Connect with us

Features

The Ides of March approaches in Geneva!

Published

on

by Kumar David

As the next session of the United Nations Human Rights Council will run from February 22 to March 23 in Geneva – the dreaded Ides of March (March 15) beckons. The Ides, the 74th day in the Roman calendar, is set apart for settling debts. Will the regime in Colombo settle the debt it has evaded for a decade? It will not, it cannot! It is bound hand and foot to saffron robe and native pride. Nobody knows as yet what contrivance the military-stuffed Gotabaya regime (Executive) and the allied Mahinda government (Parliament and Cabinet) will try in a survival bid; and it is possible tension between the two wings of state may surfaces. To believe domestic and international reports Lanka’s reckoning in Geneva will be grim. The home scene is a failing economy, an out of control pandemic, back and forth confusion about the East Container Terminal and the rupee in free-fall as debt default looms.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet in a damning annual report says: “I urge the international community to listen to the determined, courageous, persistent calls of victims and their families for justice, and heed the early warning signs of more violations to come. Given the demonstrated inability and unwillingness of the Government to advance accountability at the national level, it is time for international action to ensure justice for international crimes. States should pursue investigations and prosecution in their national courts – under accepted principles of extraterritorial or universal jurisdiction – of international crimes committed by all parties in Sri Lanka. States can consider targeted sanctions, such as asset freezes and travel bans against credibly alleged perpetrators of grave human rights violations and abuses. The failure to do so carries with it the seeds of repeated patterns of human rights violations and potential conflict in the future.”

 

Former Socialist President of Chile: 2006-2010 and 2014-2018

But I am cynical. The regime will not mind a condemnatory resolution so long as many countries vote against the resolution. With Chinese and Russian patronage, Lanka’s regime is assured of that. What would jolt the regime is sanctions, but that won’t happen. The world will be entertained to verbal theatrics, a petit drama, and at worst a rap on the knuckles. Sinhala-Buddhism, Lanka’s most feared force will not permit stepping back from the ‘glorious war victory’ motto, nor permit disapproval of ‘our heroic military’. Any government that dares to abandon this hagiography will be wrecked. Regime mouthpiece Pathfinder Foundation predicts: “Lanka will be defiant in the face a condemnatory vote in the Council. If the resolution is adopted, most likely it will ignore it and pitch bilateral ‘economic tents’ with countries that vote in its favour.” This is code for China though paradoxically the US, EU and India account for 71% of our exports!

Public opinion in the West and India will not buy the regime’s myths and Beijing will toy with Colombo with strategic motives. The country is bankrupt; payment of an annual average $ 4 billion to service a $60 billion foreign debt is unsustainable except by incurring additional and increasing debt to service current debt. Covid has impoverished Lanka which was tottering in any case. From about 3,000 cases four months ago the number covid cases have reached 60,000 and increasing at about 700 a day – mercifully the death toll is below 300. Every one of these fears will have to be interwoven into the ploy the regime opts for in Geneva on the Ides of March. From this perspective the government is on its knees and but for the sustenance of its Chinese paymaster would be grovelling. There are signs that portions of the Gotabaya cabal are crumbling. Foreign Secretary Colombage spoke to the Island (Feb 2) approvingly of a “Consensual Resolution” as opposed to a Joint Resolution. Oh crikey, Lanka’s courts will soon be flummoxed by the need to make a distinction between joint sex and consensual sex!

 

The impecunious and the paymaster

The Rajapaksa regime formally withdrew from a commitment to the Yahapalanaya cosponsored UNHRC resolutions 30/1, 34/1 & 40/1 on Accountability and Reconciliation. To distract attention, in the wake of Easter Sunday attacks and the covid pandemic, it unashamedly propagated anti-Muslim canards raising anxieties in human rights circles. Frustrated, the Human Rights Commissioner issued the damning report that I just quoted, urging all countries to take action including punitive measures, invocation of international jurisdiction, referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC), sanctions against targeted individuals, asset freezes and travel bans.

