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What accountability, transparency at UNHRC?



The UNHRC is an intergovernmental organisation, reporting directly to the United Nations General Assembly, with a mandate to promote and protect human rights in member countries, by making recommendations to address situations of human rights violations. It is to be expected that institutions that have authority to make recommendations, in particular, on the contravention of legal compliance, need to be free from bias, in order to be acceptable to the alleged erring parties. In fact, the Terms of Reference for OHCHR investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) proclaims the investigation needs to be guided by principles of `independence, impartiality, objectivity, transparency and integrity’, and has mandated the investigations to cover violations of human rights and other related crimes by ‘both parties’, meaning the Sri Lankan Govt. and the LTTE, over the period covered by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), which was from 21 February, 2002, to 19 May, 2009.

The UNHRC resolution, against Sri Lanka, is a bad example, where the reporting agency has not demonstrated, to its members, or the alleged offenders, that the processes followed were free from bias, and were based on proven evidence. In fact, the High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet’s report of 27 January, 2021, was more of an alarmist expression of the newly elected Sri Lankan Government’s administrative appointments and COVID-19 burials, rather than explaining reasons for the failure of UNHRC resolutions in Sri Lanka.

Obviously, Bachelet has failed to see the causes of the annihilating defeat of the previous regime that co-sponsored UNHRC 30/1 resolution, at the 2019 Sri Lankan elections. She didn’t even note reasons for the recent withdrawal from 30/1; the rehabilitation of 300,000 Tamil civilians rescued from the LTTE human shield, development projects instituted in the North and the East to resurrect the economy, changes in the demographics in Colombo, where business is dominated by the so- called discriminated Tamils and Muslims, continuous religious and racial harmony among the civilian population, during and after the war; demonstrations of Tamil civilians against the LTTE proxy parties that has misled the West and UNHRC by propagating misinformation of racial abuse.

Bachelet has also failed to see the bias instituted in the UNHRC investigative process, due to the dependence on politically motivated complainants and co-sponsors, deliberate suppression of wartime official diplomatic cables, non- acceptance of humanitarian agency reports, such as that of the Red Cross, non- investigation of LTTE terrorist crimes; restriction of the mandated period of the investigation to the war-end incidents, which contravened the original mandate and non-release of so called evidence of war crimes for 30 years.

Also, Bachelet has failed to see that the Geneva debate is lopsided with a proliferation of pro-LTTE propaganda, although the Sri Lankan Govt., Lord Naseby, and many others, have highlighted the deficiencies of the Commissioner’s report. In fact, the Bachelet report, presented to the UNHRC member vote, is a hurriedly written document, confirming the views expressed in the last 10-year period, without any analysis of the developments that had taken place for the reconciliation efforts instituted by the Sri Lankan Govt.

It is also a crying shame that a state, like the United Kingdom, which had committed many atrocities in the world — including the biggest genocide in separating India and Pakistan, as well as a co-sponsor in annihilating the Middle Eastern countries, with spurious weapons of mass destruction allegations – is leading the UNHRC resolution against Sri Lanka!

It is a no brainer that the UNHRC investigation on Sri Lanka was doomed to be a failure from the beginning, because of the politicisation of the process undertaken. In fact, the investigation has discouraged Tamil parties to cooperate with Government reconciliation efforts, as they were engaging with the West and UNHCR to create a separate Eelam state, within the small independent sovereign State of Sri Lanka, the failed dream of the LTTE, with UNHRC intervention. The Sri Lankan Govt. and its people are tired with the 30-year terrorist war and 10 years of so called independent investigation, and are keen to find its own all-inclusive solution that is acceptable to the norms of a rational ethical country. To this end, Sri Lankans are hopeful the UNHRC member States would vote against the UNCHR resolution, and save themselves from being forced into biased vendettas for political reasons .



