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TNA gets it wrong

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by Neville Ladduwahetty

 

A report in The Island of March 8, 2021, referring to a statement made by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) relating to Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena’s UNHRC speech, states: “Sri Lanka has not conducted any investigations to ascertain the truth and dispense justice. Anything done to ascertain the truth has been through the investigations highlighted in the PoE Report of March 2011, or the OISL Report of September 2015. No steps have been taken to dispense justice even on the basis of the said investigations”.

The notion that the UNSG appointed Panel of Experts (PoE) conducted investigations to “ascertain the truth” is incorrect, by the admission made in the Executive Summary of the Report by the PoE.

 

UNSG Appointed PANEL of EXPERTS

The Executive Summary of Report by the PoE states: “The Panel’s mandate however does not extend to fact-finding or investigation. The Panel analyzed information from a variety of sources in order to characterize the extent of the allegations, assess which of the allegations are credible, based on the information at hand, and appraise them legally. The Panel determined an allegation to be credible if there was a reasonable basis to believe that the underlying act or event occurred…. Allegations are considered as credible in this report only when based on primary sources that the Panel deemed relevant and trustworthy. In its legal assessment the Panel proceeded from the long-settled premise of international law that during and armed conflict such as that in Sri Lanka, both international humanitarian law and international human rights law are applicable. The Panel applied the rules of International humanitarian and human rights law to the credible allegations involving both of the primary actors in the war, that is the Liberation of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Government of Sri Lanka”.

Having stated in the Executive Summary that the applicability of both international humanitarian and human rights laws during an armed conflict is based on the “long-settled premise of international law, the PoE in the body of its Report states: “There is no doubt that an internal armed conflict was being waged in Sri Lanka with the requisite intensity during the period that the Panel examined. As a result, international humanitarian law is the law against which to measure the conduct of both government and the LTTE”. It is therefore clear that as far as the PoE is concerned, the only applicable law should be International Humanitarian Law, notwithstanding the “long settled premise” that both IHL and IHRL apply during an armed conflict.

 

THE OISL REPORT

The TNA statement also refers to “investigations highlighted” in the OISL Report.

According to their Report, the “OISL’s mandate derives from Human Rights Council Resolution 25/1 which required OHCHR to ‘undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka …” (Paragraph 4)

Methodology

Despite the mandate being to “undertake a comprehensive investigation” the Methodology used was ONLY a desk review of existing information as stated in Paragraph 20 of the OISL Report.

Paragraph 20: “In view of the extensive documentation already available on the period covered by the OISL investigation the team initially carried out a desk review of existing material including Government publications, international and Sri Lankan NGO’s/civil society reports, the report of LLRC and other commissions, audio-visual material and satellite images, reports of the United Nations Special Procedures and treaty bodies”.

Paragraph 21: “In the course of its work, OISL has received and gathered information from many sources with knowledge of human rights cases and issues in Sri Lanka, including parties to the conflict, as well as United Nations officials and staff members, civil society organizations, forensic medical doctors, international NGOs, human rights defenders and other professionals….”

Paragraph 22: “Another key source of information was the United Nations Secretary General’s Panel of Experts… As custodian of the Panel’s archives, the High Commissioner officially authorized OISL to access the documentation contained in the archives, requiring it to adhere strictly to confidentiality guidelines….”.

 

Confidentiality

Paragraph 25: “Details which could reveal the identity of victims or witnesses such as names, dates and places have been omitted in many cases described in the report in order to ensure that the victims, witnesses and their families cannot be identified”.

 

SUMMARY

It is therefore abundantly clear from the foregoing admissions that both the PoE and the Office of the High Commissioner did NOT undertake any investigations of a nature that would enable establishing the truth in order to dispense justice. All that they did was to “gather information” (Paragraph 21) and do a “desk review” (Paragraph 20) of existing statements. However, the authenticity of these recorded statements cannot be verified because “the identity of victims or witnesses such as names, dates and places have been omitted” for reasons of confidentiality (Paragraph 25). In such a background, for the TNA to state that “No steps have been taken to dispense justice even on the basis of the said investigations” is to lay charges without understanding the limited methodologies adopted by PoE and the OISL.

 

CONCLUSION

The stark reality is that both the UNSG appointed Panel of Experts and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights by their own admissions did NOT carry out “investigations” of any kind to ascertain the truth. Instead, what both did was to record statements from so called “primary sources” and characterize those allegations that “the Panel deemed relevant and trustworthy”, as being credible. The fact that the approach adopted by both parties is highly subjective is not in doubt, and because of it, establishing the truth requires investigations. Such investigations should entail having to engage with the victims and witnesses who provided the material on which the allegations were based. Since such engagements are not possible due to non-disclosure of identity of victims and witnesses on grounds of confidentiality under Paragraph 25 cited above, the investigations needed to establish the truth cannot be conducted.

