By Laksiri Fernando –
Let me begin by briefly overviewing the general status of Asia-Pacific on key issues of human rights. This region with 45 countries and territories is home to over 4.3 billion people, and is most complex in terms of ethnic, religious and cultural diversity. Therefore, any attempt to generalize is not an easy task. Depending on their priorities or the way they perceive human rights, different international human rights organizations appear to differ on their assessments. Among these organizations are Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Freedom House. Let me first quote what the Freedom House has to say about the human rights situation for the past five years.
“Over the past five years, the Asia-Pacific region has been the only one to record steady gains in political rights and civil liberties as measured by Freedom House. Although it is home to China, where over half the world’s Not Free population lives, and North Korea, the least free country in the world, a number of Asia-Pacific countries have made impressive gains in the institutions of electoral democracy—elections, political parties, pluralism—and in freedom of association.”[i]
Whatever the weaknesses of the methodology or approach of the Freedom House, the above statement encapsulates the general situation in the region. It marks the ‘steady gains’ achieved, in general terms, which could be an encouragement for human rights defenders. In contrast, Amnesty International noted a ‘regressive trend’ in the region, particularly in 2014, in its ‘State of the World’s Human Rights (2015).’
As the Freedom House assessment emphasized, China still remains the most problematic, nearly 1.5 billion people live without political rights or civil liberties. North Korea is the most despicable, denial or suppression of both political/civil rights and basic economic/social necessities are quite conspicuous. The influence of China as an emerging political giant and a successful economic story could be considered unfavorable to human rights development in the region as many regimes seek its backing for their open or covert authoritarian policies. However in recent times, several countries and in particular Myanmar and Sri Lanka, have shown quite a resistance to these influences moving at least partially away from China’s political hegemony.
It is not the economic benefits or influence that have become detrimental to human rights, but the political influence or emulation of authoritarian structures and patterns taking China as an example.
If the human rights promoters or activists in the region, (say) in the coming 25 years, could pay more attention on this overall condition of human rights and thus make their best efforts on institution building on democracy with attendant aspects of good governance, rule of law, accountability, independence of the judiciary and justice, they could reap more practical results while not neglecting individual human rights whether in the political/civil sphere or economic/social sphere without also not neglecting cultural rights of the communities and individuals.
Among the major human rights debates in the region, in the past two and half decades, there were two major issues, one epitomized by ‘Asian values’ and the other emphasizing on the primacy of economic and social rights. Both have now melted into the background slowly though after the East Asian economic crisis in 1997-1998. This is not to say that those issues are not existent in the debates today, but their importance have dwindled. Even with their presence, it might be better to look at the human rights challenges in the region in a broader perspective in a holistic manner where activists or advocates in individual countries might be able to pick what is relevant to them from a broader catalogue or ‘shopping list’ of issues. The following statement by Tae-Ung Baik few years back may be useful in finding such a broader perspective.
“In short, there are many challenges in the implementation of human rights in Asia: the weakness of human rights norms, the existence of authoritarian regimes, the problems of poverty and economic-first policy, the colonial legacy and transitional justice issues, cultural hurdles, a weak civil society, and the limited influence of the international community.”[ii]
Advantages of Democracy Approach
The above statement is a comprehensive catalogue of human rights challenges in the region. The weaknesses of human rights norms highlight the ‘awareness building’ and ‘educational tasks’ that human rights promoters need to undertake. The existence of the authoritarian regimes undoubtedly is the major obstacle. The problems of poverty legitimizes the ‘economic-first policy,’ and allows the authoritarian regimes to easily undermine political rights and civil liberties. There are accumulation of transitional justice issues due to past and continuing societal conflicts (i.e. Sri Lanka) and even to address them there are cultural hurdles to overcome. At the bottom is the weak or weakened civil society by state action. It is an obvious fact to say that today the international concern or support for human rights is very much weaker compared to say the decade of 1990s. This is the ‘limited influence of the international community’ that the above author was talking about.
All these challenges show that the promotion of human rights in the Asia-Pacific is not an easy task and concerted and well-balanced efforts are necessary under the circumstances. Simply said, what might be proposed in this article is to undertake the human rights campaigning within the rubric of democracy and good governance. That may also be the lesson that Sri Lanka shows in recent times. It is possible to highlight six advantages in doing so as follows.
- Democracy is the base of all human rights and many of the individual human rights particularly in the political and civil spheres could best be advocated under democracy.
- The concept or cause of democracy is less controversial in the region.
- Democracy or good governance may resonate well with the traditional values of Dharma in many parts of the region.
- Obviously no human right could be promoted without democracy.
- When democracy is promoted human rights follow naturally.
