29 October, 2020

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Laying To Rest Hopes Of Reconciliation And Harmony

By Shanie –

While in this fight to guard our rights

and our country to defend,

Here grim and gay we mean to stay

and stick it to the end.

adapted  from a schoolboy song, quoted by Francis Wheen in ‘Strange Days Indeed’  (first  published 2009)

The freedom to hold an opinion and to express them is a fundamental right of an individual in a democracy. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the member states of the United Nations in 1948, makes this clear. However, like all rights, this right too is not an absolute one. If free speech infringes on the rights or dignity of any other individual or group, then it has to be tempered. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does this when it states that any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence should be prohibited by law. In our country, unfortunately, ever since independence, many of our people, including politicians, havbe been doing just that. The target has generally been the minority communities, racial and religious, but there have been minority groups which have indulged in indiscriminate hate speeches and action against the majority community and even against another minority community. With the ending of the latest and long bout of violence, followed by the admirable recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, the country was presented with an opportunity to turn its back on discrimination, hostility and violence. But alas! That opportunity is being lost not only by the non-implementation of the LLRC recommendation but, worse, by the support being given to the purveyors of hate.

The post-apartheid Constitution adopted during the Presidency of Nelson Mandela is one of the best examples of the protection given to the several racial, religious and tribal groups that form this ‘rainbow’ nation. The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, 2000 contains the following clause:

No person may publish, propagate, advocate or communicate words based on one or more of the prohibited grounds, against any person, that could reasonably be construed to demonstrate a clear intention to:

be hurtful,

be harmful or to incite harm;

promote or propagate hatred.

The “prohibited grounds” include race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth. Intentionally and seriously impairing the dignity of another may and has been  used to prosecute hate speech. ome years ago, the Courts banned a song that was termed demeaning and offending the dignity of the minority Boers.

Commonness of our shared culture

In Sri Lanka, the purveyors of hate seem to enjoy a charmed life. Dr Liyanage Amarakeerthi, the well-known academic who teaches Sinhala at Peradeniya,in a recent essay stated that he recently heard speakers at a Bodu Bala Sena rally in Kandy make ‘savagely racist’ speeches. Amarakeerthi further stated: “Groups like BBS are too dangerous to ignore but too parochial to take seriously. While watching what they are doing, it is better for us of all communities to understand our shared history and  shared everyday life. The week Bodu Bala Sena came to Kandy I started my lectures on Comparative Literature at Peradeniya, and my first reading assignment was three stories by Sri Lankan Muslim writers from the collection Asalawesi Api, edited by Professors Carmen Wickramagamage and M. A. Nuhman. In those stories, the feelings of attachment to certain villages, soil, farmland and so on in those Muslim villagers were very similar to ours. Those students who read them rejoiced in the discovery of commonness found in them. Yet again, I heard there were so many university students at the BBS rally, cheering the racist speeches. It is very easy to instigate communal feelings and it does not take a whole lot of learning to do so. To understand how communities collectively create cultures and civilizations, one needs some effort and learning. We can either take up that challenge or sadly observe a country that has a great cosmopolitan history and culture to disintegrate into fragments from which we will never find our cultural or human wholeness and wholesomeness.”

Arrest of Azath Salley

It is this context that we find another blatant abuse of power in the arrest of Azath Salley, a former Deputy Mayor of Colombo. The Asian Human Rights Commission has called the arrest the result of paranoia by the ruling family. The government is alarmed at its growing unpopularity A drowning man will clutch at any straw but he must beware of clutching instead at a serpent which will sting him back. Mahinda Rajapakse must realize that consorting with racist elements may lead to short term gains for himself and his coalition but he will be throwing away an opportunity to re-build our country as a rainbow nation, similar to what Gandhi and Nehru in India and Nelson Mandela in South Africa attempted to do for their countries and succeeded to a large extent.

We do not believe that Mahinda Rajapakse is a racist or authoritarian in his mental make-up. We believe he was sincere when he was a champion of human rights and went to Geneva to expose the excesses of the then government and to plead for justice for the victimized youth during the UNP regime. But the same cannot be said of some of those close to him. Mahinda Rajapakse obviously has a limited vision and he finds it convenient to go along with those who boost his ego but at the expense of the future of our country. He has been vested with undemocratic powers but does not see or is unwilling to see that the abuse of such powers will ultimately lead to the downfall not just of himself but of the SLFP that he represents. In this, he is like his counterpart in the UNP today, who will not let go to re-vitalise the Grand Old Party of the Right.

