by Malinda Seneviratne
Few countries can boast of anything close to the track record of Britain when it comes to gross human rights violations. Genocide and monumental plunder have marked the history of that country and indeed have been the main source of the wealth and sway its citizens and governments, respectively, have enjoyed over several centuries. It is ironic then that this global bully (or rather the side-kick of the worst rogue state on earth, the USA) has led moves against Sri Lanka in Geneva. These moves can be traced back to the USA’s direct involvement (the involvement, following the ‘cesspool of bias’ descriptive of the UNHRC, has been largely behind-the-scenes stuff) in various vexatious allegations based not on evidence but hearsay. The evidence, as such there were, for example the missives of military attaches of the USA and UK in Colombo as well as the ICRC were disregarded and are still left out of the narrative. Now, as it was then, it is about strategic interests. Then it was just the USA’s designs on the region. Now, in reduced circumstances it is the interests of the infamous ‘QUAD’ (USA, India, Japan and Australia) in counterpoint to the ‘Chinese Footprint Gonibilla.’ Ironically, the terrorist rump now masquerading as champions of human rights, i.e. the ex-LTTE groups who have re-branded themselves after the military defeat of the terrorists in 2009, are unhappy with the Resolution passed early this week. In that sense they find themselves in the same camp as the Sri Lankan government! However, the reasons for dismay are different. Sri Lanka believes it is vexatious persecution. The Government won’t say this, but it is really vexatious persecution by rogue states with sordid histories who turned the Human Rights Council into a kangaroo court.
The Tiger-rump is unhappy because the resolution hasn’t gone ga-ga with the now tired ‘Tamil genocide’ story but has instead been an exercise to further Quad objectives. The resolution is, admittedly, about the here and now. In other words it is about targeting the present government. If ‘war crimes’ was what it was all about then it is immaterial whether or not a US/UK friendly government is in power; it is a matter of principle, nothing else. However, the degree of vexation indicates clearly that things in Geneva are politically motivated.
The here and now. That’s an interesting factor. In the here and now the UK is almost at the tail end of a process to legislate the protection of service personnel in overseas operations. Not that they haven’t got away with all manner of crimes against humanity in the past of course. However, if tomorrow, the UK decides to invade Switzerland and some British soldier took Michelle Bachelet hostage, subjected her to torture (as advocated in interrogation manuals for British and US troops) and shot her thereafter, that country can resist censure at home by citing what is called the Protection from Vexatious Prosecution Bill.
Vexation, after all, is a subjective term. As for censure in multilateral forums such as the Human Rights Council, it is about who calls the shots. There’s a cartel of rogue states who are ready to close ranks. They did so just the other day in what was essentially a Europe and North America combine against the rest of the world affair, buying off or silencing the objectors through bribe and threat just as was done in the infamous Green Rooms just prior to a vote being taken to bury the General Agreement on Trade and Tariff and to set up in its place the World Trade Organization.What’s pertinent is that in the here and now, given the vexatious prosecution legislation, the Human Rights Council played dumb and dumber. It played blissfully ignorant or else knowingly pernicious. No one bothered to ask the British representatives if they’ve heard of the adage ‘charity begins at home.’ That’s international political economy, folks. The further harassment of Sri Lanka that was legitimated is not about turning Sri Lanka into some kind of paradise when it comes to protecting human rights. It’s about arm-twisting the government into submitting to mechanisms that further Quad objectives or, failing which, wreck things to the point that destabilizes the country and as per top priority in the wish-list result in bringing in a pliant and indeed servile government. The Human Rights Council has been hijacked by bullies. Sorry, the Human Rights Council was made by bullies, for bullies and with bullies. Bullies can keep changing goal posts until they can score.
