Why is international human rights law such an easy target?

Why is international human rights law such an easy target?

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein delivered the following speech at the Law Society in London, 26 June 2017

by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein-Jun 27, 2017
( June 27, 2017, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) “Earlier this month, Britain’s Prime Minister called for human rights laws to be overturned if they were to “get in the way” in the fight against terrorism. Specifically, Theresa May said there was a need “to restrict the freedom and movement of terrorist suspects when we have enough evidence to know they are a threat, but not evidence to prosecute them in full in court.” For an increasingly anxious public, shaken by the recent and dreadful terrorist attacks, her remarks no doubt reflected real anger and frustration, but they also seemed intended to strike a chord with a certain sector of the electorate, and it is this expectation that truly worries me.

British Government officials would probably claim the comments should be understood in the context of a tough electoral campaign, and would presumably try and reassure us quietly that the government’s support for human rights remains steadfast and unchallengeable.

Whatever the intention behind her remarks, they were highly regrettable, a gift from a major Western leader to every authoritarian figure around the world who shamelessly violates human rights under the pretext of fighting terrorism. And it is not just the leaders.

A few days ago, citing Prime Minister May, a former Sri Lankan rear admiral delivered a petition to the President of the Human Rights Council. He demanded action be taken against my Office for “forcing” Sri Lanka to undertake constitutional reforms, and for exerting pressure on them to create a hybrid court to try perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity – when in reality, he claimed, all they had engaged in was fighting terrorism.

My first question: Why is international human rights law such an easy target? Why is it so misunderstood, so reviled by some, feared by others, spurned, attacked?

My second: If the Prime Minister meant what she said, which universal rights would the UK be willing to give away in order to punish people against whom there is insufficient evidence to justify prosecution? What, exactly, are the rights she considers frivolous or obstructive? The right to privacy? The right to liberty and security of person? Freedom of expression? Freedom of religion and belief? The principle of non-refoulement? The prohibition of torture? Due process?

And why are we fighting the terrorists in the first place, if not to defend both the physical well-being of people and the very human rights and values the Prime Minister now says she is willing, in part, to sacrifice – in order to fight the terrorists? And where would it stop? Foregoing some rights now may have devastating effects on other rights later on. If we follow this reasoning to its logical conclusion, the eventual complete unwinding of human rights would transform us – both states and international organizations. To quote Nietzsche: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster”. We would be in danger of becoming virtually indistinguishable from the terrorists we are fighting.

So why did Prime Minister May said this? At least part of the answer may lie in market conditions. Human Rights law has long been ridiculed by an influential tabloid press here in the UK, feeding with relish on what it paints as the absurd findings of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. This viewpoint has some resonance with a slice of the public unaware of the importance of international human rights law – often seen by far too many people as too removed from everyday life, very continental, too lawyerly, too activist, ultimately too weird. How can the Court consider prisoners’ voting rights, and other supposedly frivolous claims, when set against the suffering of victims? The bastards deserve punishment, full stop! This may be understandable, at some emotional level. However, one should also acknowledge that British ink, reflecting an enormously rich legal tradition, is found throughout the European Convention on Human Rights.

And for good reason. To recognise that even a criminal has rights is the basis of enlightened thought, a principle enshrined in common law. It lies at the very core of human civilization, and distinguishes us from a primeval horde wrapped only in retribution and cruelties. I believe, like so many others, that criminals, too, have fundamental rights, because whatever evil they have wrought, they remain human beings. Frequently their pathological behaviour has been influenced by trauma inflicted on them by others.

Let me take one, perhaps extreme, example. In Iraq, there are people who argue for the killing of as many child soldiers of Da’esh as possible, and would perhaps even support torturing them, given how monstrous their actions have been. But in Sierra Leone, many child followers of Foday Sankoh, who were once hacking off the limbs of other small children, have now largely been rehabilitated, in no small measure due to the efforts of the UN. They were children even while they were terrorists – and they have to be seen as children first.

I seek in the course of this short lecture to examine some of these attacks on international human rights law, on international law generally. You have honoured me with the request that I speak to the legacy of Hugo Grotius. What would Grotius say today, were he to be brought back to life for a few moments? Would he be surprised, almost 400 years after publication of his treatise On the Law of War and Peace, by the overall achievement? The extent of the current backlash? The struggle? Or perhaps he would not be at all surprised by any of it.

While promoting an international “society” governed by law, not by force, he well may have been surprised it took a further 300 years of treaty-making and immense bloodletting, capped by two world wars, before humanity embraced a system of international law. Or, put another way, reason alone had proven itself to be insufficient.

Only the death of some 100 million people in two world wars and the Holocaust could generate the will necessary for a profound change. Humanity had fallen off a cliff, survived, and, having frightened itself rigid, became all the wiser for it. The prospect of nuclear annihilation also sharpened post-war thinking. And soon after, States drew up the UN Charter, reinforced international law – codified international refugee law, further elaborated international humanitarian law, and created international human rights law and international criminal law.

It is precisely these bodies of international law that are now endangered.

While I ought to, in this lecture, examine all the threats to public international law, from Russia’s seizure and annexation of Crimea to the almost enthusiastic derogation by European powers of their obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention, or the seemingly deliberate bombing by major state actors of facilities protected under IHL – such as clinics and hospitals in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan – I shall confine myself for the sake of brevity to those principal threats directed against international human rights law, and pay special attention to the absolute prohibition on the use of torture. In doing so, I hope to illustrate how they are symptomatic of a broader cynicism emerging in defiance of international law more generally.

Let me first return to the struggle against terrorism, and how it is being exploited by governments the world over to roll back the advances made in human rights. The curtailing of the freedoms of expression and association – which threatens to wipe out dissent completely in countries like Egypt, Bahrain, and Turkey – is closing what is left of a democratic space, and all under the banner of fighting terrorism. And this contagion is spreading, fast.

The detention, and in some cases torture, of individuals whose association with a terrorist group is non-existent but who are nevertheless charged under a vaguely-worded counter-terrorism law – simply because they have criticized the government – is not just wrong, it is dangerous and entirely self-defeating.

When I emphasise this point, and highlight the excesses of government action, I am sometimes accused of showing sympathy with the terrorists, which is outrageous. I wish to be clear. I condemn terrorism unreservedly. It can never be justified, on the basis of any grievance, real or perceived.

The Da’esh, Al Qa’eda, Al Nusra, Al Shabab, Boko Haram manifestation does have a distinct ideology, and it must be dismantled at the source. If it is to be fought from a security perspective, through intelligence networks and military force, the actions must also be extremely precise. In other words, the arbitrariness and imprecision that are the hallmarks of target selection on the part of terrorists require a diametrically opposite reaction from states. The laser-like application of the law, consistent with universal human rights standards and guarantees, is the only workable antidote if this struggle is ever to be successful.

The detention, and in some cases torture, of individuals whose association with a terrorist group is non-existent but who are nevertheless charged under a vaguely-worded counter-terrorism law – simply because they have criticized the government – is not just wrong, it is dangerous and entirely self-defeating.

It transforms not only one individual, falsely charged, into a person who hates the state, but also their families, friends, possibly even their communities. Some may even go further than simple hatred. Arbitrary detention serves the terrorists, not the state; it fuels recruitment. And yet arbitrary detentions are commonplace in those states grappling with terrorism. In fact, if you believe the rhetoric of many governments, every lawyer or journalist is almost by definition a terrorist, particularly if they are human rights-focused. Present company included!

Moreover, given that prisons often become factories for converting petty criminals into violent extremists, the lawful deprivation of liberty ordered by Courts should be reserved for the most serious offenses, and non-custodial remedies sought for lesser offenses. This is not what is happening.

Instead, we see in the United States a renewed resort to very long prison sentences for those convicted of drug offenses. And rather than focus on potentially violent individuals driven by Takfiri ideology, or any other extreme ideology, the Trump Administration is pursuing its executive orders on the travel bans all the way to the Supreme Court, despite their being struck down as unconstitutional in the lower courts.

Likewise, in the weeks following the vicious terrorist attacks in Paris, in November 2015, the French authorities took broad aim and closed down 20 mosques and Muslim associations, while also undertaking some 2,700 warrantless house searches. In the United Kingdom, the Investigatory Powers Act of 2016 constituted one of the most sweeping mass surveillance regimes in the world, permitting the interception, access, retention and hacking of communications without a requirement of reasonable suspicion. Refugees and migrants were increasingly viewed as Trojan horses for terrorists. Hysteria raged in political circles across Europe, and the terrorists must have been grinning. When it came to the management of the public’s reaction, instead of adopting a common-sense approach, fever set in.

To overcome terrorism, governments must be precise in the pursuit of the terrorists. Pretending to seal off borders — with or without walls decorated with solar panels — is an illusion, and a nasty one. Migrant children should not be detained. There should be no refoulement. Nor should there be collective push back, or decisions taken at borders by police officers, instead of judges. Or indeed, returns to countries that are manifestly not safe.

