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Press freedom in Sri Lanka

Press freedom in Sri Lanka


Ripley’s believe it or not put in the shade -Revealing who banned LeN imperils national security !!

By Lakshman I. Keerthisinghe-2017-12-16

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a State of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves; nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.”

― Thomas Jefferson, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, Volume 9.
Media reported that a Seminar on ‘Reinforcing Regional Cooperation to Promote Freedom of Expression and the Rule of Law in Asia through Ending Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’ was organized by UNESCO and the Ministry of Media on 4 December in Colombo. It is significant that UNESCO is the UN agency with a mandate to defend freedom of expression and press freedom. Since 2012, it has spearheaded the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, a systematic and UN-wide Plan to work toward a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers, with a view to strengthen peace, democracy and sustainable development worldwide, in both conflict and non-conflict situations.

As Mikhail Bulgakov, Author of Manuscripts Don’t Burn and A Life in Letters and Diaries stated: “To struggle against censorship, whatever its nature, and whatever the power under which it exists, is my duty as a writer, as are calls for freedom of the press. I am a passionate supporter of that freedom, and I consider that if any writer were to imagine that he could prove he didn’t need that freedom, then he would be like a fish affirming in public that it didn’t need water.” Director for freedom of expression and media development of UNESCO, Guy Berger noted that the importance of safety of journalists and ending impunity are recognized in the Sustainable Development Goal 16 on “Peace, Justice and Strong Institution . (…) This Goal calls for the promotion of the rule of law and equal access to justice for all, as well as ensuring public access to information and protecting fundamental freedoms,” he said. Around 150 national, regional and international stakeholders from over 20 countries participated in the one-day event, the first meeting of its kind in a South Asian country and the main event of the commemoration of the “International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists (DEI-2017).”

Commenting on the event, Sri Lankan journalist Sonali Samarasinghe said: “The rule of law is the fulcrum upon which a fair and just society rests and it must work in tandem with the independence of the judiciary, separation of powers and freedom of expression if we are to tread a path of peace and accountability.” Samarasinghe, the widow of Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickrematunga, who received UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize after he was killed in 2009, added:

“The State has a duty to guarantee that the violations we have experienced as a nation do not recur and a special duty to reform those institutions that have proven incapable of preventing the abuses”. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe opening the Seminar stated: “The media is the first line of defence against those who seek to undermine our democracy. (…) As a promise to the media, we will investigate and bring to justice those that have ended the lives of our journalists, and send a very clear message that this government will protect the journalists by all measures at hand.” Although such promises have been made many a time in the past too it is regrettable that justice to slain journalists in Sri Lanka appear to be slow in becoming a reality. Justice delayed is justice denied. Between 2006 and 2016, 107 journalists have been killed in Asia according to UNESCO statistics, but only 7% of these cases have been judicially resolved.

In conclusion, it is important that in the case of Sinha Ranathunga v. The State {2001}2Sri LR 172, the Court of Appeal held as follows: ‘The press is all about finding the truth and telling it to the people. In pursuit of that, it is necessary that the press should have the broadest possible freedom of the press. In other words there should be very limited control over the newspapers. Otherwise wrongdoing would not be disclosed. Charlatans would not be exposed. Unfairness would go un-remedied. Misdeeds in the corridors of power in government and private institutions will never be known. However, with that great gift of freedom of the press, comes great responsibility. In other words the more powerful the press is, it should also be a responsible press which will not abuse the enormous power it has.’ As Horace Greeley stated: “Journalism will kill you, but it will keep you alive while you’re at it.” “A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.”

(The writer is an Attorney-at-Law with LLB, LLM, MPhil.(Colombo) keerthisinghel@yahoo.co.uk

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Discipline & Educations are essential for the well-being of humanity

Discipline & Educations are essential for the well-being of humanity

Original founders of our College, and the first missionaries as pioneers, had a vision that education, discipline and faith were essential for the future well-being of the Tamils.

Following article based on the statement written by the author reads out at the Annual Old Boys of St.Patrick’s College, UK Association Dinner Dance on 9th Dec.2017, where the author attended this event as Chief Guest.
 
by S. J. Emmanuel-
( December 16, 2017, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) After the great exodus of Tamils after 1983, Patricians have proudly formed themselves into OBAs in many countries to enrich their social life as well as to help the Alma Mater and our homeland. Move in life with readiness to change directions at God’s inspiration.
Very often we are proud old-boys of some well-known college but overlook the initial years spent in a smaller school. Just two months ago I was in Jaffna, I visited my elementary school, St. Charles Mahavidyalaya, then referred to as Mawadi school. I was happy to see its growth and the teachers were happy to see me appreciating the school. I will exhort you too my friends, to have contact with your old schools in the villages and help them also to grow.
My student days were around the years of transition from British colonialism to independence. Independence was celebrated by us students at the Jaffna Esplanade with Mr. Hudson, the British GA of Jaffna, as chief guest.
Original founders of our College, and the first missionaries as pioneers, had a vision that education, discipline and faith were essential for the future well-being of the Tamils.
The contributions of a Rector like Fr.Timothy Long OMI, to the general public with respect to air-transport from Colombo to
Jaffna, to education by his contribution to the white paper on education of the Government as well as to the building of the
Jaffna Library cannot be forgotten. We are all proud beneficiaries of their vision and work. Our generation of Patricians?
You are not British, but British citizens by registration or by birth. And there you have a difficult role of valuing your Tamil origin as well as living in modern Britain. In addition you are concerned and feel duty-bound for your British born children and their future.
With regard to your own children, you have toiled hard and given the best of education and formation in the your own way. But do not expect your children and grandchildren to go exactly your way, or behave and act as you did.
Your education/formation and bringing up was in another world and in a different context. But these children most of them born here in a modern world and time, though they inherited your good habits and manners with respect to language social behavior, food and clothing, their education towards a modern world with new attractive challenges but more threats to their security, style of life etc. have to find answers and securities for the new situations. In my mind, the best that you can do is not to impose or spoon-feed them too much about their life or life style, don’t lay down too many rules and obligations, you will fail, and fail miserably.
But do the most important thing of wisdom and leave it that. Paternally and with lots of love, teach or show them by your own
example, a way to make sure what we are doing or choosing is the right and the best thing. In wishing well for your children, much is to be done by way of example.
Guidelines for life are given to us by the author of life itself – God! And to communicate and stay in touch with God, He has given to each human being, a spark of divinity, called conscience. When your conscience is linked and listening to God, no one will go wrong! Show by your example to follow God and the God-given conscience.
If you have a thought for the people back at home and a meaningful wish for the role of the present College in our present
context, what will be your help? How many of you spend a small percent of your earnings to help some poor students to study and benefit by the good education at SPC. This is a humble plea to you all on the eve of my departure.
You are already helping in further building and increasing modern facilities . It is well and good. But go ahead and think of
the wider society and people and their future.
A disciple of Jesus Christ And a Servant of the People,  S.J.Emmanuel is the President of the Global Tamil Forum
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Politics in a time of amnesia

