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Midweek Review

Vaccines. Vaccines?

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by Dr F E Dias

“To vaccinate or not to vaccinate, that is the question”, soliloquised Piglet, “since all vaccines are equal, but some vaccines are more equal than others” – poetic licence applied with apologies to William Shakespeare and George Orwell.

Introduction

Smallpox is a virulent infectious vesicular disease. Vesicular and pox in that it causes eruptions on the skin which develop into pustules or pox, and eventually leaves one covered with pitted pockmarks; and designated “small” since the 16th century, to distinguish it from the “great pox” syphilis. It is caused by the virus variola major, variola being a term introduced in circa 570 AD by Marius of Aventicum, now Avenches, then the capital of Roman Switzerland, and meaning pustule. It was a dreaded pestilence in Europe particularly during the 17th and 18th centuries and killed nearly a third of its victims, most of whom were children. The pathogen was spread mostly during the early rash stage from sores in the tongue and mouth through droplets emitted into the air.

When Francis Xavier arrived in Mannar in 1548, smallpox was raging in Ceylon, and in 1697 the royal city of Kandy was deserted on account of it – with the sufferers, believed to be possessed by demons, abandoned to die on roads and in the jungle by their kith and kin. Joseph Vaz and his nephew Joseph Carvalho tended the sick and buried the dead and astonished the King Vimaladharmasurya II on his return once the epidemic had ceased by declining reward. This disease was introduced into the Americas by Europeans and decimated populations of native Red Indians of the northern plains, the Aztecs of Mexico, and the Incas and Araucanians in the south. It was declared eradicated in 1979, and today exists as a bioterrorist threat, precedent reportedly been set by the British Army in 18th century America by their donation of intentionally infected blankets and handkerchiefs to the enemy camp.

It was a phenomenon of great interest that survivors of smallpox, albeit disfigured and sometimes blinded, become immune to a second infection. Apropos in Asia it had been known since the 10th century that introducing into healthy persons the ground scabs or the pus from sores of those infected could also induce immunity. The latter means was popularised in England by the survivor, her “beauty fled” as expressed in her own poetry, Lady Mary Montagu, the wife of the British ambassador to the Court of the Ottoman Empire, who learned of it during her stint in Constantinople in the early 1700s. Through Lady Montagu’s advocacy and consequent acceptance by several royal houses in western Europe, it became standard practice in that part of the continent during the eighteenth century. This inoculation of variola or variolation usually produced localised and less severe symptoms than naturally acquired infection, did have a fatality rate of circa 2% which was an order of magnitude less than that during an epidemic, and carried the additional risk of triggering one.

Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus which is a herpesvirus, and the measles virus is a paramyxovirus. Horsepox and cowpox viruses however, together with inter alia those that cause camelpox, rabbitpox and monkeypox have been classified together with the smallpox virus into the family of poxviruses, and specifically into the genus Orthopox. The disease horsepox – variola equine, and the causative virus is now supposed to be extinct, unless it still exists in unknown wild rodents who constitute its reservoir in nature. There were observations in the military that cavalrymen fared better than infantrymen during the smallpox outbreaks; and that farmers working with cattle tended also to be spared. It was remarkable also that milkmaids – whose hands had been infected with the zoonotic cowpox virus from pustules in the udder and teats of cows and had themselves contracted the relatively milder cowpox disease and subsequently recovered, showed resilience against smallpox. Legend has it of a Bristol milkmaid, Gloucestershire and the western counties being a region where cowpox was prevalent, who boasted that she will never have “an ugly pockmarked face” due to smallpox – variola, because she had already had cowpox – variola vaccinae, the pox of the cow.

Vaccination

Through the acts and observations of Benjamin Jesty, John Fewster and others in the late 1700s and the published clinical observations and methodical investigations of Edward Jenner the effectiveness of building immunity to smallpox safely through the inoculation with the genetically and immunologically similar but pathologically milder virus that causes cowpox was established. The story of the hand of Sarah Nelms the milkmaid, the udder of Blossom the cow and the arm of James Phipps the gardener’s son is a story for another day, and yet the achievement was a marvelous demonstration of ingenuity and enlightened emipiricism – a century before modern concepts of virology were established and the role of microbes in the causation of disease was understood. The term vaccinae, is derived from the Latin vacca meaning cow which is perhaps related to the Sanskrit vassa, and its adjective vaccinus, led to the coining of the word “vaccination”, and likewise “equination” when the horsepox pus was used similarly. However, Louis Pasteur in 1881 proposed to generalise the term vaccination to include all protective immunisation procedures against any infectious disease in honour of Jenner, using this term to describe his own work on anthrax, cholera and rabies.

