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Open letter to Ali Sabry: Tread cautiously in amending laws

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I am addressing this note to you as I believe that you are man of the world with a road map for the Nation. I have listened to your pre-election speeches, delivered in Australia, and read your orations, in Sri Lanka, which outlined your vision for the country and the nation. And, I still believe that you have a lot to contribute to the Nation.

I am rather puzzled with two recent propositions made by you which fly in the face of the picture of you, I had in my mind. Still. I have implicit trust in you as I am of the view that which I discuss below will receive your close scrutiny.

Grasping the Nettle, I may point out that your proposal to ‘amend the Antiquities Ordinance, repealing the provisions therein, preventing the courts from releasing persons charged with or accused of related offences on bail” (article in The Island by K Tiranagama) reminds me of the attempts of some to hunt with the hounds and run with the hare. As you no doubt agree the Antiquities are part of our living history which we have to protect and handover to our future generations. As a small country, we have been cheated by a number of invaders who pillaged our invaluable treasures of historical value and stole many others which are now stored in prestigious museums of the West. Your efforts to tackle “the prison congestion “by tinkering with the Antiquities Ordinance is not acceptable to a nation which is at the receiving end of systematic robbery of her artifacts by the colonial powers and, at present, by the greedy and the well-planned destructive forces,

So, Hon Minister, you should consider looking elsewhere, if your objective is to reduce the prison congestion. If at all, you should introduce stringent measures to the Antiquities Ordinance to deter persons from robbing the nation’s history. We hear that yearly over 750 complaints are received annually by the police and the Dept of Archaeology, about vandalism directed at our antiquities. If you do implement your misdirected proposal, such vandals will have a field day.

The second proposal which is equally, or more, damaging, is included in the gazette notification no 2208/13 -2020 issued on council of legal education dated 30.12.21/which says.

“Part I : Sec. (I) – GAZETTE EXTRAORDINARY OF THE DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST REPUBLIC OF SRI LANKA – 30.12.2020 5A (d) the Special Entrance Examination shall be held during a specified month as determined by the Council, of the year preceding the year of entry to the Sri Lanka Law College. (2) immediately after rule 28 thereof, by the insertion of the following new rule:- ” 28A. (1) All courses conducted at the Sri Lanka Law College shall be conducted in the English Medium. “

Why should the law be taught only in English, vitiating the Official Language Act? As you no doubt agree law affects everybody in Sri Lanka and the opportunity should be made available to the average Sri Lankan to understand and to act according to the law. Once the education is provided in English only, as per the proposal, the whole legal machinery, including the hearing of court cases, will be conducted in English only. You may remember how the ordinary villager Silindu, in the well know novel “Village in the Jungle” had to face justice when he had to look up and accept the judgement against him, delivered in English, a language which he did not comprehend! There will be many more Silindus in Sri Lanka who will have to come to the courts and suffer in silence to the dictates in English if the proposed scheme comes into operation. The law had been taught in the Sinhala language for more than 25 years and is not a subject to be used internationally, except with regard to special occasions which can be handled even by using official translators as in the case of eminent international leaders who are not conversant in English. You are only attempting to turn the clock back to the colonial period. Please reconsider and revert to the existing system in providing legal education as per the Official Language Act

 

RANJITH SOYSA

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Opinion

Full understanding of Geneva Fiasco

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My intention in this brief note is to point out some important matters that Dr. Sarath Gamini de Silva has omitted, and also facts of history that he has not correctly interpreted in his letter titled “Problems in Geneva : Facts that brought us here” (The Island 26.02.2021). When one deals with the “facts that brought us here” with reference to the UNHRC Resolutions against Sri Lanka, the history, the nature and the present status of the Tamil Problem are of vital importance, as that problem is the core issue leading to the Geneva Fiasco. Further, an assessment of the UNHRC activities, particularly its lack of neutrality due to Western pressure and influence which has made Sri Lanka reject the Resolutions calling them a political campaign, is critical in a discussion of this subject.