- Democracy approach is more diplomatic instead of direct advocacy of human rights.
There are of course dangers and liabilities in adopting such an approach, if it is adopted instead of human rights or in direct disadvantage to human rights. A major danger is dilution or compromise. Moreover, many democracy advocates often overlook specific and local (regional) issues of human rights within countries. This is evident even in the case of Sri Lankan today. The constitutional reform issues have taken a priority while minority rights issues have taken a backstage.
However, if the democracy approach is adopted for strategic or even tactical reasons, the purpose and effects would be enhanced instead of damaging or retarding. It is not suggested here to drop or postpone human rights but to forefront them with the ‘vanguard of democracy.’ This is not a suggestion on the spur of the moment. The reasoning is well established in human rights theory as well.
Referring to EU’s approach to human rights, Elena Fierro once said,
“Whether the human rights clauses refer to democracy or to democratic principles, the condition is always quoted first, before the necessity of respecting human rights.”[iii]
There are many other authors who have conceptualized the connection between democracy and human rights or ‘human rights and democracy.’ Introducing Democracy: 80 Questions and Answers in 1996 by David Beetham and Kevin Boyle was a good start.[iv] The 2005 World Summit (New York) spoke of the connection of ‘development and democracy’ as ‘interdependent and mutually reinforcing.’ There are many other conceptualizations that the human rights promoters could benefit out of. However, we should be aware of the possible downsides as well, as mentioned before.
While it is true that the struggle for democracy can be the vanguard for the promotion of human rights in any country, the opposite is also true to say that without the ‘rearguard,’ or more correctly, the centrality of human rights, democracy as a mere structure is meaningless. This is particularly true in countries, including Sri Lanka, where democracies could easily be hijacked by majoritarianism. Jack Donnelly has put forward a strong argument in this respect. As he has argued, ‘human rights are integrally required to modulate and tame both majoritarianism in democracy and social injustices in the market.’
The Case of Sri Lanka
Samuel P. Huntington in his initial studies characterized Ceylon (later Sri Lanka) as a democratic country in the Third Wave. This was mainly the same characterization that the Australian author James Jupp (Sri Lanka: Third World Democracy, 1978) gave with an insightful qualification. The reasons were quite obvious. Sri Lanka or Ceylon was a ‘model’ British colony with several of its democratic experimentations. Universal franchise was introduced in 1931, for the first time in Asia. The country achieved independence in 1948 peacefully without severing constitutional links with Britain which was considered helpful for the maintenance of democracy at that time. Sri Lanka achieved a two party system with alternating governments by 1960. The country became a Republic in 1972 nevertheless remained within the Commonwealth of Nations.
How did Sri Lanka become deviated from democratic norms is another story. Some reasons can be given briefly without going into details. Unprecedented population explosion, among other factors, gave rise to the first youth insurrection in 1971. Even before this time, the majoritarian politics based on ethnic dominance of the majority Sinhalese community made serious dents in the democratic norms and social justice issues. It was related to these conditions that gross human rights violations started to emerge. What became revealed was the deficiency of democracy without human rights which was a common condition in many newly democratic countries. The country took an authoritarian turn in 1978 when a presidential system was inaugurated without checks and balances and human rights became further eroded. Since 1983, the country has been engulfed in a serious internal war situation based on the ethnic conflict.
This war ended in May 2009 primarily and rather unavoidably through military means. However the opportunity was not taken to enhance democracy or reconcile the ethnic conflict, but to create an unmitigated authoritarian regime for the purposes of remaining in power for a closely knit (new) political elite led by a ruling family. That is how a ‘Free’ country became a ‘Partly Free’ country according to the Freedom House assessments.[v] Both political rights and civil liberties deteriorated. If we take the issues of individual human rights violations before or even after the end of the war in 2009, it is a long list. Although the constitution provided human rights redress through judicial process and through the National Human Rights Commission, those were not effective under the circumstances.
Since early 1970s there have been a growing number of human rights organizations who were doing exemplary work in areas of protection, promotion and education. These activities also became stifled due to the deterioration of democracy. Formal human rights work generally assumes the existence of democracy and attempts to correct deviations within it. Therefore, in the absence of democracy, the key issue of human rights obviously is democracy itself. Joshua Cohen strongly expounded this argument. He tried to conceptualize democracy itself as a ‘mega human right.’ Perhaps the human rights activists in Sri Lankan came to this realization by default or through experience.
How Does Human Rights Develop?
