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‘Untold history of Sri Lanka’s Independence’ – a reply

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Independence Day Celebrations

Further to Uditha Devapriya’s fascinating article on the untold history of Sri Lanka’s independence, one claim in the paper bears further investigation. The author contends that after 1915 the Buddhist revival faded away. In reality, was it not the case that the revival was complete and the patient was fit and well? As the eminent Buddhist nationalist leader, W A de Silva, wrote in his paper History of Buddhism in Ceylon (1931): ‘Today within fifty years of this revival the disabilities which the Buddhists had to face have disappeared. A conscience clause as regards religious teaching has been introduced in all schools as a condition of receipt of government grants. Officers and honours do not go according to religious beliefs. The voice of Buddhism is as strong in public affairs as the voice of other religious persuasions.

The controversies between Buddhists and Christians have ceased. There is a marked mutual respect and tolerance between all religious workers. The Buddhists and Christians join in social and welfare work and religious peace is evident throughout the country….Buddhist religious activity is  alive today as it was at any time in the history of the island’.

Dr R P Fernando
Epsom
UK



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Opinion

Full implementation of 13A: Final solution to ‘national problem’ or end of unitary state? – Part IV

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By Kalyananda Tiranagama
Executive Director

Lawyers for Human Rights and Development

(Part III of this article appeared in The Island yesterday (28 Sept. 2023)

President Jayewardene stands up against Ranil Wickremesinghe

President J. R. Jayewardene, on the occasion of the Opening of Parliament on 20 Feb., 1986 said: ‘‘Permit me to speak on the government’s attempts since 1977 to seek a political solution to the problems arising in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

‘‘Our first attempt to do so was outlined in the UNP Election Manifesto of 1977. These proposals were prepared in consultation with some of the TULF MPs at that time. I have in my Address to Hon. Members on 23rd February 1984 outlined the steps taken to implement them as follows:

‘‘Since 1977 the government has made Tamil a National Language in the Constitution; amended rules governing entrance to universities and removed any racial bias governing those rules; removed the regulations prescribing racial considerations governing entry to the Public Services and promotion in the services.

‘‘District Councils have been created and District Ministers appointed. The TULF accepted them and worked for them for two years and contested elections. Last year they withdrew from them as sufficient powers and finance had not been allotted to them.

‘‘The search for a political solution was the profound concern of the government of SL. It was this commitment to reach a peaceful solution to the problem that led SL to take the unprecedented step on the part of any Sovereign State of sending her accredited representatives to explore the possibility of reaching a settlement at two Conferences held in Thimpu, Bhutan in August 1985 … arranged with the Tamil groups through the good offices of India.

‘‘However, neither the TULF nor the groups who attended these talks showed any serious inclination to discuss any of the proposals placed before them by the Govt. of SL. Their final response was an outright rejection of the government proposals and an invitation to the Govt. of SL to make new proposals that would accord with the so-called cardinal principles which they enunciated, which were no more than a re-statement of the demand for Eelam.

‘‘On 12th July 1985 the 6 Tamil groups made a statement of the ‘Four Principles’ on which they were working. On 13th August 1985 the leader of the SL Delegation, Dr. H.W. Jayewardene responded to it with a statement on the ‘Four Principles’ mentioned by the Tamil groups.

‘‘He dealt with the (i) recognition of the Tamils as a distinct nationality, (ii) a separate homeland and (iii) self-determination for the Tamils; and (iv) the linkage of the Northern and Eastern Provinces as a reaffirmation of the demand for a separate state and could not be the subject of discussion and acceptance by the SL govt.

‘‘The SL delegation also submitted an outline of the structure of the sub-national units of a Participatory System of Governance on 16th August, but this too was not considered by the Tamil groups though it indicated areas on which discussion and agreement were possible.

‘‘The Accord reached in Thimpu and New Delhi were to be the basis of any future discussions. Such discussion would not reopen the Four Principles mentioned earlier in any form whatsoever. This was the basis of the understanding of both the Govts of India and Sri Lanka ….

There are certain principles which we cannot depart from arriving at a solution. We cannot barter away the unity of Sri Lanka, its democratic institutions, the right of every citizen in this country whatever his race, religion, or caste to consider the whole Island as his Homeland, enjoying equal rights, constitutionally, politically, socially, in education and employment are equally inviolable.”

