Connect with us

Features

Serious flaws in Geneva resolution

Published

on

By Neville Ladduwahetty

Resolution A/HRC/46/L.Rev.1 dated 16 March 2021 has been adopted by the UN Human Rights Council based on procedures and practices adopted by Committees of the General Assembly. Of the 47 Members in the Council, 22 Member States cast an affirmative vote, 11 members opposed it, and 14 abstained. The procedure adopted does not recognize the number of votes that abstained. Therefore, adoption of the Resolution was based on 22 affirmative votes, which is less than half the 47-members in the Council. This outcome should be a cause to fault the Council for adopting a procedure that permits a Resolution to be adopted even when more than half of its members decided not to support it for whatever reason.

However, other agencies of the UN adopt other procedures. For instance, the 15-member Security Council requires nine affirmative votes for a decision to be adopted. Others who see a moral obligation to the institution they represent require half plus one for a decision to be adopted. Simple majorities in most Parliaments require half plus one of its elected members for a Bill to become Law. Therefore, there is nothing comical if perceived from another perspective, that the resolution did not secure a majority of the 47 Member Human Rights Council and furthermore, that 25 Members did not affirmatively support the Resolution. The lesson, in particular for the Human Rights Council, is that the basis for adopting a Resolution should be revisited, because the current practice allows Resolutions to be adopted by less than half the number in the Council. This is not good enough a threshold for a UN institution as vital as the Human Rights Council where much is at stake for all States.

Notwithstanding all of the above, the hard reality is that the Resolution was adopted. Another hard reality that is of serious consequence is that the adoption of the Resolution comes at a great cost to the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter. In fact, having stated at the very outset that the Resolution is “Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations …” the Resolution goes on to violate Article 1(2) and Article 2(7) of the Charter. In addition, it recalls co-sponsored Resolutions of 2015, 2017, and 2019, despite withdrawal from co-sponsorship because they violate Sri Lanka’s Constitution; a right granted under the Vienna Convention and furthermore, violates the mandate granted to the Human Rights Council under General Assembly Resolution 60/251. Under these circumstances, such a flawed Resolution should not be adopted, particularly with votes less than half the membership in the Council.

Article 1(2) states: “To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples…”. AND Article 2(7) states: “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state…”.

Article 1(2): Right of Self-Determination

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights AND the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights state in Article 1 of their respective Covenants:

“All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”.

In view of the people’s right to freely determine its political status, the Resolution of the Core-Group states: “…to ensure that all provincial councils, including the northern and eastern provincial councils, are able to operate effectively, in accordance with the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka” (Preamble to the Resolution)

COMMENT: This is a violation of the right of self-determination of a people to freely administer and govern themselves because it binds the people of Sri Lanka to a particular form of internal Government, and denies them the opportunity to self-determine a form of Local Government that best serves them. Therefore. this provision amounts to a denial of the fundamental freedom of a Peoples to govern themselves under a form of Government of their choosing. For the Human Rights Council to impose restrictions on how a Member State should govern itself is a denial of their fundamental right to self-determination.

The Preamble states: “Noting the enactment of the twentieth amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka, while stressing the importance of democratic governance and independent oversight of key institutions”.

COMMENT: The need to remind the people of Sri Lanka the “importance of democratic governance and oversight key institutions” is an insult in view of the fact that the amendment is a product the people of Sri Lanka have determined in keeping with their right of self-determination. Furthermore, Sri Lanka is not the only country to function under a Presidential system of government under provisions of separation of power and the internal arrangements in each are different as they are with the systems of governance in each state that supported the Resolution. Under the circumstances, the need to draw special attention to arrangements in Sri Lanka is a slur on what Sri Lanka has rightfully determined for itself.

It is indeed comical for the U.K. as the sponsor of the Resolution to “stress the importance of democratic governance”, when three-fourths (¾) of U.K. Parliament was for staying in the European Union whereas the majority of the people of U.K. wanted to leave the EU, thus laying bare the U.K.’s deficit in democratic governance.