All of this makes it all the more important for the government and the people of this country to get some basic things right. A government without the support of the people on Counts A, B and C, cannot defend the country and people on Count D. It goes without saying that a government that cares not about Count D will subject people to shameless servility. Of course they’ll call it some nice name. Like yahapalanaya. Or, as the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (which played dumb, dumber and dumbest when in power to allow the then government to compromised sovereignty via Resolution 30/1 in 2015) would put it ‘a balanced foreign policy.’ Such garbage is cheap. We might end up there. This is why national security is inextricably linked to livelihood sustainability, protection of resources and an improved score on the Happiness Index.The government has got the intelligence part of the equation right. The entire apparatus was almost dismantled by the previous government and to add insult to injury no stone was left unturned to demoralize the personnel in the intelligence services. If anyone has any doubts about the success of this aspect of things, just consider the fact that countries like the UK, France, Germany and Italy are in lockdown right now, despite the bucks and vaccines. And the USA? A basket case if ever there was one, over and above the absolute misery that Washington inflicts on minorities in that racist and thieving trigger-happy nation. Yes, they all voted against Sri Lanka, except the USA (the behind-the-scenes string-puller for European marionettes). How about Sri Lanka? The number of active Covid-19 cases have dropped from 10,000 to a little over 2,000. Things are getting back to normal. This would not have been possible if not for the tireless, 24/7 work ethic that marks the State Intelligence Service which readily accepted the burden of tracking and tracing, effectively complementing the excellent work of the health authorities in the state sector. STATE sector. Yes, that’s an emphasis that says something about private healthcare and privatization. And yet we have people like Nalin Bandara (MP-SJB) who will go out of the way to disparage the intelligence services. The likes of Bandara, knowingly or unknowingly play into the hands of anti-Sri Lankan (or, put another way, pro-Quad) forces for whom vexatious persecution is second nature. The relevant officers have taken Bandara to task, sending him letters of demand for damage caused. We won’t say anything more on the matter because it’s all about courts from now on. We don’t have to say anything more.That kind of ‘security’ however is only one side of a many-sided story or rather a multi-faceted approach to national security. We need to, as mentioned above, ensure food security. We need the economy back on track. We need to set up and strengthen development banks and cooperative banks. We need models that are not crafted by people and nations interested only in furthering their interests and whose proposals, while hiding the fact, market servility as programs of prosperity. We need to take care of our resources. We need a new development model.We cannot do any of this if we don’t have comprehensive knowledge of all things relevant to development, data most of all. If there are gaps they need to be filled. If reliability is an issue it has to be addressed. It can be done. It must be done. Yes, managing foreign relations is important. It has to be framed by what can be done, what cannot be done, what should be done and what should not be done. The diplomats are well-equipped to do all this. They need to advise the politicians and more importantly politicians should be guided by the diplomats. Citizens are not diplomats. Neither are political commentators. However, they all have the right to air their views. For example, on India. INDIA DID NOT STAND WITH SRI LANKA. India, in this crucial vote, by virtue of abstaining, was complicit. India did speak and the words were obnoxious. India harped about the 13th Amendment. The 13th Amendment was the issue of a marriage between Indian thuggery and Sri Lankan acquiescence, the former represented by Rajiv Gandhi and the latter by J R Jayewardene, one of the grandfathers of the SJB; India reneged on its part of the bargain but has the gumption to demand that Sri Lanka fulfill agreements made by a government in decline under duress! India, geographically challenged, stood with the West, square in the middle of the Atlantic. Sri Lanka has nothing to gain by agreeing to terms of engagement slanted in India’s favor simply because the ‘friendship’ or ‘go-easy’ this might yield is in fact capitulation. It would compromise territorial integrity and sovereignty.And in this context of India picking the West, it would not be imprudent for Sri Lanka to pick her West. The Western Container Terminal. A you keep yours, we keep ours kind of position.
As for the other Kangaroos, well they’ve all named themselves, haven’t they? Arms length, ladies and gentlemen, not closer! As for missives and statements and tweets, we don’t have to describe them each and every time, but here’s a word that would well inform policy maker and citizen: balderdash.
[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views].
Covid-19 surge as an opportunity to re-calibrate
by Malinda Seneviratne
Lockdown. Isolation. Quarantine. Wave. Social. Spread. Cluster. These are not new words. They are however words that have acquired fresh currency courtesy Covid-19. And, as often happens, when used frequently, they lost meaning or rather they are treated with (cultivated) nonchalance.
That’s as far as the general public is concerned. Meaning, all those who are not directly involved in designing policies and developing strategies to prevent or curb the spread of the virus, enforcing safety protocols and of course treating the infected. Yes, from Day One we were told that every single citizen has a responsibility. Indeed such communications were relayed not just through state media but private media institutions, social media and through innumerable notices. We saw them all. We heard them all. We continued to see and hear. We still do. Therefore, if there’s virtue in soul-searching then that’s a national exercise which neither government, opposition, institution (private, public or cooperative) nor individual can brush aside saying ‘not my/our business.’ We can ask, ‘where did we go wrong?’ We can ask ‘where did they (say, the government) go wrong?’ We can also ask, ‘where did I go wrong?’ The yet-to-be-infected or say the non-infected can say/think ‘well, I must have done something right,’ but then again if such an individual violated the basic safety measure of avoiding crowded places he/she would have unknowingly contributed to increasing people-density in certain places (say a shopping complex, a supermarket, a party or religious gathering). You add yourself and you make it that much harder to maintain social distance protocols. That’s one way of playing the blame game. There’s another. You turn your binoculars on the government. It’s fair enough. It’s the state authorities that have to design policy and enforce rules. So we can ask a lot of questions.Did they become paranoid too soon (March to June, 2020)? Did they become complacent thereafter? Didn’t they anticipate a second and third wave? Were they foolhardy in opening the country to tourists? Did they go overboard or were too indulgent with the so-called magic remedies? Have they done enough in terms of preparing for the unforeseen? Was testing done in a systematic way? Did they select and procure the correct complement of vaccines and in adequate quantities? Were they administered prudently? Were preparations for a surge in infections adequate? Then there are questions that are not asked or are not shouted out. Is there some kind of fail safe formula to balance containment with the need to keep the economy moving? Can Sri Lanka afford an extended or comprehensive lockdown? What would you/I say if for instance such measures were put in place? Would we then whine about the economy grinding to a halt? Would you/I keep our mouths shut if businesses large and small were forced to shut down or lay off employees? Would you/I not lament the plight of the poor(er) employees?