Politics in a time of amnesia

article_image

“…there is such a thing as suicide.”Aldous Huxley
(Texts and Pretexts)
by Tisaranee Gunasekara-
“Does a nation remember and forget in much the same way as an individual does?” Kazuo Ishiguro wondered in his Nobel Lecturei. As the third year of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration draws to a close, the question cannot but arise: does a government remember and forget as an individual does?
Does this government?

Does it remember the time before it was the government, when it was the Joint Opposition facing the might of the Rajapaksa juggernaut? Does it remember how the hopes and the dreams of 6.2 million Lankans carried it to an incredible victory? Does it remember what it was proclaiming and promising, what it was pledging to do and pledging not to do, this time three years ago?

Or has the government forgotten? Has it forgotten its past, our past, the country’s past and the Rajapaksa past? Has it forgotten the struggle which defeated the Rajapaksas and the popular aspirations which animated that struggle? Has it forgotten that ‘good governance’ is not a catchy slogan or a label, but a description of the pledge it gave to the people and of the mandate it received from the people?

In 2015, a majority of Lankans voted to make a clear break with the past. They voted not to replace one government of deplorables with another government of deplorables. They voted not just for a change of faces, not just for change for change’s sake, but for a change for the better. After almost a decade of Rajapaksa misrule, there was a yearning for a different type of politics, and a different kind of politician, for a government which was at least halfway honest, halfway decent, halfway just, a government capable of righting the wrongs of the past rather than adding to them.

The presidential election provided the last best chance to defeat the Rajapaksa familial autocracy, electorally, and to return Sri Lanka to the path of democracy. Had that opportunity been missed, Sri Lanka would have gone where Zimbabwe went. The uniqueness of that moment alone can explain the uniqueness of the outcome. Hitherto unbridgeable divides were bridged. Alliances never before envisaged were forged. And hope was born, in millions of hearts, of a future which was not just different but also better.

But as the third year of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration draws to a close, those hopes are mostly in tatters.

An opposition which had the courage to take on the might of the Rajapaksas (Maithripala Sirisena was not exaggerating when he said that had he lost, he wouldn’t have been allowed to live) has become a government too timorous to stand up to the rich, the powerful and the fanatical. An opposition which won by appealing to what was best in the people has turned into a government that survives by pandering to the worst in politicians. An opposition which understood and addressed the hopes and needs of Lankans in all their diversity has turned into a government that is deaf and blind to the growing plight of those very same people. An opposition which occupied the moral high-ground has turned into a government that wallows in the moral mire.

In Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa wakes up to find himself transformed into a giant arachnid; gone is his human form but intact are the memories of the man he was. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration is becoming the opposite of what it promised to be, while retaining no memory of what it promised. The government has forgotten why it was elected. It has forgotten the reason it is.

That monumental failure in remembering is the main source of the political crisis that is afflicting the government.

Backsliding

The 2015 election was also a contestation between politics of personality and politics of policies. Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe won not because of who they were but because of what they stood for. Neither of them had Mahinda Rajapaksa’s charisma. That absence didn’t matter because the voters were looking for substance and not for theatrics. In 2015, Mr. Sirisena and Mr. Wickremesinghe, in combination, represented the antithesis of Mahinda Rajapaksa. That was why they won. But once in government, once ensconced as president and prime minister, they began to forget this simple truth.

So the backsliding started, on almost every front. Promises were broken without explanation, excuse or apology. More often than not, the reason for breaking a promise was neither insurmountable odds nor unconquerable challenges, but neglect or indifference.

Forget politically complicated tasks such as 13+ or withdrawing the military. The government is yet to build the promised 50,000 houses in the North, because it is wedded to the idea of prefab structures totally unsuited to local conditions and therefore opposed by local people. Had the construction of proper houses commenced in early 2015, it would have been over by now. 50,000 families would have been provided with a home of their own. What a tremendous achievement that would have been. The government deprived itself of this success for no good or acceptable reason.

Instead of ending corruption, the UNP has expended most of its political capital on protecting alleged bond-scammers. Living costs are higher than ever, driven up primarily by an unprecedented increase in the prices of rice and coconut; since the president’s brother is a gargantuan player in the rice market, he cannot avoid the charges of complicity. Not only is the Colombo port city forging ahead; China has been given the Hambantota port as well, plus a huge expanse of land in an environmentally vulnerable province for a special industrial zone. To compensate, India will be given the Mattala airport, placing Sri Lanka in the crosshairs of Sino-Indian rivalry.

And to crown it all, President Sirisena is reportedly phoning Basil Rajapaksa, to seek an electoral alliance with the Rajapaksas. The government doesn’t realise how cringe-worthy its conduct has become because it has locked itself inside an echo chamber, one lined with mirrors, its own audio-visual universe where it sees nothing but its own reflection and hears nothing but its own words.

The government is haemorrhaging support, but the Rajapaksa-led Joint Opposition is not doing great either. The Rajapaksas are master illusionists. They know how to inflate strengths and conceal weaknesses. But such illusion-mongering is harder to sustain in election times. The first cracks are already visible in the JO/SLPP edifice. Had the government performed better in the last three years, had it not committed so many avoidable mistakes or broken so many implementable promises, it could have pushed the JO to the third place at the upcoming local government election.

