28 October, 2021

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President’s UN Speech Seeks Transcended Power Politics

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The significance of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s speech at the UN General Assembly in New York last week was his use of the time allocated to him to provide an outline of the government’s policies towards the challenges besetting the country. The president covered the main issues that confront the world with his focus on Sri Lanka. These included measures to contain the Covid pandemic, the economic crisis, environmental degradation and violence. In the final section of his speech, the president went into some depth regarding the government’s approach to national reconciliation. However, the response within the country has been muted and for good reason. Those who voted for the government on an entirely different platform, which emphasized ethnic majority nationalism and anti-international sentiments, seem at a loss.

It is only recently that the government has started to speak in terms of enhancing practices of reconciliation and obtaining international support for it. At the two elections that brought this government to power, the Easter Sunday bombing and the consequent threat to national security took the centre stage. The majority who voted for the government did so to protect themselves and their country from a variety of security threats they were told of, both within and outside the country. The wretched failure of the previous government to prevent the bombing, the first terrorist act of any magnitude since the war ended a decade earlier, was attributed to the personal weakness of the then government leaders. It was also attributed to the 19th Amendment which sought to give state institutions protection from use for partisan reasons by government politicians. The 19th Amendment was blamed for creating several weak centers of power which paved the way for the Easter bombing.

A second theme at the two elections was depiction of ethnic and religious minorities as potential security threats. This stemmed from the country’s experience of three decades of internal warfare with the armed Tamil separatist movements. This was followed by the Easter bombings by extremists from the Muslim community who were feared to be having a vast support base both internally within the country and also externally. In these circumstances, the re-centralisation of power within the government hierarchy received public acceptance by the ethnic majority as being part of the government’s democratic mandate. At the same time, by denying the equally legitimate concerns of the ethnic and religious minorities, the electoral results demonstrated the existence of an acute polarization and wound in the body politic that continues to fester to the point of bringing in the possibility of international intervention.

EU Monitoring 

The challenge for the government is to represent the interests of all communities and not only the majority who voted it into power. The problem is that the government’s mandate comes, by and large, from the vote of the ethnic and religious majority in a country that has been polarized on ethnic and religious lines for many decades. An ugly part of this reality is that in the prisons are a few hundreds of Tamils and Muslims for the most part who are in custody for periods ranging from a few months to many years without trial. They are being held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, ostensibly until the security forces find adequate evidence to put them before the courts of law. This contradicts the rule of law and the presumption in our legal system that we are innocent until proven guilty.

In June this year the EU parliament passed a resolution that the GSP Plus tariff privileges made available to Sri Lanka should be withdrawn unless the government fulfilled its obligations in regard to the upholding of human rights. The resolution, expressing “deep concern over Sri Lanka’s alarming path towards the recurrence of grave human rights violations”, and makes specific reference to the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The resolution notes the “continuing discrimination” against and violence towards religious and ethnic minorities, while voicing “serious concern” about the 20th Amendment passed in 2020, and the “resulting decline in judiciary independence, the reduction of parliamentary control, and the excessive accumulation of power with the presidency”. It also highlights “accelerating militarisation” of civilian government functions in Sri Lanka.

A delegation from the EU is currently in Sri Lanka to meet with members of the government, opposition and civil society to ascertain whether the country is fulfilling its obligations to be a beneficiary of EU trade benefits. It is likely that the delegation will be provided with evidence of human rights violations and acts of impunity. There are hundreds of persons languishing in prisons without being put on trial, many of whom are Tamils, suspected to be LTTE members, and more of them are Muslims, suspected of having links with the Easter bombings. When questioned in parliament about the latter, the minister in charge justified those detentions on the grounds that Muslim youth, including the Muslim parliamentarian who had questioned him, could contain Islamic State ideology in their heads and therefore be security threats. Continued arrests add to this number and also creates a fear psychosis in the community that could create the very extremism that it means to nip in the bud.

New Direction 

At the last elections the most potent theme was the failure of the then government to act effectively to protect the country from the Easter suicide bombing and the pressures from human rights actors in Geneva. Among the issues that loomed large at the last election was also the charge that the previous government was giving in too much to the Muslim community within the country. The fact that the Easter attacks were by Muslim suicide bombers added force to this charge. The prioritization of national security in the election campaign had popular support. The influential religious clergy, associations of professionals and mass media also joined the battle in earnest and their messages reinforced one another. The recent debate in parliament suggests the government’s thinking continues to be in sync with the mandate it received at those elections.