“At present the Sri Lanka Tamils are in a minority in the Eastern Province while the Sinhalese and the Muslims together constitute nearly sixty per cent of the population. Since the Sri Lanka Tamils constitute more than ninety per cent of the population in the Northern Province, the object of the amalgamation of the North and the East is clear – the Sri Lanka Tamils will after amalgamation become the majority group in the combined unit of administration. Once the amalgamation is achieved the concept of the traditional homeland of the Tamils which has been a corner-stone of agitation in the post-independence period will be revived as this is the only ground on which the T.U.L.F.

denies the legitimate rights of the Sinhala people to become settlers in the Northern and Eastern provinces. Nor does the traditional homelands theory recognise any rights for the Muslims either except as an attenuated minority in the amalgamated territory. So, on the one hand while professing to urge the case for all Tamil speaking people in fact the T.U.L.F. is covertly seeking to secure the extensive areas for development, especially under the accelerated Mahaweli Program, for exploitation by the Sri Lankan Tamils alone. This in short is the duplicitous motivation behind the demand for amalgamation.

‘’ Quite candidly, the Sinhala people do not regard the demand for the amalgamation of the Northern and Eastern Provinces as a bona fide claim but as one motivated by an ulterior purpose, namely, as a first step towards the creation of a separate state comprising these two Provinces. The recent outrages by Tamil terrorists against the Sinhala civilian population settled in the North and East killing vast numbers of them, ravaging their homesteads and making thousands of them refugees in their own land has only made their apprehensions seem more real than ever before.

Even the most naive of people could not expect a single Sinhalese to go back to the North and/or East if the maintenance of law and order within those areas becomes the exclusive preserve of the political leaders and patrons of the very terrorists who chased them out. Could one for instance expect the survivors of Namalwatta to go back to their village if the leader of the Tamil Terrorist gang that murdered their families is the A S.P. of the area? Not only would those poor refugees not go back but those Sinhalese, including those in Ampara and Trincomalee, who are still living in the North and East, would necessarily leave their lands and flee to the South, if these proposals are implemented.”

These proposals are totally unacceptable. If they are implemented, the T. U. L. F. would have all but attained Eelam. It need hardly be said that even if the demand for a Tamil Linguistic State is granted, further problems and conflicts are bound to arise between that Tamil Linguistic State of the North and East and the Centre. Water, hydropower and the apportioning of funds are some of the areas in which conflicts could arise. A cause or pretext for a conflict on which to base a unilateral declaration of independence could easily be found.

There can be little doubt that what T.U.L.F. seeks to achieve by its demands is the necessary infrastructure for a State of Eelam, after which a final putsch could be made for the creation of a State of Eelam, comprising not only of the North and East, but of at least the hill country and the NCP as well.” (quoted in the Judgement of Wanasundara J in the 13th Amendment Case, Pp. 377 – 379)

With all our criticism of JR for the harmful consequences the country had to face with his open economy and executive presidency introduced after 1977, from the above statement it clearly appears that JR was not a traitor to this country, but a patriot who had some genuine concern for the country and its people. He had the wisdom to see through the danger posed to the very existence of this country as a unitary state by giving into unreasonable and crafty demands of the Tamil political leaders in the North-East.

President Jayewardene not only refused to accept these proposals of the TULF and other Tamil groups; he was not even prepared to discuss them. His firm response was that they are totally unacceptable.

(To be continued)

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Opinion

Will RW go ahead with online security bill?

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by SALIYA WEERAKOON
and Prof. ALEX LIN CHEE LOK

In 1914, Cambridge-educated D. R Wijewardena, arguably one of the most recognised entrepreneurs in the country, bought the Sinhala daily Dinamina. History also records that he purchased the English daily, Ceylon Daily News, in 1917. Consequently, Wijewardena is known as the press baron of the pre-independence of Ceylon. He fought for Independence from the colonial masters and was an early mover of the organised press. His son-in-law, Esmond Wickremesinghe, often referred to as one of the best political strategists in the recent history of Sri Lanka, masterminded the editorials of Lake House, the D. R. Wijewardena newspaper group.