This is not an easy question to answer. However, through theoretical reasoning or trial and error it is not difficult to develop certain propositions. Richard P. Claude developed what he called “The Classical Model of Human Rights Development” in explaining how they developed during the initial periods in Western societies. He gave much emphasis on stages of development, and different social classes as catalysts in these developments at different stages. However, the conceptualization was placed primarily within a national context as that was the way human rights evolved in those societies prior to the formation of the UN, universalization of human rights (i.e. UDHR and international conventions) and globalization of communication and interrelationships. However today, human rights by nature are internationalized.
I had occasion to visualize a different or a contemporary model taking the international factor or the influence into primary concern. Yet, the main dynamics of the development does not come from the external but the internal forces, most usefully influenced or assisted by the international. As it was said in 2002:
“I have been of the opinion for some years that three main political processes shape and condition human rights circumstances in our countries, to mean the underdeveloped and Asian countries, for good or for bad. These processes are namely: 1. internal political mobilizations by civil society organizations; 2. state-making by political leaders; and 3. International influence by multi-national organizations and Western countries.”[vi]
Therefore, what the human rights promoters or the activists have to do, if this is at least broadly correct, is to work on the ‘synergies or meeting points between these processes’ in order to bring and develop human rights in a particular country. This is of course easily said than done.
In addition, what I didn’t realize at that time was the importance of ‘democracy as the main vanguard’ of struggles for human rights in our countries. This realization came later primarily through looking back at 25 years’ experience of Diplomacy Training Program (for human rights) and trying also to understand what Jose Ramos-Horta, Nobel Peace Laureate and former President tried to achieve in Timor Leste through different and arduous struggles.
Now this is confirmed by the experience in Sri Lanka both positively and negatively – democracy as the main vanguard of human rights struggles or development.
Sri Lanka’s Experience
A major breakthrough came in Sri Lanka, not immediately but eventually, when the ‘autocratic’ regime decided to go beyond its limits. That was the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in September 2010 which removed the conventional two term-limit to the presidency and suppressed the independent commissions, including the Human Rights Commission, except by name. The amendment was passed hurriedly through Parliament with the required two- thirds majority, but three political parties who voted in favor later declared it was a mistake. There was a crack. Democracy or human rights campaigners should always look for these types of ‘windows of opportunity.’
After the end of the war in 2009, although opportunities were there to relax the ‘military rule’ in the northern parts of Sri Lanka, where the Tamil community was predominantly living, it was not done. Elections to the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) was not held until October 2013. There were limitations to wage democracy campaigns on these issues internally given the past extremist movements associated with the militarily defeated LTTE. What became useful in addressing these issues were international persuasion or pressure by the Western governments. If not for that international factor, the NPC elections would not have been held even in 2013.
The regimes meddling with the judiciary was a major impetus for internal democratic mobilizations led by lawyers and lawyers’ associations. On the 18th Amendment, the Chief Justice succumbed, but on a similar issue later, she resisted in 2012. The consequence was an unlawful impeachment against her, which was strongly resisted by the judiciary. This was a clear turning point in the country. For the first time, judicial officers opted to stop work in protest and the lawyers’ associations took to the streets.
By this time resistance had also emerged from other quarters. Student protests were a frequent feature in the country for a long time with both pros and cons. They were not particularly helpful for a democracy movement. However, a change came from the academics who became united against political interference in university administration and academic matters. Their demands or slogans were much broader appealing to the people. In a context of funding cuts to education, they demanded 6% GDP allocation to education. For the first time, university professors and lecturers were marching on the streets.
A ‘mini uprising’ took place in August 2013, when security forces were employed to suppress a local protest of village dwellers who were protesting against ground water pollution due to industrial waste in Weliweriya, north of Colombo. As an issue of environment protection, the protest attracted many activists involved in environmental issues. The high handed security force involvement ended up in three persons killed and many wounded which created a national issue (See picture).
After Tamils, the Muslim community was at the receiving end of many atrocities of increasingly bigoted policies of an intolerant government. There was a direct connection between the extremist nationalist/religious groups and the security establishment in the country. After several mosque attacks, a major onslaught took place in Aluthgama in June 2014, in a residential and business area of the Muslims in the South. Small scale random attacks had already taken place against many Christian missionary establishments throughout the country after the end of the war as if to keep all minority communities under the majority yoke. The minority disaffection and even resistance was a major impetus for the democracy movement in the country that turned out to be a decisive political change in January 2015.
The above is not a complete record of events or developments but only some highlights. A major merit of these movements were their complete non-violent and legitimate character particularly when they were compared to Arab-Spring movements.
The whole world today knows that a preliminary change came in Sri Lanka in January 2015. The former President was defeated and a new President was appointed quite dramatically. The latter was a common candidate of the opposition who broke away from the previous regime at the last moment. Although a strong electoral support came from the formal opposition in Parliament, the main dynamic for change originated from outside and from the civil society.
