23 September, 2020

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Inter Religious Violence Can Threaten Consensual Reforms 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The passage of the second reading of the budget by a 2/3 majority in parliament indicates that the Government of National Unity continues to hold. The differences in opinion between the government partners that sometimes manifest themselves openly have not as yet destroyed their relationship. The most recent tug of war was over the actions of the Bribery and Corruption Commission. President Maithripala Sirisena was openly critical of the manner in which the Commission was handling high profile cases. This led to the resignation of the Director General of the Commission.

Earlier the President and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had shown their differences over the former Governor of the Central Bank who had been accused of involvement in the Central Bank Bond scam. The impugned official was not reappointed and the President used his powers of appointment to ensure that a mutually acceptable replacement would be found. Another area of continuing engagement has been on the issue of international participation in a post war judicial accountability mechanism as called for by the UNHRC (Geneva) resolution.

In all relationships there arise tensions. Whether the relationship is between individuals or collectives, differences of opinion is the norm not the exception. Sometimes the differences are strong enough to manifest themselves in open hostilities and a breakdown of relations. Those who are opponents, and skeptics, might make much of this. But if the commitment to stay together through thick and thin is there (till death do us part as in marriage) the parties will find the way to come back together. This appears to be the spirit of the relationship between the president and prime minister.

Constructive Cooperation 

The presentation in parliament of the six reports of the six subcommittees comprising parliamentarians is another reassuring sign of the unity that exists at the highest level of the polity. In the early part of this year the government decided that the entire parliament would sit as a constitutional assembly to work out a new constitution. The presentation of the six subcommittee reports to parliament sitting as the constitutional assembly indicates that the government is confident that it can take the constitutional reform process forward as planned.

What is especially noteworthy about the reports of the subcommittees is that they have been adopted by their members without division or any sign of internal dissent. The subcommittees have comprised members of all parties in parliament, including those belonging to the Joint Opposition. It therefore appears that the Joint Opposition members are cooperating with the constitutional reform process, even though they strongly criticize the government on other issues. Such constructive cooperation is to the credit of both the government and Joint Opposition.

The importance of Joint Opposition cooperation in the constitutional reform process is that some features of the proposed constitutional reforms are going to be controversial. The new constitution will need to be address the ethnic conflict in the country that led to three decades of war. The divisions between the ethnic and religious communities continue to remain strong. The legacy of over five decades of unresolved ethnic and religious grievances cannot be eradicated in one or two years. On the contrary these divisions can be mobilized, and exploited, by those who wish to negate the forthcoming constitutional reforms.

Higher Consensus 

A second positive feature of the present time is the understanding at the higher levels of the polity, among those in parliament who understand the issues, that there is a unique opportunity to put the country onto the correct track in all aspects. Never before in Sri Lanka’s political history have the two main parties ever come together. It is also unique that the smaller ethnic, religious, and ideology driven parties (namely, the TNA, SLMC, Indian-origin Tamil parties and JVP) have seen value in cooperating with the government even though some of them remain outside of government. Many senior (and more reasonable) members of the Joint Opposition too appear to appreciate the uniqueness of the present situation.

The first challenge for the government leadership, in particular for President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, will be to keep the high level consensus on constitutional reform going. The second challenge would be to take this consensus downward to the people who will be ultimate arbiters at the referendum to come. The UK and US voters have shown how the majority of people can think differently from the established leaders and opinion formers in the country. In Sri Lanka too, after two years of the national unity government, there appear to be disturbances arising at the level of the people. There are signs of attempts being made to create incidents on the ground that could generate conflict and divisive sentiment among the people.

In different parts of the country, most notably in the North and East, there are clashes being reported on inter religious grounds. There are many incidents of religious clergy getting involved in expansionist projects, such as religious conversions or building religious shrines or places of worship in areas where they are less numerous. There have been violent words and incidents where members of one religion have attacked those of other religions. There is also the destruction of ancient religious sites. Those who come across as aggressors have their justifications for what they are doing, and argue that they are actually the victims. Some of these incidents are on social media. What is a matter of concern is that those who engage in violent speech and deeds appear to have significant popular support.

Civic Protest 

A statement signed by over three hundred persons and addressed to the government states that civil society groups have consistently documented and reported such attacks to relevant authorities. However, charges have never been brought against the perpetrators, despite the conduct of these aggressors being in clear violation of hate-speech and anti-discrimination protections under Sri Lankan law. Public behaviour of this kind is in clear violation of hate-speech and anti-discrimination protections under Sri Lankan law, particularly as provided for in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act (ICCPR Act).