Due to one person, even in 2023, the above names are still relevant in the media. He is Ranil Wickremesinghe, the eighth executive president of Sri Lanka. The grandson of DRW and son of EW has a deep understanding of the media business. It is, therefore, an irony that under his presidency, a new online security bill has surfaced. There is an uproar against the bill as, on the face of it, it is Draconian. There is little or no defence for the bill.

No doubt, the bill is lengthy and well-crafted. However, it is less than pragmatic, given how the internet and online world operate. Our view is that it is one-sided. Much more should be factored in if the government earnestly and with good-faith wishes to implement a bill of this nature that affects society so broadly.

Since he entered parliamentary politics in 1977, President Wickremesinghe has held all conceivable positions to have a rounded perspective of the country at large. Since 1994, he has received continuous attacks from politicians, civil society and the media. Even his family newspapers mercilessly attacked him without a pause. A man who withstood all these attacks does not have to be in a hurry to implement such a significant bill, especially when a presidential election is on the horizon. This bill seeks to grant a five-member committee appointed by the President sweeping powers to decide what is wrong and right. In a country known for gossip, lies, manipulation, corruption and nepotism, it is a recipe for disaster to enforce a bill of this nature. Imagine an executive president like President Maithripala Sirisena, whose character, integrity, and intelligence were doubtful to begin with, deciding right from wrong.  President Wickremesinghe should know this better than most. If Mahinda Rajapaksa had been given the power to determine what’s right or wrong, many would have been in jail by now!

Will President Wickremesinghe sanction this bill? Or, will he use this opportunity to emerge as the champion of free speech?  He is capable of both, as he plays his cards close to the chest all the time.

There are many defences for an online security bill. National security, pornography, blackmailing, character assassination, corporate espionage, media ethics, Ponzi schemes, and the list goes on. Sri Lanka has a history of all of the above. The recent pyramid schemes were promoted and activated online. Thousands of people lost billions in total. Given the country’s problems pertaining to national security, it is essential to keep a tab of the online space. Sri Lanka has earned notoriety for fake news. Sri Lankans love gossip, rumours, half-truths and lies. What most of the Sri Lankans don’t like is hearing the truth.

Forget the online activity, and consider how much mainstream media has propagated lies and fake news. Word of mouth is still the most terrific news tool in the country. There are many cases of fake news that end up in character assassination against not only political leaders but also ordinary citizens. In a country that has seen so much bloodshed, especially over the last 40 years, many have damaged minds. Suicide rate is at an all-time high, and the recent economic downfall has made people extremely vulnerable.

Understanding the digital media landscape in Sri Lanka is difficult. National security is of utmost importance. Providing a safe place for the public is essential. This could have been the underlying factor for this bill unless the government had a sinister plan to switch off public opinion. The country’s Constitution protects the freedom of expression under Chapter 3, section 14. The online security bill can be contested easily in the Supreme Court, and indeed, interested parties will move the courts to stand against this bill.

Online media, in one form, is an outlet to let go of frustration and anger. Why wouldn’t people be frustrated and angry, given how this country has been run since 1948? As one of the oldest democracies, Sri Lanka should allow decent public discourse. The public should have an opinion. The proposed online bill will fail even in a developed country with strict application of laws. However, we are confident that this bill will not be able to be implemented in the present form. If the existing system and regulations have been flawed over the years, we don’t see how this bill can be enforced. There are practical and technical issues of the proposed legislation as well. The global digital platforms cannot understand what is right or wrong. Right or wrong is highly subjective and all based on individual agendas or intelligence levels and life experiences.

Bills of this nature appear everywhere for governments that want to control the conversations. It is inevitable as the media proliferates.

George Orwell in 1949 wrote the book ‘1984’. He was talking about Big Brother watching all, and it was prophetic. It was a science fiction but now a reality.  The proposed online security bill goes way beyond Big Brother watching. In a country which lacks transparency and integrity, the system should not try extreme measures of this. The context is essential, and the government should open up public discourse and defend this case if they are accurate to the course.

Politically, such bills are often used to suppress online voices. It advantages the ruling group often but is disguised as protection for the weak (who usually are not online).

