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The need to strengthen national accountability mechanisms

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by Jehan Perera

The government’s proposal to set up a truth and reconciliation mechanism to deal with the unresolved human rights issues of the war will get a boost in the aftermath of last week’s unexpected developments that will directly affect three former presidents of Sri Lanka hitherto thought to be untouchable by virtue of their power, prestige and legal immunities.  The first was the Canadian government’s notice that former presidents Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapaksa would be subjected to targeted sanctions for human rights violations committed during their periods of office.  Any economic assets they may have in Canada will be liable to be frozen.  They will also be subjected to travel bans to Canada.  Previously limited travel sanctions had been imposed against military officers accused of human rights violations most notably by the United States.

 The second unexpected development was the Supreme Court verdict in the case of the Easter Sunday bombings of 2019.  Victims groups who had filed cases for lack of vigilance and negligence against high ranking and responsible members of the government at the time of the attack on behalf of themselves and other victims were provided personal and state financial compensation by the Supreme Court.  Former president Maithripala Sirisena and former high level members of the security hierarchy were held personally liable to pay compensation which is extraordinarily high by Sri Lankan standards.  The decision is a landmark judgment in that it held that negligence in the discharge of responsibilities by state authorities is liable to judicial sanction.  It is likely that accountability processes, both national and international, will get further activated and gather momentum in the days and months to come.

The Canadian decision would have been specially motivated by the Canadian government’s responsiveness to its large Tamil Diaspora which has been successful in sending one of its members to the Canadian parliament as an elected member.  The Tamil Diaspora in other western countries may not be as numerous or powerful to move their own governments to take similar action.  However, all western countries support the principle of universal jurisdiction, whereby the violation of human rights in any part of the world can be taken up in their courts regardless of the citizenship of the perpetrator.  This means that individual citizens of those countries can canvass these cases on an individual basis and use the Canadian government’s decision as prima facie evidence of the veracity of their complaints.

The most recent addition is the United States which, responding to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, has brought the US legal code in line with international law to prevent the United States from being seen as a potential haven for human rights violators. President Joseph Biden this month signed a new law which gives the US government the power to prosecute suspects of international human rights violations who are in the United States, allowing them to be tried in a US federal court regardless of the nationality of the victim or the perpetrator, or where the crime was committed. Many Sri Lankan leaders have their families and financial assets kept for safekeeping in the US and will feel more vulnerable following the change in US law in the context of the Canadian decision.

GOING BEYOND

 The significance of the Canadian government’s targeted sanctioning of the former presidents was that it included two relatively low level military officers.  This means that the sanctions have been targeted at a broad spectrum of possible perpetrators.  They include those who have been accused of being direct participants in those violations as well as those who may not have been direct participants but in the chain of command.  This will create a sense of insecurity in the minds of many members of Sri Lanka’s security forces or those in the security establishment as they will not feel safe from being prosecuted in those countries that permit prosecutions on the basis of universal jurisdiction.  Even at present many military officers who served in fighting units during the war with unblemished reputations find themselves unable to access international opportunities for training or international service due to human rights-related restrictions.

 In the case of the Easter Sunday bombing neither the victims nor the Catholic Church are likely to remain content with either the level of compensation or the limited findings of the Supreme Court.  They would want to find out the truth behind the execution of the bombings and of their loved ones whose lives to them had value beyond any form of monetary compensation.  The Catholic Church has already stated that though the church is satisfied with the Supreme Court’s verdict, the church will not give up the fight until the masterminds of the attack are brought to justice.  Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith said, “We hope that Thursday’s judgement given by the Supreme Court would pave the way for more success in uncovering the truth behind Easter Sunday attacks…We would like to see some action pertaining to the investigations on the attacks. The incumbent President also promised a fresh investigation with regard to the Easter Sunday attack with the assistance of Scotland Yard but nothing had happened.”

 A similar situation would exist on a much larger scale with regard to the victims of human rights violations and war crimes during the long course of the three decade long ethnic war. There are tens of thousands of families that lost their loved ones who are not limited by ethnicity or religion, and cover all communities, though the vast majority were Tamil.  Very few of these cases have been investigated and even in cases where military courts themselves convicted military personnel for criminal actions which the civilian courts reaffirmed, presidential pardons have been given, so that the sense of injustice among the victims continues.  Successive governments have adopted a cavalier attitude towards the human rights violations that took place during the war and failed to give them the attention and priority they require.

NATIONAL MECHANISMS

 The Canadian sanctions against two former presidents and military officers is an indication of the wide sweep of international human rights sanctions. It shows that problems of accountability and human rights need to be dealt with. They cannot be ignored or dismissed as they will not go away once they are raised.  The Canadian government’s explanation is that “Gross and systematic human rights violations occurred during Sri Lanka’s civil conflict (1983-2009). Systemic impunity for human rights abusers in Sri Lanka continues to jeopardise the safeguarding of fundamental human rights, progress on justice for affected populations, and prospects for peace and reconciliation. The Government of Sri Lanka has taken limited concrete action to address post-conflict accountability and reconciliation. Due to political interference, particularly during the terms of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, numerous current and former state officials credibly implicated in war crimes have had charges against them arbitrarily dropped or convictions overturned.”