The EU deal with Turkey, in our view, has failed on several of these key points; most especially when it comes to the right of every asylum seeker to individual assessment. Taken together with the emergency measures being rushed through a number of European parliaments, which also derogate from the 1951 Refugee Convention, Europe – as a sentinel for the observation of refugee and human rights laws worldwide – finds itself enmeshed in gross hypocrisy.

The demagogues and populists across Europe and in many other parts of the world, as well as the tabloids in this country, have for years remorselessly stoked xenophobia and bigotry – the fuel that gave rise to these unwise policies. And this seemed to be paying off, with a windfall of popular support gathering in their favour. After the referendum here in the UK, dominated as it was by the whipped-up fear of foreigners and foreign institutions, came the outcome of the US election, and the populist bandwagon seemed to be on an unstoppable roll.

The default condition of the human mind is, after all, fear. Primordial fear. That innermost instinctive mechanism protecting us from harm, from death. An emotion every extremist, skilled populists included, seeks to tap or stimulate. By manipulating it, and obliterating deductive reasoning drawn from knowledge, they more easily mould the movements they lead, and their political ambitions are well-served – at least for a while.

The emotional mechanism in the mind of a human rights defender works rather differently. To do good in our lives, and not just to some, but to all; to defend the human rights of all – this requires a continuous investment of thought, where the natural prejudices lying deep within each of us must be watched out for and rejected every day of our lives. The default flow in the minds of humanity may be reptilian; but the internal battle to overcome it is profoundly human. To think of all, to work for all: these are the two fundamental lessons learned by those who survived the two world wars – whether we speak in relation to the behaviour of individuals or states. And they are etched into the UN Charter.

The two words “human rights” were not placed in the preamble of the UN Charter by its final author, Virginia Gildersleeve, as a literary flourish. They were written into the text – almost at the beginning, in the third line – because human rights was viewed as the only choice possible for that first beat of a new pulse. Because on 26 June 1945, the day of the Charter’s signing, killing on a scale hitherto unknown to humans had only just come to an end, with cities across the world pulverized and still smoking, monuments to immense human malevolence and stupidity.

Only by accepting human rights as the cornerstone could the rest of the edifice – success in economic development, durable peace – become possible. It is a point that even today – perhaps especially today – needs to be absorbed by the numerous political actors who only see human rights as a tiresome constraint. Indeed, many people who have enjoyed their rights since birth simply do not realise what these principles really mean. Like oxygen, they lie beyond our daily sensory perception, and only when suddenly deprived of it do we fathom their enormous significance.

To advocate for the universal rights of every human being, every rights holder, is another way of saying that only by working together, do we – as humans and as states – have a hope of ridding ourselves of the scourges of violence and war.

Tragically, the nativistic reflexes once again being peddled by populists and demagogues still seem to work. They sell supremacy and not equality, sow suspicion rather than calm, and hurl enmity against defined categories of people who are vulnerable – easy scapegoats, and undeserving of their hatred. This brand of politician seems more intent on profiting from the genuine fear of specific constituencies than promoting care for the welfare of the whole.

Thankfully, change is afoot. The populist or nationalist-chauvinistic wave in the western world, which crested in the US, has broken for now, dashed against the ballot boxes of Austria, the Netherlands and France. There may yet be other waves. Nevertheless, in Europe, the anti-populist movement, as some have called it, is now up and running.

In other parts of the world, threats to international law and the institutions upholding them are thus far unaffected by these recent, more positive developments.

The US is weighing up the degree to which it will scale back its financial support to the UN and other multilateral institutions. It is still deciding whether it should withdraw from the Human Rights Council and there was even talk at one stage of it withdrawing from the core human rights instruments to which it is party.

Last year, it was also reported that nine Arab states – the coalition led by Saudi Arabia fighting the Houthi/Saleh rebels in Yemen – made the unprecedented threat of a withdrawal from the UN if they were listed as perpetrators in the annex of the Secretary General’s report on children and armed conflict.

The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, the Inter-American Court, the Southern African Development Court, and the International Criminal Court have also not been spared such threats. Fortunately, in almost all these cases, either the threat of withdrawal has fizzled out, or, even if one or two countries did withdraw, no chain reaction ensued. But the regularity of these threats means it is increasingly probable the haemorrhaging will occur someday – a walk-out which closes the book on some part of the system of international law.

In this context, most worrisome to me is the persistent flirtation by the President of the United States, throughout his campaign and soon thereafter, with a return to torture. We are now told the US Army field manual will not be redrafted, and the US Secretary of Defence is guiding the White House on this. For now there is little danger of a return to the practice of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques”, a euphemism that dupes no-one. The mood in the US could of course change dramatically, if the country were at some stage to experience a gruesome terrorist attack. And, mindful of how the American public has, over the last ten years, become far more accepting of torture, the balance could be tipped in favour of its practice – and destroy the delicate position the Convention Against Torture is in.

It is worth recalling that the Convention against Torture, ratified by 162 countries, is the most unyielding of any existing instrument in international law. Its prohibition on torture is so absolute, it can never be lifted – not even during an emergency that “threatens the life of the nation.” And yet, notwithstanding its broader recognition as jus cogens, and the crystal clarity of Article 2 of the Convention, the existence of so many surviving victims of torture, who remain unacknowledged, unsupported, denied justice or redress, forms a living testimony to the dreadful persistence of torture worldwide.

While only a small number of states appear to practise torture systematically, as part of state policy, 20 countries (and they are listed on our website) do not recognize the competence of the Committee Against Torture under Article 20. Accordingly, they refuse a priori any scrutiny of the alleged widespread violations.

A much larger number of states are host to isolated – or not so isolated – acts of torture and ill-treatment. Disturbingly, states in this group are simply not taking their obligations seriously enough. The levels of impunity are very high, given that most of those individuals who are found culpable face only administrative sanctions; and so-called evidence obtained under torture remains, in many states, admissible in court.

There are also a number of states – and this group may possibly be increasing – which, while having no record of practising torture, are nevertheless acquiescing to it by, for example, disregarding the principle of non-refoulement as contained in Article 3 of the Convention.

Another large majority of states parties also fully or partially disregard their obligations under Article 14 of the Convention for the redress and rehabilitation of victims, no matter where the torture occurred or by whom it was perpetrated.

The fragility of the Convention is underscored by the fact that no country abides by all of its terms. No country would admit publicly that it engages in torture, but abundant evidence shows that torture is systematically practised by at least some states – that first category I referred to earlier.

Eleven years ago, noticeable progress was made with the entry into force of the Optional Protocol, which enables preventive visits to be made by the Sub-Committee for the Prevention of Torture to any place of deprivation of liberty, at any time. Some fifty national preventive mechanisms have been created, and the Sub-Committee has conducted 54 visits. However, many national preventive mechanisms are under-resourced and not empowered to deliver real results.

The fragility of the Convention is underscored by the fact that no country abides by all of its terms. No country would admit publicly that it engages in torture, but abundant evidence shows that torture is systematically practised by at least some states – that first category I referred to earlier.

It would seem all governments have been participating in a theatrical pretence of conforming with the Convention. And this may be more crucial than we initially realise, because it implies a sense of shame. Consider the alternative.

The president of the Philippines has spoken openly about extra-judicial killings. And the president of the United States of America has said that torture could be necessary in certain circumstances. There is no longer any pretence. They are breaking long-held taboos. If other leaders start to follow the same rhetorical course, undermining the Convention with their words, the practice of torture is likely to broaden, and that would be fatal. The Convention would be scuttled, and a central load-bearing pillar of international law removed.

The dangers to the entire system of international law are therefore very real.

Today, the 26th of June, is the international day in support of victims of torture, and earlier I participated in a panel at King’s College organised by the International Bar Association to raise awareness about the absolute prohibition of torture, and the need for the legal profession to take a far more active role in preventing its use.

Human progress never glides; it will always stagger and sometimes even temporarily collapse. The common effort, for a common cause, within a common frame of understanding and regulation, will always be attacked by those more committed to the pursuit of narrower personal or national interests. These extreme practitioners of the assertive, thin agenda are apt to dismiss many of today’s international laws and post-war institutions as anachronisms. And because, to the non-lawyer, the system of international law is so complicated, the human rights system so indecipherable to many lay-persons, it is hard to rally the general public, who may not see any immediate threat to themselves.

This brings me to the central threat to human rights today: indifference. The indifference of a large part of the business community worldwide, who would still pursue profit even at the cost of great suffering done to others. The indifference of a large segment of the intelligence and security community, for whom the pursuit of information eclipses all the rights held by others, and who describe challenges to terrible, discriminatory practices as treachery.

Some politicians, for whom economic, social and cultural rights mean little, are indifferent to the consequences of economic austerity. They view human rights only as an irritating check on expediency – the currency of the political world. For others, indifference is not enough. Their rejection of the rights agenda is expressed in terms replete with utter contempt for others, a parade of meanness.

Our world is dangerously close to unmooring itself from a sense of compassion, slowly becoming not only a post-truth but also a post-empathetic world. It is so hard for us now in the UN to generate the sums needed for humanitarian action worldwide. Our appeals for funds for the most destitute are rarely met at levels over 50%; the final figure is often far less.