This obligated disorderly Tamil leaders to come together requesting the UNHRC to refer Accountability concerns back to UN General Assembly and asking the Security Council to explore other avenues including referral to the ICC and inquire into genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. In a sign of the times the moderate TNA, radical Wigenswaran and militant Gajendrakumar managed a joint statement not very different from Commissioner Bachelet’s rebukes. In light of this the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) and the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) hosted a webinar on Jan 23 facilitating dialogue amongst Tamil representatives of the North-East, Upcountry and Muslims, to initiate a search for a common programme around which all of them and, this is important, progressive Sinhalese, can rally.

The withering rebuke from Commissioner Bachelet heightened expectation in these communities and the diaspora of a tough resolution and swift international action. They are now muscling capacity to get together experts with experience in international institutions and lobbying to extract the most out of the UNHRC. The next steps are challenging and replete with possibilities, difficulties and limitations. Domestic and diaspora clusters reckon coordinated advocacy by Tamils, Muslims and progressive Sinhalese can push global powers to compel Lanka’s authoritarian Executive to implement policies of Accountability and Reconciliation. As I said before, personally however, I am pessimistic of the outcome and cynical about the regime.

The question is how tough should Geneva get to be helpful for Sri Lankan democracy? A simple rap on the knuckles will be counterproductive and gentle sermons achieve nothing on accountability, reconciliation or democratisation. For a decade the UNHRC played the softly-softly game and achieved nothing. The regime is indebted to its power base of testosterone fired monks, hell-bent nationalists, grumpy generals, killer corporals, and hardline (vice?) admirals of an eleven tug boat navy (who preen in the glory of Zheng He and Horatio Nelson). To survive it must hold firm to this base. I still conjecture that as persons neither Mahinda nor Goha are racists, but those to whom they are indebted to remain in power call the shots. Another wildcard is how the Burmese coup may play out in the debate on Lanka. China will be gratified by the ouster of namby-pamby Aung San and the return of a dictatorship which will nestle in its pocket. The US, India and Japan will calculate the odds between driving the regimes in Naypyidaw and Colombo deeper into a Chinese cuddle versus crushing them with a tougher strategic equation. The gut nature of the Biden-Team is intrinsic hostility to gorillas, Burmese or other, and endorsement of Commissioner Bachelet’s fusillade on Sri Lankan governments past and present, but calculations of global power-play will be more significant.

 

Global human rights movements must play hardball and bring both these regimes to their knees. With the popularity of the regimes crumbling they are half way down already. Human rights movements must get tough or back-off and stop pretending they have any mileage in correcting violations in countries possessed by the demons of die-hard racism or hard-core religious extremism. As in the past, mere censure in Geneva will be exploited by Lanka’s regime to stoke Sinhala-Buddhist extremism, its survival bedrock. Just when the Gotha Presidency mucked the independence of institutions designed to check executive power and assist the rule of law, a constitutional amendment gave the president a JR-esque status.

Retired khaki types some implicated in human rights concerns have been put in key positions1}. Two dozen military folk have been elevated to ministry secretaries and corporate bosses. Some of them are extreme Sinhala nationalists. Gota has appointed military jackboots to direct covid control in all districts. Surveillance and harassment of civil society activists by intelligence agencies, oversight of NGOs, restrictions on foreign funding and harassment, is on the rise.

One of Gota’s Commissions recommend impunity for state sponsored murders of journalists, students and political opponents. Another was commissioned on Jan 31 to finger politicians and ‘disloyal’ former public servants who could lose their civic rights. In the interim Harin Fernando has been promised a canine funeral! It is not the job of the UNHRC to pull Lanka out of this self-made hell-hole though any assistance in melioration is welcome. Nandasena Gotabaya may have made up his mind to impose a one-party regime on one of Asia’s oldest democracies and that should concern the UNHRC.



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Features

Playing politics with science!

Published

on

It is obvious that the only way out of this disastrous pandemic is through science––the use of vaccines that have been introduced in double quick time due to scientific ingenuity. It is the duty of politicians to refrain from playing politics with science.

