It is heart rending to read the agonizing experiences some citizens, including the feeble elderly, undergo at certain vaccination centres in their attempt to get the anti-Covid vaccine. The letters of three readers from Colombo and Kotte on 28th February, 1st March and 5th vividly narrate the different chaotic experiences they had undergone.
In the first letter, the exasperated elder, living in Torrington Ave area, on hearing from a three-wheeler driver that the vaccine was being given at a centre close-by, had hurriedly gone there in the morning to be told that the vaccines were over. He had then proceeded to the MOH office only to be turned away. On hearing that it was being given at the Public Library, he had proceeded there to be told to bring a chit from the PHI of his area, by which time he had been so exhausted that he had abandoned his mission and returned home.
The letter from a disappointed elder, in Kotte, refers to the long queue at noon-time, when hundreds who had been kicking their heels, braving the hot sun for several hours, had to go away disappointed; as not only the vaccine but even the forms to be filled, too were over.
The third letter mentions the chaos caused by a hand-written notice at the vaccination centre, in a piece of writing resembling a draft of a grade 5 child, which resulted in several Grama Sevaka niladharis being inundated with calls from anxious citizens, enquiring whether they come within the particular area referred to. The ill-written notice, except for the slight touch of humour provided; had caused enough chaos and misery to the residents of the area. The following morning the people, who had called over at the Centre, in a state of uncertainty, had been sent away by the MOH staff after they had been in the queue for several hours, stating that the vaccination was limited to residents of only one particular Grama Sevaka division. It appears that the MOH staff who had not answered the phone calls from the public had posted a message on Facebook regarding the vaccination programme; presumably thinking that the Facebook is a more accessible medium to average citizens. It is certainly a mis-calculation to assume that the majority of people are smartphone users with Facebook availability. An office-aide on a three-wheeler with a loudspeaker could have been much more effective to convey the desired message to all residents in the area, and avoided the chaos which had resulted.
Chaotic situations are inevitable when programmes are not properly planned and publicized. Imagine the plight of elderly, feeble citizens who come mostly on hearsay (due to the lack of public announcements made either through a local official, such as the Grama Sevaka niladhari, or through a mobile public address system) who after hours of waiting are told that either the vaccine is limited to an age group such as 30-60 or are told half-way through the programme that the vaccines are over. Cannot the officers who are aware of the vaccine stocks available at the beginning of the day, announce at the very commencement the number which could be treated; make a head-count of the numbers in the queue, and politely request the rest to go away without sweating further in the sun.
Varying announcements made almost daily by different Government agencies engaged in the administration of the Corona-19 vaccine, are not clear enough for the anxious public to be aware as to (a) whether the vaccine is administered to all adults over 30, (b) whether it is administered to only the 30-60 age group, (c) whether senior citizens over 60 are to be left out or are eligible, (d) where it would be administered (e) and when.
In such interviews, while one day it is announced that all citizens, irrespective of age will be administered the vaccine, the following day, another announcement is made that citizens over 60 years of age will receive priority. On the third day we are made to understand that only the 30-60 age group will be administered the vaccine. All these are casual statements which do not carry the authenticity of official notifications. Cannot all the Government Agencies, engaged in this exercise, agree for only one single spokesman to announce the decisions which they agree on, which are of relevance to the public, such as the categories to be vaccinated, the places, times, etc.
The senior citizens, standing in queues, in the hot sun, for their turn, as shown in pictures in the newspapers and TV channels, belong to the age-group heavily dependent on medical pills to counter multifarious ailments which accompany old age, and who are physically unable to wait excessively long periods in a place. Is our society, so uncivilized, or our facilities so limited, that those in charge of vaccination centres, either in hospitals or other places. cannot display some mercy, and provide a couple of long benches or a few plastic chairs at least to the frail, feeble over 70s and over 80s, the majority of whom are depending on walking sticks and crutches even to proceed a couple of steps. Cannot such aged people be identified, checking the age from the NIC, if necessary, and separated may be in small batches of around 10, make them to be seated under a shade and dealt with on a priority basis. The younger age groups, waiting in the queues, will not be that inhuman to protest on such an arrangement being made to these elders, many of whom may be of their parental and sometimes their grand-parental ages.
