by Dr Nirmala Chandrahasan
For some time now the Tamil political parties and the Tamil polity have been looking to the international community to settle their problems. Thus much reliance has been placed on the Human Rights Council’s resolutions and the Geneva processes. Although this is one avenue it is not the only one. The international processes are also dependant on geo politics and the national interests of the states that are represented in these organizations and hence one cannot always expect a favourable outcome. On the other hand, when the issues facing the Tamil speaking people are taken up by the people themselves and their representatives at the ground level it could have a better outcome, as the majority community and the country at large are made aware of the grievances and issues which are agitating the Tamil speaking part of the country. This requires that the print and electronic media give adequate coverage to these events so that the Sinhala and English reading public are made aware . Unfortunately this is not the case. The news coverage and dissemination of news within the country, is as divided as the communities themselves , and no effort is made to bridge the gap. To give an example I did not see any coverage of the Pottuvil to Polikandy pada yatra in the Sinhala or English news media, although it had unprecedented numbers of participants and evoked great enthusiasm in the northern and eastern provinces. It is in the interest of all communities if the Country’s problems are solved within it and not through external agencies. The need to turn to foreign agencies arises when a community feels they have no recourse to justice or solution to their grievances within their own political system. The recently held yatra or march from Pottuvil in the eastern province to Polikandy in the Jaffna district , from 3rd February to 7th February 2021, was a new approach which included the active participation of the Tamil speaking people of the northern and eastern provinces, ie Tamils and Muslims. Peaceful protest is a part of the democratic process ,and must be encouraged rather than stamped upon as it allows for the peoples’ voice to be heard.
The peaceful Ahimsa Yatra was conducted by the Civil society groups in the Northern and Eastern Provinces to highlight some of the current issues faced by the Tamil speaking people of Lanka. They included the Rs. 1000,wage demand of the Upcountry Tamil plantation workers who have long been denied what other workers in the country have been enjoying; the burial rights of the Muslim Community and the forced cremation of their Covid dead; and the land grabs and attack on the cultural and religious heritage of the villages and farming communities of the eastern and northern provinces, through the actions of the Archaeological Department and the recently constituted Task Force, together with the Mahaweli Authority and Wildlife Department. In the present regime age old Hindu Temples in the villages are under threat of being taken over or destroyed on the grounds that there is evidence of ruined sites of Buddhist Vihares and Stupas in or around them. Archaeological surveys are being conducted and boundary lines and fences put up taking over the lands of the farmers and cattle grazing grounds. Sinhala Buddhist settlers are to be settled in these enclaves. These actions have caused the Tamil speaking people of these areas to fear that they will be dispossed from their own traditional areas in which their ancestors have lived for centuries.
The composition of the Presidential Task force for archaeological sites in the East, is illustrative of the statement in the recently published report of the High Commissioner for human Rights Michelle Bachelet where she says ..”Tamil and Muslim minorities are being increasingly marginalised and excluded from the national vision and government policy.” The Presidential Task Force is mainly comprised of military personnel and Buddhist clergy with a scattering of Archaeologists. When we consider that in a multi ethnic province where the Tamil speaking people predominate there is not a single Tamil or Muslim Archaeologist or linguist or any person at all to represent these communities, the High Commissioner’s words ring true. It must also be pointed out that a large number of stone inscriptions appertaining to these ruined structures are in ancient Tamil script, and form part of the Tamil Buddhist/Hindu heritage of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka who to cite the words of the Indo- Sri Lanka Peace Accord of july 1987, have been the historical inhabitants of the Northern and Eastern provinces. Already this task force is in the field claiming ownership of the sites of ancient Tamil Buddhist Vihares and Stupas , in many instances accompanied by police or army personnel. It is alleged that inscriptions in the ancient Tamil script and stone tablets containing such writings are being destroyed. Tamil farmers see their lands and cattle grazing common grounds being taken over. Statues of the Buddha are being installed at different sites accompanied by army personnel and Buddhist monks. The Buddha is venerated by Hindus and even worshipped as the avatar of the God Vishnu ,but the manner and purpose behind such actions are causing disaffection. Sinhalese settlers are being brought in. Here again what is at issue is not their ethnicity , but the purpose for which and manner in which they are being brought in by the State agencies. Hence this is now the pressure point.
