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Govt, will have to show results to ensure closure

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By Jehan Perera

 

There are two aspects to the process unfolding in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva at the present time. The first is the outcome of the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet which was released on January 27.  The second will be the resolution of the UN Human Rights Council itself which is in the process of being finalized, and of which a draft is available.  It is this latter document that will be debated in the final days of the 46th session of the UNHRC later this month.  This will be the document that sets out the expectation of the UNHRC in terms of implementation by Sri Lanka.

So far it has been the report of the UN High Commissioner that has taken the centre stage of public attention in the country and being subjected to severe criticism by the government.  Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena has appealed to the member states of the UNHRC to reject the report and impending resolution as a “pure political move” against the country and asking that the issue be brought to a closure. The report arranges and sets out facts from a perspective that indicates that Sri Lanka is heading in the direction of contracting space for political freedom, weakening of checks and balances in governance and increased conflict between ethnic and religious communities.  The picture painted is a bleak one, and includes incidents such as the detention of lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah for nine months without formal charge.

However, even more serious than the opinion expressed about the negative direction that the country is taking are the recommendations given in the UN High Commissioner’s report. They are potentially calamitous ranging from freezing of assets, travel bans and targeted sanctions against public officials suspected of human rights violations and referral of such cases to international tribunals including the International Criminal Court and an invitation to individual countries to take action under the principle of universal jurisdiction. 

 

DRAFT RESOLUTION

The government has strongly refuted the UN report as being biased and over critical of the state of governance in the country. Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawaredena said, “Sri Lanka rejects the High Commissioner’s Report which has unjustifiably broadened its scope and mandate further, incorporating many issues of governance and matters that are essentially domestic for any self-respecting, sovereign country.”   Over 20 countries have spoken against this report including China and Russia that possess veto powers in the UN Security Council which is the UN body authorized to permit international punitive actions. The problem is that the report opens the door to punitive actions by individual countries over which the countries that have pledged support to Sri Lanka will be unable to veto.

Another problem from the government’s perspective is that the UNHRC resolution had drawn inspiration from the report of the UN High Commissioner and has both observations and recommendations that are drawn from it.  For instance, the draft resolution accepts the anticipated trajectory of Sri Lanka’s future political direction as presented by the UN High Commissioner’s report.  There is a negative anticipation in this regard “over emerging trends over the past year, which represent clear early warning signs of a deteriorating human rights situation in Sri Lanka, including the accelerating militarization of civilian government functions, erosion of the independence of the judiciary and key institutions responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights, ongoing impunity and political obstruction of accountability for crimes and human rights violations in “emblematic cases”, policies that adversely affect the right to freedom of religion or belief, surveillance and intimidation of civil society and shrinking democratic space, arbitrary detentions, allegations of torture,” among others.

However, on the positive side the recommendations for action that are likely to be made in the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka are achievable ones on which action has already been taken in several instances.  These are recommendations that the government can take on board and implement because they are meant to ensure a system of governance that is more just, law abiding and democratic for its multi ethnic, multi religious, multicultural and plural polity as described by Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena at the UNHRC session in Geneva in February 2020.

The government is in a position to comply with most of recommendations that are in the draft resolution.  These are as follows:

a.Support the work of the Office on Missing Persons and the Office for Reparations and allow them to proceed with interim relief measures for affected vulnerable families and resolve the many cases of enforced disappearances so that families of the disappeared can know their fate and whereabouts;

b.Set up a comprehensive accountability process for all violations and abuses of human rights committed in Sri Lanka, including those by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, as highlighted in the OISL report of September 2015

c.Deal with the prevailing marginalisation and discrimination suffered by the Muslim community, and that the Government of Sri Lanka’s decision to mandate cremations for all those deceased from COVID-19 has prevented Muslims and members of other religions from practicing their own burial religious rites;

d.Ensure the prompt, thorough and impartial investigation and, if warranted, prosecution of all allegations of gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law including for longstanding emblematic cases; and ensure reversal of non judicial closure of cases involving rights violation or major crimes;

e.Ensure the effective and independent functioning of the National Human Rights Commission, the Office on Missing Persons, and the Office for Reparations;

f.Ensure a safe and enabling environment in which civil society can operate free from hindrance, insecurity, and reprisals;

g.Review the Prevention of Terrorism Act and ensure that any legislation to combat terrorism complies with its international human rights and humanitarian law obligations;

h.Foster religious freedom and pluralism by promoting the ability of all religious communities to manifest their religion, and to contribute openly and on an equal footing to society;

i.Continue to cooperate with special procedures mandate holders, including responding formally to outstanding requests and obtain advice and technical assistance on implementing the above-mentioned steps.

