Connect with us

Editorial

Perpetrators as preachers

Published

on

Monday 7th June, 2021

A recent meeting between President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and British High Commissioner Sarah Hulton has received much publicity. They reportedly discussed the Geneva resolution against Sri Lanka, among other things. Interestingly, their meeting took place close on the heels of Germany’s apology for the colonial-era genocide in Namibia, and France’s admission of its role in the 1994 ethnic cleansing campaign in Rwanda, where about 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and Hutus perished; France has confessed that it did not heed warnings of the impending carnage.

While discussing the Geneva resolution with the British HC, the Sri Lankan side should have raised the following human rights issues with her and inquired whether the UK would tender an apology for its crimes against this country. In 1817-18, the British resorted to the scorched-earth policy to crush the Wellassa rebellion. Tens of thousands of people were massacred and all fruit-bearing trees felled. Farm animals were wiped out, and over one hundred thousand paddy fields, from which Wellassa has derived its name, reduced to rubble. All males in the area including children were put to the sword by the marauding British troops. What the British perpetrated were genocide and gendercide. Moreover, the UK government, which HC Hulton represents, has allowed a senior LTTE leader, Adele Balasingham, who brainwashed and trained female Tiger cadres responsible for massacring civilians and other crimes, to live in London as a free woman while the British leaders are calling for action against war crimes. Adele’s late husband, Anton Balasingham, who justified LTTE terror and strove to gain international legitimacy for it, was also a British citizen.

The British HC should also have been asked why any UK defence attachés should be stationed here because the British governments do not heed their advice, observations, etc. The Johnson administration has refused to take on board the views of British defence attache, Lt. Col. Anthony Gash, on the final stages of the Vanni war. The same goes for the US defence attaches, for Washington has also rejected as worthless its defence attache, Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith’s observations on Sri Lanka’s war.

While discussing the resolution adopted by the UN human rights arm against Sri Lanka, President Rajapaksa should have taken up with the British HC the UN public health arm’s criticism of the rich countries including the UK for vaccine hoarding. The People’s Vaccine Alliance has also lashed out at the developed nations for stockpiling Covid-19 vaccines at the expense of 70 lower-income countries. The Global North does not have to give away vaccines; if it stops stockpiling them, they will be available in other parts of the world.

The Sri Lankan side should also have discussed with the British HC the international human rights situation, and inquired from her why former British Prime Minister Tony Blair had not been brought to justice yet for his role in killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians including half a million children in an illegal war for oil waged on the basis of falsified intelligence dossiers. The British HC should also have been asked when the thousands of Chagossians, who were forcibly evicted by the UK for the construction of the Diego Garcia military base of the US between 1968 and 1973, would be allowed to return to their homeland. This question should also be posed to the US, which pontificates to others on human rights. The UN General Assembly has, in a 116-6 vote, affirmed a 13-1 International Court of Justice verdict that the British rule in the Chagos Archipelago is unlawful. Shouldn’t the UK and the US, before asking others to respect human rights and UNHRC resolutions abide by UN decisions and lead by example?

President Rajapaksa can raise the aforementioned issues with the British HC when they meet next and ask her when the UK will tender an apology for massacres here and make reparation.

It is wrong to say that the UK, Canada, the US, etc., have no right to champion democracy and be critical of human rights violations in places like Sri Lanka because they themselves are perpetrators of grave crimes. They do have a right to defend democracy and human rights. But they must apologise for their own crimes including genocide, gendercide and the plunder of resources in other countries and pay compensation, and thereby demonstrate that they feel remorse for their brutality. That is the least they can do to prevent themselves being seen as a bunch of hypocrites.

Meanwhile, whenever Sri Lankan leaders representing either the government or the Opposition meet foreign leaders or envoys, they invariably ask for financial assistance, thus reducing themselves to the level of mendicants near the Colombo Town Hall, where beggars hare in droves, seeking alms when a car pulls over. If these worthies who are leading ‘whiskey lifestyles’ on the country’s ‘toddy income’, as someone has rightly said, refrain from wasting and stealing public funds, perhaps there will be no need for foreign assistance. They also have huge amounts of leftover campaign funds, which are either invested through various fronts or stashed away in offshore accounts. Instead of panhandling, why can’t these grandees donate a fraction of their ill-gotten wealth so that the country can buy vaccines, PCR machines, ICU beds, etc., and provide economic relief to the poor they shed copious tears for?



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Editorial

Aftermath of X-Press Pearl

Published

on

The recovery of the voyage data recorder (VDR) of the dangerous cargo laden container ship, X-Press Pearl, the burning and subsequent sinking of which caused this country an unprecedented and unimaginable environmental disaster may help ongoing investigations to establish where culpability for alleged negligence or irresponsibility lie. The VDR is the equivalent on a ship of the ‘black box’ voice and data recorder in the cockpit of an aircraft vital for investigation of a plane crash. Fortunately, merchant shipping authorities, assisted by the navy, were able to recover this instrument, from the bridge of the now submerged vessel. It is now available for analysis and a court order has already been made to begin this process.