The recent Yatra was inter alia (there were altogether ten issues) to voice the concerns of the people and show support to the villagers and farmers of the region who flocked to join the protest in great numbers. It must not be forgotten that it was the ancestors of the Tamil community who built the ruined Vihares and Stupas ( alleged according to some members of the Task force to be amounting to 2000 in number, which are now awaiting excavation,) at a period when they were largely Buddhists, as too was South India inclusive of Tamil Nadu in the early part of the Christian era until about the 8-9th centuries when there was a Hindu revival. Even in the event of these ruins being unearthed it has to be kept in mind that many of these structures were bequeathed by the great Chola rulers from Tamil Nadu, the Emperors Raja Raja Chola and Rajendra Chola. The Cholas made Polonnaruwa their capital city and ruled Sri Lanka for almost a century from 993- 1070 AD .They were the patrons of both religions and built Hindu Temples and Buddhist Vihares and supported the maintenance of them as well, by grants of lands and villages.
In this connection I reproduce a news item from the Hindu newspaper in India dated October 19th 2020, captioned ‘ Efforts on to bring back Chola Royal Charter, Preserved in the Netherlands it was a Sasana issued to a Buddhist Vihara’. “The Charter has two sections one in Sanskrit and another in Tamil , and the 21 copper plates are held together by a massive bronze ring bearing the regal seal of Rajendra Chola. It proclaims that 26 villages bordering Anaimangalam were donated for a Buddhist Vihara in Nagapattnam, Tamil Nadu”. While this Charter is evidence of the patronage to Buddhism in Tamil Nadu even after the Hindu revival in South India , there is evidence of Chola patronage to Buddhist religious institutions in Sri lanka too, as in the Vikkirama Calemekan Perum Palli in the Eastern province also known as the Velgam Vihare or Natanar Kovil by the present day Tamils. The Tamil inscriptions at the shrine record donations made to the shrine and dated in the reign of the Chola king Raja raja Chola. The late Dr Paranavithane, the well known Sri Lankan archaeologist has described it as an ancient Buddhist shrine of the Tamil people. In the Chakesadhatuvansa an ancient manuscript from Burma, which records the relics of the Buddha, the Tamils are mentioned as ” sea faring merchants who built a Stupa over the hair relic of the Buddha in a land which they visited for the purpose of trade”. Interestingly the Digavappi Stupa in the Amparai district is said to enclose a hair relic of the Buddha. The Tamil merchants sailing to Indonesia from Kaveripoompattinam the Port in Tamil Nadu during Chola times , are said to have first sailed southward towards what is now Akkaraipattu town in the Amparai district, as it was believed that there was a current which took the ships across the Indian ocean speedily from this point to Indonesia. During the tsunami in 2004 this theory was proved correct as the tsunami stuck around the Akkaraipattu region first, coming directly from its source off the seas in Sumatra with great force. In an earlier article of mine i have referred to the donations made to Buddhist shrines by Tamil merchant trading communities as evidenced in the various Tamil inscriptions in different parts of Sri lanka. see “. Archaeological sites in the East and the Presidential Task force.” published in the island newspaper of 12th june 2020. Also Article by Dr D.Dayalan, Archaeological Survey of india “Role of Tamil Traders in promoting Buddhism”.
In fact there is sufficient evidence to prove that most if not all the archaeological sites of Buddhist Vihares and Stupas in the East and the North are Tamil Buddhist sites and hence the custodianship of these sites should be with the Tamil communities/institutions of those localities, or at least with the participation of the same. The Tamil leadership should also take up the matter of Tamil and Muslim representation in the Task force and also the appointment of linguists who could read and decipher the ancient Tamil inscriptions found at these sites, as well as persons versed in the ancient Pali and Sinhalese scripts , as these structures largely represent the composite Hindu /Buddhist cultural heritage of both the Sinhalese and Tamil communities. Efforts should also be made to protect these ancient inscriptions from destruction.
