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THE ARBITRATOR NEEDS CREDIBILITY

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ONE COUNTRY, ONE LAW- IN ONE ISLAND WITH MANY NATIONS

by Anura Gunasekera

Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, pardoned after serving one and half years of a six-year rigorous imprisonment sentence for Contempt of Court, has been appointed the Chairman of a Presidential Task Force, mandated to study the implementation of the “One Country, One Law” concept, as well as to examine amendments prepared by the Ministry of Justice in furtherance of this rather fluid hypothesis, and to submit amendments to the latter as appropriate. Basically, a convicted felon has been assigned the responsibility for evaluating the competence of a legal system, which was earlier responsible, after due process, for convicting him. The arbitrariness, the ridiculousness of the very notion is such that at first the news was perceived as a bad joke circulating in social media.

By extension of that patently absurd determination, it would then seem quite logical to appoint Lohan Ratwatte, presently under investigation for threatening select Tamil prisoners with death at gun-point, as the chairman of a committee to study and recommend prison reforms, or ” Wele Suda”, currently in jail for drug trafficking, as head of a task force to advise law enforcement bodies on the prevention of drug smuggling.

An appointment to any important position is, generally if not invariably, preceded by an evaluation of the curriculum vitae of the proposed appointee. The priest from Galagoda first gained prominence as the head of the “Bodu Bala Sena” (BBS), a body inaugurated in 2012 and publicly provided patronage by the then Defence Secretary and now President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Since then, the cleric has been both vocally and physically involved in anti-minority (read Muslim) agitation. Most prominent was his alleged involvement in inciting anti-Muslim violence in Beruwala and Aluthgama in 2014, which resulted in four fatalities, injuries to dozens and the destruction of a large number of Muslim owned establishments. In March 2018, in Teldeniya and Digana, mobs of Sinhala Buddhists ramapaged, unchecked for over a week, destroying Muslim owned property, as well as damaging four mosques. The reported presence of Gnanasara in the area during this period is unlikely to have been accidental.

In June 2018 this cleric was sentenced to a six-month term and fined Rs 50,000 for threatening, in court premises, Sandhya Ekneligoda, wife (or widow) of Prageeth Ekneligoda, a critic of the then Rajapaksa government, who has been missing since 2010. In the same year he was found guilty of contempt of court by the Sri Lanka Court of Appeal but, in 2019, whilst serving the decreed six-year term, pardoned by former President Sirisena, in a politically expedient move obviously driven by the latter’s desire to curry favour with the Buddhist majority.

In between the above mentioned episodes, this renegade, racist monk has achieved both high visibility and notoriety for his belligerent anti Muslim sentiment, expressed on widely circulated video and U-tube interviews, discussions, press briefings and public speeches. He has elevated hate-speech and anti-minority sentiment to a completely new and diabolical level. He was also responsible, a couple of years ago, for inviting and hosting in this country, Ashin Wirathu of Myanmar, another virulent racist in saffron robes, accused of inciting bloody pogroms against Muslims citizens of his country, especially the Rohingiya refugees.

On September 20, 2000, Gnanasara Thero was found guilty by the Colombo 12 Traffic Courts, in a hit-and-run incident which caused injuries to two people. Pleading guilty to nine charges, which included driving under the influence of liquor, speeding, not possessing a valid license and failing to report an accident, he was fined Rs 12,000.00; not an unusual episode in the case of an irresponsible layman but quite extraordinary for a Buddhaputhra.

The above, briefly, is the resume’ of the man selected by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, as Chair of the Task Force to deliberate and pass judgment on legal reforms advocated by the Ministry of Justice!