Have we studied adequately the political economy of pharmaceuticals, including vaccines (procurement of raw materials, production and distribution)? If someone told me/you that the USA used its Defense Production Act to ban exports of the materials needed to make vaccines to India, resulting in a 50% drop in production, would I/you believe it and conclude that vaccination is not free of politics, free of the profit-motive?It’s all about how easy we want to make it for ourselves, isn’t it? It has something to do with political preference hasn’t it? In the early days of the pandemic there was fear and foreboding. Even paranoia. Things got better and people were less paranoid. The recent surge in infections has produced a hike in worry. People are frustrated. They need someone to target. Anyone. Anyone but themselves. They want everyone (else) to do their bit and the government to do much more than it can hope to, but many are reluctant to do their bit. It’s easy to vent and ‘someone else’ is always a better target. We are not rich in self-reflection. We are poor when it comes to responsibility. In the early days there was a sense of siege. Fear made people think of coping mechanisms at all levels. Maybe we will return to all that. Maybe the government will figure out a way to allocate resources prudently and design better balancing systems (of pandemic response and an acceptable/reasonable level of basic economic and social activity).Speculation, however, can only help so much. It is clear that a concerted effort by one and all would help. Criticism has a role to play in all this. If it is constructive. If it is motivated by decent intention. For example, a year ago, an opposition in disarray ranted and raved about ‘risks’ when elections were to be held. When the second wave hit us a couple of months later, some people got into we-told-you-so gloating mode. Obviously they knew very little about the behavior of the virus and cared even less. What does tomorrow hold? Can anyone answer? What should be done? What should not be done? Talk to 10 people. Make that eight persons who have an axe to grind about this government. They won’t speak ‘in one voice’. Talk to ten ‘experts’. Same effect, I would wager. Everyone is a self-appointed epidemiologist these days. Everyone is an expert on balancing pandemic-mitigation and managing the economy. Everyone is more or less in the dark and if you doubt this, check out the various measures put in place by various governments and how these strategies have been amended over the past 18 months or so. There’s a lot that a lot of people can do. There are some basic things that an individual can do. Perhaps it might be useful to go back to one of the rules-of-thumb that did the rounds in the early days of the pandemic: assume that you are infected (rather than assuming someone else is infected). Assume also, if you like, that the virus is in your face, so to speak. That might bring those who prefer to loaf in ethereal regions back to earth.
It’s about doing what we can. It’s about doing no harm. Dialing down anger. Being kind. Restrictions of any kind provide one thing: the space for sober reflection. Not a bad thing. It could even be seen as a blessing, an opportunity to re-calibrate a lot of things, not just the response to the virus.
[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views]
What the opposition should not do
by Uditha Devapriya
Can one question the government without wondering what, or where, the opposition is? It’s been over a year since the Samagi Jana Balavegaya walked out on the United National Party, half a year since it reduced that party to one (still unclaimed) seat in parliament. Has the party aspired to the ideal of a broad-based movement? Or has it weakened with the passing months, offering a paltry resistance to the government? Do its actions speak well to its constituencies? Or is it pursuing greener pastures, uncharted real estate, elsewhere?
To be sure, these are tough questions. But they must be brought up. The problem isn’t that no one’s answering them, but that no one’s asking them.
From its inception, the SJB was hit by a series of unfortunate travails. These do not make a pretty picture, and far from receding, they in fact continue to bedevil it.
For starters, there was the issue of the party’s legal status. Had it conformed the country’s electoral laws, or in its haste, had it flouted them? It took a UNP candidate (Oshala Herath) to raise the question at the Supreme Court; though the case did not go his way, conversations between him and the Chairman of the Election Commission, plus an associate of Mangala Samaraweera, made headlines when that candidate leaked them online.