The fact that Western powers use the UNHRC to exert pressure on Third World countries on the pretext of human rights, to make them do their bidding has been totally disregarded by Dr.S, while he finds fault with the Sri Lankan governments for not doing enough in the implementation of the UNHRC recommendations. Further, the fact that the Western powers make use of Tamils to destabilize Sri Lanka, as they did with the LTTE, to get it to fall in line and that Tamil separatists are willing partners in this project, has not been considered by Dr. S. It is naive to think that mishandling or not solving the Tamil Problem “brought us here” and resulted in Geneva Resolutions.

One cannot discuss Geneva disregarding the Tamil Problem. To understand the nature of the Tamil Problem, and why it remains apparently unresolved, one must examine its history and origin. It has its origin in Tamil separatism which dates back to 1930s. Tamil separatism is a Tamil construct. When independence for Ceylon was being considered by the British Raj, as it was uneconomical to maintain their empire, the Tamil leaders petitioned the British Government requesting a separate state for the Tamils. A case had been prepared for this claim well in advance. Mudaliyar C. Rasanayagam in his book titled “Ancient Jaffna” (1926) attempts to show that an independent kingdom existed in Jaffna before it was conquered by the Portuguese in 1619. This is a distortion of facts. Mudliyar Rasanayagam’s views on Tamil habitation in Sri Lanka have been proved to be baseless, and less than a scholarly discourse of the matter by Prof. K. N. O. Dharmadasa (2007). Prof. Indrapala Karthigesu’s research work had shown that there is no evidence of Tamil habitation in Sri Lanka before the 10th Century CE. If there were Tamil kings in Jaffna, there should be inscriptions in Tamil, but not a single one has been found. On the contrary the earliest inscription found in Jaffna could be attributed to a Sinhala king, Parakramabahu II, who ruled Jaffna from Polonnaruwa.

In this context, it is important to see how this issue is being pursued at present. Former Chief Minister Wigneshwaran, has called for the creation of a Federal State for the Tamils, and to substantiate his claim had made reference to the ancient Tamil Kingdom and he has said Mahawamsa is fiction.. TNA leader R Sampanthan, speaking in the Parliament on the 8th January 2020, drew attention to the hitherto unresolved Tamil man’s problem (The Island, 10.01.2020). He has said 85% of Tamils have voted against Gotabaya Rajapaksa, which he says is an indication that their problem has not been addressed and that the Tamils have at every election repeatedly voiced the need for a solution to their problem. Since most of the economic, social, political and cultural needs of the Tamil community, in the Sri Lankan context, have been sorted out, one wonders what other grievances could be bothering the Tamils. However, when one reads Sampanthan’s speech, one would understand that his problem is the nature of the state of Sri Lanka as defined in the present constitution. What he wants obviously is to replace the word “unitary” in Chapter 1 Clause 2 of the Constitution, with the words “united, undivided and indivisible”. These words place the single sovereignty concept in jeopardy, and opens the way to federalism and separatism.

The above facts show how the Tamil leadership has made the Tamil Problem an intractable issue. Dr. S says, successive governments have failed to discuss these matters beginning from early times, and points out that the “50- 50” demand made by GG Ponnambalam, in 1939 in the State Council, and then to the Soulbury Commission in 1945, should have been discussed. When 50% of representation for the minorities is demanded disregarding population ratios, which is a crucial factor in universal franchise, could it be discussed? Similarly could the Thimpu Principles of recent times (1985) which the Tamils said were non-negotiable be discussed? Further, the TNA has submitted its proposals to the Experts Committee drafting the new Constitution, and these amount to a demand for an almost separate state for the Tamils. Are the Tamils serious in negotiating a solution?