If a country has a workable criminal law, and the government understands the technology, then all such “crimes” can be prosecuted under the existing legal framework. There is no need for additional bills or bureaucracies.

Of course, the ability to investigate (i.e., understand the technology and access the data from the Telco) is critical to the policing of the online space.

Since the media is what the population usually trusts, by applying the law to an alleged online falsehood violator, the plaintiff or prosecutor can quickly start a “trial by media,” which can put the person at a credibility disadvantage for whatever he may say later.

Knowing such bills will be violently pushed back in a democracy that enjoys the freedom of speech, one has to be careful about the intention of instigating an uproar. If the government does not communicate clearly and gradually introduce the bill, as people need time and coaxing to understand and accept “what is in it for me”, it will undoubtedly add to the unsettled state of the nation.

Sri Lanka is at a crossroads. The last couple of years have been painful, and people are suffering. With the next presidential election on the horizon in 2024, it will be politically suicidal to anger further a 6 million voter base of people between the ages of 18 and 40. Civil society leaders and a few political leaders have voiced against the proposed bill, and many will join the bandwagon. The public discourse on this will be nasty, unless the government’s objective is to distract the public with the initiative. So why take a risk? What’s the end game?

With the AI revolution upon us, no one can understand the digital world. It’s evolving daily and changing the way we live, work and behave. The deep fake is reality, and the dark web is powerful. Today, without anyone’s knowledge, your pictures are being captured. The surveillance of humans is beyond anyone’s imagination. The un-erasable digital footprints and extreme eyeballing levels are enough to catch any wrongdoers, provided there is a robust legal system and laws. The punishment for wrongdoers should be visible, but importantly, it should be fair. Fairness is not something Sri Lanka is accustomed to.

The government authorities should start by enforcing the existing law. If acted upon with fairness and equality, people will recognise the gravity of fake news.  However, fake news cannot be eliminated. It is a losing proposition to assume what people think, grasp, say, and share can be controlled. The only way to combat fake news is to tell the truth. Told correctly, the truth will always win.

President Wickremesinghe has a grand vision for the digital economy. Sri Lanka should move with the world, not against it. The global corporate giants are too big to adhere to local regulations. No one understands where the world is moving, therefore, Sri Lanka should be open to learn from other case studies. No doubt, online security is important, but not in the proposed form.

(Alex is active in the Digital Government, Fintech, Trade Logistics, and Decentralisation industries. In addition, he held exco positions in regional think tanks and working groups with international organizations. He obtained his Electrical & Computer Engineering degree at the University of Wisconsin (Madison) and a Doctorate at Stanford University. Saliya and Alex, together advise governments, corporates and leaders.)

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Opinion

Full implementation of 13A – Final solution to ‘national problem’ or end of unitary state? – Part II

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Wickremesinghe and Sampanthan (file photo)

By Kalyananda Tiranagama
Executive Director
Lawyers for Human Rights and Development

(First part of this article appeared yesterday)

Ten-point Accord for Regime Change arrived at Singapore in 2013

As disclosed by a report published on the Tamilnet website on 23 Jan., 2015, the TNA and the Tamil diaspora with the objective of achieving their goal of creating a federal state in the North-East played a key role in bringing about a regime change at the 2015 presidential election.

As revealed in this report, an LTTE front organisation in South Africa ‘In Transformation Initiative’ organised a conference in Singapore in 2013, and it was funded by two European countries. Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera, TNA national list Member of Parliament M. A. Sumanthiran, Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, who was an Adviser on Constitutional Affairs to two Presidents, representatives of the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) representing the Diaspora Tamils, Colombo University Law Professor Thamilmaran and a lawyer from the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress were among the participants at that Conference, according to the Tamilnet report.

Samaraweera, who represented Ranil Wickramasinghe, urged Tamils for support for regime change and abolition of executive presidency, promising in return to grant all demands of the TNA such as the release of all LTTE prisoners, changing the Governor of the Northern Province, removing Army from Jaffna, and the full implementation of 13th Amendment.

The report claims that the understanding reached in Singapore in 2013 formulated a conceptual framework on abolishing the executive presidency which is a fundamental obstacle for the Tamils to create a federal state in Sri Lanka based on ten basic principles described as the ‘‘Singapore Principles’’.