Article 2(7): Domestic Jurisdiction

Section 2 of the Resolution states: “…implement the recommendations made by the Office and to give due consideration to the recommendations made by the special procedures ….”

Section 7 of the Resolution ‘expresses serious concern at the trends emerging over the past year, which represent a clear early warning sign of a deteriorating situation of human rights in Sri Lanka, including the accelerating militarization of civilian government functions; the erosion of the independence of the judiciary and key institutions; ongoing impunity and political obstruction; policies that adversely affect the right to freedom of religion or belief; increased marginalization of persons belonging to the Tamil and Muslim communities; surveillance and intimidation of civil society; restrictions on media; freedom, and shrinking democratic space; arbitrary detentions; alleged torture and sexual and gender-based violence’.

COMMENT: Section 7 of the Resolution is influenced by the Report of the Office of the High Commissioner. It contains comments and observations that violate provisions of Article 2(7) of the UN Charter in respect of issues that are “essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state” cited above.

Unlike under normal circumstances, the literal interpretation of Article 2(7) that prohibits UN from intervening in issues domestic as enunciated by Professor Kelsen and others of similar view, is justified under the extremely extraordinary background that Sri Lanka and the rest of mankind had to face due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This view was underscored by the UN when it decided NOT to intervene in issues domestic relating to how member states coped with the COVI-19 pandemic. What the Resolution addressed instead was the situation that prevailed in Sri Lanka in the background of a terrorist attack by Muslim extremists in 2019, and the measures adopted to cope with the pandemic in the absence of international guidelines that the UN should have spearheaded.

The extraordinary circumstances referred to above started with a new President being elected in November 2019. A bare two months later, starting January 2020, Sri Lanka encountered its first COVID-19 patient. Until August 2020 when a new Parliament was elected, it was the Executive that had to deal with the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact, most countries were at a loss as to what strategies to adopt to deal with the pandemic. Furthermore, a fact that should not be overlooked is that during the period of review by the Council, the Legislative and Executive Branches of the government in Sri Lanka had existed only for four months.

At the end of the day, governments have to make hard choices. In the background of a raging pandemic the choice is whether to implement strict controls by deploying personnel known for their ability to ensure strict adherence to health guidelines, or to relax them. Those countries that have decided to leave it to individuals as a matter of individual choice have experienced far more deaths than countries such as Sri Lanka that decided otherwise. Are they guilty of fratricide? To fault elected representatives for the choices they made in the fulfillment of their responsibilities to their people, is to place individual choice at a premium over state-initiated guidelines to contain a global crisis. Not to recognize the positive results in terms of lives saved because of the measures adopted by the government is not to recognize the most fundamental of all human rights which is right to life.

The impression conveyed upon perusing the list of societal shortcomings cited in Section 7 is that they are unique to Sri Lanka. On the other hand, over the span of one year there would be instances of societal shortcomings similar to those cited in Section 7, in every country. For instance, in other countries too, policies exist that affect freedom of religion or belief; marginalization of persons or groups; restrictions on media freedom; shrinking democratic space; sexual and gender-based violence etc. Such shortcomings exist, albeit to different degrees, in all of the 22 countries that supported the Resolution despite the existence of independent institutions, or how liberal and democratic their policies are. Therefore, what is so special or unique about Sri Lanka for it to deserve special attention?

Mandate of the Human Rights Council

Section 6 of the Resolution states: “Recognizes the importance of preserving and analyzing evidence relating to violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes in Sri Lanka…and to develop possible strategies for future accountability processes for gross violations of human rights or serious violations of international humanitarian law…and to support relevant judicial proceedings in Member States with competent jurisdiction”.

COMMENT: The Human Rights Council has NO MANDATE nor the COMPETENCE to collect evidence relating to international humanitarian law or to support judicial proceedings in Member States. The Council is expected to function within the mandate stated in UN Resolution 60/251. The relevant provisions are:

3. Decides also that the Council should address situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations, and make recommendations thereon. It should also promote the effective coordination and the mainstreaming of human rights within the United Nations system;

4. Decides further that the work of the Council shall be guided by the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity, constructive international dialogue and cooperation, with a view to enhancing the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development…”.

