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IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI

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by Chandra Arulpragasm

As a disclaimer, I need to state that I am not a Catholic, although a Christian. Nor do I claim to have walked in the spiritual footsteps of this man of God. I seek only to narrate my own experiences when I tried to trace the physical footsteps of St. Francis during his peregrinations in Italy. I must also state that whereas St. Francis walked all the way up and down the Umbrian and Tuscan Apennines in the summer sun and the rainy cold of winter, I had the relative luxury of doing the same journeys by car. I had this opportunity only because I happened to live in Italy for many years. For readers who know little of St. Francis of Assisi, I provide a brief biography, but only as background to my personal story of following the physical footsteps of this remarkable saint.

St. Francis was born in 1811 to the family of a wealthy cloth merchant in Assisi in the province of Umbria, near the Tuscan border. He was named ‘Francesco’ (little Frenchman) because of his French mother. He grew up among the idle rich, spending his youth in carousing and rowdy partying. Although his father wanted him to follow in the footsteps of his successful cloth trade, Francis only wanted glory at that time, in pursuance of which, he set out for the Crusades. But he already seemed to be undergoing a spiritual transformation. For he had hardly gone a few miles from his home, when seeing a poorly clad beggar in Spoleto, he stripped off his expensive clothes to wrap them around the beggar. (There is a graphic painting of this scene in Assisi). He was thus compelled to return to his family in shame and dishonour, for which his father never forgave him.

Meanwhile, his spiritual proclivities increased and he spent more time in prayer and penance. One day, while praying before an old Byzantine crucifix in the abandoned church of San Damiano in the woods, he believed that he heard the voice of Christ speaking to him from the cross asking him ‘to repair my church’. (I still have a small copy of this crucifix in my room).Taking the words literally, St. Francis soon went to work to repair the decrepit old Church of San Damiano with his own hands, brick by brick. It was only later that he realized that the call was to repair the mission and fabric of the Catholic Church, which was fast losing its way through wealth and corruption.

Taking to heart Christ’s teaching, he embraced the vow of poverty, assuming the model of poverty and service to Christ by tending to the spiritual and physical needs of the poor. He was a happy man doing God’s work, singing all the while, even when derided in the early days as being ‘God’s Fool’. Despite untold hardships, he and his twelve early followers were able to attract 5,000 friars to their calling within a period of 10 years. Being a born leader, Francis even went to the Church in Rome where, through his sincerity and holiness, he was able to convince Pope Innocent III to initiate a Franciscan Order, pledged to the ideals of poverty and service to God. Francis was not a rebel against his own Church: he was only trying to restore it to its original values of Christ’s teaching. It is heartening to see that the new Pope, Francis I has not only taken the name of Francis, but is also trying to do the same for the ideals and direction of the church. St. Francis stressed God’s brotherhood with man, with all people, rich or poor. In fact, he widened this spiritual embrace to all creation, including the birds of the air, the beasts of the field and to the entire universe. It is for this wider vision that he is now acclaimed as the patron saint of animals, the environment and indeed of all nature itself.

I now try to paint a picture of his life, as revealed to me by following in his physical footsteps. I start with St. Francis in his little church of the Porziuncola, which is associated with the start of his ministry. The Porziuncola was the shell of a little old church dedicated to St. Mary of the Angels, which Francis restored with his own hands. It is here that he later gathered his followers to start his small Order of Friars Minor. It is also the place where he received Clare (later Santa Chiara) into the service of God. The Porziuncola itself is very small, measuring barely 11 x 7 metres. Although gracefully adorned with paintings and frescoes, it is its stunning spiritual vibration that takes one’s breath away. It has made an indelible impression on me, compelling me to return to its spiritual space (the Proziuncola) repeatedly. It was also the place closest to St. Francis’ heart. On his deathbed, he was brought here and actually died within yards of it. Today this unassuming little church is covered by the massive Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli (St. Mary of the Angels), which not only dwarfs but almost devours it. Nowadays one has to navigate this great and graceless Basilica to get to its vibrant spiritual heart, the Porziuncola. But it is still a visit worth making.

