Peace for the World

Peace for the World
First democratic leader of Justice the Godfather of the Sri Lankan Tamil Struggle: Honourable Samuel James Veluppillai Chelvanayakam

Sunday, September 24, 2017

People of Pattalipuram in Muthur demand return of land from Sri Lankan Army

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25Sep 2017
125 families from the Muthur East area of Trincomalee are demanding the return of their lands from military occupation.
People of Pattalipuram who were driven out of their homes and fields by the Sri Lankan Army in 2006 have expressed growing frustration that troops continue to occupy their lands.
Despite having the deeds to homes and cultivation lands, Pattalipuram has not been returned to its owners and an army camp built during the war continues to operate in the village.
The families are demanding the return of their lands, around an acre each, so that they can resettle and restart their livelihoods.

Lankan lawmakers have a ‘unitary mindset’ -Jayampathy


By Shaahidah Riza-2017-09-24

President's Counsel and member of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), parliamentarian Jayampathy Wickramaratne spoke to Ceylon Today about the salient points pertaining to the Interim report, of the steering committee, which centred on the Constitutional Assembly of Sri Lanka.
Emphasizing on the need to include the word Aekiya Rajya in the English and Sinhalese version of the Constitution, he added that the Sri Lankan lawmakers have a 'unitary mindset' and that the proposal by the TNA to include the term Aekiya in English is a good development.
Excerpts of the Interview:

?: How did you come to a consensus on the voting system?

A: Vast majority of people are against the preferential vote. They want MPs for the electorates. But at the same time they want the proportional representation, so that different shades of political opinion are reflected in the Parliament. What is proposed is a mixed member proportional representation system (MMP) where the candidate has to run for the electorate and run for the party. The overall composition of the Parliament is determined by the party vote which I think is important. You eliminate the preferential voting and everybody has his own MP at the electorate and at the same time the overall composition is proportionate.

?: What about the minor parties?

A: Minor parties will also benefit. For example if this proposed system was there for the last general elections the JVP would have got 12 seats instead of the six they have.

?: The electorates that presently exist are still those following the delimitations done in the 1970s. Will a new delimitation process take place to accommodate the new system?

A: Yes, there will have to be one. Now there are no electorates. We go by the old electoral divisions. But there have been large movements of population, for example, Kaduwela has more than 100,000 voters. Whereas in another area there will be only 20,000 to 30,000 voters. The population migration patterns have changed. Those have to be taken in to account, Including the IDPs.

?: The report indicates that the Constitution recognizes the Northern and Eastern Provinces as a single province. This indicates a merger?

A: That is only just one proposal. Everybody knows that proposal is the position of the TNA.
?: So, there will not be a merger?

A: My view is that I am not opposed to a merger of two or three provinces provided that the majority of the electors of each of the provinces agree. For example, I come from the Central Province. I have no problem joining with the Uva Province. But the people of the Uva Province and the people of the Central Province must vote in favour of voting in separate. The present Constitution also provides for this. The 13-A provides for possible mergers. But it also says that there should be a law on this. So, it is up to Parliament to pass a law. Parliament did have a law, the Provincial Councils Act. The provision was applicable for only one year. Now there is no law. So I don't know why people should get worried about it. The present provision should be left as it is and as an extra safeguard the people of each province must agree to it and the Parliament must be given the power to make that so. First, Parliament must pass a law. Otherwise this constitutional provision is meaningless. What if Parliament does not pass a law? You can't compel Parliament to pass a law.

?: You have the SLFP, JHU and a few other parties that want Buddhism to hold the foremost position without other religions being subjected to discrimination. However, the TNA wants the State to be secular. What is your idea?

A: there are two proposals. One is to retain the present provision, the other one is for Buddhism to have the foremost place. All agree that the foremost place for Buddhism should not be changed. But there is a different formulation suggested by some, that other religions should not be discriminated. TNA may want a secular State. But there are only two proposals. Both of which say Buddhism's present positions must be retained. While the TNA states that they want a secular State. They have also said that if the two main parties agree they do not have a problem with the report. In any case Sri Lanka is a secular State. Buddhism is not the official religion. What the Supreme Court has said, in two judgments, one in the sound pollution case and in the first 19-A case, indicates that although Buddhism has the foremost place there are also safeguards for other religions. Sri Lanka's secular State position is retained. Even the JHU acknowledges that. JHU stated, in its observation, that the foremost place in Buddhism is a mere decoration.

?: There are varied opinions on devolution. How do you resolve this?

A: I am very happy about the proposals on devolutions. And I am happy with what the TNA has also said, they have stated that as the SLFP and UNP have agreed on the devolution proposals, contained in the report, they are willing to go along with it. As the report also says the devolution proposals are based on proposals made to the steering committee and the various sub committees, by the chief minister of the Southern Province. The best proposals came from the seven chief ministers of the South who all belonged to the SLFP. Their proposals were based on thirty years of devolution. It is very practical. They looked at devolution as a way of solving the national question, they looked at it also as a tool of development to take the rulers closer to the people. Almost everything in the principles of devolution, that the steering committee agreed with, has come from the chief ministers in the South of the country.

What do they want? They are asking for clear cut division of power when national policy provision has been abused. These chief ministers want to be involved when decisions pertaining to national policies on devolving matters are taking place and not to take those powers in the guise of making national policies.

?: What is the decision on women's representation?

A: What we thought was let's see how it works in the local elections. We agreed on that principle. We have also included in the Provincial Councils as well. We passed the Bill last week.

?: How did you all handle the public security aspect?

A: Public security was not handled by the steering committee. It was a matter that came within the purview of the subcommittee on law and order which was chaired by Minister Sagala Ratnayake. That report goes into detail about law and order and other related matters. Everybody is concerned about it.

?: How did you all determine the principle of unitary State?

A: if you speak to the Sinhala people, the very large majority will say that they want an Aekiya Rajya. If you ask them what an Aekiya Rajya is they will say that they want an indivisible country. But the word unitary in English has a different connotation. That is our experience of 30 years. The legislature, the executive and even the judiciary has used the word Unitary. There is a case called Kamalawathi, which is about transfer policy pertaining to provincial teachers in the provincial public service. There is a Cabinet decision on transfers. Justice Mark Fernando, one of the best Judges we have had, who unfortunately had a unitary mindset, held that the Cabinet decision, at the centre, on teacher transfers amounts to national policy binding on the provinces. Then the Agrarian Services which was a devolving subject was handled by the Provincial Councils for the first three years of devolution and then there was an amendment to the Agrarian Services Act. The Act was not sent to the Provincial Councils for their views. When the matter was challenged even the State and even the Attorney General did not come to Court and say that they were making national policy.

