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UNIQUE SRI LANKA LIBRARY

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by S. Skandakumar

A unique library on Sri Lanka, perhaps the only one of its kind overseas, exists in Melbourne, Australia. This library was begun by Victor Melder in 1968, when he migrated to Australia. Victor, who had only one book with him then, has today accumulated over 5,000 books, 2,000 magazines and journals and a collection of video and audio tapes all on Sri Lanka.

Victor, who grew up in a village in Peradeniya, states he has savoured village life to its fullest and attributes this to be the cause of his unpretentious love for his motherland. This love, admiration and respect for this beautiful island is something he wishes to share with everyone alike in Australia. This is what gave birth to the ‘Victor Melder Sri Lanka Library’, which today is used by many Australiawide, as a primary source of reference on Sri Lanka.

In 1968, Victor states many Australians were ignorant of Sri Lanka, most thought it to be a town in India, this annoyed him so much, that he knew he had to do something to set the record straight. He also wanted to make known its rich and diverse history, culture and social standing dating back over 2,500 years. He states, “I now knew why I was here, I had to get the message of Sri Lanka across”.

He was pleased when those around him at work and the neighbourhood began asking questions on Sri Lanka, and Victor states, “I could not answer them all, and so decided to get a book or two down from Sri Lanka which would assist me in this quest, and soon like an argument, where one word leads to another, one book led to another, which today is a unique library.

Over the last 48 years its popularity has grown, so much so, that queries on Sri Lanka come from every State in Australia. Victor proudly states that the Sri Lanka High Commission in Canberra often refers people to the library, for there among its collection lies an answer to every question. He describes it as a learning process, for he states, “I learn something new on Sri Lanka everyday whilst researching material for others”.

This large collection has been amassed with the help of friends both in Sri Lanka and Australia, for Victor has not been back to the land of his birth, since he arrived in Australia. With a trace of a smile on his face he states, “I cannot go back to a place I haven’t left”. I am here only physically, I’m there in spirit and still traverse those beaten tracks”. Like his father, Victor was an Engine Driver on the CGR and has traveled to most places around the island.

A number of friends in Sri Lanka would send me books etc, and those going back on holiday would contact me prior to going to check what books were needed to be brought back, and with the help of a few individuals in Sri Lanka who have donated books from time to time, the library has grown to what it is. Since Victor retired from the workforce 23 years ago, his ‘buying power’ has since dropped and he now relies on donations from individuals and organizations.

The library has its books classified into many headings, some of them being: History, Geography, Tourism, Politics, Religion, Culture, Language/Literature/Writing, Law, Sports, Poetry, Portugues/Dutch/British Periods, Economics, Art/Architecture, Dictionaries, Year Books/Commemmoratives, Agriculture, Education, Anthropology, Wildlife, Flora/Fauna, Cookery, Ethnic Conflict etc.

Students from Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Institutions use the library frequently. With Primary students, the ‘lesson’ begins with a giant map of Sri Lanka, which adorns the wall. Currently there are four Tertiary students using the library for research purposes for their dissertations and writings. A point in reference, 18 students accompanied by three teachers from Peninsula Grammar College, Mount Eliza, visited the library and spent the morning looking up references on Sri Lanka for a joint project on Sri Lanka they were working on.

Expatriate Sri Lankans too use the library, to keep in touch and also read the Sri Lanka Sunday newspapers

which are available in the library by noon on Monday. A number of NGO’s and quasi government departments also use the library services. Victor spends most of his day in the library, researching material on requests or preparing news summaries etc on Sri Lanka for the various Sri Lankan Organization newsletter’s Australiawide.

A number of authors writing books on Sri Lanka also keep Victor busy. He helped Paul Croucher, an Australian Buddhist who wrote “A History of Buddhism in Australia 1848-1988”. Currently two Australians are using the library for novels they are writing with a Sri Lankan background. A number of schools invite Victor to display Sri Lankan artifacts at their ‘open days’, he also visits schools, groups, clubs and organizations giving talks on Sri Lanka and also arranges video and slide displays.

Victor’s proudest possession is a copy of ‘Twentieth Century Impressions of Ceylon’, which was donated to the library by the Rev Galaboda Sri Gnanissara Thero of the Gangaramaya Temple, Colombo. Another is the entire lot of the Dutch Burgher Union journals issued since 1908 to date, in bound volumes. These journals, along with the indexes to the Wolvendaal Church, Baptism and Marriage records (which the library has), help those doing genealogical research into their family history. The library also has copies of two volumes of the Dutch Company Servants in Ceylon.

The services of the library are entirely free, the only charge levied on those writing a thesis or dissertation etc, is that a copy of their writings be lodged with the library, so that it would be of help to someone in the future.

This library, in its entirety, has been left by Victor in his Will to Melbourne’s Monash University, where it will not only be preserved for posterity but used by those seeking material and information on Sri Lanka.

