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Louise Arbour - President and CEO of the International Crisis Group

The following preliminary remarks were sent in response to a request by Liberal International to comment on the ICG Report. It is a pity that the same jaded figures have been saying the same things over and over again, often without any evidence. While there may be specific incidents that should be looked into, the credibility of ICG and its leading lights must be in doubt since from long ago they were trying to find roles for themselves in Sri Lanka.      

I have now seen the Executive Summary, and it strikes me as pretty much a rehash of what a couple of interventionist agencies were propagating earlier on, and to which comprehensive responses were given earlier. For instance, the idea that government was firing into the No Fire Zone it declared was in fact first put out by the UN which called up my Ministry, but later granted that most of the firing came from the LTTE. That same day the Bishop of Jaffna issued a statement asking the LTTE to stop firing from within the No-Fire Zone. These facts were ignored by the agencies which seem to have fed in to the ICG report.

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Richard Pathirana (1938 - 2008)

Mr Speaker

I had not initially thought to speak during this vote of condolence, but I was reminded of so much to do with the Hon Richard Pathirana while listening to his son, the Hon Member from Galle, that I felt I should pay my tribute too.

I was in particular moved by his mention of the famous, or rather infamous bye-elections of 1983, when his father was one of the few to triumph against the juggernaut of the then government. It was shocking, Mr Speaker, to note one of my fellow neophyte MPs referring approvingly to our first Executive President, J R Jayewardene, as a model to be emulated. I hope that memories of what happened in the eighties, when democracy was treated with contempt, will introduce a proper understanding of political principles and persuade those embarking on a political career of the dangers of authoritarianism.

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This essay is a shortened and simplified version of Chanaka Amaratunga’s summary of the conclusions of seminars on political structures apart from Parliament, conducted between 1987 and 1988 by the Council for Liberal Democracy. It follows on the companion conclusions on Parliament, which appear together with this essay.

The full text is in ‘Ideas for Constitutional Reform’, International Book House, 1 Kumaran Ratnam Road, Colombo 2, available too at 151A Dharmapala Mawata, Colombo 7.


Chanaka Amaratunga (1958 - 1996)

Though it was generally felt the executive presidency should be abolished, that system had some support. The impression of an authoritarian presidency was created not because of the executive presidency but because it functions in a context of a devalued Parliament, with the President supported by a two thirds majority extended without an election. If measures agreed previously for the strengthening of parliament were implemented, the executive presidency would not be unacceptable.

It was further argued that the executive presidency enhanced the political importance of ethnic minorities: a president who needed to be elected by all Sri Lankans would need to maximize his vote throughout the country. This argument was countered with the assertion that, under an executive presidency, the support of ethnic or indeed political minorities may be sought to obtain office, after which they would have no political leverage. Conversely, in a Parliamentary system based on a fair system of proportional representation, a government’s survival may depend on the support of small and ethnic oriented parties and would therefore lead to genuine participation by them in government.

The importance of political accountability, of the need for the political leadership of the country to be subject to debate, criticism and diversity of views, was stressed as a reason for a return to parliamentary and cabinet government.

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After the diversion created by Radhika Coomaraswamy’s effort to distract attention from the actual ICES escapades, it may be useful to return to less purposive threats to our efforts to deal with terrorism. In this regard I should reiterate that I believe that the International Committee of the Red Cross is amongst the most innocuous of the agencies that engage with countries in difficult situations.

They are supposed to be apolitical, and generally they live up to this reputation. However they are sometimes dragooned into a political role, as when claims are made by some countries that assistance cannot be provided for rehabilitation unless there is a monitoring role prescribed for the ICRC.

In general this would not seem a problem. However, admirable though the ICRC generally is, at the beginning of 2009 they decided to engage in a political role in Sri Lanka, or what they themselves would term advocacy. They issued a series of bulletins, which sounded deeply critical of the Sri Lankan government and its armed forces, and naturally these were made use of by the Tigers and their sympathizers.

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Chanaka Amaratunga (1958-1996)

This and the companion piece are shortened and simplified versions of essays by Chanaka Amaratunga which are worth reproducing now, in view of discussions about constitutional reform. They also make the important point that the problems that all agree need resolution are not new. Many of them were inherent in the 1978 constitution and the way it was used by President Jayewardene. 


Others sprang from the manner in which we took over the Westminster system of government without proper attention to modifications that might be appropriate for Sri Lanka. The first past the post electoral system, a Senate that was simply a rubber stamp for the main Chamber of Parliament, the requirement that Ministerial positions be conferred on those whose skills might be inappropriate, all led to reactions during the seventies that complicated the situation further. 

The essays sprang from a Seminar Series on Constitutional Reform initiated by  the Council for Liberal Democracy in November 1987. A collection of distinguished speakers, including Dr Colvin R de Silva, Neelan Thiruchelvam, Prof G L Peiris and H L de Silva, contributed papers. These and the ensuing discussions were edited by Chanaka Amaratunga and published in 1989. An abridged version of this book was published on the 10th anniversary of Chanaka’s death, twenty years after the initial discussions began.


 This essay is a shortened version of Chanaka’s summary of the conclusions of the first few seminars, which were concerned with the role and structure of Parliament. The full text is in ‘Ideas for Constitutional Reform’, International Book House, 1 Kumaran Ratnam Road, Colombo 2, and available also at 151A Dharmapala Mawata, Colombo 7. 