The Rajapaksas stand for one thing and one thing only – the Rajapaksas. Restoring the Rajapaksas to power is the sum total of the Joint Opposition’s programme. This family-centrism is not an election winning formula, especially with new voters, most of whom are likely to regard JO/SLPP as an anachronism, amusing, entertaining but essentially irrelevant. Time is thus the enemy of the Rajapaksas. Or it would have been, if the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration had not been so intent on self-mutilation.

If the Rajapaksas seem strong today, it is not because they have become more popular, it is because the government has become less popular. Many of the 6.2 million voters who brought the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration to power are likely to stay away at the 2018 local government election. This reduction in voter turnout will limit the UNP’s victories and hit the official SLFP hard. It won’t enable the Rajapaksas to become the biggest vote-getter island-wide, but it will enable them to come second, probably a close second. Such a performance can ignite a political crisis which, if mishandled, will bring down the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration.

An elephant murdered

The murder of the iconic Dala-pootuwa, the blind elephant with joined tusks, is symbolic of the government’s failure to live up to its expectations.

During the last few years of Rajapaksa rule, killing elephants became rife. The politically connected new rich regarded the ownership of an elephant as an indispensable status symbol. And the president was liberal in ‘gifting’ elephant calves of questionable origin to kith and kin.

An aborted elephant-abduction in May 2014 shed some light on the methods used by the rich and the powerful to obtain elephant calves. A cavalcade consisting of a tractor, a lorry and two luxury vehicles turned up to abduct an elephant-calf from the Udawalave National Park. Fortunately the people of Dikyaya, an adjacent village, intervened. They called wildlife officials, police and the media. They also caught the criminals and handed them over to the police. The police allowed the would-be elephant abductors go. Once freed, the would-be abductors tried to abduct the Sirasa area correspondent who was covering the incident. The attempt was foiled not by the police but by the villagers.

The police spokesman admitted that the police ignored the protests of the wildlife officials and allowed the criminals to get awayii. According to some media reports, the ring leaders claimed that they were Presidential nephewsiii. A wildlife official said, on conditions of anonymity, “We believe that this calf’s mother was killed. That would have been necessary to get the elephant-calf out of the jungle…. If the mother was shot it would have happened inside the park…. They would have killed the elephant mother about a month and a half ago. Their plan would have been to separate the baby from the herd and take her away.”iv According to some estimates, 50 to 60 elephant calves were stolen from the wild during the period of 2011-2014v.

The elephant issue exacerbated the growing public distaste towards the Rajapaksa regime. On the campaign trail, the then opposition promised to protect elephants and bring the abductors/killers to justice. In January 2016, the government earned national and international praise by publicly and ceremonially destroying the consignment of blood-ivory caught by the customs in 2013. The Rajapaksa regime had planned to gift the blood-ivory to the Dalada Maligawa. President Sirisena cancelled that plan, permitted the destruction of blood-ivory and attended the ceremonyvi.

The Rajapaksa regime protected elephant-killers/abductors. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe didn’t. But it didn’t work to end poaching either. It did nothing. Even where killers were caught, they were freed on bail and no priority was accorded to prosecuting them. The new Animal Welfare Bill got lost in the Bermuda Triangle of the state, another broken promise. The government’s indifference created a permissive climate in which the poachers thrived. Why shouldn’t they when rewards were high and risks minimal. Had the government acted more forcefully against poachers, as it promised to do, Dala-pootuwa would still be alive.

The irony is inescapable, tragic. Had the government implemented the basic promises of 2015, so much good would have been done, and so much harm avoided. Whenever the government did implement its promises, the results were positive, like the restoration of judicial independence, or the 19th Amendment or the Right to Information Bill. The ultimate beneficiaries of such constancy to the pledge of good governance would have been the government itself, the SLFP and the UNP, the President and the Prime Minister. They could have shared victory at the local government election, leaving the Rajapaksas to compete with the JVP for third place.

That, sadly, is alternate history. In the actual one, the government is facing a political crisis which can become an existential one. The wages of not remembering will be high, and perhaps bloody.

i https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/2017/ishiguro-lecture_en.html

ii http://www.bbc.co.uk/sinhala/sri_lanka/2014/05/140506_baby_elepahant_probe.shtml

iii http://www.ceylontoday.lk/51-62992-news-detail-baby-jumbo-thieves-using-presidents-name.html

iv http://www.bbc.co.uk/sinhala/sri_lanka/2014/05/140505_elephant_abduction.shtml

vv http://news.mongabay.com/2014/05/epidemic-of-elephant-calf-kidnapping-hits-sri-lanka-say-conservationists/

vi https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/01/160125-sri-lanka-elephants-buddhism-ivory-stockpile-cites/

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Lord Naseby’s Number Game – II

Lord Naseby’s Number Game – II

 
By Karikalan S. Navaratnam –December 17 2017
[Continued from 12 Dec. 2017]
Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.” ― Mark Twain
Lord Nasby had relied on UTHR (J) Reports as one of his source materials in support of his ‘guesstimate’ on civilian casualties in the war. Apparently, he had selectively ignored such information as would debunk his own figures ,found in the same Reports. It is, therefore, apt to peruse the relevant portions.
Destructive phase
 
The war reached its more destructive phase, in January 2009. Government gave monstrously low figures on the number of people marooned in the NFZ. It was a deliberate distortion and the UTHR(J) reveals the atrocious purpose behind: “…There was no consistency or any genuine information behind the Government’s figures. These were just pulled out of the hat, and on the basis of these food and medicines to the IDPs were curtailed to ridiculously low quantities, irregularly delivered, causing starvation and extreme hardship…….. In a more sinister vein, by deliberately understating the IDP numbers the Government was preparing for the eventuality where it could dismiss any later suggestion of high civilian casualties by pointing out that, according to its statistics, the dead person s never existed. It was as though they had been disappeared on paper in preparation for their extinction by cannon fire……” (UTHR (J), Special Report No.34, 13 Dec. 2009 – vide 5.1. “Strategic Numbers” )
Understatements
 