The resulting controversy may or may not have tarnished the SJB’s prospects at the general election, but its convulsions haven’t died down. Ironically enough, one of its National List parliamentarians, the most colourful and controversial from that party, teeters today between government and opposition, having voted for the 20th Amendment; what’s ironic there is this MP’s legal ownership, through her husband, of the ostensibly anti-regime party.
Owing to such convulsions, the passage of the 20th Amendment deepened divisions in the SJB. For the first time here, a section of the opposition connived with the government over legislation that boosted the incumbent’s powers. This in turn reflected the contradictions of the regime: the ruling party had to resort to support from minority parties, in the opposition, to pass the Amendment. The resulting backlash against the SJB over this has done very little to address the rift between the ruling party and its critics. Forgotten in that paroxysm of anger, though, was one stark fact: most of the SJB still stood against the 20th Amendment. In 2010, by contrast, the UNP chose to abstain in toto from the vote on the 18th Amendment.
That’s hardly a consolation, however. If in the debate over 20A the opposition dithered (apart from a display of amateur theatrics, including waving anti-20A banners and donning “blood-spattered” cloths), over the imprisonment of its most outspoken candidate, it downright caved in and buckled down. Here popular opinion remains sharply divided: should the SJB have left Ranjan Ramanayake’s seat vacant, or should it have replaced him with another?
The opposition faced a classic Catch-22: the first option seemed comradely, the second more pragmatic, yet by opting for the latter, it reinforced allegations among undecided voters, even supporters, of it being unable to hold the line. Ramanayake himself did not take kindly to the capitulation, as his apoplectic response on Facebook shows.
On the level of ideology the SJB has done all it can to distance itself from the regime and the UNP. Yet the result seems to be less a distancing from than a midway compromise with these outfits. Consider its relationship with the UNP. As Dayan Jayatilleka has pointed out only too clearly, a party associated with the politics of appeasement and capitulation for over a quarter century isn’t the ideal partner for any rational-minded opposition. But Jayatilleka appears to be in a minority of one among his contemporaries: other commentators, including those on the Left, advocate rapprochement instead of rupture.
Hence Harindra Dassanayake quips that “the SJB alone cannot defend democracy or form a government”, Krishantha Cooray questions whether it shares “its mother party’s economic vision”, Kumar David invokes Trotsky’s precept of marching separately but striking together to justify it getting together with that mother party, and someone calling himself “Prince of Kandy” fails to see it propounding any “real political ideology.” These polemics lead to two conclusions: the SJB cannot stand alone, and it must return to the UNP.
Since Jayatilleka has replied to these commentators, I will not restate what he has written on them. What’s curious isn’t so much their insistence on these two parties getting together (or for the rebellious son to yield place to the mother), as their belief that the one cannot, in the long run, do without the other. Does this necessarily mean they have no faith in the SJB’s potential to grow independently, free of the UNP? Debatable. If it does, then it indicates that such commentators, including those on the Left, associate the opposition with a party which still hasn’t filled in the one seat it got at last year’s general election.
This, of course, is nothing to be astonished about: Ranil Wickremesinghe led the opposition for 20 years. Sajith Premadasa’s rebellions against the Dear Leader (as Indi Samarajiva calls Ranil) did not begin in 2019, but they peaked in the post-Easter conjuncture. As such the SJB is more recent, too recent for dissenting voices and voters to consider it a viable successor to the UNP. Moreover, the middle-class, which since 1956 has determined the prospects and the trajectories of new parties and disgraced oppositions, still has not carved a place within its consciousness for Premadasa. For these voters, the most protean electorate in the country, the SLPP and SJB represent two wings of the much derided 225. Detached and disengaged from the 225, Wickremesinghe seems to have become a Lazarus for them: every other middle-class voter I meet today wants him back. Again, nothing to be astonished about.
Such paradoxical responses to the old opposition and the new should come as a concern, but not a surprise, to the SJB and those who support it. Sri Lanka’s middle-class is protean, yet it is also inherently compradorist. If it prefers a strongman like Gotabaya Rajapaksa to Sajith Premadasa and gives him unexpected majorities through the Kelani Valley – electorates like Homagama, Maharagama, Kesbewa, right until Avissawella – concurrently cutting into the southern heartland all the way through to suburbs closer to Colombo, including Moratuwa, it also, in the same vein, prefers Ranil Wickremesinghe to Sajith Premadasa.
