As the United Nations began celebrating its 75th anniversary beneath a pall of COVID restrictions, and  asked member states to answer the theme question ‘What We Need of the United Nations,’ Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s pithy reply was: ‘We expect the United Nation will place due emphasis on non-interference in domestic affairs of other [...]


Hands off states’ internal affairs, President tells the United Nations

20A tabled in House: 18 petitions before Supreme Court as SJB asks 20A to be placed before people at referendum

As the United Nations began celebrating its 75th anniversary beneath a pall of COVID restrictions, and  asked member states to answer the theme question ‘What We Need of the United Nations,’ Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s pithy reply was: ‘We expect the United Nation will place due emphasis on non-interference in domestic affairs of other states.’

In a pre-recorded statement delivered via video conferencing to the High-Level Meeting to mark the 75th Anniversary Summit of the United Nations on Monday, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said, ‘At a time when the world is facing a common and an unrivalled threat, the “United Nations We Need”, I am certain, will place due emphasis on the sovereign equality of States, respect for territorial integrity and non-interference in their domestic affairs”.

PRESIDENT GOTABAYA: Addressing UN's 75th Anniversary Summit via video conferencing

The President said he firmly believes that partnerships fostered between Member States and the UN continues at their best when no country is held hostage to the interests of a few.

‘Non-interference in the domestic affairs of other states?’ Haven’t heard that one for some time?

It has, indeed, taken a long, long time for that line to escape the lips of a Sri Lankan President or Government. During the Tiger terrorist war years and at its climactic  heights when the United Nations started to express untoward concern, the constant refrain of Sri Lanka has been to  tell the UN or any other nation, especially, India,  that dared to meddle in her affairs  where to get off the bus and to keep its hands off Lanka.

It was then, of course, the fashionable age old ideology that what a nation did with her own people was her sole affair and it was none of anyone else’s business to poke their noses into it, based on the then sacrosanct concept of the sovereignty of nations, including the right of governments to butcher its own people if it felt so inclined.

But much water has flowed under the bridge since then that it  has eroded  this once inviolate concept, and today the international community has  realised that it can no longer look askance when Governments of member states, even democratically elected ones, take cover  behind this once impenetrable shield of sovereignty to supress the internationally recognised fundamental rights of humanity. These rights are not indigenous to a certain area but are transcendent, they are rights without borders. Inviolate rights which, if infringed, give the international community the right to lift the veil of sovereignty and act, if need be by force.

It is the mandate the United Nations Commission of Human Rights has to probe instances where rights have been violated; and, in certain cases, even before they are violated.

For instance, when the Government gazetted the 20 Amendment Draft to the Constitution, there were not only shrieks of protests made locally at the prospect of the executive presidency being strengthened to an unwarranted extent and Parliament reduced to a presidential play thing which could be dissolved in toto at presidential whim the moment it ceased to amuse, the UNHRC issued a statement decrying the draft amendment.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said  the proposed 20th Amendment may negatively impact the independence of key institutions, including the National Human Rights Commission. She was troubled that the new Government of Sri Lanka is swiftly reneging on its commitments to the Human Rights Council since it withdrew its support for resolution 30/1.

“The surveillance and intimidation of victims, their families, human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers should cease immediately. I encourage the Council to give renewed attention to Sri Lanka, in view of the need to prevent threats to peace, reconciliation and sustainable development,” she said on Monday 14 September.

These comments were given short shrift by the Lankan Government on September 15. Though it fell short of telling off the UNHRC Chief to mind her own business and state not to interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation, Lanka’s Acting Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Dayani Mendis, said the comments made by the UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet on the proposed 20th Amendment are unwarranted and pre-judgemental, based on presumption. The draft 20A submitted through Parliament will be discussed, debated, following a complete democratic process.

After this brief standoff with the UN Human Rights Council, Sri Lanka formerly put the entire United Nations on notice a week later  on Monday the 21st, not to interfere in her internal affairs and planted  the signboard firmly on the land stating, ‘Do Not Trespass’. This was done at the UN’s 75 years Anniversary Summit for the whole world to take note of and avoid stepping on the grass.

The day following the President’s address to the UN not to mess around with Lanka’s domestic affairs and encroach on her sovereignty, the Government tabled the 20th Amendment Draft Bill in Parliament as scheduled. It was as it had been gazetted. The Original Monty without a comma or a colon changed. Any changes to the controversial bill will be considered at the committee stage, the Government had declared.

The bill was presented to Parliament amidst uproar. And though the election had decimated the opposition, the din of protest that swelled from its eunuchised ranks was not muted nor diminished.  The opposition’s disquiet over the vista the 20 Amendment Draft Bill had in store for both Parliament and nation if enacted, found voice vibrant enough to resound throughout the chamber and passionate enough to quell its defenders.

By Friday afternoon, 18 petitions challenging the bill were filed in the Supreme Court. The hearings are expected to begin on Tuesday and are estimated to last 3 weeks. Among the petitioners is the main opposition party, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya.