What is happening to us?

My hope lies not primarily with governments, but with those people who reject all forms of terrorism, reject extreme, discriminatory counter-terrorism, and reject the populisms of the ideological outer limits. My hope lies with those who choose to elect more enlightened political leaders. My hope also lies with the most courageous of us: the human rights defenders, often victims of violations themselves who, armed with nothing beyond their minds and voices, are willing to sacrifice everything, including seeing their children and families, losing their work, even their lives, to safeguard rights – not just their own, but the rights of others.

Our world is dangerously close to unmooring itself from a sense of compassion, slowly becoming not only a post-truth but also a post-empathetic world. It is so hard for us now in the UN to generate the sums needed for humanitarian action worldwide.

How stunningly beautiful is that? I am moved by them. We should all be. It is they who ensure we retain our equanimity, and it is they, not us, who bear the greater burden of defending this crucial part of our system of international law. It is they who will save us, and we in turn must invest every effort in protecting them.

I don’t think Grotius would be surprised by any of this.

The reptilian urge of the human brain is not easily overcome, and humanity will for centuries remain untrustworthy and unreliable. Our behaviour, and the behaviour of states, will long require legal scaffolding to keep what we recognize as human civilization in place. Grotius would be grateful we are still fighting, standing up, for his international society and perhaps even crack a wry smile when thinking just how prescient he was, those four centuries ago.

I thank you for your attention.”

Categories: Uncategorized

Land Mediation Boards For Reconciliation in N-E Implementing the LLRC Recommendations

Land Mediation Boards For Reconciliation in N-E Implementing the LLRC Recommendations

“Two disputants agreed to visit the village sage seeking mediation on their bitter dispute. He listened patiently to both. At the end, addressing one, the mediator said the disputant was right. Turning to the other, the mediator said that he too was right. The watching wife asked how could both be right at the same time. The mediator replied, ‘you too are right’.”


Implementing the LLRC Recommendations

The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Committee (LLRC), a committee of high intellect, was charged by the then Government, with the cognitive challenge of defining reconciliation and offering suggestions for post-conflict settlement. It recommended, among others, that urgent attention be given to resolving land displacement issues in the North-East (N-E) conflict zones, as a load-bearing part of general reconciliation approaches. Government decided that this recommendation be implemented through Sri Lanka’s mediation system, which had gained international recognition. The first of the Land Mediation Boards (LMBs) for the N-E conflict zones was established in Jaffna. This was to be followed with three more, in Kilinochchi, Trincomalee and Batticaloa.

With the end of the military conflict, a number of civil issues – which so far had lain unattended or dormant- surfaced for attention. Of them, one of the most intractable pertained to land. Land is an asset, but of a special class. Land is rarely owned solely to gain a return on capital but mostly, to incorporate emotions; many consider land as their soul-blood of existence, offering the owner a levitational lever to rise in social positions. Share-ownership in a company serves as a transactional asset. Land ownership is more fundamental, it provides an alchemy, to socially transform individuals. Land ownership or its deprivation has profound social implications, deprivation even leading to revolutions.

An unravelling of problems and finding solutions to the complexities of land transactions in conflict zones, not only require hard, technical approaches of analysis (law, history, etc) but also soft, behavioural initiatives of change (sociology, psychology, etc)

Because of the length of the military conflict, the normal adjudication on land issues to permit society to function — like giving legal form to land transactions for award of dowries — was not always feasible. To fill the vacuum, a variety of ad hoc, work-a day solutions, had been pragmatically devised, some of them not in strict conformity with principles of judicial equity or even the law. These solutions were nevertheless accepted as legal by a beleaguered society. With peace now prevailing, there emerged countervailing pressure to disregard these ‘Wild West’ decisions; it sought a restoration of the status quo ante, on the argument of force majeure. The principle invoked here is retributive justice, where a victim seeks a rectifying remedy from a perceived “perpetrator”.
Land is a significant part of a complex social interweaving in rural society. But precipitate action to ensure an immediate alteration of functioning land relationships — whatever their zombie provenance — by an unemotional, remedial application of retributive laws, is not possible. Law is objective but it has soul. Hasty remedy would be disruptive of society at all levels, whether in the village, intra-community or inter-community levels. Since Government’s primary obligations are to maintain law and order and social stability, it would not acquiesce with such a disturbance. A soothing adjustment mechanism was required. The LLRC recommended reconciliation, meliorated through an adjustment process.

An unravelling of problems and finding solutions to the complexities of land transactions in conflict zones, not only require hard, technical approaches of analysis (law, history, etc) but also soft, behavioural initiatives of change (sociology, psychology, etc), coupled with an entrepreneurial push, the joint objectives of the three, being to ensure that a settlement should not become a generating point for a further round of contention. To enable this to be done, Government has proposed a mediation mechanism, on which it has over a quarter century direct experience. Community Mediation Boards, manned by volunteers, were formed under the law in each Divisional Secretariat. They work under a Mediation Boards Commission appointed by the President. Mediators, drawn from the community itself, (lawyers and politicians are debarred), function as a catalyst serving the parties at loggerheads, encouraging them to voluntarily work towards an “yes”, without an alien settlement being imposed on them. The victim and the “perpetrator” are voluntarily brought together in a face to face relationship and, in the presence of the mediator, discuss their problems to reach a settlement. At every point in the mediation cycle, it is an individual’s decision-making and voluntarism that is emphasised. If a settlement cannot be made, the contending parties could take recourse to the judicial system.  Mediation is based on the principle of restorative justice: retributive justice is the mainstay of the formal judicial system. Restorative justice has a “perpetrator”, victim and a mediator from the community. Democracy is deepened by settling issues through give and take, not by imposition. Mediation provides a Gandhian opportunity for people themselves to decide on matters affecting them. When the Tsunami made land fall, causing widespread physical and social disruption, special remedial Tsunami Mediation Boards were appointed, which functioned under the same principles.

Mediation is an alternate conflict resolution mechanism to the judicial system. The formal judicial system attempts to establish the “Truth” and, from its divination, judicial decisions are made. From the time of Socrates, there have been attempts by “Truth” seekers and its vendors, to find an objective “Truth” but with little success. Recent concepts of Post-truth, fake news and alternate facts do not give credence to the existence of such an objective “Truth”. Truth Imperialism should not be the paramount consideration of Land Mediation Boards in settling land issues. They should concentrate on establishing stable, friction-free social systems as their primary objective, all else are supportive considerations. Land Mediation Board initiatives should be based, not through forensic analyses which yield the “Truth”, but, by encouraging behavioural trade-offs, accommodation, diplomatic agreements, condign adjustments, etc. Given the same circumstances, settlements reached under mediation could be different. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”, said Emerson. Adjudication, based on “Truth” and precedent, play no part in mediation.

With the end of the military conflict, a number of civil issues – which so far had lain unattended or dormant- surfaced for attention

New problems require fresh approaches to solution, as existing intellectual concepts and categories are dated and unable to process new developments. Contentious, acerbic land issues — a running sore in the conflict zones of the North-East provinces — require new thinking, if reconciliation were to be achieved. Land Mediation Boards, while retaining fundamentals of mediation but garnished with fresh cognitive concepts, promise a fresh route to this end.

The writer was a former member of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service.

Categories: Uncategorized



Sri Lanka Brief27/06/2017

Shrinking space for human rights voices and dissent, and concerns over the terms of engagement between government and civil society
 A statement by concerned human rights and democratic rights, activists and organisations
 27th June 2017,
As individuals and organisations committed to human rights and democratic freedoms, and the rights of freedom of expression and dissent, we are deeply concerned about recent attempts to stifle voices of human rights activists and silence dissent.

On 17th June, Minister for Justice and Buddha Sasana, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, publicly threatened to remove Mr. Lakshan Dias, Attorney-at-Law, and a well-known human rights activist, from the legal profession, in response to Mr. Dias raising the issues of attacks on Christian places of worship since 2015. The Minister prefaced this by virtually condemning human rights NGOs in general. He said, “In our country there are organisations who claim to be protecting human rights, who are dependent on NGO funds, who are trying to destroy the peace between the peoples of our country and turn this country back into a heap of fire; there are a few individuals like that.” (Translated from Sinhala)

Minister Rajapakshe has since been reported reiterating his comments in an interview to Ceylon Today (22 June 2017), claiming that “NGO funded traitors” are fermenting unrest in the country. He also claimed that the NGOs misled the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, who, in her latest report, highlighted some serious shortcomings in Sri Lanka’s justice system.

It is as much a matter of great concern as it is revealing, that a senior cabinet minister presiding over the Ministry of Justice in the so-called Yahapalanaya government, resorts to vilifying, demonizing and threatening human rights activists and human rights NGOs. While hardly the first such instance, it is especially ironic that his comments come as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has launched a consultation process with human rights activists and NGOs on its draft report to the UN Human Rights Council as part of its Universal Period Review (UPR).

Human rights activists and NGOs have been issued an open invitation to participate in the meetings as part of this UPR process. Under the circumstances the question arises to whether and how we can expect a principled engagement given the failure of the government to officially distance itself from Minister Rajapakshe’s disturbing comments.

