By Laksiri Fernando –
University of Colombo
11 October 2015
Dear Vice Chancellor,
I wish to draw your attention to the conferring of honorary doctorates in 2009 to the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Gotabaya Rajapaksa by the University of Colombo. As you may know, I was the proposer of this motion at the Senate on the 29th of May 2009 which was carried unanimously and later approved by the Council of the University.
The premise for that proposal was that both the President and the Secretary of Defence had rendered an immense service to the country by bringing an end to the nearly three decades of war that bled the country and even disrupted the university education. The citations for the event would speak for the more specific reasons. However, the subsequent events as well as what have transpired later as their immediate past actions have shown that both have exceeded their powers vested in them by the people.
For example, President Rajapaksa ventured to exceed the traditions of democracy by lifting the two terms limit for the presidency and contesting for a third term in January this year. There are credible allegations of gross human rights violations at the last stages of the war under their command. In 2013, shooting in Weliweriya and at the Welikada prison also happened under their command. All these and other events have breached the confidence that the University of Colombo placed in them in conferring those doctorates.
Universities do make mistakes in conferring honorary doctorates and when they are realized the tradition is to revoke them. I apologise for whatever mistake I have made on this matter. If I may cite a similar example, in 1919, the University of Pennsylvania revoked the honorary degrees that they previously conferred to Germany’s Kaiser and its Ambassador to the US and Mexico. There have been more than ten revocations since then all over the world.
As you know, I am retired and as a result no longer a member of the Senate or the University of Colombo. Therefore, I nominate Dr Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri (or his nominee) who has publicly raised this issue with me to propose a revocation of these honorary degrees in the Senate. I do hope that you would allow a free discussion on this matter at the Senate and take a decision to revoke the said two honorary degrees.
Dr Laksiri Fernando
Former Senior Professor in Political Science and Public Policy