 

By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

If you thought it was only our politicians who played politics with science, you thought wrong. Admittedly, ours are pretty bad as evident from the Dhammika peniya episode. We had our Health Minister freely advertising the concoction by ingesting it in her office and wasting the valuable time of academics by instructing them to test it for efficacy. Getting a pretty bad attack of Covid-19 demonstrated the idiocy of her action but she continues unashamedly to be our Minister of Health!

A Professor of Pharmacology turned politician did likewise. Forgetting what he taught his students, he supported the untested therapies, the explanation given by one of his colleagues being that he behaved as a politician, not a scientist! By implication, even scientists can forget science when they become politicians! Funnily, he was rewarded by being appointed the Acting Minister of Health the day the Health Minister was discharged from hospital, which was rather bizarre considering that during the Minister’s prolonged period of hospital-stay there was no acting appointment! Perhaps, fearing that he might take the bread out of her mouth, the Minister returned to office within a few days of discharge.

Although the first wave of the Covid-19 epidemic was very effectively controlled, the loss of efficiency as regards the second wave was due no doubt to allowing non-scientific ideas to creep in. The refusal of permission for the burial of Covid-19 victims in spite of a group of top scientists recommending it, made us look foolish and turned international opinion against the country.

The clamour for vaccination is a welcome sign, more so because the UK is continually producing evidence for the extreme efficacy of vaccination.

The UK was the first country in the world to start vaccination and has already vaccinated more than 21 million of its 66 million population. It started with the Pfizer vaccine, closely followed by the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. EU, which was a late starter, was critical of the Oxford AZ vaccine. The French President Emmanuel Macron is obviously guilty of playing politics with science as he was one of the vaccine’s most vociferous critics, calling it “quasi-ineffective” for the elderly. As a result of political comments of this nature, more than half of EU countries limited the Oxford AZ vaccine to those under 65 years, in spite of the European Medicines Agency approving it for all age groups.

Another political appointee, Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President, had a public spat with AstraZeneca over gaining more of its vaccine doses and introduced a border between Ireland and Northern Ireland; she was forced to reverse her decision, quickly. She then suggested the UK had compromised on “safety and efficacy” by approving the jab so early, despite the EMA reaching the same conclusions as the UK’s internationally-respected MHRA, which approved the Oxford AZ vaccine for all ages. Millions of doses of Oxford AZ vaccine, which they obtained in spite of criticism, remain unused in France and Germany. Why did they not have the generosity to give these to struggling countries like Sri Lanka?

Data released by Public Health England (PHE) shows that both the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines are highly effective in reducing COVID-19 infections among those 70 years and over. Since January, protection against symptomatic Covid-19, four weeks after the first dose, ranged between 57 and 61% for Pfizer and between 60 and 73% for the Oxford AZ vaccine.

In the over 80s, data suggest that a single dose of either vaccine is more than 80% effective in preventing hospitalisation, around 3 to 4 weeks after the jab. There is also evidence for 83% reduction in deaths from Covid-19 with the Pfizer vaccine and data for Oxford AZ vaccine is awaited.

European aversion to Oxford AZ vaccine is, no doubt, due to Brexit than to science. Very soon, all EU countries would be forced by science to allow all age groups to have the Oxford AZ vaccine which, by the way, is the cheapest vaccine that is easier to transport and store. Politicians who criticised Oxford AZ vaccine have had to eat humble pie but they will no doubt come out with some claim to justify their idiocy!

A Belgian minister, Budget State Secretary Eva De Bleeker, has angered vaccine manufacturers by revealing sensitive and confidential commercial information – the price that the EU has agreed to pay for the leading Covid-19 vaccines. Though her twitter message was deleted quickly, screenshots taken show that the EU agreed prices for the three vaccines used at present are as follows: Oxford/AstraZeneca: €$ 1.78, Pfizer/BioNTech : €$ 12 and Moderna: $18.

Moderna, a Bio-tech company, which has not been profitable so-far, is heading for wind-fall profits and the drug-giant Pfizer will get richer. No one seems to have followed the noble gesture of AstraZeneca, which agreed with the Oxford group to provide the vaccine on no-profit basis.