But the Court (Justice Mark Fernando) said that this was national policy being made. It is up to the Government to say that the object of that statute was to make national policy. But I have stated elsewhere, in one of my writings, that the Supreme Court spoke for the Government where the Government took a different position before the Court with regard to national policy. Even if it was national policy, assuming, for argument sake, that Justice Mark Fernando was correct, it doesn't make Agrarian Services a reserved subject, when the Attorney General gave an opinion that the effect of that judgment is that Agrarian Services is no more devolved. How can he do that? Just because the national policy is made the subject does not shift from the provincial list to the reserved list. All the nine Agrarian Services Departments; officials, officers and hardware, and vehicles were taken back to the centre. In 2003, in a case called Maddumabandara; this matter was reconsidered and it was held that the Agrarian Services is a devolved subject.

Fourteen years have gone and Department has still not been given back to the province. So they have this unitary mindset, that is why the TNA has said that they will agree to 'Aekiya Rajya' in the Sinhala version, but it must be added to the English version as well. That is a very good development. What the Sinhala people want is the 'Aekiya Rajya' as an indivisible State.

The UK has been described as the mother of all unitary States and mother of all parliaments. In the 1920s by an Act of Parliament it allowed Ireland to be independent and the Republic of Ireland was born. In Northern Ireland, as a solution to the Northern Irish crises, the Good Friday Agreement emerged. The Good Friday Agreement provided for, the day the majority of the people of Northern Ireland wants to unify with the republic, Britain would accept it and that was accepted and approved by the Westminster Parliament.

Just last year the Westminster Parliament empowered the Scottish parliament to hold a referendum on whether Scotland should be a separate State. This shows that the word unitary is not a guarantee against separation. The people of this country want a guarantee against separation. So unitary has not helped. What is necessary is Aekiya in the sense that Sri Lanka is an indivisible and undividable country. And also the sovereignty of the people is in the Sri Lankan people. Sovereignty is not devided it is with the people as a whole. It is inalienable. The power to make the Constitution change is with the central legislature. The Provincial Councils will not have any say in the Constitution making process. But now we have a problem with regard to the 20-A determination. People like Udaya Gammanpila challenged the 20-A. They argue that the elections for the Provincial Councils are part of the franchise.

According to the Constitution presidential and parliamentary elections are included in the franchise. They have argued successfully that the elections to the Provincial Councils is part of the franchise of the country. What does this also mean?

It means that elections to the Provincial Councils are entrenched. It cannot be changed, it is part of the sovereignty of the country.

Therefore, it also means Provincial Councils cannot be abolished. If you can't delay provincial elections, surely you can't abolish Provincial Councils. So what is the effect of the judgment? Do we have a unitary State?

US’s meagre budget allocation for SL comes with major conditionality Do we need it?

Senate and House Sub-committees have both opposed the 92% slash in funding
China pledged over US$ 300 mn in development assistance to Sri Lanka for the years 
2018 – 2020
China’s gift in 2011 of the Nelum Pokuna alone is valued over US$ 19 mn
Earlier this year the US set up and trained an elite Marines Battalion within the SLN
The ‘first ever US-Sri Lanka Naval exercise’ is now set to take place in Trincomalee
2017-09-25
As the US government engages in the complicated process of approving its budget for Financial Year 2018, we are told that the Trump administration had requested US$ 3.4 million in foreign assistance for Sri Lanka. Readers could be forgiven if they thought it was a typo in the news reports they read. But it was confirmed in Acting Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells’s statement to the US House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific on Sept. 7.  

US Senate and House Sub-committees have both opposed the 92% slash in funding, with the Senate Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations Appropriations recently approving a sum of US$35 million under the ‘Economic Support Fund,’ according to reports. But this amount, modest as it is, comes with hefty conditions attached that would have implications for Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and independence, since it is conditional on laws being repealed or changed, demands as to how Sri Lanka’s military shall be deployed, decisions on the military’s restructuring and its size etc. It further links the assistance to ‘supporting a credible justice mechanism in compliance with UNHRC Resolution (A/HCR/30/ L.29) of October, 2015’ (which incorporates all of the above and more).   
In 2016, US assistance commitments to Sri Lanka were about 42.5 mn and that’s a bit less than half the cost of an F-35 fighter jet
The latter condition was also central to Wells’s testimony before the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee when she said “We (meaning the governments of the US and Sri Lanka) “are working together to fulfil the steps to which our nations agreed in a resolution 30/1 at the UN Human Rights Council in 2015.” Wells links the assistance to constitutional reform, devolution of power, repeal of the PTA and other specifics contained in Resolution 30/1 such as the Office of Missing Persons, Truth and Reconciliation Commission and prosecutions for alleged war crimes. Such is the tall order that (it would appear) is expected in order to receive the grand sum of US$3.4 million in assistance in 2018.   

For perspective on the figures, it’s useful to recall that when PM Ranil Wickremesinghe visited Beijing earlier this year, China pledged over US$ 300 million in development assistance to Sri Lanka for the years 2018 – 2020, apart from over US$ 60 million in the current year, according to reports. China’s gift in 2011 of the Nelum Pokuna theatre/auditorium alone is valued at over US$ 19 million. While it is true that Sri Lanka has gotten into a debt trap over Chinese infrastructure projects based on loans, it is also true that China does not make its money conditional on internal political and system changes within the country. It could be argued that if the Sri Lanka failed to negotiate effectively in securing the Chinese loans (which it had the right to do as a sovereign state) and its bureaucrats and politicians were embroiled in corrupt deals, it has only itself to blame for those lapses.   
So what considerations led the US Senate and House Committees - which do the actual fund allocations – to decide on the revised figures? According to reports:  

“Given the geostrategic importance of the country, the Committee does not support the President’s budget request for Sri Lanka, which proposed a 92% reduction in assistance from the prior fiscal year,” the Senate Appropriations Committee was cited as saying, in a report passing the annual State Appropriations Bill for the fiscal year 2018, beginning October 1. The report had referred to Sri Lanka being ‘strategically positioned along key shipping lanes and emerging from decades of conflict.’   
US lawmakers openly acknowledge that economic support is nothing but a foreign policy tool, in the case of Sri Lanka to be used to gain geostrategic advantage
Reports also say the House Appropriations Committee has passed its Foreign Appropriations Bill. According to Congressman Ted Yoho, Chairman of House - Foreign Affairs Sub Committee on Asia and the Pacific,“Even at their height in 2016, US assistance commitments to Sri Lanka were about 42.5 million, and that’s a bit less than half the cost of a single F-35 fighter jet. That seems like a reasonable investment to gain a friend in one of the world’s most critical sea lanes...”   

Thus the US lawmakers openly acknowledge that economic support is nothing but a foreign policy tool, in the case of Sri Lanka to be used to gain geostrategic advantage, especially in the crucial matter of maritime domination. As Senator Lindsay Graham, chairman of the Senate State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee declared “... America must remain the pre-eminent power in the world.”  

