Uncle Rama – my father’s friend, my mother’s friend, and my friend. Yes, I came to know Uncle Rama as a toddler. He endeared himself to Malli and me, and became our mentor, friend, and a role model.
Today, on the 14th anniversary of the passing away of Deshamanya Justice P Ramanathan, many legal luminaries will testify to his outstanding career, bold judicial verdicts, and indomitable spirit. They will reflect on the many lasting impressions he has left as a lawyer, judge, colleague, mentor, and friend. I, on the other hand – although a member of the Bar, wish to remember him with fondness and reflect on his gentleness, love, and kindness which he bestowed upon me and my family.
Justice Ramanathan was a dear friend of my father for over 45 years. As a result of this friendship, many of my childhood days were spent with him either at our home, his home, or on short or extended holiday trips. As a young girl I have fond memories of Uncle Rama’s comforting presence in our lives – including he and my father him picking me up from school, and persuading my father to treat me and Malli to an ice cream on our way home. Yes, Uncle Rama could find the time for anybody, however young or old he or she may seem.
As I grew older, he became my confidante, he shared my fears, joys and sorrows. He played with us, laughed with us, and on occasions comforted us when we were in tears. He provided a shoulder I could lean on and negotiated, what then appeared to us teenagers to be daunting and insurmountable “issues” which only a fond uncle could put to parents. He was supportive and gently persuaded my reluctant brother and myself to take to the law. I recollect that at a very close family gathering, at my home, on the occasion of my passing my Bar exams, Uncle Rama fell back on his memories of the Inns of Court and reminded me that I had become an “Utter Barrister”.
Uncle Rama never pulled rank or hesitated to give a helping hand to anybody. There is a much-remembered incident that took place when he was the High Court Judge in Kurunegala. High Court Judge Ramanathan used to do his usual walks in the evening, clad on such occasions, in a well-worn pair of shorts. None would recognize him as the august figure that presided in the High Court. He used to drop in for a cup of tea at a neighbouring boutique. The boutique keeper confided in his humble looking customer that business was bad, and that he was having lean times. High Court Judge Ramanathan thereafter used to highly recommend the “chai” boutique to all and sundry, including the members of the Bar and to all who mattered in Kurunegala. Naturally, soon afterwards, the boutique-keeper prospered thanks to the High Court Judge. This is just one example of Uncle Rama’s kindness, sensitivity, and burning desire to help others. Uncle Rama had a handful of coins in his car and on those occasions when he treated us to the goodies at Green Cabin, I vividly remember him distributing the coins among the beggars outside, who I noticed appeared to recognize him instantly.
Uncle Rama was well-read and used to fascinate us with tales from English Literature and discussed current news.
Justice Ramanathan hailed from a distinguished family, being a descendant of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan. He lived up to his heritage, becoming a Prosecutor in the Attorney-General’s Department, High Court Judge, the President of the Court of Appeal, and a Judge of the Supreme Court. He was known to be firm, but kind; and most importantly, ruggedly independent but without any ostentatious display. In this regard, I need hardly cite by way of example, his notable dissenting judgment in the case of Sirimavo Bandaranaike v. Times of Ceylon delivered during the J.R. Jayewardene era.
We teased Uncle Rama that he should acquire a wife. My dad and mom made some gentle, and sometimes not so gentle suggestions in this regard. But Uncle Rama good naturedly shrugged them off. We did not know that Uncle Rama “loved his neighbour” and had found his ladylove in ‘Aunty Mano’, the accomplished lawyer-daughter of a much loved and respected Advocate. When therefore Aunty Mano came into his life as his wife we were overjoyed, and our extended family grew. Aunty Mano is a permanent fixture in our family; and for that we are grateful.
My heart is filled with gratitude to the Almighty, for giving us the privilege of having had the lovable Uncle Rama. When I remember him, there is always a lump in my throat. May he find peace and we who loved him solace in our remembrance of a life well-spent.
Faisza Musthapha Markar
Govt.’s choice is dialogue over confrontation
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.
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.
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.
Album to celebrate 30 years
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.
LET’S DO IT … in the new normal
The local showbiz scene is certainly brightening up – of course, in the ‘new normal’ format (and we hope so!)
Going back to the old format would be disastrous, especially as the country is experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases, and the Western Province is said to be high on the list of new cases.
But…life has to go on, and with the necessary precautions taken, we can certainly enjoy what the ‘new normal’ has to offer us…by way of entertainment.
Bassist Benjy, who leads the band Aquarius, is happy that is hard work is finally bringing the band the desired results – where work is concerned.
Although new to the entertainment scene, Aquarius had lots of good things coming their way, but the pandemic ruined it all – not only for Aquarius but also for everyone connected with showbiz.
However, there are positive signs, on the horizon, and Benjy indicated to us that he is enthusiastically looking forward to making it a happening scene – wherever they perform.
And, this Friday night (January 29th), Aquarius will be doing their thing at The Show By O, Mount Lavinia – a beach front venue.
Benjy says he is planning out something extra special for this particular night.
“This is our very first outing, as a band, at The Show By O, so we want to make it memorable for all those who turn up this Friday.”
The legendary bassist, who lights up the stage, whenever he booms into action, is looking forward to seeing music lovers, and all those who missed out on being entertained for quite a while, at the Mount Lavinia venue, this Friday.
“I assure you, it will be a night to be remembered.”
Benjy and Aquarius will also be doing their thing, every Saturday evening, at the Darley rd. Pub & Restaurant, Colombo 10.
In fact, they were featured at this particular venue, late last year, but the second wave of Covid-19 ended their gigs.
Also new to the scene – very new, I would say – is Ishini and her band, The Branch.
Of course, Ishini is a singer of repute, having performed with Mirage, but as Ishini and The Branch, they are brand new!
Nevertheless, they were featured at certain five-star venues, during the past few weeks…of their existence.
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