The Minister’s rhetoric, troublingly reminiscent of the rhetoric of the previous regime, is indicative of the continued legacy in Sri Lanka of governments attacking those speaking inconvenient truths. Indeed, this also echoes in the recent decision of President Sirisena to sack Mr. Sajeeva Samaranayake as Deputy Chairman of the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), and the NCPA’s decision to interdict its own Attorney, Preethika Sakalasooriya.

It is widely reported that Mr. Samaranayake’s affidavit, which was attested by Ms. Sakalasooriya, to an Australian court listing shortcomings in the country’s child protection system, was what prompted action against them. According to the Sunday Times (18th June 2017), the President has ordered an investigation into “how and why the affidavit was issued, whether such actions had been done before, and whether NCPA officials had received any ‘benefits’ from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for engaging in such activities.”

These are but the most recent in a series of incidents that point to a disturbing tendency of shrinking space for critique within and outside government, and signs of intolerance for expressions of dissent. It was not long ago that that the President himself called on Field Marshall Fonseka to discipline the country and restore order in the face of strikes.

But this has already been the practice. Beginning with the brutal police attack on Higher National Diploma in Accountancy students in October 2015, there have been many instances of police attacking peaceful protests by students. The brutal attack on the student protest over SAITM last week, and the subsequent arrests, is only the latest manifestation of the repressive face of the Yahapalanaya state. Protesting workers have also been targeted, with the Navy being deployed to suppress protesting port workers in Hambantota in December 2016 while contract workers from the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) were arrested for a peaceful protest in January 2017.

Human rights activists in the North and East continue to remain under surveillance and subject to restraints and threats. The blocking of a remembrance event in Mullivaikal on May 18, and police harassment of the organizers and activists involved, also underlines disturbing continuities of policies from the previous regime.  These concerns are further amplified by certain significant legal reforms and measures proposed recently, especially the new counter terrorism law, the media standards council bill, and the recently withdrawn amendment to the code of criminal procedure, all of which encroach in different ways upon fundamental rights and freedoms.

We call on the President and the Prime Minister to:

  1. Formally distance the government from the threats made by Minister Rajapakshe and publicly reaffirm respect for human rights activists and NGOs;
  2. Cease actions against conscientious public officials who do not hesitate to point out shortcomings in the working of state agencies, and instead, encourage them to do so, and take their concerns seriously;
  3. Create an environment both within government and in society at large that is conducive to expressions of human rights concerns, dissent and criticism.

We also call on individuals and organisations committed to democratic freedoms and human rights, to seriously re-consider the terms of engagement with the present government. The outcomes of the processes of public consultation and engagement with civil society with respect to constitutional reform and transitional justice have been ignored or instrumentalised in forums like the UN Human Rights Council.

In the meantime, the democratic space and freedoms that this government promised to protect are facing serious threats as a result of its own actions or inaction. With the space for principled engagement with the government continuing to narrow, we are bound by our principles to challenge and question the government.




  1. Ainslie Joseph
  2. Anuratha Rajarathnam
  3. Asma Edris
  4. Balachandran Gowthaman
  5. Bhavani Fonseka
  6. Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe
  7. Chintaka Rajapakse
  8. B.S. Jeyaraj – Journalist
  9. Deanne Uyangoda
  10. Dinushika Dissanayale – Attorney-at-Law
  11. Lionel Weerakoon
  12. Maureen Ernest
  13. Emil van der Poorten
  14. Ermiza Tegal – Attorney-at-Law
  15. Farzana Haniffa
  16. Gamini Akmeemana
  17. Gehan Gunatilleke – Attorney-at-Law
  18. Godfrey Yogarajah – Deputy Secretary General, World Evangelical Alliance
  19. Herman Kumara
  20. Ian Ferdinands
  21. Jake Oorloff
  22. Jayadeva Uyangoda
  23. Jayantha Dhanapala
  24. Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala
  25. Aingkaran – Attorney-at-Law
  26. Linus Jayatilake
  27. Lucille Abeykoon
  28. K. Jayatissa
  29. Mahinda Gunarathne
  30. Mala Liyanage
  31. Marisa de Silva
  32. Mirak Raheem
  33. Mujeebur Rahman P.M.
  34. Najah Mohamed
  35. Neil Priyantha Fernando
  36. Nigel Nugawela
  37. Nilshan Fonseka
  38. Selvaratnam
  39. N. Singham – Activist
  40. Padma Pushpakanthi
  41. Periyasamy Muthulingam
  42. Prabath Kumara
  43. Prema Gamage
  44. Priyadarshanie Ariyaratne
  45. Jayantha Seneviratne
  46. Raja Senanayake
  47. Renuka Sampath
  48. Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda
  49. Sr. Nichola Emmanuel
  50. Sr. Noel Christine Fernando – Sramabimani Kendraya
  51. Riza Yehiya
  52. Rohini Weerasinghe
  53. Ruhanie Perera
  54. Ruki Fernando
  55. C.C. Elankovan
  56. Sajeewa Chamikara
  57. Sampath Pushpakumara
  58. Sampath Samarakoon
  59. Sandun Thudugala
  60. Sarah Arumugam – Attorney-at-Law
  61. Sarala Emmanuel
  62. Shamila Rathnasooriya
  63. Sheila Richards
  64. Shenali de Silva
  65. Shivantha Rathnayake
  66. Shreen Abdul Saroor
  67. Subha Wijesiriwardena
  68. Sunanda Deshapriya
  69. Tehani Ariyaratne
  70. Thilak Kariyawasam
  71. Udaya Kalupathirana
  72. Visakha Tillekeratne



  1. Ceylon Industrial Workers’ Union
  2. Citizens for a Secure Sri Lanka
  3. Environmental Conservation Trust
  5. Floating Space Theatre Co.
  6. Future in Our Hands – Badulla
  7. INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre
  8. Institute for Social Development (ISD)
  9. Lanka Farmer Forum
  10. Mannar Women’s Development Federation (MWDF)
  11. Movement for Land and Agriculture Reforms
  12. National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO)
  13. People to People Dialogue on Peace and Sustainable Development.
  14. People’s Alliance for Right to Land (PARL)
  15. Plantation Community Development Centre
  16. Praja Abilasha Land Rights Network
  17. Progressive Farmer Congress
  18. Puttlam District Fisheries Solidarity Organization
  19. Rural Workers Organization
  20. Savistri Women’s Movement
  21. Sri Lanka Nature Group
  22. Sri Vimukthi Fisher Women Organization
  23. United Federation of Labour
  24. Uwa Wellassa Women Organization
  25. Women’s Action Network (WAN)
Categories: Uncategorized

Making Laws & Veiling Reality: Process Of Transitional Justice In Sri Lanka

Making Laws & Veiling Reality: Process Of Transitional Justice In Sri Lanka

logoIn the year 2015 the good governance Government started a new term of office, promising a more democratic country with restored justice. The main promises of the Government revolved around peace building, reconciliation, constitutional reforms, and eradication of corruption. It is incorrect to say that, these promises are entirely ignored; rather it clearly shows that promises were and are in the process of being fulfilled. The granting GSP+ to Sri Lanka has taken the country to another level in the eyes of the international community and as well as the locals. No doubt it has an immense impact on the economy of the country. It also implies that Sri Lanka is on the right track of good governance by protecting human rights, labour rights and environment.[1]
The good governance government has completed almost two years in office. The Establishment of Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms, Public Representation Committee on Constitutional Reforms, Commissions to investigate corruption,[2] adoption of National Drug Policy and most significantly the passage of the RTI Act in Parliament on June, 2016 can be identified as milestones of the good governance Government. In the aspect of laws and regulations progress seems immense. Further, documentation or publishing massive reports mostly informing the international community is way beyond satisfactory level. The real question is how realistic all these laws, documents and regulations are to people. Maybe it is zero or maybe it has some impact. However, formulating  of laws and documention would not solve the problem; these attempts need a practical approach so that people can get justice. It is a positive thing to document history and make laws to attain justice as much as possible. But the laws and documents should not be to veil the real issues. In this piece, my main focus would be the fading process of transitional justice with special attention to (none) establishment of the Office of Missing Person in the island.
People who were seeking post war justice are in pain and dying of wounds which have yet not healed. . The post war justice is not only for Tamils but also for Sinhalese and Muslims who suffered from the war at many levels. The military war widows who faced and face many difficulties after the death or injury of the husband, widows of civil security force officials, who are in a vulnerable situation without an income, as they are not getting long term remuneration, Muslims who suffered from the war without being a part of any side that was involved in the war, Sinhalese who lived in border villages who were used as a tool to sustain the Sinhala majority in all geographical areas and many more. These communities and individuals have suffered enough from war and waiting for a solution after the war. The proposed mechanisms of reconciliation after months of effort are hidden in a report which no one knows about.
The sole reconciliation mechanism initiated by the Government is the Office of Missing Persons (OMP). Disappearances were reported from throughout the island. The State as well as non-State actors has carried out disappearances across ethnic categories, class groups, religious categories, time and regions.[3] CTF has received submissions related to disappearances of;
(1) Village roundups of Tamil and Muslim civilians (war time and post-war) and Sinhalese civilians during the Southern insurrections by the police, army, and intelligence services.
(2) White van abductions of Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala civilians, including human rights defenders, journalists and workers, university students and others.
(3) Surrenders and subsequent disappearances of Tamil combatants to the armed forces and police, particularly during the last stage of the war.
(4) Families of surrendered LTTE cadres, including very young children who disappeared.