This relates to Alice Wells’s reference to the US’s growing interest in establishing military ties with Sri Lanka, in her statement to the Congress Sub-committee where she said “The current coalition government’s commitment to a reform agenda has prompted growing interest in expanding engagement with the U.S., including in military-to-military relations.” While the terminology suggests US interest in military ties with Sri Lanka is some kind of payback for the government’s ‘commitment to a reform agenda,’ it is obvious that the eagerness to establish military ties only serves the US’s own strategic purposes.  

The US mainly seeks to deepen ties with the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN), as the frequent US warship visits and training exercises with the SLN show. The ‘first ever US-Sri Lanka Naval exercise’ is now set to take place in Trincomalee, a long-coveted natural deep water port, under the tutelage of the US Seventh Fleet. There has been a focus on amphibious operations in particular, and multiple missions to train Sri Lankan personnel in areas that would presumably be useful to the US in an anticipated conflict scenario in the Indian Ocean or beyond. Earlier this year the Americans set up and trained an elite Marines Battalion within the SLN, described as “a master of amphibious operations,” and “fully fledged in undertaking any form of threat coming from the seas.” Seeing that Sri Lanka has no enemies who are likely to invade this island, what is the explanation for this perceived ‘threat from the seas?’ It could only mean a ‘threat’ to Sri Lanka’s partner in these exercises – namely the US. So it is clear that by committing its personnel, vessels, equipment and skills to these training exercises the US is investing in its own security and not that of Sri Lanka. Considering the strategic gains for the US, Sri Lanka is being cheaply had.   

The US’s perceived threat in this region, it is well known, is China, on account of its maritime expansion. The question arises as to why the government of Sri Lanka is committing its highly professional and respected armed forces to someone else’s anticipated battle, most likely against a long-standing friend of Sri Lanka, and to what end. Why must Sri Lanka put itself at risk by getting entangled in war games among the big nuclear powers? What has become of the pledge to be ‘friends with all and enemies of none?’   

It’s worth pondering the profound and bitter irony that the US exploits for its own strategic purposes, the very Sri Lankan armed forces whose leaders it seeks to crucify in its hypocritical crusade over human rights that uses Resolution 30/1 as its weapon. Big powers plan strategy decades ahead (not just long enough to stay in power for five years, as in Sri Lanka). Given that the stakes are high, it would be fair to surmise that this situation has developed not by accident but by design.

Geneva Resolution Govt. commits ‘hara kiri’



By Shivanthi Ranasinghe-2017-09-25

We do not realize the 'Sword of Damocles' we hung over our heads - not just over those in power, as the anecdote originally implies - when we co-sponsored the Geneva Resolution. Geographically we are strategically placed, rich in resources and our workforce is innovative, educated and ingenious when given the opportunity. Yet, the 'horse hair' by which the sword is hung is getting increasingly frayed as international pressure on us is mounting to incorporate provisions of international treaties into our local laws, which they themselves dare not pass in their own parliaments.

The Enforced Disappearances Bill, which was to be presented to the Parliament on 21 September, is a case in point. This is the government's third attempt to have it presented and passed in Parliament. Each time, due to pressures from various quarters, especially the Venerable Sangha, the government backtracked.

DANGER

Among the many pressure groups this time Eliya too held a press conference on 19 September. Venerable Induragare Dhammarathana Thera, Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera, President's Counsel Manohara de Silva and Veteran Journalist C. A. Chandraprema sat as the panel to explain the danger of this beautifully packaged Bill.

The full title of this bill is, International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPAPED). This title itself is deceptive and false. It clearly states that this is for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearances. Looking at the title only, no one would dispute with it as no one endorses enforced disappearances.

Yet, Article 2 of Part I itself clearly state, "For the purposes of this Convention, 'enforced disappearance' is considered to be the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which places such a person outside the protection of the law."

TERRORIST

In plain English this means only those attached to the Government will be subjected. This will not extend to any non-state actor. Thus, the full force of this convention falls on the heads of our Security Forces without ever touching even a hair of a single terrorist, who for 30 odd years violated every possible human and humanitarian rights law.

Article 1 states that no excuse will be entertained; "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for enforced disappearance."

In this context, Sanja de Silva Jayatilleka's Govt. has accepted ICJ's jurisdiction over Sri Lanka is extremely interesting. Its implications must be fully appreciated now that the Sword of Damocles is swaying so dangerously over our heads. She notes the UK's reasons cited for its inability to cede the Chagos Archipelago to Mauritius, despite its pledged commitment to do so, is because the archipelago is still "required for defense purposes". Mauritius in its letter to the Human Rights Council has expanded the exact 'defense' purpose UK is using Diego Garcia for, which is "as a transit point after September 2001 for rendition of persons to countries where they risked being subjected to torture or ill-treatment".

Britain is free to do so as it has not ratified this international treaty on Enforced Disappearances. Certainly Sri Lanka will not lean on the UK to ratify it. Though India's economy today rivals that of Britain, India will not prevail on UK. China is not interested in these kinds of arm twisting techniques; neither is Russia. The West who has made it the white man's burden to civilize the non-Caucasians will certainly never address it.

Thus British state agents will never be subject to the cruelties of this Bill and could go to other countries to 'forcefully disappear' those who they identify as 'enemy combats'. They recognize them as such so they are not bound by international laws that protect the rights 'prisoners of war'. They are escaping their own laws by taking their prisoners to offshore detention centers. Practicing thus they keep the average British citizen safe from psychopaths as well as those who challenge their status quo.

It must be stressed that our Sri Lankan Security Forces who overpowered terrorism did so within our own soil. They did not violate the borders or the sovereignty of another country to safeguard us. It must be further emphasized that since annihilating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, our Forces had been engaged in peaceful projects like landscaping, farming, tourism, restoration of buildings and so on. Also, as de Silva pointed, with Yahapalanaya, the white van abduction culture has been eradicated.

OMP

He asked if the Constitutional Councils introduced via 19th Amendment made our institutions independent, why do we need a separate Office for Missing Persons (OMP). Does that imply that our Police are not independent or trustworthy?

Both he and Rear Admiral Weerasekera explained that both the OMP and ICPAPED are links of the same chain. Hence, it must be studied together and the two components are just part of a bigger plan.
For eight years our enemies have been levying war crime charges against our forces, pointed PC de Silva without evidence to prove it.

Therefore, they installed the OMP, empowering it to go to any police or military establishment, any time, without prior notice and confiscate any material as evidence. They can record any statement from any person and present it as evidence. In fact, witnesses may present their statement electronically without giving the accused the right to face his accuser, nor the right to cross examine the accusation. This is nothing short of a factory to generate evidence.