Vaccination until recently was commonly understood to be a prophylactic treatment effected via inoculation of an antigen – a portmanteau of antibody generator, to elicit an immunological response that could protect against future infections by a pathogenic organism associated with that antigen. The antigenic suspension would contain dead or inactivated, or if alive attenuated pathogen, its fragments or subunits, or purified surface proteins or toxoids – inactivated endotoxins of the pathogen that retain immunogenicity. Vaccination can be justified considering the risks of exposure to the pathogen, contagiousness, vulnerability of subject, consequences of the disease, availability of treatment and the efficacy, including tolerability, of the vaccine. Against these factors and the pertaining facts, vaccination against smallpox was justified.

Genenic Medicine

The spike protein is a key factor in infection and a major surface antigen in coronaviruses, although not the only one. Using the identified DNA sequence of the Wuhan virus SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have in vitro transcribed synthetic spike protein mRNA. Subsequently nucleoside-modified, this now modRNA is encapsulated in lipid nanoparticles to create their investigational products BNT162b2 and mRNA1273 respectively. The modRNA of both organisations are similar but their proprietary lipid nanoparticles which enable merging with human phospholipid cell membranes via endocytosis differ. Once intramuscularly injected, the modRNA enters our cells’ cytosol and our ribosomes translate them into viral spike proteins. The Sputnik, Oxford-AstraZeneca, and J&J products incorporate spike protein DNA into an adenovirus vector that enables antigen expression in the host cells. Through these means, we are programmed to generate trillions of viral antigens without becoming infected with the virus itself – consequent to which immunological response may occur. Such intentional gene transfer as novel means of attempting to effect humoral and cell-mediated immunity is associated with gene therapy, genetic medicine being a nascent science in itself, and is distinct from conventional antigen inoculation – although in retrospect, attenuated virus vaccines with RNA genome viruses do in part operate similarly.

Some Implications

These products received emergency use authorisation in some countries, in that such authorisation becomes null if the situation ceases to be decreed a public health emergency – since the products are unapproved, and by implication their use constituting human trials. Animal trials enable potential immunopathological phenomena to be discovered especially intrinsic antibody dependent enhancement and vaccine hypersensitivity when the vaccinated subject is subsequently exposed to a wild virus – which sometimes result in fatal outcomes, these deaths often incorrectly being reported as due to new and more deadly variants. Such pathogenic priming was a cause for failure of vaccines developed for the first SARS-CoV virus, and for half a century of active research providing no safe dengue virus vaccine to date. Infants may also have ADE caused by maternally acquired SARS-CoV-2 antibodies bound to mast cells.

The spike protein on which the viral infection is reliant for binding on to the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 in host cells such as those of the pulmonary vascular endothelium, and triggering the clinical symptoms and lung damage, by itself could behave as a pathogen and have effects on the respiratory system more severe than the virus in toto due to stronger binding of the protein alone as compared to it when associated with a whole virus and present on its surface. Further it is not clear how long the RNA in its modified and stabilised form and its proprietary synthetic lipid nanoparticles designed for prolonged antigen expression or the stabilised spike protein variant produced may prevail in vivo.

The blood brain barrier was originally observed in 1885 by Paul Ehrlich, better renowned for discovering the cure for syphilis in 1909. It is a biological phenomenon constituted of blood capillaries with tightly packed endothelial cells that separate the brain tissue from the blood circulatory system and forms a defence against pathogens and toxins that may be present in blood and maintains a controlled environment within the central nervous system. Its structure was understood only after scanning electron microscopy became available and even glucose cannot pass through it except via special ports known as transporter proteins. It has been shown in male mice that the spike protein does pass the blood-brain barrier that holds whole viruses back, when introduced intravenously and intranasally, potentially causing inflammation in the brain, thrombosis and delayed neurodegeneration.

Syncytin-1 is a protein essential in our trophoblast development and for placentation when in the earliest days of our life our syncytiotrophoblast implants us into the maternal uterine decidual epithelium and also produces human chorionic gonadotrophin which among a multitude of wonderful functions suppresses maternal immune response against the foreign organism growing within her – her child. Similarity has been reported between several sequence motifs of the genetic code for the Wuhan virus spike protein and syncytin-1 both of which are fusion proteins. It needs to be ruled out that immune response to the spike protein does not trigger immune reaction against syncytin-1 since if it did that would imply abortifacient immune reaction and infertility over as long as the immunity persisted.