When Tamil aspirations were taken up for discussion, Sumanthiran wanted to avoid use of terms such as Nation and Right to Self-determination in the document. Thamilmaran remained silent on this matter.

Only the voice of a human rights defender, a Sinhalese representing the civil society, was in favour of a formula based on the recognition of nationhood of Tamil people with their traditional homeland in the North-East.

Thus, the Tamil aspirations went missing in the proposal. Instead, the document was drafted with the intention of being nondescript.

Sumanthiran, who represented the TNA took care not to include anything in the document that would result in arousing fear in the minds the Sinhala population in the South.

The Ten Point Singapore Principles agreed in the Accord:

In describing the nature of the State what is important is the substance; the labels are secondary.

(While maintaining ‘unitary state’ label, they can have a full federal rule in the North-East)

The Constitution shall be based on basic constitutional principles and values including sovereignty of the people, participatory democracy and supremacy of the Constitution which shall form an unalterable basic structure.

Power sharing shall be on the basis of self-rule and shared-rule within an undivided Sri Lanka.

(This is Sampanthan’s united, undivided, indivisible Sri Lanka; They have taken care not to use the terms ‘self-autonomy’, or ‘self-determination’; they mean the same thing when they use the term ‘self-rule’ and ‘shared-rule’.)

The executive presidency shall be abolished and the form of government shall be Parliamentary.

(Executive presidency was the main obstacle for the full implementation of federalism at that time; Now with Ranil Wickramasinghe as President, executive presidency has paved the way for full implementation of federalism.)

The pluralist character of Sri Lankan society as well as identities and aspirations of the constituent peoples of Sri Lanka shall be constitutionally recognized. (This will have the effect of diluting the identity of the majority Sinhala population in the country.)

There shall be a strong and enforceable Bill of Rights consistent with universally accepted norms and standards.

There shall be a separation of powers and an independent judiciary which includes a Constitutional Court.

Important institutions shall be independent and accountable. Appointments to these and High Posts shall be through a transparent mechanism that provides for a national consensus, example Constitutional Council.

Institutions of the State shall reflect the pluralist character of Sri Lankan society. (This will have the effect not only of diluting the identity of the majority Sinhala population in the country, but also of making appointments to important state institutions not on the basis of merit and qualifications, but on the basis of ethnicity and religion.)

The Republic of Sri Lanka shall be a secular state. The foremost place to Buddhism and equal status to other religions shall be assured.

Giving Effect to the Understanding reached in Singapore

The Yahapalana government, which came to power following the presidential election of 2015, took several steps to give effect to the understanding reached with the TNA and Tamil diaspora in Singapore in 2013:

Within 100 days of coming to power, on 28 April, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed in Parliament, curtailing the executive power of the President to a great extent and enabling the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to take the effective control of the government into his hands.

In the new Parliament elected at the August 2015 general elections, R. Sampanthan, the leader of the Tamil National Alliance with 16 MPs, was appointed the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, ignoring the claim of the United Opposition with 51 elected MPs.

In January 2016, the government took steps to draft a new Constitution with Parliament sitting as a ‘Constitutional Assembly’ and with several Steering Committees well represented by Tamil groups appointed to draft different chapters.

TNA Proposal submitted to the Steering Committee contained the following points:

SL a federal state within the framework of a united/undivided and indivisible country. Centre and Provinces to exercise exclusive power in the areas of their competence.

North-East to constitute one state> N-E historically inhabited by Tamil speaking people;

The powers and functions to be assigned to the provinces shall be in conformity with the Recommendations of (a) Mangala Munasinghe Select Committee; (b) with shared sovereignty, 2000 Constitution Bill, etc.

Province to have power to muster financial resources required;

Governor not to have powers to interfere with the exercise of the executive power of the Province;

Sampanthan’s Speech at Matara in September 2016

When one goes through the Speech made by Sampanthan, as the Leader of the Opposition, at the Samurdhi Development Community Foundation Meeting held at Matara on 02 Sept., 2016, one can clearly see how the Tamil National Alliance is pursuing the same goal of setting up a full federal state in the North-East of Sri Lanka adopting new strategies so as to allay the fears of the people in the South about the division of the country. He attended the meeting at the invitation of Mr. Buddhika Pathirana, UNP MP. This is what Mr. Sampanthan said:

“We are not trying to divide the country. We are only trying to share power, the country will be one united, undivided, indivisible country which cannot ever be divided.