It is obvious that the only way out of this disastrous pandemic is through science––the use of vaccines that have been introduced in double quick time due to scientific ingenuity. It is the duty of politicians to refrain from playing politics with science.

As Dolly Parton sang with a rewrite of her famous song ‘Jolene’ whilst having her jab:

“Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I’m begging of you, please don’t hesitate. Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, because once you’re dead, then that’s a bit too late.”

 

Continue Reading

Features

Who wants to live forever?

Published

on

The haunting lyrics of The Queen song and the almost plaintive tone in Freddie Mercury’s oh so unique voice, when he sang this song (particularly in his live performance at Wembley), echo through my mind these days. There are two main reasons why longevity is foremost these days.

The first, of course, being the pandemic that is among us. It may be the first time that the civilian population of the entire world is facing the possibility of sudden death, not from incoming fire or even suicide bombers but from an insidious, unseen, minute germ!

The second reason why the length of our lives and prolonging it for as long as we possibly can have been entering my thoughts, is when I see the scramble to get the anti-virus vaccine that I observe in the Pearl. Now, most of us are Buddhists and somewhere in those teachings is a belief that we come into this world with a certain amount of AYUSHA or length of life, and that when that is over the end happens and there is no choice. At least, that is the basic interpretation of undoubtedly very complex teaching.

If that is the case, why this scramble for the vaccine? Why are we using privileged positions (connections to rulers and politicians), connections to doctors, and even the Mayors of certain cities to short-circuit the waiting lists? Older people are complaining that they are being denied the vaccine, why? Those people have probably achieved all their objectives in life, completed successful lives, seen grandchildren or even great-grandchildren, why do they want to deny some young man or woman starting out on life with all those milestones to reach, the vaccine, particularly if they are devoted to the teachings of the Buddha.

Is it selfishness, greed, and avarice, things we should avoid according to these self-same teachings, or is it simply one-up-man-ship and the need to be able to boast that they got the vaccine when the “ordinary” man is still standing in queues and probably infecting each other due to the total chaos and non-observance of Covid protocols in these places of administering the vaccine? Think about it dear readers, especially those of you who have completed productive and useful lives, brought up “successful” children, and as is the way in our society provided them with houses, lands, dowries, and other ways of sustenance. Do we really need to join this scramble for the vaccine? Or, use our position of privilege to probably deny some younger person, with a life to live, the chance of getting it. Is it even our ego (something else we should control and make less significant in our lives and decisions) that allows us to justify our long existence in this world? They need my superior intellect, does this world and this society, therefore I must live as long as possible! Or, is it simply the basic animal instinct to live as long as possible, something that we as humans with our superior brains should be able to think around?

Here in Aotearoa, we have re-entered a level 3 lockdown in our most heavily populated city and a level 2 lockdown for the rest of our country. This has been due to certain non-observance of Covid protocols by people of a clearly identified community, living in a certain part of the city of sails, as Auckland is also known. This is the second time that the community, living in that part of the city has brought about an escalation of the pandemic and stricter lockdowns. It has brought more economic misery and spelled the end of the road to more businesses and enterprises. Now, in the Pearl, we may have resorted to attacking those communities and even rioting. All that seems to have happened here are of course the usual vitriolic racist attacks on the internet and a government decision to vaccinate those areas of the city first, in an attempt to control the pandemic. Wow! in the pearl either all these people would have been rounded up and locked up in a camp in the Vanni or locked down under strict curfew with the threat of being shot if violated. The jury with regard to if the Pearl alternative or the Aotearoa alternative of these should have been used is still out …

Maybe some readers are interested in the outcome of the threat that is looming over us from the upcoming United Nations action in Geneva? I have been trying to get some feedback from “intellectuals” currently living in the Pearl, but they seem distracted, and a feeling of helplessness seems to prevail. The incumbent Foreign Minister seems to think that a humble Indian Ocean Island with what strictly speaking, can be considered a failed or at least failing economy, can dictate terms to the UN, behaving like the proverbial bull in a china shop. Maybe our “new best friend” China, probably aided and abetted by Russia has lent strength to his arm.