The government spokesperson has said that there were charges against Azath Salley, including that of financial irregularities. Like in the case of Shirani Bandaranayake, against whom we were told that there were twenty-four charges, also including financial irregularities, we can confidently presume that there will not be a trial in terms of the rule of law. In the case of Shirani Bandaranayake and Sarath Fonseka before her, they were tried by hand-picked tribunals. A special tribunal cannot be set up for Salley. If he were to be tried in the normal courts, God only knows how he can be convicted, in terms of the law, of charges which have yet to be disclosed. The more likely outcome would be the President ordering his release saying that he was responding to appeals made by the family. The state media will no doubt hail this as another instance of the humanitarianism of the President.

One of the finest statements that have come out in connection with the arrest of Salley has been from the Civil Rights Movement of Sri Lanka, an organization that has been consistent in its efforts for over forty years to uphold democracy and human rights in our country, The CRM statement dated 8th May and signed by Suriya Wickremasinghe, its Secretary, states: “Of extreme concern is the context in which this arrest of a prominent member of a minority community has been made.  We refer to the alarming hate campaign against this same minority currently conducted by elements claiming to represent the majority Buddhists, which campaign has reportedly at times been accompanied by highly inflammatory actions and speeches which in some instances have resulted in violence. The law enforcement agencies have been conspicuously absent or ineffective. On some occasions they have simply remained bystanders. A vigorous and principled counter-campaign by the government emphasising values of tolerance and inter-religious harmony has been called for by many but remains no more than a fervent hope.

To now use the inhuman provisions of the PTA against Mr Salley is not merely an act of injustice perpetrated on one individual. It sends a most dangerous message to a community already feeling unfairly under attack, and may act as encouragement to the extremist forces mobilised against minority groups, raising a spectre some of us fondly dreamed had been laid to rest.”

LLRC and Reconciliation

It is now exactly four years since the security forces killed Prabakaran and thus ended the conflict. The country’s hope was that we would then have peace and the government would initiate positive steps towards reconciliation. The government-appointed LLRC, under the chairpersonship of former Attorney-General C R de Silva, pointed out that the ending of the protracted and bloody conflict had opened many opportunities for bringing about reconciliation between the different communities, especially among the Sinhalese, Tamils and the Muslims. The Commission urged the necessity of promoting a common vision of an inter-dependent, just, equitable, open and diverse society. The development of a vision of a shared future required, the LLRC said, the involvement of the whole of society. Acknowledging the losses and suffering of the past and providing mechanisms for recompense, social justice and for restoration of normalcy and expressions of empathy and solidarity, are steps aimed at redress. Relationship – building following violent conflict, addressing issues of lack of trust, prejudice, and intolerance whilst accepting commonalities and differences, is the essence of reconciliation. The culture of suspicion, fear, mistrust and violence needed to be removed and opportunities and space opened up in which people can hear each other and be heard. A culture of respect for human rights and human diversity needed to be developed creating an environment where each citizen became an active participant in society and felt a sense of belonging, of being Sri Lankan. For this purpose the social, economic and political structures which gave rise to the conflict and estrangement needed to be identified and addressed.

The LLRC report further stated: “The Commission however wishes to emphasize that the responsibility for being the prime mover of this process lies squarely with the Government. Since reconciliation is a process and not a onetime event, the efforts towards that objective should be continuous and broad based whilst being fully supported by the elected Government.”

Mahinda Rajapakse and his advisers did not need the LLRC to adevise on these steps for reconciliation. It was common sense and every thinking Sri Lankan would have shared the sentiments of the LLRC. It did not need the Azath Salleys to tell them that ignoring the steps recommended towards reconciliation by the LLRC was opening the doors towards another conflict. The purveyors of hatred towards a minority community should be reminded of another observation in the LLRC report: “The political leaders and the country as a whole should take a cue from the disabled soldiers who expressed their sentiments that they have no hatred or rancour against the LTTE combatants who attacked them. If the political leadership on all sides do not shed their parochial interests, electoral or other, and find a consensual way forward towards achieving these objectives of critical national importance at this juncture of unprecedented opportunity, the country will regress and future generations might be called upon to bear the brunt of another crisis ”

In the course of Sri Lanka’s long history, various communities – racial, tribal, linguistic and religious.- have contributed to the richness of our history and culture. Each of them has retained its own identity and its own distinctiveness of language, literature, art, culture, beliefs and institutions. All Sri Lankans need to be proud of their contribution to the richness of our diversity.