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Daring siege of the Cultural Ministry



The University of Colombo, Sri Lanka was established in 1979 in accordance with the provisions of the Universities Act No. 18 of 1978. The university was given all the land from the road joining Bauddhaloka Mawatha and Reid Avenue (later named Prof. Stanley Wijesundera Mawatha) right up to the Thummulla junction.

There were the court premises set up to try the insurgents of 1971, the Curriculum Development Centre (CDC), the Queen’s Club, an unauthorized temple which had everything else like car wash, canteen, night life, etc, except what should be found in a temple.

Of these the university was able to get rid of the bogus temple. The request to get the CDC premises did not materialize as the then Secretary of Education turned it down. Later these buildings were taken over to house the Ministry of Cultural Affairs.

One day in the early 1990s just prior to closing time the Senior Assistant Registrar in charge of Student Affairs came into my office and told me that the Students Union is planning to take over the Buildings of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. Their plan was to wait till dusk and get in surreptitiously two by two. I told the Senior Assistant Registrar not to divulge this to anybody else and to wait till the following morning to see the outcome.

When we reported for work the following morning, I asked the Senior Assistant Registrar as to what had happened. He said the mission had been successfully accomplished and now the students were occupying the buildings. It seemed that what the university had been trying to get for a long time, the students had successfully achieved in one night!

On the second day the students who were occupying the buildings were a little agitated, telephoned me and asked whether the Special Task Force (STF) was planning to surround the building with a view to oust them as the STF personnel were occupying vantage points on buildings in the vicinity . I telephoned and inquired from the OIC of Cinnamon Gardens Police station, and he told me that there was no such plan and that they were only watching the situation. I conveyed this to the students and allayed their fears.

A meeting was convened at the Ministry of Higher Education to see how the problem could be sorted out. At the meeting a student showed a copy of a Cabinet decision where agreement had been reached to hand over the CDC buildings to the University of Colombo. The Minister of Cultural Affairs at that time, Mr. Lakshman Jayakody, was surprised and asked the student as to how he got the copy of the decision as even he had not seen it. The student stated that he did not want to divulge the source.

The Minister stated that his immediate need was to get the pay sheet and cheque book as the employees had to be paid their salaries. The students were adamant not to surrender, and they stated that this was done as they needed hostels. Hence the decision to lay siege to the buildings. Mr. Jayakody agreed to vacate the buildings so that the university could make use of them.

That ended the saga of the famous siege of a Ministry building by a few daring undergraduates. The buildings were used to house the newly established Faculty of Management and Finance. The undergraduates were accommodated in other buildings in Muttiah Road and Thelawala, which were handed over to the university to be used as hostels.



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Professor Dayantha Wijeyesekera



Professor Dayantha Wijeyesekera who passed away a few days ago was a dynamic personality who headed not one but two national universities in Sri Lanka. It was as the Vice-Chancellor of the Open University of Sri Lanka (OUSL) that I first encountered him, an encounter that highlighted Professor Wijeyesekera’s powers of perseverance and persuasion. During the late 1980s, I was happily ensconced at the University of Colombo when I started receiving messages from Professor Wijeyesekera to ask me to consider moving over to the OUSL. The proposition did not seem very viable to me at the time and I ignored his calls But for almost two years, he persisted until I finally gave in and shifted my academic career to Nawala- a move never regretted.

OUSL at that time was in the throes of changes and innovation, most of which were spearheaded by Professor Wijeyesekera who had taken over the leadership of OUSL in 1985 at a most controversial time. Perceptions of the OUSL were negative and the authorities were even considering closing it down. With his characteristic vigour, Dayantha Wijeyesekera set about putting things right bringing in changes, some of which were most controversial and even considered detrimental to OUSL.

In spite of opposition, he stuck to his vision and it is testimony to his persistence that a number of changes have lasted to this day – Faculties headed by Deans instead of Boards of Study headed by Directors, Departments of Study and not Units, a two-tier administrative system akin to the conventional university system of Council and Senate. To help support students who needed to come to Nawala for workshops and laboratory classes, he established student hostels-another move deemed by his critics as undermining the concept of Distance Education. The hostels still stand and have even been expanded.