 If it is to limit international intervention into its internal affairs the government needs to show that its internal mechanisms are robust and meet international standards.  The Supreme Court verdict in the Easter Sunday bombing case would go some way to convince the international community that the Sri Lankan judicial system is independent and effective.  The Supreme Court has agreed to take up cases of economic crimes. The culpability for economic crimes was highlighted at the last session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.  Economic mismanagement and mounting corruption are burning issues over which the blame cannot be placed on the Tamil Diaspora or the Opposition. It must be remembered that Sri Lanka suffered the worst-ever defeat at the last UNHRC sessions. In a path breaking decision, the Supreme Court granted leave to proceed with several fundamental rights petitions seeking legal action against former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, former Finance Ministers Mahinda Rajapaksa and Basil Rajapaksa, and 36 others for financial irregularities and mismanagement of the economy. The cases were filed by Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) and several others.

 The Court also instructed the Auditor General to conduct an audit and submit a report by 03 November, in respect of the decision made by the Monetary Board to set the value of the Sri Lankan rupee at Rs. 203 against the US dollar and all matters connected thereto; the delay in seeking assistance from the IMF and all matters connected thereto; all matters relating to the settlement of the sovereign bond of US dollars 500 million on 18 January 2022, using foreign reserves. https://island.lk/gotabaya-mahinda-basil-and-36-others-to-face-legal-action/   If the Supreme Court breaks new ground on the issue of economic crimes, Sri Lanka could move to the front lines of those countries that are seeking accountability in governance.  It could generate a new breed of citizens who would be willing to take up administrative and political positions in the country and thus may provide the “system change” that the protest movement has sought.  Such positive changes could also revive the flow of international support and investments that have dropped to lower and lower levels over the past several decades.



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Features

Mindset changes and the dangerous ‘Religious War’ rhetoric

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Israeli border police on patrol at the Damascus Gate in occupied East Jerusalem (Pic courtesy Al Jazeera)

Nothing could be more vital at present in the conflict and war zones of the world than positive mindset changes and the wish of the humanist is likely to be that such momentous developments would quickly come to pass in particularly the Middle East. Because in the latter theatre almost every passing hour surfaces problems that call for more than average peace-making capabilities for their resolution.

For instance, the Islamic Supreme Fatwa Council in Palestine has reportedly warned of a ‘Religious War’ in the wake of recent allegations that Israel is planning to prevent the Muslim community from having access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem in the month of Ramadan. If true, this development is likely to further compound the Gaza violence and take it along an even more treacherous track. This is on account of the fact that religious passions, if not managed effectively, could prove most volatile and destructive.

As pointed out in this column previously, peace movements on both sides of the main divide in the region would need to quickly activate themselves, link-up and work as one towards the de-escalation of the conflict. What the Middle East and the world’s other war zones urgently need are persons and groups who are endowed with a pro-peace mind set who could work towards an elimination of the destructive attitudes that are instrumental in keeping the conflicts concerned raging.

This could prove an uphill task in the Middle East in particular. For, every passing minute in the region is seeing a hardening of attitudes on both sides in the wake of issues growing out of the violence. Accordingly, if peace-making is to be contemplated by the more moderate sections in the conflict, first, we need to see a lull in the violence. Achieving such a de-escalation in the violence has emerged as a foremost need for the region.

Right now, the Israeli state is showing no signs of climbing down from its position of seeing a decisive end to the Hamas militants and their support bases and going forward this policy stance could get in the way of de-escalating the violence even to a degree.

On the other hand, it would not be realistic on the part of the world community to expect a mindset change among Israeli government quarters and their supporters unless and until the security of the Israeli state is ensured on a permanent basis. Ideally, the world should be united on the position that Israel’s security is non-negotiable; this could be considered a veritable cornerstone of Middle East peace.

Interestingly, the Sri Lankan state seems to have come round to the above view on a Middle East peace settlement. Prior to the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime taking this stance, this columnist called repeatedly over the past few months in this commentary, in fact since October 7th last year, for the adoption of such a policy. That is, a peace settlement that accords priority to also the security needs of the Israelis. It was indicated that ensuring the security and stability of the Palestinians only would fall short of a comprehensive settlement of the Middle East imbroglio.

However, in the case of the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime, the above change in policy seems to be dictated almost wholly by economic survival considerations rather than by any well thought out principle or a sense of fairness to all relevant stakeholders.

For example, close on the heels of the regime playing host to the Israeli Transport Minister recently, it accorded a reverential welcome to the Iranian Foreign Minister as well. From the viewpoint of a small country struggling to survive, this is the way to go, since it needs every morsel of economic assistance and succour.

However, if permanent peace is to have a chance in the Middle East it would need to be based on the principle of justice to all the main parties to the conflict. Seen from this point of view, justice and fairness should be accorded to the Palestinians as well as the Israelis. Both parties, that is, should live within stable states.

The immediate need, though, is to at least bring a lull to the fighting. This will enable the Palestinian population in the Gaza to access humanitarian assistance and other essential needs. Besides, it could have the all-important effect of tempering hostile attitudes on both sides of the divide.