“The Government had in a way turned the discourse to suit its aims, where the international agencies, if they wanted to avoid confrontation that would be fatal to their operations, were best advised to moderate their figures……..
“There had in fact been well above 250 000 in the NFZ, taking into account the 37 000 in IDP camps in early March and 290 000 on 25th May. How much more, is a question we need to answer as part of determining how many died in a straightforward manner?………. We were ourselves guilty of understatements and mix ups, the sum of which allowed the Government to manipulate the discourse”. ( UTHR (J), No.34, ibid – vide 5.7 )

Misrepresentation
Whereas, in an effort to reach some realistic figure, the UTHR(J) had proceeded to compare and contrast the different counts, Lord Naseby had misconstrued their reckoning. Suffice to say that different figures showed up, ranging from 6,400 (till March) to 40,000. Relevant excerpts may be elucidative: “…….The community leader gave us …… that a minimum of 6400 civilians were killed up to the end of March. (*The UN briefing referred to above suggests 4800.) What we gathered is that we must be prepared for much higher casualty figures than are commonly talked about. (Emphasis added)
*What is the veracity of the UN briefing? It was not briefing, but UN bluffing ! ( as exemplified below )
“ 5.2. Quantifying the Suffering ”
“………. The surest way to find out how many died…… is to compare the number of those who arrived in IDP camps with an authoritative estimate of the original Vanni population. The best figure we have for the latter is about 365, 000 given by government administrators in the Vanni…..”.
………Another important figure is the 330 000 given for the number of people on the run by a Senior Government Official (SGO). The gap between this figure and those eventually in IDP camps is more than 40 000. As to whether these give an indication of the total dead requires careful consideration. ……….”
“5.4. OCHA (UN) figures”
“OCHA gave figures of the dead as nearly 3000 from January 20th to March 8th. But the figures bear closer examination.”
“5.5. Other Estimates”
“……… a lady doctor in the LTTE’s Medical Corps, who had a lot of field experience during this period gave her estimate of the total dead as 35 000 to 37 000. Her breakdown was January to March 10 000, April 10 000 and May 15 000.”

“We find her estimate for April to be high….., but her other estimates are quite plausible, especially the one for May.” ( UTHR (J), No.34, ibid- vide 5.2, 5.4 & 5.5).

These were estimates thrown up hot on the heels of the endgame in May 2009 or shortly thereafter. Sober reflection – scrutiny after the dust had settled – had produced different, and in essence, more realistic numbers, ranging from 70,000 to 147,000. There is a rationale behind each of these estimates and each has its evidentiary basis.

UN withheld information
 
Though the UN Office in Colombo had information on the number of war casualties during the last phase of the war, they had either cunningly or under coercion from the government withheld the information from other UN agencies, the media and the public. The UNSG (PoE) Report was presented to the UN Security Council on 11 April 2011. A fortnight later, the Inner City Press confronted Ban-Ki-moon:

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300 days of protest: a message of support from British MPs

300 days of protest: a message of support from British MPs

Photo Credit: Sabeshwaran for Tamil Guardian
Dec 16, 2017
Today marks the 300th day of continuous protest by Tamil relatives of the disappeared. They have been

demonstrating at various sites across the North of Sri Lanka to demand answers as to the fate and whereabouts of their missing loved ones, many of whom were never seen or heard from again after they moved into government-controlled territory at the end of the civil war in 2009.

We have been running a campaign in support of the families here. Earlier this week, they published an incredibly powerful open letter in which they described the deep frustration and anguish caused by the government’s continued failure to deliver on its promises to them.
As we reflect on their struggle at this milestone, we are pleased to today be joined a number of British MPs and politicians who have offered their messages of support to the protestors. The MPs have gotten behind one of their key demands: calling on President Sirisena to release a list of all those who surrendered or were detained at the end of the war.
You can read some of those messages of support below, including a statement from Paul Scully MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils.
Can you help us to reinforce them? We’re suggesting two actions:
Families of the disappeared have been waiting for truth and justice for far too long. With your help, we hope to make it as difficult as possible for the government of Sri Lanka to continue to ignore their voices.Lee Scott (Former MP)
Here’s what Paul Scully, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils, had to say:
“Since the beginning of this year Tamil relatives of the disappeared have been protesting continuously across Sri Lanka’s North to demand answers regarding the fate of their missing loved ones. There are many individuals who have been missing since passing into government controlled areas during the final stages of Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war in 2009.
This week, the longest-running of those protests will have surpassed the 300-day mark, with the others soon to follow. It is a milestone which speaks to the immense bravery and courage of the families, who have continued their struggle despite the challenges of old-age, exposure to the elements and routine intimidation. But it is also one which reflects the government of Sri Lanka’s frankly shocking indifference to some of its most vulnerable and traumatised citizens. I was appalled to learn from the protestors deeply moving open letter last week, that seven individuals have passed away since the demonstrations began.
The families have made their demands very clear. Among them, they want the government to release a list – known to have been kept by the authorities – of all those who surrendered or were detained at the end of the war. Unfortunately, despite a pledge in June from President Sirisena that he would act on this key issue, little seems to have been done. Meanwhile, doubts have continued to grow among families about what the government’s long promised Office on Missing Persons (OMP) can really deliver so long as access to this potentially vital evidence is denied.
As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils, I wish to extend my fullest support to the protesting families of the disappeared, and urge the government of Sri Lanka to take their grievances seriously. I have repeatedly stressed my belief that the government of Sri Lanka must speed up the pace of its reforms if it is to succeed in building a just and lasting peace and the release of this list is surely among the most urgent, yet achievable, steps that it could take.
Paul Scully MP, Chair APPG-Tamils (15 December 2017)
Photo credit: Sabeshwaran for Tamil Guardian
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Sri Lanka’s War: Getting distracted with numbers can distort the truth – High Commissioner

Sri Lanka’s War: Getting distracted with numbers can distort the truth – High Commissioner