These are elementary measures which could eliminate the chaos prevalent at some vaccination centres, and bring immense relief to the harassed public. They are measures which can be decided by officials with even average intelligence.
Geneva Debacle: Forging a Way Forward
By DHARSHAN WEERASEKERA
Alisdair Pal of Reuters says of the recent UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka, “the resolution allows the U.N. to “collect, consolidate, analyze and preserve information and evidence and develop possible strategies for future accountability….[it] is a “huge blow” to the Sri Lankan Government including President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.” (“What does the U.N. resolution mean for Sri Lanka, 24th March 2021, www.reuters.com)
To my knowledge, much of the commentary on the resolution follows a similar pattern, i.e. the focus is on what the resolution entails for Sri Lanka, but not the Council. It is vital to focus on this latter aspect in order to facilitate a future defence of Sri Lanka at the Council, and related international forums. In my opinion, the “Core Group” and the other nations that joined them in voting for the resolution, have destroyed the credibility of the UNHRC and thus the institution.
In this article, I focus on the “Core Group’ consisting of the U.K., Canada, Germany, North Macedonia and Montenegro that brought the resolution. I argue that the existence of such a group within the UNHRC makes a mockery of the principles and purposes behind the Council’s founding statutes, U.N. General Assembly resolution 60/251 and UNHRC resolution 5/1 (“Institution-building in the Human Rights Council”).
The UNHRC and the “Core Group”
The U.N. General Assembly created the Human Rights Council in March 2006 as a replacement for the U.N. Commission on Human Rights that had been functioning since 1993. Many people accused the Commission of having become too politicised and biased. Therefore, the “Charter” of the Council was formulated to ensure that the new institution would not follow its predecessor. Paragraph 4 of UNGA res. 60/251 states inter alia:
“The work of the Council shall be guided by the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity, constructive international dialogue and cooperation.”
Meanwhile, para 5 (e) states:
“[The Council shall] undertake a universal periodic review, based on objective and reliable information, of the fulfillment by each State of its human rights obligations and commitments in a manner which ensures universality of coverage and equal treatment with respect to all States; the review shall be a cooperative mechanism.”
To my knowledge, there is no other mention of a specific mechanism through which the Council should carry out its work. Therefore, it is reasonable to suppose that the framers envisioned that the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was the best means through which the institution could carry out its work while conforming to the principles enunciated in para 4.
To turn to the Council’s other founding statute—UNHRC resolution 5/1 of June 2007—Annex 1 of the resolution sets out detailed instructions in regard to the Universal Periodic Review. Para 1 of the annex states that the basis of the review shall be: a) the U.N. Charter, b) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, c) Human Rights instruments to which a State is a party and d) voluntary pledges and commitments by States.
Meanwhile, Para 2 states: “In addition to the above and given the complementary and mutually interrelated nature of human rights law and international humanitarian law, the review shall take into account applicable international humanitarian law.”
The fact that the instructions for the UPR include a mandate to look into humanitarian law issues, means that the framers envisioned that if a particular country is accused of violating humanitarian law, such matters could also be reviewed through the UPR mechanism. Therefore, the following question arises: If, as alleged by Sri Lanka’s critics there are rampant human rights abuses going on in this country or humanitarian law issues that remain unaddressed, then why could not these issues be taken up through the UPR process rather than through country-specific resolutions?
Neither UNGA res. 60/251 nor UNHRC res. 1/5 prohibit the Council from resorting to country-specific resolutions. However, reason and common sense suggest that where recourse to a country-specific resolution is made, it should be for an occasion or crisis of a magnitude or urgency that cannot normally be dealt with under the UPR. Otherwise, it makes no sense to have the UPR.
