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More on rape of forests:

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Self-appointed economists drop drips of wisdom

It is good to see and read the hoo haa that is being raised over rapid deforestation in Free Sri Lanka. Sunday Punch in the Sunday Times of November 29 dealt this blow: “New writ opens season to slam the country’s rainforest canopy: 700,000 hectares of forest land condemned to face the axe before the altar of Mammon.” Punched well but will it have any effect? Will the new ordinance be changed? Will racketeers and shitty money makers stop felling trees, even if it’s forbidden by law? Most think only of immediate personal gain and to hell with the country and its welfare, fauna and flora included!

A recent The Island editorial described an ugly incident in Polonnruwa, where the State Minister of Wildlife Protection and Forest Resource Development, Wimalaweera Dissanayake, “had conniptions, when Wildlife Officers refused to follow his order that villagers be allowed to graze their cattle inside wildlife sanctuaries What he was doing was to violate the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance.” Can you see the tragic irony of the situation? Here the State Minister is going against his TORS and mandate. Not only does this sentence show how corrupt things have become normal, but also taught readers a new word: conniptions. Cass had to google fast to get its meaning, which is “a fit of hysterical excitement or anger.” How very apt! We are justified in mixing in a pinch of insanity caused by temporary power and of course self interest into the aforesaid incident. Female forest officer Devani Jayathilake should be greeted with hosannas all over again. She boldly argued with State Minister Sanath Nishantha to save a mangrove earmarked for an ostensible playground but thought to have a hotel built. We saw how that State Minister ranted at the woman, in dire conniption! His power was being challenged while his devious plans were exposed. Many men just stood around, Cass remembers, as Devani stood her ground for country – alone and unaided.

 

Pseudo economists Sunday Punch

on 29 November also dealt a strong punch with the sub heading “Wimal’s 5000 buck shot”. The article read thus: “Perhaps Weerasangilige Wimal Weerawansa was born with the proverbial silver spoon stuffed in his oral cavity right down to…” Yes, one could think thus observing the luxury he ensconces himself and his family in, sunk in further luxury as he drives around, oops sorry – as he is escorted around in his government luxury vehicle costing millions. May be what we heard him say about not having 25 rupees to join a school field trip to Sigiriya was in a previous birth.

Now he is turned pro-government economist pronouncing the Rs 5000 handout to the poorest of the daily employed should suffice for an entire month for his/her family! Won’t last a single man for basic living for even a week; with prices what they are.

He is following in the older footsteps of economist pundit, earlier tuition master, who made a similar statement. They sound as if these blighted disadvantaged are lice or mice!

Of course, Cassandra must add that people on the whole are never satisfied and demand bigger handouts whenever there is even a whiff of economically straightened circumstances. It’s always asking for more and in such an ugly fashion with insults hurled at the government. If the men folk stopped imbibing or drug taking and a bit of savings was done, they could try at least to weather difficult times instead of expecting full manna to fall to them as if it is fully deserved.

 

Demeaning TV clips

Cass is certain others join her when she opines that TV cameras should not, or very briefly shoot scenes where women go to town howling, crying, clawing and hurling insults. When the unemployed locked-down are shown on TV and after the Mahara prison riot these scenes were focused on woman tearing their hair, screaming and sobbing and even fainting with sheer sorrow. At what? Their rioting kinsman and women prisoners. If only they had restrained them and showed such concern when they were peddling drugs or actually abusing it.

More restraint is called for. Our people will not contain their exuberant emotions, mostly of sadness or revenge and hate, and hardly ever behave with dignity and the calmness all religions advocate. Cameras should not focus on such.

 

Judging execution of duties depends entirely on political party in power

Headline in a Sunday newspaper of November 29 read thus: “HRCSL concerned over health and threats to Shani’s life”. Shani Abeysekara, ex-CID Director, is the person imprisoned and now in danger of his life having contracted Covid-19. His crime and reason for his arrest and incarceration are having done his duty diligently during his tenure of service. What we see now is that good duty served gets classified as crimes when governments change with different parties grabbing the reins of government. What was a crime then is not so now and the diligent, dutiful and hard-working official is termed a criminal when new leaders come marching in. Efficient public servants of then deserve punishment. Mistakes, misappropriation of funds then is pardoned and blameless now. And so the roller coaster moves with changes of government. And who ultimately suffers: WE the PEOPLE. We will have no police or judges or anyone to rely on. The stealer of a coconut then, will continue to be the stealer now and he of course gets more than his due punishment since he carries not a smithereen of clout. He is expendable. Hence our quandary: battered on one front by Covid; on another by economic and financial deprivation; and a third front buffeted by fractured faith in government and its long arms.

Cass sadly supposes this beautiful land of ours will never see a Nelson Mandela at the helm of government. Also, never an admittance of a fault or mistake by big bugs in power.

 

An unexpected flash of sunshine

Cass watched the BBC 1000 Women in their series Witness History on Tuesday December 01 feeling doom, gloom and despair. All driven away by the shy smile of Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike featured beautifully as the world’s first woman Prime Minister. As her daughter Sunethra narrated, she rose to the elevated job very soon and held her own with dignity and sureness amongst world leaders. Those were the politicians my friend! Maybe many of them were good not being born, bred, trained and tainted as poli-tikkas. They all had their warts, big and small, but in the long run we could be proud of them, and they did serve the country and its people. To when? JRJ? Mould seems to have been broken by the bludgeon of self interest, and monetary and power gain. We had faith of a resurrection with the election of the present Prez.

With a woman at the helm of the health ministry it had to be a man – Leader of Opp – who proposed that hygienic needs of women be tax free. Scotland gives all products free having passed that in their Parliament. Our minister is too busy with the mumbo jumbo of the esoteric.

 

Es vaha?

Oh, deari deari me! Such a pity Biden’s playing with his dog caused him to take a toss and suffer a hairline fracture, necessitating the wearing of orthopedic boots for a while. Anyways, thank heavens it was only a minor accident. Cass of course, given to cursing and the evil tongue, is sure it was es and kata vaha, meaning the evil eye and tongue that brought on the mishap. Inevitable when a good man succeeds. Sure, Trump would have swung his golf club the harder with delight

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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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LET’S DO IT … in the new normal

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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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