The ICCPR Act provides that “No person shall propagate war or advocate national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence”, and that every person who does so, or who attempts to commit, aids or abets, or threatens to commit such acts, commits an offence that is punishable with up to 10 years imprisonment. The failure of the State to take immediate action to investigate and hold individuals accountable for this type of conduct is an unfortunate abdication of its obligations under law and a failure to uphold constitutional guarantees and the duty to protect all persons from such threats and violence.

The civil society statement also notes that the police need to adopt a uniform response to acts of religious violence, threats of violence, and hate-speech against religious and ethnic minorities. Under the fundamental principle of equality before the law, all who engage in such conduct must be held to account. It is the obligation of the police to enforce the law equally, without exception. Further, the protection of the tenet of equality must be paramount to all law enforcement authorities. This is critical to reconciliation, to which the government has publicly declared a commitment. The suspected arson attack on Saturday on a Muslim owned warehouse in a Colombo suburb that was previously burned down in 2013 by a mob means that such law enforcement is an urgent priority.

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Latest comments

  • 5
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    I would like to read more from Mr.Jehan Perera than the sht from HLDM, DJ and IH.

    • 4
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      I completely agree!

  • 2
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    Inter Religious Violence Can Threaten Consensual Reforms – Oh ! jehan the harvard m’ron is it rocket science? Do not waste your time here.
    Go, do something useful with your qualifications.

    • 0
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      Inter Religious Violence Can Threaten Consensual Reforms – Oh ! jehan the harvard m’ron is it rocket science?

      I rarely agree with Thondamannay other than few circumstances like this.

      Every Sinhala Intellectual is well trained in Appa diplomacy. That is why they say “Arasan EvvalI Kuddikal avvali”. (Mass follow the king’s path). Jehan PhD is showing he is not inferior to Mangala or Ranil or New King. Jehan PhD has been writing Brother Price was trying sincerely to guide the NGOs. Now he is dying again to show that Yahapalanaya is sincerely trying to solve the racial problems.

      The proposed constitutional change was only to cheat UNHRC and save Old King. The National Unity government was formed only to hedge Lankawe from Secretary Kerry’s threats. So, as the Obama Administration is going out, National Unity Government is not felt needed by members of it and it is becoming shaky. Nobody knows what is waiting at UNHRC at March, 2017, so it is still keep going. Further Sinhalese have a need to change the executive presidency into Executive Prime Minster – ship. Presidency method has to be changed as last election result was influenced by Tamils. So constitutional changes will snail an inch a day up to that at next election only to bring in Executive Prime Minister by that time.
      Two times constitutions were changed after Soulbury. A main change 18A was passed. 19 amendments has been passed to the last one alone. How many times the opposition walked out of the floor opposing all these? One time FP walked out. One time TULF boycotted. Other than that always all Sinhala and Muslims MPs were together in their effort to destroy Tamils through Constitutions and amendments.

      Last government was formed with 70 opposition MPs. The left over opposition party UNP was smaller than that. At one time even Ranil wanted cross there and to have that done he went to New York and opposed the UNSG’s report on war crime. That is not the case now. The UPFA members with government are less the UPFA Joint opposition. The main SLFP leader and UPFA Old King refused to cross this unlike Ranil consented to cross last time. I ask Jehan PhD is why he calling this as National Unity when the Main UPFA man Old King is not in the government and most of the SLFP members and UPFA parties are still with him. Then why doesn’t he want to call the previous government as National Unity Government?

      So far not in one of his essay Jehan PhD had asked why is taking so long to make these changes. All what he explained as the problem is there for 70 years so it cannot be fixed in one day. Yahapalanaya is there for two years. Even the International Agencies asking why is it taking so long? Another excuse is there are powerful opposition is opposing it the National Unity Yahapalanaya initiations. If he thinks the Oppositions is powerful then why is he calling it National Unity Government? Why is he not calling “a government” and National Unity Opposition? Why is he trying to say by National Unity government, when, as per him, the government is not able to do anything but the opposition is opposing and blocking everything. Didn’t we have already seen the single parties had done very well in changing the constitution than this National Unity Yahapalanaya? Who is convulsing to save the legitimacy of the opposition? Is that “Ranil-Mangala-New King” or “Vasu-Wimal- Denish”? Aren’t the Old Royals should have been put on the UNHRC electric Chair by now? Jehan PhD is real master in fooling the Modayas. But he is writing the same thing on CT where everybody else too read it. It is really painful to see these cheatings.

      Did opposition asked Don Stephen to disenfranchise Tamils? Not it was his initiation? Did opposition asked Bandaranayake to bring Sinhala Only with 24 Hours? No. But when opposition asked him tear the BC pact he just jumped in that did it.

      Why Jehan PhD is playing this game of justifying the paymasters Yahapalanaya? The answer is very obvious and simple.