In his speech in New York, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has shown signs of diverging from the politics of the past. The president said “Fostering greater accountability, restorative justice, and meaningful reconciliation through domestic institutions is essential to achieve lasting peace. So too is ensuring more equitable participation in the fruits of economic development. It is my Government’s firm intention to build a prosperous, stable and secure future for all Sri Lankans, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or gender. We are ready to engage with all domestic stakeholders, and to obtain the support of our international partners and the United Nations, in this process.” However, the president’s speech continues to be at variance with the ground realities at the present time and the general manner of governance since the president took office in November 2019.

So far the pledge of a new direction is articulated in words and not actions. The time for the government to make the president’s words real and act accordingly is now. This will help to overcome the deep and dark cynicism that has enveloped the country regarding promises made by politicians. The first step would be to apply the logic of the justice minister in parliament. Replying to an opposition parliamentarian who called for the arrest of Minister Lohan Ratwatte who stands accused of entering a prison and threatening prisoners with his gun, the justice minister said that everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. This fundamental principle of civilized society must also apply to the hundreds of Tamils and Muslims in jail without evidence to charge them in a court of law. The threats to national security need to be overcome by winning the confidence of all the communities in the Sri Lankan state by treating them without discrimination, as children of one mother proclaimed by our national anthem.

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Latest comments

  • 6
    0

    Of course, Minister Lohan Ratwatte is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. But these rules don’t apply to Azath Salley, Rishad Bathiudeen, other Muslims and Tamils.

  • 7
    1

    Jegan,
    Looking back the reality and the actions until today by the government lead by Gotabaya Rajapaksa President and Mahinda Rajapaksa family lead parliament, I personally think the Presidents speech is a tactic to deal with international pressure only and there is no such good intention behind this speech.If the president and his government has real intention in finding solutions to the national problems first thing he has to do is to invite Buddhist leadership (Maha Sangha) and ask them to advise that Buddhists Monks particularly those who involve in politics should be banned, similarly other leaders should follow that principle. Secondly, he should ask his cabinet ministers and other ministers to stop from hatred speeches or actions against other communities. Thirdly, the government should stop all the political victimisation of political opponents and arresting and keeping for long under PTA and release all those prisoners who had been in prison without charge for more than 90 days. Then invite all the political leaders and agree with them to how to resolve the problems from the system of governance, rule of law, justice, devolution, accountability, reconciliation etc.

    • 2
      0

      Ajith,

      You are right, but remember, all Tamil nationalist political parties after 2009 debacle expect the international community to come to our aid primarily by exerting sufficient pressure on the Sinhala leaders to come to a settlement on the Tamil issue.
      .
      As you rightly pointed out the President’s speech may be the result of such pressure and he personally may not have any good intention. His intention may be just to wriggle out of a bad situation.

      But as far as Tamils are con

      Otherwise what is the alternative? Wait for the darlings of international community-UNP or SJB to come to power?

      If the government tries to deceive, then the international communities may go to the next step- bring economic sanctions, travel bans etc.

      The international community will go step by step and invading may not be an option.

      • 2
        1

        Dear srikrish,
        .
        Seeing your comment as one of the recent ones caused me to take a quick look at this article. It should never have been written.
        .
        I’ve had Professor Thiru Kandiah telling me that Jehan Perera is one of the few good writers on CT. Nonsense. A few days ago I saw somebody complaining that Jehan always sides with the government. This article proves it.
        .
        Does Jehan really believe Gota when the latter says, “regardless of ethnicity.”? Jehan, please. A few more such observations from you, and Tamils will get cynical about any Sinhalese who stands up for you. We all know that the speech so woodenly delivered by Gota ought not to be taken seriously by anybody. This fellow can only think of novel ways in which to waste our money so that he can see his grandson. Is the fellow back in Lanka, now, I wonder.
        .
        Jehan, how were you able to play tennis as well as you did without a backbone?
        .
        Panini Edirisinhe (NIC 483111444V)

        • 1
          1

          SM,
          If you consider Gota as an adversary, there are different approaches to make Gota realize his folly.

          Majority attack him mercilessly and only a minority including Jehan give him due respect and provide him with an opportunity to reform.

          When you deal with a bad boy, you could treat him as an obstinate bad boy and punish him, he would most probably turn out to be an undesirable thug. On the contrary, if you treat him with sympathy and understanding, the outcome may be different.

          Jehan Perera in his prolific writing attempts a different tactics.Let us celebrate diversity of opinion.whether we agree with it or not!

        • 1
          0

          Very true, srikrish.
          .
          For me the problem here was that Jehan Perera is a person whom we consider to be on “our side”, but he frequently disappoints me by not speaking out strongly enough about the Multi-paksa government. he’s too seasoned a writer for me to reform him.
          .
          You take a person like Champa. “leelagemalli” and I debate whether Champa is male of female; I think that she is a youngish woman. She is a strong Sinhala nationalist, bordering on being racist, but honest. So, I try to be persuasive.
          .
          I’m sure that I’m pretty inconsistent in my approach, but I agree that constant attack is going to make a regular writer stubbornly reject all my comments. So, I agree with you, but must claim that I hadn’t hitherto made this sort of comment on Jehan.

