Last November, I wrote about Dr. Politics at Sri Lanka Politics proposing a genuine bill of rights for his country. Well, the powers that be listened to him and this morning, he reports some movement:
The first in a series of workshops on constitutional reforms organized by the Constitutional Affairs and National Integration Ministry will be held on Saturday May 6, 2006 from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute, Independence Square, Colombo 7.
The subject of the workshop will be “A new Bill of Rights”.
Daily Archives: May 13, 2006
12 May 2006
The Presidency of the European Union condemns in the strongest possible terms the attacks yesterday by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on the Sri Lankan navy.
The LTTE have committed gross violations of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) at sea in recent days. The attack on a troop carrier and the reported sinking of an accompanying navy vessel is the latest and most severe violation. The known presence of SLMM monitors on board that vessel adds to the seriousness of the violation.
The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission has ruled that the sea is a Government Controlled Area. The LTTE should respect this judgement.
The claim by LTTE that SLMM has put its own monitors at risk by allowing them to travel on naval vessels is utterly unacceptable. This seeks to abnegate LTTE responsibility for the safety of monitors. This is a clear violation of the Ceasefire Agreement that requires all parties to take all measures to preserve the safety of the SLMM monitors.
The reckless behaviour of the LTTE in the last days can only contribute to a dangerous escalation that results in growing hostilities and jeopardises any possibility for future peace talks.
The EU urges the Government of Sri Lanka to show as much restraint as possible.
This is the latest episode in a wider escalation of violence that has been witnessed on all fronts in the last month. The EU condemns these acts that have caused death and suffering among all communities, be they Tamil, Singhalese or Muslim.
The EU calls on both parties to do all in their power to show restraint and to prevent further violence.
The EU supports the government statement yesterday that it condemns absolutely all acts of violence in government controlled areas and that it will do all in its power to pursue perpetrators and bring them to court.
The Ceasefire Agreement is what stands between Sri Lankans and outright war which neither side can win and which the vast majority of Sri Lankan’s – regardless of ethnic group – desperately want to avoid. The voice of that majority should now be heard.
Preoccupation with the visible enemy – the Wanni Tigers – has made many patriots to lose sight of or pay less attention to the unseen enemy who digging the ground right under our feet to make matters far easier for the LTTE. The National Movement Against Terrorism (NMAT) has already alerted us to this menace in its booklet Some Tears are less Newsworthy.
We all know the double standards of the Western media and Western governments on terrorism. However, our immediate focus should be on those locals, especially the likes of Nimalka Fernando, who promote such double standards. This scum feed the foreign media with all the anti-Sri Lankan and pro-LTTE muck and also give undue prominence in the local media to such rubbish reported in the foreign press. Their motive is to persuade Western regimes to pressure the Sri Lankan Government into granting LTTE demands no matter how outrageous they may be. The main task of this vermin is to break the national will so that there would be practically no resistance to Tiger machinations.
Will the Rawaya, which highlighted (on May 1) the Washington-based Foreign Policy magazine listing Sri Lanka as a failed state, give the same prominence to the Human Rights Watch condemning the Tigers’ HR violations and recruitment of child recruitment or to the U.S. State Department further extending the ban on the Wanni gangsters in the U.S.? Why does not this so-called alternative press focus on Prabhakaran’s son and daughter pursuing higher studies abroad, while poor Tamil youth are brainwashed to go on LTTE suicide missions? Had the Sri Lankan State pursued such a policy, there would have been editorial after editorial in these rags severely condemning the Sri Lankan leadership.
About a week ago that Attorney at Law S.L. Gunasekera during a SLBC Sinhala service radio interview called for a public boycott of all such journals and the products of those who advertise in them. Perhaps the organizations like NMAT and Patriotic National Movement (PNM) can pursue this matter further.
It is high time that we identify and ostracize (wherever possible) all these traitors, academic thugs, media mercenaries, NGO clowns and `women’s rights’ activists. They are without question Prabhakaran’s fifth column. Any success on their part in demoralizing the people and making them lose their bearings in today’s context will amount to an almost total LTTE victory.
Let alone identifying the Tigers as the culprit in the suicide bombing at Army Headquarters have any of the `women rights champions’ condemned the utterly inhuman and despicable act of using a pregnant woman for the purpose, no matter whoever was responsible?
Any Sri Lankan journal, radio or TV channel that attempts to pursue a `neutral’ policy on LTTE terrorism here has to be publicly treated as an organization serving the Tigers needs and thereby undermining national security. How can any citizen be neutral with a terrorist group trying to dismember his/her country?
