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The great man who turned the Kalutara bodhiya into a sacred place

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In commemoration of Sir Cyril de Zoysa on his 124th birthday

“My father was a Notary. He travelled almost daily from his home in Velitota to his office in Ambalangoda in a bullock cart that he hired for the purpose. My father never complained about having to hire his transport. But this was causing me grave concern. By this time, I had received my secondary education at Royal College, Colombo, and was conducting a series of extra classes for the children of affluent parents, in the vicinity. At this time such extra classes were not readily available. Drawing on my knowledge, my students had their own knowledge enhanced. It was in order to earn the money to buy my father a bullock and a brand new cart that I started on this programme of work. In a matter of about seven or eight months, I was able to find the money for this purpose.

At that time, I had to spend only three hundred rupees to buy a bullock and a brand new cart to facilitate my father’s travel. My father, who had so far travelled to his office in carts belonging to other people, was amazed at my gesture and with tears of joy in his eyes bestowed his blessings upon me. This in turn gave me a sense of joy that I had never before experienced. Today I think that in later life, all I touched turned to gold, because of the blessings I so received from my father…”

This was a declaration made in the year 1964. This was something addressed to me by none other than Sir Cyril de Zoysa himself, who at that time had earned accolades as a successful businessman and a Sinhala Buddhist leader of the land. I was then a very young monk whom Sir Cyril had very especially begun to associate and it was for my edification that he said this. He was at the time a chief dayakaya of the Kande Viharaya, in Alutgama where I had entered the folds of Buddhist monkhood when I was very small. It was in appreciation of the industriousness I displayed, even at that time, in carrying out any work entrusted to me and my pleasant manner too that he paid special attention to me. This is why he found me indispensable during the conduct of religious activities in the Vihara as well as when he wished to have Seth Kavi and Seth Pirith (recitation of blessings upon him) chanted. It was his pleasure to send his driver to fetch me from the Kande Viharaya or from my abode at Avondale Road in Maradana where I latterly took up residence. In response all religious activities were performed by me in the prescribed manner.

I clearly observed how everything Sir Cyril did, whether it be in the social or the religious sphere, was done in the prescribed, methodical and formal manner and I noticed that he was greatly pleased that I emulated him. For this very reason my great, god-like preceptor the Venerable Potuvila Sri Saranatissa Nayaka Thera, Chief Incumbent of the Alutgama Kande Viharaya fully approved of my being engaged in the religious activities of Sir Cyril. Whenever Sir Cyril felt the need for my services, he was in the habit of summoning his driver and saying, ‘Go Piyadasa, Go fetch Podi Hamuduruwo, (the Junior Monk)’, thus sending the car for me. He was fully confident that the Podi Hamuduruwo would fulfill his religious needs in the proper manner.

As such, I succeeded in performing Buddha Pooja, chanting Seth Kavi and attending to other minor religious needs, to his utmost satisfaction. As there was such a fund of trust between the two of us he even related to me, from time to time, the main and earliest events that affected his life, just as though I were among his nearest and dearest.

He related to me the story of the efforts he made in his adolescent days to find the means to buy the gift of a bullock and a brand new cart for his father. He wished to have this act stand out as an example to others as an act of gratitude and the discharge of a duty by a youth towards his parents. In this day and age when one often hears of how some children do not care for their fathers who provided them with an education from their young days and set them up in the higher echelons of society, Sir Cyril’s conduct stands out in contrast as the most valuable offering of his lifetime. Thus, by the power of the blessings of his father, as it were, he while ascending a flight of social steps to the top in society as a businessman, was also going up the political ladder first as the Chairman of an Urban Council and later as the President of the Senate.

He often repeated that the main reason for his progress, and his systematic life style which led to such progress, were the example his father set and the blessings he extended to him as his son; and this too he said was by way of setting an example to others.

Even some Heads of State respected Sir Cyril’s thoughts and many were the instances when they obtained his counsel and even assistance from him.