The movement that brought up the change was catalyzed by a civil society elite. The crystallization of the movement took barely three years nevertheless based on a long and arduous work undertaken by a host of NGOs and other civil society organizations. Sri Lanka is home to over 15,000 civil society organizations out of which nearly 100 with international affiliations. This is apart from trade unions or religious organizations and for a population of 21 million people. A great majority of these organizations usually work in the spheres of community and welfare, and others who were involved in human rights or democracy related issues were largely subdued due to the repressive atmosphere for the last few decades.
The catalyst for change did not come spontaneously from the grassroots or the voters, although they finally voted against the autocratic President. It came from a civil society and a professional elite. The media and journalists also played a major role, some working from outside the country. The Colombo Telegraph, Sri Lanka Guardian and Lanka e News were three media outlets working outside the country. If I were to mention two professional organizations which were on the democratic forefront, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) and the Federation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA) can be named. A long standing NGO, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), played a role of a think-tank and also was involved in DTP type diplomacy with foreign embassies and governments.
The most pivotal was the formation of the National Movement for Just Society (NMJS) led by a radical Buddhist monk, Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha, supported and assisted by similarly radical academics and lawyers. The NMJS was based on a 15 point manifesto for constitutional reform and good governance. Call for human rights and ethnic reconciliation was an integral part of the program. The role of the former President, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (CBK), also was important. Any such support from past statesmen/women or politicians would be an advantage in any country. During the elections, newly politicized youth involved in the democracy movement in a great measure under different ad hoc organizations. One such organization was the Democratic National Movement. Face Book and social media played a major role in awareness building and protest.
To end the Sri Lanka story, it is important at this stage to highlight and generalize three major steps or interactions through which a spiral of democracy movement or ‘internal political mobilization’ became unleashed. This dynamic of an ‘elite-mass interaction’ might be important for any country.
- First was a strong realization among a group of civil society/professional elite that the situation should be changed and it can be changed. Many seminars and discussions were held, and articles/missives were written. Most of the opposition political party leaders, however, were still far behind this realization. It was not easy to motivate them directly.
- Second was the steps taken to take up the democracy issue to the masses. The NMJS and others played a major role in an effort to spark public interest on reform and change. It was a success. The protest against the unlawful impeachment was a major event led by the BASL.
- At the third stage, the public pressure forced the reluctant political leaders in the opposition to accept the reform agenda and move forward. The former President worked behind the scenes. What they learnt in the process was the limitations of purely a reform agenda. Broad economic and social issues that the general public was interested in were brought into the picture. The situation also made cracks within the existing regime and the common candidate finally was a defector from the regime.
My principle argument in this article is the importance of ‘democracy as a vanguard’ in promoting and protecting human rights in the region, without neglecting the individual human rights in the process. Democracy is the bearer and the base of human rights. The advantages of democracy as an approach also was highlighted (6 points) while cautioning particularly on ‘majoritarianism.’ Synergy between human rights and democracy might be the necessity.
The advocacy of ‘democracy approach’ does not deny the approach of ‘human rights diplomacy.’ However, the golden age of it might be over. I have not seen its effective use in recent times like in the case of East Timor or by Jose Ramos-Horta. Also as Tae-Ung has noted, the ‘limited influence of the international community’ in recent times itself is a setback in the region. Therefore, the democratic governments like in Australia should pay more attention on the predicament with more endowments etc. One reason for the situation might be the counter influence of China. What could offset the situation might be the promotion of democracy in the region and in China itself. Those governments not democratically elected by the people, and not accountable to them properly, cannot be of any worth in the 21st Century.
The present article gave more space for Sri Lanka than for any other issue. The purpose was to demonstrate, as requested, how democratic change actually could come about through ‘elite-mass interaction.’ It might be too early, however, to consider Sri Lanka as a model for others. It is still a long way to go. The January ‘silent revolution’ is only a first step with certain subsequent setbacks. The crucial role of the civil society, if and when, inspired by a socially committed elite, is nevertheless amply demonstrated by that example. The role of the DTP in the coming 25 years in the region could well be to inspire and train such an elite extensively on human rights, as it has been doing in the past, nevertheless at a higher level in promoting and protecting democracy and human rights. What might be emphasized finally is the ‘elite-mass interaction’ as a catalyst for democratic and human rights change not only for initial advancement but also for its continuity and sustainability.
*This article is an adapted version, without many references, of what was published in the ‘DTP Newsletter,’ No. 50 (July 2015) at the University of New South Wales. Dr Laksiri Fernando was a former Executive Director of the Diplomacy Training Program (DTP) started in 1990 by Jose Ramos-Horta and Professor Garth Nettheim.