Rear Admiral Weerasekera explained that the target is not the perpetrator, but his command hierarchy. Thus, any lower rank soldier can be summoned by the OMP and either threatened, bribed or otherwise coerced to give evidence of a crime. However, it would be his commanding officer that would be held liable for failing to prevent that crime.

The simple truth is, explained the Eliya panel, the first attempt was to import foreign judges and prosecutors to Sri Lanka. When that failed, they moved to the next step, which is to export those who gave leadership to end terrorism to foreign courts.

The most contentious of this is the extradition clause. Chandraprema's Govt. in attempt to revive PM's enforced disappearances Bill explains it in detail. The government argues it will not be the case as we are not signatories to the Roman Statue and thus does not come under the jurisdiction of the ICC. However, Article 10 is clear that a foreign government (a member state) can arrest a Sri Lankan who is alleged to have committed enforced disappearances if found in their territories. Once arrested, they may try him according to their own laws, extradite him to another country in accordance with its international obligations, or hand him over for prosecution to an international criminal tribunal whose jurisdiction that member state has recognized. The only recognized international criminal tribunal is the ICC in The Hague.

De Silva explained our current laws allow another country to ask for a Sri Lankan to be extradited. However, if that person can prove that there is a political motivation behind the extradition request, the Sri Lankan government can decline.

However, this Bill has gone to the extent to deny that right to our citizens. Thus, even though it can be proven that Yasmin Sooka's NGO had a political motivation to charge General Jagath Jayasuriya, this Bill will not heed it.

PM Ranil Wickremesinghe has assured that the Bill is not retroactive. The argument presented is that the Offenses against Aircrafts Act No. 24 of 1982 passed by Parliament were made retroactively for the purpose of prosecuting Sepala Ekanayake for hijacking an Alitalia aircraft.

However, Mohammed Muzammil of the National Freedom Front on 17 September explained that at the time hijacking was not in our statues. When the then government passed ratifying three international conventions the Supreme Court decided the law governing the international convention had been in place before our parliament had passed that law.

EKANAYAKE

The ICPAPED was passed in 1992. Thus its effect will only be applicable to Sri Lankans from 1992, affecting the war heroes alleged to have committed various crimes. Its time frame, he observed, is convenient to those responsible for the enforced disappearances during the second insurgency of the JanathaVimukthi Peramuna (JVP).

Furthermore, in the Ekanayaka case, the hijacking was an offense already committed and in the past. In the case of a person alleged to have disappeared, his status as missing is ongoing until his whereabouts are located or proven to be dead. Thus, the argument of retroactive does not apply at all to an ongoing case. Add to the contention, Chandraprema writes that anyone may report a case of disappearance within three months of becoming aware that such person had disappeared, who may have disappeared even a decade ago.

BIN

As his conclusion, PC de Silva observed it is not those who brought peace to this country who are the criminals, but those divided over political allegiance that passes these bills to be in power. In the question and answer session, the panel was asked what Eliya would do if the worst becomes the reality. The sad truth is, from the assurances PM Wickremesinghe gives it is clear he himself is not familiar with the Bill and appears to be merely repeating assurances given to him by someone else.

That means the enemy had infiltrated right into our ranks and is in either position of power or influencing power. We are facing the last line of defense and it is up to the citizens to ensure this Hunt for War Heroes Bill coming in the guise of protection for all of us from enforced disappearances is thrown to the bin and not legitimized as was done with the OMP.
ranasingheshivanthi@gmail.com

Uva Mahanayake’s eleventh request!

Uva Mahanayake’s eleventh request!

- Sep 24, 2017

A Mahanayake of a well-known temple in Uva province went to the presidential secretariat recently to meet the president. The president knows this Thera, who comes to him with various problems in the province and of Buddha Sasana. The president promptly resolves all those problems, but his last request is an impossible one. The president tells that the request will be considered, worships him and sends him off.

For the past two and a half years, he has come to meet the president on 20 to 30 occasions. He uses small issues of the people of his area to get a big thing done through the president.
Last time, when the president saw the Mahanayake Thera, he summoned a secretary of his and told him, “This Hamuduruwo makes at least 10 requests. All those can be given. But, the last one is not possible. Therefore, talk to him and send him off.”
The secretary went to the Thera, worshiped him and asked what he could do for him.
The Thera frowned at him and said, “Where is the president? I do not want to meet you. I want to meet the president.”
The secretary replied, “No, Apey Hamuduruwane, the president told me to get your requirement attended to. The president is very busy today as he has some scheduled appointments.”
“Is that so? Is that how we are treated? We worked at the risk of our lives for his victory on January 08. Now, those are forgotten.”
The secretary took him to his room and solved all his problems.
Then came the 11th request. “I have been making this request for the past two and a half years. Every day, I am told it will be considered. Had we worked for Mr. Mahinda and requested him, we would have received it within 24 hours. Now, we have neither of them.”
“Don’t be angry, Hamuduruwane. What do you need? Tell me, I will give it a try.”
“For the past two and a half years, I made only one request. I did not ask for Benz cars. The Mahaweli ministry is under the president. What I ask for is 500 acres out of the land under the ministry. I will develop those 500 acres for the good of the country. I will not gain anything out of it.”
“Apey Hamuduruwane, I cannot promise you that. Even if a Benz car is given, this request is not an easy one. Not even the president can give land at his will. Make a request in writing. Then, the president will give a reply.”
Telling the secretary that he knew what the reply would be, the Thera took his fan and bag and was coming out of the room, when he saw a group of Catholic priests leaving after meeting the president.
“Huh, do you see? He cannot meet us. He can meet the catholic priests.”
The secretary replied, “Don’t be angry, Apey Hamuduruwane, the catholic fathers come here to give something, not to ask for something.”
The Mahanayake Thera ignored that and left.

Road to Good Governance: Holding Fair and Free Elections


2017-09-25 
Elected representatives are supposed to represent the wishes of the citizens in a country. In this respect, holding fair and free elections is paramount. Free and fair elections does not merely include holding elections which are unbiased and uninfluenced but also include ensuring that the ideal candidate is elected and that the people are represented. The Constitution explicitly states in Article 4 that the sovereignty of the people(among other things) will be exercised through the franchise.  
According to the United Nations Former Secretary General Kofi Annan, one of the key principles of Good Governance is people’s participation in government policy through elections. Therefore, “postponing any election under any circumstance is a violation of this Good Governance principle”, said former Human Rights Commissioner, Dr.Prathiba Mahanamahewa.   

“Like in the United States, elections should be held on the due date. If it should be held in four years, it has to take place in four years; not before or after,” he stressed.  
Suggesting that there should be an election calendar he said that the directives must be given by the constitution. “Otherwise we can’t set up this system. Or else Sri Lanka will have to go for a dictatorship. Good governance is not working as there is corruption,” he said.   