Even a “victory’ for Lanka at the UNHCR to this resolution should not be cheered too vociferously, as the countries ranged against us will have long term plans. Every step of this government will be monitored closely. The loss of our garment exporting privileges to the first world could result along with other economic sanctions that would make the cost of living in the Pearl even higher.

One rather interesting possibility seems to be travel bans on certain individuals and freezing of their assets held abroad. Now that could be stimulating, especially if the numbers involved are made public! However, if that was the case, I believe the attempt to rectify the situation would have been given to a more competent person than “the bull in the china shop”!

I cannot resist putting this out dear readers and I apologise profusely in advance. What if someone like Ranil W, was in charge of foreign affairs? Do you think we would have had a more professional approach and had a better chance in dealing with the complicated nuances of handling UN diplomacy, in the long term? At least we may have not insulted and possibly humiliated the visiting PM of one of our allies, Imran Khan of Pakistan! On the other hand, Mr. Khan, you may rest assured that even if you had addressed our parliament, no member would have understood anything you said or even been able to decipher your immaculate Oxbridge accent. It is only those of us who have shut ourselves out mentally from the shenanigans or gone into voluntary exile who watch with dismay, who would have savoured your words and briefly wondered …what if … ?

Continue Reading

Features

Thanks for quick vaccination; harmful dabblers in the occult should be severely dealt with

Published

on

There has been much in the daily press on vaccination against Covid-19 in this fair isle of ours, or rather in Colombo and its suburbs

Let’s put aside complaints and say praise be!

Most of what was media-written was on the ensuing chaos of not knowing where to go for the jab; how to get a token; which age group will be given it (apart of course from VIPs and politicians who were close behind frontline health workers). Mercifully, the authorities righted the initial wrong of deciding on prioritizing the 30-65 age group and neglecting the over 65s, who were placed second in the priority list in more enlightened countries following WHO strictures. And so lots have got the jab and we anticipate a drastic drop in infection and Covid death rates. Cass contributed her fair share of criticism in this column but not stridently nor unreasonably. She had not seen the privileged list that passed off as Municipal workers on Tuesday 24 February at the Public Library, Colombo 7, arriving in Mercedes Benzes and SUVs. If she had, her ire would have emerged in pure vitriol! One friend said she enquired from several sophisticates in the queue how they got there, but received mumbled replies. So, a Rose by any other name, even Do-Gooder, smells as bad when it goes unjust! Things got much better and the service worked smoothly once the MOHs came into their own.

What Cass notes in summarizing the issue today is thanks and gratitude to the government and the Health Services particularly, for vaccinating so very many so quickly. People who wrote about this issue, Cass included, were all praise for the actual data takers and vaccine givers. In certain centres, the old and disabled were queued in a different line and vaccinated within an hour.

The gratitude Cass renders is because only part of the total amount of vaccine was gifted by India and the WHO. Our government booked early and paid for the rest, and of the Oxford kind. This vaccine is admittedly relatively cheaper, but it had to be paid for, which cost the government bore. We have to appreciate the massive organization entailed and excuse inevitable hiccups. This fact struck Cass as a feeling of much needed security and elimination of fear was felt, and all for free. Also when a friend in Melbourne wrote they were as yet awaiting vaccination.

 

Black Magic and witchcraft in Sri Lanka

If you thought as Cass did that we would never ever resemble a dark Congo tribe resorting to occult cures or a re-enactment of shades of supernatural superstitious beliefs in witchcraft as in Salem, Massachusetts, USA, in 1692 (where some young girls caught prancing naked cooked up lies about good women in the village being witches), you and Cass were both mistaken. We’ve had these in different styles right here in supposedly majority Buddhist Free Sri Lanka with other religions holding people together, in the 21st century with some of our own doing brilliantly well in advanced scientific disciplines all over the developed world. Cass, as you now know, was born and bred in the hills of Kandy with its most sacred Dalada Maligawa and picturesquely situated quaint temples in peaceful green valleys with the sound of evening pooja bells, joined by Kovil tinkles and Sunday sonorous Church gantara and the cry of the Muzeen. We never had a bali or thovil ceremony. If an inauspicious time descended on the village or a household, it was pirith chanted by Bhikkhus. So to Cass what has been happening very recently is even stranger than to those who have village cousins who dabble in mantra and kodivina with kattadiyas in action.