Sajith Premadasa doesn’t yet command a presence among this peculiarly compradore middle-class. That, in its own way, is worrying. Not because I hold a candle to Sajith Premadasa, nor because I think he is the last great hope of the opposition, but because the absence of middle-class support can compel the SJB to neglect new ground – electorates the UNP neglected, like the Sinhala peasantry – and hang on to the Kelani Valley petty bourgeoisie, which has tended to shift, wildly, between compradorist neoliberals and authoritarian nationalists.
If the SJB gets more petty bourgeoisified than it is, it can only cave into a line no different to what the UNP was following: not the most advisable of strategies. Yet this is the line analysts want the SJB to follow, a line Dayan Jayatilleka explicitly warns against.
I believe the analysts have got it wrong. The SJB’s response to a democracy deficit should not be adherence to a failed ideology. The Kelani Valley petty bourgeoisie – not limited to the Kelani Valley alone – champions a Ranil Wickremesinghe or a Gotabaya Rajapaksa for the same reason why neoliberal globalisation and retrogressive nationalism cohabit the same space: both appeal to a middle bourgeoisie desperate for any figure which can provide it with security and stability. This explains how, at the height of Sinhala nationalist backlash against mainstream political parties, the middle-class voted for the UNP in 2000, returned the PA in 2004, and gave a wafer-thin margin of defeat for Ranil Wickremesinghe in 2005.
In its idealisation of compradore neoliberalism or compradore nationalism, the middle-class continues to shape the trajectory of mainstream parties, indeed of fringe parties also (even if its support for the latter outside parliament hasn’t translated into support for their aspirations for parliament). Given its ideological predilections, falling in line with this crowd seems for me the height of folly. Far from following such a strategy, the government and the opposition should instead engage with marginalised groups: not just the peasantry and working class, but every ethnic, social, and economic minority, across the racial and class divide.
The compradorist pretensions of the middle-class have not got this country anywhere. Both government and opposition must oversee a shift in focus to other electorates. I do not see this happening here, on either side. Between the crevice of neoliberal globalisation and the abyss of neoconservative nationalism, there thus seems to be no centre. That is worrying.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Recognition of Mihintale as a World Heritage Site is long overdue
Sigiriya to which Everyman referred to in the Sunday Island of April 25 is one of the 11 sites here UNESCO had declared as World Heritage Sites.
The others are the ancient city of Polonnaruwa , the Golden Temple of Dambulla, the old town of Galle and its fortifications, the sacred city of Anuradhapura and the sacred city of Kandy . Two others are recognized as nature sites – the Sinharaja Forest Reserve and the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka
‘World Heritage’ is the designation for places on Earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity and as such have been inscribed on the World Heritage List ‘to be protected for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.’
Being named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO brings worldwide recognition, tourist attraction and hence revenue and even external assistance in the form of finances and expertise when necessary.
With a civilization going back to more than three millennia, one would expect more heritage sites to be included from Sri Lanka. My mind immediately goes to Mihintale which has been described as the fountain/cradle of SrI Lankan civilization. This is where Mahinda Thera, the son of the Emperor Asoka met King Devanampiyatissa. Their historic meeting led to the creation of a tremendous political, religious ,cultural ,and a social movement, signs of which are still seen scattered over thousands of acres in Mihintale. Pride of place is, of course, taken by the spot where the historic meeting took place. For centuries thousands of pilgrims climbed the near 2,000 granite steps to pay homage to someone they considered the Anubudu .
Below are the ruins of a huge monastery complex which included a refectory and a hospital described as one of the oldest in the world. The two slab inscriptions belonging to the period of King Mihindu (956 – 976 AD) contains records of payments made to the service staff. Nearby is a meeting hall of the monks where they discussed the Dhamma and the Vinaya.
Added to all these is the significance of the message Mahinda Thera conveyed to King Devanampiyatissa when they met on Mihintale rock. Mahinda’s memorable words, “O great King, the birds of the air and the beasts of the forest have equal right to live and move about in any part of the land as thou. The land belongs to the people and all living beings; thou art only its guardian.” The king being on a hunt, this was the ideal time for the Thera to deliver the immemorial message applicable to the King then and even more applicable to the world today.
It is said that ‘In order to qualify for the World Heritage List, the properties need to be of universal value, which means they have to be extraordinary and signify value beyond the national boundaries. In other words, they need to evoke a sense of awe and meaning to people all over the world, irrespective of where the site is located.’
On this criterion Mihintale qualifies to be a World Heritage Site for more than one reason. But to win such approval, the site must be the waiting list. Unfortunately Mihintale is not even on Sri Lanka’s waiting list!.
Recognition of Mihintale as a World Heritage site is long overdue and the initiative to achieve this must be taken by the Sri Lankan state.
. P.G.Punchihewa Colombo.
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