The mandate of the Council does not authorize it to share its findings with other Member states for them to engage in judicial proceedings because it violates the “principle of equal sovereignty” (Article 1(1) of the Charter. If they do, what about the evidence sequestered for thirty years? Instead, what the Council is supposed to do, is to make recommendations to the states concerned. By focusing on Sri Lanka, the Council is being selective, thus violating the principles it is supposed to follow as stated in Paragraph 4 cited above.

A fact that should be borne in mind is that no investigations that could lead to a prosecution would be possible, using any evidence gathered for the purpose of future accountability exercises because access to victims and witnesses would not be possible due to Paragraph 25 of the OISL Report relating to confidentiality in the OISL Report.

CONCLUSION

Resolution A/HRC/46/L.Rev.1 dated 16 March 2021 has been adopted by the UN Human Rights Council based on the procedures and practices adopted by Committees of the General Assembly. Since the procedure adopted does not take into account the 14 abstained votes, the 22 members who supported the resolution prevailed over the 11 that opposed. Consequently, the procedure adopted enabled the Council to adopt the Resolutions based on votes that were less than half of the 47-member Council.

While the procedure adopted by the Council is acceptable for Committees of the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council is in a league by itself. Since its decisions impact on nearly every aspect of human life, the procedures and practices it adopts should be unique and stand alone. Another Council of similar standing is the Security Council. The procedure adopted by them is that out of its fifteen members at least nine should vote affirmatively for a decision to be adopted. Democratic Parliaments require half plus one of its members for a Bill or decision to have any legitimacy. Therefore, Sri Lanka should take the initiative to table a Resolution in the General Assembly calling on the Human Rights Council to take a fresh approach in the adoption of Resolutions. The outcome of such an approach should as a minimum be that even if the abstaining votes are not recognized, no Resolution should be adopted without half plus one of its members casting an affirmative vote for it to have any legitimacy i.e., more than 24 affirmative votes.

Having stated at the very outset that the resolution is “Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter”, the Resolution goes on to violate Article 1(2) and 2(7) of the Charter, right of a State to withdraw from an undertaking if it is in conflict with the “internal law of fundamental importance” to the State based on a right granted under Article 46 of the Vienna Convention, and violates the mandate granted to the Human Rights Council. If a Resolution violates the stated purposes and principles of the UN Charter, the General Assembly should take note and declare such a Resolution unadoptable.

The call on the Sri Lankan government to hold Provincial Council elections and to ensure that all Provincial Councils operate effectively in accordance with the 13th Amendment is a violation of Article 1(2) because it denies the right of self-determination to institute local government arrangements that suit them best and to bind the people of Sri Lanka to internal arrangements of governance set by external entities.

Article 2(7) does not “authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state…”. In keeping with this provision the UN did NOT intervene in the decisions taken by member states to handle the enormous challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Having stayed in the sidelines they have decided to single out Sri Lanka to document what the Council determines as shortcomings in the manner Sri Lanka coped with the crisis presented by the COVI-19 pandemic in a background of a Muslim terrorist attack that denied the fundamental right to life of hundreds.

The resolution is not binding on Sri Lanka. Furthermore, as stated above it violates certain provisions of the UN Charter and holds Sri Lanka to commitments it withdrew from on legitimate grounds. What Sri Lanka could do is table a Resolution in the General Assembly highlighting the issues at stake and seek redress. In addition, such a Resolution should propose a revision on the lines suggested above to the procedures adopted by the Human Rights Council in respect of how it decides to adopt Resolutions since current procedures are totally inappropriate for an all-important institution as the Human Rights Council.



Features

Twin personas; reaction long after the action

Published

on

I am pleasantly surprised and marvel too most times I read the editorial in The Island. Why? Because they are so very apt on the most current issue in the land. The editor has the clever knack of hitting the nail right on the head and is fearless even when the nail represents a VVIP.

