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Terror conundrum remains a prime issue for world

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The recent killing of top Iranian nuclear scientist Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in Tehran is a measure of the tenacity with which the problem of terrorism persists in international politics. It would be premature to arrive at any firm conclusions on the identity of those who orchestrated and executed the killing, which is notable for the sophisticated methods that were deployed, but it is all too obvious that some marked progress would need to be made by the world community in understanding the terror phenomenon and in evolving satisfactory solutions to the problem.

There is a multiplicity of quarters, including some state parties, among the likely suspects in the murder, when a rough survey is done on who would stand to gain by the killing, but the murder of the Iranian scientist needs to be condemned by all civilized sections. The point needs to be taken that a tendency on the part of the international community to ignore or gloss over the killing would be tantamount to turning a blind eye on lawlessness and terror, which would in turn be a further fillip to the proliferation of the latter menace.

Admittedly, terror defies easy ‘diagnosis’ and understanding. If that were not so, answers to the centuries-long problem would have been forthcoming. Sri Lanka’s current official agonies over the Easter Sunday terror is sufficient proof of this. Apparently, a terror leader in the Easter attacks had been absolutely calm, according to a Sri Lankan psychologist, while detonating his bomb which claimed scores of lives at a well known Colombo hotel, and this ought to be grist to the mill of those attempting to understand contemporary terror. The inference that we ought to draw is that mind-numbing mass murder could be just ‘second nature’ to some humans. Does not this revelation stand our general understanding of human nature on its head, so to speak?

It is hoped that the above observations would help in drawing attention to the highly complex psychology of those perpetrating terror. However, nothing can justify the taking of lives. Desperate poverty and socio-economic inequalities drive individuals and groups to take to arms and violence but the remedy for such compulsions lies in the ushering of equity in all its dimensions by governments and other sections that are charged with making countries and the world safer places to live in.

There is an uphill task in this connection awaiting US President-elect Joe Biden. While there is no denying that easing the agonies for the US public occasioned by the Covid19 pandemic should be top on Biden’s priority list, an issue of considerable magnitude that ought to give him many a restless night is political terror. This is particularly true of the terror emanating in the Middle East. The Fakhrizadeh killing ought to have jolted Biden into realizing afresh the painful uphill task constituted by Middle East terror, which is in turn largely bound-up with the seemingly intractable Middle East problem.

Anyone trying to understand some of the causes that led to the killing of the nuclear scientist would need to wade deep into the complex currents of Middle East inter-state politics. As mentioned, many are the Middle East actors, including states, who would be keen on churning the troubled political waters of the region by carrying out the killing. As matters stand, it is not easy to pin the blame firmly on any particular regional or extra-regional power, although there seem to be tell-tale signs that point in the direction of a couple of these powers. But no allegations could be made prematurely in the absence of concrete evidence.

However, if Biden is keen on making some progress in resolving the Middle East question he would need to make peace with Iran, one of the most powerful regional powers. As is known, by President Donald Trump ditching the international nuclear accord of 2015 with Iran, the US put the clock back in Middle East peace-making and paved the way for a further heightening of regional tensions.

Biden would need to patch-up relations with Iran and compel it to re-enter the international nuclear accord. If this is not done in double quick time the US and the international community would be reduced to mere on-lookers as Iran goes ahead and builds the nuclear bomb. It would need to do this to match Israel’s nuclear capabilities.

Considering that quite a number of Middle Eastern militant organizations enjoy the support of Iran, befriending Iran ought to be high on the US’ foreign policy agenda. In fact, this enterprise could prove a crucial key in the task of bringing a degree of Middle East peace. However, in the event of the US normalizing ties with Iran, Israel should be made to see by the US that it would be in Israel’s interest to help constructively in forging a permanent Middle East settlement. Israel would need to remember that Hamas in the contested areas of Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon are aided greatly by Iran. Hence, the importance of Iran to Middle East peace.

However, Middle East peace is a many-dimensional thing. While working on normalizing ties with Iran and sorting out other issues on the foreign policy front in respect of the Middle East, the US in particular and the West in general, besides others concerned, would need to learn more about the terrorist’s psychology or mindset.

The latter task would, perhaps, prove more arduous than the former one. This is on account of the seemingly insurmountable difficulties that crop-up in the task of getting into the consciousness of the militant, which is a gruelling challenge. How does one win the heart and mind of a human who conceives of his ‘salvation’ as lying in the killing of innocent lives in countless numbers? This is the Question.

One way out of this quagmire consists in the Biden administration and other like-minded international actors working with moderate Moslem opinion the world over in inculcating in the militant consciousness a reverence for life. This is no easy task but it needs to be undertaken right away. Besides, the democratic process needs to be seen as holding the key to resolving differences, nationally and internationally. This is where the PLO is today; a one time terror group.

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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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