That is the effect of the operative paragraph six of the resolution of 2015. This was in blatant violation of the supreme law of this country – the constitution. This abdication of self-respect was further compounded by the acceptance by that government of the obligation to report from time to time to the human rights council and to abide by the judgment of that council in respect of the adequacy of the progress that had been made in respect of the implementation of these resolutions.
“The entire edifice of the UN system is based upon one sacred principle. That is the principle relating to sovereign equality of nations. That principle is illustrated amply by the seminal instruments of the UN system such as its Charter, the Declaration of Human Rights and jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice and its predecessor the permanent Court of International Justice. All countries that are members of the international community be they large or small, affluent or not so affluent, are equal in the eyes of the United Nations system – equal in intrinsic worth and equal in inherent value. There can be no discrimination whatsoever. This is why there can be no scope whatsoever for talking down or hectoring and for patronizing attitudes. This is not to be misunderstood. Counsel from friends and sharing of experiences, traditions that are made in a spirit of goodwill and friendship are always welcome. They are healthy. But what absolutely ruled out are judgmental postures in respect of the internal decision making processes of countries dealing with matters which are within their purview. The concept of equality is basic to the entire UN system.
“There is another principle that is equally important. That is the principle of fairness. This is an instinct that is embedded in human nature and it represents a component of all systems of law and justice and indeed of all civilizations since time immemorial. One must look at both sides of an issue. Evidence has to be weighed in the balance and conclusions must be arrived at objectively without bias or prejudgment. From that standpoint very sadly the people of Sri Lanka have good reasons to entertain grave misgivings. Evidence of the highest value has been deliberately disregarded if that evidence is favourable to the armed forces of Sri Lanka. A clear example of that consists of military dispatches by trusted members of foreign countries reporting confidentially to their own capitals. These have been totally ignored. These dispatches have been ferreted out with great difficulty. As pointed out by Minister Dinesh Gunawardena the persons of eminence such as Lord Michael Naseby both within the House of Lords and outside. There were also very critical findings by Queen’s Counsel of the eminence, Sri Desmond Silva, Sir Geoffrey Nice, Rodney Dickson. These findings completely exonerated the armed forces of Sri Lanka from any form of culpability of guilt with regard to war crimes under principles of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. This body of evidence was there and it was never taken into account. It was deliberately ignored. This was done in the lofty name of human rights. But it constituted a cynical violation of natural justice and the rules of fairness both in its substantive and its procedural dimensions.
“Sri Lanka is a country with proud history and a cherished heritage. Reconciliation, ethnic harmony, and transitional justice are not concepts by any means alien to us. We have been nurtured throughout the ages by a rich and vibrant cultural tradition by each of these areas. I want to stress that the mechanisms we have to evolve, if we aspire to any measure of success, must necessarily derive from the aspirations of our people. This is because of the importance of context with regard to these matters. The government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, fortified by an unrivalled mandate obtained from the people of this country at both the presidential and parliamentary elections, has an unflinching resolve to address these issues at earliest. The government has both the moral and legal right and the space to do so. We ask for empathy and understanding as we move forward in partnership with international forces to assure our people a stable and a prosperous future.”
Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’
By Shamindra Ferdinando
State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.
“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.
In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.
Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.
Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”
Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.
Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.
Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.
Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.
Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.
Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre
By Norman Palihawadane
Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.
The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.
DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.
A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.
All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments
The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.
The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.
At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.
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