- Monday, 30 May 2016
The immediate cause of the fracas in the east involving the chief minister, governor and naval officer was personal pique. That incident has been sought to be politicized by an opposition that is ever mindful of the power of inter-ethnic mobilization of nationalism. They have warned of the undermining of the security forces of the country by the ethnic and religious minorities. The fact that it was a Muslim chief minister who spoke offensively in public to a naval officer from the predominantly Sinhalese security forces was given full play by the opposition that had once exploited narrow nationalism to win successive elections, and endeavour to continue in the same way. Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa even sought to draw a link between this incident and another recent one, in which TNA leader R Sampanthan entered an army camp with some of his supporters to inspect land that had been taken over from civilians during the war.
In both cases exaggerated ethnic interpretations have been given to make it appear to the wider population as if national security is being put into jeopardy by the aggressive behaviours of the ethnic and religious minorities. In the case of the alleged gate crashing into the army camp, the TNA leader has explained that the army officer on duty had not objected to his entry into the outer precincts of the army camp to inspect land that his party supporters had claimed was their own, but which had been taken over as high security zones that the government has promised to return, and which has yet to be returned. The over-centralisation of power, the undermining of devolution of power and the use of the military to take over civilian spaces are both the cause and consequence of the three decade long war.
- Saturday, 28 May 2016
CITIZENS PEACE AWARD TO LATE VEN. MADULUWAWE SOBITHA
The National Peace Council of Sri Lanka is awarding its annual Citizens Peace Prize for 2015 posthumously to the Most Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Nayake Thero for his fearless approach to minority rights and inter-religious coexistence, and for providing skillful leadership in promoting humane values and democratic governance. At the time of passing away he had become a truly spiritual leader, seeking nothing for himself, but seeking everything for the people, irrespective of their ethnicity or religion.
The Citizens Peace Award was established in 2010 and is intended to honour and encourage those individuals in civil society who have demonstrated courage and consistency in the protection of and respect for human rights, peaceful settlement of disputes and promoting increased understanding between and among communities.
We are gratified that the Ven Sobitha agreed to accept this award during his lifetime. When members of the National Peace Council met him at the Naga Vihara temple in Kotte in September 2015, and requested him to accept our award, he said there were others more qualified than he was, but eventually agreed when we said our choice was unanimous. We even set the date of the award ceremony for November 5, 2016 but by that time he had fallen seriously ill.
- Tuesday, 24 May 2016
In October 2015 the government surprised virtually everyone regardless of political spectrum, and friend and foe, when it co-sponsored the resolution on Sri Lanka by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. From the time that the war ended in 2009 onwards Sri Lanka came under pressure by this international body to investigate charges that massive violations of human rights had taken place in the closing stages of the war, which included war crimes. Together with crimes against humanity and genocide, war crimes constitute the triumvirate of international crimes for which there can be no amnesty according to current international standards. It may be a recognition of this that drives the opposition to insist that its leaders may face the electric chair.
Prior to October 2015, the Sri Lankan government headed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had resisted the international calls for accountability for past violations of human rights and international crimes. It strenuously denied the allegations and sought to mobilize international support in its favour. Although the government succeeded in 2009 due to the willingness of the majority of countries at the UNHRC to give the government the benefit of time to work out a solution this victory was shortlived. Thereafter on every occasion that Sri Lanka opposed the resolutions against it in Geneva, it lost and not surprisingly as the US itself led the campaign against the Sri Lankan government.
- Monday, 16 May 2016
The war ended on the battlefields of the north seven years ago on May 19. The commemoration of this day is a divisive one. During the period of the previous government, which claimed ownership of the war victory, the commemoration took the form of a victory celebration, with military parades and narrow ethnic nationalistic speechmaking that catered to ethnic majority sentiment but injured the sentiments of the ethnic minorities. At the same time the government also took action to ensure that there would be no commemoration of the LTTE or even of civilian loss of life. This led to the prohibition of any form of public coming together in the north of the country where the last battles were fought, even within places of religious worship, for the purpose of remembering the dead.
However, a shift could be discerned last year, after the new government had come to power. Although once again the commemoration took the form of a military parade with associated speechmaking, it was conducted on a smaller scale and with less nationalism. The decision of the new government headed by President Maithripala Sirisena to redefine May 19 as a Day of Remembrance marked a significant break with the past. However, it was still not a complete break. It was accompanied by a military parade, as in the past, attended by the President. The sacrifice of the Sri Lankan security forces who ensured the territorial unity of the country, and the final military triumph over the LTTE and its separatist campaign, were the main themes of this event.