      Trump has won the election. The difficult person for Old Royals (State Secretary Kerry) is going out. When National Unity Yahapalanaya was trying hard to save Old Royals, Secretary Kerry has been opposing that guy. So, all these time, Secretary Kerry has been a “Nurunchi Mull” for Yahapalanaya government too. The Yahapalanaya’s biggest challenge was American sponsored UNHRC resolution. Whether it was halfhearted or full-hearted, it was the product of Obama Administration. While National Unity Yahapalanaya wants to happily sendoff going State Secretary Kerry, they want to approach Trump’s administration very cautiously. They don’t want to take Trump administration as granted like Condoleezza-Bush administration. They have the black widow fear before they really get into engagements. So Jehan PhD is covering all of them in shot. If anything had been done by Trump continuing Obama administration’s policy on Lankawe’s matters, he wants to say it was not American pressure; it was done by National Unity Yahapalanaya’s graceful deed. If they manage to dupe Trump administration also like Secretaries Condoleezza Rice and Kerry, then they will put the blame on the opposition that is more powerful than the National Unity Yahapalanaya. Their intention is remove the EP from the constitutions that can be influenced by Tamils and defeat the American sponsored UNHRC initiation for war crime investigation. These guys all are just Gimmicks of Aappa Diplomacy of the Sinhala Intellectuals.

      Jehan PhD, “Do not waste your time here. Go, do something useful with your qualifications.”

  • 3
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    It is very obvious fact at the moment that Religious violence violence and hatred against Tamils and Muslims are carried out by those who lost the power in January 2015. In other words, it is lead by Rajapakse Family and those who created joint opposition. The law & order system has to deal with them. Unfortunately, a large sunk of law & order system still in favor of the former regime and it is the duty of the current regime to expose the real motive of the former regime and bring them under proper justice system. Just verbal statements is not going to do that but real action is needed.

    • 2
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      Don’t blame for anything and everything previous regime,master mind of BBS are in present yamapalanaya too.(Champuka & Rathana).long live Sri Lanka,but never prosper till those racists exist.

  • 2
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    Minorities should learn to live with racists.life like Sao Paulo(Brazil)daily killings and looting’s etc.

  • 1
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    Arun, Muhandiram, what is your next name, van Langenberg?

  • 1
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    Thank You Gehan Perera for keeping in focus the worsening state of our community relations.

    This matter should be of critical importance to ALL Sri Lankans. Instead we appear to be sleep walking once again into a nightmare, as we did in the years following July 1983.

    I look on with much sadness, because I remember the post-independence years when we began a slow, long, drift into a conflagration that engulfed us all. I remember well the fifties, decent people shrugged, crossed the road, exclaimed “What to do?” and went on their way when innocent Tamils were harassed by troublemakers. When harassment turned to violence, the men of violence got away scot-free. In May ’58, SWRD was reputed to have said “Just a little bit of local trouble men, it will soon blow away”. And so it went on. If you could have seen the look on JR’s face on that dark evening in July ’83 when he realised that he had lost control of our country. JR, a man who was so powerful that the only miracle he couldn’t perform was gender reversal. That time, the strongman atrophied in the presence of punks. Evil men like the odious Cyril Mathew; who ran amok with impunity and with his hate-filled followers, who all lived to recall their criminal antics with laughter and glee over many a sumptuous rice and curry feast . NOT ONE of the evildoers suffered for their actions. The best bit was when our beleaguered Tamil brethren reacted and fought back, the ones who cried loudest were the devious politicians who had engineered it all over many years.

    Here we are in the 21st Century, preparing to re-enact those miserable years. By a strange twist, at the van of the hate are rabid men in yellow who have sodomized the Sangha in their quest for power. The Sangha are toothless and spineless. Was it not Talduwa Somarama, a man of the saffron robe who pulled the trigger that pestilential September morning in 1959. Now we have come full circle. The Sangha is helpless. The President is helpless. The forces of law and order are helpless. Orders are given to the Head of the Police with threats. Threats to unleash violence. Threats to sanction matyrs. The tail is wagging the dog.

    These evil men will, of course, NOT win at the ballot box. Instead they will hold to ransom anybody who does win at the ballot box. They work on the simple premise that the government is not fulfilling its duty to safeguard ‘Buddhism’. They give a hoot for the people of this country. They do not care if they bring down misery on all of us. These twisted men in robes do not speak for the Sinhalese; and they certainly do not speak for Buddhism.

    The warning signs are there for all to see. Is everyone in power so blind?

  • 1
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    Its not the violence. It is the governments inaction that threatens reform…

  • 1
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    We must strive for better community relations and mischievous trouble making religious priests of any faith should be severely dealt with.

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