Friday 25 November had the sharp, truth writing editor commenting on President Ranil W and his stunning metamorphosis from a peace promoting, democracy advocating politician to a persona that he himself says is Hitler like. And as the editor has written, one wondered if he and his immediate predecessor, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, had swapped bodies, for the former sounded just like the latter. Gota was expected to be a dictator; a monk called out to him to be Sri Lanka’s Hitler while his brother Basil bracketed him with the ‘Terminator’.

Ranil seems to hear cries for protection of human rights as a cover for violent protests. Gota, though an army man and later as a civilian, cosseted the army at great cost to the exchequer, did not threaten to bring the army out to quell protests. It was done once or twice: e. g at Rathupaswela and at an FTZ. These orders were not proven to be directly emanating from him nor directly connected to him. However, peace proclaiming Wickremesinghe with his new surname added on is outdoing the former army officer. He maintains the PTA and now says (probably in all truth and belief – scarce characteristics of politicians) that he will call out the army to quell protests, which have been and will be, mostly peaceful.

What this woman, a former teacher and counselor, opines with common sense and intuition is that he is going about it all wrong. He is inciting protest and lawlessness, even violence, since the youth of the country, with others, are utterly frustrated, angered, troubled and volcanic – waiting to erupt and so are the sideline catalysts: the terrorism promoting core politicized protesters of the IUSF, FSP and certain JVPers. Ranil should have been wiser and less outreaching, and negotiated with leaders of the groups mentioned, including trouble rousers like Stalin, and convinced them of the dire state the country is in. Negotiating with die-hard protesters may not be his cuppa; he shies away from direct contact with the hoi polloi. But talk to them he must. He should include persons like Guv CB to the negotiating table since Dr Nandalal Weerasinghe is one of the very few, if not the only high-up, that all respect. The rabble-rousers should be convinced, even threatened privately, that at this juncture what the country needs and the IMF promotes is encouraging money making projects, the surest and largest-inflow-of dollars earning tourism to resume and continue with peace prevailing in the country. With so many countries with so much to offer, why should tourists visit a near warring Sri Lanka? The reality of course is that this dot of an island has most to offer the tourist as pronounced by even Lonely Planet guides.

However, as is always the case, the country pleases but men in it are vile and utterly stupid. The protestors do not realize their protests will not change things immediately. But they most certainly cost the country much. These fire breathing, loud mouthed protestors and so-called protectors of peace and human rights are at present the principal harmers of the land.If after sincere one-to-one negotiation, some remain recalcitrant, then the police should be called in to deal with them.

Bang shut empty stable door

Mentioned many times before by Cass and other writers, Sri Lankans in general suffer short memories: will vilify a person today and praise him tomorrow not only because they are turncoats but because the people have forgotten and of course forgiven yesterday’s sins of leaders. Another characteristic is shutting the stable door once the horse has bolted. The preliminaries of the flight of the horse are seen but no alarm is raised. Once the horse has bolted; then come forth loud hues and cries of damage done.This last character trait of the Sinhala race mostly, was exhibited and exposed in the news telecast on MTV 1 Channel on Sunday November 27.

Villagers of a certain forest area, with voices raised women to the forefront, confronted a man who was in a new built, multi roomed hut-like construction. He seemed settled down. The crowd that walked across a vast area of bare land accused that the forest that covered this area had been illegally decimated. They demanded evidence of his right to settle down there. He said the police and other officials had cleared him. Trespassing was not even mentioned. Cass’ wonder at this loud fracas was why the fuss now with land bare and a house built when the villagers surely heard if not saw trees being felled en masse. Why had they not informed authorities then? Why wait for the deforestation and illegal building to be completed before protesting? Had they been waiting all these past months for the TV cameras to arrive to act angry and national minded?