He was motivated into sharing with me interesting information about his social life and about certain personal triumphs he achieved. This was when his mind was free from the stress of business concerns and from such other pressures. What I realized later on was that he was personally enjoying relaxation by talking about such matters with a person whom he knew was most devoted to him. Although I was at that time a young novice I now feel that the extent of the knowledge I had of the Buddha Dhamma, even at that young age, together with my ability to chant stanzas and devotional songs impressed him so much that our relationship was one such as between a grandson and a grandfather where the elder of the two relieved his mind of both joys and sorrows and achieved some mental peace. Today when I reminisce about what he discussed with me, it seems to me that talking to a little monk like me suited him better than conducting discussions with a Maha Thera well versed in the Dhamma, highly disciplined by Vinaya rules and highly purified in mind.

When a man of his stature, who was sometimes worn out by continuously spending about 20 out of the 24 hours, clearing a mountain of work on behalf of society, was afflicted with even a minor ailment I blessed him and offered Buddha Pooja, and recited Seth Kavi with or without his knowledge. I later learnt that in my absence he was in the habit of telling his friends and well-wishers that all what Podi Hamuduruvo (the little monk) does conduce towards both my physical and my mental health. In order to bring about some relief in the case of minor ailments, I chanted Seth Kavi before the statue of God Vishnu at the Kande Vihara, conducted Bodhi Pooja before the Bo Tree at Bellanwila and performed various rituals at the Jayasekhara-aramaya at Kuppiyawatta. It was observed that these did have some good effects on his health.

He was so pleased with his association with me that occasionally he made me accompany him to participate in certain social events or travel long distances with him to faraway shrines. This he did as though he was accompanied by a child of a relative. During such travels I was able to understand and appreciate his personal qualities as well as the examples he set before society. On some days when he went to the Galle Face Green to take his exercises, he carried a small chair in the car, set it upon the green, made me sit upon it and then ventured out with the others on long walks by way of physical exercise.

Although in appearance he looked like the proverbial “great, black, Sinhalese” he was a majestic personality with a heart of gold. Only one who personally associated him closely would realise this. I am one of those who had the opportunity to savour of such sterling qualities owing to my long and close association with him.

He was one who was able to set up by dint of hard work, efficiency, honesty and commitment a vast business empire within which he generated employment for thousands of people. As if in response, day by day he was blessed with success in generating vast wealth. He was a living example to his employees, who in turn were required to serve, like he himself did, with efficiency and honesty. By his own example he illustrated that it was a duty of the owner of a business enterprise to teach his employees, more by example than by precept, as to how they should serve the workplace from where they draw their bread and butter. His friends as well as his foes in both the political and the business arenas equally well acknowledged this, also drawing upon him as an example.

In recognition of his services to country, nation and society, the British Government conferred a knighthood upon him. Although our own society too heaped upon him various types of honours, his view was that all these are empty gestures; that no honours are indicated where one serves the people genuinely, in accordance with one’s own conscience.

Sir Cyril expanded the services of the Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA) founded by Sir DB Jayatilaka, of which the office is located in Borella. As the new Chairman of the YMBA he made it a place held in the highest esteem by all of Sri Lanka. He built its auditorium and gifted it to the Association in memory of both his mother and his father. Even today the building remains an income-generating asset to the Association. The services it provides to the people can barely be stated adequately in words

Although he was involved in the proverbial ‘thousand and one’ activities, yet on his visits to the South never did he fail to step out by the monuments set up at the spot where the ashes of his parents are interred, spare a moment in reflection with palms folded and pay homage to their memory.

 

It is well known that the great Bodhiya in Kalutara turned into a place held sacred by people in all of Sri Lanka, because of the services rendered by Sir Cyril. In the beginning of the era when the premises of the Kalutara Bodhiya belonged to the Residency, Buddhists who wended their way in for worship were chased away by the white Government Agent of the time. He even tried to build a tall structure to ward them off the premises. Our ‘Big Black Sinhalaya’ rose against this White Government Agent.