Read More

Categories: Uncategorized

The TNA storm in a tea cup

The TNA storm in a tea cup


By Harim Peiris-
The Northern Provincial Council (NPC), its activities and politics, attracts far more national and even international level political attention than its counterparts in the other eight provinces, due to several reasons. Firstly, devolution of power is a core aspect of Tamil politics. Secondly the Northern Provincial Council is and will continue to be Sri Lanka’s consistently opposition-controlled provincial council and thirdly the post war, international pressure that led to the holding of the Northern Provincial Council.
Therefore, the recent saga in Tamil politics, where Northern Chief Minister, retired Justice Wigneswaren was almost removed by a motion of no confidence moved by a majority of the Northern Provincial Council, riveted political attention up North and to the chief protagonists in the crisis, namely the Chief Minister and Illankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) leader and former general secretary Mavai Senathirajah.
It took the wisdom and sagacity of TNA leader Rajavarothian Sambanthan, ably assisted by his trusted assistant, President’s Counsel M.A. Sumanthiran, to defuse the crisis and restore a semblance of unity between the dominant ITAK and some of its smaller partners, affiliates and fellow travelers.
Chief Minister refuses to support TNA at general election
Now, it is not for the first time that there has been sharp divergence in policies and politics between the Chief Minister and the ITAK. The first instance was during the general elections of 2015, when Chief Minister Wigneswaren made an amazing public statement and took the political stand, that he would not be supporting the TNA at the general elections since he must be above, or as a provincial leader, was beneath the parliamentary political fray. Such a stance was unheard of either in Sri Lanka or abroad. You would not for instance have a Governor in the US refusing to campaign for his party at congressional elections. The result of this act of political ingratitude to the TNA, which had brought him out from the cold and installed as Chief Minster through the Party’s block vote, was that the TNA, which secured five (5) of the seven (7) seats in the Jaffna district lost out on getting the sixth seat by just six votes and the beneficiary of that close call was, of course, Vijeykala Maheswaren of the UNP, which secured the sixth seat and the EPDP’s Douglas Devananda, who came in seventh.
However, Chief Minister Wigneswaren did not strictly stay neutral in the general election fray. Three days before the polls he issued a statement calling upon the Tamil people to vote for Tamil parties that would support the Tamil struggle rather than a compromise. This was both a break from his position of being supposedly recused from the process and left the Tamil polity in doubt as to whether he criticising the TNA and recommending the political alliance of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) led by the intransigent and anti-engagement Gajan Ponnambalam. But, the Chief Minister learnt a lesson he seems to have since forgotten that when he goes and acts against the ITAK/TNA, (the parliamentary elections were contested as ITAK since TNA is not a registered political party or alliance), he has no electoral currency, credibility or clout. The general elections of August 2015, were a rout for the Chief Minister’s preferred ACTC-led non-engagers. For all Gajan Ponnambalam’ s rather extreme Tamil nationalist rhetoric, his group secured just a little over five thousand votes in the entire Jaffna District getting less than one third of the over seventeen thousand votes secured by young Angajan Ramanathan, leading the UPFA unsuccessful effort under Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Sinhala nationalism. The reality of the Jaffna District general election of August 2015 is that the Sinhala nationalism of Rajapaksa as represented by young Ramanathan on the UPFA ticket had three times more attraction than the Tamil nationalism of the variety sprouted by Galen Ponnambalam. This, despite the Chief Minister’s misguided endorsement! Following the general election as well, many ITAK Northern Provincial Councilors wished to remove Chief Minister and once again TNA and the then newly minted Leader of the Opposition Sambanthan, demonstrated that he wanted to repay evil with good by letting the Chief Minister remain.
The next action by the Chief Minister, against the ITAK was the formation of the Tamil People’s Forum (TPF) essentially the political refuge of those who were unsuccessful at the general elections of 2015. The Chief Minister instead of focusing on dealing with and ameliorating the effects of the conflict in the North, was busy trying to create and be an alternative voice to the TNA / ITAK in Tamil politics. Again, ITAK provincial councilors wanted to remove the Chief Minister, but TNA leader Sambanthan demonstrated how much Tamil politics had changed by letting him remain in that position.
The new democratic Tamil political leadership of the TNA/ITAK leadership of Sambanthan, Senathiraja and Sumanthiran are not even willing to take action against their internal critics. One hopes their political accommodation and graciousness, which turns Machiavelli’s theories on its head, would be electorally rewarded in time to come, not least because reconciliation in Sri Lanka requires the moderation and democratic credentials of the ITAK’s leadership.
Categories: Uncategorized

Saman Kelegama: Even the blood running through his veins is oriented to economics

Saman Kelegama: Even the blood running through his veins is oriented to economics

logoThe bearded economist who saw shortcomings of Sri Lanka’s liberalisation move

27 June 2017

Untitled-2My association with
Dr. Saman Kelegama, Executive Director of the Institute of Policy Studies or IPS, dates back to the early 1990s when I had the opportunity to listen to him at an international conference on trade liberalisation. At that time, it was a cardinal sin to pinpoint shortcomings of the trade liberalisation experiment which Sri Lanka had initiated a decade earlier, but the bearded young economist who took the podium as a researcher from IPS surprised us all. He said that the trade liberalisation move initiated by Sri Lanka in 1978 was a necessity, but the timing and the steps taken were all catastrophic. What he meant was that Sri Lanka, instead of going for a wholesale trade liberalisation, could have done it in steps so that its adverse effects could have been minimised. Since then, I became a fan of Dr. Saman Kelegama, who is known as Saman to his friends. I had a very close rapport with him, personally as well as professionally.

An academic career at IIT and Oxford

Saman completed a first class Master’s degree in Mathematics and Statistics at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur, known as IITK, on a scholarship awarded by the Indian Government. He then decided to switch over to economics and proceeded to the University of Oxford to do his graduate studies in that area. He completed a Master’s and a Doctorate in economics at Oxford and returned to Sri Lanka in 1990.

The son differs from the father

I had the rare opportunity of tapping his brain in numerous encounters which I had had in the past. Some were while sitting next to each other in conferences or as panellists in economic forums. Some others were while holding glasses of soft drinks at social functions. Many were at his office at IPS which had been littered with books, research papers and journals all over the place. I used to joke that that was a sign of a genius who has been blessed with a clear mind but utterly disorganised in the close environment.

In one of those encounters, I asked him what he did for his doctoral degree. “My research was on trade liberalisation issues,” he said. That was understandable because his father – Dr. Jayantha Kelegama – too was a trade specialist, but the father and the son were a way apart from each other. The senior Kelegama who held the post of Secretary to the Ministry of Trade of the United Front Government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike during 1970-77, closed the economy and imposed all kinds of trade restrictions, but the son took a completely opposite view and advocated for trade liberalisation and free trade.

Doing research at Oxford

“I was always interested in trade and trade liberalisation issues,” said Saman. “So I did research on ‘Trade Liberalisation Issues in Sri Lanka’ for my doctoral thesis under two eminent supervisors. One was Sudhir Anand, a professor at St. Catherine’s College of the Oxford University. He was a specialist on Sri Lanka and had done research on human development, poverty and inequity issues. The other was David Bevan at St. John’s College who had done his research on trade and macroeconomic policy. They were very helpful and at the same time very critical. I completed the thesis in 1990 and was awarded the DPhil Degree by Oxford in that year.”

“What were the main findings of his research?” I asked him.

Liberalisation was necessary, but sequencing was badly handled

“I found that as far as timing is concerned, Sri Lanka did it correctly when it decided to liberalise the economy in 1977. If the country had postponed it for a few more years, then, the result would have been disastrous, but with regard to the sequencing of trade liberalisation, we cannot say the same. It was wrongly sequenced and had been done in a hurry without regard for institutional and regulatory issues and the adverse economic consequences that resulted from it. For instance, the sudden closure of the domestic industries due to the flood of goods from abroad created social tensions in the country because many had lost their livelihoods due to that reason. There were no alternative employment opportunities or safety nets arranged for those people. That was a real catastrophe,” he said.


Lessons learned could be used when planning future strategies

Had this foresight been available to Sri Lanka’s policy strategists in 1977, the country could have avoided the massive social costs it had to bear as a result of not properly sequencing the liberalisation move, I began to contemplate, but its lessons could be used for planning the country’s future liberalisation moves to avoid or minimise the social costs involved.

Setting base in Sri Lanka

“After you got your doctorate, didn’t you think of staying back at Oxford and leading an academic career?” I asked him.

“No,” he said emphatically. “I wanted to come back to Sri Lanka and develop my base here. Besides, it was not that difficult to find a good and promising job in the country at that time after you have got a doctorate from Oxford.”