James Dauris
by Zacki Jabbar-
Getting distracted by arguments about the numbers that were killed or went missing during or in the immediate aftermath of the end of a near three decade war between the Sri Lankan security forces and separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) could easily distort the truth, the British High Commissioner in Colombo James Dauris said yesterday.
The High Commissioner in an exclusive interview with the Sunday Island said that “while a single death is a tragedy, a large number of deaths is a statistic. If people allow themselves to lose sight of the tragedy of what happened, reconciliation and the guarantee of future peace will become more elusive. I think we need to be careful not to allow ourselves to get distracted by arguments about numbers, because figures can too easily get in the way of the truth.”
Recalling the first time he set foot on Sri Lankan soil as an 18-year old, Dauris said that he came here a few months after the “terrible blood-letting and violence of July 1983, commonly referred to as Black July. I can still picture the burned out houses and shops I saw here in Colombo.”
He said nobody disputed that thousands of people from every community and of every faith in Sri Lanka, died in the conflict that ended on May 19, 2009, as well as in earlier conflicts.
The experience of people in countries around the world confirmed that knowing the truth was especially important in post-conflict situations as it helped to achieve reconciliation which was in the clear interests of every community in Sri Lanka as well. The UK continued to encourage the Sri Lankan Government to implement the commitments it gave to the United Nations, including the undertaking to establish a truth-seeking commission, the High Commissioner added.
Asked if allegations being leveled in certain quarters that over 20,000 people had gone missing during the final stages of the war and in the aftermath of its conclusion and that number included a substantial number of Sinhalese, he said that it was best answered by those organizations and bodies officially mandated to look into such issues.
“However, I believe it is undisputed that many thousands of people died, people from every community and of every faith in Sri Lanka.  Nobody I have spoken to is in doubt that many thousands of people from every community and of every faith are also missing.”
Dauris pointed out that he was quick to welcome decisions that were taken to prioritize the work of the Office of Missing Persons (OMP). He said it was to the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government’s credit that a significant amount of money had been allocated in the budget to fund this work.
“It’s really important that this work is moved on quickly and that the OMP gets all the support it needs – from central and local government, armed forces, police and many others.  Through accomplishing its mission and shining light on the truth, the OMP will help thousands of families in towns and villages all around Sri Lanka’ to establish what happened to their loved ones and to move forward. Its work will help move the country down the road of reconciliation and it is in everyone’s interest that this is the road on which it should travel,” he emphasized.
Wishing everyone reading this interview a joyful Christmas and sharing the hope that 2018 would be a year of progress and changes to welcome around the world, Dauris said that one of the things that the UK looked forward to in the new year was hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London, an event which would bring together the 52 members of the Commonwealth with an ambitious agenda focused on fairness, prosperity, security and sustainability.
“We look forward to Sri Lanka participating in this important meeting”, he said.
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The Naseby Initiative Continues

The Naseby Initiative Continues

By Rajeewa Jayaweera –December 17 2017
Lord Naseby (LN), the British peer who recently took up the allegation of 40,000 civilian casualties during the Vanni offensive in the British parliament, a principal element of UNHRC Resolution 30/1, has taken a further step in his efforts in setting the record straight.
According to a media release from his office, he has forwarded a full set of papers consisting of the Hansard transcript of the debate he initiated in the House of Lords on October 12, all copies of the heavily redacted pages of British Defense Attaché Lt. Col Gash’s dispatches, his interpretation of the un-redacted parts and the substantial corroborative evidence from many other sources. These have been sent to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, the Human Rights team at the UNHRC in Geneva, namely the High Commissioner, Prince Zeid Ra’ad AI Hussein and the nine UN Special Procedures mandate holders along with a personal letter stating his intentions of further pursuing the matter.
 
Many contend, opposition to UNHRC 30/1 stems from the need to escape war crimes (genocideaccording to some). In the eyes of others, nothing is further from the truth. The need to address accountability issues is not in dispute. However, in such an exercise, of paramount importance is to establish a fact-based estimate of civilian deaths during the Vanni offensive. PoE estimates up to 40,000 whereas some others including LN estimate between 7,000 and 8,000, including around 20% believed to be LTTE cadre in civilian garb.
Initial objections to the Geneva Resolution were primarily due to the lack of a Sri Lankan footprint in the Resolution process. The UNSG appointed Panel of Experts (PoE) and subsequently UNHRC summarily dismissed the LLRC findings and Paranagama Commission Report (second mandate), both Sri Lankan initiatives. Subsequent developments such as the Wiki Leaks documents leaked by US Private Charles Manning and Lord LN’s revelations among other material brings to question, attitudes and actions of initiators of the Geneva Resolution, namely US, UK and the European Union.
The PoE never visited Sri Lanka at any point in time. Nevertheless, Resolution 30/1 was based on their report. Some relevant paragraphs are;
 
“As of 31 December 2010, the Panel had received over 4,000 submissions from more than 2,300 senders (para 17/page 5).”
 
“A significant number of submissions contained allegations relating to particular kinds of violations or to particular time periods during the final stages, and individual complaints of specific violations of human rights or humanitarian law. Documentary information, comprised of lists of incidents or victims, photographs or videos, was also received.  A limited number of unbiased analytical submissions provided analyses of general information including media reports or specific aspects of the situation. General information including media reports, web links and historical accounts, forwarded to the panel from publicly available sources also accounted for a portion of submissions” (para 18/page 5).   
     
“In the limited surveys that have been carried out in the aftermath of the conflict, the percentage of people reporting dead relatives is high. A number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths. Two years after the end of the war, there is still no reliable figure for civilian deaths, but multiple sources of information that a range of up to 40,000 civilian deaths cannot be ruled out at this stage. Only a proper investigation can lead to the identification of all the victims and the formulation of an accurate figure for the total number of civilian deaths” (para 137 / page 41).   
Therein lies the questionable credibility of those who decided of the need and have initiated a resolution for a credible investigation.
The UNHRC authored Resolution, on the one hand, is based on recommendations made by PoE which in turn are based on submissions by over 2,300 nameless and faceless persons, with their identities locked away for a period not less than 20 years.  They make up a substantial part of PoE’s ‘multiple sources of information.’
 