In such a background, it is next to impossible to establish the truth because even if access to the recorded statements and other material, which at present is accessible only to the UNHRC, verifying its authenticity is not possible due to the inability to engage with the victims and/or the witnesses for reasons of confidentiality. Under the circumstances, Sri Lanka cannot be held solely responsible for establishing the truth. Instead, it becomes a joint responsibility because the reason for the persistent lack of accountability that Sri Lanka is being charged with is because of the constraints imposed on the process by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, by way of not having access to the evidence and the primary sources of that evidence, without which it would NOT be possible to engage in an investigation that reaches the threshold of accountability. For the core-group to comment on the “persistent lack of accountability of domestic mechanisms”, reflects a refusal to appreciate what is at stake in respect of the challenges involved as a result of a imposed constraints.

The challenge is that an impartial investigation has to go beyond credible allegations; evidence is needed and there has to be access to those who gave the evidence in order to establish the authenticity of that evidence. Both are denied due to the practices adopted by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Therefore, the entire approach to accountability has to be revisited if the truth is to be found in order to dispense justice.



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Features

Strong on vocals

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The group Mirage is very much alive, and kicking, as one would say!

Their lineup did undergo a few changes and now they have decided to present themselves as an all male group – operating without a female vocalist.

At the helm is Donald Pieries (drums and vocals), Trevin Joseph (percussion and vocals), Dilipa Deshan (bass and vocals), Toosha Rajarathna (keyboards and vocals), and Sudam Nanayakkara (lead guitar and vocals).

The plus factor, where the new lineup is concerned, is that all five members sing.

However, leader Donald did mention that if it’s a function, where a female vocalist is required, they would then feature a guest performer.

Mirage is a very experience outfit and they now do the Friday night scene at the Irish Pub, in Colombo, as well as private gigs.

 

 

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Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year

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Ushered in by the ‘coo-ee’ of the Koel and the swaying of Erabadu bunches, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year will dawn in the wee hours of April 14. With houses to clean, preparation of sweetmeats and last-minute shopping, times are hectic…. and the streets congested.

It is believed that New Year traditions predated the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. But Buddhism resulted in a re-interpretation of the existing New Year activities in a Buddhist light. Hinduism has co-existed with Buddhism over millennia and no serious contradiction in New Year rituals are observed among Buddhists and Hindus.

The local New Year is a complex mix of Indigenous, Astrological, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. Hindu literature provides the New Year with its mythological backdrop. The Prince of Peace called Indradeva is said to descend upon the earth to ensure peace and happiness, in a white carriage wearing on his head a white floral crown seven cubits high. He first plunges, into a sea of milk, breaking earth’s gravity.

The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. Astrologically, the New Year begins when the sun moves from the House of Pisces (Meena Rashiya) to the House of Aries (Mesha Rashiya) in the celestial sphere.

The New Year marks the end of the harvest season and spring. Consequently, for farming communities, the traditional New Year doubles as a harvest as well. It also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. The month of Bak, which coincides with April, according to the Gregorian calendar, represents prosperity. Astrologers decide the modern day rituals based on auspicious times, which coincides with the transit of the Sun between ‘House of Pisces’ and ‘House of Aries’.

Consequently, the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart, during the time of transit. This period is considered Nonegathe, which roughly translates to ‘neutral period’ or a period in which there are no auspicious times. During the Nonegathe, traditionally, people are encouraged to engage themselves in meritorious and religious activities, refraining from material pursuits. This year the Nonegathe begin at 8.09 pm on Tuesday, April 13, and continues till 8.57 am on 14. New Year dawns at the halfway point of the transit, ushered in bythe sound of fire crackers, to the woe of many a dog and cat of the neighbourhood. Cracker related accidents are a common occurrence during new year celebrations. Environmental and safety concerns aside, lighting crackers remain an integral part of the celebrations throughout Sri Lanka.

This year the Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawns on Wednesday, April 14, at 2.33 am. But ‘spring cleaning’ starts days before the dawn of the new year. Before the new year the floor of houses are washed clean, polished, walls are lime-washed or painted, drapes are washed, dried and rehang. The well of the house is drained either manually or using an electric water pump and would not be used until such time the water is drawn for first transaction. Sweetmeats are prepared, often at homes, although commercialization of the new year has encouraged most urbanites to buy such food items. Shopping is a big part of the new year. Crowds throng to clothing retailers by the thousands. Relatives, specially the kids, are bought clothes as presents.

Bathing for the old year takes place before the dawn of the new year. This year this particular auspicious time falls on April 12, to bathe in the essence of wood apple leaves. Abiding by the relevant auspicious times the hearth and an oil lamp are lit and pot of milk is set to boil upon the hearth. Milk rice, the first meal of the year, is prepared separate. Entering into the first business transaction and partaking of the first meal are also observed according to the given auspicious times. This year, the auspicious time for preparing of meals, milk rice and sweets using mung beans, falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 6.17 am, and is to be carried out dressed in light green, while facing east. Commencement of work, transactions and consumption of the first meal falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 7.41 am, to be observed while wearing light green and facing east.