As I have indicated above the attacks on their cultural and religious heritage as well as their lands are causing the Tamil speaking people of these provinces to fear that they will become a minority in the areas which they have traditionally occupied. The fact that the Provincial Council system is under threat by certain elements which are attempting to prevent the Provincial Council elections being held and calling for the abolishment of the Councils is fuelling this fear. The Province as the unit of devolution gives the Tamil speaking people some devolved powers in areas where they constitute the majority. It should be kept in mind that the provincial councils are underwritten by the Indo –Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 and furthermore the Treaty specifically denotes the Northern and Eastern Provinces as being areas of ‘ Historical habitation of the Tamil speaking people’. A U.N panel of experts in a recent Conference has taken the view that cultural heritage is a human rights issue, as the destruction of cultural heritage harms a range of human rights. Hence the threat to the Tamil Hindu /Buddhist heritage, can be regarded as impinging on the human rights of the Tamil people of these provinces. The 1954 Hague Convention protects cultural property in times of war. The Statue of the International Criminal Court (ICC) makes , destruction of cultural heritage a war crime. In the 2016 judgement of the ICC namely Prosecutor v Al Mahdi, a Muslim jihadist was convicted for attacks against religious and historical monuments in Timbucktu, in the African state of Mali. Hence we can see that cultural identity is coming to be recognized as an important component of ethnic identity ,and any attempts to stamp it out or undermine it is tantamount to ethnic discrimination, and even akin to ethnic cleansing.
With respect to the analogy with Palestine I would like to refer to an article by Dr.Dayan Jayatilleke published in The Island on 28th May 2020 titled ‘Is it the end of Tamil political history.’ He states “the political prospects of the Tamil people are at the dimmest lowest and most challenging that I can remember.”He sees the problems the Tamils face in Sri Lanka as akin to what the Palestinians face in Israel “in that there is an ultra hawkish administration which has decidedly turned its back on the earlier consensus on the nature of the problem and the contours of the solution and is moving swiftly and unilaterally to shape a final geopolitical outcome of a zero sum character”. Further on he refers to the ‘far right bucket list’ which is to interalia “eliminate the problem root and branch and structurally lock down minority assertiveness ensuring an unassailable systemic hegemony of the Sinhalese Buddhist’. He cites the appointment of the Archaeological Task Force in the East as part of this project. There is no evidence that this policy is endorsed by the Sinhalese people ,and for that matter by the majority of the Parliamentarians, even those of the governing party, and that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet members would endorse it. However it could be the policy of a small coterie holding such views who make the policy decisions. The High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet too makes mention of this when she refers to “the present trajectory” in her upcoming report for the Council sessions in Geneva in February March this year. She says ……..” the High Commission is deeply concerned by the trends emerging over the past year which represent clear early warning signs of a detiorating human rights situation and a significantly heightened risk of future violations and calls for preventive action”…..
The civil war was fought already a decade and more ago , but the present threat to the habitat of the people and their religious / cultural heritage is a presently continuing one. In the context of this existential threat it is important that it be communicated to the majority community so as to gain their sympathy and support. Greater publicity to these matters in the English and Sinhala press should be pursued so that with the support of all the communities these issues can be resolved amicably, according to the Buddhist principles of right conduct and compassion.
It should be kept in mind that the guardian Deities of Sri Lanka are Hindu Gods and the entire country has a Buddhist /Hindu heritage. I note that the Ahimsa Yatra stopped on its way from Pottuvil to Polikandi to obtain the Blessings of Mary maadha at the sylvan Shrine of Madhu. In this shrine especially during the church festival large numbers of Sinhalese from the entire western coast of Sri Lanka and Tamils from the eastern and northern coasts and the Vanni, converge to venerate the Madhu Maadha, and the whole Church resonates with the sweet sounds of the Rosary being recited in Sinhala and Tamil. This seems like a confirmation that the country belongs equally to the Tamil and Sinhala speaking people and to all the religious groups. In the interests of all the communities in the island it is necessary that the print and electronic media play their role in giving due publicity to the grievances of and protests taking place in the Tamil speaking part of the country rather than black out this news, as in the case of the Pottuvil to Polikandi protest march while the foreign media takes it up. Peaceful protests if driven underground can take the form of violent and incendiary protests. Ultimately Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Burghers are children of Mother Lanka /Ilankai, and well intentioned members of the government and other political parties and the people of all communities must come together in an endeavour to reconcile and defuse the issues and grievances of the Tamil speaking people outlined above.