From there we go again to San Damiano, a church restored with Francis’ own hands. It was during these visits to the woods that he started communing with the birds and composed his famous canticle to the birds. He asked them to praise the Lord for their freedom to fly, for not having to sow or weave in order to feed and clothe themselves. Completely blind in his dying days, he composed his famous Canticle to the Sun in which he praises all God’s Creation, including Brothers Sun, Moon and Stars, Brothers Wind, Fire and Water, praising them all as part of God’s Creation. It is this universality of humankind and its bond with the rest of the universe that has made him the patron saint of nature and the environment.

Adjoining the Church of San Damiano is the nunnery where Santa Chiara (St. Clare) lived in a single-room dormitory with her sister-nuns for more than 30 years. In her last years, afflicted with tuberculosis, she moved to an adjoining room with a balcony. It is from this balcony that she is reputed to have stopped the invading armies of Frederick II and later of Muslim invaders by holding up the monstrance (the host) while praying for God’s intervention. (This scene is captured in a famous painting in Assisi). Most touching of all is the refectory table where the mark of St. Clare’s plate for 40 years has left a deep indent in the 700 hundred year old table! A bowl of fresh flowers marks the spot, as a poignant reminder of her dedicated life. The nuns’ quarters also possessed a picturesque cloister, around which the sisters walked in meditation. Their cloistered courtyard still holds the 13thcentury well from which they drew their water.

Much of St. Francis’ life is brought to life by the frescoes and paintings which adorn the walls of the Basilica in Assisi. No attempt is made here to describe this treasure trove of religious art, since the reader can access it in any travel book. Hence reference will only be made to a few which illustrate particular aspects of his saintly life. The Basilica of St. Francis is actually comprised of three parts: the Upper Basilica, the Lower Basilica and the Crypt, where the remains of the saint lie buried. The Lower Basilica contains a number of frescoes and paintings, including one by the 13th century master Cimabue, who lived closest to Francis’ time. Unfortunately these frescoes are fading away; but we do have a contemporary 13th century portrait of St. Francis by Cimabue (a copy of which I still retain in my room). The Lower Basilica also contains the painting by Pietro Lorenzetti known as the Madonna of the Sunset because a wayward ray of light from the setting sun finds its way into the dark interior to light up this picture in brilliant gold. (My wife and I retained a framed copy of this painting in our bedroom for over 30 years). The Upper Basilica has the famous frescoes of St. Francis, attributed to Giotto, including especially his communion with the birds. The frescoes go on to illustrate further events in St. Francis’ life, including his receipt of the stigmata, the wounds of Christ in his own body.

There is also a painting of St. Francis’ encounter with the fierce wolf of Gubbio. The latter is a picturesque medieval town near the border of Umbria with Abruzzo, quite far from St. Francis’ usual haunts. It is a completely walled-off town, with steep cobbled streets which it strives to keep alive in its medieval splendour. It is said that in St. Francis’ time, a savage wolf used to attack the villagers, even carrying off little children to feed itself. When St. Francis visited this village, the people beseeched him to save them from this ravenous wolf. Addressing the animal as ‘Brother Wolf’, Francis was able to pacify it. He is even said to have made a pact between the wolf and the village, whereby the wolf undertook not to harm the villagers, while they undertook to feed and look after it. The wolf ultimately died of old age, as the village pet! There is even a painting of St. Francis accosting the wolf at the entrance to the town. Today the town of Gubbio is touted to tourists as a medieval town that is frozen in time. Archery contests are held here in imitation of old times, with the men dressed in medieval costumes unfurling their different cantonal flags, while the women parade the streets in their medieval finery. Heralds with banners and trumpets issue the challenge of Gubbio to an archery contest (on parchment written in 15th century style) to other medieval towns such as Sienna and San Marino. Then the rival archers, armed with old-style crossbows (but jazzed up with high-tech telescopic sights) vie with each other in the highly decorated central piazza. It is a lot of fun – and attracts much tourism.