Sir Cyril commenced a transport business by releasing a single bus named “Swarnapali” on to the roads and soon turned this into a large Bus Company. He adopted the simple strategy of having the conductor collect coins from the passengers who willingly subscribed to have them cast into the tills placed to make collections to support the Kalutara Bodhi. This strategy was crowned with success. Soon after he enlarged the Transport Service and inaugurated the ‘South Western Bus Company’. Along with this he began the production of spareparts for motor vehicles, retreading tyres and other such. As a result, thousands of people in our land found employment which ensured them a daily livelihood.

Later on, in 1956, when the Bandaranaike Government came into power and nationalized transport services, some bus owners who were all opposed to this action, resorted to various insidious means to sabotage the nationalization programme. But Sir Cyril evaluated this decision positively. He provided a ‘spare parts kit’ for each of his 200 or so buses, topped up each bus with diesel and handed over his fleet to the Government. Even Prime Minister Bandaranaike was astounded by this action.

One of his qualities was to ensure that supplementary allocations would be available to keep sustained, without intervening breakdowns, any programme of work he initiated, be it in the social sphere or in relation to the Sasana.

When Sir Cyril invited the Engineering maestro Dr. ANS Kulasinghe to build a Chaitya in the Bodhi premises, the latter was pleased beyond measure and resolved to construct one the likes of which has never before been seen in Sri Lanka. It was built upon the very spot on which the Residency of the white Government Agent was constructed during the British period. When a request was made to transfer that part of the premises to the Kalutara Bodhi Trust, the Government Agent of the time did not comply.

When Mr. Leel Gunasekera, the litterateur, was the Government Agent, Sir Cyril made this request of him, and it was soon granted. Sir Cyril treated this as a case of the fruition of his past Karma (actions). Mr. Leel Gunasekera too, had occasion to tell us, on a later occasion, that through this decision he too performed an act of great merit.

Mr. Kulasinghe, the Engineer, built upon the very spot on which the Residency of the Government Agent had been constructed, a Chaitya, as stated before, “the likes of which has never before been seen in Sri Lanka”. Pilgrims could walk right into the middle of the Chaitya and engage in worship. Sir Cyril too was extremely pleased that he was at the helm of the programme of building such a wonderful Chaitya.

He was in the habit of telling me often, “Podi Hamuduruwane, I want to live until the work of this Chaitya is complete.”

One day, during this time, Sir Cyril took me to his huge factories which comprised a vast network of production points, which by that time had become foreign exchange generating units as well. It was only later on that I realized that he did so to prove a point to me.

“Podi Hamuduruwane”, he started. “There was a time when the Government Agent, Kalutara, a white man, placed obstacles in the way of Buddhists who came to worship the Bodhiya and prevented them from entering the premises. I stood up against him. Now you see, there are white men who know their jobs working under me in my factories.

Engineer, Dr. Kulasinghe, used the very spot upon which stood the Residency occupied by the Government Agent, to build a massive Chaitya of a very special type. This is but a travesty of destiny. In turn Dr. Kulasinghe believed that his plan for the Chaitya is but a tribute to his own creativity.

In his last days what Sir Cyril declared to a newspaper journalist whom he met was that he has performed a vast volume of work and services and the following is what he thinks:

“I am now a free man. However much wealth a person has it is of no use. They are all empty stuff. I was born without any wealth. I shall die too without any wealth. My joy, my relief, my strength are the Buddha Dhamma. As long as I live I shall receive the protection of the gods.”