Former OMP Chief now at BASL helm
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Editor of ‘Annidda’, Attorney-at-Law K.W. Janaranjana, in a piece in its Feb 21, 2021, edition that dealt with the election of Saliya Pieris, PC, as the President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), asserted that the government hadn’t made a special intervention in the contest.
The government hadn’t made political intervention, though a group of people, including the Secretary of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), and its National List MP, and Attorney-at-Law Sagara Kariyawasam, made a bid to secure the backing of the government for Saliya’s rival. Such attempts made at the provincial level, too, failed to produce the desired results.
Saliya Pieris, who succeeded Kalinga Indatissa, PC, polled 5,093 votes at the election conducted on Feb 24. His rival, Kuvera de Zoysa, PC secured 2,797 votes. The winner secured a staggering 2,386 vote majority – just 321 short of the number of votes polled by De Zoysa.
Janaranjana, a leading member of the civil society grouping Purawesi Balaya, who played a significant role in the yahapalana political campaign, claimed that some of the lawyers who represented top government figures, too, backed Saliya Pieris. Emphasizing that all of them worked for Saliya’s victory, Janaranjana dismissed assertions that the victory achieved by Saliya Pieris was a severe debacle suffered by the Rajapaksas.
Janaranjana attributed the President’s Counsel’s victory to his commitment to the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and human rights throughout his legal career.
A battle between SLPP and Opp.
In spite of the government refraining from taking a stand, as pointed out by Janaranjana, the contest received unprecedented attention, with the lawyer electorate turning it into a battle between the SLPP government and the Opposition. Saliya Pieris, in an exclusive interview with Janaranjana, also published on the Feb 21, 2021 edition of Anidda, three days before the election, flayed the rival group. Pieris emphasized the responsibility, on the part of the BASL, to take a principled stand on contentious issues, regardless of the consequences. Pieris explained his public role since the arrest of High Court Judge Mahanama Tillekaratne, in 1998. Essentially, Pieris flayed the BASL for its failure to take up issues, such as the alleged attack on the Mannar Court by supporters of the then Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidential term. However, Bathiudeen, leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC), now represents the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB).
Pieris also referred to the impeachment of Chief Justice, Shirani Bandaranayake 43, also during the previous Rajapaksa administration. However, there hadn’t been any reference at all to the BASL receiving Rs 2.5 mn sponsorship, in 2016, from disgraced Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) in support of a high profile event conducted at a leading hotel, with the participation of the then Chief Justice, Attorney General, Solicitor General, the President and the Prime Minister. The BASL never explained why funds were obtained from PTL, despite its perpetration of Treasury bond scams, in Feb 2015, and March 2016.
The BASL should be also be seriously concerned about Hejaaz Hizbullah, a prominent lawyer arrested on April 14, 2020 over his direct involvement with the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks. Hizbullah was recently produced in court on a directive issued by Attorney General Dappula de Livera. The lawyer’s arrest, too, caused a sharp division among BASL members and contributed to the overwheming victory achieved by Pieris.
When the writer asked a lawyer, who voted for the winner, why he did so, he explained his position, on the condition of anonymity. The lawyer said: “Voted at the DC polling booth in Colombo. I didn’t vote last time. Lawyers preferred an anti-establishment candidate since the independence of the bar is paramount. On the other hand, lawyers detested hitherto unseen level of inducements being offered to win votes, as well as fabricated false accusations. Anonymous accusations and despicable strategies resulted in further revulsion towards the losing candidate. Unprecedented number of members turned up to ensure a resounding mandate to the winning candidate.