I was sceptical of Saman’s assessment because he was talking about the 1990s when the job market in Sri Lanka had begun to get heated. Jobs were not aplenty in the country even for a fresh graduate from Oxford. I expressed my doubt to him.

Choosing IPS over Central Bank

Saman countered me, revealing that he got a position immediately at the Central Bank at a very high level. I guessed that it was the position of the Director of Economic Research of the bank, a prestigious position which had been held by such giants in economics as B.B. Das Gupta, Gamani Corea, Warnasena Rasaputram and A.S. Jayawardena, Nimal Sanderatne and so forth.

It was on the cards but Saman had decided to accept an offer made by the newly-established IPS, as a research officer. He confessed to me that it was Gamani Corea, Chairman of IPS at that time, who had been instrumental in getting him to IPS. He said that it offered him an opportunity to work with foreign experts and develop a career as an independent economist. On that count, I agreed with him. If Saman had come as an outsider to occupy a higher position in the Central Bank, he would have been resisted by the rest of the staff. Besides, the bank’s hierarchical structure would have given him little room to develop himself as an independent economist.

So, Gamani Corea had sealed Saman’s fate at IPS. He made a lifelong career there, rapidly moving up in its hierarchy.

IPS research program

“How did his research programme at IPS go?” I asked him.

“IPS had the support of the Dutch Government right from the beginning and there was an in-house research officer from the Netherlands to guide the institute. I could work with Howard Nicholas towards his last lap in IPS and later with David Dunham who was there from 1991 to 1999. We moved forward steadily and resolutely gaining recognition at home as well as abroad as an independent think tank,” Saman said.

I agreed with him because many a foreigner whom I had met was talking well of IPS and its independent stand on economic issues. Even I had referred to that fact when I had to deliver the keynote address on the occasion of the launch of its flagship publication, The State of the Economy 2015 (available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igsAaLP2wBY ).

Studying privatisation issues

His first job at IPS had been to study privatisation issues in Sri Lanka. This was how to dismantle the huge public sector Raj that had been set up in the country before 1977 without disrupting normal economic activities. That was necessary, he said, to survive in a competitive economy. Their recommendations had been well received by the government at that time.

A quick rise at IPS

Saman’s rise at IPS was very quick. In 1995, he became its Executive Director, the equivalent of a CEO of an organisation. Now he had the responsibility of building it as an independent think-tank, maintaining its objectivity in providing policy advice and thereby its credibility, reputation and recognition locally as well as globally. At the same time, IPS had to intermingle with the domestic and regional economic profession as well, so that it would not be viewed as an alien creature set up by foreign donors.

How did he set about accomplishing this mission? In one of our meetings, I asked him about it.

State of the Economy, the flagship publication

“We started publishing the State of the Economy Report well before the end of each year,” he said. “That was an independent review of the economy guiding government policymakers, Sri Lankans and foreigners.” I had to endorse his view because I had had the opportunity to introduce that publication to the audience on a number of occasions. I wrote several articles in this series independently reviewing the publication (available at: http://www.ft.lk/article/54146/State-of-SL-economy-according-to-IPS–Grow-but-make-it-inclusive ; http://www.ft.lk/article/119285/State-of-the-Economy-2012–IPS-says-bumpy–growth-expressway–needs-smoothening ; http://www.ft.lk/article/373511/IPS-State-of-the-Economy-2014–A-critical-probe-shows-hidden-risks-and-defects-of-policies ; and http://www.ft.lk/article/487845/IPS-s-SOE-2015-has-delivered-a-strong-message-to-Govt–which-it-cannot-ignore—Reform-or-Perish- ).

In all these reports, Saman had advocated the need for introducing economic reforms, promoting exports, adopting a compatible monetary and fiscal policy stance and building economic sustainability and economic inclusiveness. It was a misfortune that the policy authorities in the previous administration as well as the present administration chose to sideline IPS and its recommendations.

The amalgamation of the two economic associations

Saman was also instrumental in merging the two rival professional bodies formed by Sri Lanka’s economists, Sri Lanka Economic Association or SLEA and Sri Lanka Association of Economists or SLAE. These two bodies had been formed as a consequence of the rivalry among a few key economists of the country. There was overlapping in the membership because most of the economists were members of both associations. When Saman became the President of SLAE in 1999, he decided that the rivalry had to end and successfully negotiated with office bearers of SLEA for a merger. He was successful in attaining his goal in 2000. Accordingly, SLAE was dissolved and merged into SLEA of which he became the Joint President in 2000 and President in 2001. He held that post till 2003 and since then, continued as a committee member without interruption.

They started publishing its journal – Sri Lanka Economic Journal, a quality journal carrying articles on economic issues and published twice a year.

The South Asia Economic Journal and the South Asia Economic Summit

In 2000, Saman ventured into another enterprise which was regional. The objective of this enterprise was to make IPS a regional body of economic research and policy.

“In 2000, we started publishing a regional journal called South Asia Economic Journal, providing a window for South Asia experts to publish their research papers,” Saman described his new venture to me. “This was a joint venture between IPS of Sri Lanka and Research and Information System for Developing Countries or RIS of India. The journal publishes refereed articles so that it represents a quality regional economic journal.”

The first issue of South Asia Economic Journal was published in March 2000 (available at http://sae.sagepub.com/content/1/1.toc). Saman together with his Indian counterpart Nagesh Kumar wrote its first editorial. The articles in the journal, authored by regional experts, have covered a wide area of subjects – world and regional trade issues, problems relating to poverty and inequity in individual countries in the region, strategies for building good governance and foreign investment issues in the region. In addition, the journal had included a book review section that had reviewed books that had been published on economic issues relating to the region.

“Publishing a quality economic journal was surely a value addition since it adds to the knowledge but, did it help the countries in the region to solve their massive economic issues?” I asked him.

Advancement of knowledge through the journal

“Another important step that we took in this regard was the setting up of the South Asia Economic Summit in 2008,” Saman explained. “This is similar to the world famous World Economic Forum or WEF based in Davos, Switzerland. It is a regional exercise and the first summit was held in Colombo, Sri Lanka in 2008 followed by summits in Delhi, India in 2009, Kathmandu in Nepal in 2010, Dhaka in Bangladesh in 2011, and Islamabad in Pakistan in 2012. Thus, it was rotated among capitals of the member countries.”

Champion of trade liberalisation

Saman was a champion on trade liberalisation. He participated in the negotiations that led to the drafting of the first Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement or CEPA with India during 2002-4. After this move became abortive, Sri Lanka and India took steps to revive their trade and economic partnership in 2015. Saman led the Sri Lankan team on the negotiation which was to be implemented in a different form as Economic and Technological Cooperation Agreement or ETCA. Those who were opposed to ETCA had condemned him, even stooping to personal levels, but such condemnations could not deter the strong economist living within Saman.

Saman, the family man

Though Saman was a family man, he was shy of talking about his family, but when being pestered, he would say something shyly. On one of those rare occasions, he told me about his family.

“My wife Eranthika, a biology graduate, but now a full-time housewife, is my strength. She handles all the household matters alone, releasing me for my professional work. Without her, I couldn’t have done what I have done. My son, Chandana, is studying for his A-Level and daughter Jayathri for her O-Level. I have given them freedom to pursue their own career paths and, therefore, they may not necessarily end up as economists.”

I wonder now whether it is the end of the family legacy of producing reputed economists, but it may be too early to make that judgment.

Building IPS as a regional centre of excellence

Saman told me that his mission in life was to build IPS as a regional centre of excellence and he did it through hard work and building a team of economists who were equally competent as Saman. He got down foreign experts on short-term assignments so that the in-house research capability could be boosted in an atmosphere of cross-fertilisation. He built a succession line which could take over IPS at any time; but Saman told me that the greatest happiness in his life was to see his associates at IPS doing better than he and taking it to greater heights. He laid the foundation for that. Now Saman is no more with us. The tribute which IPS staff can pay this great economist is to see that his wish is fulfilled by doing better than what he had been doing there.

(W.A. Wijewardena, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, can be reached at waw1949@gmail.com )

Categories: Uncategorized

I am on unequal ground

I am on unequal ground


Following a statement made during a TV talk show highlighting attacks on a religious minority group, human rights lawyer Lakshan Dias faced allegations raised by the Justice Minister on the grounds of creating religious disharmony. Commenting on the situation Attorney-at-Law Dias said that his opinion was based on the facts of a recently published report as well as facts derived from similar court cases that he was appearing for. Dias still stands by his comment. Questioned as to why he was absent from the epicentre of events, he explained that, “When the hegemony is in action stirring up the public opinion it is better to be away from the epicentre….. and observe the situation.” In an exclusive interview with the Daily Mirror Lakshan Dias pointed out that he has to defend himself standing on an unequal ground. Excerpts:  

Q The comment you made during a recent discussion on a private TV channel show led to an intense public opinion. What did you exactly say during the show? What was the reason to make such a comment about attacks on other religious places?  