These cynical elements are now eagerly waiting for another communal backlash, which the Tigers are repeatedly attempting to provoke by unleashing violence on our security forces and Sinhala civilians (the latest of these is Friday’s attack on Sri Lanka Navy Dvoras escorting a troop ship). The U.S. State Department’s supposed ban on the non-existent Sihala Urumaya (or is it the Jaathika Hela Urumaya?) could well be the handiwork of these Tiger agents. These are the criminals who deserve to be the victims of a `backlash’ – not innocent Tamils, who have been the Wanni tyrant’s cannon fodder for the past 20 years.
There ought to be absolutely NO freedom to any Sri Lankan citizen to express sympathy for those who try to bisect the country and establish a totalitarian rogue state. Such sympathizers should be banished to Tiger dominated areas at least for the time. -SN By Janaka Perera
May 3, 2006
Open letter to the Minister of Constitutional Affairs and the Chairperson of the Law Reform Commission
Dear Sir & Madam,
Re: Proposed bill of rights
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has learned from newspapers that the Ministry of Constitutional Affairs is to organise workshops, one of which will be held on the subject of a new bill of rights, on May 6, 2006.
The Asian Human Rights Commission hastens to join this discussion for fear that–given the recent history of constitutional affairs in the country–this effort may lead towards even more restrictions on rights and make the whole discussion on constitutional affairs meaningless to ordinary Sri Lankans and anyone who is watching the matter from the outside.
At a time when the 17th Amendment to the Constitution has been completely flouted despite local and international outrage, whether the government can conduct a credible dialogue on constitutional amendments is doubtful. Even the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka is without Commissioners at present, while the president of Sri Lanka has usurped the powers of selection of members to the 17th Amendment based commissions, thus abandoning the concept of checks and balances in the constitution. However, the AHRC and its affiliated organisations wish to participate in this debate vigorously to bring to light the areas that must necessarily be addressed if a meaningful bill of rights is to be enshrined in Sri Lanka.
The preliminary observations of some issues given below are some of the AHRC’s initial reactions and this will be followed with further submissions in the future.
The bill of rights must be set in opposition to the concept of absolute power contained in the idea of the executive presidency central to the 1978 Constitution. A Bill of Rights and the concept of absolute power of the executive president enshrined in the 1978 Constitution are incompatible. The very purpose of a Bill of Rights is to prevent the use of absolute power and to enable the functioning of democratic institutions. As long as the executive president is not answerable to the parliament and judiciary, the fundamental framework for the protection of rights will remain nullified. Just having a bill of rights by name while having an authoritarian governance structure in place, is only a propaganda ploy and does not in any way help the people of a country to have their rights protected from repressive forms of governance. Rather, the government structure must first be held accountable to the parliament and judiciary. The absolute impunity presently available to the executive president must also be abolished. The president must be held accountable for criminal, civil and other forms of legal liability, including fundamental rights violations. The principles enshrined in many other democratic countries would be useful regarding this matter.
Subordination of the judiciary to the executive president and the ruling regime as expected under the 1978 Constitution should be abolished. Though the 1978 Constitution mentions the independence of the judiciary, such a concept is incompatible with the concept of absolute power as contained in the same Constitution. The experience since 1978 has also shown how the executive president and his regime can bring the judiciary to its knees. This structural problem has given rise to the problems of the judiciary that are currently bemoaned. Without addressing this structural issue and enabling the actual independence of the judiciary, it is not possible to overcome the present problems. Without a truly independent judiciary, a Bill of Rights has very little meaning.
Effective remedies for violations of rights need to be ensured. The notion of rights without redress is meaningless, even hypocritical. Sri Lanka’s most pressing problem today is that no redress is available for the violations of any rights. Even in the case of murder–a violation of the right to life–there is often no effective remedy, since investigations into crimes are ineffective, the prosecution system under the Attorney General’s Department is beset with confusion and inefficiency, and the judiciary is beset with enormous delays. The net result is a four per cent convictions rate, while many complainants give up their pursuit of justice due to various obstacles. The citizens of Sri Lanka are largely living in fear, aware that the state is unable to protect them. The failure to protect people and the lack of effective remedies for human rights violations are two sides of the same coin.