One morning, in the evening of his life, he took me to his home in the Apartment Complex at Park Street, Colombo. I felt that he was in an unusual mood. As he reached home, he summoned his servant and said, “Today we have to provide the forenoon meal to this monk. So please add an extra cup of rice to the pot.” Then he had a small chair placed in the patch of garden within the quadrangular area in the middle of the house and made me sit there. He sat upon the step. “Podi Hamuduruwane” he continued. “Now, please would you chant the Karaneeya Metta Sutra and the Ratana Sutra. Thereafter please explain to me the meaning of each of them”. While I was chanting, it is with his hands folded together and placed on his forehead that he gave ear. I still remember how Mr. VT de Zoysa, his younger brother together with his nephew, Shelley Wickremasinghe too, gave ear to the chant and to my subsequent explanation of their meanings.

One day, I arrived at his home in Park Street when, as was his practice, he sent his car and driver to fetch me. He welcomed me and ushered me into the house. I then saw two youngsters leave the house. “Do you know the two who just left the house?” he queried. “They are my younger brother’s sons: Ajita de Zoysa and Tilak de Zoysa. He thus introduced them to me by name.

After the demise of Sir Cyril de Zoysa, I learnt and I saw these two youngsters playing a leadership role at various religious and other ceremonies.

Today Deshamanya Ajita de Zoysa serves as the Chairman of the Kalutara Bodhi Trust and Deshabandu Tilak de Zoysa as its Secretary. This is as if in very special honour of Sir Cyril, their esteemed paternal Uncle and man of the era, who in his own time served the interests of the nation and religion – the Sasana.

It was only the other day that Deshamanya Ajita de Zoysa who holds the Chair of the Amarapura Nikaya-arakshaka Sabha donated Rupees Sixty-Five Million and built a headquarters for the Amarapura Sanga Sabha in Wellawatte. This offering to the Sasana too may be cited as another instance of following upon the footsteps of an exemplary Uncle.

With the passage of time, Sir Cyril fell seriously ill and was lying at the MaCarthy Private Hospital when I visited him on many a day, morning and evening, to chant seth pirith wishing him recovery and prime health. This I did out of a sense of duty, as well, towards him. A few days later, on 2nd January 1978, he breathed his last.

This great national leader who made a name for himself even beyond the shores of Sri Lanka as the legendary Anepidu-sitana in Buddhist history passed away after repaying the debt he owed to the nation by being born into it and conversely making the nation indebted, as it were, to him. Soon it will be the 42nd Anniversary of his demise and the 124th of his birth.

For many, Nirvana is far far away. But for Sir Cyril, owing to his many acts of merit and charity, it is but a mere arm’s length away. It is our prime duty to wish him the peace of Nirvana very soon in the round of births and deaths.

 

Venerable Pandita Arama Sri Dhammatilaka Nayaka Thera M.A.

Justice of the Peace Reg. No.99/08/WP AI 10/078

Sanghanayaka of the District of Colombo,

Chairman/ Western Region- Kolonnawa Sasana-arakshaka Mandalaya

Paaramita Sri Maha Bodhimalu Vihara, Gothatuwa

011 253 4005, 011 268 5054



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Features

Deteriorating rural economy, and food security

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Photo credit: Nefelibata travels

By Dr. C. S. Weeraratna
csweera@sltnet.lk

Sri Lanka is a land of villages. There are around 14,000 of them. According to the Dept. of Census and Statistics, around 80% of the Sri Lankan population live in villages and estates. Most of them are farmers who are supposed to be suitable to be kings if the mud on their bodies are washed out. According to recent estimates, about 30 percent of the total households, in therural districts of Sri Lanka, live below the poverty line. A socio-economic survey, conducted in the recent past, indicates that although the rural sector has the ability to engage in productive activities, there are many constraints.

Wild elephants:

Wild elephants roaming in some of the dry zone villages,causing death to many and destroying property, aggravate the socio-economic hardships the rural sector has to face, affecting their health, education and many other aspects of the lives.

Chronic Kidney Disease:

Around 70,000 people of the country are affected by a chronic kidney disease (CKDu) . They are mostly in the rural areas of the country and are affected socially and economically. The patients in the final stages of CKDu have to go for dialysis which again affects the economy of rural people . In some families both parents have died and their children are helpless.