ACTION TAKEN

It is to be noted that the government has already taken preliminary action with regard to several of the recommendations including those dealing with the Office on Missing Persons and Office for Reparations. It has also acted fully with regard to another one of the recommendation in the draft resolution.  This is with regard to the issue of enforced cremation of Covid victims.   Even though ten months late, the government’s decision to permit the burial of Covid victims in the face of strong internal opposition needs to be commended.  It is likely to have a positive bearing on the discussions in the forthcoming discussions in the UNHRC, where the issue of enforced Covid cremation was a matter of censure. This decision will also contribute to make Muslims citizens of Sri Lanka feel that the government has finally responded to their deeply felt sentiments.   Likewise, the government needs to be responsive to the Tamil citizens of Sri Lanka, their political aspirations and in particular whose grievances that continue to remain unaddressed eleven years after the end of the war. 

It appears that the government is prepared to take action with regard to yet another one of the recommendations in the draft resolution.  President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has expressed his desire to meet with the families of missing persons.  This is a highly visible group of people who have been protesting for years that they want more information about their family members who went missing during the war and its immediate aftermath. Their unresolved grievances have been internationalized due to the inability and unwillingness of successive governments to offer a solution to this issue. Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof Jayanath Colombage has been quoted as saying that the president “wants to listen to them identify their actual grievances, rather than what politicians might say and give them a solution.  It will happen very soon.”   

The indications are that the resolution on Sri Lanka and its post-war reconciliation process will be presented by a group of likeminded countries with majority support in the UNHRC.  The government is in a position to agree to most of these recommendations that advance the rights and privileges of Sri Lankan citizens, strengthen principles of good governance and are in keeping with the parameters of Sri Lankan sovereignty. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission that the government appointed in 2010 in the face of a previous UNHRC resolution came up with a factual record and analysis that won both national and international recognition and some of its recommendations were adopted by the government. But more remains to be done.   Instead of trying to mobilize countries in the UNHRC who themselves have questionable human rights track records to reject the resolution, the acceptance of those sections of the resolution that advance the quality of life of the Sri Lankan people and their human rights could take the country in a direction in which there will be no need for future resolutions by the UNHRC.



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Mindset changes and the dangerous ‘Religious War’ rhetoric

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Israeli border police on patrol at the Damascus Gate in occupied East Jerusalem (Pic courtesy Al Jazeera)

Nothing could be more vital at present in the conflict and war zones of the world than positive mindset changes and the wish of the humanist is likely to be that such momentous developments would quickly come to pass in particularly the Middle East. Because in the latter theatre almost every passing hour surfaces problems that call for more than average peace-making capabilities for their resolution.

For instance, the Islamic Supreme Fatwa Council in Palestine has reportedly warned of a ‘Religious War’ in the wake of recent allegations that Israel is planning to prevent the Muslim community from having access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem in the month of Ramadan. If true, this development is likely to further compound the Gaza violence and take it along an even more treacherous track. This is on account of the fact that religious passions, if not managed effectively, could prove most volatile and destructive.

As pointed out in this column previously, peace movements on both sides of the main divide in the region would need to quickly activate themselves, link-up and work as one towards the de-escalation of the conflict. What the Middle East and the world’s other war zones urgently need are persons and groups who are endowed with a pro-peace mind set who could work towards an elimination of the destructive attitudes that are instrumental in keeping the conflicts concerned raging.

This could prove an uphill task in the Middle East in particular. For, every passing minute in the region is seeing a hardening of attitudes on both sides in the wake of issues growing out of the violence. Accordingly, if peace-making is to be contemplated by the more moderate sections in the conflict, first, we need to see a lull in the violence. Achieving such a de-escalation in the violence has emerged as a foremost need for the region.

Right now, the Israeli state is showing no signs of climbing down from its position of seeing a decisive end to the Hamas militants and their support bases and going forward this policy stance could get in the way of de-escalating the violence even to a degree.

On the other hand, it would not be realistic on the part of the world community to expect a mindset change among Israeli government quarters and their supporters unless and until the security of the Israeli state is ensured on a permanent basis. Ideally, the world should be united on the position that Israel’s security is non-negotiable; this could be considered a veritable cornerstone of Middle East peace.

Interestingly, the Sri Lankan state seems to have come round to the above view on a Middle East peace settlement. Prior to the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime taking this stance, this columnist called repeatedly over the past few months in this commentary, in fact since October 7th last year, for the adoption of such a policy. That is, a peace settlement that accords priority to also the security needs of the Israelis. It was indicated that ensuring the security and stability of the Palestinians only would fall short of a comprehensive settlement of the Middle East imbroglio.

However, in the case of the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime, the above change in policy seems to be dictated almost wholly by economic survival considerations rather than by any well thought out principle or a sense of fairness to all relevant stakeholders.

For example, close on the heels of the regime playing host to the Israeli Transport Minister recently, it accorded a reverential welcome to the Iranian Foreign Minister as well. From the viewpoint of a small country struggling to survive, this is the way to go, since it needs every morsel of economic assistance and succour.

However, if permanent peace is to have a chance in the Middle East it would need to be based on the principle of justice to all the main parties to the conflict. Seen from this point of view, justice and fairness should be accorded to the Palestinians as well as the Israelis. Both parties, that is, should live within stable states.

The immediate need, though, is to at least bring a lull to the fighting. This will enable the Palestinian population in the Gaza to access humanitarian assistance and other essential needs. Besides, it could have the all-important effect of tempering hostile attitudes on both sides of the divide.