Other changes were welcomed such as his indefatigable pursuit of state –of the art technology for OUSL. The OUSL’s centre for Educational Technology was a gift from Japan due to Professor Wijeyesekera’s efforts. And it was in his period of stewardship at OUSL that the first ever language laboratory to be established in a Sri Lankan university was set up in the Department of Language Studies – a gift from KOICA, the South Korean aid agency.

During Professor Wijeyesekera’s tenure as Vice Chancellor, the OUSL experienced growth and expansion in academic sectors too. During the 1980s, the university had only a handful of centres but under Dayantha Wijeyesekera the number rapidly grew- there were Regional Centres in major cities such as Colombo, Kandy and Jaffna. Study centres were set up in towns throughout the island and he was more than supportive when requested permission to establish teaching centres for English in smaller urban conglomerations such as Akkaraipattu .

Academic programmes blossomed. The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences for example had just one Bachelor’s degree, the LLB, during the 1980s. In Professor Wijeyesekera’s time this grew to include a Bachelor of Management Studies, a Bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences and the first ever Bachelor’s degree in English and English Language Teaching. The first degree programme for nurses in Sri Lanka, the BSc. In Nursing, was established at the Faculty of Science with support from Athabasca University in Canada. In addition there also sprang up a whole cohort of Certificate and Diploma programmes catering to the diverse needs of professionals all over the island.

The growth of the university was reflected in the expansion of facilities. New buildings sprang up on reclaimed land bordering the Narahenpita-Nawala Road – a new Senate House which offered space to all the administrative sections and had a spacious facility for Council and Senate meetings. A three-storey building was provided for the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and a new Library building took shape near the Media Centre.

In addition Professor Wijeyesekera reached out to international centres of Distance Education and Open Universities across the world. In the early 1990s, he hosted with aplomb the Conference of the Association of Asian Open Universities (AAOU) and OUSL became a respected member of the AAOU as well as of the Commonwealth of Learning.

Dayantha Wijeyesekera began his career at OUSL in 1985 when the fate of the OUSL hung in the balance. Under his stewardship, the university burgeoned into a national university, a leader in Distance Education which others sought to emulate.. When he joined the OU, the student enrolment stood at 8,000. When he left, nine years later, there 20,000 students registered at the university. It was his hard work, his dedication, his commitment to academic progress that helped transform the OUSL.

May his soul rest in peace.
Ryhana Raheem
Emeritus Professor,
Open University of Sri Lanka

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X-Press Pearl disaster



It will be a crying shame if we fail to get the much wanted and much spoken about compensation due to us for the monumental maritime disaster caused in around our shores when the X-Press went down.

Our government and all those departments and ministries responsible had ample time to make a water tight claim to make the compensation 1claim to the right place. The best available brains and talent to deal with this complex problem involving a host of subjects including the ecology, marine biology, shipwrecks, the law of the sea, maritime laws and whatever else should have been organized to fight our case.

The moment the disaster occurred, all concerned should have acted with single minded dedication to make a strong claim for compensation. Much video and other evidence of the damage done is available. All of us are aware of the shoals of fish, turtles and other sea creatures that died and were washed ashore and the plastic and oil pollution of our beaches. Some of those creatures that died live for over 100 years.

What we saw on our shore post-disaster was a heartbreaking sight. I don’t think it’s possible to assess the ecological damage done in monetary terms. The plastic nurdles the ship has been washed as far as Matara and it is said the acid pollution caused will be with us for a century. Fishermen have suffered great hardship by the loss of catch.

The case filed is being heard in Singapore. I hope the verdict will temper justice with mercy. The damage and misery suffered through no fault of ours is untold.

Padmini Nanayakkara, Colombo-3.

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