The US is currently calling for a ‘temporary ceasefire’ to the conflict, but the challenge before Washington is to get the Israeli side to agree to it. If the Israeli Prime Minister’s recent pronouncements are anything to go by, the US proposal is unlikely to make any impression on Tel Aviv. In other words, the Israeli Right is remaining an obstacle to a ceasefire or even some form of temporary relief for the affected populations, leave alone a political solution. However, changing their government is entirely a matter for the Israeli people.

Accordingly, if a stable peace is to be arrived at, hostile, dogmatic attitudes on both sides may need to be eased out permanently. Ideally, both sides should see themselves as having a common future in a peacefully shared territory.

Peace groups and moderate opinion should be at centre stage on both sides of the divide in the region for the facilitation of such envisaged positive changes. The UN and democratic opinion worldwide should take it upon themselves to raise awareness among both communities on the need for a political solution. They should consider it incumbent upon themselves to work proactively with peace groups in the region.

The world is a vast distance from the stage when both parties to the conflict could even toy with the idea of reconciliation. Because reconciliation anywhere requires the relevant antagonists to begin by saying, ‘I am sorry for harming you.’ This is unthinkable currently, considering the enmity and acrimony that have built up over the years among the volatile sections of both communities.

However, relevant UN agencies and global democratic opinion could begin by convincing the warring sections that unless they cooperate and coexist, mutual annihilation could be their lot. Mindset changes of this kind are the only guarantors of lasting peace and mindset changes need to be worked on untiringly.

As this is being written, the ICJ is hearing representations from numerous countries on the Middle East situation. The opinions aired thus far are lopsided in that they do not present the Israeli viewpoint on the conflict. If a fair solution is to be arrived at to the conflict Israel’s concerns too would need to be taken into account expeditiously.

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Dubai scene brightening up for SL fashion designers

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Sri Lankans are lighting up the scene in Dubai, not only as musicians, but in other fields, as well.

At the recently held Ceylon Food Festival, in Dubai, a fashion show was held, with Sri Lankan designers doing the needful.

The fashion show highlighted the creations of Pubudu Jayasinghe, Tehani Rukshika and Peshala Rasanganee Wickramasuriya, in three different segments, with each designer assigned 10 models.

The fashion show was choreographed by Shashi Kaluarachchi, who won the Miss Supermodel Globe International 2020, held in India, and was 1st runner-up at the Mr., Miss and Mrs. Sri Lanka, in Dubai.

Shashi says she was trained by Brian Karkoven and his know-how gave her a good start to her modelling career.

She has done many fashions shows in Sri Lanka, as well as in Dubai, and has worked with many pioneers in the fashion designing field.

The designers involved in the fashion show, in Dubai, were:

Pubudu Jayasinghe,

a 22-year-old creative and skilled makeup artist and nail technician. With a wealth of experience gained from working in various salons and participating in makeup and fashion projects in both Dubai and Sri Lanka, he has honed his talents in the beauty industry. Passionate about fashion, Pubudu has also acquired knowledge and experience in fashion designing, modelling, and choreography, showcasing his multifaceted expertise in the dynamic world of fashion.

Tehani Rukshika,

who studied at St Joseph’s Girls School, Nugegoda, says she went to Dubai, where her mom works, and joined the Westford University in fashion designing faculty for her Masters. Her very first fashion show was a Sri Lankan cultural event, called ‘Batik’. “This was my first event, and a special one, too, as my mom was modelling an Arabic Batik dress.”

Shashi Kaluarachchi

Peshala Rasanganee Wickramasuriya

has been living in Dubai for the past 21 years and has a batik shop in Dubai, called 20Step.

According to Shashi, who is on vacation in Sri Lanka, at the moment, there will be more Sri Lankan fashion shows in Dubai, highlighting the creations of Sri Lankan designers.

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Features

A mask of DATES…

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Yes, another one of my favourites…dates, and they are freely available here, so you don’t need to go searching for this item. And they are reasonably priced, too.

Okay, readers, let’s do it…with dates, of course – making a mask that will leave your skin feeling refreshed, and glowing

To make this mask, you will need 03-04 dates, and 02 tablespoons of milk.

Remove the seeds and soak the dates, in warm milk, for about 20 minutes. This method will soften the dates and make them easier to blend.

After the 20 minutes is up, put the dates in a blender and blend until you have a smooth paste. Check to make sure there are no lumps, or chunks, left.

Add the 02 tablespoons of milk to the blended date paste and mix well.

Okay, now gently apply this mixture to your face, avoiding the eye area. Use your fingertips, or a clean brush, to evenly distribute the mask all over your face.

Once the mask is applied, find a comfortable place to sit, or lie down. Relax for about 15-20 minutes, allowing the mask to work its magic on your skin.

After the mentioned time has passed, rinse off the mask with lukewarm water. Gently massage your face while rinsing to exfoliate any dead skin cells.

After rinsing off the mask, pat dry your face with a soft towel, and then follow up with your favourite moisturizer to lock in the hydration and keep your skin moisturized.

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