But there have been reports that because there had been little, if any, navigation on the bridge since the ship’s crew was evacuated from the vessel on May 25, the VDR may not have recorded substantial new information about recent events on board. Nevertheless it provides an added resource for investigation of the disaster.

The matter that is most in contention at the time this is being in written is whether ship’s local agent had deleted email communications between the vessel and himself as has been alleged. The fact that there was a leak in a container of nitric acid on board the ship has been known several days before the vessel anchored in Colombo’s outer harbor. The vessel had in fact attempted to off load the leaking container at two other ports, one in the Middle East and the other in India. Hamad in Qatar said it did not accept transshipment containers while Hazira in India had pleaded lack of facilities.

If the port authorities here knew of the problem well in advance, it would most likely have permitted priority berthing to deal with the emergency. The Chinese-run CICT (China International Container Terminals) controlled by China Merchant Port Holdings, one of the world’s largest port operators, with state-of-the-art equipment, would well have been able to handle the task. This is what the head of the Ceylon Association of Steamer Agents said in a recent television interview.

But from the narrative now in the public domain, it appears that the port authorities here had not been informed of the problem when the ship entered anchorage on the night of May 19 although the local agent had the information. How true or not that is remains to be established. If emails have been deleted as alleged, it will be possible to retrieve them through the ship’s server and this has been ordered.

Events had subsequently unfolded rapidly. First a fire on hold number two was reported but Colombo was told that the fire fighting capability on board had dealt with it. Thereafter the fire reignited and winds blowing at speeds of up to 100 kilometres per hour fanned the flames. The massive effort mobilizing all available resources, including air support and fire fighting tugboats, to bring the blaze under control failed dismally.

According to international safety requirements, no dangerous cargo can be stored below deck and the nitric acid containers could not have been in the hold where the first fire was reported. Whether the leaking acid triggered the fire below remains an open question.

On top of all else, it is feared that we at risk of a massive oil spill as we stagger under the Covid pandemic Whether that will come to pass has not been made clear as this comment is being written. But we have to be prepared for the worst even with the limited resources we command. International assistance that will always be available to combat a catastrophe as big as this has already been mobilized. An Indian ship equipped for such emergencies is on standby at the scene.

The stricken vessel is reported to have been carrying about 350 tonnes of fuel on board when she arrived at the Colombo anchorage. The optimistic assessment, not yet confirmed, is that much of this would have been burnt in the massive fire that raged aboard before the ship began to sink. But pictures of what appeared to be an oil slick were beamed by at least one local television station that sent a crew to cover the sinking ship. Hopefully much of the fuel oil, if not all of it, has been destroyed in the fire.

The X-press Pearl was carrying among other cargo a large volume of plastic pellets, raw material for the plastic industry, some of which was consigned to Colombo, among other cargo like chemicals and cosmetics. Billions of these pellets have been washed ashore on our beaches and many more would yet be in the sea. Beach clearing operations have begun but how effective they would be even in the short and medium term is yet to be seen.

Dead sea creatures including turtles are being washed ashore and marine environmentalists predict vast damage that can extend to a hundred years. Fishermen fear for their livelihood. What would polluted beaches do to out tourist industry? It is unlikely that even if we are compensated in billions by insurers, as is being freely claimed, that this country can never again be what it was before the disaster. There is no escaping the reality that a long tough haul lies ahead.

Continue Reading

Editorial

Failures galore

Published

on

Saturday 12th June, 2021

The Covid-19 fatality rate is rising steadily; 101 deaths were reported yesterday. A few weeks ago, not many people may have taken seriously scientists’ prediction that Covid deaths would exceed 100 a day here unless stringent measures were adopted to curb the spread of the pandemic. The government played politics with pandemic control in April and let the grass grow under its feet, and the public took health experts’ warnings lightly, and threw caution to the wind.

It is usually the ruling party/coalition that faces internal problems during national crises, which the Opposition uses to gain traction on the political front. But, today, both the government and the Opposition are up the creek; the former has its approval ratings plummeting rapidly due to the mismanagement of the pandemic, corruption, inefficiency, etc., and the latter is facing a leadership crisis. They are papering over the cracks.

The Opposition would have the public believe that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has failed. Its propagandists have launched an aggressive social media campaign against the government, which, they claim, has failed on every front. If their claim is considered true, then it follows therefrom that 6.9 million people who voted for Rajapaksa at the last presidential election have failed, for they have made a bad choice. The same may be said of those who voted for the SLPP at the last general election.

Some key Opposition figures in the SJB have reportedly turned against their leader Sajith Premadasa, and are expected to join forces with UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe when the latter enters Parliament as a UNP National List MP. The SJB rebels are of the view that the Opposition, under Premadasa’s leadership, has failed to live up to the people’s expectations because it has not become an effective countervailing force against the government, which is bulldozing its way through. One may therefore argue that 5.5 million people who voted for Premadasa at the last presidential election have also failed; the same goes for the voters who backed the SJB at last year’s parliamentary polls.

Thus, it may be seen that not only the elected but also electors have failed. This may explain why this country finds itself in the present predicament and is unable to achieve progress.

************************************************

Let actions speak!