On the other hand, UNHRC has ignored PoE’s omission of reports, the resolution’s promoters and initiators US, UK, EU governments and UNO would have received from their respective representatives in Colombo. They are not a part of the PoE’s “multiple sources of information”.
Further, PoE apparently did not consider representatives of nations promoting the resolution such as the US Embassy and British High Commission in Colombo as “credible sources.”
 
PoE has failed to ascertain if some of those making submissions are persons reported missing or declared dead in Sri Lanka. Nor has it been established if depositions were fact based or made with a view to strengthen claims for political asylum.
 
It would have been only but correct to include testimonies of the likes of former US Ambassador Robert Blake, former UN spokesperson in Colombo Gordon Weiss, former US Military Attaché in Colombo Lawrence Smith and Lt. Col. Anton Gash into PoE’s list of ‘a number of credible sources’.
The Resolution project pursued by the said countries after locking away vital information received in dispatches from their representatives on site is not in the best interest of Sri Lanka. It is also the clearest indication of an anti Sri Lanka agenda.   
 
Following are excerpts of a redacted dispatch from Lt. Col. Gash dated Monday, February 16, 2009, 4:44 PM Subject IDP Reception – Trincomalee 12 Feb 09 among other things states the following; “On Thu evening (12 Feb) I observed the arrival of 400 IDPs by sea in Trincomalee.” “From 1930 hrs (12 Feb) to 0300 hrs (13 Feb) the ship to shore transfer took place. (I was present 2200 – 0200 hrs). “The operation was efficient and effective, but most importantly was carried out with compassion, respect, and concern. I am entirely certain that this was genuine – my presence was not planned and was based on a sudden opportunity; I had free access to the 300m long stretch of beach over a 4-hour period and was able to observe upwards 200 SLN personnel working extremely hard in difficult conditions.” “IDPs were having their mobile phones checked, but they were then returned to them.”
 
There is no reason to believe, US, EU and UNO missions were not permitted similar visits to front lines. 
 
It is indeed gratifying to learn of LN’s decision to move forward with his efforts to clear Sri Lanka of the charge of 40,000 civilian deaths.
 
He has commenced a race which rightfully should have been initiated by GoSL after the initial revelations in the House of Lords. Unfortunately, our leadership is yet to make up their minds if they should accept and continue or drop the baton currently carried by LN. The Foreign Minister has limited himself to a single statement in Parliament calling Naseby’s revelations “an ace”, for use at a future date. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is yet to offer an opinion or comment on the British peer’s initiative. 
 

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Rokheya, Sultana and the Muslim Women Dreaming of Gender Justice in Sri Lanka

Rokheya, Sultana and the Muslim Women Dreaming of Gender Justice in Sri Lanka

‘Where are the men?’ I asked her.
In their proper places, where they ought to be.’
‘Pray let me know what you mean by “their proper places”.’
‘O! I see my mistake. You cannot know our customs, as you were never here before. We shut our men indoors.’
‘Just as we are kept in the zenana?’
‘Exactly so.’
‘How funny,’ I burst into laugh.
Sister Sara laughed too. ‘But dear Sultana, how unfair it is to shut in the harmless women and let loose the men.’
Sultana’s Dream

CHULANI KODIKARA-on 
In Sultana’s Dream, Rokheya Sakhawat Hossain’s novella, women reign over Ladyland, and men are in seclusion in merdanas tending to all domestic chores. However, men enter purdah voluntarily after sustaining injuries in a war. Women take over, win the war through non-violent means and continue to rule Ladyland. With the aid of technology women engage in agriculture, which does not require manual labour, have flying cars, harness solar heat and manage the weather. Women are so efficient, they only work two hours everyday and have time to knit and do embroidery. Child marriage is banned and the minimum age of marriage for women is twenty one. All women are entitled to an education.

I first read Sultana’s Dream many years ago, as a young researcher working with the Muslim Women’s Research and Action Forum (MWRAF) and writing on Muslim Personal Law in Sri Lanka, borrowing a copy from the MWRAF library. Rokheya was a celebrated icon among Muslims women’s rights activists in the subcontinent and Sultana’s Dream was a must read for new recruits. Last year, I found a beautifully illustrated copy of Sultana’s Dream published by Tara Press in Chennai and just finished re-reading it. After putting the book down, I could not help but wonder what Rokheya Hossain would make of the struggle for Muslim Personal Law reforms in Sri Lanka and the strength of the male resistance to the demands being made, primarily by Muslim women, for a family law that is equitable and just. More specifically, I wondered about this bold and prescient woman writer’s response to male Muslims who are saying that Muslim women cannot be quazi judges in Sri Lanka, that any person who appoints a woman as a Quazi is committing a sin in the eyes of God and that women’s judgements carry no weight.[1]

Rokheya Hossain

Rokheya Sakhawat Hossain was born in 1880 in what is now Bangladesh to a wealthy Muslim zamindar family. Her father married four times and she had two sisters and two brothers. All the children were educated at home in Arabic (to read the Qur’an) and Urdu (the language spoken by aristocratic Muslims), but the girls were forced to observer strict purdah from the age of five. The boys were later sent to St. Xaviers and learnt English and Bengali, but not the three girls. Yet Ibrahim, Rokheya’s elder brother taught her Bengali and English in secret at home. Ibrahim was also instrumental in arranging her marriage (it is not clear at what age this happened. Some biographers say at 16, others say at 18) to Sakhawat Hossain, a local deputy magistrate, who her brother believed was ‘open minded’. Indeed, Hossain proved to be a supportive husband encouraging Rokheya to continue to learn Bengali and English and to write in both languages.