My main interest centered, however, around St. Francis’ activities in La Verna. The latter was hardly habited in St. Francis’ time, being set in woodland forests littered with mountains and caves. It is a long 123 km climb from Assisi, climbing high into the Apennines of Tuscany through many miles and mountains of slippery slopes in winter rains. St. Francis used to spend some months each year meditating and praying in these caves. There are many stories about those times, one of which is about a hawk that used to fly into his cave to wake him up at 3 o’clock every morning. Instead of upbraiding the hawk, St. Francis sang an ode thanking ‘Brother Hawk’ for waking him up in time to praise the Lord! There was also a rough robber named Rufino (Rufus) who came to rob Francis while he was praying. Francis spoke to Rufus in words to this effect: ‘Brother, I have no money to give you; but come pray with me, so that you will find even greater riches in the Lord’. So Rufino knelt and prayed with Francis, and thereafter became his staunchest follower. So much so that Brother Rufus is now buried opposite the Saint in the crypt of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi.

The whole area of La Verna is heavily wooded, adding to its sylvan beauty. Nearby is a Franciscan Sanctuary with its white-pillared arcade set into the side of a hill, while fluttering white turtle-doves provide a further peaceful picture. On the adjoining hill lies La Verna with its Basilica of the Sanctuary of La Verna. My wife and I have been visiting La Verna for 20 years (till we left Italy) when the place was unheard of and largely deserted. Now it has been built up with so many additional buildings, including tourist accommodation.

When we were reconnoitering around, we chanced upon a small cell in which St. Anthony, also of the Franciscan Order, used to meditate and pray during his stay at La Verna. It was a very small cell, hardly 8 ft x 8 ft, but with a wonderful view of the valley below. On walking farther on the hilltop, we stumbled upon an embedded rock whose writing proclaimed it to be the spot where St. Francis received the stigmata or wounds of the crucified Christ. The stigmata are wounds of nail-pierced hands and feet like those of Christ, with an added wound on the side. St. Francis was the first person to receive such a manifestation of his faith, but suffered greatly from these wounds.

Walking farther on the hill, we came across a quaint little chapel, seemingly frozen in time. Not knowing what it was, we nosed our way into its dim interior. It is now known as the Chapel of the Stigmata. We just had time to note the ornate choir stalls when we heard the sound of sonorous chanting in the distance, but coming ever closer to us. Soon a little old friar bustled in, fissy-fussing to tidy up before the oncoming procession. He almost died of shock to see us there: for no one was supposed to be there, least of all a woman (my wife). Although outraged, he could not chase us out into the path of the oncoming chanting procession. Not knowing what to do, he shoved us behind a narrow curtain and hushed us with fierce warning signs. Soon the procession entered. Not being a church man, I had never seen the likes of this before, and stood transfixed! The monks had apparently taken the vow of silence, coming out of their cells once a day to this chapel to sing praises to their Lord. They filed in two by two, heavily cowled so that one could not see their faces, looking rather sinister to me in the dimly lit church. There was pin-drop silence, except for their deep Gregorian chants. Entering the chapel, the monks peeled off to the left and to the right in well-known order, with each side taking its stand in the ornate choir stalls facing each other. Their faces could not be seen, nor was any word spoken: their leader only called out a line and the friars chanted their response. After about 20 minutes, they suddenly stopped without any word or sign, and peeled off in formation with cowled heads bowed, one following the heel of the other, with no word spoken! It left me breathless! It was not long, however, before the officious little friar descended upon us, berating us for our intrusion on this sacred ritual. It was an experience, however, that I will never forget.

And so we come to the death of this immortal saint. He was ailing for a long time, blind and suffering from his stigmatized wounds. In death, he wanted to be brought to his beloved Porziuncola, his spiritual home, where he was attended by his spiritual partner St. Clare (Santa Chiara). In his dying days he composed his wonderful Canticle to the Sun, which is a song of praise for God’s whole creation. He died in the year 1226 at the age of 44 and was canonized two years later. The government of Assisi had to send soldiers to guard his remains, for in the medieval superstition of those days, everyone wanted a piece of the saint! Thus ended the earthly life of this saintly man, whose physical footsteps I was privileged to follow. I can only conclude with the prayer attributed to St. Francis: a prayer relevant to all religions and one which I continue to keep by my bedside:

 

Lord, make me the instrument of your peace; Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is error, the truth; Where there is doubt, the faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek To be comforted as to comfort; To be understood, as to understand; To be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

 

(The writer, a member of the former Ceylon Civil Service, lived in Italy working for the FAO in Rome for many years)

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Most Venerable Kotugoda Dhammavasa Uttareethara Maha Nayaka Thera turns 88

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It was in the year 1803 that there was a renaissance within the Maha Sangha (the Great Community of Buddhist Monks) in Sri Lanka thereby adding a fresh chapter to the history of the Buddha Sasana in Sri Lanka. This was when the Most Venerable Welitara Sri Gnanawimala Thera, the Great Prelate received the Upasampada or the Higher Ordination in Burma, returned to Sri Lanka and established the Sri Lanka Amarapura Nikaya. (The name of this monk is embellished with traditional appellations such as Bodhisattva Gunopetha or being imbued with the qualities of a Bodhisattva or Buddha-Aspirant, and Preacher to King and Emperor.)

Thus the Amarapura Nikaya, which began with this Most Venerable Thera, later spread itself very rapidly down five generations of the Sangha spanning the entire Island. These generations of the Sangha organized themselves into 22 Nikayas. This was with the blessings of each of the Mahanayakas. They also preserved the identity of each such Nikaya.

In Sri Lanka, Amarapura Maha Sangha Sabha was formed in 1952 with the concurrence of 15 of these subsidiary Nikayas. Presidents of the Amarapura Maha Sangha Sabha have been;

1. the Most Venerable Prelate Beruwela Siri Nivasa Thera

2. the Most Venerable Mapalane Pannalankara Maha Nayaka,

3. the Most Venerable Uddammita Dhammarakhita Maha Nayaka,

4. the Most Venerable Balangoda Ananda Maithri Maha Nayaka

5. the Most Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha Maha Nayaka.

In the year 1962 all 22 Sub-Nikayas came together to form a more organized and properly constituted Sri Lanka Amarapura Maha Sangha Sabha. It was the Most Venerable Agga Maha Panditha Balangoda Ananda Maithri Thera who was installed as President and has been succeeded by;

1. the Most Venerable Dhammavansha Thera,

2. the Most Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha,

3. the Most Venerable Ahungalla Wimalanandi,

4. the Most Venerable Kandegedara Sumanavansha,

5. the Most Venerable Boyagama Wimalasiri,

6. the Most Venerable Kotugoda Dhammavasa and

7. the Most Venerable Dodampahala Chandrasiri.

The Most Venerable Chief Prelate Ganthune Assaji Thera is the current chair.

In terms of the Constitution approved in 1992, an Office of Supreme Prelate (Uttareethara Mahanayaka) was created, and the first to hold this office was the Most Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha Mahanayaka Thera who was succeeded by Most Venerable Davuldena Gnaneesara Thera. After his demise the Most Venerable Kotugoda Dhammavasa Thera, who turns eighty-eight today assumed and continues to be the Uttareethara Mahanayaka.

He was born on 26th January 1933 and ordained as a monk with the permission of his parents, on 17th August 1948. He received his Higher Ordination on 10th July 1954 at the Udakkukhepa Seemamalakaya set up on the River named the Kalu Ganga in Kalutara.

He had his training and primary instruction in the Buddha Dhamma from his Venerable Preceptors, later entered the Paramadhamma Chetiya Pirivena for his education. It was at the Maha Pirivena in Maligakanda where he received his Higher Education in three languages, under the shadow and tutelage of the Most Venerable Pandita Baddegama Piyaratana Thera.

With the demise of his preceptor, Dhammavasa Thera became the Prelate of the Dharmapala-arama Viharaya in Mount Lavinia. By this time he had already become very popular by broadcasting and delivering sermons in temples and in private homes, contributing to articles disseminating the Dhamma, and articles on topical subjects through the full-moon day publication entitled “Budusarana”, then to daily newspapers, and to the Vesak Annuals published by M D Gunasena & Co., Dinamina etc.

