Connect with us

Midweek Review

What does it mean to be ill? Philosophy of Disease and Corona Crisis



Illness is never entirely ‘mental’ or entirely ‘somatic’; illness is unhomelike being-in-the-world of Dasein including both aspects as inter-nested.

(Fredrik Svenaeus, Med Healthcare, and Philosophy, 2011)


By Saumya Liyanage


The COVID-19 outbreak has already brought about a myriad of medical, political and military procedures. Efforts are being made by national health institutions to curb the virus under the guidance of the World Health Organization (WHO). In this country, a Presidential Task Force has been set up to adopt measures to control the transmission of the virus.

The corona outbreak has led to racial and anthropocentric sentiments among communities and some social groups. The racial sentiment has been developing as humans are the carriers of the disease, and people who are infected, or are suspected to be infected, are required to undergo self-quarantine for the protection of society. Anthropocentric sentiment has developed among people because this viral infection has germinated through bats or other animals that humans have come into contact with.

This negative feeling towards nature and anthropocentrism further reflects how we think of the natural world and our sharing of it with other animals. This viral outbreak has gradually given rise to the idea that human existence is detached from the environment; the coronavirus infection has heightened this anthropocentric mentality that we are superior to all other species in the world. Humans have not only alienated themselves from the environments, mainly others species but separated the sick from the healthy. Social distancing has come to stay.

The distancing of humans from the environment due to the corona outbreak further reflects other suppressive apparatuses at work. As the form of anthropocentrism operates through the government regulations, this patriarchal domination suppresses women, children and old people in the community. My observation is that this dominant ideology is operated through medical and military structures through which the government is trying to battle against the viral infection. For the patriarchy, the coronavirus appears as the other, and their battle is to fight it. Countries like Sri Lanka, India, and many African nations have failed to practise social distancing due to diverse social stratifications. It is evident how the elite and bourgeoisie gather around supermarkets one-metre apart in keeping with medical and military procedures. As expressed in social media, social distancing and waiting hours at supermarkets reflect the apolitical sentiment of the bourgeoisie and their subordination, whereas the poo rush to other markets and try to grab anything they can find. However, this anthropocentric sentiment is othering not only the nature in which we live in but other marginalised communities who are weak and vulnerable to the pandemic. Under these circumstances, measures such as ‘social distancing’ are what only the bourgeoisie can practise.


Descartes’s Body and illness

In the traditional Cartesian philosophy, the human body is defined as something similar to a machine, and the spirit or the soul is defined as something separated from this mechanical body. This philosophical assumption is reflected through western medicine and the problem with the current medicinal practices is that the human body and its functionalities are defined and understood as a mechanical body that consists of certain parts and organs. According to this conception, the body organs and other body parts such as limbs are mere mechanical parts of the body that can be dissected, replaced or repaired (Kibbe 2014, Goldenberg 2010). This long historical problem of conceptualising the human body as a biomechanical entity has serious medical circumstances when it comes to how we understand the meaning of patient–health care worker relationship in the current medical care settings. James A. Marcum argues: ‘Working from the biomechanical model of the body, today’s physician operates primarily as a mechanic or technician, whose clinical gaze is focused neither on the patient as a whole nor on the patient’s lived context but exclusively on the diseased body or body part’ (Marcum. J. A., 2004, p. 311).

The dominant medical discourse in the world is thus focused on the human corpus as a place for performing dissections and replacements. This corpus can be opened, removed, replaced or have organs transplanted due to certain illnesses. The problem with these biomechanical approaches to the human body is that the medical world has forgotten the fact that the human body is not merely flesh or a collection of organs or limbs. The phenomenological understanding of the body in contrast to the biomechanical understanding of the body is somewhat different as phenomenology understands the human body as a sentient being or a ‘lived body’ that is already and always attuned to the world. The body thus has its own ways of being-in-the-world and the body also understands the world better than we rationally think of it. Hence, the phenomenal body challenges the biomechanical body in contemporary medical discourse. Writing about current medical practices and patient care, Goldenberg argues that, modern medical technology such as stethoscope, ophthalmoscope, and X-ray have conceptualized the human body as a mechanical object and this conceptualization has permitted us to dissect the lived body (Goldenberg M. J., 2010 p. 51).