Some Opposition MPs refused to be inoculated against Covid-19, declaring that they would wait until the ordinary public had been vaccinated; a few of these politicians have contracted the disease. Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa is one of them. Attending a religious function at Ganagaramaya, Colombo, after being discharged from hospital, Premadasa said he had got infected because he had refused the jab for the sake of the public. He deserves praise for having taken a principled position.

Undergoing quarantine or treatment for Covid-19 at private hospitals is a luxury that ordinary people cannot afford; they are taken to the state-run quarantine facilities or hospitals. Have the Opposition politicians who refused to be given first dibs on the jab, for the sake of the public, and got infected as a result, stayed at the same government quarantine centres or hospitals as the ordinary people? If not, why?

Opposition Leader Premadasa has rightly called upon the government to curtail waste and channel the funds so saved for the country’s fight against Covid-19. He has berated the government both in and outside Parliament for incurring unnecessary expenditure––quite rightly so. He has struck a responsive chord with the right-thinking people, who expect the government to manage public money frugally.

Having talked the talk so eloquently, now the Opposition Leader has got an opportunity to walk the walk. The government has unashamedly decided to buy luxury vehicles for the MPs amidst the worsening national health emergency. The Opposition MPs are among the beneficiaries of what has come to be dubbed the Covid bonanza; they also had no qualms about spending public funds to the tune of billions of rupees on importing vehicles for the MPs in the aftermath of disasters like the Meethotamulla garbage dump collapse and the Salawa armoury blast. They unflinchingly did so while the disaster victims were crying out for assistance. They have shown no remorse for their shameful actions.

Will the Opposition Leader launch a frontal attack against the government, pressuring it to stop the luxury vehicle imports, or at least tell the SJB MPs to refuse the SUVs, etc., to be imported for them?

Continue Reading

Editorial

Make lockdown work

Published

on

Friday 11th June, 2021

The Covid-19 fatality rate shows no signs of plateauing any time soon, much less decreasing although the current lockdown has been in force for about three weeks. It was reported yesterday that 67 deaths had occurred due to the pandemic on Wednesday—the highest ever in a single day in this country. Curiously, there have been no such exponential increases in infections if the Health Ministry statistics are anything to go by. There are two possibilities, according to health experts. Either the severity of the disease has increased, killing more people, while the rate of virus transmission actually remains at the same level, or the number of PCR tests conducted daily has been decreased. Doctors have warned the government that any reduction in PCR testing will stand in the way of assessing the pandemic situation properly and, therefore be counterproductive.

The Covid-19 deaths are officially announced in such a way that one suspects a government attempt at obfuscation. The only way the Health Ministry can allay doubts as regards the mortality rate is to announce the number of new fatalities for each day of the week separately. Gobbledygook won’t do. Every statistical lie has a short shelf life. There is no alternative to aggressive testing in the fight against Covid-19, and the government had better heed expert advice. The country is in the current mess with so many lives being lost daily, because the government ignored doctors’ call for a lockdown in April.

Lockdowns helped prevent the formation of infection clusters very effectively last year because they were coupled with a quarantine curfew. The government was blamed for overreacting then. But this time around, the lockdown has not been so effective probably because many workplaces have been allowed to function without adequate pandemic prevention measures being adopted to ensure the safety of workers.

About 92 out of 300 workers who underwent PCR testing at a private factory in the Dompe MHO area have tested positive for Covid-19, according to media reports. These infected workers must have travelled to and from work, exposing their family members, friends and others to the disease. The existence of such infection clusters may explain why the death toll from the pandemic continues to rise in spite of the current lockdown. A similar situation is said to prevail in many other workplaces, especially factories, which must be inspected regularly.

As for the spread of Covid-19, people working in cramped conditions, run the same risk as partygoers, however essential it may be to keep factories and other such workplaces open to mitigate the adverse economic impact of the lockdown. Unless urgent action is taken to prevent the transmission of the deadly virus through these places, the current lockdown is bound to fail. The health authorities will have to inspect all workplaces that remain open to see if they have become pandemic hotspots, and ensure that aggressive PRC testing is done and workers are inoculated against Covid-19 on a priority basis. The Dompe factory cluster would not have emerged if the health officials responsible for inspecting the place had done their job properly. There is no way so many workers could work while being sick, unbeknownst to their employers. Were they forced to work to meet production targets despite their sickness? An investigation is called for.

Going by the sheer number of vehicles on roads, one may wonder whether the country is under lockdown at all, or if all Sri Lankan workers are engaged in the provision of essential services. It is humanly impossible for the police to check every vehicle, and almost all drivers and riders produce letters from their employers, claiming that they have to report for work. Confusion over who should actually go to work to maintain essential services and keep the economy ticking has to be cleared to prevent many institutions from making their employees report for work unnecessarily amidst the worsening pandemic situation.

The government keeps extending lockdowns. Necessary as such action is, given the increasing death rate, it may not help curb the spread of the pandemic unless the current movement restrictions are strictly enforced. It is high time the situation was reassessed and stringent remedial action taken to make the lockdown work so that the pandemic could be brought under control for the country to be reopened soon.

Continue Reading

Trending