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Realistic response to present daunting challenges essential

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by Gnana Moonesinghe

We went through a debilitating three decade war that intruded into civilian space in all parts of the country resulting in an acrimonious fallout of the Sinhalese and Tamils fighting for rights and space within Sri Lanka.

Over a long period of time the Tamil community had enjoyed an unequal share of professional and public sector employment, a cause for disgruntlement among the Sinhalese. The war between the Sinhalese and the Tamils engaged not only the armed forces but also the attention of the entire nation. It debilitated the nation’s development and growth and its potential remained unexploited.

Yet once violence erupted there was no attempt by the Sinhala majority or the Tamil minority to attempt to reach a fair resolution of the problem. The majority nursed its demographic advantage while the minority placed their faith in democracy and the need to secure equal rights and space in the country without realizing that in an unequal situation, minorities cannot expect to gain that.

The war ended in 2009 and the terrorist leader was killed along with many of his cadres including children sacrficed to buy time. Accusation that children were used as cannon fodder in the battlefront were levelled against the terrorists while the army was accused of using excessive force during the course of the war, especially towards its end.

The failure to resolve the accountability issue created and continues to create bitterness among the international community, the diaspora and among Lankans themselves. It will not be correct to say that we are being unfairly attacked; that is to move to the shady side of untruthfulness. International opinion is that the country is not addressing the issues with a view to settlement and ensuring justice and accountability with those found culpable brought to justice. That people cannot commit crimes with impunity and avoid accountability is axiomatic.

Reconciliation?

The war ended in 2009 and it is over a decade since hostilities ceased. Who is to initiate the move for reconciliation? The SL govt believes that it is subject to unfair persecution while the international community wants answers to its many questions and quick resolution of the conflict. There are questions to which answers must be found; they cannot to be overlooked. The response from the Lankan perspective seems to be aimed at ‘external’ initiatives purportedly established by resolution 46/1 while domestic processes are vigorously addressing relevant matters.

The expression ‘vigorously’ can be classified as an exaggeration or bordering on the untruthful; no doubt at some time or other certain matters have been taken up as a response to the general hue and cry when recriminations were on centre stage and some initiatives were undertaken. But when the noise abated, these matters often lost steam. The UN’s Human Rights High Commissioner on a compromising note decided to confine investigation to “emblematic” cases.

Responses to international demands for investigation into rights violations

Some efforts to respond to the concerns of the international community were part of the LLRC and the Paranagama reports. The problem rests with a failure to implement recommendations suggested by these reports. To take refuge in the face value of setting up these commissions without a follow-up is not what these countries are looking for. When queries on investigation are raised, it would be misleading to consider them as a part of the geopolitical interests of the international community or an intrusion into the sovereignty of the country.

No doubt investigation and resolution of UNHRC concerns is long overdue. The LLRC Report which has gained universal recognition as a pathfinder can be the starting point.The SL govt has failed to address this matter with the urgency it requires. My hope is that sanity will return, investigations will be undertaken, the guilty punished and the innocent exonerated. What is necessary is to remember the purpose behind procedures for investigating war crimes. To keep repeating that some evidence – as in the case of the Darusman report – was denied to SL on the basis of confidentiality will be to be in a state of denial. It is possible for new evidence to be collected to complete the task. The facts/evidence so collected can be used to prosecute in the criminal courts or even to further accommodate investigations.

Military administration

The Sri Lankan govt has widely involved the military in the administration of the country. High Commissioner Bachelet considers the military administration to have a ‘corrosive (negative) impact’ on governance. The Sri Lankan government denies militarization of the administration and also that the military administration could be ‘corrosive’ as alleged. However that be, an urgent response to Bachelet and to the international community investigating rights violation is necessary. There must be a response to Resolution 46/1 whichever way the question is looked at.

EU visit and the future of GSP+ for SL

Over and above these concerns, Sri Lanka is now hosting an EU delegation reviewing trade concessions withdrawn in 2011 and thereafter re-granted in 2017 after a review of issues involved. We can’t afford to forego these concessions under which 7,500 Lankan products enter the EU market under favorable tariffs. This translates into thousands of jobs for those working in the manufacturing and support services. Losing this market particularly in the present depression will not be an acceptable proposition.