[i] [i] https://freedomhouse.org/regions/asia-pacific#.VY-1qRsVgcA
[ii] Tae-Ung Baik, Emerging Regional Human Rights in Asia, Cambridge, 2012, p. 272.
[iii] Elena Fierro, European Union’s Approach to Human Rights Conditionality in Practice, Martin Nijhoff, 2003.
[iv] The present author translated the 2010 edition of this book into Sinhalese (Marga, 2011) also suggesting its translation into Tamil in Sri Lanka.
[v] For a comprehensive assessment of all countries see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_in_the_World
[vi] Laksiri Fernando, Human Rights, Politics and States: Burma, Cambodia and Sri Lanka, SSA, 2002, p. i.
alex / July 28, 2015
Democracy is the ideal vehicle for change however in Sri Lanka democracy continues to be confused for mob-rule, as opposed to the liberal democracies we are alluding to .
Further, Sri Lanka’s elite are extremely well educated and have been exposed to vast, multi-faceted engagements on the need for human rights, accountability and justice, and yet the country continues to regress.
A report out today by the ITJP (also reported on the CT) shows that despite the change in government the attacks on Tamils by the Sinhala dominated Security forces are rife and brutal.
In short Sri Lanka will need continuing robust engagement by the International Community and in particular the organisations coordinating international judicial procedures, before we can expect any real reform.
Amarasiri / July 28, 2015
Dr. Laksiri Fernando
RE: Human Rights Challenges In Asia-Pacific: Does Sri Lanka Show A Way Out?
Can you write the Sri Lanka Version of the Common Sense pamphlet, 2015, in Sinhala, English and Tamil.
Thank you in advance..
Common Sense (pamphlet)
Common Sense is a pamphlet written by Thomas Paine in 1775–76 that inspired people in the Thirteen Colonies to declare and fight for independence from Great Britain in the summer of 1776. The pamphlet explained the advantages of and the need for immediate independence in clear, simple language. It was published anonymously on January 10, 1776, at the beginning of the American Revolution and became an immediate sensation. It was sold and distributed widely and read aloud at taverns and meeting places.
Washington had it read to all his troops, which at the time had surrounded the British army in Boston. In proportion to the population of the colonies at that time (2.5 million), it had the largest sale and circulation of any book published in American history. As of 2006, it remains the all-time best selling American title.
Common Sense presented the American colonists with an argument for freedom from British rule at a time when the question of whether or not to seek independence was the central issue of the day. Paine wrote and reasoned in a style that common people understood. Forgoing the philosophical and Latin references used by Enlightenment era writers, he structured Common Sense as if it were a sermon, and relied on Biblical references to make his case to the people. He connected independence with common dissenting Protestant beliefs as a means to present a distinctly American political identity. Historian Gordon S. Wood described Common Sense as “the most incendiary and popular pamphlet of the entire revolutionary era”.
alex / July 29, 2015
Sri Lanka doesn’t suffer from a lack of intellectuals or a lack of an establishment class who in someway do not understand what is wrong. Quite the contrary, Sri Lanka has one of the best educated establishments in the third world. It is sadly an issue of political will. I.e. the establishment doesn’t buy into liberal democratic governance when it runs counter to Sinhala nationalist hegemony on the island. You can write whatever text you want in Sinhala, Tamil and anything else, but it won’t change the lack of political will. For that there have to be consequences to poor decisions.
dcn / July 28, 2015
Has justice been done to the victims of this attack at Rathupaswela? Have the authorities resolved the water pollution problem for ever?
Ponkoh Sivakumaran / July 28, 2015
Thank you very much for this thought provoking article, Dr. Laksiri.
I have doubts whether democracy is the answer. The Singapore model worked without much democracy. I used to think it was make belief but Lee Kwan Yew did have popular support even if it is correct that the elections in Singapore were fixed.
The problem in Sri Lanka, as Mahinda R. will demonstrate, is that ethnic and religious chauvinism are still powerful and manipulatable. As long as this remains, democracy only helps such politicians. What the alternative is, I am unable to say. There does not seem to be a Sri Lankan Lee Kwan Yew even in the remote horizon.
K.A Sumanasekera / July 29, 2015
Not sure about Asia & Pacific,
But I know Mahendran & Aloysious look after the Finances of Srilanka.
Bangsa Jaya takes care of their Insurance Policies.
Baththudeen only can give permits to settle landless Dalits on Government land.
Tamil National Alliance TNA member CM Wigneswaran is hiring even ex LTTE cadres and current moles in high places to work as advisers.
British Tiger Forum, BTF Chief Mr Surendran is now part of the ruling Yahapalana Coalition.