Saliya Pieris responds
The writer sought views of the newly elected BASL President as regards several issues.
(Q) What would be your priorities?
(A) Securing the rights of lawyers in the profession; making a positive impact on issues pertaining to the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and protection of fundamental rights; supporting juniors in the profession and supporting the welfare of the membership.
(Q) You served as first Chairman, OMP (Office of Missing Persons), an apparatus set up in terms of the 2015 Geneva Resolution. GoSL in March 2020
quit the Geneva process. What can BASL do to address accountability issues, both during the conflict and the post war period?
(A) The role of the BASL is different from the OMP. As I have stated, upholding the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary will be a priority. All domestic institutions which address these issues must be independent so that the people who seek relief from them trust these institutions and have confidence in them.
(Q) You secured well over 2000 votes than your rival. How do you intend to win the confidence of those who voted against you?
(A) I have received support from lawyers, across the country and from every community and area. My support cut across all lines, be it party, race, religion or area. On the very day of the announcement of my election, I reached out to all those members who did not vote for me and will continue to.do so. At the same time, I am sure that the members who voted otherwise at the elections will work with me for the betterment of the bar.
(Q)What would you do to prevent deaths in police custody?
(A) Police torture and deaths in custody affect the rule of law and should be condemned. There must be zero tolerance. The Bar must carefully examine these issues and, if needed, lobby the government to ensure fair investigations and that the perpetrators are punished.
(Q) What is your stand on implementation of death penalty and presidential pardon?
(A) These have not been discussed at the Bar Council as yet. My personal view is that I am opposed to the implementation of the death penalty. On presidential pardons, I am of the view that the power of pardon must not be used unreasonably, and must be done by taking into account several factors including the nature of the crime and the views of the aggrieved party.
Let me remind the readers of nine previous BASL Presidents, before Saliya Pieris, who won the presidency: Desmond Fernando, PC (2005 – 2006), Nihal Jayamanne, PC (2006 – 2008), W. Dayaratne, PC (2008 – 2010), Shibly Aziz, PC (2010 – 2012), Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC (2012 – 2013), Upul Jayasuriya, PC (2013 – 2015), Geoffrey Alagaratnam, PC (2015 – 2017), U. R. De Silva, PC (2017 – 2019) and Kalinga Indatissa, PC (2019 – 2021).
Of those 17,200 eligible to vote at the Feb. 24 election, approximately 8,000 voted, though usually only about 6,500 voted in previous years. In other words, nearly 47 per cent chose not to participate in the process.
Who betrayed the country?
Janaranjana discussed how the rival camp depicted Saliya Pieris as a person who betrayed the country by being involved in a treacherous international conspiracy to undermine the armed forces. According to Janaranjana, the rival camp exploited social media and other propaganda means to depict Saliya Pieris as a traitor whose election would lead to the division of the country, on ethnic lines. Janaranjana pointed out how the unprecedented victory achieved by Saliya Pieris proved the failure of the rival camp’s strategy.
Against the backdrop of unsubstantiated allegations, directed at Saliya Pieris, as regards his role as the Chairman of the OMP, it would be pertinent to examine the failure on the part of the BASL to genuinely address accountability issues related to Sri Lanka’s war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The OMP was one of the four mechanisms established in terms of the controversial resolution 30/1 ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka.’ The four apparatuses are (i) A hybrid judicial mechanism with a Special Counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law (ii) A Commission for truth, justice, reconciliation and non-recurrence (iii) An Office for Missing Persons and (iv) and Office for Reparations.
The previous UNP-SLFP administration established the first permanent official body, tasked with tracking down missing persons, in terms of Act No. 14 of 2016. This was done in line with one of the recommendations in the 2015 UNHRC Resolution co-sponsored by the Government of Sri Lanka. Due to political turmoil, the government was able to establish the OMP two years after the Act was passed. The OMP initiated ‘operations’ in May 2018 with members visiting Mannar to meet the families of those disappeared in that District.
