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Presentation at a meeting of the Pakistan Liberal Forum – Islamabad, 11th September 2012


I am grateful to the
Pakistan Liberal Forum for having invited me to speak today at your seminar on Challenges for Democracy in the upcoming Elections. Though you have suggested I present a regional perspective, it would be more practical I think for me to talk about democracy in Sri Lanka and the challenges we have faced, which may perhaps have lessons for you in Pakistan too.

Sri Lanka has been a functioning democracy for 80 years now, with Universal Adult Franchise bestowed on us by the British in 1931. That they gave us a privilege you in the then united subcontinent did not receive for over a decade longer is not a tribute to us, but rather a function of our small size and the perception that, whatever happened, we would not be a threat to the Empire. We were given not only the opportunity to select a legislature, but also an approximation to Cabinet government with seven Ministers chosen from amongst the members of the Legislature. Needless to say, though, there were three appointed Ministers, for Law and Finance and what was termed Chief Secretary, while Defence and External Affairs were kept in the hands of the Governor.

We followed the classic Westminster model which, as you know, does not separate the Executive from the Legislature. All members of the Cabinet were chosen from the Legislature, but unlike in Britain this soon turned into membership of the Legislature being seen as the main qualification for becoming a Minister.  Ability was not considered important, and seniority seemed a sufficient claim.

There were a few exceptions, and I can also think of one case where a man of recognized ability was brought into a safe seat, a practice that the British had, so as to bring in people of talent. More importantly they also had a House of Lords to which proven talent could be introduced, which India for instance still continues with, in the form of the Rajya Sabha. As you know, several of the most distinguished Ministers in the Indian cabinet have not faced the hustings, but are in effect appointed.

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Speech of Prof Rajiva Wijesinha at the session on
Clauses for a Sustainable Political Relationship in Trade Agreements: Effective Against Possible Threats to Democracy?
At the Summit of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats with the
Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, Brussels, June 2012

To cite the preamble to this dialogue between Asian and European Liberals, we agree that, ‘from a liberal standpoint, it is mutually beneficial for countries to engage in trade, and free trade is one of the means to lift countries out of poverty.’ Unfortunately this ideal is under attack for a variety of reasons, and most of the attacks come, it should be noted, from powerful countries. Thus we need to worry – and I hope Liberals in the West will help us to overcome this worry, given their own ideals – as to whether, again to cite the preamble, ‘trade, instead of forging a mutually beneficial partnership between developed and developing countries, has been a mechanism to subject the latter into a dependent relationship.’

The most obvious example of this in recent times is the pressure exercised by the United States to force countries to stop trade with Iran. The excuse for this is suspicions about Iranian nuclear ambitions, but there is little doubt that there are no reasons for these suspicions, given the international mechanisms to deal with these, except intrinsic American hostility to Iran. Given that on the previous occasion on which America acted because of purported suspicions with regard to nuclear weapons, the pretext turned out to be palpably false, a process of induction suggests that now too the world is being dragooned into conflict – and in the process the ideal of free trade is being traduced, with no concern for development as opposed to vindictive dogma.

What I find saddest about such actions is the total silence of our Liberal colleagues around the world about this appalling behavior. It is true that most of Europe refused to be dragged into war in Iraq, and it was a British Labour government that proved President Bush’s staunchest ally. The British Liberal Democrats behaved much better on that occasion than the main Conservative opposition. But their failure now, when in government, to demand accountability, to pursue more carefully the appalling fate of David Kelly, to look into the strong evidence provided by the former ambassador to Uzbekhistan, Craig Murray, now a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, of collusion in human rights violations by the British and American governments, is most disappointing. In such a context, to fail to speak out loud and clear about the current American policy towards Iran seems to me culpable, and I hope our colleagues here will strive to remedy the situation.

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Expanded version of closing remarks at the
Seminar on “Liberalism: It’s All About Freedom”
arranged in Ulaan Baatar by the Civil Will Green Party of Mongolia
together with the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats and the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung
May 24th 2012

I was not expecting to conclude this seminar, but it is a pleasure to do so since the interaction between liberal thought and the situation here in Mongolia has been most stimulating. I suspect that the biding image I will take with me is the comment by Mr Demirel, with his distinguished leadership of your dynamic Chamber of Commerce, that Mongolia is a nomadic country, and the essence of the nomadic life is freedom.