There are more Ministers in the current Regime who are not Sinhala Buddhists.
Although the latter are the great majority of the Inhabitant population. in fact 70 % of the total.
And these Ministers have put nearly 1.5 Million Dalits , mainly the Sinhala Buddhists out of their jobs under the pretext of fixing corruption.
Obviously this eminent ex Srilankan must be from the Rudra Faction.
Mr Fernando / July 29, 2015
Thank you for unashamedly confession ‘ revealing ‘ what the gullible voters realised within the hundred days of the promised liberation. and is now an open secret. You rightly mention the role played by NGOs, foreign embassies , the self proclaimed human rights movements and the mass media gowned by moguls. Yet, you disingenuously and deliberately omit to deliberate on what followed on after the defeat of the said dictator. The free presses now muzzled and openly threatened with sanctions by the prime minister; politicians opposed to the present regimebein arrested without charge by the police subunit under the direct guidance of the prime minister refusal of the government to investigate the allegations fraud and corrupt practices of the current government which includes massive fraud involving 48 billion Rupees by the governor of Central bank, customs fraud by two senior cabinet minissters of the present government..
One final word. Please get some help to write in meaningful and grammatically correct English. Just look t this sentence of yours: ‘The problem in Sri Lanka, as Mahinda R will demonstrate, is that ethnic and religious chauvinism are still powerful and manipulatable’. Murder of the Queen’s English.
Ponkoh Sivakumaran / July 29, 2015
Most respected Sir, I await instruction from you as to the writing of the “Queens” English. I shall be grateful if you would let me know what the error in the sentence structure you quote is. Thank you very much, Exalted One.
Dr Laksiri Fernando / July 30, 2015
So-called Mr. Fernando,
You seems to be an utterly confused person. First you try to counter my arguments on the basis of Anti-Western rhetoric. Then in the last paragraph, in the same posting, you try to insult Ponkoh Sivakumaran trying to find mistakes in his English! How come a so-called patriot so obsessed with the Queen’s language?
You have not yet answered Sivakumaran’s extremely polite query requesting you to show any grammatical mistakes in his language. It is my observation that those ‘patriots’ who are at the same time obsessed with Queen’s language suffer from inferiority complex. English is a lingua franca today; not a sacred language.
srilal / July 31, 2015
Mr Fernando ,
You seem to have some trouble in analysing the Queen’s language , let me try to help you here ,
‘The problem in Sri Lanka, as Mahinda R will demonstrate, is that ethnic and religious chauvinism are still powerful and manipulatable’.
this is a complex sentence ;hence, it can be broken in to three parts ,
1) The problem in Sri Lanka = prepositional phrase (PP)
2) as Mahinda R will demonstrate = Dependent clause (DC)
3) is that ethnic and religious chauvinism are still powerful and manipulatable = Independent clause (IC)
Above three clauses can be rearranged in the following order as well
PS: However , it would have been much better , if the (DC) Dependent clause had been changed to , ” AS MAHINDA IS A RACIST”.
Jim softy / July 29, 2015
Why don’t you write about human rights in your naturalized homeland, Australia.
How they treat Aborigines and kill them like dogs.
Dr Laksiri Fernando / July 29, 2015
I do write and have written on human rights in Australia but not to the Colombo Telegraph! Even in this article, when I refer to Asia-Pacific that includes Australia. However, human rights in Australia is secure because democracy is secure. That is the lesson.
You are wrong to say that Aborigines are killed like dogs in Australia today. That is the past and not in recent times. Australian governments have apologized for that past. However, there are still human rights issues related to Aboriginal communities which are being addressed. No country including Australia is perfect in human rights. In your comment what is apparent is your prejudice or hate because Australia is a ‘western’ or a democratic country.
I have been a dual citizen since 1991. I came back to Sri Lanka in 1997 and served the country until 2010 as much as I could until retirement, without privilege or misusing power like some others. Therefore, I have every right to talk about human rights and democracy in Sri Lanka. Your comment is completely misplaced.
gigurawa / July 30, 2015
Dear Mr Fernando.
Can you tell us, the readers, about the service you did to Sri Lanka during the 13 years you were in Sri Lanka. In what capacity?. What was your role? How exactly did you contribute in the service of your motherland?