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Latest comments

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    In the banana republic no one seems to be sure who is running the show. Serious charges were leveled against Azath Sally by SLG spoke person and Def secretary at the time it looked as if Azath Salley maybe in for long a haul. Bur like a Hindi film we have a savior who is non other than the President himself. But why all the drama if he is to be released like this ? is the arrest is to send a message ? I dont think so message is loud and clear for every one to see there is no need for a new message. I think the release is due to 2 reasons 1, The president wants to put right a wrong and send a message to his siblings to show who is the boss (however it is difficult to think that his arrest was without the knowledge of the President himself). 2, finally realizing that they have made Azath Sally a hero by arresting him on fabricated charges, the protest on the ground and rallying of opposition and even partners of government coalitions common voice might have pushed them to action.

    The current governments biggest fear is giving the opposition a common cause to rally against them. Actions of BBS may have given the regime a 3rd dimension in to the political future, objective may have been to divide the masses but somehow miraculously pot did not boil over mainly because the masses did not fall in to the trap. BBS and the mayhem which encircled our lives past couple of months has really exposed the regimes true colors.
    We have seen “Greese Yaka” and “BBS” which are all devised to achieve certain political insight by the regime. Arresting of Azath Sally was pre-planned and followed after the actions of BBS. all part of creating a division among majority, however the response which followed is not what the regime anticipated.

    The SLG somehow managing to make all the wrong moves in harmony. Clearly the ruling family members are having different agendas. Does it mean they are divided ? Only time will tell.

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    I suppose the President may not have the time to address all issues and tends to follow the advise of his numerous advisers, secretaries and Pandankarayas. Whatever the reason may be it is just not good enough. The Executive Presidiency is vested with enormous powers and blindly signing orders or papers is not possible. The order to arrest Mr Salley is vague and not worthy of serious action. It says that he is guilty of inciting religous hatred and trying to bring disrepute to the Govt. Whetever that means it would not stand up in any judicial court worthy of respect. Maybe it is enough for the Kangaroo Court of Sri Lanka.

    Sadly the President has once again blundered and followed the advise of his brother who is paranoid about security and sinhala nationalism. The secretary of defence has standing as PTA is vested with the Minister of Defence who is the President. He is heavily biased towards ethno religous facist like BBS and against the minorities. By following his flawed and biased advise the President is destroying the last vestiges of unity and ethnic harmony of this nation.

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    Now the brothers are quarreling, the sons are hitting each other openly in the Ruby grounds, the stooges and cronies are fighting. All because of their arrogance and big egos. We are in for a gala times. All these would see to it that it’s going to be their down fall like all the recent dictators viz Ben Ali, Qaddafi,Saddam Hussian,Mubarak, Hafiz Assad, Edi Amin, Shah Pahlavi,Ferdinand Marcos, Suharto etc. These brutal dictators, their families and their stooges thought and behaved similar manner. The people of their countries brought them down and they were gone for good.

    Gota, Mahindha Rajapaksa & Co too in this league and very soon their merry days are going to be over. The Muslims, Tamils, The Christians, the middles class Sinhalese Buddhists wouldn’t like them. The Rural Sinhalese poor too getting fed up with them, day by day they make life difficult for them and they put more and more burden on them. People are not fools, the leaders and the government are there to take care their well beings where as here they are openly do fleshy and fantastic life at the peoples expenses. They are blindly indifferent to the people’s miserable plight. People gave them power and positions not for these merry making but to serve them well and to make their life better. Sure all the curses in the universe should befall them.

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    The picture is interesting. It seems like a Muslim function as most attendees are wearing a Muslim skull cap and sport beards etc. Only the president is in casual dress but with a reddish brown strip of cloth around the neck and across the shoulder.