First, I would like to briefly discuss why phenomenology is vital for us to understand the nature of illness in contrast to wellbeing. The coronavirus infection has brought up certain assumptions of the human body and its existence as something decayed through illness and death. The daily death tolls in the US, Italy and elsewhere have gradually created the sentiment that the human body is merely a physical entity that can be infected by a viral pandemic or it is a body that can be saved through mechanical manipulation of medical and political discourses. It is true that amidst this pandemic crisis, human beings have to abide by government regulations and medical procedures in such a way that they can deal with the viral pandemic.

However, in this catalytic situation, the human body becomes a mere object of medical and political manipulation. As seen in many of the international news channels, the human body is becoming a canvas for medical procedures as well as torture and violence. Web channels and Facebook circulate how the human body is being diseased and also being tortured by the military because of noncompliance with the rules and regulations amidst this coronavirus pandemic. One cannot contemplate these paradoxical reactions of law enforcement and medical institutions. The body is treated as a surface of violence, torture, diseased to establish its beauty, wellbeing, and immortality. In this respect, bodies’ presence in the current social milieu is somewhat controversial and fragmented. The ruling government and medical institutions need people to be healthy and adopt preventive measures. On the other hand, bodies are being threatened, beaten, isolated and further imprisoned or left behind amid corona warfare.


Phenomenology and the lived body

A new discussion about the human body has come to the fore because our bodies have been continually threatened by both the viral infection and law enforcement. As seen so far, whether it is medical or military discourses, the human body is being manipulated and treated in many forceful ways. The coronavirus infects the internality of the body while the government is policing the flesh of the body. But what it means to have a body and what the role of the body is in human existence are vital questions to be discussed in this difficult time. Hence, I turn to Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) known as the founder of phenomenology; he provides two sets of words to denote the existential natures of the body. The German word körper uses for the physical body or body as an object. The term Leib is used for the lived or living body. That is the body we perceive as a subject. Here, Husserl distinguishes two aspects of the human body. This means that in some situations, we tend to experience our bodies as objects; solid, physical like nature of the body; whereas, in some situations, we experience our body as a transcendental or a living entity which is known as the lived body. Generally, the word ‘lived body’ presents the body as a non-dualistic, sentient being in contrast to the Cartesian split of the body as a machine and the mind as an extended rational soul. The main difference between the lived body and the physical body is that this lived or animate body is always given as my own body (Crisis §2) and I experience myself as ‘holding sway’ over this body. The lived body is not just a centre of the experience, but a centre for action and self-directed movement (Luft and Overgaard 2014, ).

In this discussion of illness and disease, the German philosopher Martin Heidegger’s key concepts of phenomenology will also help to shed light to understand what it means to be diseased or what it means to be healthy. In this regard, concepts such as ‘being-in-the-world’ can be elaborated as to how a person is attuned to her/his environment and how this attunement is disrupted when the illness is invaded into a healthy body (Svenaeus 2011). Further, the French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty developed the idea of ‘body-subject’ where he explains the power and expression of the human body not just as a corpus but as a consciousness establishing its ‘intentional arc’ as the power of attuning with the world. In this sense, I am motivated to write about the current illness caused by the coronavirus and understand the conundrum of being ill and not being ill in the light of phenomenology.



When a person is ill and feeling unwell, one’s conscious experience is directly focused on her/his body, and the functionality and the smooth flow or the attunement of the body with its environment is primarily fractured or ceased. When one’s intentionality is directed towards her/his body, the autonomous nature of the body is paralyzed and ill-treated. This uncanny mood creates a disjuncture of our being-in-the-world which means our natural flow of being-with- other.

When someone is diseased, our natural flow of coping with the world and our emotional engagement with the world is disrupted. In a phenomenological sense, this can be understood as something similar to ‘unhomelike’ being-in-the-world (Svenaeus 2011). As Heidegger speculates in his Being and Time (1927), our natural attitude is that our body is thrown into the world where the body and the world are intertwined and bound together through its practicalities. The practicalities here refer to our bodily engagements with certain projects through tools and equipment. When we feel sick, that means our natural engagement with certain projects through the equipment is disrupted and disturbed. Our homelike being-in-the-world is fragmented or disrupted. Heidegger calls this ‘authentic anxiety’.