Water shortage:

In spite of the country receiving around 100 billion cubic meters of water, annually, there are frequent water shortages, mostly in the rural areas where there are around 12,000 tanks. Most of them are silted, reducing the water holding capacity of these tanks, causing rural communities to face shortage of water which seriously affects crop production and various domestic activities.

Transport:

Lack of reasonable transport facilities, in the rural areas, is one of the main setback to Sri Lanka’s overall prosperity. People living in some rural areas have to cross rivers, using inflated rubber tubes, as there are no bridges. A large number of rural roads remain in a dilapidated condition but, the authorities were more interested in constructing highways.

Inputs:

Fertilisers are a major input in crop production. During the last two cropping seasons, inorganic fertilisers, and pesticides, were not available due to the utterly foolish decision of the former government. Currently, fertilisers are available but they were not available at correct times.

Farmers are forced to obtain seeds at a high cost. For example, a kg of chilli seeds is around Rs. 170,000 and a kg of cabbage seed is sold at Rs 400,000 in the market.

Pest attacks cause considerable problems to farmers. Last year there was the sena caterpillar called “Fall Armyworm” (Spodopteria Frugipedera) which destroyed large extents of cultivated crops. According to press reports, the same pest destroyed thousands of hectares of maize in Ampara causing severe difficulties to the farmers. Brown Plant Hopper tends to destroy paddy.

Marketing:

Those farmers who manage to harvest the crop of rice/vegetables are unable to sell it for a reasonable price. Currently, paddy farmers are unable to sell their Yala paddy crop to cover the costs. Often vegetable farmers are forced to destroy their produce due to inability to market their produce at reasonable prices. Marketing of agricultural products, at a profit to the farmer, is an issue which the authorities need to take cognizance of.

Unemployment:

Unemployment is rampant in the country. As a result of government-imposed restrictions on imports, commercial activities of thousands of companies are slowing down, seriously affecting the private sector in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of those companies have been compelled to reduce employment, non-renewal of employment contracts, and halting new recruitments, resulting in an increase in unemployment. Thousands of workers, in the construction sector, have already lost their jobs. These business enterprises are currently facing liquidity issues due to a loss of revenue and difficulties in the importation of raw material. Thousands of SMEs have closed down mainly due to lack of inputs, resulting in an increase in unemployment.

As a result of these limiting factors, rural economy is deteriorating. For the success of any development programme to improve the rural economy, it is essential to address the problems of the rural communities. However, the previous governments did not give priority to these critical issues, faced by farmers, who continue to live in abject poverty as a result. Most of them have to pawn their jewellery, or resort to some other ways ,to obtain finances to obtain agricultural inputs, such as seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and labour. Some of them have become prey to micro-credit companies.

All these issues cause untold hardships to thousands of farmers and have a negative impact on the rural economy. No effective actions appear to have been taken, by the relevant authorities, to implement appropriate solutions to these problems, except appointing committees. Those representing the farming community, in the Parliament, appear to be not concerned about the plight of our farming population who have voted them to power.

There is no centralized planning in farming in the country which, sometimes, leads farmers to cultivating the same crop/s, ultimately resulting in gluts. Previous governments attempted to solve this problem by implementing programmes, such as Api Wawamu-Rata Nagamu and Divineguma. But we continue to spend nearly Rs.300 billion, annually to import food. If the authorities are genuinely keen to improve the rural economy, they need to address these issues.

Food Security:

Food Security is closely related to rural economy. According to the United Nation’s Committee on World Food Security, food security is at maximum level when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. According to World Food Programme’ s latest food security assessment, about three in 10 households (6.26 million people) in Sri Lanka are food insecure. Cost of essential foods has increased during the last few months hindering the population’s ability to consume nutritious food in sufficient amounts. The food security situation is worst among people living in the estate sector.