It necessarily follows that, if the Council determines that a crisis of a magnitude or urgency that cannot be addressed through the UPR exists in a particular country, such determination must also be made through an open, objective and impartial process of assessing and evaluating the relevant evidence, including by giving the accused country adequate time and opportunity to speak in its defence.
Now, let us turn to the “Core Group.” In this regard, one must consider three points. First, the “Core Group” is a self-appointed group and does not have a mandate either from the Government of Sri Lanka or any U.N. organ, including the UNHRC, to monitor the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.
Second, some members of the group, notably the U.K. and Canada, have domestic political reasons to involve themselves in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs. In regard to this, the following matters are relevant. First, there is a 2009 Wikileaks cable by an American diplomat to his bosses in Washington, detailing his conversations with the head of the Sri Lanka Desk at the British Foreign Office. He says inter alia:
“Waite said that much of HMG and ministerial attention to Sri Lanka is due to the “very vocal” Tamil Diaspora in the U.K., numbering over 300,000 … .He said that with elections in the horizon the Government is paying particular attention to Sri Lanka with [David] Miliband recently remarking to Waite that he was spending 60 percent of his time on at the moment on Sri Lanka.” (“Wikileaks: David Miliband championed aid to Sri Lanka to win votes of Tamils in U.K.” The Telegraph, 22nd January 2012)
Some people might object that the above happened when the Labour Party was in power, and now that the Conservatives have taken over things are different. However, the Conservatives are under just as much pressure to win Tamil votes, and this is proved among other things by the conduct of former PM David Cameron on his visit to Sri Lanka in November 2013 for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. No sooner had he landed, he gave a speech scolding then President Mahinda Rajapaksa for his treatment of the Tamils and was whisked off to Jaffna to commiserate with the folks there. This behaviour shocked even some English people. The well-known columnist Rod Liddel wrote derisively:
“Normally, when one is a guest in someone else’s country, it is incumbent to be polite, even deferential. But the prime minister is aware that this does not apply to Sri Lanka …. So, it is to David Cameron’s immense credit that he struck the right tone when addressing his Ceylonese jonny. It is the tone of a member of the Eton upper sixth addressing some errant fag who has failed to buff his shoes to the correct level of shine, through either incompetence or negligence.” Rod Liddel, “That is the President of Sri Lanka, PM, not one of your fags,” Times of London, 17-11-2013, www.thetimes.co.uk)
Meanwhile, in the recent past, the Conservative Party in its manifesto for the 2019 Parliamentary elections, had a clause calling for a “two-State solution” in Sri Lanka, and that clause was corrected only after stringent protest from the Sri Lankan Government. To repeat, the Conservative Party has just as much reason as Labour to court the Tamil vote, and it is reasonable to suppose that with the present action at the UNHRC, PM Boris Johnson and his cohorts have achieved a veritable “coup” in that regard.
To turn to Canada, Martin Collacott, a former Canadian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, writing in The National Post in 2005, says, “LTTE-friendly community leaders are willing to ensure that liberal candidates win votes in Tamil-heavy urban constituencies provided the Federal Government turns a blind eye to fundraising” (Martin Collacott, “Canada’s role in Tamil terror,” The National Post, 26-1-2005). In sum, the U.K and Canada have ulterior motives to be interested in Sri Lanka, and this makes the motives of the Core Group as such suspect.
Finally, to my knowledge, the “Core Group” has not submitted to the Council any report explaining that the purported human rights problems they see in Sri Lanka cannot be pursued through the Universal Periodic Review, and must instead be addressed through country-specific resolutions.
To accept what the Core Group has done is to accept that rich and powerful nations joined by poorer nations that they can coerce, cajole or influence, can decide by themselves that a particular country has a human rights “problem”, and proceed to take action against such nation at the UNHRC, without ever establishing before the Council that the “problem” of which they complain actually exists, and all the while violating the purposes and principles of the Council as well as the right to a fair hearing of the targeted nation. Sri Lankans must do everything in their power to hold the Core Group accountable for their actions.