The Thera was also engaged in social welfare activities of the area by setting up Children’s and Young Persons’ Societies within the Vihara.

With the passage of time and the demise of remarkably eloquent monks such as the Most Venerable Narada Thera, Prelate of the Vajira-aramaya, Heenatiyana Dhammaloka, Kotikawatte Saddhatissa, Pitakotte Somananda, Kalukondayawe Pannasekera and other such classic preachers, Kotugoda Dhammavasa Thera stands out as a prime orator among those who came to the limelight after the days of the erudite monks of yesteryear.

Owing to the ceaseless invitations to deliver sermons extended to our Venerable Thera he travelled to various regions of the Island, yet fulfilling all his duties pertaining to his own Nikaya and to the work of the Sangha Sabha neglecting nothing whatever. With all this he continued to participate in the discharge of the infinite services expected of all erstwhile office bearers of the Sangha Sabha.

Our respected Thera was gradually chosen to hold various posts within the Amarapura Nikaya. Some such are his appointment in 1970 as an ordained member of the Working Committee and to the Post of Honorary Prelate (Maha Nayaka); in 1981 as the Chief Ecclesiastical Sangha Nayaka; and in 1990 as the Deputy Chief (Anunayaka) of the Amarapura Nikaya. At the same time it is because of his quality of being industrious that he was elected the Secretary (Lekhakadhikari).

The Venerable Anunayaka Thera who served the Maha Sangha Sabha of the Sri Lanka Amarapura Nikaya with great dedication, in order to ensure its unity and advancement, was in 1980 appointed its Co-Secretary (Sama Lekhakadhikari) and in 1992 as its Chief Secretary (Maha Lekhakadhikari) It is only appropriate to place on record that during this period of about fifteen years he performed a very special quality of service to the Sasana by updating the Amarapura Sangha Sabha; by setting up a Kathikavata (Ecclesiastical Edict) for the Amarapura Nikaya (whereby ‘rules governing the discipline and conduct of Buddhist monks including matters related to the settlement of disputes’ together with a Sanghadhikarana Panatha (i.e. an Ecclesiastical Act) were drafted and approved; and finally by drafting a strong, formal Constitution and obtaining approval for same.

It was on 17th December 2016 that the Venerable Kotugoda Dhammavasa Anunayaka Thera became the Mahanayaka of the Amarapura Nikaya, and that on a proposal made by none other than the Most Venerable Agga-maha-panditha Ambalangoda Sumangala Maha Nayaka Thera who, at the time, was himself the incumbent.

On 3rd October 2008 the Venerable Kotugoda Dhammavasa Maha Nayaka Thera was appointed to the post of Chairman, and it was on 26th May 2017 that he was elected Uttareethara Maha Nayaka or Supreme Maha Nayaka, which is the highest position within the Sri Lanka Amarapura Nikaya.

He has visited many countries in Asia and Europe disseminating the Dhamma and participating in Conferences thereby earning great international fame. Meanwhile he also serves as the incumbent monk of the Sri Lanka-aramaya in Myanmar and of the Charumathie Viharaya in Nepal.

In the matters of national and religious issues in the country he expresses his views in such a calm and collected manner that he has earned the respect of the Supreme Maha Nayaka Theras of other Nikayas and politicians both in power and in the Opposition and of intellectuals.

He has been honored with the title of “Agga Maha Panditha” by the Government of Myanmar. Although other honorary awards were conferred upon him by foreign countries and foreign institutions he does not use them, entirely because of his humble disposition.

At the end of and exposition of the Dhamma (a Dharma Desana) at Temple Trees His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa (who was then the incumbent President of the country) made an offering to him of about 14 perches of land in Wellawatte. Upon this land stands today, the “Office of the Sangha Sabha of the Amarapura Maha Nikaya”, a three-storied building replete with all conceivable facilities. It is a matter of great joy to us that in honour of the Most Venerable Kotugoda Dhammavasa Maha Nayaka Thera it was possible for us to make an offering of this building to the Buddha Sasana, on the 15th of August 2020.