The right to have a speedy trial must be raised to the status of a fundamental right. Although the right for a speedy trial is enshrined in the ICCPR, which Sri Lanka has ratified, it is not recognised as a fundamental right under the 1978 Constitution. Sri Lanka suffers from extraordinary delays in all forms of adjudication. In fact, the speeding up of court processes would be the primary measure to deal with the state of insecurity prevalent in the country at present. Judicial reluctance to bring this issue to the forefront may be due to notions of ‘culture’. However, unless this ‘culture’ is addressed, nothing will change for the better in the country. If the issue of delays in adjudication cannot be addressed effectively, there is no point in discussing a new bill of rights.
The scope of fundamental rights must be enlarged to include violations of rights through judicial actions, not only executive or administrative actions. The international obligations of Sri Lanka under the ICCPR also make the judiciary subject to respecting rights under the ICCPR. Therefore there is no basis to exclude violations of rights by judicial officers from the jurisdiction of courts in determining questions relating to the infringement or imminent infringement of rights.
A Bill of Rights needs to lay down a procedure for the enforcement of judgments (views) of the Human Rights Committee in cases the Committee determines that any state agency has violated the rights of a citizen. In two cases taken up by the Committee (Singarase and Tony Fernando) the government of Sri Lanka has taken the position that it cannot implement the Committee’s decisions as these are against the orders given by Sri Lankan courts. According to the government’s position, decisions made by Sri Lankan courts are excluded from the obligations of the state to implement the ICCPR. This view has been rejected by international jurists as incompatible with the protection and promotion of human rights. In other cases, (including those of Victor Ivan and Lalith Rajapakse) the state has also not taken action to implement the Committee’s views. Citizens are unable to get these orders implemented as the law has not laid down a procedure for doing so. Other countries include such procedures in their Constitutions and Bills of Rights. Until this is done, Sri Lanka being a signatory to the optional protocol of the ICCPR has little meaning.
The implications of court decisions in fundamental rights cases on the state officers involved must be clearly laid down in the Bill of Rights implementation section. At present the decisions of the Supreme Court are treated trivially by state departments such as the police. Some Supreme Court judgments themselves make light of the finding that a state officer has violated fundamental rights. A clear provision of the significance of a fundamental rights decision needs to be reflected in the Bill of Rights.
The issue of quantum in human rights awards should be treated as a substantive matter. Many of the Supreme Court judgments in recent times have awarded low amounts of compensation for serious human rights abuses, such as acts of torture and illegal arrest and detention. There is also no set criterion in awarding such damages. In particular, it is the poor who become victims of torture and similar violations and have the greatest difficulty in pursuing cases in courts, who get the lowest awards. In fact, at one session of the Committee against Torture, one senior international expert observed that such low awards are an insult to the victims. The international norms and standards on effective awards have now been well developed. These must be brought in to the bill of rights so that violations of rights will not end up being treated in a trivial manner. Low awards in these cases serve to lower the standards of justice and contribute to a state of demoralisation in society. This encourages violence and anarchy.
The recommendations regarding the period for filing fundamental rights cases as well as other recommendations made by the Human Rights Committee, CAT Committee and other UN bodies should be incorporated into the Bill of Rights. There has been a long protest against the 30-days time limit imposed on the filing of fundamental rights cases. The Human Rights Committee recommendations regarding this, which the Sri Lankan government has agreed to be bound by, have not been respected. Furthermore, the recent Supreme Court practice of postponing the hearings of fundamental rights cases until the end of related criminal cases needs to be discontinued.
These are but a few aspects the Asian Human Rights Commission is submitting for discussion at this initial stage. We shall pursue these suggestions and make others during the course of the discussion. We hope that a genuine debate on a bill of rights may be able to alter the impression that is now prevalent in the country; that all talk of human rights is nothing but a farce.
Asian Human Rights Commission
On a Wesak night one rarely stops to search the skies for falling stars. Un- less you feel an urge to be left alone, to gaze at the sky, or contemplate on the meaning of life in a flash of religious inspiration, it is not habitual for people to stay at home and look in to the deep skies.
The brightness of stars and tranquillity of the moon appear quite trivial on Wesak days. In other words, serenity and quietness occupy no place among the jostle, colour, festivity and collectiveness of spirit during Wesak.
Thousands of tiny bulbs find their way on to pandols during this season. They create striking patterns. And it is this colour and vibrance that create the very aura of feisty joy on a Wesak day.
A pandal, or a thorana is a work of art. And there is a broad-scale display of artistic talent here. It takes a crew of about fifty, from artists to painters and electricians to minor workers – to create the final piece f art that we see on a Wesak day.