The SJB petition states that the proposed 20th Amendment is inconsistent with the Constitution and that it requires not only a two-thirds majority in Parliament but approval by the people at a referendum for it to be enacted.

In its petition, the SJB claims that the 20 amendment

violates people’s sovereignty and franchise enshrined in Article (3) and (4) of the Constitution;

is inconsistent with the public trust doctrine and the principle of checks and balances and would prejudicially affect public finance;.

seeks to repeal Article 156A of the Constitution, which provides constitutional recognition to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption;

seeks to repeal the prohibition on dual citizens being elected to Parliament and to the post of President;

seeks to curtail the power of the Auditor General to audit state institutions

seeks to make an omission by the President no longer challengeable in the Supreme Court through a fundamental rights violation petition;

seeks to further enhance the powers of the President by allowing him to unilaterally remove the Prime Minister and to make the President not accountable to  Parliament;

seeks to enable the President to dissolve Parliament after a general election

Thus, as things stand today, it will lie in the hands of a Supreme Court bench of Judges to decide whether a government with a two-thirds majority can steamroll its way through the House to make the proposed amendment law or whether the right to sanction such a radical change will be returned to the people to decide through a referendum what form of government they deserve to receive and live under.

Harin comes a cropper in Cardinal slander blastIt may be due, perhaps, to SJB member Harin Fernando’s singularly wise decision to give up seeking the people’s mandate to take his seat in Parliament but to slip in to the House through the rear door without sweat, that has made him fling his Catholic caution and catechism to the winds and cast baseless accusations against the Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith that has made him come a cropper for the second time within three months.

And this new habit of his has made his vexed party leader Sajith Premadasa, poor fellow, go down on his knees to clean the mess left behind and grovel before the altar atoning for Harin’s sins.

He first flung his stone at the Cardinal, as Harin must recall now as he peers through the glass paned windows of his Hotel Shangri-La luxury apartment staring at the rising Port City, in June when he accused him of playing politics. Addressing an election meeting, he said, “We all know that 80% of Catholic votes traditionally support the UNP. They carried out a well-thought-out plan to drive them away. Cardinal Ranjith said certain ministers, whose fathers knew of the Easter Sunday attacks, managed to protect themselves. That statement alone was a part of that politically orchestrated plan.” Sajith had to follow, soon after, with poop tray in hand to clean the stink, which may have cost other SJB candidates who contesting the elections and not coming through the National List, an inestimable amount of Catholic votes as a result of that remark. Harin confessed his sin of ignorance and, perhaps, after a few Hail Mary’s, a truce was struck.

CARDINAL: Harin asks did he or did he not know?

Now the fireworks have started again. It ignited at the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday bombings last April when Harin was questioned of the prior knowledge he had received from his hospitalised father who had warned him not to attend Easter mass, especially at St. Anthony’s Church, Kochchikade.

Whilst being questioned by the State Counsel, Harin requested to make a statement and proceeded to do so. He said, ‘The Catholic Church could not have been unaware of the impending attack.’

When cross-examined by President’s Counsel Shammil Perera, who looks after the Cardinal’s interests in the proceedings, whether he had evidence to back his claim, Harin said he hadn’t. He then insinuated that Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, too, had had prior information of a possible attack and, as a result, had not celebrated Easter Mass in public on that fateful day.

This was indeed a damaging slander to level at His Eminence the Cardinal. He was thus accused through innuendo of exposing his flock to death and injury by not warning them of the impending attack on churches whilst he himself had saved his own skin by keeping away from church that morning.

HARIN: Hard to believe none knew of Easter attack beforehand

Mr. Shammil Perera P.C. calmly asked Harin Fernando whether he was aware that by tradition the Archbishop Cardinal Ranjith presides over the solemn celebration of the Easter Vigil Service at midnight of Saturday which continues throughout the night and ends in the early hours of Sunday morning? Whether he was aware that subsequently, the Archbishop celebrates another Holy Mass at Archbishop’s House in the morning of Easter Sunday? And that Archbishop Cardinal Ranjith had done all that last year as well?

To all these three piercing, pertinent questions, Harin Fernando had to sheepishly answer ‘no’. He had not been aware that the Cardinal had attended these public functions and had not been hiding under his bed to save his cassocked hide as Harin claimed through innuendo? One year and five months after the Easter Sunday carnage and Harin Fernando had not bothered to check on the Cardinal’s public whereabouts on that Easter eve and Sunday morn before making his unfounded claim?

Leaving the Commission, Harin remained unrepentant. He told reporters that he found it ‘hard to believe that not a single DIG had not informed the Catholic Church of the impending attack’. One day soon the truth will be out, he warned.

Better he awaits the advent of that day before opening his gab and casting calumnies against men of the cloth and others without a shred of evidence to support his claims. The freedom of speech is not the freedom of the wild ass and does not cover what is incredulous to this burnt out politico whose slide from public popularity has, sadly, been meteoric in its descent.

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