We offer merit to His Excellency the President and the Honourable Prime Minister who are today attending to each and every need of our Supreme Maha Nayaka Thera in a spirit of extending infinite regard and respect to him, in appreciation of the national and religious service the Maha Thera has rendered.

Let us also gratefully place on record that the Honourable Sajit Premadasa, Leader of the Opposition, has provided an elevator as an offering to facilitate the caring for our Mahanayaka Thera.

I also wish to thank the Doctors, the Staff of the Nawaloka Hospital, Members of the Nikaya-abhivrudhi Dayaka Sabha (Organization for the Advancement of the Nikaya) and the Dayaka Sabha of the Mahanayaka’s Vihara and who are all providing medical care.

Arrangements were made by the Dayaka Sabha and the student monks to offer alms to the Sangha to mark the birthday of our Thera when he reached the age of 88, on 26th January 2021.

On 21st January 2021 at 7.00 p.m. a Bodhi Pooja was organized by the Amarapura Nikaya-abhivruddi Dayaka Sabha at the historic Kalutara Bodhi to invoke blessings upon our Supreme Maha Thera.

May the Supreme Maha Nayaka Agga Maha Panditha Kotugoda Dhammavasa Maha Nahimi live a life free from sickness and sorrow.

 

Deshamanya Ajita de Zoysa

Chairman

Sri Lanka Nikaya-abhivruddi Dayaka Sabha

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Govt.’s choice is dialogue over confrontation

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By Jehan Perera

Preparing for the forthcoming UN Human Rights Council cannot be easy for a government elected on a nationalist platform that was very critical of international intervention. When the government declared its intention to withdraw from Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of the October 2015 resolution No. 30/1 last February, it may have been hoping that this would be the end of the matter. However, this is not to be. The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report that will be taken up at the forthcoming UNHRC session in March contains a slate of proposals that are severely punitive in nature and will need to be mitigated. These include targeted economic sanctions, travel bans and even the involvement of the International Criminal Court.

Since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s visit in May 2009 just a few days after the three-decade long war came to its bloody termination, Sri Lanka has been a regular part of the UNHRC’s formal discussion and sometimes even taking the centre stage. Three resolutions were passed on Sri Lanka under acrimonious circumstances, with Sri Lanka winning the very first one, but losing the next two. As the country became internationally known for its opposition to revisiting the past, sanctions and hostile propaganda against it began to mount. It was only after the then Sri Lankan government in 2015 agreed to co-sponsor a fresh resolution did the clouds begin to dispel.

Clearly in preparation for the forthcoming UNHRC session in Geneva in March, the government has finally delivered on a promise it made a year ago at the same venue. In February 2020 Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena sought to prepare the ground for Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from co-sponsorship of UN Human Rights Council resolution No 30/1 of 2015. His speech in Geneva highlighted two important issues. The first, and most important to Sri Lanka’s future, was that the government did not wish to break its relationships with the UN system and its mechanisms. He said, “Sri Lanka will continue to remain engaged with, and seek as required, the assistance of the UN and its agencies including the regular human rights mandates/bodies and mechanisms in capacity building and technical assistance, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies.”

Second, the Foreign Minister concluding his speech at the UNHRC session in Geneva saying “No one has the well-being of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural people of Sri Lanka closer to their heart, than the Government of Sri Lanka. It is this motivation that guides our commitment and resolve to move towards comprehensive reconciliation and an era of stable peace and prosperity for our people.” On that occasion the government pledged to set up a commission of inquiry to inquire into the findings of previous commissions of inquiry. The government’s action of appointing a sitting Supreme Court judge as the chairperson of a three-member presidential commission of inquiry into the findings and recommendations of earlier commissions and official bodies can be seen as the start point of its response to the UNHRC.