PR system
“One of the major issues in Sri Lanka is that the proportionate representation system does not represent the true vote of the people. This is where we can see power and money playing a major role. Cases of 29 present ministers have gone before the Bribery Commission via the FCID. Why do they collect money? Mainly to spend for the next election,” he pointed out.  

He added that it was not wise to remove the proportionate representation system completely, and that 60% should be under the First Past the Post system (FPP). In other words he suggested that there should be a mixed member proportional system. The Interim Report of the Steering Committee submitted to the Parliament states that the electoral system “shall be a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system, which seeks to ensure proportionality of the end result (allocation of seats), while also having directly elected constituency seats (thus ensuring such MPs accountability to constituencies)”.   

Representation 
“Today uneducated and unskilled people get into parliament. Therefore, a slot should be allocated for experts, academics, and engineers,” he said adding that minimum educational qualifications and any required employment experience for candidates intending to contest elections should be published.   

He added that there should be allocations made for female representation and youth representation. “There are unemployed graduates the government has still not employed. There must be a compulsory representation of 25% for the youth and 30% for women,” he said.   

Rejection votes
He further pointed out that the number of rejected votes showed how people have rejected political parties. “Under the proportional representation system you vote for the party first and then the candidate. In the past fifteen elections the rejection vote has been accumulating. This means that people have no trust in the government. When people have money and no jobs, for them the best thing would be to join politics.”
Declare assets and liabilities
Like in the United States, elections should be held on the due date. If it should be held in four years, it has to take place in four years; not before or after
One of the major issues in Sri Lanka is that the proportionate representation system does not represent the true vote of the people. This is where we can see power and money playing a major role
Former Human Rights Commissioner  Dr. Prathiba Mahanamahewa
“Primarily for a free and fair election everyone must play in a fair play ground. Up till 1977 Members of Parliament (MPs) travelled to parliament by bus, by train, or even by cart. But today why do they go for luxury? I have no faith on whether the current constitution will change or not. But we need to have a proper mechanism. Today the person with more money wins,” he lamented.   

He added that prior to handing over the nomination forms to contest any election, all the candidates must declare their assets and liabilities within Sri Lanka and overseas to the Elections Commission (EC).  

“The EC must publish the maximum amount which could be spent by an individual candidate in their election campaign. The final accounts must be submitted to the EC with a ratification by a recognized auditor within three months after the election failing which the MP automatically vacates the post,” he said.  

He stressed that there should be a proper forecast of the budget and that the Parliament Elections and Provincial Elections Acts should be amended.  
“In Bangladesh, when you campaign, you have to register. Your budget must be approved by the Independent Commission. You must inform of how many posters you would display, and how many supporters are there in your campaign. So the main weakness in our system is the lavish spending in the form of dansal, gifts and liquor. This has led to an uncontrollable situation,” he said.   

Code of conduct 
Asked if there was a code of conduct to govern candidates he said, “When you submit your nominations, and if you had been involved in any illegal activities, it could be disputed. Then the District Secretary may reject the nomination. But in certain issues such as the dual citizenship issue, the DS didn’t reject the nomination. This is where self-regulation comes in. How many declarations are signed by Parliamentarians? Have they followed them? They have a code of conduct. But the political party must take action. 

The leader doesn’t take action because of the fear that the candidate might cross over to the other side, and it has happened in Sri Lanka. In Australia, when I was doing my PhD, the Finance Minister of the state of Victoria was charged for driving under the influence of Alcohol. He was above the 5% limit which was allowed. The traffic sergeant stopped him, checked him and found him guilty. He was sacked from parliament, sacked from the party and simultaneously, the sergeant who handled the case was promoted. Will that happen in Sri Lanka?”  

He also highlighted how parliament members are ‘traded’. “If you give Rs. 5 million, they will cross over to your side.”
 
Equal chance of voting
An election becomes fair when voters have the equal chance of voting. “The migrant population in Sri Lanka is very high. In the Gulf region, more than 1,000,000 Sri Lankans work. They have no access to vote. This makes a big impact on the country,” he said. In other countries, the embassies of the respective countries where the elections were held has facilities for people to come and cast their votes. “A ballot box is set up at the Maldivian embassy here for Maldivians to cast their votes. How many students are studying in Malaysia? Their voice is not heard. This is a violation of basic civil and political rights. In the prisons, there are hundreds of inmates who languish without any access to vote. In some companies, employees are not allowed to travel far to vote because of leave constraints. Under these circumstances, the companies must be provided with access to postal voting. They are bound by the law to release employees to vote. A written petition to the EC would deliver them the justice. But no one complains due to the fear of losing their jobs,” he lamented.    

Laws
Dr. Mahanamahewa emphasized that regulations or laws related to candidates contesting elections should not be passed to be applied retrospectively.  

“The fine for an election law violation by any candidate or political party, should be a minimum of Rs. 100,000 and a minimum imprisonment of three years. Election law violations should be made a non-bailable offence and only Provisional High Court should be allowed to grant such a bail,” he added.   

He further suggested that election promises given by candidates prior to elections should be made legally binding and that unfulfilled promises should be heard before a Tribunal.   

Voter participation – Sri Lankan scene and benefitsof external pressure and international networks

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A paper presented by Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole Member, Election Commission, Sri Lanka at the 8th Annual Meeting of the Forum of Election Management Bodies of South Asia, 23-27 Sept. 2017, Kabul, Afghanistan on the theme "Election and Dispute Resolutions & No Voter to be Left Behind."

For all of us to defend the institutions we represent is the human condition. Thus, country reports and like documents tend to gloss over the failures of our institutions. This enhances our view of ourselves. However, it is in owning up to these deficiencies that causative factors are resolved or at least ameliorated. None of us has a perfect democracy. We have ideals that we strive to achieve and move towards.

Sri Lanka’s is a multiparty democracy. We have our failures that have impeded our island nation’s progress towards democratic-franchise for all communities. Social, political and economic influences have undermined our democratic ideals. For example, five of our failures are provided below.

1) At independence in 1948, 11% of our population were Tamils of recent Indian origin enjoying the franchise. One of the first acts of Ceylon’s Parliament was to disfranchise them. Voters were left behind.

2) The Sri Lanka Freedom Party under its then leader Sirimavo Bandaranaike, enacted a new constitution in 1972, and used that effectively to extend her term by two years. She also did away with Article 29 of the previous constitution affording protection to minorities. The change made Sri Lanka a very different country from the pluralistic society previously envisioned.

3) In 1982 President J.R. Jayewardene, who had been elected in 1977, with his party commanding a two-thirds parliamentary majority, held a referendum on extending the life of parliament by 6 years without an election. According to the book by Paul Brass,"The December 1982 Referendum saw rigging on a grand scale, with UNP supporters – especially those in the party’s trade union – resorting to ballot stuffing, intimidation, and violence to ensure a UNP victory." Yet, our Department of Elections certified the result.