Regulate sports in popular schools ahead of big matches
The Big Matches between popular schools in Colombo and main outstation cities are round the corner. In the past school sports was in the hands of former sportsmen and sportswomen who loved the game as well as their school. They devoted their time and money to coach the budding youth without any monetary gain for themselves.
But, see what has happened today. Sports coaches selected by the schools demand millions of rupees to coach the students. And this is readily agreed and paid by the school authorities. In the good old days the members of School teams were provided free meals during match days and also Sports equipment. But it is not so now. The school earn millions of rupees from big matches played for a duration of two, or three days in some cases, and this money could be utilised to buy the required cricket gear such as bats, pads gloves, boots, etc,. I understand a pair of cricket boots is in the region of Rs.18,000 to 25,000. Can a poor village lad who is enrolled to an affluent schools in Colombo, based on his performance in Education and Cricket afford this? These lads should be given all the support to continue in their respective sports rather than drop out due to financial constraints
Coaches in some schools are in the payroll of big-time businessmen whose children are, in the so called pools. Parents of children engaged in a particular sport should not be permitted to come in as sponsors as this would be rather unethical.
The Big Matches between popular boys schools are around the corner and I suggest that the Sports Ministry ensures performance based selections rather than on other criteria.
‘Post turtle’ revisited
I have written about this amusingly thought-provoking creature, the ‘post turtle’ to ‘The Island’ around three years ago (appeared in the opinion column of The Island newspaper on the 19th of June 2018, titled ‘The post turtle era’). The story, which I am sure most of you have heard/read already, is obviously not a creation of mine and I happened to come across it somewhere, sometime ago.
And for the benefit of those, who haven’t heard the story, it goes like this:
“While surturing a cut on the hand of an old Texas rancher, the doctor struck up a conversation with the old man. Eventually, the topic got around to politics and then they discussed some new guy, who was far too big for his shoes, as a politician.
The old rancher said, ‘Well, ya know he is a post turtle’. Not being familiar with the term, the doctor asked him what a ‘post turtle was’.
The old rancher said, ‘When you are driving down a country road and you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, well, that’s your ‘post turtle’.
The rancher saw a puzzled look on the doctor’s face, so he went on to explain. ‘You know, he didn’t get up there by himself, he doesn’t belong up there, he doesn’t know what to do while he is up there, and you just wonder what kind of a dumb ass put him up there in the first place’.”
Now I was having this nice, little siesta, the other day and suddenly there appeared ‘the turtle’ in front of me, sitting on a fence post, seemingly doing a precarious balancing act as the post itself was too high for it to give it a try to jump down to the ground. Not that it probably wanted to do it anyway for it looked quite contended and happy sitting there doing absolutely nothing. And no doubt some loyal and dumb all rolled into one, must have put him up there and been feeding it well too, for it looked quite contended and fat showing a thick head that kept turning to the left and then to the right, while its tongue kept on lolling out as if it was saying something, which must have been absolute gibberish and rubbish anyway.
What a fitting and symbolic representation,
I mean this ‘post turtle’, of the lot, or the majority of it sitting across ‘the oya’, I mused on after I woke up from my snooze.
Many of them get there thanks to the gullible voter, who while ticking the boxes, thinks: he/she will surely deliver the goods this time as promised!
And those two-legged post turtles inside the edifice, bordering the Diyawanna, like the one in the story, keep uttering sheer rubbish and spitting out incomprehensible mumbo jumbo, all in return with thanks to those, who tick the boxes in their favour.
Their statements such as ‘what is oxygen for, to eat?’, is just one among many such stupendously stupid utterances of theirs and I don’t want to tire you with the rest, for they are well known and far too many.
Now I have only one question for you before I end this:
When are we going stop being ‘those dumb asses’, once and for all?
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