It was suspected, if not known for sure, that vociferous Diana Gamage was a dual citizenship holder or maybe even a citizen of another country visiting her home turf. She was up front for long and since being made a State Minister by Prez Wickremasinghe, his hand guided by a crow pulling strings from even thousands of miles to the west, became prominently vociferous with forex earning projects foundationed on fun and good times. She proposed the growing of ganja plants; creating a Disney theme park; making Mannar an international gambling den and what else Cass fails to recall. Now firmly in Parliament as an elected member she faces the public rising up and declaring she is not eligible to hold a Parliamentary seat since the passage of A21 or 22. The mare had bolted to the green pastures by the Diyawanne and now people are a-rising to close the door she galloped through. Confine her at home with no powers and privileges or deport her to turf in her adopted country?

Bandula Gunawardena, holding the portfolio of Minister of Trade, held forth on the subject he thinks he is omniscient in. He claims economics as his forte of intellectual knowledge; certification of this fact being he was a tuition master in the subject. He refers to himself as Doctor Bandula G; the doctorate coming to him from where we know not. In a pontification in Parliament on the Sunday, he waxed eloquent on mismanagement of the Central Bank and trotted out figures in billions and decimals thereof of printed money. He blamed past CB persons. Why was this economist considering himself on par with Amartya Sen, Paul Krugman and Maynard Keynes, silent then when Nivaard Cabral kept the printing machines in the CB turning day and night churning out 5000 rupee notes? (PS. Cass wonders very much whether he has heard of Krugman and knows Keynes was one of the Bloomsbury Group. Cass can wager her life that he does not know who this group was).

Speaking of this Mr Cabral, he was recently seen on TV at a press interview passing the buck adroitly and proclaiming he was obeying orders to print money. Was he a robot and of whom?

Short take

A very good move was mooted recently in Parliament and will soon be law. Cass refers to the stricture that university students will be allowed one extra year after their graduating date whether they fail the final exam and wish to repeat or when they dodge sitting the final exam. Here again the closing of the loophole after damage is done. Firebrand Wasantha is said to have been in the University of Sri Jayawardenapura for eight solid years. Wasn’t this truancy of sitting the finals seen earlier? Authorities too scared to report the fact; saving their scalps by ignoring anomalies. just as they turn blind eyes to filthy and dangerous ragging in universities?

This land of ours which is truly incomparable, is derogatively a land like no other when speaking of it with tongue in cheek.

Continue Reading

Features

Maris Stella College in 1950s and 60s

Published

on

By George Braine

Maris Stella College, Negombo, is celebrating its centenary this year. These are my recollections of the years I spent there.Maris Stella had classes from Standard Two. For lower and upper kindergarten (as they were called those days), all boys attended Ave Maria Convent, along with girls, of course. One teacher I recall is Sr. Mary Imelda, diminutive but a formidable force. As she taught, her two dogs, spoiled rotten by the children, roamed the classroom.

Maris Stella sits on the road that extends from Colombo to Chilaw, and beyond to Puttalam and Anuradhapura. Despite the heavy traffic on the road, the school displays a somewhat serene ambience because of the large, well maintained playground, and the lovely main building set some distance from the road. Two storied, with a lengthy Italianesque facade, the main building is reached along two narrow roadways lined by long, single storied classrooms. In the center, shaded by massive mara trees, is a smaller playing field – for soccer, softball cricket and gymnastics- in the 50s and 60s. These buildings, the trees, and the playing field, now a lush green, have been well preserved.

My father recalled that, during World War II, when Allied troops were stationed at the school, these mara trees were covered with camouflage nets to hide the anti-aircraft guns mounted below.

Teachers and students

My father had been at Maris Stella in the 1930s and 40s, and when I entered in 1957, some of his teachers were still there. Elias, dark, wizened, and with a tousle of grey hair, taught me in Standard 2. Capt. Jayamanne, a big man, tough as nails, had been the cadet platoon commander during my father’s time, and still was. Bro. Jonas had been in charge of sports for years. Obris, who taught English, had become the vice-principal. My father also recalled Bros. Nizier, Valentine, and Xavier, a Spaniard. Mahaboob, physical training instructor and Bro. Gerard had been his classmates. Undoubtedly, the most unusual teacher was Johannes, who taught Sinhala. The only teacher who wore a sarong to school, worn high up on the waist and held up with a broad belt, he had an owlish, scholarly air; our textbooks on Sinhala had been authored by him. Ms. Wallace, lustily playing the piano, taught us singing. Two younger teachers were Dabarera and Kurera.

