Trilingual sign boards and sign posts in Colombo perhaps impressed the visiting United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay.
Upon arrival in the country on Sunday morning, and meeting with Chief Justice Mohan Peiris, Attorney General Palitha Fernando and Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem, on the following day, Ms. Pillay called on National Languages and Social Integration Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara.
The meeting of the UN Human Rights Commissioner with Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara, National Languages and Social Integration Ministry Secretary Ms. M.Wickramasinghe and other officials took place at 11.30 am.
Ms. Navanethem Pillai while apologising for being late for the meeting, referred to the hospitality of Sri Lankan people.
Minister Nanayakkara, assigned for the implementation of some of the recommendations made by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), met with Ms. Pillay who centred her queries mainly on the language policy of the Government and the future of the 13th Amendment.
The Government of Sri Lanka, as part of its efforts to promote national reconciliation, introduced the trilingual policy. The Department of Official Languages which comes under Nanayakkara’s Ministry acts as a facilitator for the effective implementation of the language policy as enshrined in articles 18 and 19 – Chapter IV of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (1978). The Constitution recognises Sinhala and Tamil as national languages and English as the link language.
‘Sign boards show a good sign’
Ms. Pillay who had noticed that name and sign boards in Colombo bear all three languages asked whether it was the same in other parts of Sri Lanka. The Minister replied in the affirmative, and went on to explain the specific importance of the two national languages.
Tamil is the predominant language used in the North and the East while the majority of the population in the South use Sinhala as their language for speaking and writing, the Minister said.
30,000 officers promoting bilingualism
Minister Nanayakara, an advocate for power sharing, stressed that genuine reconciliation could be brought about only through power devolution.
He said the vision of his Ministry was to strengthen the bond between Sinhala and Tamil people through bilingualism, and approximately 30,000 officers were involved in promoting bilingualism.
The period between July 15 and July 22 has been declared as the Social Integration Week of each year. He described the activities of the Social Integration Week and elaborated on the following measures aimed at boosting cultural bonds between the communities.
The implementation of LLRC recommendations, devolving of power to ensure peaceful co-existence along with social, economic and political advancement of the communities were among them.
What’s the fate of 13A?
Ms. Pillay commended the reconciliation effort, the social integration process and especially the programmes of the Social Integration Week. During the meeting, she welcomed the creation of the Law and Order Ministry.
She asked Minister Nanayakkara, a Member of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), whether there were any attempts to reverse the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The Minister declined to give information on the subject due to the legal binding he had as a Member of the PSC. However, he said he did not foresee any changes at the moment.
The UN Human Rights Commissioner also welcomed the government’s 10 year trilingual programme ensuring language rights of minorities.
Clamp down on hate speech
National Languages and Social Integration Ministry Secretary Ms.Wickramasinghe said during the meeting the following action has been initiated to ensure national unity.
The prohibition of hate speech in any form by any group, the holding of a National Conference involving community leaders and religious leaders with the purpose of identifying one Sri Lankan Nation, the establishment of a National Institute of Language Education Training for students, teachers, and officers of the state sector to acquire language proficiency and the establishment of Language Societies for the general public, were among them.
For further clarification on these steps, the Minister invited Dr. Sunimal Fernando, who is in charge of the Presidential Initiative in achieving a trilingual Sri Lanka –10 year plan, to address the gathering.
The Minister, in his closing remarks mentioned that although there is a provision in the constitution to say that the language of administration should be Tamil in the North and the East and Sinhala in the Western and other provinces, it does not prevent any member of the public to request for service in the language of his or her choice.
The Human Rights Commissioner, in her closing remarks thanked the Minister for sending her the comprehensive report on the activities of his Ministry to-date. However, she had been able to read only a few sections of it because of her late arrival in the country and the subsequent busy schedule.
Ms. Pillay briefed on weliweriya incident
Followed by the meeting with the Minister, Ms. Pillay had another meeting with the representatives of civil society organisations such as the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), Sarvodaya and People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL).
Apart from references to long standing issues regarding rights violations, these representatives made remarks about the military crackdown on people who demonstrated in Weliweriya and Rathupaswala against the contamination of drinking water in these areas.
The Weliweriya incident which saw the killing of three youths shook the popularity of the government. During the last week’s parliamentary debate, the ruling party MPs were instructed to be cautious when speaking on the subject. At the group meeting chaired by the Leader of the House Nimal Siripala de Silva, such instructions were given as Minister Basil Rajapaksa had already apologised to the people over the incident.
Paikyasothy raises concerns
CPA Executive Director Dr. Paikyasothy Saravanamuthu said he particularly raised the issues of militarisation in the North. He said though the Police Department had
been placed under a new ministry after de-linking it from the Defence Ministry, it would not serve the intended purpose.
“Again it will be headed by the same minister. Also, the secretary of the new ministry is a retired military officer,” he said.