“All the powers required to ensure the unity and indivisibility of the country would remain with the central government. The powers that would remain with the central government in a power sharing arrangement that was being envisaged – defence, foreign affairs, finance and currency and immigration and emigration would be vested with the Centre. All the powers required to ensure the unity and indivisibility of the country would remain with the Central Government.

“Other powers would be devolved to the provincial councils which would have enhanced powers, and devolution would allow people of a particular region to exercise more control over the issues relevant to them through elected representatives of those areas. – Daily Financial Times of 05 Sept., 2016.

13 demands of TNA forwarded to Candidates of 2019 Presidential Election

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) led by Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) of Mr. Sampanthan forwarded 13 Point Demands to Candidates of major political parties that contested the 2019 Presidential Election, extending their support to the Candidate who accepts these demands.

“Having realised that the final solution to the long standing Tamil Ethnic issue, which has remained in the Island of Sri Lanka as an unresolved National Question for several decades and been the cause for the war which extended for over three decades, would be the – (1) Acceptance of the political aspirations of the Tamil Nation; (2) Recognition of the Northern and Eastern Provinces as the historical habitat and the traditional homelands of the Tamil Nation: (3) Acknowledgement of the Sovereignty of the Tamil Nation and (4) Realization of the fact that the Tamil People under the provisions of International Law are entitled to the right of self-determination, accordingly the creation of federal rule in the merged Northern and Eastern Provinces would be our considered stand-point.

‘‘ With the hope of finding a final solution to problems of Tamil People the following demands are presented to Presidential candidates of major political parties:

A solution to the Sri Lankan Tamil issue must be found by setting up a new federal constitution rejecting the heretofore unitary constitution, accepting the nationhood of the Sri Lankan Tamils and recognising its sovereignty and accepting that Tamils under the provisions of the International Law are entitled to the right of self determination.

Full-fledged independent impartial International Mechanisms through the International Criminal Court / International Arbitration Tribunal must be set up to inquire into the War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity and Genocide committed during the final stages of the war:

The Prevention of Terrorism Act must be withdrawn:

(Consequently) All Tamil Political Prisoners must be freed unconditionally:

Justice must be found for those affected by the enforced disappearance of persons through appropriate international mechanisms.

The Governmental Forces occupying private and state lands / buildings in the Northern and Eastern Provinces which were occupied by Tamils before the war must be withdrawn, the lands released and resettlement process must be immediately set in motion.

Sinhalisation, Buddhistization and Sinhala Colonisation in the Northern and Eastern Provinces presently with state assistance must be stopped immediately.

Since the Mahaweli Development Authority is engaged in planned Sinhala Colonization in the Northern Province under the pretext of redirecting of the Mahaweli River to the North, the jurisdiction of the said Authority must be forthwith terminated. Also the planned Sinhala Colonisation taking place in the Eastern Province under the Mahaweli Development Scheme must also be terminated.

The Moragaskanda Irrigation Scheme recently introduced is indulging in planned Sinhala Colonisation in the Vanni Region. All such Sinhala Colonisation must forthwith be terminated.

The expropriation of lands and areas of religious worship by Government Departments including Archaeology Department, Wildlife Department, Forest’s Department must forthwith be stopped. Those lands and places of worship already expropriated through these Departments must be freed from the effect of the Gazette Notifications which so expropriated them.

Those affected in the Northern and Eastern Provinces by the war, wanting to economically improve themselves or youth wanting to enhance their job opportunities receiving direct investments from our Diaspora and elsewhere must have all legal obstacles faced removed so that handling lands and finances here would be easy and quick.

Priority must be given to those belonging to the Northern and Eastern Provinces in Governmental and Private sector job opportunities in the said two provinces.

An independent mechanism must be set up under the supervision of elected Representatives of the People of the Northern and Eastern Provinces to handle all finances for Development in the said two Provinces after proclaiming the Northern and Eastern Provinces as areas affected by war.

(To be continued)

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