One hilarious memory is that of Bro. Jonas, coaching the football team even during matches, running up and down the sidelines, grey hair and cassock flying. He was strict, liberal with the cane and slaps. Another is of Mahaboob, the PTI, in his impeccable polo shirt, pants, and tennis shoes, all in spotless white, taking us through various drills on the playground.

The principals during my time were Bros. Stanislaus and Peter, and the headmasters Bros. Nizier and Gerard.We were living near Ave Maria Convent when I joined Maris Stella, which meant a walk of more than a mile, crossing a railway track and walking along Main Street till I reached Copra Junction along the Colombo – Chilaw road. The street is chock-a-block with shops now, but, in those days, I only passed houses with well-maintained gardens, a couple of boutiques, a dispensary and a dental clinic. A well-off classmate was driven to school and passed me on the way, but never offered me a lift.

Most students walked to school or rode bicycles, in wave after wave. Others came by train or bus. The only person who drove was a senior student named Jayakody from Dankotuwa. This was extraordinary, when no teacher owned a car, and some rode rickety bicycles. His Peugeot 203 was parked under a mara tree while he attended classes and later stayed for football practice.

At Maris Stella, a Catholic school, most students were Catholic. But, ethnically, we were an eclectic band, marked by the Bharatha community and Burghers. The family names of schoolmates I can recall is evidence of this: Siriwardena, Jayawardena, Abeysekera, Swaminathan, Bolonghe, Salgado, Leitan, Tissera, Hettiaarachi, Jayamanne, Franke, Croos-Dabarera, Dabarera, Jayamaha, Coonghe, Aserappa, Rodrigo, Fernando, Pereira, Costa, Gomez, Mirando. Ives Swaminathan had immigrated from Mauritius, and sang French songs in a lovely voice.

After my brother entered Maris Stella, we were five cousins there: Roy and Lloyd Chelvaratnam, George Wambeck, George and Roy Braine. Roy C and Lloyd were in the Tamil stream. Two Georges and two Roys.Latin was compulsory from the Junior School Certificate (JSC) class. All that memorizations were intimidating, so I was relieved when the requirement was taken off when I reached the JSC class. But, Latin prevailed in the daily mass conducted at the chapel, and in the hymns sung there. I recited prayers and sang those hymns, without any idea of what was being said or sung.

Sports

Mention Maris Stella and sports during my time, and the name that springs to mind is Melvin Mallawaratchi. Tall and good looking, with a ready smile that lit up his face, Melvin was already legendary when I entered school. Our age gap was more than 10 years, so I had no opportunity to know him personally. All I knew was that, whenever he batted, he lit up the cricket field. I, along with other schoolmates, simply hero worshipped him.

Home games were thronged with enthusiastic spectators. When Melvin came to bat and took his stance, a collective hush fell on the ground.  Soon, we were cheering wildly as the ball sailed over our heads, over trees, onto the main road, or sped along to the boundary in a flash. In his stride, Melvin was unstoppable.

In one game against St. Anthony’s College, Wattala, I watched as he scored a blistering 96 in the second innings, having scored an unbeaten century in the first.  In 1957, playing Ibbagamuwa Central, Melvin had scored 96 in only 20 minutes, which included two sixers and 18 fours.

Melvin’s flamboyance did not stop at cricket. He was also a champion sprinter. Maris Stella’s rival school in Negombo, St. Mary’s, had a champion sprinter named Mello. At every meet where they met, he dueled it out with Melvin in the 100-yards sprint, running neck to neck. We stood near the finish line to see Melvin triumph every time.

Eddie and Rukmani

By 1958, we had moved to a house across the road from Maris Stella; 120 Colombo Road, if memory serves. Now, I only had a 5-minute walk to school. It also meant that we went to Sunday service at the Maris Stella college chapel.