PAFFREL Executive Director Rohana Hettiarachchi exclusively spoke of matters pertaining to the conducting of the Provincial Council election. He spelled out details about steps being taken to ensure a free and fair election, particularly in the North.
Election laws openly flouted
While Ms. Pillay was busy with her schedule, even cutting short some of her meetings with important figures, the political parties remained focused on their campaign work for the Provincial Council elections in three provinces. The election law is continually being flouted mostly in the North Western and Central Provinces. It has become so common a phenomenon in the country today, that people are hardly bothered about it.
As per the law, the stickers bearing party symbols and preferential numbers are allowed to be pasted only on vehicles with candidates on board. Without adhering to this principle, stickers are on display at the back of many three wheelers in most electioneering areas. Party offices have been put up virtually at every junction though a candidate is permitted to have only one for each polling district.
Money power and muscle power
Cut-outs and posters are visible at every nook and corner. The Transparency International, in its August 26 press release, said even helicopters had been used in electioneering by some candidates in the Central Province. Money, power and muscle power have become the most sought after tools by candidates eager to secure their electoral success.
Canvassing children of the fifth grade
Ignorant of the basics of the election law, at one incident in Jaffna last Sunday, the supporters of a particular candidate were distributing leaflets among schoolchildren on their way home after the Grade 5 Scholarship Examination.
People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) released the photos of this incident to the Media on Monday.
Police mere onlookers
The police have been reduced to mere onlookers of these violations. The police role, in the control of election law violations, has not been up to the mark according to election observers. As the situation unfolds with more and more malpractices and frauds, the candidates - moneyed and politically patronised by the Ministers, make their way to the top office of provincial councils, pushing the less privileged candidates and political parties to the back seat of governance, come what may their abilities to deliver to the people.
There are complaints received by the election observers that police officers and public servants are engaged in propaganda work of candidates who are close relatives of the Government Ministers.
It reminds people of the old adage that ‘what to do if both the fence and ‘niyara’ (shallow bund that holds water in paddy fields) devour the paddy crop (Wetath Niyarath Goyam Kaanam, Kaata Kiyamida Ema Amaaruwa).
Pillay’s visit makes ripple effects on stage
Ruling party politicians, involved in campaigning for the provincial council election, cast aspersions at Ms. Pillay’s visit to the country. The government has been critical of the UNHRC resolutions on the country, saying they were merely unjustifiable and uncalled for. It is seen as a well concerted attempt by certain sections of the international community to place Sri Lanka on the international agenda at regular times despite numerous other cases in the world seeking such UN attention.
Addressing an election rally in support of UPFA candidate Tikiri Adhikari in the Polgahawela area, Sabaragamuwa Chief Minister Mahipala Herath sarcastically rhymed Pillay, the last name of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for ‘Pilliya’ the Sinhalese word meaning a ‘plague’
“The President has the strength to withstand any Pilliya inimical to the forward march of the country,” he told the gathering amid applause. We do not have any competition from the opposition,” he said.
Maithri defines UNP malaise
Sri Lanka Freedom Party General Secretary Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena , in the meantime, bemoaned what he called the political plight of the main opposition United National Party(UNP). He said the UNP’s internal strife, started by the rebellion of late Ministers Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali way back in early 1990’s when R. Premadasa was the President, had not yet ended.
He said the UNP got a severe beating after President Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed office as the Head of this country.
During the campaign trail, former UNP MP Upatissa de Silva, with the aide of Sabaragamuwa Provincial Minister Ranjith Bandara, walked into the room of Mahipala Herath. Taken aback by the sudden appearance of a former UNP strongman, the Chief Minister remarked, “Oh God, Upatissa Aiya”, and beckoned him a chair. De Silva was once the Deputy Transport Minister under a UNP regime. He was a long standing UNP organiser for the Rakwana electorate. De Silva had come seeking help from the Chief Minister on some matters.
“You should have given me a call and got it done, instead of bothering to come here,” the Chief Minister said.
Basil hails family unity
On Monday, there was an opening of a new tea factory in the Deniyaya area of the Matara District. The function was attended by Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, Investment Promotion Minister LakshmanYapa Abeywardane and UNP Galle District MP Gayantha Karunatilake and former UNP Matara District MP Sagala Ratnayake.
Factory owner Jinadasa, in his address to the audience said, he had ten siblings, and the unity among them was the key to his family’s success in the tea industry as the family now owns 12 factories.
Meanwhile, Minister Rajapaksa also stressed the importance of unity among siblings of a family. He said there are nine siblings in his family, and all are in unity with one another. “That is a source of strength,” he said.
Fewer jobs for motor mechanics in Gampaha
Also, Minister Rajapaksa said roads are so smooth now in his Gampaha electorate that suspension system of vehicles rarely breaks down.“There are fewer jobs for motor mechanics as a result,” he said.
Upon hearing these remarks, MP Karunatilake and Ratnayake murmured to each other that there were plenty of jobs for motor mechanics in their areas as roads were in bad condition.