It was agreed that the current Parliament had deteriorated and been greatly devalued in relation to its predecessors. Many thought this was not particular to Parliament under the 1978 constitution, though the situation became worse under that constitution. Devaluation began with the constitution of 1972 when absolute power was concentrated in the National State Assembly (as Parliament was than named). For the first time executive, legislative and even judicial power were concentrated in the legislature. This supreme power of the National State Assembly meant its unrestrained use by the parties that commanded a majority. 

Under the Soulbury Constitution there was demarcation of responsibility between the executive (the cabinet), the legislature (Parliament), and the judiciary. Parliament then, in terms of the need for diversity and checks and balances, consisted of two chambers. Despite the cabinet consisting, according to the British Parliamentary tradition, of members of the two houses of Parliament, some differentiation of functions, as well as greater respect for diversity in Parliament, was maintained. This more balanced approach was overturned by the constitution of 1972, which declared the legislature to be the ‘supreme instrument of state power’. 

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Supposedly one of the wonders of modern management studies is what is termed a SWOT analysis. We had to engage in them endlessly when trying to make good use of funding the World Bank provided for universities about a decade back, Sadly the present state of the universities suggests that, while the good universities have arguably got better, the others have not really developed in the ways that were anticipated. SWOT it seems turned out to be just that, worthless repetitive labour, not a way of transforming weaknesses by building on strengths, and turning what seem threats into opportunities.

I was reminded of this when reading through the State Department report on incidents during the conflict in Sri Lanka. What some have seen as a threat seems rather to provide an opportunity to make clear the sterling professionalism of the armed forces in their struggle to deal with terrorism.

In this context it is worth noting the detailed study by Neville Laduwahetty of what he sees as a problem with the report, namely that it also extends to possible war crimes, whereas it was meant only to look at possible violations of international humanitarian law. The distinction is a subtle one, and understandable in a context in which the United States and its allies have been accused of war crimes, but to me the advantage of the confusion is that it suggests the report has recorded every single incident its writers think could possibly be an offence.

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La tyrannie de la penitence

Many years ago, I had been responsible for a great deal of noise very late into the night in my rooms at University. We had been playing Diplomacy, a game much in vogue for a few months during that period, and Benazir Bhutto, who did everything with much enthusiasm, had shrieked with anguish whenever she was let down in negotiations. The rest of the group were equally endearing, and we played on for hours, to the fury as I found out of the Senior Tutor. When I was letting the others out, I met him in the quadrangle, and greeted him enthusiastically, thinking he must have had an equally interesting evening.

I had failed to notice that he was in a dressing gown and carrying a torch. To my astonishment, for he was generally a good friend, he practically snarled at me and informed me that he would be reporting me to the Dean.

The Dean duly called me up the next day, and asked what had happened. He was an easygoing Dean, and agreed to a walk while we talked. I told him the whole story, which he seemed to much enjoy because he knew many of the characters involved. I granted that the noise may have been excessive, and I was truly sorry that Tony had been disturbed, but I thought that would be the end of the matter – after all, everyone knew it was not easy to quieten Benazir when she was moved.

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James Joyce (1882-1941)

Of novelists who were prominent between the wars, only a couple seemed by the sixties to have been really influential. One was D H Lawrence, about whom F R Leavis made extravagant claims that continued to be taken very seriously in Sri Lanka for many years. The other was James Joyce, whom Leavis considered comparatively trivial.

His major works were not therefore considered essential reading in Sri Lankan universities, so I was surprised to find how important he was thought to be elsewhere, and indeed also by Leavis, who delivered regular sideswipes at Joyce’s fiction in his writings. However Sri Lankan authorities did regularly prescribe a couple of Joyce’s short stories for study at Advanced Level and thereafter, so most students, and teachers too of language as well as literature, are familiar with ‘Eveline’, and to a lesser extent ‘Araby’.

These are taken from the collection called ‘Dubliners’, which seems to me in fact to be the most interesting of all Joyce’s work. By now I believe that all except the most devoted disciples find ‘Finnegan’s Wake’, Joyce’s last experimental novel, unreadable. That was my impression when I tried it and, unlike with Henry James’ ‘The Golden Bowl’, I felt no desire to get back to it.

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Rama Mani - former Executive Director-CEO of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (Colombo).

In the long and chequered history of Radhika Coomaraswamy’s relentless interference with Sri Lanka while an official of the United Nations, the most peculiar relates to the manner in which she protected Rama Mani from all criticism during her controversial headship of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies.

She had indeed to protect her even before she took office. Though she claimed that she asked permission from the UN to be on the Board to hand over power, came to Sri Lanka in July 2006 and handed over power. I resigned only after that with the full knowledge of the UN, she was still advising as to Rama Mani’s salary in August. She reminded ICES that we must all recognize that Rama is taking a salary cut from $8000 a year to what we are offering and they should adjust the contract to make it attractive for her. Bradman duly trotted out Radhika’s arguments, and it seems they carried the day, for there is no sign during Rama’s tenure of the accountability or the concentration on fundraising that had been suggested by those at ICES who wanted value for the money they were pouring out.

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David Cameron PM & Nick Clegg Deputy PM outside 10 Downing Street


The Liberal Party of Sri Lanka extends its warmest congratulations to the British Liberal Democrats on their entry into government at Westminster. The Liberal Party of Britain was historically the party of gradual but continuous reform in Britain, expanding freedoms and promoting social justice, but without disruptive excesses. We believe it is ideally placed to take up again this historic role in the United Kingdom, in partnership with a Conservative Party that has a refreshingly modern outlook. 

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Rajiva Wijesinha

May 2010
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