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Raymond Paranavitarane – gentleman planter and God’s good man

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It was on Tuesday October 20 that I received the sad news from Romesh that his dad, Mr. Raymond Paranavitharne, had passed away in Melbourne that morning after a brief illness.I was to say the least, very saddened at hearing this news. It took me sometime to comprehend what he told me. That I will not see Raymond Paranavitharne again. This sad news brought back to me, a flood of pleasant memories of the man I knew and admired. Gentlemen of the calibre of Mr. Paranavitharne are fast diminishing in the present day world.I first came to know Mr. Paranavitharne in 1985 when we went on Army training to Minneriya at the height of the LTTE war as a part of what became known as the Sri Lanka Rifle Corp.(SLRC) SLRC comprised of planters and senior regional administrators of the Janatha Estates Development Board (JEDB) and Sri Lanka State Plantations Corporation (SLSPC). Mr Paranavitharne was at that time Regional Chairman of the SLSPC Nuwara Eliya region, which comprised of several well-known estates and had been a senior planter himself, before being elevated as a Senior Administrator. 

We were the first batch of planters and administrators who were sent for this training which was the brainchild of the late General Ranjan Wijeratne to somewhat protect the estate regions. This batch of around 30 of us, ranged from those who were in their early 30’s like me to those in their 50’s like Mr. Paranavitharne. He was probably around 50 years of age like some of the other Regional chairman and directors. The group comprised of at least five senior chairmen, several regional directors and few estate superintendents (managers). Army training was tough and gruelling to say the least. Rank and position in the plantation world did not matter to them and all were treated equally. It was here that I first experienced the amazing characteristics of Mr. Paranavitharne. When some of us were complaining and being remorseful of the army training, he took it in his stride, never complained, and did what was expected of him in the right spirit. The hallmark of a true leader.  I admired Mr. Paranavitharne’s spirit and his courage. It was much later that I realised that his strong character was due to the Godly spirit that he carried which I experienced more in later years.During our training period, some of us younger members enjoyed pulling pranks on a few seniors in the camp occasionally and they were not always amused. Mr. Paranavitharne stood up for us and sometimes joined in the fun too. It was during this period that I realised the respect that many had for this mild-mannered gentleman who up to that time I only knew as a Senior Regional chairman. From then on, I had the privilege of getting to know him and kept in touch, despite our vast difference in status. I was just a young estate manager and he a senior Regional Chairman and administrator.Thereafter he was elevated to the Number Two position at the SLSPC Central Board in Colombo. A very prestigious and important role at that time in the late 1980’s.  I also got to know that he tried to recommend me to a senior administrator’s position at the head office during this period, which of course did not materialize despite his efforts. However, we kept in close touch, and exchanged many ideas and views about introducing new thinking to the plantation industry during this period.

Unfortunately, due to an unfair decision as a result of Mr. Paranavitharne standing firm to his principles, he resigned from this position at the SLSPC around 1989 with courage and dignity. He then took up a very interesting role in a BOI venture until he migrated to Australia.His life is a great example to me. Several are the lessons I learnt from him. One was never to let success hit your head. Another was never to complain but to have the inner strength to cope with any situation. For this characteristic, I realised you needed to have that connection with your creator, which I know he had in full measure. The other great quality I saw in him was how he accepted the high’s and the lows in life, all in the same kind of spirt.  These are qualities that education or money could never buy, however much we strive. This is definitely the grace of God on Mr. Paranavitharne’s life. He was a man who was not only highly respected but well-loved too. Wherever he worked, he always walked with his head held high, and earned the respect and confidence not only of his superiors, but also his peers and subordinates. While he held many prestigious positions, he held each position with pride and dignity. 

My wife and I have been blessed to keep in touch with him and his precious wife Dharshini even after they migrated. He always never failed to give us a call when he came to Sri Lanka and we would catch up on old times. We also had the privilege of being invited to their home in Melbourne in April 2019. Something that I cannot still get over is how he got up from his chair and made the cup of tea for my wife Lorinda and my sister in law, much to our embarrassment.

That was the man I knew and will always respect. I last spoke to him over the phone around three months ago and had a long conversation and he reminded me once again that we must visit his home on our next visit to Melbourne. This was not to be, and it saddens me that we won’t be seeing this wonderful gentleman anymore.

We feel extremely blessed to have known him, as he was a great inspiration to us. Whenever we met him, he always made us feel so wanted. He had this amazing quality of recognizing and admiring others’ achievements, which is a characteristic of a Great leader. His pride and joy, apart from his dear wife Dharshini who has stood tall and strong beside him all these long years, are his three precious children, Manique, Romesh and Samantha. However, in the recent past I found that his pride and joy had embraced his grandchildren too. I recall him telling us how he tries to find ways to entertain and amuse them. It is sad that his grandchildren may not know too much of who and what their Grandpa was. However, I have no doubt that by now they would have seen and experienced his qualities of humility, patience and love. I cannot call him my friend as that’s not what he was to me. He was more than a friend. A lovely human being and a gentleman to the end. We will truly miss him. In conclusion I know for sure that his life truly reflects the words of the Psalmist in psalm 37:23 which says, “The steps of a good man are ordered and established by the Lord and he delights in his ways.” That was his life’s journey.May his soul Rest in Peace in the arms of his creator whom he loved.

 

Rohan Fernando

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Features

Govt.’s choice is dialogue over confrontation

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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.

 

 

NEGATIVE RESPONSE

 

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.

 

 

SEQUENTIAL IMPLEMENATION

 

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.

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Album to celebrate 30 years

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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.

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LET’S DO IT … in the new normal

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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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