          • 1
            0

            Oh, I see, srikrish, that you’re urging me to make only constructive criticisms about Gota. The problem with that is that I see nothing good in him!
            .
            I agree that he may now be looking desperately for some way of staving off total disaster. We don’t want such disaster, since that will drag us all down. So, I hope that you will suggest the good things that you see in him.
            .
            I’m always conscious of the need to keep lines of communication open, so speaking for myself only, perhaps, I will not accuse you of deviousness just because you’re not rashly outspoken. However, that will always remain a subjective decision made by me.

          • 0
            0

            Dear Sinhala_Man,
            Let me be plain. There is no need to be politically correct.
            .
            You have made your observations. They are yours. The Forum has enough space for others to make their own.

  • 7
    1

    From where is Jehan Perera emerging for him to say that it is only recently that the government has started speaking in terms of enhancing practices of reconciliation and obtaining international backing for it.
    Every successive government has uttered the reconciliation mantra year after year. The UN must be sick and tired of hearing this from Sri Lanka!
    .
    Who would buy that the Easter Sunday bombing was a threat to national security. Is it a surprise that the government takes it to the centre stage. It has always been such scare tactics that has won power for Sinhala ruling classes.
    .
    That the president’s speech is at variance with the ground realities and the manner of governance is the naked truth.The only correction is, not since 2019 but since 2009.

  • 3
    8

    “The threats to national security need to be overcome by winning the confidence of all the communities in the Sri Lankan state by treating them without discrimination, as children of one mother proclaimed by our national anthem.”
    —-
    Sri Lanka Matha (mother) treated the foreigners who sought refuge from her as her children and accommodated them giving citizenship with equal status to native people. But unfortunately those children misbehaved and betrayed Sri Lanka Matha. So, do not blame the mother, blame the children who misbehaved.

  • 3
    8

    “It is likely that the delegation will be provided with evidence of human rights violations and acts of impunity.”
    —-
    In Sri Lanka, worst forms of human rights violations are taking place against D Tamils in Yapanaya (Jaffna). Those who scream about Human Rights violations committed by the Government, Sri Lanka Armed Forces and majority Sinhalayo are responsible for committing these HR violations. May be they are doing that deliberately to divert the attention from what is taking place in their own backyard. Civil Society Organizations who are concerned about HR Violations should draw this to the attention of UNHRC and the EU Delegation and ask them to take action against the perpetrators.

  • 3
    8

    “The resolution notes the “continuing discrimination” against …. religious and ethnic minorities,”
    —-
    Irony in this country is the Government discriminate against the majority and pacify the minorities.
    —-
    Ethnic cleansing of Native Sinhalayo from North took place from 1950’s by chasing away Sinhalayo who lived there. Sinhalayo lost everything they had.
    —-
    During the period Tamil terrorists controlled NE, Sinhalayo and Buddhist monks were killed or chased away and Tamils and Muslims grabbed their land and property. When Sinhalayo went to claim their land and property after war came to an end, they were chased away by Tamil and Muslim thugs. Although, the Government has taken measures to return the land taken from Tamils, nothing has been done to do justice to Sinhalayo who lost their land and property.
    —-
    Long live one way track ‘Reconciliation’!

  • 3
    9

    “The resolution notes the …violence towards religious and ethnic minorities,…”
    —-
    EU has forgotten who unleased violence and terrorism towards majority Sinhalayo. They did not do anything to stop massacring Sinhala Buddhists that went on for three decades.
    —-
    If there is violence towards religious and ethnic minorities all the Tamils who live in Colombo should go to Yapanaya and Muslims to Kaththankudi. The truth is, number of Tamils and Muslims in Colombo keep on increasing.

    • 2
      1

      Eagle Eye,
      You are factual, when you tell that the number of Tamils and Muslims in Colombo keep on increasing.
      Tell me why their numbers keep increasing?
      Don’t come back to tell me that they love the caring of the Sinhalese people so much!

      • 4
        0

        True, Nathan.
        .
        Tamils can’t love, or even trust, people like Eagle Eye.
        .
        However, please don’t imagine that all Sinhalese people don’t care about the crimes committed by the State. Don’t you love fellows like us?
        .
        Btw, why not give us the National percentages of each community at Independence and now? I’m ashamed of what we have done to you.