In this illness situation, our bodies experience the ‘otherness’ within oneself or alienation from oneself from her/his self. The idea of alienation is very familiar in theatre theory and especially Bertolt Brecht’s conceptualization of the actor’s disengagement with the character. In German, it is known as the verfremdung, which means the alienation or defamiliarizing of the familiar (Liyanage 2016). But the otherness that one may experience during illness is something that is to do with the duality of self and the experience of being self while possessing the dual existence. (the otherness of one’s own body comes to the fore). When the illness occurs the patient feels disengaged with her daily projects and she may feel pain, anxiety, dizzy and many other ailments. In such a situation, in a phenomenological sense what we experience is unhomelike being-in-the-world. This ‘unhomelikeness’ is the ‘otherness’ that one may experience during illness. In a healthy situation, a person’s projects are operated through bodily actions that are intertwined with the outer world. These activities always function with ease because the body is always absent in the delivery of human action. Yet the diseased body is not operated in this manner. When the body is diseased, it is not operated behind the curtain or in other words, the body is not absent. The body always comes to the fore. In contrast to this unhomelikeness, when the person is fully operative and engaged in projects in the world, these healthy engagements are characterized by the mood that one possesses in engaging ‘life-world’ activities (Nagatomo 1992). For instance, if I am not yet infected by the virus, my daily routine activities are not disturbed by the illness and my full operation as a healthy person is manifested by the emotional engagement and the expression that I have during my activities. This is vital for us to understand the ‘mood’ of the person who is fully being-in-the-world.


Gaze and Illness

In the recent discussion on the corona outbreak and the battle against the disease, one of the major social psychological factors that have developed in recent weeks is that people are afraid of being identified as COVID-19 infectious individuals. The problem of this phenomenon is that whether you are infected or not, people have a great fear of being identified as a diseased person. How can we understand this mental condition? As I discussed earlier, it is a fear of being alienated from our selfhood. Jean-Paul Sartre, in his book Being and Nothingness (1943) articulates this concept through the gaze of the other. The fear of being ill encapsulates the individual’s experience of her/his objectification of the body as an ‘unhomelike being-in-the-world in the wake of a disease. In Sartre’s lexicon, there are other ways that one’s body can be gazed at by others and alienated from her/his self. For instance, seeing a doctor check whether I have been infected by a disease demonstrates that in the confrontation of the doctor’s gaze, my body is becoming an object to me. However, this alienation of my own body from my own conscious experiences is the moment that I experience the discomfort and further the shame of being ill. In Sartre’s philosophy, ‘the gaze of another person has the power of objectification of my own body. Therefore, I experience the ‘otherness’ or the alienation of my own body as if someone who is a conscious person looking at me and makes my conscious attention towards my body’ (Svenaeus 2009).



The human body is an unprecedented creation of nature that is always being in the world as a living and sentient being. It is a sentient being because it always demonstrates to the world of its ‘becoming’ rather than being a final product. ‘The human body is a unique aesthetic material; it is a living organism, always in a state of becoming; that is, in a continual process of transformation’ (Fischer-Lichte 2014, p. 25). We need to understand the living nature of our bodies in this difficult time because, as argued in the foregoing, the human body is not merely a collection of organs or an assemblage of outer and inner materials combined to develop a physical body. As Merleau-Ponty speculates, the human body is a living entity and it is already anchored in the world before we rationally think of our outer world and environment. This is why medical doctors and health workers need to rethink how they should interact with or treat patients. Especially at this difficult time of the coronavirus outbreak, we further need to change our perspectives towards those who are affected with COVID-19, and how we understand their illness and how we take care of the diseased.




The author wishes to thank Himansi Dehigama and Sachini Senevirathne, PGIE, Open University Colombo who have proof read this paper.

Saumya Liyanage

(PhD) is an actor and a Professor of theatre and drama, at the Faculty of Dance and Drama, University of Visual and Performing Arts Colombo.


Reference list

Dermot Moran and Cohen, J. (2012). The Husserl dictionary. London ; New York: Continuum, Cop.

Dreyfus, H.L. (1991). Being-in-the-world : a commentary on Heidegger’s Being and time, division I. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Fischer-Lichte, E. (2014). The Routledge introduction to theatre and performance studies. London: Routledge.

Goldenberg, M.J. (2010). Clinical evidence and the absent body in medical phenomenology: On the need for a new phenomenology of medicine. IJFAB: International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics, 3(1), 43–71.