Sultana’s Dream was written to pass the time while Rokheya’s husband, was away on a tour of the district and to prove to him that she could write in English. It was first published in The Indian Ladies Magazine in 1905 and in book form in 1908, by which time, she had already attracted considerable attention as an essayist. She continued to write mostly in Bengali, the language of the majority and in a number of genres – short stories, poems, essays, and novels. Her many writings, inspired by her conviction that modern Islam had been corrupted as far as the treatment of women was concerned, deal mainly with the subordination and oppression of women, especially Bengali Muslim women. She developed a distinctive literary style, characterized by satire and a wry sense of humour. Following her husband’s death she also became a strong advocate of education for girls, starting a school for girls with money left by him. In 1916, she founded the Muslim Women’s Society. The day of her death, 9th December, is now celebrated in Bangladesh as Rokheya Day.

The power to dream of other futures

Sultana’s Dream is now recognized as one of the earliest self consciously feminist texts written in English. It took another 10 years before Charlotte Perkins Gilman published Herland. It offers a radical and powerful critique of the segregation and discrimination suffered by Muslim women during Rokheya Hossain’s time while depicting a feminist utopia, which is ecologically balanced, and free of exploitation, disease, crime and violence. The text progressively lays bare the illogical and irrational myths and aphorisms that sustain the subordination of women. At one point in the conversation between Sister Sara and Sultana, the latter asks whether men’s brains are bigger and heavier than women’s? Sister Sara responds, ‘Yes but what of that? An elephant also has got a bigger and heavier brain than a man has. Yet man can enchain elephants and employ them, according to their own wishes’. At another point in the conversation Sultana states,

We have no hand or voice in the management of our social affairs. In India man is lord and master. He has taken to himself all powers and privileges and shut up the women in the zenana.

When Sister Sara asks ‘Why do you allow yourself to be shut up?’ Sultana responds by saying that men are stronger than women. Sister Sara quips back:  ‘A lion is stronger than a man, but it does not enable him to dominate the human race. You have neglected the duty you owe yourselves and you have lost your natural rights by shutting your eyes to your own interest.’

The book can also be read as an invitation to reflect on the power we all have to dream of alternative realities and the potential and power of such dreams. It reminds us that to challenge and overcome oppression one has to first become conscious of one’s oppression and dream of other futures. Even when women are secluded, physically confined and their rights are denied, women still retain the power to dream if nothing else. This is the first step in any process of social transformation, even though it may take years to realize such dreams.

The Struggle of Muslim Women in Sri Lanka

Muslim women in Sri Lanka have been struggling for over 30 years, to reform Muslim Personal Law in Sri Lanka, dreaming of a future in which their rights are ensured and protected. In making the case for reform, they have drawn on the lived realities of Muslim women across the country as well as the sacred texts of Islam. Yet, as Farida Shaheed[2] points out questioning, rejecting or reformulating Muslim Laws is a challenging undertaking for women of any Muslim community. Throughout history, Islam has been presented to women through the lens of men and the interpretation of the textual sources of Muslim Law has been a task monopolized by men. When women begin to challenge particular interpretations and the existing status quo, the possibility of being alienated from one’s community as an apostate or a feminist inspired by western values is a very real threat. Yet increasing numbers of Muslim women in Sri Lanka are today reading, reclaiming and reinterpreting the textual sources of the law for themselves. While it appears that it is impossible for the community to ignore their voices, there is  nevertheless, a backlash against them.

As members of the Muslim community have long asserted and argued that Muslim Personal Law reform is a matter for the community, non-Muslim women’s rights activists and organizations have been mostly bystanders in this struggle. Yet the spurious arguments being put forward by some members of the Muslim community against reforms and their intransigence begs the question, whether we can remain silent and on the sidelines of this struggle anymore. Moreover, what stance should we take in relation to the demand being made by some Muslim women’s activists for the right to opt out of Muslim’s Personal Laws, if reform remains elusive? The Muslim Women’s Research and Action Forum argued in a recent article that this is not merely a question of religion and interpretation of the sacred texts of Islam. The resistance to Muslim Personal Law reforms is about patriarchal power and identity politics, both all too adept at dividing women (and men) along lines of religion, ethnicity, class, caste, etc. Has the time now come to mobilise the collective energies of progressive Muslims and non-Muslims and men and women alike, (not to put men in merdanas), but for gender justice for Muslim women in Sri Lanka? Perhaps, we could begin by reading Sultana’s Dreamtogether and summoning the generative and world changing force of dreams.

To view more content around the ongoing call for Muslim personal law reform, including first-hand testimony from women affected by the current laws, click here


[1] See https://www.colombotelegraph.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/All-Ceylon-Jamiyyathul-Ulemas-submission-on-MMDA.pdf

[2] Shaheed, Farida. (1994). Controlled or Autonomous: Identity and the Experience of the Women Living Under Muslim Laws, Occasional Paper No. 5, WLUML.