This freedom that we value so much is freedom not only to think and speak and act as each individual wishes, so long as they do not limit the freedom of other individuals; it is also freedom from the restrictions that limit the exercise of that freedom. For this last purpose the State is needed, which is why, though Liberals want a small state, they also require, as perhaps the most important leader of the FNS, Count Otto von Lambsdorff put it, a strong state. In that sense, to expand the sporting metaphor introduced by Rainer Adam, who has done so much through the FNS to promote Liberalism in Asia, we have to make sure that the state as referee is not also a play, but we also need the state to ensure that there is a level playing field. While pursuing equality is a mirage, we need to promote equality of opportunity, though through positive measures that expand opportunities for the deprived, not negative ones that restrict opportunities for the more fortunate.

Promoting both types of freedom can sometimes lead to tensions when different liberal thinkers place different priorities on the various freedoms we need, but perhaps for that very reason one of the freedoms we should value most is freedom from dogma. This freedom to think outside the prevailing box when circumstances require it lies at the heart of the history of liberal thought, which was so ably expounded by Lito Arlegue, Executive Director of CALD, in the first session.

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Presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha MP, Leader – Liberal Party of  Sri Lanka
And Presidential Adviser on Reconciliation to the President, Sri Lanka
On ‘The Global War on Terror: How Do the Liberals Respond?’
At the Seminar on “Liberalism: It’s All About Freedom”
Organized by the Civic Will Green Party of Mongolia
Ulaanbaatar, May 24th 2012

Let me first express my thanks to our hosts, the Civic Will Green Party of Mongolia, for having invited the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats to their country, and arranging this very timely seminar. The Friedrich Naumann Stiftung, which has supported CALD so graciously over the years, was established to promote freedom, and it is this core value of Liberalism that we must see as the bedrock, not only of our own philosophy, but also of equitable and sustainable development all over the world.

Freedom does not, we should emphasize, mean the freedom of the wild ass.

Freedom does not, we should emphasize, mean the freedom of the wild ass. As the former head of the FNS, Count Otto von Lambsdorff said, while Liberalism demands a small state, it also requires a strong state. Thus I believe my colleague who will talk about environmental issues will stress the need for forceful regulation, to ensure protection for vulnerable people and places. That is why true Liberalism, while being committed to a market economy, does not believe that market forces alone should dictate policy. The state must ensure that the vulnerable are protected, that a level playing field is promoted, that development is both balanced and enduring.

It is in this context that we must formulate our response as Liberals to what is described as the Global War on Terror. We are aware that terrorism is now a much greater threat than it was in the past. But we must also recognize that the world should not allow itself to be blinded into seeing terror as somehow connected primarily with Islam, following on the appalling events of September 11th 2001. That was an event that had long been brewing, and I fear that tacit encouragement had been given to its perpetrators over the years, when other priorities suggested to the West that terrorists could be a useful tool against more dangerous enemies – just as the West had believed that fundamentalism could be a useful tool against godless Communism.

The consequence was the apotheosis of the Taleban, guided by Al Qaeda, into the government of Afghanistan, a government that promoted international terrorism. Many have now forgotten that, when the US government first reacted forcefully to Taleban excesses against its own, the bombs it dropped killed personnel being trained to attack the Indian government in Kashmir. But that meant nothing, for over the previous decade, such terrorism had seemed an acceptable offshoot of support for fundamentalist terrorist against the Soviet Union – and in those days the West had seen India as an ally of the Eastern Bloc. Read the rest of this entry »

The following remarks had been prepared in the belief that speakers would have about 10 minutes each. However, speakers were only given a few minutes for a few introductory remarks, the rest of the 45 minutes for the opening section being devoted to answering questions from the Moderator. 

Unfortunately I had no chance to make my introductory remarks since I was asked to respond to what Callum McRae said. I thought this required some analysis, in the time he had taken, but it seemed I was expected to respond only briefly, and then make my introductory remarks. This was made clear only after I had responded, but I suppose Stephen Sackur was doing his best to have debate from the start and could not then give me another chance to put forward some points for response myself. 