Conclusions

There are situations in which artificial induction of immunisation of the healthy against infectious disease, even amid an epidemic, is just. The means by which immunological response is achieved requires due diligence to ensure that the consequences due to the means is not more tragic than that of the disease. Further, due attention needs to be rendered towards achieving cure via treatment – even if the effective anti-viral drugs are cheap, known, ubiquitous and their patents have long expired.



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Midweek Review

Seeing Red on Bread

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By Lynn Ockersz

The ‘People’s Rep‘, suave and poker faced,

Said to citizens bent under multiple weights:

‘You‘ll have to do with two meals and not three,

Since times are lean, and we are all seeing red‘;

But such alerts, citizens know, are all over history writ,

With France and Russia of long ago standing out,

As cases where Bread stormed centre stage,

And brought to society topsy-turvy change,

Marking an end to privileges earned in unjust ways,

While sending out the message to those in charge,

That the patience of the hungry wears thin fast.

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Midweek Review

Puravara Visvavidyala (Pura Sarasavi)

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By Usvatte-aratchi

‘Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking.’ John Maynard Keynes

In the beginning, all universities were City Universities (puravara visvavidyala): Bologna, Montpellier, Paris, Oxford, Heidelberg, Upsala and Utrecht and that for two reasons: first, in medieval Europe, where universities began as universitas generale, the city was the only polity available. Countries as political entities and national governments, were at least 600 years into the future. Universities needed law and order to work, in quiet. And these cities were ports on the Mediterranean: Venice, Genova and in other places, on river banks: Bologna (connected to the Po with canals), Utrecht on the Rhine, Paris on the Seine, Oxford on the Thames (Isis), Harvard (and, much later) MIT on either bank of the Charles river. There was good reason for that. In medieval Europe and in 17th century Massachusetts, travel by water was the fastest. Students and teachers walked to schools, rode on horseback or rowed a boat. Scientists from Cambridge, after rowing on the Cam and the Muse, rode a horse to Gresham College to attend the Royal Society meetings. Trains, motor cars, steamships and airplanes were at least 700 years away in the future. Let us remember that did not prevent scholars from coming from afar either to learn or to teach. In each universitas generale, there had to be students from beyond its neighbourhood and the student body was divided into ‘nations’. In 13th century Oxford there were two: Australes (Southerners) and Borrealase ( Northeners). (Recall that well into the 17th century, education in Europe was in Latin). As for teachers, there were

Constantinus Africanus from Tunis who wrote on medicine, Avicenna from present Iran who taught medicine and peripatetic Bartholomeus Anglicus, who taught philosophy in many places, including Paris. Books written by Constantinus and Avicenna were taught in universities well into the 16th century. Universities were city organisations but they were places where students and teachers from all sorts of places learnt and taught. We will jump to modern city universities in a minute.

Before that, a quibble about the name: why puravara ? There are also maravara (thugs). Why not pura sarasavi? Pura has a good genealogy:

vana vana pathi turehi

pura pura pathin medurehi (gira sandesa)

(in forests, on king-of-the-forest treetops and in cities (pura), in city chief’s mansions).

Word of Kumaratunga Munidasa’s coinage

Sarasavi was a term coined by Kumaratunga Munidasa to signify a university and has much merit to commend it over visva vidyalaya. In non-European societies, universities are often identified by other names. In China, it is daxue (e.g.Bejing daxue); in Thailand it is maha vithyalai (Tammasat Maha vithyalai). Vishvavidyalaya has its origin here and in India. It arose, perhaps, from a misreading that university has something to do with the universe (vishvaya) of knowledge. It is understandable as the word traces its origins to the same Latin usage meaning ‘combined into one (uni+versus)’. However, the popes who issued Bulls to charter early 13th and 14th used ‘universitas vestra’ to address a group, which form was not limited to universitas generale. He would address a guild of goldsmiths with the same term. And a universitas generale was a group, sometimes, of students (Bologna) and sometimes, of masters (Paris). The usage survived and morphed into university in English and say universite in French and universidad in Spanish. The term has no connotation that the universe of knowledge is taught in a university. It was not true in medieval times (Bologna taught law, Salerno medicine and Paris theology and arts); it is not true now (Remember the adage that Harvard men do not know to count and of MIT men how to read.) In Hindu culture sarasvati or sarasavi has association with knowledge and has been so used widely in Sinhala writings. I cited earlier Sinhala use of pura to mean a city. Pura sarasavi reads dandy, doesn’t it?