SL has roused the wrath of the EU whose parliament adopted by a majority of 628 to 15 the call for a suspension of GSP+. There has been a demonstrably low human rights performance here. A questionable law and order situation has arisen with Minister Lohan Ratwatte’s recent antics. He has since resigned his prisons portfolio while retaining gems and jewelry. A clear violation of law and order has been demonstrated. The EU officials visiting SL will review whether we are abiding by the requirements to extend the GSP+ trade concession.

SL falters on Agreements

Apart from the rights violations SL has not abided by the agreement to withdraw the PTA. Since then there has been violation of this particular Act . It is said that under the provision of this Act, 11 organizations have been banned. It is for the EU delegation to inquire into the allegations and decide on their validity. We must ask ourselves whether we can afford to offend the international community particularly in the context of covid, very low economic growth and import capability of essential goods.The finance minister admitted in parliament on Sept. 7 that our foreign exchange reserves were close to zero. This certainly should demonstrate the urgency of resolving our problems and getting on with our lives in peace.



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Features

Encouraging signs, indeed!

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Derek and Manilal

Local entertainers can now breathe a sigh of relief…as the showbiz scene is showing signs of improving

Yes, it’s good to see Manilal Perera, the legendary singer, and Derek Wikramanayake, teaming up, as a duo, to oblige music lovers…during this pandemic era.

They will be seen in action, every Friday, at the Irish Pub, and on Sundays at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby.

The Irish Pub scene will be from 7.00 pm onwards, while at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby, action will also be from 7.00 pm onwards.

On November 1st, they are scheduled to do the roof top (25th floor) of the Movenpik hotel, in Colpetty, and, thereafter, at the same venue, every Saturday evening.

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Constructive dialogue beyond international community

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by Jehan Perera

Even as the country appears to be getting embroiled in more and more conflict, internally, where dialogue has broken down or not taken place at all, there has been the appearance of success, internationally. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be leading a delegation this week to Scotland to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Both the President, at the UN General Assembly in New York, and Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris, at the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva seem to have made positive impacts on their audiences and, especially amongst the diplomatic community, with speeches that gave importance to national reconciliation, based on dialogue and international norms.

In a recent interview to the media Prof Peiris affirmed the value of dialogue in rebuilding international relations that have soured. He said, “The core message is that we believe in engagement at all times. There may be areas of disagreement from time to time. That is natural in bilateral relations, but our effort should always be to ascertain the areas of consensus and agreement. There are always areas where we could collaborate to the mutual advantage of both countries. And even if there are reservations with regard to particular methods, there are still abundant opportunities that are available for the enhancement of trade relations for investment opportunities, tourism, all of this. And I think this is succeeding because we are establishing a rapport and there is reciprocity. Countries are reaching out to us.”

Prof Peiris also said that upon his return from London, the President would engage in talks locally with opposition parties, the TNA and NGOs. He spoke positively about this dialogue, saying “The NGOs can certainly make a contribution. We like to benefit from their ideas. We will speak to opposition political parties. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is going to meet the Tamil National Alliance on his return from COP26, which we will attend at the invitation of the British Prime Minister. So be it the NGO community or the foreign diaspora or the parliamentary opposition in Sri Lanka. We want to engage with all of them and that is very much the way forward”

INTERNAL FRAGMENTATION

The concept of a whole-of-government approach is indicative of a more cohesive approach to governance by government ministries, the public administration and state apparatus in general to deal with problems. It suggests that the government should not be acting in one way with the international community and another way with the national community when it seeks to resolve problems. It is consistency that builds trust and the international community will trust the government to the extent that the national community trusts it. Dialogue may slow down decision making at a time when the country is facing major problems and is in a hurry to overcome them. However, the failure to engage in dialogue can cause further delays due to misunderstanding and a refusal to cooperate by those who are being sidelined.

There are signs of fragmentation within the government as a result of failure to dialogue within it. A senior minister, Susil Premajayantha, has been openly critical of the ongoing constitutional reform process. He has compared it to the past process undertaken by the previous government in which there was consultations at multiple levels. There is a need to change the present constitutional framework which is overly centralised and unsuitable to a multi ethnic, multi religious and plural society. More than four decades have passed since the present constitution was enacted. But the two major attempts that were made in the period 1997-2000 and again in 2016-2019 failed.