With the military threat from the LTTE extinguished, despite the subsequent simmering discontent within the Northern Tamil population, the Rajapaksa government needed a different enemy to present to the Sinhala-Buddhist polity, diverting focus from other more urgent issues of governance, and to maintain the support of that polity which has always responded enthusiastically to anti-minority sentiment. Whilst the last Sinhala-Muslim riots of significance, in 1915, have already passed in to history, the animus was rekindled in the 1990s by another evangelical Buddhist preacher, Gangodawila Soma Thero, who was successful in convincing a significant segment of the Sinhala-Buddhist society that the existential danger that Muslims posed to the majority community was even greater than the LTTE peril. He was ably supported by present MP, Champika Ranawaka, in his then avatar as the leader of the Sihala Urumaya.

The Gnanasara-led BBS campaign against the Muslim polity commenced in 2013 with agitation against the “Halal” food convention, a matter which, till then, had been of no consequence in the Sinhala – Buddhist mindset. Soon thereafter, the Nugegoda branch of the “Fashion Bug” chain, a Muslim owned clothing establishment, was burnt down by a mob, reportedly led by Buddhist monks. Since then, till 2019, there have been several acts of violence perpetrated against the Muslim community in various parts of the island.

In a public interview (Hiru TV- 28/05/19) Galgoda Gnanasara, unapologetically, steadfastly, cited the Lord Buddha as the patron of his activism and by means of convoluted logic, attributing his belligerent philosophy to the teachings of the Buddha. As a more recent forerunner and advocate of his brand of nationalism, he has repeatedly cited (Lankan News- 12/08/20) Anagarika Dharmapala who has, historically, been ascribed an active role, either rightly or wrongly, in the anti-Muslim riots of 1915.

In this context the question immediately asks itself; how is it possible for an individual with an avowed, immoderate personal philosophy and a majority-centric public political agenda, function as the chair of an ostensibly impartial body, tasked to ensure the unbiased implementation of law; in short, to ensure just rule for all citizens, irrespective of gender, race and religious or political orientation?

Of course, such atrocious anomalies are not uncommon in this country; “Gonawela Sunil”, alleged murderer and convicted rapist, was released under a general pardon issued by President JR Jayewardene and subsequently made an All Island Justice of the Peace. ” Sotthi Upali”, a well known criminal and a close associate of then minister Sirisena Cooray was appointed a reserve Sub-inspector. “Beddegane Sanjeewa”, an underworld operator linked to several murders was a key member of the Presidential Security Division during Chandrika Kumaratunge’s term.

In another bizarre example of Presidential clemency, apart from the pardoning of Galagoda Gnanasara, in his final week in office, Sirisena outraged civil society by pardoning Jude Jayamaha, then facing a death sentence for murder. More recently, former army staff sergeant, Sunil Ratnayake, under sentence of death- affirmed by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka- for the murder in 2000, of eight Tamil civilians including three children, one aged five, was pardoned by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in 2020, in his very first exercise of this sacred constitutional right. This was followed a few months later, not unexpectedly, by a similar pardon to death row inmate Duminda Silva, former MP and Supervising MP of the Ministry of Defence. That verdict too had been upheld by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka . Soon thereafter, in an extension of the same aberrant logic and contempt for the country’s judicial system and decent public opinion, Silva the felon was appointed Chairman of the National Housing Authority.

A Presidential pardon, according to article 34(1) of the Constitution, is preceded by a report by the judge (or judges) who tried the case in question, the Attorney General’s commentary on the report and, lastly, the recommendation of the Minister of Justice. Presumably, all responsible parties, intent on rectifying miscarriages of justice, were unanimous in their support of all the cases mentioned above!

The trend of extending political patronage and high profile positions to convicted criminals, institutionalizing the practice as an ancillary to governance, commenced with the J.R. Jayewardene regime. However, whilst Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara’s appointment emulates a tradition of unscrupulous governance, the difference is that none of the other felons cited above, after release, were assigned positions of national importance. None, apart from Duminda Silva, enjoyed significant political or public visibility prior to their convictions. They were simply professional murderers, thieves, extortionists, drug dealers, habitual rapists or what have you, plying their respective trades and indulging their appetites, largely under the public radar and when called for, carrying out illegal orders of their political masters.