The OMP’s mandate, according to Part II Section 10 of the Office on Missing Persons Act, No. 14 of 2016:
(a) To search for and trace missing persons and identify appropriate mechanisms for the same and to clarify the circumstances in which such persons went missing;
(b) To make recommendations to the relevant authorities towards addressing the incidence of missing persons;
(c) To protect the rights and interests of missing persons and their relatives as provided for in this Act.
(d) To identify avenues of redress to which missing persons and relatives of missing persons are entitled to, and to inform the missing person (if found alive) or relative of such missing person of same.
(e) To collate data related to missing persons obtained by processes presently being carried out, or which were previously carried out, by other institutions, organizations, Government Departments and Commissions of Inquiry and Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry and centralize all available data within the database established under this Act.
(f) To do all such other necessary things that may become necessary to achieve the objectives under the Act.
Saliya Pieris received the appointment as Chairman, OMP on May 1, 2018. The civil society activist quit the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) to take the leadership of the OMP. The outfit comprised Saliya Pieris, PC, Ms. Jayatheepa Punniyamoorthy, Major General (Rtd.) Mohanti Antonette Peiris, Sriyani Nimalka Fernando, Mirak Raheem, Somasiri K. Liyanage and Kanapathipillai Venthan.
The now defunct Constitutional Council picked the OMP members. The then President Maithripala Sirisena finalized their appointments. It would be pertinent to mention that OMP member Mirak Raheem had been a member of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTFRM), headed by Attorney-at-Law Manouri Muttetuwegama. The outfit called for full participation of foreign judges in the proposed inquiry.
OMP’s intervention helps Lanka
The then Joint Opposition campaigned both in and outside the OMP, alleging the outfit would pave the way for unprecedented international scrutiny of the war-winning armed forces. However, thanks to OMP’s intervention, Sri Lanka was able to disapprove the high profile accusations, pertaining to the Mannar mass graves. Whatever the accusations, the OMP helped Sri Lanka to counter an extremely serious allegation raised in the run-up to the March 2019 Geneva sessions by UN human rights Chief Michelle Bachelet.
Bachelet served as the Chilean President for nine years, beginning 2006. Bachelet had been in an indecent hurry to pressure Sri Lanka over accountability issues and she blindly blamed the Mannar mass graves on the Sri Lanka Army before a leading US lab, contacted by the OMP, tested the bones and found them to be several centuries old and belonged to the colonial period. Unfortunately, the then government never bothered to further examine the Mannar mass graves case as part of an overall investigation into unsubstantiated allegations. In fact, Sri Lanka never properly examined the campaign conducted by interested parties to undermine post-war Sri Lanka.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009. Wartime disappearances are certainly politically sensitive issues, exploited by political parties here, as well as various other interested parties.
The scientific findings of Beta Analytic Institute of Florida, USA, in respect of samples of skeletal remains, sent from the Mannar mass grave site, quite upset the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). TNA appointed then Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswarn rejected the US findings. Michelle Bachelet went to the extent of commenting on the Mannar mass grave in her report that dealt with the period from Oct 2015 to January 2019.
The following is the relevant section bearing No 23 from Bachelet’s report: “On May 29, 2018, human skeletal remains were discovered at a construction site in Mannar (Northern Province), Excavations conducted in support of the Office on Missing Persons, revealed a mass grave from which more than 300 skeletons were discovered. It was the second mass grave found in Mannar following the discovery of a site in 2014. Given that other mass graves might be expected to be found in the future, systematic access to grave sites by the Office, as an observer, is crucial for it to fully discharge its mandate, particularly with regard to the investigation and identification of remains, it is imperative that the proposed reforms on the law relating to inquests, and relevant protocols to operationalize the law be adopted. The capacity of the forensic sector must also be strengthened, including in areas of forensic anthropology, forensic archaeology and genetics, and its coordination with the Office of Missing Persons must be ensured.”