President drawing inspiration

The President perhaps draws his inspiration for city universities from his knowledge of his adopted nation, the United States of America. In the US, education is a matter for States and not the Federation. There are state universities, the President’s own state has the magnificent California State University System extending from Berkeley, San Diego to Santa Cruz. I am more familiar with the east coast and New York state, in particular. The New York State University (SUNY) system extends from Buffalo in the north to Stony Brook in Long Island. In addition to SUNY, there are City universities, the best known being the New York City University (CUNY) with two celebrated colleges: Hunters in mid-Manhattan and Queens in Fresh Meadows. The City University is owned and operated by the City of New York, with taxpayers’ money and students’ fees. In addition to these city universities, there are Community Colleges, owned and operated by counties. The entire primary and secondary school system is owned and operated by locally elected Schools Boards with revenue from property taxes.

Pinnawala, where a City University is to be located, is no city but an elephantine village. It does not have the resources of many kinds to run a university. Pinnawala cannot raise tax revenue sufficient for the purpose. As it stands, there are no residential facilities for students and staff in the neighbourhood. In the 13th century, a university that was started by students in Florence (Firenze) was abandoned because house rent was too high for students to afford. In a report on the University of Calcutta in 1918 (Sarkar?), it was observed, that students were in poor health partly because of wholly inadequate housing they lived in. There will have to be large scale construction to provide lecture rooms, well equipped labs and engineering labs quite apart from residential facilities for students and staff; perhaps like in Peradeniya. Finding that many competent teachers will be most challenging. These facilities will have to be repeated in all 10 districts for the time being, no small enterprise in matters personnel and financial.

At the inauguration ceremony of the Pinnawala project, both the President and the Minister emphasised that city universities will be there to supply graduates who can walk into workplaces. Did they ever ask themselves or their advisers, ‘Where are the workplaces that these young men and women would walk into?’. Anyone who expects that puravara visvavidyala themselves will generate job opportunities for their graduates, is presenting a new paradigm of development. We need to sit down and think hard. It is one of the common and convenient myths that this country has not developed for lack of trained personnel. In 1964, while a student, I read a paper before a group of eminent economists overseas and pointed out that Ceylon then had higher levels of education than most developing countries but was poorer in economic performance, contrary to the then growing tendency among economists to find a close relationship between investment in education and economic growth. I was almost politely shouted down. However, unhappily for us, subsequent developments have borne me out. I also wrote a paper in Education in Ceylon, A Centenary Volume, published in 1969 by The Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs, in which I generalised on this phenomenon. The slogan about ‘the gap between skills and job opportunities’ (coined perhaps by Ronald Dore of Sussex) came from the ILO employment missions that were launched in 1971 or so.

Those missions went to Ceylon, the Philippines, Iran, Kenya, Colombia, Venezuela and a few others. Those mission reports had no impact on the development of those economies. We decided to carry the burden for the missions. However, graduates from Moratuva find employment, mostly overseas, before their final GPA is known. A professor in architecture in Moratuva told me, a few years ago, that of the 11 students in his final years class, 10 had left for employment overseas, within a few months of graduation. A young man who stayed with us and graduated in physics 2019 in Colombo was offered employment in Siemens in Germany before he graduated. Graduates in Commerce from Jayawardenapura find employment overseas, often easily.

Seeking more jobs in Saudi Arabia

Our Foreign Minister ‘urged Saudi Arabia to provide more jobs to Sri Lankans to work in skilled and professions there’ (The Island 14th August). Surely, this country has an exportable surplus of skilled personnel (including terrorists) and professionals. These young men and women go overseas for employment at reasonable wages mainly because there are none such here. A young university graduate who becomes a teacher is paid some Rs. 33,000 and an allowance of Rs.!0,000, I learn from an old friend. They love their country but working in a congenial environment and the prospect of a good living much more. Our graduates walk into professions overseas. Those with lower levels of education walk into homes abroad to clean them, sometimes to offices for clerical jobs. But for this latter exodus, our unemployment rates today would exceed 10 percent of the labour force.

If students did not go to university, they would have gone to either West Asia for employment or added to the locally unemployed school dropouts. I will turn the premise of the President and his Minister on its head and say, ‘Our graduates are unemployed because there are no jobs into which that they can walk into’. If enterprises do not grow, I am afraid graduates from Puravara Visvavidyala will walk not into jobs but on to street protests.

Look around!