As for the Task Force itself, the absence of Tamil, and Christian (reportedly) representation relegates those minorities to irrelevance. Obviously, in the minds of the government, Tamils and Christians either do not merit a voice or have no grievances, whilst a group deliberating crucial questions of law is represented only by two lawyers. Nor is there a female voice, suggesting that gender issues, if any, will be decided by men only.

Ours is a country in which the law is administered with a blatant lack of equity; convicted murderers walk free, a drunken politician threatens helpless inmates with death without fear of legal consequences and all corruption cases filed against high profile ruling party politicians, and murder cases filed against prominent armed forces personnel, are withdrawn by the Attorney General. But the police question teenager Baghaya Abeyratne for exposing the degradation of the Sinharaja, Sandhya Ekneligoda is still seeking justice a decade after her husband’s disappearance whilst in Navy custody, and the cases of over 20 murdered journalists, from Richard de Zoysa in 1990 to Lasantha Wickramatunga in 2009, remain unsolved. In this scenario, what value does this sanctimonious ” One Country- One Law” carry?

Given the violent, sullied background of the Chairman, with his recently stated intent of using the Task Force to advance the cause of the BBS- the vehicle for his ethno-centric activism- and the blatantly unequal representation and amorphous remit of the Force itself, the project becomes a parody of its self-consciously virtuous title.

In the Orwellian Dystopia that is Sri Lanka today, in which Big Brother and the family run the country as a personal fiefdom and the absurd is portrayed as the reality, and the truth is routinely challenged as being a threat to both the ruling order and national security, it is perfectly rational for Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara to head a force designed to ensure equal justice to all. Whilst most of the world is moving towards 2022, as long as the present regime lasts we are condemned to imprisonment in “1984”.



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A little place in Kandana…

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While the dawning of the New Year, 2022, in Melbourne, Australia, didn’t turn out to be as exciting, as one would have expected, mainly due to the Omicron virus, there was plenty of action in our scene.

Although not all bands found work coming their way, DJs, I’m told, had a field day, pumping up the action from behind the consoles.

Kurumbar…in Kandana! To be honest, I can’t remember when I last checked out Kandana, but some 31st night revellers indicated to me that they had a great time at a venue, called Kurumbar…in Kandana!

According to reports coming my way, their New Year’s Eve bash was awesome, with the well-known and ever popular DJ Tom Hart as the host.

Tom Hart, who is generally associated with the radio scene (Real Radio), did the needful with some great retro music. It was a fun-filled event, with loads of competitions throughout the night.

Kurumbar is said to be the newest, and probably, the most exciting place in town, with state-of-the-art lighting, and a sound setup that is bound to keep you away from your seat, right throughout the night.

For dance enthusiasts who want a change of scene, and to experience something awesome, and exciting, Kurumbar is just a 15-minute drive from Colombo.

Kurumbar, by the way, is the brainchild of Harsha Galagana, who has been a mobile DJ, since 2002.

His one dream was to have his own discotheque, in a serene location, with ample parking for over 100 vehicles, and that dream has become a reality, they say.

Kurumbar boasts of lots of exciting theme nights; disco night, and ladies’ night, to name a few, plus signature cocktails and fusion food, prepared by star quality chefs.

The next mega event, on the cards, is the Valentine’s Ball, and the management of Kurumbar is already planning out an evening that will be loaded with fun and excitement.

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UK support for govt.’s pragmatic reconciliation process

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Lord Ahmad with GL

By Jehan Perera

The government would be relieved by the non-critical assessment by visiting UK Minister for South Asia, United Nations and the Commonwealth, Lord Tariq Ahmad of his visit to Sri Lanka. He has commended the progress Sri Lanka had made in human rights and in other areas as well, such as environmental protection. He has pledged UK support to the country. According to the President’s Media Division “Lord Tariq Ahmad further stated that Sri Lanka will be able to resolve all issues pertaining to human rights by moving forward with a pragmatic approach.” The Minister, who had visited the north and east of the country and met with war-affected persons tweeted that he “emphasised the need for GoSL to make progress on human rights, reconciliation, and justice and accountability.”

