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Preaching to Sri lanka about Internal Unity



I refer to the article, under the heading “Internal Unity – a priority”, on the Opinion Page of The Island of 30th April. I have no disagreement with the assertion made by the writer that what Jehan Perera stated was a thoughtful and measured message. Jehan Perera usually offers wise and helpful messages to his countrymen, through his writing. But I have a problem about certain other things that the writer of this article: Mr Tony Witham (TW) referred to above.

From the content and tone of this article, I can easily guess on whose behalf that he wrote it. The official agency resident in this country, which should have responded to what TW called “shrill and hysterical words emanating from a large number of writers”, has significantly kept silent on this matter, because the shrill (but not hysterical) voices have been stating the truth. TW’s pathetic attempt to counter them has been a resounding failure.

Take for instance his argument that if someone is innocent of an accusation, one need not be worried about an investigation, because one would be invariably cleared eventually. I am greatly surprised at the extreme naivety displayed by this writer here. In the real world of ours, things are not as simple as that. Fair trials do not happen automatically. Too many innocent people are being convicted of crimes, which they never committed. In a recent research study by the Law Department of a University in USA (Boston College, Mass. USA) it was found that since 1989, more than 2,700 people in the USA have been first convicted of felony crimes, and then released later after they spent varying periods in prison, on finding new evidence. This amounts to an average of nearly 90 a year. Together, these unfortunate people have unnecessarily served 24,600 years in prison. Some others would have been even put to death. The Boston College researchers acknowledge that these were only the high profile cases that received publicity in the media, and that there could be many other lesser known cases not subjected to such re-examination. If this is the case with the USA, then the situation in the UK and other advanced or ‘civilized’ countries would not be any better, and what about other less developed countries? And what about those countries which have laws reminiscent of the Dark Ages.

I wonder whether TW would still recommend a passive behaviour to individuals and/or countries confronted with false accusations. TW, please note that miscarriages of justice often happen when the accusers resort to fabrication of evidence or suppression of evidence unfavourable to them, just like what the leader of the Core Group (UK) is doing right now in the case of Human Rights accusations against Sri Lanka.

Responding to very valid questions raised by the distinguished writers (TW’s expression), he cleverly downplays a valid issue by bringing in a story of how a group of kids playfully accused each other of some mischief by saying “You did it first”, etc. The issue Mr TW, is not who did the wrong thing first, the issue is the credentials of the so-called Leader of the ‘Core Group’. As I pointed out in a previous letter to the editor, this particular country being one of the greatest perpetrators of HR violations in history, has no moral right to talk about HR situations in other countries. We know that this country is certainly not the one that is without sin to claim the right to throw the first stone.

Mr Editor, thank you for publishing recently that picture of a whole contingent of African people enslaved, most probably by the British Slave Traders (who else?). That picture shows how a group of human beings with black skins – bare bodied, that the slave traders apparently caught to be sold like cows and sheep. These unfortunate men were linked to each other by a heavy steel chain welded to rings round their necks, the chain being similar in size to those used to control elephants in our country. I appeal to you to publish this picture or similar revealing pictures at least occasionally for the benefit of our readers, who may not be familiar with what the British slave traders have been doing during the 18th and 19th Centuries, with the full blessings of their home government.

The main concern of the writer TW appears to be the need for internal unity in our country: Sri Lanka. The country in whose defence TW is writing has, however, not proved its genuine interest in the internal unity of other countries. See what it has done to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Its interventions have resulted in converting these formerly peaceful countries into battlefields, causing the death of thousands of innocent people. These countries are now hotbeds of international terrorism. Given these facts, how can we have faith in your good intentions anymore?

TW should know that one big impediment to achieving that internal unity in this country of ours has been the activity of Tamil diaspora residents in the UK, which includes former members and sympathisers of the terrorist organization: the LTTE. We note that this group has been installed, nurtured and protected by the government of their host country. The LTTE activists command ample financial resources, which enable them to exert influence on the local (Sri Lankan) Tamil politics, encouraging extremist positions, and preventing the growth of moderate Tamil groups willing to cooperate with similar moderate groups among the majority community in the South, to forge internal unity in the country. Furthermore, over time, these UK-based Tamil groups have grown in numbers and reached positions where they are able to influence the outcomes of local and parliamentary elections of their host country. Often false propaganda against Sri Lanka are brought before the British Parliament, through some British parliamentarians, who are more often than not quite ignorant about the true situation in Sri Lanka. The LTTE groups have also used their political influence to prevent Her Majesty’s Government from dealing with perpetrators of war crimes in Sri Lanka, such as Adele Balasingham.

Mr TW, therefore, there are many things that the Leader of the Core Group has to accomplish to promote internal unity in Sri Lanka, before passing strictures, giving advice and passing baseless resolutions at the UNHRC. What I have tried to express in this letter are not trivial matters which can be dismissed as hysterical responses. However, Mr TW, thank you all the same.

S A K.

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This refers to the superlatively interesting and provocative piece on the above subject by Dr Upul Wijewardene{UW) appearing in The Island of 21/3/23 wherein, as he states, he had been a victim himself at the hands of a well-known Professor of Medicine turned health administrator. He makes it a point to castigate the leaders of the Buddhist clergy for their deviation from the sublime doctrine of this religion.

My first thought on this subject is that it is a cultural problem of exploitation by the privileged of the less fortunate fellow beings. The cultural aspect has its origin in the religion of the majority in India, Hinduism. There is no such discrimination in Islam.