Look around you. Taiwan has a population that is 0.2 of the total world population. Taiwan produces 80 percent of the world output of semiconductors. Is every Taiwanese employed in semiconductor production a Ph.D. in quantum mechanics? When South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore started to industrialise and then to take on electronic industries, did they have massive increases in university output in engineering and in electronics? Why does Singapore import so much labour and we export so much? Did China undertake massive programmes in science and engineering education to become the factory to the world? It is in the current Five Year Plan ending 2025 that China ‘will vigorously cultivate talents with technical skills’ (The Economist). For that matter, go back in history, and Britain, when it was the factory of the world, did not have more than 2% of its population (1902) as university graduates, almost all of them in arts. That was true of the US when it overtook Britain as the world’s richest country about 1900, although there had been a professor of science at Harvard College from 1756. About arts graduates’ inability to fit into jobs, remember that the British empire was built and run when the two pre-eminent universities in Britain did not have a faculty of engineering.

What changed in Korea, Taiwan, China, Malaysia and Singapore was that enterprises grew to employ young people. Changes in policy that Deng Xiao Ping brought about in China in 1978 saw a magnificent growth of enterprises, both state owned and privately owned. We saw the birth of a new economic formation: state capitalism. In India, massive and widespread unemployment of university graduates was whittled away after 1992, with Manmohan Singh reforms that ended the permit raj and new enterprises grew ending the ‘Hindu rate of growth’. IITs, now powerhouses sending out manpower competent in engineering to the world, were first established in 1951 (Kharagpur), 1958 (Bombay), 1961 (Delhi) and others later. Yet it was after 1995 or so that the Indian economy began to grow fast and cut down graduate unemployment in India.

Central to all these changes was the growth of enterprises, no matter who owned them. Historically, the sequence in development has been for enterprises to emerge before skilled workers find employment. So far it has not been a chicken and egg question. There were no changes in educational policy before those enterprises flourished. Trained workers followed.

Every established truth deserves fresh examination, when new evidence emerges. And new evidence will meet the eye of those that seek.

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Midweek Review

War crimes:

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UN going the whole hog

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The newly formed Civil Society Platform (CSP) on Monday (13) dealt with entire range of accountability issues and the re-imposition of a state of emergency on the pretext of addressing food distribution. The media received the comprehensive statement endorsed by 30 organisations, and 36 individuals, soon after the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) declared its intention to go ahead with fresh investigation, as mandated at the 46th session.

The hard-hitting CSP statement should be examined against the backdrop of a dialogue between a new collective of civil society activists, grouped as Sri Lankan Collective for Consensus (SLCC). The civil society appears to be divided over their strategy in respect of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government. However, UN Rights Chief, Michelle Bachelet, one-time Chilean President, in her hard-hitting statement, at the onset of the 48th session, made reference to the meeting President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had with SLCC on August 3. That is a quite a development. But, nothing has changed in Geneva and the war-winning country is on the UN agenda.

A recent statement, issued by the Executive Director of the National Peace Council (NPC), Dr. Jehan Perera, on behalf of SLCC, dealt with several contentious issues.

The statement issued, subsequent to a meeting the group had with newly appointed Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, raised the following issues: the declaration of State of Emergency, Cabinet of Ministers giving the go ahead for the Legal Draftsman to prepare ‘NGO legislation,’ continuing harassment of NGOs, abolition/amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism Act (reference was made to those who had served the LTTE and the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage suspects), implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, and holding of long-delayed Provincial Council polls, land issues in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, language issue, hate speech and misuse of the ICCPR Act, step-motherly treatment of Tamil-speaking people, by denying them participation at national events, and targeting of the Muslim community.

The above litany, however, sounds only too familiar and the chorus is the same. They have packaged themselves under the new name SLCC, but being backed by the West, have been pushing the same agenda for decades. The CSP is no different. No one ever bothered to ask for an explanation from the TNA for recognising the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil-speaking people, in 2001, thereby paving the way for the Eelam War IV a couple of years later. Similarly, no one ever inquired into the clandestine relationship between UN Colombo and the LTTE. Geneva is also silent about the origins of Sri Lanka terrorism (Indian intervention).

As happened in Afghanistan, with the now infamous independent media of the West, which unquestioningly only pushed the narrative of the military industrial complex of mainly the US and the UK, for decades, have now suddenly metamorphosed into finally questioning what went wrong, only after all their lies about Afghanistan and elsewhere began to crumble overnight. Interestingly, they are pointing fingers at everyone else, except at themselves, for not having done the job as an objective media. Theirs has been, for quite some time, an embedded media that cheered on the military industrial complex and the Wall Street. May be there, too, it was all due to filthy lucre.

Prof. Peiris, who had served as the Foreign Minister during the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second term (2010-2015), received the same ministry on Aug 16. The academic, who once headed the government delegation for Oslo-arranged talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), has assured the SLCC of the government’s readiness to work with the civil society.