Nutritious food to meet the dietary requirements of people need to contain mainly carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals. The local production of carbohydrates (mainly rice and sugar), and proteins (fish and milk) is inadequate to meet the demand. Hence, these food items are imported. During the last few years, we have spent nearly Rs. 300 billion, annually, on food imports, although it has decreased during the last few months, mainly due to restrictions on import of some food.

Availability of rice locally has decreased mainly because of inadequate availability of plant nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) through inorganic fertilisers. This has caused large amounts of rice to be imported. There appears to be no effective programmes to increase sugar production in the country. About two decades ago, in the1990s, sugarcane was cultivated in about 25, 000 hectares. At present, only about 12,000 ha are under sugarcane. The sugar factory, in Kantale, remains out of production, for nearly 15 years.

Availability of fish and milk has reduced due to a number of factors which the government appears to be not taking appropriate measures to increase the production of these items. According to press reports, the government is planning to import cattle from India and Pakistan to increase local milk production. It is foolish to import cattle to enhance milk production in the country without implementing an integrated programme to upgrade local cattle, making available cattle feed and improving veterinary practices in the country.

In Sri Lanka, during the last two decades, perhaps a few thousands of research studies, related to food security, involving billions of rupees worth of scarce resources, have been conducted. It is important that we utilize these research findings to find solutions to the pressing problems of the country. But there appears to be no effective system to make use of the research findings. Lack of an integrated plan is a factor responsible for the decline in food security. There has been rhetoric on rural economic development during the last few years. It is meaningful and effective actions that are necessary.

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A first indication of readiness to go on a new path

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By Jehan Perera

None too soon, President Ranil Wickremesinghe appears to be putting the brakes on the government’s policy of repression in dealing with public protests. His decision to initially sign the Gazette notification declaring key areas of Colombo to be High Security Zones was roundly criticised by human rights organisations including the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. The business sector also complained that this decision which appears to have been made by the security establishment would be injurious to business. Revoking the High Security Zones made practical sense in view of the dubious legal basis of the declaration. The High Security Zones were to be set up under the Official Secrets Act which has hardly anything in common with the purpose of the new regulations.

The High Security Zone concept, which was practiced in the North and East of the country during the time of war, would have made it difficult for vehicles to even park on the roads without first obtaining special permission. There were also legal cases filed in the Supreme Court alleging violation of constitutional rights. The president would also have been aware of the resolution on Sri Lanka that is about to be presented for a vote at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. As many as 26 countries have agreed to co-sponsor the resolution, of which 10 are current members of the UNHRC. Sri Lanka is finding itself isolated in terms of human rights in the eyes of the international community which can have costly consequences in terms of reducing the international sympathy and support that the country needs at this time.

The president’s early resort to the security forces to clamp down on the protest movement came as a surprise as his prior track record would have suggested a more nuanced approach to dealing with public agitation. As a follow up to the revocation of the High Security Zones, the president needs to consider revamping government policy on addressing the protest movement. So far the government approach has focused on suppressing the protest movement, on the justification that it will destabilise the economy through strike actions and by chaos on the streets. However, in Sri Lanka’s democratic system a policy of repression is unlikely to be workable. A government that is reluctant to go to the polls must not use the security forces as its prop. The president’s withdrawal of the High Security Zones in Colombo may be understood as an acknowledgement of this reality.

DECLARE AMNESTY

There is general acknowledgement that the President is the most suitable for the task of negotiating with, and making the political case, for more international aid to come to Sri Lanka. During his recent visits to foreign countries he met with top world leaders and would have made his mark. However, it is also important that the president should make his mark on the Sri Lankan people. He needs to win the trust of the people who did not vote for him. Having consolidated himself following his election by parliament to be president, he needs to take a more pro-active role in addressing the roots of the protest movement and not simply quashing its manifestations. There is a need to inform the people what the government will be doing to directly address the terrible impact of the economic crisis on the poorer sections of the population.

