The week of July 23 marks the 37th year of one of the darkest periods of Sri Lanka’s history. Beginning on this day and continuing for a week there were riots that targeted the Tamils living in the capital city of Colombo and elsewhere where they lived as a minority that led to death and destruction. The Sri Lankan state failed in its duty to protect its citizens. At the personal level the events of that day changed the course of life of many irreversibly and also the history of Sri Lanka. The loss spanned life, property, memories and material treasures that constitute personal histories in the lives of families. In national terms, the communal divide became further entrenched which may have been the cause for the rise of Tamil armed struggle to a mass scale with systematic international intervention soon following.
The government has recently been appointing ad hoc bodies to find answers to issues of governance. One of these recently established bodies is the Presidential Task Force for Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province. This comprises high level security forces personnel and a few others who will be tasked with dealing with complex issues of history, identity and land use. The task force on Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province has been mandated to identify sites of archaeological importance in the Eastern Province and identify the extent of land that should be allocated for such archaeological sites and take necessary measures to allocate them properly and legally. However, this presidential task force has no minority representation although the Eastern province has a population that is over 75 percent Tamil and Muslim.
මේ සතිය ආරම්භයේ දී රට පුරා දහවල් කාලය තුළ පනවා තිබූ ඇඳිරි නීතිය ඉවත් කිරීම මගින් මහජනතාවගේ දෛනික ජීවිතය යථා තත්වයට පත් කිරීමට ඇති හැකියාව පිළිබඳ රජයේ ඇති අධිෂ්ඨානය සහ විශ්වාසය පිළිඹිබු වේ. රජයේ මෙම තීරණය විශේෂයෙන්ම පිළගනු ලබන්නේ සාමාන්ය තත්වයක් තුළ ආර්ථික හා සමාජ ගණුදෙනු මත තම ජීවනෝපායන් රදා පවතින මහජනයා විසිනි. කෙසේනමුත්, රජය විසින් ඇඳිරි නීතිය ලිහිල් කර තිබුණ ද තත්වය සියයට සියයක් සාමාන්ය තත්වයට පත්ව නොමැති බවත් ඇඳිරි නීතිය අඛණ්ඩව පවතින බවත් සෞඛ්ය සේවා අධ්යක්ෂක ජෙනරාල් අනිල් ජාසිංහ මහතා අනතුරු අඟවා තිබේ. මෙමගින් ඇඟවෙන්නේ සිය ජීවනෝපාය උපයා ගැනීමටත් සිය යැපෙන්නන්ගේ අවශ්යතා ඉටුකරීමටත් අපොහෙසත්ව සිටින පිරිස සඳහා අඛණ්ඩව සහන සැලසීමේ අවශ්යතාවයයි.
The lifting of the day time curfew in all parts of the country from the beginning of this week reflects the government’s determination and confidence to restore normalcy to the lives of people. This government decision will be welcomed especially by those whose very livelihoods depend on the economic and social transactions that normalcy makes possible. However, Health Services Director General Anil Jasinghe has warned that although the government had relaxed the curfew the situation is not normalised hundred per cent and curfews are continuing. This suggests the need to continue with Covid relief measures to assist those who continue to find it difficult to earn their livelihood and provide sustenance to their dependents.
The rapid spread of the Covid virus throughout the world has infected more than 2 million people and led to over 150,000 deaths at the present time. The understanding of the spread of the virus, which is highly contagious, is still evolving. It is in these circumstances that a controversy has developed in Sri Lanka regarding safety issues on whether persons whose death is due to the Covid virus could be buried or cremated. The government has decided that those whose deaths are caused by the Covid virus should be cremated and the Ministry of Health has issued a regulation to that effect.
The efforts to restrict the spread of the Covid virus continues in Sri Lanka with the state agencies that are at the forefront of this work giving of their best at great risk to themselves. However, the prolonged 24 hour non-stop curfew and accompanying lockdown are also becoming more difficult for the general population to cope with. In situations of crisis, there is a temptation to find a common enemy which can take communal overtones. There are hate stories on the social media that members of a particular community are responsible for most of the Covid infections, which has been articulated even in the mainstream media. This is a continuation of a phenomenon that has been gathering in strength and which peaked with the Easter bombing by Islamic extremists.
Sri Lanka is facing an unprecedented crisis due to the COVID-19 virus. The government has taken firm and decisive actions on an emergency basis. These include the imposition of a 24 hour curfew that is now entering its fourth week in some areas continuously. The National Peace Council expresses its appreciation for those at the front lines of COVID mitigation efforts of the government, especially those in the medical profession, the security forces, the public service and those in essential services including private sector food and medicine logistical services who have been deployed for this task, and to the political leadership that is doing what is difficult in the national interest.
The presidential pardon given to an army soldier convicted and sentenced to death by the courts of law, including the Supreme Court, has generated severe criticism from political parties, human rights organisations and citizens groups. The eight killings for which this soldier was convicted were particularly brutal and included three children under the age of 18 with one being only five years old. The pardon is unacceptable because the events relating to the conviction do not even fall into the category of collateral damage, often used as a justification for civilian deaths on the battle field.
The COVID-19 pandemic has raised serious questions about the capacity of the current political and economic systems in many states to deal with a crisis of this nature. Sri Lanka, along with the rest of the world, is in an unprecedented crisis of enormous magnitude that has to be overcome with cooperation, solidarity and collective action. There has to be cooperation across all strata and groups with people helping people, especially those who are marginalised, daily wage earners and persons with disabilities who have no place to go. Sri Lanka has long prided itself as having an educated population. This is the time to show the world that our understanding of the crisis is real, and even as the lockdown and curfew continue, that we are willing to abide by the strictest measures necessary to control its spread.
A set of guidelines issued by the Mullaitivu District Secretariat to all non-governmental organisations working in the district has notified them that their work should be focused on infrastructure development and not on soft skill training. Examples of the latter that are provided are women’s empowerment, child rights, youth training, human rights, land rights training, and formation and strengthening of self-help groups. The district secretariat has said that action plans of organisations that contain “less than 70 percent of physical infrastructure activities, such as construction of rural roads, wells and preschools, will not receive its approval”, which may be an indication of the district’s needs rather than a policy statement.