The SLCC statement, headlined ‘Promise of a fresh approach for resolving national issues’, at the onset, insisted that the discussions the group so far had with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the then Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, Justice Minister Ali Sabry, Youth and Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa, Regional Cooperation State Minister Tharaka Balasuriya and Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage failed to yield the desired results. So they still want the pound of flesh paid for by the West and nothing less?

Prof. Peiris seems confident that the government’s interaction with the civil society can be utilised in their dialogue with the international community, whereas the SLCC assured the new administration of its support to address concerns among the international community. However, their support would depend on the government’s readiness to address the issues raised by them.

In addition to Dr. Perera, who had represented Sri Lanka at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), in March 2018, on the invitation of the late Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, several other prominent civil society activists joined the discussion with the government. It would be pertinent to mention that the SLCC has quite justly accepted that it did not represent, what it called, the larger civil society and recognised themselves as a group of individuals, drawn from multiple sectors of society, religion, academia and non-governmental organisations, dedicated to a country established on the high sounding ‘ideals of pluralistic coexistence, human rights and justice’, but found nowhere in the world, especially not among the self-appointed good guys of the West. Just look at how they still treat their Blacks, especially by their famed law enforcers.

The SLCC comprises (1)Ven. Kalupahana Piyaratana Thera – Inter religious Alliance National Unity, Chairman, Human Development Edification Centre working for peace Reconciliation and Ecology for more than 25 years. Peace activist for more than two decades (2) Bishop Asiri Perera – Retired Bishop/President of Methodist Church (3) Rev. Fr. C.G. Jeyakumar – Parish Priest Ilavalai and Lecturer at the Jaffna Major Seminary, Human Rights Activist (4) Dr. Joe William – Founder member and Chairman of National Peace Council, Director, Centre for Communication Training and Convenor, Alliance for Justice (5) Prof. T. Jayasingam – Director NPC, former Vice Chancellor of Eastern University and former member, Public Service Commission of the Eastern Provincial Council (6) Prof. Kalinga Tudor Silva – Professor Emeritus Dept of Sociology, University of Peradeniya (7) Dr. Dayani Panagoda – Social Activist, former director of Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process and Lecturer, former member of the Official Languages Commission (8) Ms. Visaka Dharmadasa – Peace Activist, Chair of Association of War Affected Women (9) Dr. Jehan Perera – Executive Director of NPC (10) Dr. P. Saravanamuttu – Founder and Executive Director, Centre for Policy Alternatives (11) Hilmy Ahamed – Vice President, Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, Civil activist with 35 years of communicating on issues of Peace and Justice, Chairman of Young Asia Television (12) Sanjeewa Wimalagunarathna – Former Director of Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (13) Rohana Hettiarachchi – Executive Director PAFFREL (14) Javid Yusuf – Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, former Principal, Zahira College and Founder member and Governing Council member, National Peace Council NPC (15) Varnakulasingham Kamaladas – President, STA Solidarity Foundation, Vice President Batticaloa-Ampara Hindu Temples Federation, former President of Inland Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (INAYAM) Batticaloa, and (16) Ms. Sarah Arumugam – Human Rights Lawyer.

SLCC responds

Dr. Perera emphasized that they were prepared to work with any party to achieve genuine post-war national reconciliation.

The livewire behind the NPC Dr. Perera responded swiftly to several questions posed to him regarding the latest civil society initiative.

(1) The Island: Did the SLCC reach consensus with what it called ‘wider Sri Lanka civil society’ regarding the dialogue you are having with the SLPP administration?

SLCC:

No, we did not. SLCC is a loose collection of individuals drawn from civil society organisations that have reconciliation and peace building aims in their work. We have no one leader or office-bearers. Each of us is part of other networks where we have discussed the stands we take. But we do not speak as their representatives. Our common position is commitment to a united Sri Lanka that is founded on ideals of pluralistic coexistence, human rights and justice.

(2) The Island: When did you set up the SLCC?

SLCC:

We could say it was on June 23, 2021. That was the day we decided on our name. This followed two earlier consultations, organised by the Association of War Affected Women (AWAW), which were held in Kandy, to have an in depth discussion on the lessons learnt through our reconciliation process. We felt there was a need for a group, such as ours.

(3) The Island: Did you have discussions with the TNA (Tamil National Alliance) or other Tamil parties, represented in Parliament, regarding the current initiative?