The topic of the discussion was role of the civil society and current issues. Except one panellist, the others were of the view that we as civil society activists were pro-government. They said that today we were not raising current issues comparing our actions during the previous Government and continued to state that we were part of the present Government. It is to counter that and to prove that civil society organisations are active I said we continue to raise current issues such as violence against minority religions specially those against Muslim and Christian places of worship and their followers.

And I further stated the facts that were raised in the recent report published by the National Christian Evangelical Alliance. And I pointed out that all these cases are not by the Buddhist monks. My opinion was based on the facts of this report as well as facts derived from similar cases that I appear for at the courts.

There are internal differences in all religions in Sri Lanka. We have to respect this diversity and accept them as they are. The state cannot be pointing at the internal differences, the diversity of each religion and make judgements
When the hegemony is in action stirring up public opinion, it is better to be away from the epicentre and observe the situation. I am on an unequal ground. Need to be concerned about effects of those situations  

Q Did you encounter face to face reactions following your comment? Were there comments or criticisms soon after the discussion?   

Not at the time programme was on air other than the reaction from the moderator. Then I started receiving numerous comments through social media challenging, attacking, shaming and threatening me, with the use of various forms of language. Later was the reaction from the President and the Justice Minister. The President did not name me but the minister did.

Q The civil society raised their voice and started protesting, stating that reactions to your comment were threatening the fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and questioned the credibility of the rule of law. When concerned parties are raising their voice over these matters, what makes you keep away from the epicentre?  

This is a naming and shaming done by a party belonging to the executive of the country, labelling me as a traitor. It is like being excommunicated.When the hegemony is in action stirring up public opinion, it is better to be away from the epicentre and observe the situation. I’m on an unequal ground. Need to be concerned about effects of those situations.

Following the incident I informed the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) through a letter addressed to its Secretary and informed its President. I complained to the Human Rights Commission. Then I went in to a low profile because of threats from different fronts.

A similar situation surfaced during the Impeachment against Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. But there was a difference as a majority of the public was sensitive towards the chief justice. But today due to the nationalistic tendencies and the behaviour of the hegemony, certain groups of the public tend to believe in these ideologies and are rallying against me.
People never question the accuracy of a statement. It is not a healthy situation.

Q Did you expect this sort of a reaction when you were making the comment from both the Govt as well as the civil society organisations?  

I knew there would be a reaction as usual. But to support me and the fact that I raised over 200 persons from 20 different organisations and forwarded a petition against the current situation. Human rights defenders at the South Asian regional level as well as at the international level issued statements in support of me. All are worried about the direction of the Govt. I still have faith in the President and the PM. I observed that the President was misinformed. I don’t have an issue with the statement made by the President as he didn’t name a person but commented in a more democratic manner. He did not go beyond his limits. But the Minster of Justice was very offensive. He named and shamed me in public and took a level of authority which he does not have.

Civil society organizations are also biased towards victims.There are demands coming from different communities of the Sri Lankan society. The civil society organisations act as the buffer among these communities and the authorities
The country’s economy largely depends on the money sent by our migrant workers. Who doesn’t need funds? But the funds alone cannot fulfil the demands of the public. It is misconception and a bad terminology used to discard and discriminate people who appear for social demands

Q But the comment of the Justice Minister stated that he would take necessary legal actions? 
Yes that is to take legal action to disbar me.It is an authoritarian comment. It is implicating to others that he has the power to do so. Which is not so. The power is only with the Supreme Court through an inquiry with the presence of the Bar Association.

Q The Archbishop of Colombo Rt. Rev. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith was reported to have told the President and Minister Rajapakshe (according to their comments) that there were no attacks on churches. Any comments on that?   

They have contacted an irrelevant person. If any person, irrelevant of the position, takes this answer as the biblical truth and criticizes a person based on that, it is mere foolishness. There should be an understanding on the difference between Christians and Catholics. If a person is part of the country’s Executive, that person must have a very good understanding of all aspects of diversity existing in our country. After all he/she is representing the entire population belonging to all these diversities. There have been many instances where even Catholics faced discrimination, especially in the suburban areas.

Q One of the allegations raised by those who oppose the Evangelical Christian community is the existence of fundamentalists. How do you see this?   

There are internal differences in all religions in Sri Lanka. We have to respect this diversity and accept them as they are. The state cannot be pointing at the internal differences, the diversity of each religion and make judgements. Overall, I do not believe in these categorizations such as fundamentalists. This ideology is not only for religion. It may be in politics too. In that case, are we going to eliminate all fundamentalists? In every community there are fundamentalists. You have to deal with them in a democratic manner within the rule of law. My support to the Evangelical churches is not based on their doctrine but my respect for their right to religion, right to association and assembly, which are guaranteed by the Sri Lankan Constitution in Articles 10, 14, 14 (1)A. Protecting these rights is not the duty of Lakshan Dias but is the responsibility of the Executive, the Judiciary and the entire administrative mechanism, security forces and the Police. There are clear evidences to the lapses in protecting these rights by the Police and the administrative officials, disrespecting constitutional rights.  These minority religious communities hardly trust the Police or the administration. They only believe in the Judiciary. But when court cases are filed and cases get piled up due to court delays, assuring justice to these victims gets affected. Without a judgment to these cases, tense situations tend to continue among these opposing communities.

I observed that the President was misinformed. I don’t have an issue with the statement made by the President as he didn’t name a person but commented in a more democratic manner. He did not go beyond his limits. But the Minster of Justice was very offensive

But I do not dispute that there are extremely good Police officers who follow the rule of the law and order in maintaining peace protecting rights of the people. This needs to happen more often.
Personal beliefs cannot be imposed through your duties and responsibilities of your profession. Especially public officials – in administration and services, must be very impartial in their duties. Within the system, a public officer is allowed to take the side of the victim.

Q How would you analyse the current situation with the existing resistance of the Govt vs the demands of the civil society organizations in an attempt to secure Freedom of Expression, right to a religion etc?

There are no demands of the civil society organizations. They are only the advocates of the public. Civil society organizations are also biased towards victims.There are demands coming from different communities of the Sri Lankan society. The civil society organisations act as the buffer among these communities and the authorities.

One allegation that tends to continue is that civil society organisations represent these demands to get funds. The fact is all activities done to keep this country functioning, depend on dollars or funds. The country’s economy largely depends on the money sent by our migrant workers. Who doesn’t need funds? But the funds alone cannot fulfil the demands of the public. It is misconception and a bad terminology used to discard and discriminate people who appear for social demands. Funds are a mere fact but it is not the voice of the needy. The civil society organisations who worked in unity to bring this Government to power and establish democracy, never worked expecting dollars.

Q  Is it true that you made those comments during the much discussed TV show were being biased to one religious sect?   

I am not biased. I am not a religious chauvinist. To me all religions are valuable and I respect them. But I am biased on certain issues. I am biased towards victims facing violations of human rights, be it gender and sexual orientation, ethnic, religious, political or any social discrimination. I always take the side of the victim.

I also do have a strong Christian inheritance. I am a fourth generation Anglican. I have held and still hold different positions in the Anglican Church. I have served as the national president and national general secretary of the Student Christian Movement and as the former CEO of the Sri Lankan YMCA and was the former president of the Church of Ceylon Youth Movement. I was a member of the Executive Board of the National Christian Evangelical Alliance for nearly 18 years. But this is my personal belief but it has never been an obstacle in standing against injustice. At the height of the war, I worked with many Buddhist clergy living in the border villages and tried to the best of my ability to protect the rights of those people. I will remain to be biased towards victims and do not know any other biasses.

  • The Executive of a country must have a very good understanding of all aspects of religious and ethnic diversity existing in the country
  • I will remain to be biased towards victims
  • The Govt has the responsibility to accept the mistakes pointed out and take action to correct them rather than challenging and labelling people as traitors  
  • Protecting the religious rights is not the duty of Lakshan Dias but the responsibility of the Executive, the Judiciary and the entire administrative mechanism, security forces and the Police

Q A number of civil society organizations stood up in unity to create a change to the system that governed the country. Thus leading to a change in the Govt on January 8, 2015. What has happened to the change the civil society movement tried to create? Do you think it still exists under the rule of the present Govt?   
The TV talk show I participated in was about the same question. I’m very proud and happy of several initiatives this Govt and the political leadership took – such as establishing the Office of the Missing Persons, the Right to Information and the Witness Protection Act. Establishing the freedom of association and assembly is highly appreciated. But when these assurances are violated in the society, it is we as the civil society organizations who need to stand up against them. So we did. The Govt has the responsibility to accept these mistakes pointed out and take action to correct them rather than challenging and labelling people as traitors. None of the civil society organizations has worked to tarnish the peace, harmony or the reconciliation of this country.
And while appreciating all good practices of this Govt, I must point out the pace is slower than we expected. We do understand the ground realities the Govt has to face but at the same time it must show further commitment towards its goals. The civil society organizations are impatient to see a good outcome.
Q: Do you still stand by your comment made on the attacks against minority religions?  
Yes, I do.