Eddie Jayamanne and Rukmani Devi, husband and wife, were at the peak of their popularity. She was the reigning queen of Sinhala cinema, and the nightingale of Sinhala music. Eddie was less flamboyant, somewhat short, with curly hair and spectacles.  He was a comedian. Even to a mere schoolboy, Rukmani’s luminous beauty and grace was overwhelming.

So, on Sunday morning, a two-toned Buick convertible would drive up regally, passing those majestic mara trees, Eddie at the wheel, and the couple would walk up to the chapel. They did not put on airs, and behaved just like the rest of us, sitting on the benches, singing hymns, and walking up to the altar and kneeling to receive communion. After the service, they mingled and chatted. And nobody asked for autographs!

I think Eddie and Rukmani were fond of Maris Stella. They attended fund raising events, like the Maris Mela carnival and a football match, which I recall vividly. Their nephew, Gamini Jayamanne, was my classmate.

Scouting, and a school take-over

Cousin George Wambeck and I were Cub Scouts, Wolf Cubs as they were called those days. The chip-a-job weeks were the best, because we got to roam all over Negombo and beyond, with no adult supervision. Most people treated us kindly, giving 50 cents or even a generous rupee for the odd “job” we did, and also a snack and a soft drink into the bargain.

One day, cousin George and I, along with another friend, visited a relative’s house in search of a “job”. He had been drinking, and was stretched out on a hansiputuwa when we dropped-in. Thinking of having some fun with us, he assumed the role of a drill sergeant, lined us up, and put us through military “maneuvers”: attention, right turn, quick march, left turn, halt. Scouting doesn’t teach marching, and we were mere 8-year olds anyway. Our female cousins were watching from behind curtains, and we could hear the giggles. But, the man did reward us well, and also insisted that we have a meal before letting us go.On another day, we walked down Temple Road to Jaya-Ruk, the residence of Eddie and Rukmani. But they weren’t home.

Perhaps the most memorable event was planned take-over of schools by the government, in 1960. The Catholic church was opposed to the move. The conflict escalated, and, as a final resort, parents of students occupied some classrooms, bringing mats and pots and pans. They cooked, ate, and slept there. They came to “defend” the school, but from whom wasn’t certain. From a new principal appointed by the government, from the police, the army?

Classes were suspended, and we enjoyed loitering around the school, waiting for the confrontation to take place. Eventually, the matter was resolved, but, in Negombo, only Maris Stella and Ave Maria Convent remain as private fee-levying schools.

When my father moved to Nattandiya for work, my brother and I travelled to school from there, by steam train. We wore khaki pith hats and carried our books and lunch in little, cardboard suitcases. Every day was an adventure. Later, when father moved to Madampe, we were boarded at Maris Stella.

What I recall most from the boarding is the constant hunger. We didn’t have much pocket money, so gouging at the tuck shop was not an option. On Sundays, a long line of boarders was taken for a walk, most often to the beach. Going through town, the aroma from the thosai boutiques was irresistible. Despite Bro. Raphael, an Italian, keeping a sharp eye, boys would take turns to dart into the boutiques and buying up the vadais. Our pockets would be stuffed and we salivated at the feast to come.

In 1962, my last year at Maris Stella, my brother and I were boarded at a home on Temple Road. Bertram Fernando, a pioneer comedian of Sinhala cinema, also lived there. Every Sunday, a game of bridge went on for hours on the verandah around a round table. A regular attendee was Eddie Jayamanne, who drove up in his Buick convertible.

All our teachers named earlier have long departed. One by one, former classmates are also passing away. When I drive by Maris Stella now, the memories come flooding back. For some, the past is a foreign country. Not for me. Even after 60 years, the school anthem that we sang so robustly is fresh in my mind.