SLCC:

We have not met with the TNA as yet, though we plan to meet them, and other parties, too. Earlier on we met with Charitha Herath of the SLPP, leader of the DPF Mano Ganesan, General Secretary of the SJB, Ranjith Madduma Bandara. More recently we met with Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa. We had arranged for a meeting with the Chairman of the National Movement for Social Justice, Karu Jayasuriya, but this was postponed and we hope to have it soon.

(4) The Island: Who decides the agenda?

SLCC:

Agendas of the meetings are decided by consensus, prior to the meeting, based on the need and the responsibilities of those whom we meet. Usually, following a self-introduction, we present the issues highlighted in the memorandums we have submitted.

(5) The Island: You represent the NPC, Dr. Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu represents the CPA and all others in the SLCC are members of various civil society groups. Do the SLCC members represent those organisations in the ongoing dialogue?

SLCC:

Those in the SLCC are mostly heads of organisations, who will naturally be in line with the positions of their organisations in any discussions on principle or decisions arrived at. But they are here as members in their personal capacities.

(6) The Island: Did the SLCC ever discuss these issues with the late Mangala Samaraweera?

SLCC:

No, we did not.

(7) The Island:

On the basis of BHC cables (Jan-May 2009), Lord Naseby, in Oct 2017, challenged the massacre claim of 40,000 on the Vanni east front as mentioned in the Darusman report. In June 2011, US Embassy staffer, Lt Col Smith, at the 2011 Defence Seminar, in Colombo, denied war crimes accusations (weeks after the release of Darusman report).

(8) The Island: Did government representatives or the SLCC referred to/discussed/raised the need to examine the BHC cables during discussions?

SLCC:

We limited our discussion to issues that we presented in our memorandums to them with a view to be forward looking. This included the Office of Missing Persons and its work. We did not discuss the death toll, at the end of the war, or issues of war crimes.

Contentious issues

Some of them had been involved in previous peace initiatives, including the Oslo project, finalised in Feb 2002. The SLCC has essentially pursued issues that had been taken up by a section of the international community (those who voted for Geneva resolutions or conveniently abstained) both during the conflict and after. Let me reproduce the SLCC’s stand on three key issues verbatim as mentioned in a memorandum handed over to Prof. Peiris.

Prevention of Terrorism Act:

Until the promised amendment of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, to cease using this law to detain people and to expedite the release of those taken into custody, under its draconian provisions, either on bail or totally where there is no legally valid evidence to justify their continued detention, especially when they have not even been charged. This applies to both long term LTTE prisoners and more recent Muslim prisoners with only a peripheral relation to the Easter Sunday bombings.

Provincial Councils:

Improve the implementation of the 13th Amendment and expedite the holding of provincial council elections so that the ethnic minorities may enjoy a measure of self-governance in the areas where they predominate.

Targeting of Minorities:

The issue of Muslims being targeted continues to fester in proposed legislation regarding personal law, the continuing refusal to permit burial of Covid victims, except in a single designated location and the imprisonment, without trial, of a large number of Muslim persons, following the Easter bombings. All communities need to feel that they have been fairly consulted and treated without discrimination for national reconciliation to become a reality.

The 13th Amendment is quite a contentious issue, especially against the backdrop of India stepping up pressure over its implementation. The government is in a quandary as regards the much delayed Provincial Council polls. Today, the government, the Opposition, the civil society and the international community had conveniently forgotten the origins of the Sri Lankan imbroglio. Clandestine Indian intervention long before the July 1983 riots, most probably precipitated by the then 20th Century Fox JRJ openly flirting with the idea of giving the Trincomalee deep harbour to the US. The subsequent building up of terrorist power, leading to the forcible deployment of the Indian Army in Northern and Eastern regions, in July 87, paved the way for the 13th Amendment. Sri Lanka almost disintegrated.

Unfortunately, successive governments quite clearly failed to examine the current situation in a proper perspective. There had never been a genuine attempt to set the record straight. The incumbent government, too, pathetically failed to address accountability issues properly. Dr. Perera’s response to The Island query, based on Lord Naseby’s challenge and Lt. Colonel Smith’s denial of war crimes accusations six years before, revealed the failure on the government’s part to recognise the threat facing the country’s unitary status. Prof. Peiris and the SLCC owed the public an explanation how they discussed matters, including Office of Missing Persons, or OMP, leaving the primary accusation that the military killed 40,000 Tamil civilians on the Vanni east front. That is the charge Sri Lanka continues to face in Geneva, though Prof. Peiris’s predecessor, Dinesh Gunawardena, declared, in the Feb-March 2020, sessions, the government’s decision to quit the 2015 resolution. In fact, Sri Lanka is now facing a new investigation and actions so far taken by the incumbent government seems insufficient. As long as HRC turns a Nelsonia eye to all the grave crimes the West has committed and continuing to commit, from Palestine to Libya, Iraq, Syria, etc., how can we expect any fairplay from it. Maybe Minister Gunawardena played the only card there, we could have played, considering the ground realities.