The UNHRC Resolution 30/1 and the subsequent resolutions on Sri Lanka were sponsored by the Western countries, who indirectly supported LTTE terrorism and almost stopped the war being conducted to its finish. The Resolutions are biased because they make unsubstantiated accusations that the Sri Lankan armed forces have committed war crimes and these have to be investigated by international judges. No examination of the witnesses by the defense is allowed. Further no consideration whatsoever has been given to the available evidence that shows no war crimes have been committed by the armed forces. The evidence provided in the diplomatic dispatches filed by Lt. Col. Anthony Gash the Defence Attache of the British High Commission, and the revelations by Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith the Defence Attache of the US Embassy, which could be considered as reliable as these officers were aware of the ground situation during the final stages of the war, have totally been disregarded by the UNHRC and the sponsors of the Resolutions. Recently Lord Naseby has written to the UNHRC about these evidence, and he has brought these facts to the notice of the British House of Lords.

Is it such a UNHRC and its dubious resolutions that Dr. S wants our government to take seriously as the “day of reckoning” closes on us as Dr. S puts it? Does Dr. S think that the West is genuinely motivated by human rights issues? Surely he knows that they are the worst HR violators. Would the West withdraw these resolutions if we implement their recommendations? As a matter of fact, had we agreed to sign the MCC, ACSA and SOFA agreements of the US there would be no resolutions against Sri Lanka. And Mitchel Brechtlet would play a different tune. UNHRC Resolutions against Sri Lanka are nothing but tools of hegemony and imperialism.

Further the International Community, whose opinion and dictate Dr. S wants our government to pay heed to while dealing with human rights and UN Resolutions, is nothing but the Western power block, which uses human rights as a bludgeon against small countries while murdering millions of civilians all over the world. Is China with the largest population or Russia the largest country included in this International Community. The UK just a few weeks ago passed a law prohibiting accusation of war crimes against their armed forces. And their armed forces are not innocent of war crimes either, their brutal excesses in Iraq are well known. And it is the UK that led the crusade against Sri Lanka in Geneva.

It is very easy to say that if the government looks after the minorities there would be no Geneva resolutions against us. But when we are dealing with minorities who know that they can exploit the geo-political situation that exists in the Indian Ocean region to their advantage, by helping the West to get a grip on the strategically situated Sri Lanka, it is difficult to negotiate a solution that would be fair by all stakeholders. The Tamil separatists know this and they will make the Western powers pressure the Sri Lankan government to give in to their demands. The minorities will want to dictate terms and get their pound of flesh. However, the minorities must realize that everybody stands to lose if the imperialist West is allowed to take a stranglehold on our country. Tamils must give up their campaign which they started before the time of independence, and ask for a reasonable and realistic solution.

 

N.A.de S. AMARATUNGA

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Opinion

The land-grabbing frenzy

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The write-ups and the talks have been numerous: from the editors of newspapers (The Island, in particular), both professional and freelance journalists, environmentalists, concerned citizenry and down to that schoolgirl, who must have made many a self-proclaimed patriot clad in white and otherwise shrink in shame, when she gave her speech. That is if the listeners, or a good majority of them sitting in the front rows, have a conscience and a genuine regard for the well-being of the country, which I doubt.

Now back to the title of this letter: The land grabbing and forest clearing have now risen to levels that have never been seen before. And one wonders: if this maddening onslaught on our forests, wildlife reserves, wetlands et al., continues, how Mother Lanka now being denuded with such ferocity and impunity, is going to look in the very near future? Once an island full of luxuriant forests and thick jungles, is now slowly being transformed, by mindless humans, into a land more of concrete and brown, and much less green.

It seems that even the genuinely concerned officials can do nothing much about the destruction, but only complaining and reporting. No wonder, those wielding the axe are backed by the political might of some, who wouldn’t give two hoots about the consequences that are sure to come in the wake of this relentless destruction of our forests, wildlife reserves and rivers.

And those who dare to stand in the way of these scumbags are amply though bizarrely rewarded, by way of prohibitions and reprimands. Is it not despicable and disgusting? It looks like only the members of some environmental protection societies, editors of newspapers, journalists and the concerned citizenry, are able to comment and criticise on this land-robbery without fear of being found guilty of ‘something’, (the daring lady forest officer, who stepped into save the tree, is a case in point!) and escape the wrath of some of the government authorities.

The latest news is that the forest officers and the police will be reinforced by personnel from the armed forces, too, while carrying out raids, acting on tip offs or otherwise.