    I feel that more ordinary Sri Lankans should adopt a national dress with the reddish brown strip of cloth around the neck. This will help to reduce the power-distance (see Geert Hofstede) experienced by Sri Lanka’s collective-orientated social norms and help make it a more egalitarian society.

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    Re: Azad Sally-, his charges against the Rajapakse family in the Viketan interview were of far more significance that his reference to the possibilities of Muslims taking up arms. The question is whether he was arrested under the PTA for a statement of almost no import, because charging him for criminal defamation by the family, would have opened a Pandora’s box? Was his arrest a message that he should shut his mouth? Was the subsequent ‘ Explanation’ he has given the president in exchange for his release, an escape route for both Azad Sally and the government?

    What happens to the credibility of Sally and this government? I think both have been mortally wounded. The can be no turning back. The President has to much to think over in Uganda!

    Has Sally’s explanation, negated the fears the Defence Secretary expressed about threats to national security in relation to Sally’s activities viz a Viz Tamil Nadu? What happens now to the credibility and authority of the Defence Secretary?

    O! tempora O! Mores.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

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      At least for a joke, say the word “bomb” in a US airport. You will be arrested.

      After questioning and few days in the jail and subsequent release is secondary.

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    Just look at that picture. Do you honestly think there is any sincerity between the two? Nope; Just a matter of you rub my back and Ill rub yours. Together, we shall fool our people until we happen to go our separate ways. The body language says it all. And by the way, dont you think those fellows in the background need to see a good barber and look more decent and acceptable to society?

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      Racism can be in many forms.. You seem to have covered it in many facets…IF u look at he picture very closely, there are many clean cut persons. You seem to have a tunnel vision, where you can ONLY see everything as Muslim… even in your own private room… STOP living like a frog in a well, come out and see, there is a wider world out there… Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, they say but u seem to not have 20/20 vision BUT tunnel vision….interestingly u use a handle aka Zam Zameer

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      When man has been created by God with beard and mustache, and women with none of that, doesn’t that say something. Why shave it off if it can be trimmed, combed and well maintained. The women love it. The Prophet of Islam had it, and he led by xample. Increases visibility in identification from a distance. It brings out the manliness (or is it mucho look)in a person sporting the beard. Most sailors grow it in their time out at see. There are many reason to have beards, although you may not identify with, or fancy having one, both on religious terms and otherwise.

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      “Good barber and skull caps”? They have a right to wear as they wish, and not needed to conform to an upper class type’s prejudices bordering on class discrimination.

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    Going through this article I found that the writer saying that MR is not authoritarian in his mental makeup but sadly lead by a set of dictators.Are you naive not to see with what haste MR brought the 18th amendment.The haste with which he chased out the 43rd CJ from office.By attributing that by nature he is not a dictator you are hiding the obvious.

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      You are absolutely right. No one tells this President what to do, not even his brother Gotabhaya. On the other hand it may be a good thing if they do tell him what to do for he does not seem to know what he is doing.

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    NOT A DICTATOR. HE IS A DESPOT !!!!

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      More likely he is acting dumb, and allows all those ho hero worship him to loot the country’s wealth. When confronted with a situation his usual ploy is to e blames others for not bringing it to his notice. His brother Gota is using the army to get a stranglehold on the general populace, to suppress any popular uprising. Firepower is ready and at hand waiting for the call. Quite likely, he may even be planning to take over the country through a military coup and bring in his style of dictatorship. You can never say what these village chandiyas could be scheming.

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        He already has the country wehere he wants — so why does he want tyo `military coup’. Cheary_cherry has eaten the delusionary- variety of cherries.

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    It is time for a Civilian organization to collect all the evidence and record statements from those who are affected and preserve the information so collected for future action. When this regime is no more, some day it will happen, at that time, irrespective of the fact who committed such acts, a public inquiry should be held and those who found guilty have to be punished. Only this will ensure that such actions do not occur in the future. Let it be anyone who commits wrong to another person has to be brought in front of this public inquiry.

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    There is an important set of idiots – the bunch of monthly Breakfast
    Editors – who already have an answer to this arrest and H.E. will be
    praised instead of condemned, as most commentators have done.

    Whilst the Dynastic family is in-fighting the Queen is busy with her
    activities to close matters ahead of any unexpected political change:
    lankaenews.com/English/news.php?id=13673
    (news of 7-5-13)

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    Dear Sir / Madam,

    As a reader I wish to know why the photos of Tisaranee Gunasekera and Shanie are never published although their articles are carried – unless I am mistaken.