Heidegger, M. (2013). Being and time. United States: Stellar Books.

Jean-Paul Sartre, Richmond, S. and Moran, R. (2018). Being and nothingness : an essay in phenomenological ontology. Abingdon, Oxon, UK: Routledge.

Kibbe, B. (2016). Feminist phenomenology and medicine, edited by Kristin Zeiler and Lisa Folkmarson Käll. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2014. IJFAB: International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics, 9(2), 219–223.

Luft, S. and Overgaard, S. (2014). The Routledge companion to phenomenology. London: Routledge.

Marcum, J.A. (2005). Biomechanical and phenomenological models of the body, the meaning of illness and quality of care. Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy, 7(3), 311–320.

Merleau-Ponty, M. and Smith, C. (2015). Phenomenology of perception. London: Forgotten Books.

S Kay Toombs (2001). Handbook of phenomenology and medicine. Dordrecht ; Boston: Kluwer Academic.

Saumya Liyanage (2016). Meditations on acting : essays on theory, practice and performance. Mount Lavinia, Sri Lanka: Dev Publishing.

Shigenori Nagatomo (1992). Attunement through the body. Albany, NY: State University Of New York Press.

Svenaeus, F. (2011a). Illness as unhomelike being-in-the-world: Heidegger and the phenomenology of medicine. Medicine, Health Care, and Philosophy, [online] 14(3), pp.333–343. Available at: [Accessed 21 Mar. 2020].

Svenaeus, F. (2011b). Illness as unhomelike being-in-the-world: Heidegger and the phenomenology of medicine. Medicine, Health Care, and Philosophy, [online] 14(3), pp.333–343. Available at: [Accessed 21 Mar. 2020].

Thomson, lain (1999). Can I die? Derrida on Heidegger on death. Philosophy Today, 43(1), pp.29–42.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Midweek Review

Former OMP Chief now at BASL helm



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Editor of ‘Annidda’, Attorney-at-Law K.W. Janaranjana, in a piece in its Feb 21, 2021, edition that dealt with the election of Saliya Pieris, PC, as the President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), asserted that the government hadn’t made a special intervention in the contest.

The government hadn’t made political intervention, though a group of people, including the Secretary of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), and its National List MP, and Attorney-at-Law Sagara Kariyawasam, made a bid to secure the backing of the government for Saliya’s rival. Such attempts made at the provincial level, too, failed to produce the desired results.

Saliya Pieris, who succeeded Kalinga Indatissa, PC, polled 5,093 votes at the election conducted on Feb 24. His rival, Kuvera de Zoysa, PC secured 2,797 votes. The winner secured a staggering 2,386 vote majority – just 321 short of the number of votes polled by De Zoysa.

Janaranjana, a leading member of the civil society grouping Purawesi Balaya, who played a significant role in the yahapalana political campaign, claimed that some of the lawyers who represented top government figures, too, backed Saliya Pieris. Emphasizing that all of them worked for Saliya’s victory, Janaranjana dismissed assertions that the victory achieved by Saliya Pieris was a severe debacle suffered by the Rajapaksas.

Janaranjana attributed the President’s Counsel’s victory to his commitment to the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and human rights throughout his legal career.


A battle between SLPP and Opp.

 In spite of the government refraining from taking a stand, as pointed out by Janaranjana, the contest received unprecedented attention, with the lawyer electorate turning it into a battle between the SLPP government and the Opposition. Saliya Pieris, in an exclusive interview with Janaranjana, also published on the Feb 21, 2021 edition of Anidda, three days before the election, flayed the rival group. Pieris emphasized the responsibility, on the part of the BASL, to take a principled stand on contentious issues, regardless of the consequences. Pieris explained his public role since the arrest of High Court Judge Mahanama Tillekaratne, in 1998. Essentially, Pieris flayed the BASL for its failure to take up issues, such as the alleged attack on the Mannar Court by supporters of the then Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidential term. However, Bathiudeen, leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC), now represents the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB).

Pieris also referred to the impeachment of Chief Justice, Shirani Bandaranayake 43, also during the previous Rajapaksa administration. However, there hadn’t been any reference at all to the BASL receiving Rs 2.5 mn sponsorship, in 2016, from disgraced Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) in support of a high profile event conducted at a leading hotel, with the participation of the then Chief Justice, Attorney General, Solicitor General, the President and the Prime Minister. The BASL never explained why funds were obtained from PTL, despite its perpetration of Treasury bond scams, in Feb 2015, and March 2016.