Dr. Laksiri Fernando / July 30, 2015
Whatever the capacity, it was a service to the country, as I came back. Readers also could gather from the author description to the article what I was holding in Australia. By the way, I was not a petrol pumper! Let me give you a challenge ‘Gigurawa.’ Tell the readers your credentials, and then I will reveal mine. Why are you hiding behind a pseudonym?
giurawa / August 1, 2015
My dear Laksiri Pranandu
You know little about Sri Lanka and its interior beyond the place called Kolomba. Gigurawa is the name of a rural village in the Hiniduma constituency in a country called Lankawa. This is my father’s birth place and he proudly bestowed its name to me. While I do not have any credentials to boast, I cherish the unselfish camaraderie of the villagers I grew up with. I am ever grateful to the governments in the post-independent era for uplifting the lot of the rural folk, following the tradition of our great kings, and to the country and its people for providing free education, subsidised food and other amenities without discrimination, from which I benefited.
This country is unique in that the present generation still continue to reap the benefits of the selfless service of our ancestors over 2500 years. take for example the Nuwara Wewa, Thisa Weva, Prakrama Samudraya, Kantale Weva, to name a few. In other countries the kings made monuments to commemorate their wives or families. No western country including Great Britain has not bestowed any legacy to the posterity. You may recall that Indian Maharajas only built their own fiefdoms and oppressed their subjects.
It is only after the Europeans colonised our country in the 16th century that our own people have found means of betraying its own people and ridiculing our own inherent values.
Dr Laksiri Fernando / August 1, 2015
Don’t underestimate other people’s knowledge about Sri Lanka, whether it is Ihala Gigurawa or Pahala Gigurawa. First learn how to respect others by correctly writing their names when they reveal them properly unlike you. Don’t be another KA Sumanasekera by trying to ridicule others by distorting their names. If you say Gigurawa is your given name, I call you Mister with respect. It is customary for civilized people to comment on the substance of what is written in an article and not involved in personal spats. If I had to state my temporary return to Sri Lanka it was in reply to another comment and not to you. Your boast about your “unselfish camaraderie of the villagers” or “selfless service of our ancestors over 2500 years” has no relevance to what I have written in my article. It appears to me that you suffer from a complex, perhaps living in a Western country (!), when you say “No western country including Great Britain has not bestowed any legacy to the posterity.” On my part this debate is closed.
gigurawa / August 1, 2015
srilal / July 30, 2015
Let me chip in here , as a keen reader of Dr laksiri’s article , i can tell you what services Dr laksiri had contributed to SL , he had opened Thousand’s of thousand student’s and ignorant Mahinda loyalist’s eyes , that is priceless , can you reveal what had you done to Mother lanka apart from hero worshipping Mafia king ?
gigurawa / August 2, 2015
Dear Mr Laksiri Fernando and Mr/Ms Srilal,[Edited out]
srilal / July 29, 2015
Jim softy ,
“How they treat Aborigines and kill them like dogs”
It’s advisable for you to stick to something you know , Aborigines being killed like dogs ? which planet do you live Jim softy ? you just wanted to attack this Gentleman Dr Laksiri , didn’t you ? what a loser !
Alahakoon / July 29, 2015
” Democracy is the base of all human rights and many of the individual human rights particularly in the political and civil spheres could best be advocated under democracy.”…
You put couple point like above as “Universal Truths”.. But what if you are wrong or your teachers are wrong, what I mean is those could be Conditional truths but not Universal truths…. ..SL democracy used to depend on whether masses like get free Rice kilo or Wheat Kilo weekly. More recently, it is said just one lunch packet and half a bottle of Kasippu will decide democratic political rights of masses…Is this democracy?
Dr Mahathir once talk about this using a Malaysian saying.. He said democracy is like beautiful and soft rose, if you give it to monkeys, they just destroy it.
According to this western thinking China get very low ranking.. But have you heard repetition of 2004 student unrest or similar incidents lately… SL uses democratic processes for 60 years, but their tribal wars and killing increase with time… Assume China adopted democratic system 60 years back like SL. 80% to 90% of 1.2b Chinese may not know values or powers of democracy, they may select government based on small perk like free rice kilo too. Is this better than comparatively well educated party members selecting a leader for the country.. I don’t know. Anyway it is working for China and people are happier and more proud about their country and respected by the world never before…
Dr Laksiri Fernando / July 29, 2015
The link between ‘human rights and democracy’ that I tried to explicate is a relative, but a verifiable ‘truth,’ if you want to use that term. However, I have not used the term ‘truth’ or anything ‘metaphysical’ of that genre. Democracy is a system that humans have developed in many parts of the world for modern governance and human rights are social and legal entitlements that people have or should have for their modern living. I do understand your objection for ‘universal truths’ and I am partly in agreement with you.
However, I completely disagree with you when you reduce people’s rights to ‘rice or wheat’ or quote Dr. Mahathir (rightly or wrongly) to say ‘giving democracy to people is like giving a beautiful rose to a monkey.’ Under democracy, all people might not understand how to use franchise or rights properly at the beginning, but they learn eventually.