In 1993, the Government of Sri Lanka bestowed on Victor the National Title ‘Sri Lanka Ranjana’, in recognition of his then 25 years meritorious service to Sri Lanka in Australia. This is something which Victor cherishes very much, for he states “to be honoured by one’s Motherland is the highest accolade a man can receive”.

Victor welcomes donations of book etc on Sri Lanka by any individual, organization or government departments. He assures everyone they are being put to good use and helping Sri Lanka in being better known. Sri Lanka seems to be in the news today for the wrong reason – the ethnic conflict that raged in the island. Sri Lanka is much more than that, he states and one has to get this message across. Sri Lanka has enough of knockers, she needs all those who are willing to support her and support her we must.

The library has its own website, which is easily accessible to those connected to the internet. The titles of the entire collection of books (5,000) in the library, have been catalogued online. Currently, the many articles contained in the many journals and magazines housed in the library are being catalogued, to make their contents easily accessible to all (almost 3,500 articles already catalogued). An up to date listing of all Sri Lankan Associations, Groups etc in Australia is also maintained on the website and is an easy point of reference to many.

For those wishing to contact Victor, his address: The Victor Melder Sri Lanka Library, 7 Benambra Street, Broadmeadows, Victoria 3047, Australia.

E-mail address: < melder.rjvm1935@bigpond.com > >Library Web site < www.vmsl-library.com >

(The writer served as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Canberra from Aug. 2015 to Apr. 2019)

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Features

Govt.’s choice is dialogue over confrontation

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By Jehan Perera

Preparing for the forthcoming UN Human Rights Council cannot be easy for a government elected on a nationalist platform that was very critical of international intervention. When the government declared its intention to withdraw from Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of the October 2015 resolution No. 30/1 last February, it may have been hoping that this would be the end of the matter. However, this is not to be. The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report that will be taken up at the forthcoming UNHRC session in March contains a slate of proposals that are severely punitive in nature and will need to be mitigated. These include targeted economic sanctions, travel bans and even the involvement of the International Criminal Court.

Since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s visit in May 2009 just a few days after the three-decade long war came to its bloody termination, Sri Lanka has been a regular part of the UNHRC’s formal discussion and sometimes even taking the centre stage. Three resolutions were passed on Sri Lanka under acrimonious circumstances, with Sri Lanka winning the very first one, but losing the next two. As the country became internationally known for its opposition to revisiting the past, sanctions and hostile propaganda against it began to mount. It was only after the then Sri Lankan government in 2015 agreed to co-sponsor a fresh resolution did the clouds begin to dispel.

Clearly in preparation for the forthcoming UNHRC session in Geneva in March, the government has finally delivered on a promise it made a year ago at the same venue. In February 2020 Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena sought to prepare the ground for Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from co-sponsorship of UN Human Rights Council resolution No 30/1 of 2015. His speech in Geneva highlighted two important issues. The first, and most important to Sri Lanka’s future, was that the government did not wish to break its relationships with the UN system and its mechanisms. He said, “Sri Lanka will continue to remain engaged with, and seek as required, the assistance of the UN and its agencies including the regular human rights mandates/bodies and mechanisms in capacity building and technical assistance, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies.”

Second, the Foreign Minister concluding his speech at the UNHRC session in Geneva saying “No one has the well-being of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural people of Sri Lanka closer to their heart, than the Government of Sri Lanka. It is this motivation that guides our commitment and resolve to move towards comprehensive reconciliation and an era of stable peace and prosperity for our people.” On that occasion the government pledged to set up a commission of inquiry to inquire into the findings of previous commissions of inquiry. The government’s action of appointing a sitting Supreme Court judge as the chairperson of a three-member presidential commission of inquiry into the findings and recommendations of earlier commissions and official bodies can be seen as the start point of its response to the UNHRC.

 

 

NEGATIVE RESPONSE

 

The government’s setting up of a Commission of Inquiry has yet to find a positive response from the international and national human rights community and may not find it at all. The national legal commentator Kishali Pinto Jayawardene has written that “the tasks encompassed within its mandate have already been performed by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC, 2011) under the term of this President’s brother, himself the country’s Executive President at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa.” Amnesty International has stated that “Sri Lanka has a litany of such failed COIs that Amnesty International has extensively documented.” It goes on to quote from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that “Domestic processes have consistently failed to deliver accountability in the past and I am not convinced the appointment of yet another Commission of Inquiry will advance this agenda. As a result, victims remain denied justice and Sri Lankans from all communities have no guarantee that past patterns of human rights violations will not recur.”

It appears that the government intends its appointment of the COI to meet the demand for accountability in regard to past human rights violations. Its mandate includes to “Find out whether preceding Commissions of Inquiry and Committees which have been appointed to investigate into human rights violations, have revealed any human rights violations, serious violations of the international humanitarian law and other such serious offences.” In the past the government has not been prepared to accept that such violations took place in a way that is deserving of so much of international scrutiny. Time and again the point has been made in Sri Lanka that there are no clean wars fought anywhere in the world.