The BASL should be also be seriously concerned about Hejaaz Hizbullah, a prominent lawyer arrested on April 14, 2020 over his direct involvement with the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks. Hizbullah was recently produced in court on a directive issued by Attorney General Dappula de Livera. The lawyer’s arrest, too, caused a sharp division among BASL members and contributed to the overwheming victory achieved by Pieris.

When the writer asked a lawyer, who voted for the winner, why he did so, he explained his position, on the condition of anonymity. The lawyer said: “Voted at the DC polling booth in Colombo. I didn’t vote last time. Lawyers preferred an anti-establishment candidate since the independence of the bar is paramount. On the other hand, lawyers detested hitherto unseen level of inducements being offered to win votes, as well as fabricated false accusations. Anonymous accusations and despicable strategies resulted in further revulsion towards the losing candidate. Unprecedented number of members turned up to ensure a resounding mandate to the winning candidate.


Saliya Pieris responds

 The writer sought views of the newly elected BASL President as regards several issues.

(Q) What would be your priorities?

(A) Securing the rights of lawyers in the profession; making a positive impact on issues pertaining to the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and protection of fundamental rights; supporting juniors in the profession and supporting the welfare of the membership.

(Q) You served as first Chairman, OMP (Office of Missing Persons), an apparatus set up in terms of the 2015 Geneva Resolution. GoSL in March 2020

quit the Geneva process. What can BASL do to address accountability issues, both during the conflict and the post war period?

(A) The role of the BASL is different from the OMP. As I have stated, upholding the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary will be a priority. All domestic institutions which address these issues must be independent so that the people who seek relief from them trust these institutions and have confidence in them.

(Q) You secured well over 2000 votes than your rival. How do you intend to win the confidence of those who voted against you?

(A) I have received support from lawyers, across the country and from every community and area. My support cut across all lines, be it party, race, religion or area. On the very day of the announcement of my election, I reached out to all those members who did not vote for me and will continue so. At the same time, I am sure that the members who voted otherwise at the elections will work with me for the betterment of the bar.

(Q)What would you do to prevent deaths in police custody?

(A) Police torture and deaths in custody affect the rule of law and should be condemned. There must be zero tolerance. The Bar must carefully examine these issues and, if needed, lobby the government to ensure fair investigations and that the perpetrators are punished.

(Q) What is your stand on implementation of death penalty and presidential pardon?

(A) These have not been discussed at the Bar Council as yet. My personal view is that I am opposed to the implementation of the death penalty. On presidential pardons, I am of the view that the power of pardon must not be used unreasonably, and must be done by taking into account several factors including the nature of the crime and the views of the aggrieved party. 

Let me remind the readers of nine previous BASL Presidents, before Saliya Pieris, who won the presidency: Desmond Fernando, PC (2005 – 2006), Nihal Jayamanne, PC (2006 – 2008), W. Dayaratne, PC (2008 – 2010), Shibly Aziz, PC (2010 – 2012), Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC (2012 – 2013), Upul Jayasuriya, PC (2013 – 2015), Geoffrey Alagaratnam, PC (2015 – 2017), U. R. De Silva, PC (2017 – 2019) and Kalinga Indatissa, PC (2019 – 2021).

Of those 17,200 eligible to vote at the Feb. 24 election, approximately 8,000 voted, though usually only about 6,500 voted in previous years. In other words, nearly 47 per cent chose not to participate in the process.


Who betrayed the country?

 Janaranjana discussed how the rival camp depicted Saliya Pieris as a person who betrayed the country by being involved in a treacherous international conspiracy to undermine the armed forces. According to Janaranjana, the rival camp exploited social media and other propaganda means to depict Saliya Pieris as a traitor whose election would lead to the division of the country, on ethnic lines. Janaranjana pointed out how the unprecedented victory achieved by Saliya Pieris proved the failure of the rival camp’s strategy.

Against the backdrop of unsubstantiated allegations, directed at Saliya Pieris, as regards his role as the Chairman of the OMP, it would be pertinent to examine the failure on the part of the BASL to genuinely address accountability issues related to Sri Lanka’s war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The OMP was one of the four mechanisms established in terms of the controversial resolution 30/1 ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka.’ The four apparatuses are (i) A hybrid judicial mechanism with a Special Counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law (ii) A Commission for truth, justice, reconciliation and non-recurrence (iii) An Office for Missing Persons and (iv) and Office for Reparations.