Prior to the Minister’s visit, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had announced in Parliament that his government had not violated nor would support “any form of human rights violations.” This was clearly an aspirational statement as the evidence on the ground belies the words. Significantly he also added that “We reject racism. The present government wants to safeguard the dignity and rights of every citizen in this country in a uniform manner. Therefore I urge those politicians who continue to incite people against each other for narrow political gains to stop doing so.” This would be welcome given the past history especially at election time.

The timing of Lord Ahmad’s visit and the statements made regarding human rights suggest that the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, commencing on February 28, loomed large in the background. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will be presenting a written report on that occasion. A plethora of issues will up for review, including progress on accountability for crimes, missing persons, bringing the Prevention of Terrorism Act in line with international standards, protecting civil society space and treating all people and religions without discrimination.

The UK government has consistently taken a strong position on human rights issues especially in relation to the ethnic conflict and the war which led to large scale human rights violations. The UK has a large Tamil Diaspora who are active in lobbying politicians in that country. As a result some of the UK parliamentarians have taken very critical positions on Sri Lanka. Lord Ahmad’s approach, however, appears to be more on the lines of supporting the government to do the needful with regard to human rights, rather than to condemn it. This would be gratifying to the architects of the government’s international relations and reconciliation process, led by Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris.

REACHING OUT

In the coming week the government will be launching a series of events in the North of the country with a plethora of institutions that broadly correspond to the plethora of issues that the UNHRC resolution has identified. War victims and those adversely affected by the post war conditions in the North and livelihood issues that arise from the under-developed conditions in those areas will be provided with an opportunity to access government services through on-the-spot services through mobile clinics. The programme coordinated by the Ministry of Justice called “Adhikaranabhimani” is meant to provide “ameliorated access to justice for people of the Northern Province.”

Beginning with Kilinochchi and Jaffna there will be two-day mobile clinics in which the participating government institutions will be the Legal Aid Commission, Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, Office for Reparations, Office on Missing Persons, Department of Debt Conciliation Board and the Vocational Training Authority to mention some of them. Whether it is by revising 60 laws simultaneously and setting up participatory committees of lawyers and state officials or in now launching the “Adhikaranabhimani” Justice Minister Ali Sabry has shown skill at large scale mobilisation that needs to be sustained. It is to be hoped that rather than treating them as passive recipients, the governmental service providers will make efforts to fulfill their need for justice, which means that the needs of victims and their expectations are heard and acknowledged.

It will also be important for the government to ensure that these activities continue in the longer term. They need to take place not only before the Geneva sessions in March but also continue after them. The conducting of two-day mobile clinics, although it will send a message of responsiveness, will only be able to reach a few of the needy population. The need is for infusing an ethic of responsiveness into the entirety of the government’s administrative machinery in dealing with those problems that reaches all levels, encompassing villages, divisions, districts and provinces, not to mention the heart of government at the central level.

The government’s activities now planned at the local level will draw on civil society and NGO participation which is already happening. Government officials are permitting their subordinate officials to participate in inter-ethnic and inter religious initiatives. It is in their interest to do so as they would not wish to have inter-community conflicts escalate in their areas which, in the past, have led to destruction of property and life. They also have an interest in strengthening their own capacities to understand the underlying issues and developing the capacity to handle tensions that may arise through non-coercive methods.

BUILDING PEACE

Many of the institutions that the government has on display and which are going to the North to provide mobile services were established during the period of the previous government. However, they were not operationalized in the manner envisaged due to political opposition. Given the potency of nationalism in the country, especially where it concerns the ethnic conflict, it will be necessary for the government to seek to develop a wide consensus on the reconciliation process. The new constitution that is being developed may deal with these issues and heed the aspirations of the minorities, but till that time the provincial council system needs to be reactivated through elections.