It is a tall order. We know who is involved, from the top and all the way down to the bottom, sitting on the ‘cutting, chopping, clearing and fencing hierarchy’. They all are in league with one another, headed or backed or both by those, who have enough political clout. Even some of the villagers may be involved, looking to own a piece of land for nothing. So the moment a raiding party is seen in the locality in question, the scumbags, who are busy with their dirty work, will be quickly notified by their scouts, giving them ample time to get away.

Therefore, catching them red-handed could be very difficult. Then there would be some with written authority from high-ups to carry out what they are doing. How the raiding parties are going to deal with them or someone like that Buddhist monk, who is said to have joined the party (pun intended) somewhere in Trincomalee, is another matter.

Lastly, my suggestion is: whilst continuing with the raids and the arrests, why not begin with the ones against whom there already exists enough evidence for unauthorised land grabbing, clearing and fencing; which is tantamount to grand scale theft of public property/assets and take legal action against them. This will serve as a deterrent to would-be land-grabbers and their supporters, too.

I sincerely hope this ‘Land-grabbing frenzy’ will soon be put to an end and those found guilty are put behind bars, without delay.

 

LAKSIRI WARNAKULA

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Opinion

Easter Sunday blasts: Red herrings

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By I. P. C. MENDIS

Enthusiasm initially displayed to get to the bottom of the whole episode on the Easter Sunday blasts eventually fast waned with the findings and recommendations in the Report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry. Those who find themselves in the dock seem to be mustering support, looking for red herrings so that the report can be dismissed as useless. What better straw can they cling on to except the popular acceptance and regard generally shown by the country to His Eminence, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, who understandably as the most aggrieved party proclaimed recently his dissatisfaction with the methodology/commitment of the whole inquisitorial exercise, and insisted on knowing who the brains behind it were.

Indeed, it goes without saying that the Cardinal’s thinking as well as his goal is entirely different from the agenda of those faulted by the Commission. In this regard, suffice it to say that the Roman Catholic authorities themselves should have been smart and alert enough to follow the various initiatives taken by the yahapalana regime to have a proper investigation ensuring comprehensive, specific terms of reference, etc. The writer while tendering his apologies if he is wrong in his assumptions, wishes to point out that any Commission of Inquiry has to function and conduct its investigations strictly on the basis of the terms of reference (TOR) determined by the appointing authority – in this case the President.

There is no way it can deviate or overstep this mandate. The government maintains a dead silence, not getting into the fray of accepting or denying the criticism/allegations against the PCOI. If indeed the PCOI had, in fact, followed strictly the TOR, it behoves the Presidential Secretariat to reveal the correct position in the public interest, and in fairness to the PCOI, which cannot defend itself. The government should not play hide and seek. The taxpayer has to get a return on his huge investment in the PCOI.

The appointment of the said PCOI had been published in gazette extraordinary No. 2141/88 of 21st September 2019, and the Terms of Reference would no doubt have been included therein. ( I was not successful in having access to this document.). However, the Daily News’of 23.09.19 while adverting to this gazette notification has had a narration of a statement made by President Sirirsena in reference to the appointment of the PCOI, which makes no reference to any commitment on the part of the PCOI to investigate the origin and funding of the organisation or agency behind the terror plan and its motives etc.

It is too far-fetched for the Executive Committee of the SLFP to even remotely imagine that President Sirisena would have chosen Commissioners who might eventually have thoughts of targeting him! It is preposterous and an unacceptable argument. It is the same with certain others who are now attempting to save themselves. If the TOR lacked the clout that was essential for the PCOI to investigate fully, the blame should lie with the appointing authority. Those in the dock seem to be attempting to escape the long arm of the law by creating public opinion against the PCOI with specious arguments. The proper forum is now the Courts of Justice, where they will have the opportunity to present all their arguments and defend themselves. Face it like men! Some relevant civil societies need to seriously consider whether there is any legal provision to haul some of the critics for contempt of the Commission although the PCoI has completed its term.

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