The previous UNP-SLFP administration established the first permanent official body, tasked with tracking down missing persons, in terms of Act No. 14 of 2016. This was done in line with one of the recommendations in the 2015 UNHRC Resolution co-sponsored by the Government of Sri Lanka. Due to political turmoil, the government was able to establish the OMP two years after the Act was passed. The OMP initiated ‘operations’ in May 2018 with members visiting Mannar to meet the families of those disappeared in that District.

The OMP’s mandate, according to Part II Section 10 of the Office on Missing Persons Act, No. 14 of 2016:

(a) To search for and trace missing persons and identify appropriate mechanisms for the same and to clarify the circumstances in which such persons went missing;

(b) To make recommendations to the relevant authorities towards addressing the incidence of missing persons;

(c) To protect the rights and interests of missing persons and their relatives as provided for in this Act.

(d) To identify avenues of redress to which missing persons and relatives of missing persons are entitled to, and to inform the missing person (if found alive) or relative of such missing person of same.

(e) To collate data related to missing persons obtained by processes presently being carried out, or which were previously carried out, by other institutions, organizations, Government Departments and Commissions of Inquiry and Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry and centralize all available data within the database established under this Act.

(f) To do all such other necessary things that may become necessary to achieve the objectives under the Act.

Saliya Pieris received the appointment as Chairman, OMP on May 1, 2018. The civil society activist quit the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) to take the leadership of the OMP. The outfit comprised Saliya Pieris, PC, Ms. Jayatheepa Punniyamoorthy, Major General (Rtd.) Mohanti Antonette Peiris, Sriyani Nimalka Fernando, Mirak Raheem, Somasiri K. Liyanage and Kanapathipillai Venthan.

The now defunct Constitutional Council picked the OMP members. The then President Maithripala Sirisena finalized their appointments. It would be pertinent to mention that OMP member Mirak Raheem had been a member of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTFRM), headed by Attorney-at-Law Manouri Muttetuwegama. The outfit called for full participation of foreign judges in the proposed inquiry.


OMP’s intervention helps Lanka

The then Joint Opposition campaigned both in and outside the OMP, alleging the outfit would pave the way for unprecedented international scrutiny of the war-winning armed forces. However, thanks to OMP’s intervention, Sri Lanka was able to disapprove the high profile accusations, pertaining to the Mannar mass graves. Whatever the accusations, the OMP helped Sri Lanka to counter an extremely serious allegation raised in the run-up to the March 2019 Geneva sessions by UN human rights Chief Michelle Bachelet.

Bachelet served as the Chilean President for nine years, beginning 2006. Bachelet had been in an indecent hurry to pressure Sri Lanka over accountability issues and she blindly blamed the Mannar mass graves on the Sri Lanka Army before a leading US lab, contacted by the OMP, tested the bones and found them to be several centuries old and belonged to the colonial period. Unfortunately, the then government never bothered to further examine the Mannar mass graves case as part of an overall investigation into unsubstantiated allegations. In fact, Sri Lanka never properly examined the campaign conducted by interested parties to undermine post-war Sri Lanka.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009. Wartime disappearances are certainly politically sensitive issues, exploited by political parties here, as well as various other interested parties.

The scientific findings of Beta Analytic Institute of Florida, USA, in respect of samples of skeletal remains, sent from the Mannar mass grave site, quite upset the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). TNA appointed then Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswarn rejected the US findings. Michelle Bachelet went to the extent of commenting on the Mannar mass grave in her report that dealt with the period from Oct 2015 to January 2019.

The following is the relevant section bearing No 23 from Bachelet’s report: “On May 29, 2018, human skeletal remains were discovered at a construction site in Mannar (Northern Province), Excavations conducted in support of the Office on Missing Persons, revealed a mass grave from which more than 300 skeletons were discovered. It was the second mass grave found in Mannar following the discovery of a site in 2014. Given that other mass graves might be expected to be found in the future, systematic access to grave sites by the Office, as an observer, is crucial for it to fully discharge its mandate, particularly with regard to the investigation and identification of remains, it is imperative that the proposed reforms on the law relating to inquests, and relevant protocols to operationalize the law be adopted. The capacity of the forensic sector must also be strengthened, including in areas of forensic anthropology, forensic archaeology and genetics, and its coordination with the Office of Missing Persons must be ensured.”