President Rajapaksa, who has confidence in his ability to stick to his goals despite all obstacles, has announced that a new constitution will be in place next year. The President is well situated to obtain success in his endeavours but he needs to be take the rest of his government along with him. Apart from being determined to achieve his goals, the President has won the trust of most people, and continues to have it, though it is getting eroded by the multiple problems that are facing the country and not seeing a resolution. The teachers’ strike, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, is now in its fourth month, with no sign of resolution. The crisis over the halting of the import of chemical fertiliser is undermining the position of farmers and consumers at the present time.

EARLY WARNING

An immediate cause for the complaints against the government is the lack of dialogue and consultation on all the burning issues that confront the country. This problem is accentuated by the appointment of persons with military experience to decision-making positions. The ethos of the military is to take decisions fast and to issue orders which have to be carried out by subordinates. The President’s early assertion that his spoken words should be taken as written circulars reflects this ethos. However, democratic governance is about getting the views of the people who are not subordinates but equals. When Minister Premajayantha lamented that he did not know about the direction of constitutional change, he was not alone as neither does the general public or academicians which is evidenced by the complete absence of discussion on the subject in the mass media.

The past two attempts at constitutional reform focused on the resolution of the ethnic conflict and assuaging the discontent of the ethnic and religious minorities. The constitutional change of 1997-2000 was for the purpose of providing a political solution that could end the war. The constitutional change of 2016-19 was to ensure that a war should not happen again. Constitutional reform is important to people as they believe that it will impact on how they are governed, their place within society and their equality as citizens. The ethnic and religious minorities will tend to prefer decentralised government as it will give them more power in those parts of the country in which they are predominant. On the other hand, that very fact can cause apprehension in the minds of the ethnic and religious majority that their place in the country will be undermined.

Unless the general public is brought aboard on the issue of constitutional change, it is unlikely they will support it. We all need to know what the main purpose of the proposed constitutional reform is. If the confidence of the different ethnic and religious communities is not obtained, the political support for constitutional change will also not be forthcoming as politicians tend to stand for causes that win them votes. Minister Premajayantha has usefully lit an early warning light when he said that politicians are not like lamp posts to agree to anything that the government puts before them. Even though the government has a 2/3 majority, this cannot be taken for granted. There needs to be buy in for constitutional reform from elected politicians and the general public, both from the majority community and minorities, if President Rajapaksa is to succeed where previous leaders failed.

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Features

JAYASRI twins…in action in Europe

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The world over, the music scene has been pretty quiet, and we all know why. This pandemic has created untold hardships for, practically, everyone, and, the disturbing news is that, this kind of scene has been predicted for a good part of 2022, as well,

 

The band JAYASRI, however, based in Europe, and fronted by the brothers Rohitha and Rohan, say they are fortunate to find work coming their way.

Over the past few months, they have been performing at some of the festivals, held in Europe, during the summer season.

Says Rohitha: “As usual, we did one of the biggest African festivals in Europe, AfrikaTage, and some other summer events, from July up to now. Some were not that big, as they used to be, due to the pandemic, health precautions, etc.”

For the month of October, JAYASRI did some concerts in Italy, with shows in the city of Verona, Napoli, Rome, Padova and Milano.

The twins with the
late Sunil Perera

On November, 12th, the JAYASRI twins, Rohitha and Rohan, will be at EXPO Dubai 2020 and will be performing live in Dubai.

Rohitha also indicated that they have released their new single ‘SARANGANA,’ describing it as a Roots Reggae song, in audio form, to all download platforms, and as a music video to their YouTube channel – www.youtube.com/user/jayasri

According to Rohitha, this song will be featured in an action drama.

The lyrics for ‘SARANGANA,’ were created by Thushani Bulumulle, music by JAYASRI, and video direction by Chamara Janaraj Pieris.

There will be two audio versions, says Rohitha – a Radio Mix and a DUB Mix by Parvez.

The JAYASRI twins Rohitha and Rohan

After their Italian tour, Rohitha and Rohan are planning to come to Sri Lanka, to oblige their many fans, and they are hoping that the showbiz scene would keep on improving so that music lovers could experience a whole lot of entertainment, during the forthcoming festive season.

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