International organisations that stands for the principles of international human rights will necessarily be acting according to their mandates. These include seeking the intervention of international judicial mechanisms or seeking to promote hybrid international and national joint mechanisms within countries in which the legal structures have not been successful in ensuring justice. The latter was on the cards in regard to Resolution 30/1 from which the government withdrew its co-sponsorship. The previous government leaders who agreed to this resolution had to publicly deny any such intention in view of overwhelming political and public opposition to such a hybrid mechanism. The present government has made it clear that it will not accept international or hybrid mechanisms.

 

 

SEQUENTIAL IMPLEMENATION

 

In the preamble to the establishment of the COI the government has made some very constructive statements that open up the space for dialogue on issues of accountability, human rights and reconciliation. It states that “the policy of the Government of Sri Lanka is to continue to work with the United Nations and its Agencies to achieve accountability and human resource development for achieving sustainable peace and reconciliation, even though Sri Lanka withdrew from the co-sponsorship of the aforesaid resolutions” and further goes on to say that “the Government of Sri Lanka is committed to ensure that, other issues remain to be resolved through democratic and legal processes and to make institutional reforms where necessary to ensure justice and reconciliation.”

As the representative of a sovereign state, the government cannot be compelled to either accept international mechanisms or to prosecute those it does not wish to prosecute. At the same time its willingness to discuss the issues of accountability, justice and reconciliation as outlined in the preamble can be considered positively. The concept of transitional justice on which Resolution No 30/1 was built consists of the four pillars of truth, accountability, reparations and institutional reform. There is international debate on whether these four pillars should be implemented simultaneously or whether it is acceptable that they be implemented sequentially depending on the country context.

The government has already commenced the reparations process by establishing the Office for Reparations and to allocate a monthly sum of Rs 6000 to all those who have obtained Certificates of Absence (of their relatives) from the Office of Missing Persons. This process of compensation can be speeded up, widened and improved. It is also reported that the government is willing to consider the plight of suspected members of the LTTE who have been in detention without trial, and in some cases without even being indicted, for more than 10 years. The sooner action is taken the better. The government can also seek the assistance of the international community, and India in particular, to develop the war affected parts of the country on the lines of the Marshall Plan that the United States utilized to rebuild war destroyed parts of Europe. Member countries of the UNHRC need to be convinced that the government’s actions will take forward the national reconciliation process to vote to close the chapter on UNHRC resolution 30/1 in March 2021.

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Features

Album to celebrate 30 years

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Rajiv Sebastian had mega plans to celebrate 30 years, in showbiz, and the plans included concerts, both local and foreign. But, with the pandemic, the singer had to put everything on hold.

However, in order to remember this great occasion, the singer has done an album, made up of 12 songs, featuring several well known artistes, including Sunil of the Gypsies.

All the songs have been composed, very specially for this album.

Among the highlights will be a duet, featuring Rajiv and the Derena DreamStar winner, Andrea Fallen.

Andrea, I’m told, will also be featured, doing a solo spot, on the album.

Rajiv and his band The Clan handle the Friday night scene at The Cinnamon Grand Breeze Bar, from 07.30 pm, onwards.

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Features

LET’S DO IT … in the new normal

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The local showbiz scene is certainly brightening up – of course, in the ‘new normal’ format (and we hope so!)

Going back to the old format would be disastrous, especially as the country is experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases, and the Western Province is said to be high on the list of new cases.

But…life has to go on, and with the necessary precautions taken, we can certainly enjoy what the ‘new normal’ has to offer us…by way of entertainment.

Bassist Benjy, who leads the band Aquarius, is happy that is hard work is finally bringing the band the desired results – where work is concerned.

Although new to the entertainment scene, Aquarius had lots of good things coming their way, but the pandemic ruined it all – not only for Aquarius but also for everyone connected with showbiz.

However, there are positive signs, on the horizon, and Benjy indicated to us that he is enthusiastically looking forward to making it a happening scene – wherever they perform.

And, this Friday night (January 29th), Aquarius will be doing their thing at The Show By O, Mount Lavinia – a beach front venue.

Benjy says he is planning out something extra special for this particular night.

“This is our very first outing, as a band, at The Show By O, so we want to make it memorable for all those who turn up this Friday.”

The legendary bassist, who lights up the stage, whenever he booms into action, is looking forward to seeing music lovers, and all those who missed out on being entertained for quite a while, at the Mount Lavinia venue, this Friday.

“I assure you, it will be a night to be remembered.”

Benjy and Aquarius will also be doing their thing, every Saturday evening, at the Darley rd. Pub & Restaurant, Colombo 10.

In fact, they were featured at this particular venue, late last year, but the second wave of Covid-19 ended their gigs.

Also new to the scene – very new, I would say – is Ishini and her band, The Branch.

Of course, Ishini is a singer of repute, having performed with Mirage, but as Ishini and The Branch, they are brand new!

Nevertheless, they were featured at certain five-star venues, during the past few weeks…of their existence.

 

 

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