So here they are now -

I am grateful to the Frontline Club for this opportunity to engage with at least half the Channel 4 team responsible for such effective attacks on Sri Lanka. I am sorry that Jon Snow dropped out after he heard that I would be attending this event, but I am used to that by now, given the manner in which Channel 4 has consistently refused to engage with me, except when the BBC kindly allowed me to highlight their pusillanimity on the Breakfast Show. The interview that followed I think made clear the sleight of hand in which Channel 4 had indulged, which explains why repeated requests for further live discussion have been turned down.

… the motivations of Channel 4, given the Mutual Friendships that in a more just world would have been identified as conflicts of interests.

What should have been a lively discussion then on media manipulation and media ethics, or the absence of them, has now been transformed. We have only the commercial side of Channel 4, the Golden Dustman adept at turning rubbish into lucre. Interestingly enough, Dickens provides yet another clue to the motivations of Channel 4, given the Mutual Friendships that in a more just world would have been identified as conflicts of interests.

Siobhain Mcdonagh’s Researcher

I am not talking only of the political motivations of Shirani Sabaratnam and Stuart Cosgrove, who actually voted in a preposterous LTTE rump election in this country. I am talking also of the researcher for Siobhain McDonagh who claimed to have supplied Channel 4 with video evidence, who changed his mind about sending me this evidence, doubtless because it would have been obvious that it was tainted. Instead he sent me another video that is so clearly manipulated that he was roundly scolded for engaging with me by his mentors. Much of the information about this is available on http://www.youtube.com/reconcilesrilanka and on my blog www.rajivawijesinha.wordpress.com at the time of the meetings covered in those videos[Part 1, Part 2, Part 3].

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Presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha at the Rotary South Asia Conference on Literacy, Kathmandu, March 2nd 2012

Mr Chairman, my distinguished fellow speakers Dr Shantha Sinha, Chair of the Indian National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, and Mr Qamar Zaman, Secretary of the Pakistan Ministry of Training, Rotarians, I hope I will be excused a small anecdote on relations between our countries before I begin my presentation. It arises from the impressive use at yesterday’s opening ceremony, graced by His Excellency the President of Nepal, of Hindi and Urdu quotations which so many of you seemed to understand; and then from the announcement this morning of the approval by Pakistan of Most Favoured Nation status to India to promote commercial links. I hope this will be the precursor to even greater friendship between the countries of the region, and a greater role for SAARC in promoting common initiatives in fields such as education.

My anecdote dates back to 2009, when Sri Lanka faced hostility at the Human Rights Council in Geneva from some Western nations, and our ambassador there found tremendous support from Asian countries and in particular from both India and Pakistan. The ambassadors from those two countries were his advisers in negotiations, and once it seemed, when he was under some pressure, I think it was from the Germans, and was inclined to yield, the Indian and Pakistani started talking in a language that no one else understood. Then they turned to him together and told him to stand firm. They were talking in Urdu, the language of the heart, as we heard yesterday, but also useful in less romantic contexts.

Prof Rajiva Wijesinha with Nepal’s Minister for Education Dinanath Sharma, RI President Kalyan Bannerjee, President of Nepal Dr Ram Baran Yadav, RI District Governor Basu Dev Golyan

To return to education, Sri Lanka has had an extremely good record as to literacy for well over half a century. Not only have we been consistently at over 90% during this time, but female literacy has also been commensurate with that of males. Coincidentally, the comparative excellence of Sri Lanka figured yesterday in some of the Indian newspapers that were discussing the UNICEF report released earlier in the week on the ‘State of the World’s Children’, and brought home to me again that we have much to be proud of, even though I have long argued that we can also do much better.

The reason for this exception – apart from the Maldives – as far as South Asia is concerned, as was noted in several speeches at your opening session last evening, is that we had a visionary Minister of Education from the time Sri Lankans were given executive responsibility through the Donoughmore Constitution of 1931. He built on the existing system which had begun with Christian missionary schools in the early to mid 19th century, and been expanded on when Buddhist and Hindu and Muslim societies realized the advantages education conferred. By 1931 there were excellent schools in almost all big towns in the country, often a Catholic and a Protestant school together with a Buddhist or Hindu one (and twice over, since these schools were segregated by sex). They were not segregated by religion, and it was indeed because many Buddhist and Hindu parents had had to send children to Christian schools that their religious organizations decided they had to develop their own initiatives.