There is a widespread sense that those arrested for being members of the protest movement ought not to be subjected to the heavy hand of the law. At the present time, both in Geneva and in Sri Lanka, government spokespersons are denying the severity of the problems that exists. Successive governments denied the excesses that occurred during the war period, both in Geneva and at home. In Sri Lanka the majority of the population were prepared to go along with the denials of war time excesses due to the nature of the ethnic conflict that pitted the ethnic communities against one another. However, a policy of denying the impact of the economic crisis on the poor will not be able to garner similar support from any community in Sri Lanka and will end up pitting the majority of people against the government, just as happened during the height of the Aragalaya.

A declaration of an amnesty for all those accused and arrested for being part of the protest movement would be an act of follow-up statesmanship considering the controversy these arrests are causing both internationally and nationally with the human rights groups and the general public. The ongoing arrests of some who have been part of the protest movement have been justified on the basis that they engaged in violence or supported it. Others are accused of having burnt down the houses of government ministers, including the president’s own ancestral house which contained his family library and valuable works of art. Some have been arrested without being charged before the courts.

Magnanimity, empathy and fairness are very powerful in binding the community together. This is an opportunity for the president to show his empathy with all those others who down the years have lost their own homes to violence, during the two JVP insurrections and during the long period of the ethnic war. The government plans to compensate its members who lost their houses. It needs to also compensate those who lost their lives due to government failure, the most recent being those who died standing in long lines, or when their substandard gas cylinders exploded.

ACCEPT TRUTH

At present, the government is denying the veracity of studies done by international organisations, including UN organisations, on the extent of the malnutrition and stunting that affects children. They are also denying the veracity of claims of corruption in the procurement of fuel and other large contracts, even in the midst of economic crisis. It is also doing little to ameliorate these problems. The government points to the restoration of reasonable supplies of petrol, diesel, cooking gas and electricity which can create an impression of normalcy, but only for those who can afford the much higher prices at which these commodities are available. The government denials of the unequal distribution of the burden will ring hollow with the masses of people, whose support is needed if the government is to govern in a stable political environment.

Instead of denying the existence of problems, the government needs to accept their existence and take measures to address them. This applies to both the problems within the country and that are being discussed internationally. It needs to recognise that its denials have got no traction in Geneva, which is why Sri Lanka has had to face nine resolutions, each one getting more difficult to respond to. The resolution that will be voted on in the UN Human Rights Council later this week will call for greater support for the UN’s evidence gathering mechanism that has already been set up and to provide more support to those countries that pursue universal jurisprudence for crimes committed by Sri Lankan political and military leaders anywhere in the world.

The government needs to use every opportunity it can to seek the support of the international community. With the draft resolution now presented, the eyes of the international community are upon Sri Lanka. While it is too late to change the draft resolution, which will be soon voted on, the government can still seek to restore goodwill among those that are pursuing the resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva. An amnesty for those who participated in the protest movement could send a positive signal that the government is willing to heed the concerns of the international community regarding human rights and democratic freedoms. The possibility of amnesty to be part of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in which there is acknowledgment of past violations, expression of regret and accountability for them can also be explored.

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Features

Treaty for a Lost City – inconvenient facts or legal myths?

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By Andrew Sheng
Asia News Netowrk

Is Hong Kong a lost city or being re-born after its baptism of fire? Hong Kong was always a “borrowed place, borrowed time”, to quote the legendary journalist Richard Hughes (1906-1984), immortalised in John Le Carre’s novels on the intersection of media and espionage in cities like Berlin or Istanbul located at the borderlands of great power conflicts. Having returned the city on 1 July 1997, can Britain hold China to the terms and conditions of the 1984 Joint Declaration with China?

Chinese University of Hong Kong Law Professor CL Lim’s book, ” The Sino-British Joint Declaration” is a meticulously researched legal history of how the Joint Declaration came into being and whether it still has the force of law on both parties. There is a presumption that the Joint Declaration granted democratic rights to Hong Kong. The legal story is much more complex. This book draws on the British National Archives and study of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (1990), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) [ICCPR], United Nations Charter, etc., to lay out the facts and opinions for the reader to judge who is right or wrong.