        • 4
          0

          Dear Sinhala_Man,
          Your soothing words get noticed. There are many more who silently root for us. But, it is Eagle Eye and crowd who choose our masters.

          • 1
            0

            Nathan@
            Unfortunately, the dominated breed for their political survival I’d like blind and deaf. All is ruining today, people have no reaction s. Is it not the time to throw asuchi at Maharaja? His last days wll be even more difficult than appeared be.wait and see, power greediness per se ll punish him soon.✌✌✌✌

    • 2
      1

      Four comments from Eagle eye that nobody will read.
      .
      This is trolling!

  • 8
    2

    “… the president’s speech continues to be at variance with the ground realities at the present time and the general manner of governance since the president took office in November 2019.”
    /
    Of course it has to be. He is reluctantly engaging in the kind of Mangala-speak that he abhors as a majoritarian. He is desperately trying to do some damage control to appease Geneva. But the PR stuff that he’s mouthing is so amateurishly written it makes his hypocrisy even more transparent. He’s so stupid he thinks he can fool the international community by stating the exact opposite of what he’s actually doing in his country. The whole world can hear his inner voice which says: “I tell this shit to these morons in New York, but when I get back to my country I’ll just listen to the damn monks and beat the shit out of the Tamils and Muslims.”

  • 3
    4

    Dr. JP: Isn’t it remarkable that US citizen Rajapaksa was invited to the UNGA in New York while the Kerawelapitiya power plant was transferred to a US Company, New Fortress? Has the Sinhala-American Diaspora been Weaponized against the people of Sri Lanka?
    Isnt it remarkable that the US Govt. that accused the army commander of war crimes ant the UNHRC in Geneva rushed to give him a Covid-19 surveillance hospital at Iranawilla where the VOA station was, and rehabilitated him to Test, Trace, Track and harass the people of Sri Lanka while keeping them in brutal military lockdowns and vaccinating them? But the US says nothing about this at UNHRC?
    Isn;t it remarkable that the US-Saudi-Israel owed ISIS project claimed the Ester Sunday 2019 attacks but no one is investigating this cliam.
    Isn’t it remarkable as soon as the Covid-19 Hoax treat dissappears, the Busshist-Mulsim Clash of Civilizations pops up to occupy media space and divide and destabilize the country? Either it is Covid, or it is Buddhist-mnks and Muslims or it is environmental crisis. Constant fear psychosis to divide, distract and loot Lanka by the biggest Rogue state in the world?

    • 2
      5

      In a nutshell has not the ultra-nationalist Sinhala Buddhist Diaspora, like the Tamil Diaspora, been weaponized against the core values of Buddhism, as well as, against the interests, peace and security of all the people who live in Sri Lanka to benefit the US and its WHite allies now setting up AUKUS so that the country can be Militarized with a Covid-19 mask, manipulated and asset stripped and used as a de facto ‘lily pad’ military base and energy hub for the US War machine in the so called Free and Open Indo-Pacific?
      Is not LAWFARE the name of the Game? Please read the book on Lawfare and Brazil’s Lula to understand what’s going on with UN agencies -WHO, UNHRC, UNGA etc. that serve the interestsof the global corporate and White Deepstate that is pushing for Global Governance fronting UN agencies and Covid emergency, enabling digitalization and destruction of the real Economy and Society with a COvid-19 mask?

  • 4
    1

    Don’t take Gotabaya seriously.

    Even rice mill owners don’t take him seriously. He is a joker.

    • 3
      1

      Gota is a joker, and I’m a joker of like age who will not be around all that much longer.
      .
      My innocent grand-children will have to pay for this folly.
      .
      Heavens! Did I I say only folly?
      .
      Let me throw the Thesaurus at him!
      .
      craziness
      foolishness
      idiocy
      indiscretion
      lunacy
      madness
      recklessness
      silliness
      stupidity
      daftness
      fatuity
      imbecility
      impracticality
      imprudence
      inadvisability
      inanity
      irrationality
      obliquity
      rashness
      senselessness
      triviality
      unsoundness
      vice
      dottiness
      dumb thing to do
      dumb trick
      preposterousness
      witlessness

      • 2
        0

        My dear SM@
        Is only Gota crazy? .
        What about blind voters?
        what about those 35 presidential candidates that totally ignored fake nomination of Gota?Dont forget AKD!!!!!😡😡😡
        ..
        What about Kelaniya chief monk?.
        .
        What about all other cheevaradariya a incl athana methane natana rathana?
        .
        What about so called artists? .
        .
        What about Rev Malcolm Ranjith? Who behaved no different to our self proclaimed clever man, archimidis DJ et al? .
        ..
        And and…….🤥🤥🤥🤥🤥🤥🤥

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