Disappearance of Ekneligoda

However, Sri Lanka cannot ignore the issue as disappearances took place during successive governments. Disappearances took place during the conflict and also in the post-war period. The disappearance of media personality Prageeth Ekneligoda on the eve of the 2010 January presidential election, is a case in point. The failure on the part of Sri Lanka to address Ekneligoda disappearance increased international pressure on Sri Lanka. The government owed an explanation as regards the media personality’s disappearance over a decade ago. There cannot be any rationale in blanket denial of accusations. In fact, efforts to deceive the public, and the international community in respect of perhaps isolated cases such as the Ekneligoda disappearance had facilitated the high profile Western strategy meant to subvert Sri Lanka on unsubstantiated war crimes allegations.

With Saliya Pieris at the helm of the BASL, it can certainly play a significant role in Sri Lanka’s effort to ascertain the truth. The new BASL Chief, with valuable experience as a member of the HRCSL as well as the Chairman, OMP, can undertake a thorough examination of events/developments leading to the final confrontation between the Army and the LTTE on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, in the Mullaitivu district, on the morning of May 19, 2009. The BASL had been largely silent on the Geneva issue though one of its high profile members, TNA lawmaker M.A. Sumanthiran, declared, in mid-2016, the acceptance of foreign judges in local war crimes investigation mechanisms. The declaration was made in Washington in the presence of the then Sri Lanka’s Ambassador there Prasad Kariyawasam. The Foreign Ministry remained conveniently silent on the issue. In August 2017, Kariyawasam received the appointment as the Foreign Secretary, whereas President Sirisena brought in Tilak Marapana, PC, and a one-time Attorney General as the Foreign Minister. Marapana, too, followed the UNP strategy. The UNP-led government turned a blind eye to the UK House of Lords disclosure on Oct 12, 2017 how the British government suppressed confidential dispatches from its Defence Advisor in Colombo Lt. Col. Anthony Gash (Jan-May 2009). The UK, now leading the Sri Lanka Core Group targeting the country in Geneva, in the absence of the US, continues to shamelessly suppress dispatches, pertaining to Sri Lanka, as the disclosure of such would jeopardize the Western campaign against the country.

Perhaps the appointment of Saliya Pieris couldn’t have taken place at a better time for the country. The respected lawyer received the BASL leadership, the day Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena responded to Michelle Bachelet’s damning report. The writer is of the opinion that Minister Gunawardena, in his speech, should have requested Michelle Bachelet, as well as the 47-members of the UNHRC, to re-examine all available evidence, information and data. Minister Gunawardena should have formally requested the UK, a member of the UNHRC, to disclose all such dispatches sent by Gash to London. The UK released only a section of heavily censored dispatches, following the unprecedented intervention made by Conservative Party veteran Lord Naseby. Sri Lanka pathetically failed to exploit Gash dispatches in spite of Lord Naseby raising the issue, ahead of the Geneva sessions. Let me reproduce the relevant question raised by Lord Naseby and the response received.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, on Feb 16, 2021, told Parliament that the UK Government had not received any request from the Geneva Council for copies of dispatches written by the former defence attaché at the British High Commission in Sri Lanka Gash about events in Sri Lanka related to the civil war, and had not provided any.

Lord Ahmad was responding to Lord Naseby’s query raised on Feb 4, 2021, whether the UK government provided to UNHRC any (1) censored, and (2) uncensored, copies of dispatches from Lieutenant Colonel Gash, the former defence attaché of the British High Commission in Sri Lanka about events in that country between 1 January and 18 May 2009, relating to the civil war.

Unfortunately, Sri Lanka for some strange reason, refrained from raising the the US disclosure, in 2011, that battlefield executions didn’t take place, or confidential UN report that contradicted the main Geneva accusation the military massacred 40,000 civilians.