4) In the 1994 elections, the separatist group, the LTTE, ordered a boycott of the elections. It was understood that anyone who defied the ban would be executed. Thus, only one rival militant group was a key contestant and their members got elected to parliament with as few as 9 votes. We certified the result instead of cancelling it.

5) Perhaps the big success of the Election Department was the Jan. 2015 Presidential Elections. The story is yet to be told fully – and may never be unless the then Election Commissioner and present Chairman of the Election Commission writes a book as he promises to do upon retirement. As the incumbent president seemed to be losing, troops under the command of his brother were moving to the capital city of Colombo, where the nation’s votes were being counted under our watch. The Election Commissioner ordered the police assigned to him to "shoot aiming for the head." The Presidency changed hands peaceably.

The courts have now determined that the Secretary to the outgoing President with the former Director General of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission had defrauded the state of Rs. 600 million to distribute religious clothing to Buddhists just before the 2015 elections. They have each been sentenced to three years in jail with a hefty fine. While it shows the sea change in high-ups being sentenced for the first time, the impunity that pervades Sri Lanka is seen to be difficult to shake off – both, although sentenced to rigorous imprisonment, were found to be "sick" in prison and given luxury quarters in the prison hospital. Curiously, that President in whose cause the fraud was perpetrated making him answerable, has not been touched. It shows that challenging impunity at top is a long process.

However, despite the monumental failures of our democracy, Sri Lanka is moving towards its ideals under international pressure. The President’s Secretary, effectively the Head of the Civil Service, being jailed was unthinkable till recently.



Global Community

We as the people of a country are best off operating in a fraternity of global partners sharing best practices. Examples are forums such as FEMBOSA, and the Commonwealth Electoral Network, as well as international organizations like the UN Human Rights Commission and INGOs like The International Federation of Electoral Systems. Not only do we learn from each other, but such forums bring likeminded partners to put pressure on offending parties and publicise problems. Methods used are often consultative and advisory, as with INGOs that need government permission for presence in a country, and at other times coercive and directly confrontational, as often necessary. Some call the latter colonialism in new forms but for those at the receiving end of a bad government, it is welcome relief.

Thankfully, due to the intervention of India and the political organization of our plantation workers, despite their statelessness all those rendered stateless have been offered Sri Lankan citizenship and their franchise. Thus external inputs are sometimes necessary to make a country do justice to its citizens.

Women’s participation in governance is an area where Sri Lanka fairs poorly with only 5% of our MPs being female. However, there has been a reversal of late. Parliament has enacted laws to force a 25% quota for women in Local Government. There is continued opposition and the Bill was gazetted, passed with substantial modification at the Committee Stage, and is again being modified as this paper is being written.

This sunrise as it were on women’s rights has been because of external criticism and advice. Field trips have been organized for MPs to visit countries that have successfully included women. Training programs have been funded for women encouraging them to be candidates. Foreign leaders have come to canvass our political leaders on this score. They made us do what we should have done by ourselves.

Caste is another frontier where obstacles exist but are not admitted, which makes a solution even more difficult. The agricultural castes dominate and the Executive Prime Minister and later the President have all been agriculturist Sinhalese – except when during a violent insurrection no one wanted to be President. The Northern Provincial Council of 38 has only two of depressed caste origin, while the provincial demography has over 50% from the depressed castes.

Such inequalities are entrenched in the socio-political order. It is a given that Sri Lanka is a Sinhalese Buddhist country where Buddhism is foremost and must be fostered by the state. As a new constitution is being drafted, this clause so inimical to concepts of democracy and an egalitarian order, will be retained, both the President and Prime Minister are on record as having said. Certain flags need to be waved to win elections.

That attitude asserting Buddhism has twisted Sri Lanka’s democratic fabric into a grotesque shape. Towards the end of the civil war with the LTTE in 2009, the UN estimates that over 40,000 Tamil civilians were massacred by the army. Others give a higher figure of over 70,000.The government, on account of pressure from the global community, had in 2014 cosponsored UNHCR Resolution 30/1 promising prosecution of war crimes through a credible transparent processoverseenby international judges.

The problem is that in our communalist polity, Sinhalese soldiers who killed Tamil civilians are national heroes. Punishing the killers is political suicide. Promises of prosecution thus becomea game of double-speakwhere we do not know what or whom to believe. The ruling coalition’s Malik Samarawickrama announced:

"The UNP welcomes the statement of the Cabinet of Ministers, the Prime Minister and the President to use the full force of the law against those causing religious tensions, racial hatred and undermining the efforts at reconciliation since the new government came to power."

(This paper reflects the author’s own views as a Member of the Election Commission and not necessarily those of the Election Commission or the Government of Sri Lanka.)

It is an uphill task for the Govt. to attain the envisaged targets

Vision 2025: Part 2

Analysis so far

Monday, 25 September 2017

In Part 1 of the article series on the Government’s Vision 2025 published last week (available at: http://www.ft.lk/columns/Vision-2025--Part-1--Need-for-moving-from-a-wish-list-to-a-concrete-plan/4-639757), it was pointed out that the present vision document was just the fourth of such visions pronounced by the Government during the last two year period.

These documents which started from the election manifesto of the United National Party presented to the electorate in August 2015 had one underlying theme.

That was the new economic philosophy of the Government which was styled as ‘Knowledge-based Highly Competitive Social Market Economy’, a concept adapted from Germany which had introduced it after the Second World War. Germany’s vision had been to have a third way, different from the Western capitalism and Soviet Union’s communism which had been ruling the world at that time and proved to be ineffective to meet the aspirations of all the people in a country. Apparently, UNP too had felt that it needed a new ideology, different from the extreme state expansion policy which had been adopted by the previous Mahinda Rajapaksa administration.

However, it was pointed out in the previous article that three shortcomings in the first three policy statements, namely, lack of consensus among the ruling coalition parties on economic policy, failure to sell it to people and the Minister of Finance taking the country in the opposite direction, had hampered their proper implementation. Hence, the need of the day had been identified as translating the wish list in the vision into implementable concrete plans.

V2025 has two time bound goals

As pointed out previously, Vision 2025 has two time-bound goals, four intermediate goals to be realised by 2020 and one final goal to be achieved by 2025. The four intermediate goals have been to increase the average income of a Sri Lankan, also known as per capita income or PCI, from the present $ 4,000 to $ 5,000, generate one million jobs, increase foreign direct investments or FDIs to $ 5 billion per annum and double the country’s exports from the present $ 10 billion to $ 20 billion. The final goal has been to make Sri Lanka a rich country by 2025.