 

 

NEGATIVE RESPONSE

 

The government’s setting up of a Commission of Inquiry has yet to find a positive response from the international and national human rights community and may not find it at all. The national legal commentator Kishali Pinto Jayawardene has written that “the tasks encompassed within its mandate have already been performed by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC, 2011) under the term of this President’s brother, himself the country’s Executive President at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa.” Amnesty International has stated that “Sri Lanka has a litany of such failed COIs that Amnesty International has extensively documented.” It goes on to quote from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that “Domestic processes have consistently failed to deliver accountability in the past and I am not convinced the appointment of yet another Commission of Inquiry will advance this agenda. As a result, victims remain denied justice and Sri Lankans from all communities have no guarantee that past patterns of human rights violations will not recur.”

It appears that the government intends its appointment of the COI to meet the demand for accountability in regard to past human rights violations. Its mandate includes to “Find out whether preceding Commissions of Inquiry and Committees which have been appointed to investigate into human rights violations, have revealed any human rights violations, serious violations of the international humanitarian law and other such serious offences.” In the past the government has not been prepared to accept that such violations took place in a way that is deserving of so much of international scrutiny. Time and again the point has been made in Sri Lanka that there are no clean wars fought anywhere in the world.

International organisations that stands for the principles of international human rights will necessarily be acting according to their mandates. These include seeking the intervention of international judicial mechanisms or seeking to promote hybrid international and national joint mechanisms within countries in which the legal structures have not been successful in ensuring justice. The latter was on the cards in regard to Resolution 30/1 from which the government withdrew its co-sponsorship. The previous government leaders who agreed to this resolution had to publicly deny any such intention in view of overwhelming political and public opposition to such a hybrid mechanism. The present government has made it clear that it will not accept international or hybrid mechanisms.

 

 

SEQUENTIAL IMPLEMENATION

 

In the preamble to the establishment of the COI the government has made some very constructive statements that open up the space for dialogue on issues of accountability, human rights and reconciliation. It states that “the policy of the Government of Sri Lanka is to continue to work with the United Nations and its Agencies to achieve accountability and human resource development for achieving sustainable peace and reconciliation, even though Sri Lanka withdrew from the co-sponsorship of the aforesaid resolutions” and further goes on to say that “the Government of Sri Lanka is committed to ensure that, other issues remain to be resolved through democratic and legal processes and to make institutional reforms where necessary to ensure justice and reconciliation.”

As the representative of a sovereign state, the government cannot be compelled to either accept international mechanisms or to prosecute those it does not wish to prosecute. At the same time its willingness to discuss the issues of accountability, justice and reconciliation as outlined in the preamble can be considered positively. The concept of transitional justice on which Resolution No 30/1 was built consists of the four pillars of truth, accountability, reparations and institutional reform. There is international debate on whether these four pillars should be implemented simultaneously or whether it is acceptable that they be implemented sequentially depending on the country context.

The government has already commenced the reparations process by establishing the Office for Reparations and to allocate a monthly sum of Rs 6000 to all those who have obtained Certificates of Absence (of their relatives) from the Office of Missing Persons. This process of compensation can be speeded up, widened and improved. It is also reported that the government is willing to consider the plight of suspected members of the LTTE who have been in detention without trial, and in some cases without even being indicted, for more than 10 years. The sooner action is taken the better. The government can also seek the assistance of the international community, and India in particular, to develop the war affected parts of the country on the lines of the Marshall Plan that the United States utilized to rebuild war destroyed parts of Europe. Member countries of the UNHRC need to be convinced that the government’s actions will take forward the national reconciliation process to vote to close the chapter on UNHRC resolution 30/1 in March 2021.

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Album to celebrate 30 years

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Rajiv Sebastian had mega plans to celebrate 30 years, in showbiz, and the plans included concerts, both local and foreign. But, with the pandemic, the singer had to put everything on hold.

However, in order to remember this great occasion, the singer has done an album, made up of 12 songs, featuring several well known artistes, including Sunil of the Gypsies.

All the songs have been composed, very specially for this album.

Among the highlights will be a duet, featuring Rajiv and the Derena DreamStar winner, Andrea Fallen.

Andrea, I’m told, will also be featured, doing a solo spot, on the album.

Rajiv and his band The Clan handle the Friday night scene at The Cinnamon Grand Breeze Bar, from 07.30 pm, onwards.

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