“All ye lads of Maris Stella proudly sing

May your voices boldly ring

Face life’s trials bravely

Act upon your motto gravely

Iter para tutum”

GEORGE BRAINE

Continue Reading

Features

China’s Covid Trap

Published

on

by Gwynne Dyer

“Our COVID-19 policy is the most scientifically effective, the most economical, and yields the best result,” insisted the ‘People’s Daily’ newspaper in China after mass public protests against the government’s ‘zero covid’ policy last weekend. If President Xi Jinping believes that, he is in for a lot more trouble.

The protests were unprecedented in their scale and daring. They broke out spontaneously in twelve cities all across China after ten lockdown-related deaths in the remote province of Xinjiang. All sorts of people took part, from students to workers to pensioners. A few even called for the dethroning of Xi and the Communist Party.

That doesn’t mean the regime is on the brink of collapse. Public anger at the endless lockdowns and resulting loss of income is strong, but the regime’s surveillance technology is excellent. There was relatively little official violence last weekend, but many of the protesters will have an unpleasant visit by the police in the coming days.

Xi’s problem is that the protests will probably recur and may well escalate, because over-long mass quarantines and lockdowns are a non-political issue that can unite almost everybody against the government’s policy. Or rather, against Xi’s personal policy, for he has deliberately chosen to portray zero-covid as the greatest achievement of his time in office.

That made sense in the first year of the pandemic, for China’s relentless lockdowns and mass testing campaigns saved a great many lives then. Total covid-related deaths in China have been around 5,000 out of a population of 1.4 billion. The United States, with less than a quarter of China’s population, had more than a million covid deaths.

Xi and his propagandists naturally used this contrast as evidence that both Chinese medicine and the Chinese political system were superior to their Western equivalents. Was he even aware that the zero-covid policy could only be a stopgap measure until effective vaccines were developed, never a lasting solution?

His scientists must have tried to tell him that, but, somehow, he didn’t take the message on board. There was a vaccination programe, but not a very rigorous one – and Xi kept chasing the fantasy of completely eliminating the covid virus. He is caught in a trap, but he built it himself.

“Lockdowns should always be a temporary phenomenon, not a long-term strategy,” explained Dr Anthony Fauci, now President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser. Continuing them for almost three years “without any seeming purpose or endgame” is sheer folly. Moreover, Xi seemed unaware that the covid virus was growing more infectious with time.

The latest versions of the omicron variant, which first appeared a year ago, are estimated to be up to ten times more infectious than the original virus that appeared in Wuhan in late 2020.

Those versions haven’t reached China yet, due to drastic curbs on travel into and out of the country, but the Chinese population is so poorly protected that the only alternatives if they arrive would be semi-permanent nationwide lockdowns or nationwide carnage.

Chinese-made vaccines are only 70% effective against earlier variants of the virus, and may be wholly ineffective against the later omicron versions. The elderly are particularly vulnerable: only 40% of the over-80s have had even a single booster shot.

An article published in Nature Medicine last March estimated that ending the covid-zero lockdowns and quarantines in current circumstances could overwhelm hospitals, with 15 times more people needing hospital beds than those currently available. It predicted around 1.5 million deaths.

That would still be a far better outcome than the US record, but arriving all at once so late in the game, when the rest of the world is long past lockdowns and mass deaths, it could spell political disaster for Xi Jinping. Perhaps even for the Communist regime.There is a way out. First, Xi has to eat humble pie and import several billion doses of the highly effective mRNA vaccines. Let’s say six months for that.

Then he has to control the rising infections with the hated lockdowns and quarantines as best he can, containing popular anger as much as possible, until a high enough portion of the population is properly vaccinated – say another six to twelve months.

Then, sometime in 2024, he can relax the restrictions and let the Chinese rejoin the rest of the world. That strategy worked for the Australians and New Zealanders, who ended similar mass lockdowns as soon as most people got their (imported) mRNA vaccines.If Xi can’t bear the humiliation of doing that, he could gamble that an effective Chinese-made mRNA vaccine will become available soon. Several are under development, and one is allegedly about to enter Phase 3 clinical trials.But if he bets on that and it’s not ready soon, his newly acquired status of de facto president-for-life will become a nightmare. Covid infections are rising fast.

Continue Reading

Trending