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Text of speech by Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, MP, at the Independence Day celebration held at the Sri Lankan embassy in Lebanon

It was good to hear the message of the President read out in all three languages, and the stress there, as well as in other messages read out, on reconciliation is most welcome. We have now emerged from several decades of great danger to the country, when we had to deal with terrorism of an extremely effective sort. That had to be destroyed, for the sake of all our people, in particular the Tamils of the North who had suffered so much repression, and I am happy that life is now back to normal in those areas and agriculture and commerce are flourishing.

But we need to do more to bring our people together, and in particular we must ensure better communication and understanding between our people. In this regard, the trilingual initiative of the President is an urgency, and I hope very much that the coming years will see all our people at least bilingual, if not trilingual. I used to think I was too old to learn another language, but the President puts us all to shame in the manner in which he communicates enthusiastically and effectively in Tamil as well as in Sinhala and English. Read the rest of this entry »

Expanded version of the speech of  Prof Rajiva Wijesinha at the closing session of the Global Languages Meet – January 8th 2012 at the Adivasi Academy, Tejgadh

I should begin by thanking Dr Ganesh Devy for giving us yet another fascinating and stimulating day. It was a wonderful experience to come today to the Adivasi Centre he has set up, and to participate in the exhibition of photographs of their ancestors that he has managed to bring together here, from archives of the colonial period in Cambridge and Leipzig. Those two names make clear the serious scholastic nature of the use made of those photographs, but it is more heartening to see the human reactions of people whose ties to their community are so important, when faced with these early records of their lifestyles.

I am not so sure that I should thank him for asking me suddenly to speak at this closing session at which he would like ideas exchanged about how we are to move forward, with regard to the work we have participated in over the last few days. I am not a linguist, and his work and yours in promoting the study of languages that might otherwise be lost is beyond my area of expertise. However, perhaps I might make some suggestions based on my understanding of the very human element he had helped us to share.

Though I must admit I was more fascinated by the old mosque at Champaner, one of India’s less well known heritage sites, I was involved on the way here in a discussion on the People’s Linguistic Survey, the first fruits of which were launched in Varodara yesterday. There were suggestions that the methodology employed might not have been precise, given the vast range of volunteers involved, and the impossibility, except possibly through an official census, of knowing exactly how many people spoke any language, and at what levels.

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Text of a presentation on January 10th at the Observatory Research Foundation – Delhi, by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, Adviser on Reconciliation to the President

The report of the Commission of Inquiry on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation is now public. It has been generally welcomed, and the exceptions that prove the rule sadly confirm the distinction between those who seek reconciliation and those who have other motives in the extraordinary campaign that has been conducted against Sri Lanka over the last two years.

The vast majority of local and international observers have welcomed the Report, though many have noted that a positive report will serve little purpose if its recommendations are not implemented. This is an understandable caveat, for Sri Lanka has not always acted as swiftly as it should, and it has also often failed to publicize its actions. This latter shortcoming is unfortunate, not just because it allows critics to claim that nothing is being done, but more seriously because it prevents the analysis both by government and by concerned persons with no axe to grind of achievements, and thus, as importantly, understanding of deficiencies that need to be corrected.

This inadequacy has been startlingly illustrated by the failure to work coherently enough on the interim recommendations submitted by the Commission. Initially these were not adequately publicized. This was not because of any commitment to confidentiality, since they were soon enough readily known by anyone who was interested, but simply because government did not seem to realize the importance of the recommendations and of, not only acting, but being seen to act. Though a committee was set up to ensure implementation, the lack of transparency in this regard, and what can only be described as a concomitant absence of any sense of urgency, allowed for the feeling that government was not really serious. The views of the Commission, that many current problems might have been avoided had their recommendations been implemented coherently, is quite understandable.

I say this with a slight but not overwhelming sense of guilt because one of my functions, as Adviser on Reconciliation, was supposed to be to ‘Monitor and report to HE the President on progress with regard to the Interim Recommendations of the LLRC, and promote appropriate activities for this purpose through the relevant Ministries.’ In mitigation I can plead that, though my appointment was made in January 2011, my terms of reference were only received in May. And I finally received an office only in October, with one operational staffer in December. I have no budget for work, though since December I have been supplied with fuel for visits to the North.