The success of a thorana lies in its structure, story, colour, lighting techniques and paintings. It is a result of a grand blend of all these aspects. And to do this to perfection it requires skill, dedication and a love for art.
"Artists do not make a profit. And I do not paint thoran for money," says Pushpananda Denipitiya who has been painting pandals for the past 22 years.
A tall, humble, artistic man, Pushpananda derives a lot of self-satisfaction from his work. He was about the first to experiment in this sphere.
In a sense, he was a revolutionist. He refrained from using geometrical shapes in his pandals and gave Sri Lankan pandals a new look with the introduction of shapes of birds, trees and anything that he could dream of – except geometry.
"I do the Nawaloka, Borella and Thotalanga pandals. It takes about four months for me to finish all three of them," started Pushpananda when I met him at Peliyagoda on Wednesday, May 26. He constantly stopped to direct his men, and to see if the electricians needed him.
The entire crew was busy adding the final touches to the pandal. The electrician continued to instruct his employees and a chunk of white bulbs were positioned on either side of the Buddha rupa at the centre.
"The thorana resembles the Sri Pada and I have shown the four rivers – Mahaweli, Kelani, Kalu and Walawe – that start from there. The original story spoke of four rivers and instinctively I chose Sri Pada," explained Pushpananda.
The story has been adapted for the Sri Lankan audience. Yet it does not seem far fetched or unappealing. The artist had chosen 14 different stories. And the theme for this year’s Nawaloka (Peliyagoda) thorana dwells on the stories of the Sambuddha Deshanava.
Pushpananda plays with a number of colours – especially shades of yellow and orange. On either side of the main Buddha rupa one finds the sun and the moon. The sun has been used because of the belief that it rises from Sri Pada. The moon according to Pushpananda, was used for balancing the picture. He has designed the Nawaloka thorana for the past 10 years and knows what people need to see.
His intentions are aptly recognised by the electrician, A.B. Ariyadasa, who uses hundreds of white bulbs to illustrate the rivers. It seems that he subconsciously knows what the artist is aiming at, for it is the electrician who decides where to use the bulbs and which colours to use.
A shy, modest man, Ariyadasa does not like publicity. But his assistant is eager to relate the story behind the thorana.
"This is single-handedly funded by Nawaloka Chairman, H. A. Dharmadasa. He has done this for 40 years and this is the 41st year," started an enthusiastic Wijesena.
"During floods and other troubles the thorana was not made. In such cases, although the pictures were drawn the money allocated for the thorana was donated for those who needed assistance."
The story, structure and lighting techniques of this thorana change every year, according to Wijesena. "Never have the artists repeated the story. I’ve worked with this group for the past 10 years and know what effort goes into making it."
A thorana is a symbol of unity and hard work. From the time the sponsor decides on the sketch until its trial run is held, a number of people contribute in many ways. Once the sketch is chosen, according to Wijesena, the artist prepares it on hard board and sends the pieces that should contain lights to the electrician. Next the rough body of the thorana is constructed. It is only after that all the pieces are assembled together and fixed on the thorana.
The entire crew is forced to work under any circumstances. They constantly fear that something would go wrong. "It’s at the trial run that we learn whether it’s ready for display. If the lights do not work then we won’t have a thorana for Wesak," he says.
A pandal costs about 10 lakhs and according to Wijesena the crew have to pay attention to this factor too. "This year we are using 26,000 bulbs and a bulb costs Rs.27. We can make the pandal more attractive with more lights but we have to be economical."
"Meka hadhanda patan gaththahama nindha yanneth nae, " says D. D. Algama who has been in charge of this project for the past 11 years. For most of them the thorana is a headache during its construction period. But once it is completed they feel contented that they contributed to it.
"I bring my wife and children to show what I did and it feels great," says Wijesena who feels content once the work is completed. But he said people do not know how much they suffer for over two months. "Dhavas hatha atakata es pinavanda api masa ganak thisse parripu kava," he said.
Wesak is not all about thoran, pahan kudu and dansal. It is about the birth, attainment of Buddhahood and passing away of Lord Buddha. However, pandals and other decorations are seen as tributes to Lord Buddha.
A thorana depicts Lord Buddha’s life, or his past lives as it appears in the Pansiya Panas Jathakaya, through pictures. And the bulbs symbolise the light that Lord Buddha brings to our lives. This was used as an eye-opener in the past and indeed it played a vital role in enlightening the illiterate. Even today pandals are associated with Wesak, but the fact whether the original concept bears fruit in today’s context remains somewhat dubious. (@ Sunday Leader; Naomi Gunasekara)