By Dr. Asoka Bandarage
According to the Center for Systems Science at Johns Hopkins University, as of November 29th, there have been 62,150,421 COVID-19 cases, including 1,450,338 deaths. According to the latest ILO reports, as job losses escalate due to lockdowns, nearly half of the global workforce is at risk of losing livelihoods, access to food and the ability to survive. The World Economic Forum states that ‘With some 2.6 billion people around the world in some kind of lockdown, we are conducting arguably the largest psychological experiment ever.’ As governments and corporations tighten political authoritarianism and technological surveillance, curtailing privacy and democratic protest, much of humanity is succumbing to anxiety, depression and a sense of powerlessness. Countries with some of the harshest lockdowns, such as India, have seen significant increases in suicides.
Pandemic Narrative and Dissent
Dominant global political and economic institutions and the media present their pandemic narrative as based on scientific authority. However, there is increasing dissension on the origin and prevention of the virus within the biomedical profession. Many physicians and scientists are questioning if COVID-19 is a natural occurrence or the product of a leak from a lab experimenting with coronaviruses and bioweapons. There is concern over the accuracy of PCR tests and false positives, as well as the classification of deaths simply as COVID-19 deaths when an overwhelming number of deaths are related to pre-existing illnesses or comorbidities, such as diabetes and heart disease. Even according to November 25, 2020 CDC statistics, COVID-19 was the sole cause of death mentioned in only 6% of the deaths. The disproportionately higher rates of Covid deaths among American Indians and Alaska Natives, for example, are due to higher rates of obesity, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease than among more privileged U.S. communities.
The Covid pandemic has not been the ‘Great Equalizer’ as suggested by the likes of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and members of the World Economic Forum. Rather, it has exacerbated existing inequalities along gender, race and economic class divides across the world. Just as unemployed and uninsured Americans are pleading for support, the combined wealth of U.S. billionaires ‘surpassed $1 trillion in gains since March 2020 and the beginning of the pandemic,’ according to a study by the Institute for Policy Studies. The top five U.S. billionaires – Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett and Larry Ellison – saw their wealth grow by a total of $101.7 billion, or 26%, during this period.
Among the pandemic profiteers are CEOs of companies like Zoom and Skype providing video conferencing, and Amazon providing online shopping to citizens under lockdown. Yet the success of these companies has not translated into better wages and safety conditions for their employees. However, the political and ideological power of the billionaire class and their influence over domestic and global policymaking are increasing. Relevant in this regard is billionaire Bill Gates’ central role in the development and marketing of vaccines and interest in use of vaccines as a method of population control.
The pharmaceutical industry, i.e. Big Pharma, (including vaccine manufacturers) are known for inflating prices, avoiding taxes and manipulating the political process to maximize profit. Unfortunately, this corrupt industry is a key player in the race to end the COVID-19 pandemic. The incoming Biden administration in the US has received extensive funding from the pharmaceutical industry, yet they have not agreed to cut the cost of a possible coronavirus vaccine developed with federal research dollars. Rather, the Biden administration, also heavily funded by the big tech, finance and defense sectors, is poised to facilitate ‘The Great Reset;’ the initiative to remake the post-pandemic world order by the World Economic Forum.
The ‘Great Reset’
The World Economic Forum (WEF), which identifies itself as ‘the international organization for public-private partnership,’ (i.e., like the Council on Foreign Relations, a geopolitical corporate power agency) sees the social and economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic as a ‘unique window of opportunity to shape the recovery.’ Speaking at a conference organized by the WEF in June 2020, former US Secretary of State, John Kerry expressed concern:
“Forces and pressures that were pushing us into crisis over the social contract are now exacerbated….The world is coming apart, dangerously, in terms of global institutions and leadership.”
The ‘Great Reset’ envisioned by the WEF seeks to address these challenges by radical global restructuring. It seeks to reinvent ‘the priorities of societies, the nature of business models and the management of a global commons…to build a new social contract…,’ with sustainable development and resilience as its ultimate objectives.
At its next annual gathering of the rich and powerful in Davos, Switzerland in January 2021, the WEF is expected to adopt the Great Reset and also incorporate youth leaders from around the world into the initiative through a virtual summit.
The stated goals of sustainability and resilience are laudable, but many are questioning the true objectives of both the WEF and the Great Reset. The pandemic simulation called Event 201, for example, was conducted in October 2019, about three months before the COVID-19 outbreak by the World Economic Forum in conjunction with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The simulation predicted up to 65 million deaths due to a coronavirus. Many are wondering why these powerful organizations, having apparently already run the exact scenario as a test, failed to prevent or at least prepare the world for the imminent viral outbreak.
The global political economy has been moving in the direction of increasing technological and market integration through social media, artificial intelligence and biotechnology. In the wake of COVID-19, the trends towards digitalization and commoditization of economic and social relations have increased. The ‘Great Reset’ seeks to accelerate and solidify these trends as well as expand corporate control of natural resources and state surveillance of individuals. In the post-pandemic ‘Great Reset,’ there would not be much life left outside the technological-corporate nexus dominated by monolithic agribusiness, pharmaceutical, communication, defense and other inter-connected corporations, and the governments and media serving them.
The proponents of the ‘Great Reset’ envisage a Brave New World where, ‘You will own nothing. And you will be happy. Whatever you want, you will rent, and it will be delivered by drones…´ But it is more likely that this elite-led revolution will make the vast majority of humanity a powerless, appendage of technology with little consciousness and meaning in their lives.
The mainstream media establishment tends to cast all critiques of the dominant Covid narrative and solutions as ‘conspiracy theories.’ Yet, more and more people are questioning the narrative on the origin and management of the pandemic and, instead, see the need to shift to a truly democratic, just and ecological civilization.
Many of the anti-lockdown protests around the world have had a limited focus on social restrictions and personal freedom, desires usually in tune with the individualism of globalized consumer culture. While these have gained some attention in the mainstream media by their acceptability, the more focused and progressive demands for social and economic rights by civil society groups have received scant attention.
These include demands by numerous groups, such as Oxfam International, to make COVID-19 medicines and vaccines free and fair for all. There is also a demand for a global public inquiry, to be led by independent scientists, to gather evidence on the origin and evolution of COVID-19. In addition, there is a call for an International Biowarfare Crimes Tribunal, to bring perpetrators of the pandemic to justice, whether they be from the US or China.
The overall objective of these demands is in greater transparency, ethics and accountability in the use of technology, especially biotechnology and vaccines against COVID-19 and other viruses. The demand for enforcement of the Biological Weapons Convention calls on the ‘nations of the world, China, Russia, the US, to come together to enforce better verification systems for preventing the production of biological weapons in the future, before the world is put through multiple pandemics to come’. These are concerns to be included in an alternative ethical, wise and compassionate ‘Great Reset.’
The Covid pandemic is a turning point, an opportunity to change. The reset we need now is not the creation of a ‘post-human, post-nature’ world defined by unregulated corporate-led growth of artificial intelligence and biotechnology. We need to balance digitalization and commoditization with an ecological reset, a way of living that respects the environment, promotes agroecology, bioregionalism and local communities.
We need to raise our consciousness and understanding of humanity as a species in nature, our connectedness to each other and the rest of planetary life.
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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