Why such incoherence? Whilst I have no illusions about the slowness with which government moves, in general, and find this culpable, I should also note that the more vociferous members of the international community, those who now criticize the LLRC Report, were not really concerned with reconciliation, as opposed to their own sometimes agendas. With a stunning ignorance of history, and exemplars such as South Africa and Chile where the country moved forward without bruising animosities, they confused reconciliation with retribution. Even more absurdly, they thought it was the democratically elected government that should be punished, not terrorists or those who hijacked power and used it brutally as the Pinochet government in Chile or the apartheid regime in South Africa, both of which were allowed to go away quietly as it were.

... worried about the electoral power of the Tamil diaspora ...

What is the reason for this? On the one hand there were countries such as Britain and other European states that were worried about the electoral power of the Tamil diaspora, and assumed that its more vociferous members were decisive factors. Fortunately that populist perspective has now diminished, and perhaps one of the most heartening developments in recent months has been the impression Britain has given of wanting to move on, instead of dwelling in the unprincipled wickedness of the Miliband years.

But, conversely, the United States of America seems to have got more intense, as was exemplified by its efforts to suborn military personnel to give evidence against the Sri Lankan state. The recent efforts of its political affairs officer to pressurize government with regard to Sarath Fonseka, whom earlier the Americans had fingered as a possible war crimes suspect, is only explicable in terms of a sense of guilt about the garden path up which he was led.

I should note that one should not of course generalize about the Americans. Even more than other countries, they seem to suffer from schizophrenia with regard to foreign policy, as was exemplified by the positive approach of their Defence Attache in Colombo, who was promptly rebuked for his pains. But, in addition to the endemic tussle between foreign affairs and defence perspectives, America also suffers from a strange combination of ruthless self interest, as their performances in Iraq and Pakistan over the years have shown, and a desire to be seen as decent guys. For Sri Lanka this has led to astonishing levels of persecution since, as one forthright Republican observer put it, the bleeding hearts had to keep quiet about Guantanamo and everything else they had shouted about before, so they transferred their attention to Sri Lanka.

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Expanded versions of the speech of Prof Rajiva Wijesinha at the inaugural session of the Global Languages Meet – January 7th 2012 at the Sir Sayoji Rao Auditorium, Vadodara, India.

I am most grateful to the Bhasha Research and Publication Centre, and the other organizations involved in this conference, for inviting me to this momentous occasion. It was an honour to be present at the launch of the People’s Linguistic Survey of India, and I must congratulate Dr Ganesh Devy, your founder, on so successfully pushing through this initiative, a landmark venture after the pioneering work of Grierson nearly a century ago. The ready collaboration you have received from the Sahitya Academy and the Central Institute of Indian Languages is a reflection of the deep commitment of your country, and its official and unofficial academic institutions, to expanding the boundaries of learning.

I am sorry that we are not so advanced in Sri Lanka. Indeed it was sad that my collection of short stories, written originally in English and Sinhala and Tamil by Sri Lankans, appeared not in Sri Lanka, for we have no similar public service oriented publishing house, but in India. I am grateful to the National Book Trust for taking on the book, and now getting ready a companion volume of poetry. In one sense however I should be thankful that the book had originally to appear in India in English, for this meant that it would be translated into all your national languages. And hence the deep satisfaction yesterday at being able to present Dr Devy, at the Chotro Conference yesterday on ‘Imagining the Intantible: Language, Literature and the Arts of the Indigenous’ with the Gujerati version of those Sri Lankan stories. I look forward now to the Tamil version, whereas in Sri Lanka, where we do not have enough translators, such an initiative would not have been easy.

What I like to think of as that trilingual publication, for the material was originally in three languages though I published English versions initially, is in line with recent policy developments in Sri Lanka. These have been laid out, I hope inspiringly, in our President’s budget speech last year. He dwells at length there on the trilingualism that he hopes to introduce into Sri Lanka, in a programme that will be launched on January 21st. That initiative will I hope fast forward, if not trilingualism in general, at least bilingualism in a significant mass of our people, to break free from the monolingual straitjacket in which absurd policies on the part of successive governments has confined us.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

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