The US is currently calling for a ‘temporary ceasefire’ to the conflict, but the challenge before Washington is to get the Israeli side to agree to it. If the Israeli Prime Minister’s recent pronouncements are anything to go by, the US proposal is unlikely to make any impression on Tel Aviv. In other words, the Israeli Right is remaining an obstacle to a ceasefire or even some form of temporary relief for the affected populations, leave alone a political solution. However, changing their government is entirely a matter for the Israeli people.

Accordingly, if a stable peace is to be arrived at, hostile, dogmatic attitudes on both sides may need to be eased out permanently. Ideally, both sides should see themselves as having a common future in a peacefully shared territory.

Peace groups and moderate opinion should be at centre stage on both sides of the divide in the region for the facilitation of such envisaged positive changes. The UN and democratic opinion worldwide should take it upon themselves to raise awareness among both communities on the need for a political solution. They should consider it incumbent upon themselves to work proactively with peace groups in the region.

The world is a vast distance from the stage when both parties to the conflict could even toy with the idea of reconciliation. Because reconciliation anywhere requires the relevant antagonists to begin by saying, ‘I am sorry for harming you.’ This is unthinkable currently, considering the enmity and acrimony that have built up over the years among the volatile sections of both communities.

However, relevant UN agencies and global democratic opinion could begin by convincing the warring sections that unless they cooperate and coexist, mutual annihilation could be their lot. Mindset changes of this kind are the only guarantors of lasting peace and mindset changes need to be worked on untiringly.

As this is being written, the ICJ is hearing representations from numerous countries on the Middle East situation. The opinions aired thus far are lopsided in that they do not present the Israeli viewpoint on the conflict. If a fair solution is to be arrived at to the conflict Israel’s concerns too would need to be taken into account expeditiously.

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Dubai scene brightening up for SL fashion designers

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Sri Lankans are lighting up the scene in Dubai, not only as musicians, but in other fields, as well.

At the recently held Ceylon Food Festival, in Dubai, a fashion show was held, with Sri Lankan designers doing the needful.

The fashion show highlighted the creations of Pubudu Jayasinghe, Tehani Rukshika and Peshala Rasanganee Wickramasuriya, in three different segments, with each designer assigned 10 models.

The fashion show was choreographed by Shashi Kaluarachchi, who won the Miss Supermodel Globe International 2020, held in India, and was 1st runner-up at the Mr., Miss and Mrs. Sri Lanka, in Dubai.

Shashi says she was trained by Brian Karkoven and his know-how gave her a good start to her modelling career.

She has done many fashions shows in Sri Lanka, as well as in Dubai, and has worked with many pioneers in the fashion designing field.

The designers involved in the fashion show, in Dubai, were:

Pubudu Jayasinghe,

a 22-year-old creative and skilled makeup artist and nail technician. With a wealth of experience gained from working in various salons and participating in makeup and fashion projects in both Dubai and Sri Lanka, he has honed his talents in the beauty industry. Passionate about fashion, Pubudu has also acquired knowledge and experience in fashion designing, modelling, and choreography, showcasing his multifaceted expertise in the dynamic world of fashion.

Tehani Rukshika,

who studied at St Joseph’s Girls School, Nugegoda, says she went to Dubai, where her mom works, and joined the Westford University in fashion designing faculty for her Masters. Her very first fashion show was a Sri Lankan cultural event, called ‘Batik’. “This was my first event, and a special one, too, as my mom was modelling an Arabic Batik dress.”

Shashi Kaluarachchi

Peshala Rasanganee Wickramasuriya

has been living in Dubai for the past 21 years and has a batik shop in Dubai, called 20Step.

According to Shashi, who is on vacation in Sri Lanka, at the moment, there will be more Sri Lankan fashion shows in Dubai, highlighting the creations of Sri Lankan designers.

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A mask of DATES…

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Yes, another one of my favourites…dates, and they are freely available here, so you don’t need to go searching for this item. And they are reasonably priced, too.

Okay, readers, let’s do it…with dates, of course – making a mask that will leave your skin feeling refreshed, and glowing

To make this mask, you will need 03-04 dates, and 02 tablespoons of milk.

Remove the seeds and soak the dates, in warm milk, for about 20 minutes. This method will soften the dates and make them easier to blend.

After the 20 minutes is up, put the dates in a blender and blend until you have a smooth paste. Check to make sure there are no lumps, or chunks, left.

Add the 02 tablespoons of milk to the blended date paste and mix well.

Okay, now gently apply this mixture to your face, avoiding the eye area. Use your fingertips, or a clean brush, to evenly distribute the mask all over your face.

Once the mask is applied, find a comfortable place to sit, or lie down. Relax for about 15-20 minutes, allowing the mask to work its magic on your skin.

After the mentioned time has passed, rinse off the mask with lukewarm water. Gently massage your face while rinsing to exfoliate any dead skin cells.

After rinsing off the mask, pat dry your face with a soft towel, and then follow up with your favourite moisturizer to lock in the hydration and keep your skin moisturized.

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