Disappearance of Ekneligoda
However, Sri Lanka cannot ignore the issue as disappearances took place during successive governments. Disappearances took place during the conflict and also in the post-war period. The disappearance of media personality Prageeth Ekneligoda on the eve of the 2010 January presidential election, is a case in point. The failure on the part of Sri Lanka to address Ekneligoda disappearance increased international pressure on Sri Lanka. The government owed an explanation as regards the media personality’s disappearance over a decade ago. There cannot be any rationale in blanket denial of accusations. In fact, efforts to deceive the public, and the international community in respect of perhaps isolated cases such as the Ekneligoda disappearance had facilitated the high profile Western strategy meant to subvert Sri Lanka on unsubstantiated war crimes allegations.
With Saliya Pieris at the helm of the BASL, it can certainly play a significant role in Sri Lanka’s effort to ascertain the truth. The new BASL Chief, with valuable experience as a member of the HRCSL as well as the Chairman, OMP, can undertake a thorough examination of events/developments leading to the final confrontation between the Army and the LTTE on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, in the Mullaitivu district, on the morning of May 19, 2009. The BASL had been largely silent on the Geneva issue though one of its high profile members, TNA lawmaker M.A. Sumanthiran, declared, in mid-2016, the acceptance of foreign judges in local war crimes investigation mechanisms. The declaration was made in Washington in the presence of the then Sri Lanka’s Ambassador there Prasad Kariyawasam. The Foreign Ministry remained conveniently silent on the issue. In August 2017, Kariyawasam received the appointment as the Foreign Secretary, whereas President Sirisena brought in Tilak Marapana, PC, and a one-time Attorney General as the Foreign Minister. Marapana, too, followed the UNP strategy. The UNP-led government turned a blind eye to the UK House of Lords disclosure on Oct 12, 2017 how the British government suppressed confidential dispatches from its Defence Advisor in Colombo Lt. Col. Anthony Gash (Jan-May 2009). The UK, now leading the Sri Lanka Core Group targeting the country in Geneva, in the absence of the US, continues to shamelessly suppress dispatches, pertaining to Sri Lanka, as the disclosure of such would jeopardize the Western campaign against the country.
Perhaps the appointment of Saliya Pieris couldn’t have taken place at a better time for the country. The respected lawyer received the BASL leadership, the day Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena responded to Michelle Bachelet’s damning report. The writer is of the opinion that Minister Gunawardena, in his speech, should have requested Michelle Bachelet, as well as the 47-members of the UNHRC, to re-examine all available evidence, information and data. Minister Gunawardena should have formally requested the UK, a member of the UNHRC, to disclose all such dispatches sent by Gash to London. The UK released only a section of heavily censored dispatches, following the unprecedented intervention made by Conservative Party veteran Lord Naseby. Sri Lanka pathetically failed to exploit Gash dispatches in spite of Lord Naseby raising the issue, ahead of the Geneva sessions. Let me reproduce the relevant question raised by Lord Naseby and the response received.
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, on Feb 16, 2021, told Parliament that the UK Government had not received any request from the Geneva Council for copies of dispatches written by the former defence attaché at the British High Commission in Sri Lanka Gash about events in Sri Lanka related to the civil war, and had not provided any.
Lord Ahmad was responding to Lord Naseby’s query raised on Feb 4, 2021, whether the UK government provided to UNHRC any (1) censored, and (2) uncensored, copies of dispatches from Lieutenant Colonel Gash, the former defence attaché of the British High Commission in Sri Lanka about events in that country between 1 January and 18 May 2009, relating to the civil war.
Unfortunately, Sri Lanka for some strange reason, refrained from raising the the US disclosure, in 2011, that battlefield executions didn’t take place, or confidential UN report that contradicted the main Geneva accusation the military massacred 40,000 civilians.
Perhaps, the BASL, under its new leadership, can examine the whole gamut of issues, with the focus on the UNSG’s Panel of Experts (PoE) report (March 31, 2011) that prevented examination of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations on the basis of which Sri Lanka co-sponsored the 2015 Geneva resolution. According to the PoE (paragraph 23, titled Confidentiality of the Panel’s records), the examination of unsubstantiated allegations wouldn’t be allowed till 2031 in terms of the UN directive. Even after the 20-year period of classification as confidential records, those unsubstantiated allegations wouldn’t be examined without a declassification review. Let us hope the BASL undertakes a thorough study on accountability issues. Pieris, is certainly the most qualified to lead the inquiry.
