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Remembering its British roots

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Sri Lanka Navy turns 70:

By Jayantha Somasundaram

In the British and Commonwealth tradition, the Navy is the senior service. In Sri Lanka however it was the Army and the Air Force that came first, both being established in October 1949, followed in December 1950 by the Navy. Though the Sri Lanka Navy is currently celebrating its seventieth anniversary, the roots of the Navy go back much further in time.

The Ceylon Navy Volunteer Force (CNVF) was raised in 1937 at Kochchikade under the Command of VRD with a complement of 12 officers and 18 sailors. When World War II commenced in September 1939, the CNVF was posted to the Ports of Colombo and Trincomalee. Initially the CNVF operated out of the Port Commission’s tugs Samson and Goliath, thereafter it had the use of the armed trawler Overdale Wyke for minesweeping and escort operations.

In 1943 it comprised 10 vessels and a 100 sailors and was placed under the Command of the Royal Navy (RN). It was renamed the Ceylon Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (CRNVR) with Headquarters at HMS Gamunu. During the War the CRNVR operated trawlers converted into minesweepers and fitted with guns, submarine detection equipment and anti-submarine weapons. They guarded the approaches to the Island’s ports and provided protection to the merchantmen that used these ports.

The CRNVR also conducted missions outside the country’s waters, recovered Japanese aircraft shot down, sailed to Akyab after the Burma front was opened and accepted the surrender of the ship . The CRNVR went on to provide escort duties for merchantmen operating between Colombo/Trincomalee and Cochin, Madras, Addu Atoll, Male and Diego Garcia.

During the course of the War the strength of the Navy grew from 150 officers and sailors in 1939 to 1,200 in 1945. In 1946 the CRNVR was demobilised with 100 sailors remaining on active duty.

The Ceylon Navy Act of 1950 created the Royal Ceylon Navy (RCyN) which in the first instance was manned by personnel from the CRNVR. They formed the core of the RCyN established in December 1950 with six officers and 60 sailors under the Command of Captain William Banks CBE DSC RN. Commander Royce de Mel, the ranking Ceylonese officer, was sent to the UK for training and the RN transferred the Canadian built Algerine-class minesweeper HMS Flyingfish to the RCyN as HMCyS Vijaya.

The RCyN’s early mission was the defence of the Port of Colombo, Trincomalee being still a RN base. In time its role expanded to search and rescue missions, disaster assistance, Civil Defence and in 1952, anti-illicit immigration. Because HMCyS Vijaya was too large for Operation Wetback, as the maritime illicit-immigration operation was code named, Government Customs and Fisheries vessels were used in the Palk Strait which separated South India from Ceylon.

Captain Banks developed the RCyN to dovetail with RN requirements. He focussed on the protection of the Island’s ports and through off-shore mine clearing capability sought to ensure safe sea lanes for the RN to traverse the Indian Ocean. To this end the RCyN would be equipped with coastal minesweepers. In the Sri Lanka Navy: Enhanced Role and New Challenges (Indian Ocean Centre for Peace Studies: Perth 1992) Professor Gamini Keerawella and Lieutenant Commander S. Hemachandre explained that “The United National Party (Government) felt that Sri Lanka was only secure under the British Naval umbrella.”

In November 1951 Captain J. R. S. Brown RN took over command of the RCyN to be followed in June 1953 by Commodore Paul Chavasse . In August 1955 Commodore Gerard Royce Maxwell De Mel ADC RCyN was appointed the first Ceylonese Captain of the Navy; he was promoted Rear Admiral in 1959.

Once Cdre de Mel took over command of the Navy, it changed its focus from the ageing heavy frigates and minesweepers to patrol boats and fast attack coastal surveillance craft. The RN transferred a second vessel in 1955 and the RCyN purchased six Coastal Patrol Boats from Italy, an ocean-going tug and a minesweeper from the UK as well as two frigates from Israel during 1955-57. In 1955 the RCyN also received a Ford-class Seaward Defence Boat from the UK, HMS Doxford which became HMCyS Kotiya. They also purchased from Korody Maritime Corporation Venice, six Patrol Boats HMCyS Hansaya, Lihiniya, Diyakawa, Korawakka, Seruwa and Tarawa. By this time the RCyN had 35 officers and 458 ratings.

New RCyN bases were established during this period, HMCyS Elara at Karainagar in the Jaffna Peninsula, the communications centre at Welisara, a Naval training unit at Diyatalawa and when the RN vacated Trincomalee in 1957, HMCyS Tissa.

By an agreement with the UK signed in June 1957 the British transferred their bases on the Island to Ceylon and the Royal Air Force moved to Gan Island in the Maldives, and the RN to Singapore; until then the RN had stationed one Cruiser at Trincomalee. By the end of its first decade the RCyN had 150 officers and 1,800 sailors, with officers being trained at Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, and sailors at Diyatalawa.

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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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