You have raised some questions about China as if it is completely a different world. My reading of the situation is different. I have met many students after Tinanman Square uprising in 1989. They were asking for freedom and justice (not rice!). It is true that similar has not happened (except in Hong Kong recently) after. Because, China has undertaken some reforms apart from selected suppression. To me democracy in China is possible not because of any universal truth but because it is the world and human trend.
You have also referred to ‘tribal wars and increased killings’ in Sri Lanka irrespective of democracy. You are correct partially but not entirely. If you go through my article again, I hope you would see my answer to this question on majoritarian democracy. Democracy is not something finite. It is a question of degree. To address problems in a plural society like in Sri Lanka, democracy itself has to evolve and develop.
K.A Sumanasekera / July 30, 2015
Dr Lucksiri represents the Elite , Anglican and the Vellala Club in Colombo.
They are not interested in Rice let alone Maniok or Sweet Potatoes..
Mainly because it adds too much calories to their beautiful bodies.
With the Per Capita income around USD 4000. these club members are on decent money now , after the rapid development of the country since Mr Pirahaparan left.
The opulence which is evident even in Wellala Gardens is unreal .
Just imagine what it is like in Cinnamon Gardens and the surrounds where most Yahapalana dispensers have their abodes.
They are now on lean cuisine with regular work outs at many Gyms along Galle road as well as in Cinnamon Gardens.
They even have personal trainers and dog walkers to keep their poodles also in good nick.
And even visits to Ayrvedic Massage clinics to tone their muscles is most common in Colombo’s more affluent Postcodes.
Would they like their cheer leaders like Dr Lucksiri to talk about poor and their peasant needs and make these Club members bored Shitless?..
Democracy is good for People whose Stomachs are full ..
And live in Air onditioned rooms.
Vellalas love to hear about War Crimes and Punishment.
But our great majority who are the rural and semi rural folk , mainly from the Sinhala Buddhist community getting at least 2 rice and curry hits a day is a problem,
Although they don’t have to worry about their kiddies getting blown up in school or on their way and back.
But looking after the kiddies is a major problem, specially in light of Yahapalana Ranil and Ravi withdrawing all funds from every development project.throwing over one and a half lakhs of poor out of their jobs just to take political revenge and re arrange the mailing addresses for commission cheques…
Vanguard / July 31, 2015
Dear Dr. Laksiri Fernando
Don’t hold up democracy as the answer as democracy has failed in Sri Lanka. Two insurrections, a 30 year war, ended now, are what we have to show for 65 years of independence. Democracy has not delivered the goods, very simply. It did not deliver economic prosperity – the reason for the 1970 uprising. The marginalization of minorities is another result.
Wikipedia has this to say: (Criticism of Democracy)
“More recently, democracy is criticised for not offering enough political stability. As governments are frequently elected on and off there tend to be frequent changes in the policies of democratic countries both domestically and internationally.”
“The constitutions of many countries have parts of them that restrict the nature of the types of laws that legislatures can pass. A fundamental idea behind some of these restrictions, is that the majority of a population and its elected legislature can often be the source of minority persecutions, such as with racial discrimination.”
These criticisms apply very well to Sri Lanka.
Voter education is the answer – government mass media education in political science, conflict resolution, history, and economics in all three languages. Then an educated voter base will make the right decisions, hopefully. They should demand the same education in their representatives, ministers and government officials.
The government must seek to educate and not just argue their point of view against the other party.
Hopefully voters will then see behind the attacking rhetoric that is so common today and look at the real issues.
Dr Laksiri Fernando / July 31, 2015
You say, “Don’t hold up democracy as the answer.” Then you also say, “Voter education is the answer.” These two are contradictory. Voter education and many other suggestions that you propose, that I agree, are part of democracy. Democracy is a process and not a final product. Of course there were failures in ‘majoritarian democracy’ in Sri Lanka. Still the same. That is not a reason to reject democracy or embrace dictatorship. Two insurrections were also related to that situation. However, there were many other reasons both economic and political. Voter education that you talk about cannot undertake without democracy. You cannot talk about ‘conflict resolution’ without democracy. I am surprised and even amused that you talk about ‘political science’ in the same breadth! Failures of democracy is not a reason to reject democracy. Of course there are constructive criticisms of democracy or certain forms of democracy. If you wish to study those criticisms positively one reading might be Michael Mann’s “The Dark Side of Democracy.”
I have no disagreement if you are fed with the rhetoric of one party against the other in the name of democracy. That is however not a reason to reject or even doubt the value of democracy. The base of democracy is people (demos=people; cracy=governance).