Cities and states are defined by their Constitutions, communal values, geography, cultures and histories. Prior to 1841, Hong Kong was a barren rock that was indisputably part of China. Hong was ceded under the Treaty of Nanjing after the First Opium War (1839-42); but the expiry of the 99 year New Territories lease meant that Britain could not hold onto Hong Kong after 1997. The People’s Republic of China (PRC), following earlier Chinese governments, has never recognised any “unequal treaty” with the Western Powers, but adopted the face-saving principle that “a sovereign may delegate under international law such control or authority to another for a limited period.” Once that sovereignty is resumed, the PRC will not brook any interference in its internal sovereign matters.

This book reads like a series of Queen’s Counsel briefs, densely argued on complex and subtle points presenting different opinions and perspectives. In normal legal disputes, the arbiter would be an independent court, but there is no final decision between China and United Kingdom, which are the five members of the UN Security Council that can veto any rulings at the United Nations level. The only appeal left is to the court of global public opinion, which is today dominated by the English-speaking media. As media today becomes more and more ideologically driven, it is unlikely that deeply held views will be changed by legal or rational arguments.

The genesis of the Joint Declaration was the need to ensure a smooth return of Hong Kong to China. In 1983, when the New Territories lease (covering 92% of Hong Kong) was running out, Britain initially sought to renew the lease, but found that China under Deng Xiaoping was adamant that China would resume sovereignty over Hong Kong. With confidence slipping, the Hong Kong currency was under attack, only to be restored by a peg against the US dollar. This gave impetus to settle the terms and conditions of return. As the book painstakingly pointed out, British negotiators were operating from a weak hand, wanting to retain as much influence and economic benefits as possible post-1997.

As described in Chapter 3, democracy under colonialism was never part of the negotiations. Hong Kong representatives played no part in the discussions between two sovereign powers. The Joint Declaration itself did not mention the word “democracy”. It basically stated that the Hong Kong SAR “will enjoy a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs” (Article 2) and that rights and freedoms will be ensured by Hong Kong SAR law (Article 5). Since the Basic Law, HKSAR’s constitution, is PRC law, the final interpretation falls to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, not necessarily by the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeals.

The real point of dispute lies in the National Security Law, which was passed by the National People’s Congress in 2020, after the Hong Kong legislature was unable to enact Article 23 of the Basic Law. As public disorder arose with violent protests, the practical issue was whether HKSAR government could handle them without a National Security Law. Hong Kong was uniquely handicapped because in every other international financial centre, there exists very draconian national security laws that protect the integrity and security of the financial system, economy and sovereignty. Hong Kong was deeply polarised. No compromise seemed possible, and continued protests and violence would have destroyed Hong Kong. Between a rock and a hard place, the National Security Law was the least painful alternative barring more physical violence.

Treaty on a Lost Place highlighted the absurd situation of two sovereigns signing one piece of paper having different points of view. Such constructive ambiguity papered over destructive alternatives. The last British Governor Chris Patten was successful in persuading some Hongkongers that one man-one vote was what they deserve. Whether that is a cure all for Hong Kong’s ill is another matter. That his Conservative Party leadership was elected opaquely by of British people shows that different systems may not always practice what they preach. Hong Kong elites failed to correct the injustices that many young faced in not providing them affordable homes with meaningful, well paid jobs. Beijing’s mistake perhaps was to trust that Hong Kong could on her own resolve these contradictions within the larger struggle between China and the West on many fronts.

A Treaty is only a piece of paper. A city is not lost to Britain or China, but lost in its own direction, which must be re-found. The answers will not be found in international law, because that is itself being rediscovered in a new age of multipolar contestation. This book is a major contribution to our understanding of how international law is only one of many guides to the future. Hong Kong has to rediscover her own identity inside a larger identity. That is the tragedy and opportunity facing all islands within the grand ocean of mankind.

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