Sooner rather than later, the government needs to deal with the core issue of inter-ethnic power sharing. The war arose because Sinhalese politicians and administrators took decisions that led to disadvantaging of minorities on the ground. There will be no getting away from the need to reestablish the elected provincial council system in which the elected representatives of the people in each province are provided with the necessary powers to take decisions regarding the province. In particular, the provincial administrations of the Northern and Eastern provinces, where the ethnic and religious minorities form provincial majorities, need to be reflective of those populations.

At the present time, the elected provincial councils are not operational and so the provincial administration is headed by central appointees who are less likely to be representative of the sentiments and priorities of the people of those provinces. In the east for instance, when Sinhalese encroach on state land the authorities show a blind eye, but when Tamils or Muslims do it they are arrested or evicted from the land. This has caused a lot of bitterness in the east, which appears to have evaded the attention of the visiting UK minister as he made no mention of such causes for concern in his public utterances. His emphasis on pragmatism may stem from the observation that words need to be converted to deeds.

A video put out by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office confirms a positive approach with regard to engaging with the Sri Lankan government. In it Lord Ahmad says “the last three days illustrated to me that we can come together and we can build a constructive relationship beyond what are today with Sri Lanka. We can discuss the issues of difference and challenge in a candid but constructive fashion.” Lord Ahmad’s aspiration for UK-Sri Lankan relations needs to be replicated nationally in government-opposition relations, including the minority parties, which is the missing dimension at the present time.

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Yohani…teaming up with Rajiv and The Clan

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I know many of you, on reading this headline, would say ‘What?’

Relax. Yohani, of ‘Manike Mage Hithe’ fame, is very much a part of the group Lunu.

But…in February, she will be doing things, differently, and that is where Rajiv and the Clan come into the scene.

Rajiv and his band will be embarking on a foreign assignment that will take them to Dubai and Oman, and Yohani, as well as Falan, will be a part of the setup – as guest artistes.

The Dubai scene is not new to Yohani – she has performed twice before, in that part of the world, with her band Lunu – but this would be her first trip, to Oman, as a performer.

However, it will be the very first time that Yohani will be doing her thing with Rajiv and The Clan – live on stage.

In the not too distant past, Rajiv worked on a track for Yohani that also became a big hit. Remember ‘Haal Massa?’

“She has never been a part of our scene, performing as a guest artiste, so we are all looking forward to doing, it in a special way, during our three-gig, two-country tour,” says Rajiv.

Their first stop will be Dubai, on February 5th, for a private party, open-air gig, followed by another two open-air, private party gigs, in Oman – on February 10th and 11th.

Another attraction, I’m told, will be Satheeshan, the original rapper of ‘Manike Mage Hithe.’

He will also be a part of this tour (his first overseas outing) and that certainly would create a lot of excitement, and add that extra sparkle, especially when he comes into the scene for ‘Manike Mage Hithe.’

Yohani and her band, Lunu, last performed in Dubai, a couple of months back, and Satheeshan, they say, was the missing link when she did her mega internet hit song – live, on stage.

There was a crowd to catch her in action but it wasn’t a mind-blowing experience – according to reports coming our way.

A live performance, on stage, is a totally different setup to what one sees on social media, YouTube, etc.

I guess music lovers, here, would also welcome a truly live performance by Yohani de Silva.

In the meanwhile, I’m also told that Rajiv Sebastian plans to release some songs of the late Desmond de Silva which he and Desmond have worked on, over the years.

According to Rajiv, at this point in time, there is material for four albums!

He also mentioned that he and his band have quite a few interesting overseas assignments, lined up, over the next few months, but they have got to keep their fingers crossed…hoping that the Omicron virus wouldn’t spike further.

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