The United Nations has taken what seems a thoroughly egregious decision towards a member-state by suspending the fresh induction of an entire army for its peacekeeping operations due to the recent appointment of an army commander facing hitherto unproven allegations of war crimes. The decision is kicking in the face the Western legal principle of [...]


‘Guilty until proven innocent’


The United Nations has taken what seems a thoroughly egregious decision towards a member-state by suspending the fresh induction of an entire army for its peacekeeping operations due to the recent appointment of an army commander facing hitherto unproven allegations of war crimes.

The decision is kicking in the face the Western legal principle of the ‘presumption of innocence’ and that one is innocent until proven guilty. What is more, it is arguably an unprecedented step of questioning the right of a sovereign state to make a legitimate internal appointment.

As we have said before, the appointment by the President of the incumbent army commander was a questionable one for purely domestic reasons. But there is no ambiguity whatsoever in his constitutional right to make that appointment.

This very army commander was good enough for the same UN to accept his credentials when he served as the deputy ambassador of Sri Lanka to the UN in New York. These allegations from questionable NGOs existed even then. This time, however, because there is some noise from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on these still unproven allegations, the whole army and the nation is insulted. If the UN has “credible allegations” against the army commander why does it not spit it out?

The US President just a few days ago, told the UN General Assembly the world belongs to “patriots”, not “globalists”. Maybe he is wrong. But even so, it seems his diplomats do not seem to agree with him.  And so, what is the Sri Lankan Government going to do about this right royal snub? One part of the Government might even be revelling in the egg now on the face of the President and Commander-in-chief. At least Foreign Secretary has raised issue in New York yesterday. If it only had the guts, it would withdraw its 650 man UN contingent now keeping the peace in Lebanon, Mali and South Sudan and ask the United Nations Peace Keeping Operations to go to hell.

Coal a climate villain

Just the week that young Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg took the world by storm with her climate strikes and impassioned speeches, and the UN had a summit on climate change, Sri Lanka’s Cabinet approved the addition of another 300 megawatts of coal power to the national grid.

A Carnegie Institution for Science study shows that emissions from burning a lump of coal or a gallon of gas has an effect on the climate 100,000 times greater than the heat given off by burning the fossil fuel itself.  And, the heat trapped by those emissions can be felt within just a few months of the fuel being burned. Burning fossil fuels is the globe’s biggest source of human-caused greenhouse gases and the primary cause of climate change.

Nations around the world are phasing out coal in an effort to control global warming but Sri Lankan policymakers feel the need to buck the trend—as if the critical and urgent problem of climate change is just not our business. Even annual floods, droughts and rising frequency of natural disasters have not brought home the message.

Trek a little out of Colombo and farmers will bear testimony to how weather patterns have changed significantly over the years. Today, their crops are destroyed not only due to prolonged periods of far more intense drought than previously experienced. They perish because, when the rains arrive, they come down hard.

What used to be showers spread over longer spells with time aplenty for gentle soil absorption and appropriate filling of water bodies are now torrential downpours lasting over a few days, beating down on crops so fiercely that their flowers drop and cultivations rot. Subsistence farmers rely on rain-fed cultivation. And these erratic weather patterns also affect inland fisheries.

Changing temperatures are encouraging the spread of invasive species of pests and plants that have destroyed acres of farmland in the recent past. We will feel the pinch when food production takes a far more severe hit than we have seen so far.

Sri Lanka has a problem. It does not accept the reality of climate change. Its responses are piecemeal, if any. The Climate Change Secretariat sends officials to countless international conferences, but is powerless to, or ineffective at, influencing policy.

The electricity and transport sectors burn fuel as if global warming is a myth. When the UN Secretary General urges nations to have no more coal power plants by 2020, Sri Lanka coasts in the opposite direction. The Ceylon Electricity Board is planning one even in 2039.The land height of Colombo Port City is half a metre. Some parts of Jaffna and Batticaloa are just six inches above sea level. What will a metre’s rise in sea level by 2100 do? Colombo will never be flood free after high rains. And, when storm surges that happened in once in 100 years happen every year, parts of the coast line in South-West and East will be uninhabitable.

If Sri Lankans do not wake up to these realities, we will not have anyone to blame but ourselves. The connection between climate change and the extremes in weather experienced now is a result of climate change and we are doing nothing but intermittently, uselessly, treating the symptoms.

A referendum on Nov. 16

The theatrics across both sides of the ‘big pond’ (the Atlantic Ocean) must be eagerly watched by students of politics around the world. It has some direct relevance to the on-off debate in Sri Lanka on whether to continue with the Executive Presidency. Both, the Executive Presidency in the United States and the Parliamentary system in the UK are under fire, what with the US President facing impeachment for violating his oath and the UK Prime Minister being found to have misled the Queen in proroguing Parliament.

The two cases are classic examples that not only do both systems have deficiencies, but that an Executive President or a Prime Minister can both be equally dictatorial. It is just how effective are the checks and balances to rein them in.

There are other models currently being practised in the world. In the Chinese one-party system where the Communist Party (which is anything but Communist) controls the country, and the people have no vote to choose the top leaders. They can only vote the lower-level leaders who will then select the top leaders. But the country at least outwardly, is stable, and economically thriving. The Russians are more democratic but with flawed elections, and where dissent is squashed with a heavy hand.

So, where does Sri Lanka stand? A country that has got accustomed to elections since 1931 and frequently changing its leaders, it is grappling with systems of government. The old saying; “for forms of government let fools contest; that which is best administered, is best” rings true.

Forty years of the Executive Presidency has shown the fallibility of those who sat on that chair; and the faceless persons behind that throne accountable to no one has failed the country. A referendum of the people will be one way to test the pulse of the people — and what better time to do so than on November 16.

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