Perhaps, the BASL, under its new leadership, can examine the whole gamut of issues, with the focus on the UNSG’s Panel of Experts (PoE) report (March 31, 2011) that prevented examination of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations on the basis of which Sri Lanka co-sponsored the 2015 Geneva resolution. According to the PoE (paragraph 23, titled Confidentiality of the Panel’s records), the examination of unsubstantiated allegations wouldn’t be allowed till 2031 in terms of the UN directive. Even after the 20-year period of classification as confidential records, those unsubstantiated allegations wouldn’t be examined without a declassification review. Let us hope the BASL undertakes a thorough study on accountability issues. Pieris, is certainly the most qualified to lead the inquiry.

Continue Reading

Midweek Review

Two colliding and coexisting Asian giants



Book Review


CHINA and INDIA – History, Culture, Cooperation and Competition Editors

– Paramita Mukherjee, Arnab K. Deb and Miao Pang
Publisher –

SAGE Publications India Pvt. Ltd. (

Reviewed by Lynn Ockersz

This book is itself proof that India and China, two Asian political giants, could come together in peace and work constructively and cooperatively towards worthy ends. ‘China and India – History, Culture, Cooperation and Competition’, is a product of profound, combined political science scholarship between India and China, which could not have come into our hands at a more appropriate time.

The reason for the latter observation ought to be plain to see: after a months-long military stand-off on their disputed border in the Ladakh sector, in particular, which at times claimed lives, the giants have decided to withdraw their troops, giving negotiations a chance. In fact, constructive engagement rather confrontation has been the dominant feature in India-China relations over the past few decades, although negative quarters, including those among the international media, have chosen to see otherwise.

That said, it could not be denied that India-China relations have been badly ruptured at times by divisive questions and conflicting interests. Some of these differences have been grave enough to prompt the giants to resolve them on the battle field. For example, their border dispute drove these powers to resort to a full-blown war in 1962. Other issues remain to be resolved as well.

However, Siparna Basu in his paper in ‘China and India…’ titled, ‘Multiple Paths to Globalisation – The India-China Story’, commenting on the history of India-China ties, reveals how India’s first post-independence Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru reportedly declined an offer, backed by the US in the mid fifties, to allocate a UN Security Council seat to India, proposing that the offer should be made to China instead. Apparently, India considered this offer as a move against China. It is a measure of the cooperative spirit which existed between India and China at the time.

But the numerous papers in this book of combined scholarship, while being evidence of the unity of purpose the regional heavyweights could achieve, open revealing windows to also the achievements in numerous fields of the Indian and Chinese civilizations over the centuries.

The countries are revered civilizations that have fertilized the human spirit everywhere through their enduring and ennobling achievements and the papers in this book give us an ample description of these accomplishments, besides updating the reader accurately on the latest developments in India-China ties, in a multiplicity of areas, including inter-state politics.

A strong merit of ‘China and India..’ is the ample space it devotes to economic cooperation between India and China on the one hand and the numerous exercises in such cooperation featuring these key powers and their neighbouring states, on the other. That is, we are kept very much abreast of the latest developments relating to groupings, such as, BRICS, BIMSTEC, BCIM, SCO, to name just a few. This is as it should be because it is economics in the main that is driving international relations currently and not so much politics and military conflict, although the dominant tendency among major opinion moulders, such as the media, is to focus on ‘geopolitics’ to the detriment of economics.

In keeping with the overall spirit of the book, researchers continually focus on the huge potential for bilateral economic cooperation between India and China, besides drawing attention to the benefits of regional collaborative efforts in commerce, trade and investment. Just two papers that are of immense worth from this viewpoint are: ‘Driving Force and Constraints of BCIM Economic Corridor’ by Li Jingfeng and ‘Regional Inequality over the Post-globalization Era: A Study on India and China’ by Arindam Banik and Arnab K. Deb.

Accordingly, ‘China and India…’ gives us the actualities in India-China ties lying behind the smokescreen of sensational military developments between the countries. Besides, it’s a remarkable update on the potential for inter-country economic cooperation in the Indian Ocean region while focusing also on the major economic forces driving global and regional political change.

Continue Reading

Midweek Review

Stand-alone Splendour



By Lynn Ockersz

With kingly poise he glides,

This milk-white wonder,

Whom we take for granted…..

The quickening Beira waters,

For him holding no terrors…

But study his every deft action,

And behold a stand-alone splendour,

Of the country’s ravaged eco-system,

Who is at peace with himself,

And is in no need,

To beg, steal or borrow,

Or cut deals that bring him dishonour.

Continue Reading