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Beyond echo chambers

Beyond echo chambers

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Sanjana Hattotuwa-
It boils down to this. Three years into the yahapalanaya government, is our support of it now contingent on the fear of the Rajapaksa’s coming back into power? If that is the case, to what extent do we gloss over and excuse the trappings of power, and the failure of this President and Prime Minister, to actualise the promises they made before coming to power? To what degree to we posit the visible failure of reform on how difficult it is to reshape a political architecture founded on corruption, nepotism and violence, and the lack of genuine political leadership, courage or vision? To what degree does traditional civil society, which championed this President, now countenance what is three years in a record of a steady decline into parochialism, and an overpowering interest over political survival over the heady, selfless ideals noted in his first speech on January 9, 2015?
Connected to this, what degree does civil society, now connected via instant messaging, email or a call away from friends who are significant figures in the Wickremesinghe administration, countenance the catastrophic loss of credibility on account of the government’s inability to pursue those they promised would be held accountable? In conversations with the diverse group of individuals who entirely organically came together – without any external support or funding – in order to get rid of the former President late-2014, there is a palpable sense of frustration, anger, sadness and far more disturbingly, apathy. In an election now overtly made into a litmus test of the current government with the statements made by the former President last week, it is unclear if those in power realise that the narrow margin of electoral victory in both Parliamentary and Presidential elections over 2015 was largely pegged to a youth vote, amongst the 18-34 demographic. This is a group that isn’t voting for anyone. They vote against what they see. The vote that brought the President and Prime Minister to power wasn’t a vote for a political party or individual. It was a vote opposed to what they saw as elements in the political fabric they wanted to get rid of, change or reform. This is a demographic that doesn’t carry to their grave a political party affiliation or loyalty. They will shift their vote, they will not vote at all. To what degree does the government understand this, in their political machinations to retain power?
I don’t want to be the Grinch that stole the promise of January 2015 (leave aside Christmas cheer around the corner). But the signs are now too obvious to ignore. We have a Minister of Media and Finance who is more vocal, courageous, open and principled than even our Prime Minister or certainly, President. We have a Foreign Minister who exists somewhere deep in the bowels of a Ministry that isn’t even making the inside pages of newsprint leave aside forging new strategic alliances with China – who we have to creatively embrace not always shun, India, who we cannot ever forget, the West, who hold the keys to our networking with a cosmopolitan future, and regional allies who remind us of our essential non-aligned past and present. We have other Ministers who now justify extra-legal censorship of online content just because it seemingly upsets the President, instead of the free and open domains for expression we were told we would enjoy. There are mothers of the disappeared quite literally dying in the North before seeing any justice, despite various public promises by the President. How he lives with that knowledge of letting down so badly and callously those who have suffered and lost so in war much is anyone’s guess. But political life goes on. And on the margins, now threatening to become a main act centre stage, are echoes of our violent past now in the guise of saviours – men who did good and great things; men who defeated terrorism; men who beautified our cities; men above corruption, selfless, and visionary to boot – men now capable of capturing a vote base that is upset with the non-delivery of promises by those in power.
And therein lies the rub. To what degree is our civil society championing the very ideals that projected this government into power? And if the default mode of public engagement today is a respectful deference, silence or worse, support without qualification – because to do anything different risks the ire of friends in government – what does it signal to those who look at civil society as a more critical voice, or platform? In trying to negotiate the optics of how government sees it, is civil society losing its credibility amongst those who were partial to its agenda late-2014? If then there was a clear, perhaps even coincidental overlapping of civil society interests and the interests of those who didn’t then overtly identify themselves as part of civil society to reject, reform and reboot a particular political culture and its chief proponents, the two have grown apart.
Arguably, how it has negotiated the post-2015 politics had enabled it to work its way into the inner chambers of government – and this is not all bad. The President is cocooned, believing what he wants to believe because there is no one telling him anything that risks their privileged access to power. The only option is to access the Prime Minister, and with all the attendant risks, he alone has the intellect to comprehend what he is told, critically question and engage. But the bigger picture optics are awry. Civil society, President and Prime Minister operate in their own spheres of influence, and like bubbles, occasionally coalesce but exist entirely independent of each other. Seeing this, and without understanding the complexities of governance or coalition government, young voters are sick and tired of politics as usual, and the absence of any tangible reform at the pace it was promised. Without any coherent communications from government around why things that were promised aren’t done, or how they have tried but failed, conspiracy theories, gossip, rumour are the primary vectors through which voters now develop and cement their perceptions. The more emotive the message, the better the grip it has on the public imagination.
Civil society often blames government for this loss of public confidence. They also have to take some of the blame for it. 2015 brought to an end the oppositional nature of civil society and government, and it is clear that what’s needed now is a more nuanced, strategic approach to critical engagement without co-option, and a pragmatic realism around what can be done, independent of what was promised – incrementalism as a driving mantra in all domains, ranging from constitutional reform to foreign policy and economic development. But this overarching strategic foresight is largely lacking. In its place we have this interest in retaining access to those in power, seemingly at whatever cost, driven by the fear of what may happen if the old regime comes back into power. These twin dynamics fuel each other. The second is certainly a valid, existential concern for those who courageously stood up against the Rajapaksas’ violent, brutal, censorious authoritarian fiat. The first though is a fear that one gives into only to the detriment of a more principled approach to constant, critical review, and by extension, the vital support of those beyond just an echo chamber.
Silence is not an option – even when our friends are in power.
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Usurer Soma’s daughter Deepa as SLFP mayoral candidate against Rosie of UNP

Usurer Soma’s daughter Deepa as SLFP mayoral candidate against Rosie of UNP

LEN logo(Lanka-e-News – 16.Dec.2017, 11.05PM) While rumors are raging  that Rosie Senanayake of the UNP will be contesting the post of mayor of Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) , it was revealed yesterday (15) that Deepa Edirisinghe the daughter of late Soma Edirisinghe will be  the SLFP candidate for the mayor (CMC) post.
For the  first time Deepa Edirisinghe made her presence at the media briefing held following her appointment as the Colombo district organizer of SLFP. Incidentally the rule is there must  be a  compulsory  25 % women representation  at elections, and it is  Faizer Mustafa who had propelled  her forward to the hustings.
Deepa at the media briefing spoke  thus :
 ‘In fact I am happy that I entered politics. I chose the SLFP because I thought it is a pure party . I am hoping to move forward along with women in my future activities.  Both the president Maithripala and Faizer Mustafa are extending tremendous support . I think I will receive the support even in the future. I did not come into social service just yesterday. From 2008 we have been carrying on these activities with our mother under ‘Janasarana ‘and ‘Punarjeewa’ funds. Even now that is in operation in the way we can. So I thought if women come forward to render service to the country politically I can do a greater service towards them . It is for that I decided to enter politics.’
 Be that as it may , the overriding truth is , the Edirisinghe family is best noted for committing the worst sins through usury – the only business they know  and on which they built their much vaunted empire of filthy lucre. It is on those monies ruthlessly earned on the sufferings of the poor and destitute who borrowed from them at exorbitant interest rates to meet their financial commitments , the Edirisinghe family thrived , wallowed  and prospered.

What ‘s more ! Some time ago , they commenced a financial establishment under the name of ‘Edirisinghe Trust Investment ‘(ETI) . Under that Co. because Rs. 37 billon !  of the monies of the depositors vanished into thin air , and the establishment crashed to the detriment of the depositors , the Central Bank took over.

It is a tragi- comedy in SL  it is such monsters , Shylocks and culprits  who are being prodded and  propelled to play god by bankrupt politicos and  political parties .

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by     (2017-12-16 17:41:23)
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