Two colliding and coexisting Asian giants
CHINA and INDIA – History, Culture, Cooperation and Competition Editors
– Paramita Mukherjee, Arnab K. Deb and Miao Pang
SAGE Publications India Pvt. Ltd. (www.sagepub.in)
Reviewed by Lynn Ockersz
This book is itself proof that India and China, two Asian political giants, could come together in peace and work constructively and cooperatively towards worthy ends. ‘China and India – History, Culture, Cooperation and Competition’, is a product of profound, combined political science scholarship between India and China, which could not have come into our hands at a more appropriate time.
The reason for the latter observation ought to be plain to see: after a months-long military stand-off on their disputed border in the Ladakh sector, in particular, which at times claimed lives, the giants have decided to withdraw their troops, giving negotiations a chance. In fact, constructive engagement rather confrontation has been the dominant feature in India-China relations over the past few decades, although negative quarters, including those among the international media, have chosen to see otherwise.
That said, it could not be denied that India-China relations have been badly ruptured at times by divisive questions and conflicting interests. Some of these differences have been grave enough to prompt the giants to resolve them on the battle field. For example, their border dispute drove these powers to resort to a full-blown war in 1962. Other issues remain to be resolved as well.
However, Siparna Basu in his paper in ‘China and India…’ titled, ‘Multiple Paths to Globalisation – The India-China Story’, commenting on the history of India-China ties, reveals how India’s first post-independence Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru reportedly declined an offer, backed by the US in the mid fifties, to allocate a UN Security Council seat to India, proposing that the offer should be made to China instead. Apparently, India considered this offer as a move against China. It is a measure of the cooperative spirit which existed between India and China at the time.
But the numerous papers in this book of combined scholarship, while being evidence of the unity of purpose the regional heavyweights could achieve, open revealing windows to also the achievements in numerous fields of the Indian and Chinese civilizations over the centuries.
The countries are revered civilizations that have fertilized the human spirit everywhere through their enduring and ennobling achievements and the papers in this book give us an ample description of these accomplishments, besides updating the reader accurately on the latest developments in India-China ties, in a multiplicity of areas, including inter-state politics.
A strong merit of ‘China and India..’ is the ample space it devotes to economic cooperation between India and China on the one hand and the numerous exercises in such cooperation featuring these key powers and their neighbouring states, on the other. That is, we are kept very much abreast of the latest developments relating to groupings, such as, BRICS, BIMSTEC, BCIM, SCO, to name just a few. This is as it should be because it is economics in the main that is driving international relations currently and not so much politics and military conflict, although the dominant tendency among major opinion moulders, such as the media, is to focus on ‘geopolitics’ to the detriment of economics.
In keeping with the overall spirit of the book, researchers continually focus on the huge potential for bilateral economic cooperation between India and China, besides drawing attention to the benefits of regional collaborative efforts in commerce, trade and investment. Just two papers that are of immense worth from this viewpoint are: ‘Driving Force and Constraints of BCIM Economic Corridor’ by Li Jingfeng and ‘Regional Inequality over the Post-globalization Era: A Study on India and China’ by Arindam Banik and Arnab K. Deb.
Accordingly, ‘China and India…’ gives us the actualities in India-China ties lying behind the smokescreen of sensational military developments between the countries. Besides, it’s a remarkable update on the potential for inter-country economic cooperation in the Indian Ocean region while focusing also on the major economic forces driving global and regional political change.
By Lynn Ockersz
With kingly poise he glides,
This milk-white wonder,
Whom we take for granted…..
The quickening Beira waters,
For him holding no terrors…
But study his every deft action,
And behold a stand-alone splendour,
Of the country’s ravaged eco-system,
Who is at peace with himself,
And is in no need,
To beg, steal or borrow,
Or cut deals that bring him dishonour.
Playing politics with science!
A drive of great memories
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