The rationale in seeking the support of the civil society should be studied, taking into consideration the government’s failure to revisit accountability issues. Instead, having repeatedly promised the electorate in the run-up to the 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary polls, a robust defence at Geneva, the government appeared to have accepted the agenda, pursued by Ranil Wickremesinghe and the late Mangala Samaraweera.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government established the OMP, in August 2016, less than a year after the signing of the Geneva resolution. The OMP came into being under controversial circumstances with the then Joint Opposition (now SLPP) accusing the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government of jeopardising national security. Today, the incumbent government has accepted responsibility for taking forward the much maligned and controversial Geneva process, much to the disappointment of those who genuinely believed an attempt would be made to reverse the project.

Key architects of the yahapalana project are in the current Parliament. Ranil Wickremesinghe is the solitary UNP MP. The former PM entered Parliament on the National List whereas Maithripala Sirisena returned from his home base Polonnaruwa after having contested the last general election on the SLPP ticket. Sirisena’s SLFP is the second largest constituent with 14 lawmakers, including one National List MP. As regards the accountability issue, the government seems to be moving in a direction contrary to the much publicised promises made.

In the absence of cohesive Sri Lanka response to Geneva threat, interested parties, such as the Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, have been freely bashing Sri Lanka. Massive foreign funding to the civil society lobby here and various other outfits are meant to ensure they follow the dictates of their sponsors. Often repeated claims that they refrained from taking government funding should be examined taking into consideration how these groups pursued Western interests and those of various other parties.

Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009)

, released in 2011, two years after the eradication of the LTTE, provided an insight into foreign funding for a particular purpose. The Norwegian study dealt with funding provided to various peace merchants assigned the task of propagating the inevitability of a negotiated settlement in the absence of military muscle to bring the war to a successful conclusion. For Norwegians funding for such initiatives had never been a problem. Sri Lanka is a case in point. They lavishly spent on the dicey Sri Lanka project on the basis that the LTTE cannot be defeated militarily, the then government has no option but to accept a deal even at the expense of the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

The Norwegian report revealed the funding of Sri Lankan outfits to the tune of USD 28 (NOK 210 mn) mn during the conflict. The recipients included Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe’s Foundation for Coexistence (largest single beneficiary with USD 6 mn during 2004-2008 period), the then Minister Milinda Moragoda’s MMIPE for humanitarian demining, Sarvodaya, Sewalanka (its former head Harsha Kumara Navaratne, an original extremely talented breakaway from Sarvodaya and now a member of the Human Rights Commission will soon relinquish office to take over Lanka mission in Canada as HC), Sareeram Sri Lanka National Foundation, Hambantota District Chamber of Commerce, One-Text Initiative, the National Anti-War Front also led by Dr. Kumar Rupasinghe, the National Peace Council, the Center for Policy Alternatives, the Forum of Federations and the People’s Peace Front.

The Norwegians also provided funding to the TRO (Tamil Rehabilitation Organization) an LTTE front organisation. The Norwegians went to the extent of providing funding to the then LTTE Peace Secretariat though it knew the group was rapidly preparing to resume hostilities. When Norwegian funding of LTTE front organisations drew strong condemnation, they funded the setting up of a Buddhist academy in Kandy in addition to reconstruction of Buddhist temples on the southern coast destroyed by Dec 2004 tsunami.

However, Prof. Peiris in a note recently submitted to diplomatic missions, based in Colombo, ahead of the 48 Geneva sessions, emphasised that the March 2021 resolution adopted by a divided vote hadn’t been accepted by Sri Lanka, rejected establishment of an external evidence gathering mechanism targeting Sri Lanka and questioned the rationale in spending meager financial resources on such a politically motivated Geneva initiative. The FM’s note dealt with progress made as regards port-war reconciliation with the focus on OMP operations, Office of Reparations, Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, Sustainable Development Goals, National Human Rights Commission, Presidential Commission of Inquiry, Accountability, PTA, Pardon to ex-LTTE cadres, Resettlement of IDPs, Releasing of Lands, engagement with the civil society (Prof. Peiris referred to the discussion President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had with SLCC on Aug 3, 2021) and International Human Rights and other Treaty Obligations and Engagement with the UN Special Procedures Mandate Holders.

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