I am biased towards victims facing violations of human rights, be it gender and sexual orientation, ethnic, religious, political or any social discrimination. I always take the side of the victim

Categories: Uncategorized



Sri Lanka Brief27/06/2017

A news item was published in the Daily News today under the title – Alleged attack on 160 Churches – BASL asks lawyer to come clean.

In this news item, it refers to an order made on the basis of a decision at the Bar Council calling on Mr. Lakshan Dias, Attorney-at-Law, to explain the statement made by him at a television interview.

Several Bar Association Members, including some senior Attorneys-at-Law, have informed the Asian Human Rights Commission that at the last Bar Council Meeting held last weekend, no decision to such effect was taken by the Bar Council. In fact, no Motion was proposed or put into a vote during this Bar Council meeting. The Bar Council was not informed of any letter written by the Minister of Justice to the Bar Association on this issue. Naturally, there was no occasion for the reading of such a letter – if such a letter exists at all. Thus, no decision was ever made on such an alleged letter by the Minister.

The Members explained that what happened at the meeting was that several Bar Association Members raised objections to the statement made by the Minister Wijedasa Rajapaksa, threatening to disbar Mr. Lakshan Dias because of a statement he has made on some attacks on churches. These Members have questioned the authority of the Minister of Justice to make such statements and they have categorically stated that the Minister’s conduct is highly questionable and should be condemned by the Bar Association.

Several other speakers have objected to the matter being taken up by the Bar Association and have tried to justify the Minister’s position. At this stage, the President of the Bar Association has intervened stating that he will ask Mr. Lakshan Dias to submit his request by way of an Affidavit. Nothing more than this had been discussed at the Bar Association.

It is not within the power of the Bar Association to conduct inquiries into statements made by any of its members on political or public issues. Nor does the Bar Association have any authority to inquire into any matters at the request of the Minister of Justice. The Minister of Justice is just a Minister and the Bar Association is a body constituted to protect the rights of the lawyers. When a lawyer comes under attack by any Minister or any other person holding any authority, the duty of the Bar Association is to protect the interest of the Attorney at Law concerned.

Bar Council Members who spoke to the Asian Human Rights Commission were worried that some political conspiracy is being hatched and that there is an attempt to drag the Bar Association to play a role to carry out this conspiracy. The attempt they felt was to turn the Bar Association into some inquisitorial Board making the Attorney at Law to be the accused and the Bar Association to become the prosecutor against its own member.

The Bar Association is not an arm of the state and it certainly is not an arm of the Ministry of Justice. The Minister of Justice has no rights inside the Association except of his own right as another member. He has no special status, as none of the Members of the Bar Council have any special status.

Note by SLB: Daily News is the flagship news paper of government controlled Lake House and run by  Ranil Wickremasinhe appointed pro UNP officials and editors. 

Categories: Uncategorized

Lawyers for Democracy Appalled by Justice Minister are Continuous Threats on Attorney Lakshan Dias; Urges President to Introduce Ministerial Code of Conduct

Lawyers for Democracy Appalled by Justice Minister are Continuous Threats on Attorney Lakshan Dias; Urges President to Introduce Ministerial Code of Conduct

LEN logo(Lanka-e-News – 27.June.2017, 11.30PM)  LAWYERS for Democracy (LfD) is  appalled by the continuous threats of the Minister of Justice on one of its co-Conveners Mr. Lakshan Dias. Mr. Dias is an Attorney at Law of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka and an active Member of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka. He had served in several Committees of the Bar Association previously. He is a lawyer who has taken serious interest in the rights of the legal profession as a whole and on the administration of justice and independence of the judiciary. He was one of the lawyers who took active part against the impeachment of the former Chief Justice Shiranee Bandaranayake. Mr. Dias has been in the forefront of the democratic struggle for decades and stood for the protection of human rights and democratic values of the country amidst challenging conditions. He is an outspoken critic of extremist elements who propagate violence. His contribution to establish ethnic and religious harmony is well recognized.

LfD is shocked and dismayed by the unfair, capricious and incautious remarks made by Mr. Wijedasa Rajapakse, the Minister of Buddha Sasana and Justice threatening Mr. Dias to apologies to the nation on certain statistics given by him on attacks on churches recently. More seriously, the Minister has threatened him to take legal action within 24 hours if MR Dias does not tender an apology.  Again, in an interview with an English newspaper, the Minister indirectly called him a traitor and accused Mr. Dias as having been in a mission to spoil reconciliation process. The Minister went on to say that “these people behave in a manner similar to animals”. Such Statements are unbecoming of a Minister particularly the Minister of Justice. Moreover, his remarks are also unprofessional and unwarranted and have a chilling effect on the society and on the legal professional as a whole. At a time when extremist violent elements are becoming politically active once again, the Minister’s remarks are undoubtedly provocative and expose Mr. Dias to violence.

The Minister himself is well aware that it is not within his powers to commence proceedings to disbar a lawyer from his profession. We do recognize the Minister or any other persons’ right contradict or counter a claim made by a lawyer in a decent and acceptable manner. However, when a lawyer is threatened as a traitor and with disbarment, it infringes on the right of the lawyer to practice in a peaceful environment. We unfortunately cannot forget the period when the former Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse ran a website naming some lawyers as terrorists.

We are also mindful that in the current political environment, the Government had made serious positive attempts to rebuild trust among ethnic and religious communities but the Minister’s statement will be counterproductive to the government’s commitments.

We urge the Minister of Justice to publicly withdraw all the remarks that have been made against Mr. Lakshan Dias.  We also request the Hon. President to take initiative to draft a Ministerial Code of Conduct to avoid abuse of authority by Ministers.

Lawyers for Democracy
27th June 2017
Lal Wijenayaka, Chandrapala Kumarage, K.S Ratnavale, JC Weliamuna, Sudath Nethsinghe, Sunil Jayaratne and Harishka Samaranayaka
by     (2017-06-27 21:45:22)
Categories: Uncategorized

Hara-kiri, The Only Option For 6,217,162 Voters For Yahapālanaya

Hara-kiri, The Only Option For 6,217,162 Voters For Yahapālanaya

Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe Gone Mad!
logoNo mad man admits that he is mad. When you ask a patient at the mental hospital in Angoda if he is mad, he will without hesitating point towards the outside world and say all the mad men are out there. That is exactly what Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, the Minister of Justice and Buddha Sasana (believed to be allegedly hiding the fugitive extremist Buddhist monk Gnanasara) said in the Balaya TV show on 26 June 2017 on Hiru TV. He also claimed that everyone who signed a petition in support of Lakshan Dias, the Human Rights defender and Attorney at Law are “mad men” who should be in Angoda. A clear indication that he has lost his head. Lakshan Dias had to flee the country as he is being hunted by Wijedasa Rajapaksa’s goons. 
Wijedasa exceeded his ministerial powers and threatened to de-list Lakshan Dias as an Attorney. He is neither the appointing authority nor the one who has the power to remove Lakshan as an attorney. He, being a former president of the bar association has also intimidated the bar association to refrain from passing a resolution demanding an explanation from the Justice Minister for threatening a fellow attorney. Thus is the state of the Bar Association and the Judiciary in the much promised freedoms under Yahapalanaya.
Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe is also suspected of assisting hate mongers to destabilize the Government. He obliges the Rajapaksas due to the threats by the Joint Opposition strategists (who have his file) of exposing his misdeeds during the Rajapaksa rule and Avant Garde. A credible suspicion, given his close association with Senadipathi of Avant Garde and his attempts to set fire to this country through Sinhala Buddhist extremism. Wijeyadasa’s strategy is to drive away the minorities, especially the Muslims from the United National Party for failing to protect them. The UNP can never come to power without the minority votes. It is estimated that over 95% of the Muslims voted for regime change from the Rajapaksa hegemony.
Travesty of Justice
A fugitive monk who has over 84 police complaints by Muslims filed against him in different police stations and courts of law walks away on three counts of contempt of court- scot-free. The President, Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Ministers should bury their heads in the sand with their rear end exposed if they were not aware that their Justice Minister and Attorney General plotted this coup to make a permanent scar in the judicial history of this wonderful land of ours. This is only possible in Sirilankaaawe….
As a citizen of Sri Lanka, I just have to ask “where the F…k” are the independent commissions that Yakapalanaya introduced with such fanfare. The Police commission should immediately resign if they cannot take action or act on the blatant police hypocrisy in dealing with this thug in robes by the entire police department. A fugitive monk, who has been visited regularly by his unholy disciples, could not be traced by 5 special teams deployed to arrest him. What a reflection on the Police Department? Who gave orders to the Special Task Force not to arrest him in Kurunegala? The monk was even carrying an unlicensed weapon when he was apprehended.  The STF would have made him eat humble pie if not for the intervention of the IGP, who has to tell Sri Lanka as to who ordered him to pull Gnanasara out of the hands of the STF or RESIGN immediately and observe sil in Gnanasara’s temple. The Prime Minister, who hereto was considered a non-racist is in the thick of this conspiracy of the President and his band of extreme racists in Yahapalanaya.
The Asgiriya Googly – “Koheda Yanne Malle Pol”

Read More

Categories: Uncategorized

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.