Both goals are ambitious and challenging

These are highly ambitious goals and, therefore, challenging. They are specially challenging given the high growth rates which the country has to achieve over the next eight-year period if it is to become a rich country.

In the intermediate target of elevating Sri Lanka’s PCI to $ 5,000, the country has to maintain on average a continuous growth rate of 9% per annum in each of the years from 2018 to 2020. Similarly, to become a rich country by 2025, Sri Lanka should have a PCI of little over $ 12,000, according to World Bank’s classifications. That requires Sri Lanka to accelerate its growth rate to above 16% per annum during 2021 to 2025.

Sri Lanka’s efficiency of capita utilisation, known as Incremental Capital Output Ratio or ICOR, is so low that it has to on average use five units of capital to produce one unit of output. Thus, the annual investment requirement to attain the first target of 9% growth is about 45% of the total output, known as the Gross Domestic Product or GDP. In the latter target, it is an exorbitantly high level of about 80% of GDP.

No alternative; everyone should tighten belts

To maintain such a high level of investment, Sri Lanka has to, in the first place cut down its consumption drastically, known to economists as ‘austerity measures’ or to laymen, as ‘belt-tightening measures’. However, there is a limit to such austerity measures which Sri Lanka can safely introduce, given the high preference for consumption by all, ranging from politicians to bureaucrats to common men and women.

If belts cannot be tightened sufficiently, no alternative but use savings of foreigners

Hence, there will still be a gap between potential savings and the required investments. That gap, known as the savings-investment gap, has to be filled by using savings done by people in the rest of the world. Those savings are mobilised by a country by making foreign borrowings or attracting FDIs or allowing foreigners to invest in the country’s securities market, known as portfolio investments or simply getting foreigners to give free gifts or grants or by using all of them. In the past, Sri Lanka had tried to fill the gap mainly by borrowing from abroad but it had increased the country’s foreign debt to unmanageable levels.

Sri Lanka’s disappointing

growth record

Sri Lanka’s past track record with regard to economic growth has also not been very encouraging. On average, during the whole of the post-independence period, Sri Lanka’s annual economic growth has been at around 4.4%, as shown by Figure 1. In the first half of 2017, its growth has been still worse at 3.9%. Though the authorities have expressed hope that there would a bounce-back in the second half of the year, all the available indicators such as agricultural production and growth of exports have shown that the country would finally end up at an average growth of 4% in 2017.

High growth expectations amidst low performance

Though, in its latest projection, the Central Bank has expected that the growth rate would increase to 7% by 2020, as shown in Figure 2, the projection made by IMF has been significantly below that. In this scenario, the acceleration of the growth rate to a minimum of 9% per annum during 2018-20 and to 16% during 2021 to 2025 would certainly be an uphill task.

Linking accelerated growth targets to election cycle

In the case of the three previous policy statements, Sri Lanka still planned to be a rich country but it had assigned to itself a very long date for attaining that goal, namely, 2045. But in the Vision 2025, that long date has been advanced to 2025, a kind of an acceleration of the growth momentum planned previously.

As pointed out in the previous article, this acceleration had nothing to do with the country’s perceivable economic cycles. Instead, it had been linked to the country’s election cycle in which there would be two Parliamentary elections one in 2020 and the other in 2025. The Government’s wish to secure victory at these two elections is understandable. But the goals which it has set for itself and for sale to the electorate have been too challenging for its built-in capability.

A nation bent on consuming

and not saving

Sri Lanka’s annual domestic savings are on average at about 20% of GDP. This means that when a Sri Lankan living in Sri Lanka earns 100 rupees, he spends 80 rupees on consumption. This is comparably a high level of consumption, compared with high savers in the region like Singapore or China which have a savings record of about 50% of their income.

Relying on remittances to augment domestic savings is not advisable

Sri Lanka’s domestic savings are being augmented significantly by the inflow of remittances by Sri Lankan workers abroad. These remittances constitute about 8% of GDP; thus, the country’s national savings which include such remittances as well have been recorded at a higher level of about 28% of GDP over the last few years.

However, remittances are not a source of funding on which Sri Lanka can make too much of dependence since they are subject to constraints. On one side, Sri Lanka cannot send people out for employment without experiencing a labour shortage within the country. On the other, the employing countries also cannot do so continuously due to domestic political and economic problems.

Getting free money spending politicians to get a voluntary

cut is challenging

Hence, it is safe for Sri Lanka to rely on domestic savings rather than national savings to finance its target level of investments. But to do so, it has to force all Sri Lankans to cut their consumption at least by another 10% of GDP allowing the country to increase its domestic savings rate from the current 20% to 30%. However, it requires everyone – politicians, bureaucrats and ordinary citizens – to take a cut in the present welfare levels. The biggest challenge for the Government is to change the mindset of both politicians and bureaucrats to take this hit.

Avoiding the debt trap by going

for FDIs

However, even when the country’s domestic savings are increased to 30% of GDP through enforced austerity measures across the board, there will still be a sizeable savings-investment gap which has to be filled by using savings made by foreigners. Since the country is already in a foreign debt trap and the Government has made announcements that it does not want to increase these debt levels any more, the only available source has been the attraction of FDIs. In the intermediate targets set in Vision 2025, the Government wishes to increase FDIs from the present less than $ 1 billion to $ 5 billion by 2020. Based on the track record of the country, this is again an uphill task.

Sri Lanka should improve

its global ranking

What will go against the Government’s desire to attract FDIs is the general inefficiency of the public sector in the country, unpreparedness of the private sector for the changing global environment and the indecision of the political leaders. This has been demonstrated by Sri Lanka’s very low ranking in all the global indexes, as presented in Table 1. This is not a new development and the country had always been ranked low by those agencies even in the past.

Shooting the ranking agencies instead of shooting the rank 

When these reports were out, the reaction of the previous Mahinda Rajapaksa administration was that those compiling agencies were biased, prejudiced and vindictive and were carrying on a mission to destroy Sri Lanka’s bright future.

Hence, every time a new index result was out, there were angry retorts and promises of compiling Sri Lanka’s own indexes to represent its true state to the rest of the world. However, they were only promises and none of these homemade indexes was release subsequently.

Poor FDI record

The result was that Sri Lanka could not attract worthwhile FDIs even after the end of the war when there was a lot of promise for such investments to take place. For instance, during 2005 to 2009, according to the Central Banking data, Sri Lanka had got on average an annual flow of FDIs amounting to $ 644. This number has slightly increased to $ 793 million during 2010 to 2014.

New Government’s track record of attracting FDIs is not better than previous Government

When the new Government came to power in January 2015, the promise of Sri Lanka as a destination of worthwhile FDIs was substantially increased on account of the pledge it had given to the rest of the world that it would usher an era of good governance, transparency, rule of law and law and order. Yet, FDIs it could attract during 2015 and 2016 amounted, on an annual average, only to $ 789 million, almost same as the country’s record during the previous post-war period.