The first recorded case was that of a Sinhala member of the Dutch army fighting against the Portuguese (or the army of the Kandiyan kingdom) being prevented by the members of the higher ranks from wearing sandals due to his low status in the caste hierarchy. The Dutch commander permitted the Sinhala solder to wear sandals as recorded by Paul Pieris in “Ceylon the Portuguese era”

There is also the instance of a monk getting up to meet the King when it was not the customary way of greeting the King by monks.

In an article by Dr Michael Roberts, a Sri Lankan historian published in a local journal, it is said that members of the majority caste (approximately 40% of the Sinhala population) were not permitting lower ranking public officials serving the British government wear vestments studded with brass buttons. The second tier of the hierarchy who had become rich through means other than agriculture like sale of alcohol in the early British times took their revenge by lighting crackers in front of houses of their caste rivals when a British Duke was marching along in a procession in Colombo.

It is not uncommon for members of minority castes numerically low in numbers to help their own kind due to the discriminatory practices of the higher tiers of the hierarchy.

Dr Leo Fernando
Talahena, Negombo

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Billion-dollar carrot



The IMF successfully coerced the government into falling line with its instructions on debt restructuring and increasing of revenue, among others, and in all probability will release the first tranche of the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) during the course of this week. Regrettably, the IMF is not coercive where the violations of fundamental rights of a country, vis a vis universal franchise, is concerned. On its part, the government flaunted this invaluable tool on the public, as the only remedy for all its financial ailments. It was least worried of the consequences that would necessarily follow.

Taking the cue, professionals and trade union activists dangled the carrot of carrot of strikes to restrain the government on its implementation, the results of which are still in abeyance. Not to be outdone, the powers that be has refused to relent on the grounds that the economy has to be strengthened at whatever costs.

Now that the IMF loan has materialized, the government is already focusing its attention on securing further assistance from other lending agencies. How will the IMF monies be expended, and for what purposes? Naturally, the people would want to know since it is they who have to foot the bill at the end. The Treasury insists that it has no funds to provide for the conduct of LG polls. Just 10% of the rupee equivalent of the first tranche of US $ 300 million will suffice for the successful completion of the elections. Provided the government wants to.

The President has assured that no sooner the Agreement is signed with the IMF, he would submit a copy of it to Parliament. It would be prudent if he would also submit (without plucking figures from thin air) a comprehensive expenditure account on the disbursement of the first tranche. And continue to do so for the rest.

Being fully aware of the country’s top priority needs, attention should be focused on providing them at reasonable prices. Besides them, agriculture, fishing and domestic industries should also be given due consideration. Merely dangling of carrots before them will not suffice.

Non-essential development projects should be shelved until the dreamed of economic stability is achieved. Of special note is that upkeep and interests of politicians should not be addressed with these funds.Can the people expect some sort of genuine transparency even at this late stage?


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Death penalty – another view



In his article, (The Island, 8th March), Dr Jayampathy Wickremeratne, would have us believe that the Death Penalty is not an effective deterrent and it should be abolished in Sri Lanka. Similar arguments are presented in India, home to some of the most horrendous crimes of violence against Women and children, and also in South Africa, where the death penalty was abolished despite strong opposition from the vast majority of the population.

Use of the Death Penalty purely for political purposes is always bad, but that’s not what the public are calling for. The public want the Death penalty implemented RIGOROUSLY, against those who have undeniably murdered children, and also serial killers whose victims are invariably women. Their crimes are gruesome but unfortunately need to be detailed to counter the pseudo- academic arguments of Death Penalty abolishonists. For example:

South Africa abolished the death penalty despite vigorous opposition. In South Africa one of its worst serial killers, led the police to the remains of 38 of his victims all of them women and all from the poorest class (mostly domestic servants).

On 12 March, India’s National Broadcaster NDTV reports the case of a man in Kashmir, whose marriage proposal was refused. He murdered his prospective young bride, cut up her body and disposed the remains in several places to avoid detection. A few days ago, a similar incident in India was reported by NDTV, where a 17-year-old was stabbed and dragged through s crowded street and murdered with no public intervention! In Sri Lanka a few years ago, four-year-old Seya fell victim to a murderer, rapist, a person known to her family, whom the child trusted. Likewise, a 17-year-old girl miss Sivaloganathan was raped and murdered in the North by a gang led by an individual known as “Swiss Kumar” a porn film maker of Sri Lankan origin, living in Switzerland. (One wonders whether he subsequently received the benevolent “Presidential Pardon”!

Other arguments used in Dr Wickremeratne’s article, are out of date. For example, he refers to wrongful convictions in a bygone age where DNA testing did not exist. DNA tests enable identity to be established and tie a murderer to the crime, beyond any doubt. Elsewhere he cites a Table where Murder rates are calculated as follows- “divide the number of murders by the total population, in death-penalty and non-death penalty states”. This methodology is patently flawed. It assumes that the populations of ALL 50 States in the USA are homogeneous in demography and other characteristics- it equates the violent State of New York with relatively peaceful Alaska.

Dr W advocated “long term imprisonment” in lieu of death penalty. Frankly this is the academic argument of a person removed from everyday life and steeped in Academia, “the social cost of rehabilitation” is Immense! It has been estimated that the cost of keeping a person on death row is at least Rs 50,000 per month – for the rest of the murderers’ life! It should ALSO be pointed out that in Singapore and other countries where the death penalty operates, murder rates are significantly low.


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