    They don’t like – CT

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      IT IS JUST WHAT MATTERS IS THE CONTENTS OF THE ARTICLES NOT THE PHOTOS OF THE WRITERS. CT READERSHIP HAS TO DECIDE THEM BY READING CLOSELY… WHETHER THEY MEET WITH THE REALITIES AND FACTS. MOST OF THE TIME, HER ARTICLES ARE THE MIRROR IMAGE OF THE DEADLY SILENT FOLKS IN THE COUNTRY TODAY. PEOPLE FROM THE OUTSIDE WORLD SHOULD FINALLY RAISE THE QUESTION WHY THE MASSES – CAPABLE MASSES INCLUDING WELL RECOGANIZED SENIOR POLITICIANS STAY AS IF THEY DUMB AND DEAF BEFORE ALL BROAD CRIME PERPETRATIONS CONTINUED BY THE BUNCH OF THIEVES WITH THE PATRONAGE OF TOP LEADERSHIP OF THE COUNTRY.
      NOW WITH ALMOST COMING TO SURFACE THAT DUMINDA SILVA, THE KEY ACCUSED OF THE MURDER/PLOT OF KILLING OF PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER – BARATHA, WAS NOT AT ALL BRAIN INJURED AND THE DOCTORS AND LAWYERS JUST FOOLED THE NATION – IS GREAT CRIME ABOVE THE PREVAILING LAWS IN SL. INTERNATIONAL MEDICAL EXPERTS SHOULD CLOSELY STUDY THIS ISSUE TO FIND THE GROUND REALITIES TO CHALLENGE THIS MURDEROUS REGIME.

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    THIS HAKEEM IS A DISGRACE AND CURSE FOR THE ENTIRE SRILANKA TO HAVE LET EVERYTHING TO BE INDIFFERENT ALL THESE MONTHS IN SL, IF HE WAS NOT JUST A CARICATURE PLACED BY MR TO JUST AS A MEMEBER OF THE COALITION, THERE WERE MANY GRAVELY INJUSTICE ISSUES FOR WHICH HIS WAS MANDATORY. BUT THE THE MAN IS SLEEPING EVEN TODAY. HOW CAN HE SEE THE EYES OF HIS FELLOW ON IN THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY ? WE ARE AS SRILANKENS SHOULD HAVE A MINISTER OF JUSTICE FOR THE COUNTRY, HE SHOULD HAVE A STRONG BACKBONE TO MAKE THE TOPLEADERSHIP VERY CLEAR THAT THEY ARE MARCHING WRONG.

    SLMC issues ultimatum to Hakeem

    Minister of Justice and Leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), Rauff Hakeem, has been given an ultimatum of one month by his party hierarchy to deal with the government over the alleged harassment and intimidation of the Muslims in the country and to arrive at a solution to the problem, sources said.

    SLMC Supreme Command member Mohamad Naseer, meanwhile said the party had requested an urgent meeting with the president to discuss issues that are of critical importance to the Muslims.

    Meanwhile, inside SLMC sources said the SLMC High Command decid
    give the ultimatum of one month to the SLMC Leader to negotiate Muslim grievance s with the government.

    The decision was taken after a heated argument at the meeting where the leader came under severe criticism by the party members for failing to take a firm stance against the recent incidents against Muslims in the country.

    Minister Hakeem accepted his party’s decision, and had pledged to seek an audience with the President to discuss the issues pertaining to Muslims.

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    Nice picture. Cant say which is the bride and which is the bridegroom. But honeymoon over very soon.

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    Azath Sallys marriage of convenience finally ended up being a marriage so inconvenient.

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    we proud to about our mr president.we need not afraid to terrorist now.because now we are free peoples….

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    we proud to about our mr president.we need not afraid to terrorist now.because now we are free peoples….

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    In the north,the army has forcibly obtained signatures of citizens who are owners of land the army has occupied.
    The army has also instructed village officers to verify and report lands owned by citizens and lands not owned similarly.
    The army now has powers over lands in sri lanka,but strangely only in tamil areas.
    Does this contribute to “peace and harmony”?

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