The first transaction was traditionally done with the well. The woman of the house would draw water from the well and in exchange drop a few pieces of charcoal, flowers, coins, salt and dried chillies into the well, in certain regions a handful of paddy or rice is also thrown in for good measure. But this ritual is also dying out as few urban homes have wells within their premises. This is not a mere ritual and was traditionally carried out with the purification properties of charcoal in mind. The first water is preferably collected into an airtight container, and kept till the dawn of the next new year. It is believed that if the water in the container does not go down it would be a prosperous year. The rituals vary slightly based on the region. However, the essence of the celebrations remains the same.

Anointing of oil is another major ritual of the New Year celebrations. It falls on Saturday, April 17 at 7.16 am, and is done wearing blue, facing south, with nuga leaves placed on the head and Karada leaves at the feet. Oil is to be applied mixed with extracts of Nuga leaves. The auspicious time for setting out for professional occupations falls on Monday, April 19 at 6.39 am, while dressed in white, by consuming a meal of milk rice mixed with ghee, while facing South.

Traditionally, women played Raban during this time, but such practices are slowly being weaned out by urbanization and commercialisation of the New Year. Neighbours are visited with platters of sweetmeats, bananas, Kevum (oil cake) and Kokis (a crispy sweetmeat) usually delivered by children. The dichotomy of the urban and village life is obvious here too, where in the suburbs and the village outdoor celebrations are preferred and the city opts for more private parties.

 

 

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New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations

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Food, games and rituals make a better part of New Year celebrations. One major perk of Avurudu is the festivals that are organised in each neighbourhood in its celebration. Observing all the rituals, like boiling milk, partaking of the first meal, anointing of oil, setting off to work, are, no doubt exciting, but much looked-forward-to is the local Avurudu Uthsawaya.

Avurudu Krida or New Year games are categorised as indoor and outdoor games. All indoor games are played on the floor and outdoor games played during the Avurudu Uthsava or New Year festival, with the whole neighbourhood taking part. Some of the indoor games are Pancha Dameema, Olinda Keliya and Cadju Dameema. Outdoor games include Kotta pora, Onchili pedeema, Raban geseema, Kana mutti bindeema, Placing the eye on the elephant, Coconut grating competition, Bun-eating competition, Lime-on-spoon race, Kamba adeema (Tug-o-War) and Lissana gaha nageema (climbing the greased pole). And what’s an Avurudhu Uthsava sans an Avurudu Kumari pageant, minus the usual drama that high profile beauty pageants of the day entail, of course.

A salient point of New Year games is that there are no age categories. Although there are games reserved for children such as blowing of balloons, races and soft drinks drinking contests, most other games are not age based.

Kotta pora aka pillow fights are not the kind the average teenagers fight out with their siblings, on plush beds. This is a serious game, wherein players have to balance themselves on a horizontal log in a seated position. With one hand tied behind their back and wielding the pillow with the other, players have to knock the opponent off balance. Whoever knocks the opponent off the log first, wins. The game is usually played over a muddy pit, so the loser goes home with a mud bath.

Climbing the greased pole is fun to watch, but cannot be fun to take part in. A flag is tied to the end of a timber pole-fixed to the ground and greased along the whole length. The objective of the players is to climb the pole, referred to as the ‘tree’, and bring down the flag. Retrieving the flag is never achieved on the first climb. It takes multiple climbers removing some of the grease at a time, so someone could finally retrieve the flag.

Who knew that scraping coconut could be made into an interesting game? During the Avurudu coconut scraping competition, women sit on coconut scraper stools and try to scrape a coconut as fast as possible. The one who finishes first wins. These maybe Avurudu games, but they are taken quite seriously. The grated coconut is inspected for clumps and those with ungrated clumps are disqualified.

Coconut palm weaving is another interesting contest that is exclusive to women. However men are by no means discouraged from entering such contests and, in fact, few men do. Participants are given equally measured coconut fronds and the one who finishes first wins.

Kana Mutti Bindima involves breaking one of many water filled clay pots hung overhead, using a long wooden beam. Placing the eye on the elephant is another game played while blindfolded. An elephant is drawn on a black or white board and the blindfolded person has to spot the eye of the elephant. Another competition involves feeding the partner yoghurt or curd while blindfolded.

The Banis-eating contest involves eating tea buns tied to a string. Contestants run to the buns with their hands tied behind their backs and have to eat buns hanging from a string, on their knees. The one who finishes his or her bun first, wins. Kamba adeema or Tug-o-War pits two teams against each other in a test of strength. Teams pull on opposite ends of a rope, with the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull.

Participants of the lime-on-spoon race have to run a certain distance while balancing a lime on a spoon, with the handle in their mouths. The first person to cross the finish line without dropping the lime wins. The sack race and the three-legged race are equally fun to watch and to take part in. In the sack race, participants get into jute sacks and hop for the finish line. The first one over, wins. In the three-legged race one leg of each pair of participants are tied together and the duo must reach the finish line by synchronising their running, else they would trip over their own feet.

Pancha Dameema is an indoor game played in two groups, using five small shells, a coconut shell and a game board. Olinda is another indoor board game, normally played by two players. The board has nine holes, four beads each. The player who collects the most number of seeds win.

This is the verse sung while playing the game:

“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,

Olinda thibenne bangali dese…

Genath hadanne koi koi dese,

Genath hadanne Sinhala dese…”

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