In the absence of domestic savings, FDIs will be the saviour

Even then, during the two periods under reference, those FDIs were mainly for the hospitality and real estate sectors, and not for high tech industries that could have revolutionised the country’s production structure, the need of the day.

The present Government was expected to take measures to improve the country’s standing on these indexes. But no action was taken for two years and the country’s standing deteriorated further during that period. Now that the Government is planning to accelerate economic growth to a very high level during the next eight-year period and it plans to depend principally on FDIs, it cannot ignore the falling standing of the country in the eyes of foreign index compiling agencies.

Are the claims on job creation in V2025 are correct?

An important intermediate target of the Government during 2018-20 has been the generation of one million jobs. Vision 2025 claims that from January 2015 up to date 430,000 new jobs have been created within the economy.

However, this claim is not being borne out by the data that have been published by the Central Bank in its Annual Reports based on the data compiled by the Department of Census and Statistics. According to the Central Bank, as at the end of 2014, the number of people employed in the country had amounted to 8.424 million. As at the end of 2016, this number has declined to 7.948 million recording a decline of employment by 476,000.

Is it one or one and a

half million new jobs in the

next three-year period?

What it means is that if the Government’s objective is to create one million jobs over the level of employment that had prevailed at end 2015, it has to create nearly 1.5 million new jobs during 2018-20. This is again an uphill task.

Next part will analyse how exports should be increased

Vision 2025 plans to double exports from the current level of $ 10 billion to $ 20 billion by 2020. The next part will examine the nature of the challenge faced by the Government to attain this goal within a mere three-year period and the policy package it should implement if it is willing to adopt a long date for attaining that target.

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

A womb of one’s own: Life, abortion and motherhood in Sri Lanka


Photograph: Paul Mezzer/FRF/Getty via The Irish Times
MEGHAL PERERA-09/23/2017
From well-intentioned comments about our weight and skin colour, to the insidious experience of being followed as we walk on the street, women are wearily aware that their bodies are public property.  The proposed change to the abortion law does little to address this, but at the very least it offers some relief to the victims of rape – the ultimate violence that occupies the dark end of a spectrum of suggestions, unsolicited remarks, straying hands and force.
Whether they acknowledge the patriarchy or not, opponents of abortion ultimately seek to maintain a status quo that limits women’s bodily autonomy and coerces them into permanent motherhood or life-threatening illegal procedures. While people who are against abortion do not need to have one, it is strange that they feel entitled to make this decision on behalf of every fertile woman in Sri Lanka, ignorant of context and untouched by the consequences of their actions.
It is possible to lobby to make Sri Lanka a better place for unwed mothers, to improve the quality of life of disabled people and demand that resources be allocated to improve existing systems of social care for children, but in doing so, you have to still accept that this debate happens in the gritty, unpleasant, cash-strapped version of Sri Lanka, not the utopian version we sell in our civics books.
Opponents of abortion might believe that life is sacred, and must be protected at all costs and to legalize abortion would violate the inalienable right to life. The consensus on when life begins is a murky area for scientists and ethicists alike, perhaps because defining the characteristics of life is a complicated endeavour. Whether it is at conception or on the basis of possessing a consciousness, spine, capacity for pain, or heartbeat, there is no clear or arbitrary basis by which we define when life starts.
But let’s just assume that life begins at conception. Are we forced to acknowledge that the foetus has the same moral standing as a human female in society? Why should the state apparatus prioritize a bundle of cells at the expense of the physical wellbeing, mental health, dreams and aspirations of an established member of society?
The pro-life stance posits that the right to life of a foetus outweighs the choice of the adult. But this choice severely impacts the quality of life of that individual for the rest of their life. We recognize that mere existence is not living, and human beings should have the right to a quality of life, which is why we try to combat poverty and envision a world without traffic. We even support efforts to curtail potential lives on the basis that quality is more important than quantity. When contraception and family planning is promoted, it is done so on the principle that more children is not always a good thing. We concede that children should not be born into families that are unable and unwilling to support them.
The right to life is considered so inalienable, because life is sacred. Who decides what is sacred and why, is a question which does not usually have a secular answer. Furthermore, it is clear from the abundant death and destruction around us, that not all permutations of life gain the sacred stamp of approval. In many countries it is legal for terminally ill patients to end their own lives, as tangible quality of life is more important than an abstract sacred concept of life. Moreover, an individual can sign orders instructing doctors not to resuscitate him, underlining the fact that people can choose in some way or form, to reject life. In Sri Lanka, we accept and even glorify, the ending of lives in war and in self-defense, where self-interest overrules sanctity. In instances where people are on life support or in a coma, some states afford their next of kin the choice to terminate care. These examples are not meant to trivialize life or suggest that murder is a desirable hobby, but rather to emphasize the fact that the blanket claim “life is sacred,” is simplistic and cruelly insulting to the individuals who have had to make these difficult choices. It is not a zero sum game. These decisions are not easy, but they are facilitated by state structures, thus entrusting those who know the most about their situation, to make a decision suited to them. It acknowledges the messy reality of life and trusts people to weigh costs and benefits and make complex moral decisions in a grey and confusing world.
The more interesting question though, is not if we are permitted to end life, but if we are obliged to save one.
Consider an onlooker who chances upon a man drowning in a river. He is not legally bound to jump in and save the drowning man, even if he is an excellent swimmer and the only person in sight; essentially the best and only candidate for the job. He may do so, based on his own moral code and values, but we do not dictate that he must suffer risks or even exert himself, to save the life of another. Scaling up this logic, the state does not require that we become compulsory organ donors upon our death, even if this would save multiple lives, at zero cost to our own for obvious reasons. States cannot compel us to be superheroes, because they realize these instances are so context dependent. Women are the only exemption. The same onlooker has no obligation to stop a woman getting raped, but once she is raped and pregnant, she is expected to sustain the life of a foetus, despite the risks and effects of pregnancy. Women are expected to bear the ordeal of pregnancy and the pain of childbirth, and put their dreams on hold, so that they can sustain another human.
They are forced to do so, because motherhood and pregnancy are still extolled as things that all women, deep down in their shrewish hearts, should want. We think that abortion is unacceptable because we do not entertain the notion that women’s reasons for avoiding motherhood are valid. It is worth considering that those who support abortion do not abhor motherhood. Rather, they consider it a life-changing decision that is too important to be left to whims of fate. Right now, motherhood hovers over every fertile woman in Sri Lanka, and we can do nothing but place our trust in the reliability of condoms and the goodness of men.
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Editors note: Also read The Abortion Debate: Mismatched and Misplaced?The Abortion Debate: The Absence of Questions and Abortion, Women and Personhood on the same issue, published recently on Groundviews.