I refer here to the stupidly preposterous belief in Dhammika’s peniya as both a prophylactic and cure for pernicious Covid-19. Where is that charlatan veda – oops sorry- Kaliamma devala kapurala now? Safe with his ill-gotten gains, we suppose.

The latest voodoo story, but with such a tragic ending, is that of the 9-year-old Delgoda girl who suffered an emotional (rather than mental) aberration and was subject to exorcism by caning her mercilessly. The exorcist could not be a woman; she must certainly be a sadistic aberration herself. Can you believe that she applied oil on the girl and used the cane on her till the kid went unconscious? Was the cane an ordinary one? At first I could not believe the story read in the papers – how cane a person to death, but it was a child receiving the torture and who knows what sort of ‘weapon’ was used. The mother definitely must be punished more severely. Maternal love, even in the animal kingdom, will never allow harming an offspring, so how on earth did the mother watch all that caning. One shot would have torn Cass to the defence of her child, or for that matter any child, with talons extended and blood now not turned to milk as the Sinhala saying goes, but to vitriolic fury. The woman exorcist with supernatural powers and the mother are in police custody. Why doesn’t she do a Houdini and astound handsome Police high-up Ajit Rohana?

People claiming superhuman clairvoyance and divine power crop up everywhere. Cass accompanied a friend to consult a girl in the suburbs of Kandy to find out where her hub had ‘donated’ a fairly large sum of money. This girl had given clear directions to find a lost Persian cat to a third friend; hence the visit. She was a pretty, soft girl of around 18. Once Cass and the other entered the room, the girl changed, was in a near trance and speaking in an entirely different voice, pronounced the reason for seeking her help and said “Look for a man always dressed in long sleeves and thinning hair parted in the middle.” The friend was baffled and defeated by this long shot, but finally she met a man of this description – the father of a girl in her husband’s office. She did not ask for the money!

Such ‘powers’ are temporary; maybe like poltergeist manifestations in a teenager’s home. But going for cures to them is unthinkable. Buddhist bhikkhus and maybe bhikkhuunis, so also certain Christian priests (the bulk of lecherous Father Mathew intrudes here) do have powers of exorcism. A medical doctor is the best bet, in any case, including even mental upsets.

 

Short Takes

Imran Khan’s all too brief visit was a successful veni, vidi, vici in spite of being snubbed ungraciously over the address to Parliamentarians (what a weak, threadbare excuse was offered – C-19 precaution!) and missing out two of our cricket greats: Michael Tissera and Anura Tennakoon from the list of cricket folk to say Hi to the great Cricketer at lunch at Shangri La. What was the success apart from charming everyone and showing off what a Statesman can look like and carry himself off? Why – the Muslims of Sri Lanka conquered. Burial was theirs or so it seemed. But hold it, is it gazetted or is this ‘yes’ like the Prime Minister’s definite ‘can bury’ pronounced in Parliament and then brushed aside and explained by the Gaman as “he was merely expressing his thoughts.”

Main headline in The Island of Wednesday 3 March:” PCol report on Easter Sunday carnage: AG won’t be given ‘sensitive’ volumes.” Why on earth? Is it X-rated and the AG underage?

Picture on page I of same issue of Dr Rajitha Senaratne arriving at the Colombo High Court to appear in a case involving two persons who accused then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa of various crimes. We have long forgotten even a single word of what they said. They will not get off free is Cass’ bet unlike Aluthgamage, who emerged very recently from a court house free as a bird, accused of corruption, Cass recalls.

Continue Reading

Trending