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A friend from England who was visiting recently was surprised when someone of the same age, with a son doing O/Levels, just as her daughter is, was not deeply concerned about what the youngster would do next. I thought her concern excessive, until it struck me that Sri Lankans living in Colombo are as concerned as she is about the educational prospects of their children. It is the rural folk who think less about the matter.

Obviously this is not because they are less concerned about what their children will do. Rather, it is because there is no point in thinking. In the vast majority of rural areas, there are simply no alternatives for the children. They have to go through the school system for what it is worth, many of them without opportunity to do well in Maths or Science, so that they would have options as to careers.

So they strive desperately to do well in their O/Levels, with the sole aim of going through to the next step on the ladder, which is A/Levels. Here life is even more competitive, and they strive even harder, with hours spent travelling to and from tuition classes where such are available (and sometimes whole days over the weekend spent in those classes) to qualify for university.
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Medical services for evacuated civilians - 2009

Our Armed Forces have done a fantastic job in recent years. Not only did they deal conclusively with one of the most accomplished terrorist groups in the world, they also assisted the civilian victims of terrorist with strict discipline and respect of rules of engagement, and at the same time ‘a very respectful and kind attitude to help those in need’, to cite a letter sent by the head of the ICRC. However they now find themselves on the defensive, having to face excessive charges that even normally sensible diplomats seem to be encouraging.

I believe there are two reasons for this, one entirely our own fault, the other much more sinister and requiring to be dealt with firmly, though sadly our continuing incoherence of policy in this regard means we will continue to suffer. The first reason is the presence, despite the decency of the generality, and the excellent training that we have provided and improved on over the years, of a few elements that behave badly. Unfortunately we have not dealt with them at all sensibly.

In the old days I used to recommend taking a leaf out of the Anglo-Saxon model, which

Lynndie England drags a detainee known as Gus by a leash around the neck. Megan Ambuhl looks on - Abu Ghraib, Iraq 2004

would charge some individuals when there was basic evidence of wrongdoing, acquit all of them but one, and then claim that they had fulfilled the claims of accountability – as happened for instance with the torture allegations at Abu Ghraib. This was not, I said, the classic Anglo-Saxon vice of hypocrisy, rather it made sense by pointing out to the rest of the forces that what had happened was wrong, while at the same time not being too harsh on personnel who it had to be assumed generally did their best in difficult circumstances.

But if that seemed too tough for us, the Americans have now gone one better, and acquitted all of those who killed Afghan civilians and cut off their fingers. They will, I suppose, claim that the inquiry they held proved their bona fides, while at the same time allowing Barack Obama in an election year to escape charges that he is letting down our brave boys on the front by punishing them from doing what God evidently wanted them to do.

That provides the best answer to what the then Attorney General would tell me when I would urge him to prosecute those considered responsible for the murder of five boys in Trincomalee. He did not have enough evidence, he claimed, and they would be acquitted. It was useless my telling him that that was not the point, he should not fear shame over a lack of success in the classic Sri Lankan way, he should be happy that the State had made the point that what happened was wrong. I should add that, as I have also been constantly suggesting, we need to investigate the White Flag case more thoroughly, and our failure to pay due attention to what the Americans initially brought to our attention, citing a speech in which Sarath Fonseka seemed to claim credit for what had occurred, was a blunder which has contributed to the complete volte face the Americans have since undergone in that regard.

Fortunately we seem after the LLRC report to be moving towards proper inquiry, though there again we see what I can only describe as the sheer carelessness of our decision makers, who waited until after American diplomats had come to Sri Lanka to wag their fingers at us to announce this fact. The inquiries had begun in fact soon after the LLRC report came out, as I found out when I asked the army commander a month ago what was happening. I advised him to publicize the fact, but of course no one ever takes my advice seriously, so we have to suffer the ignominy of international and even national reporting that claims we instituted an inquiry in response to American pressure.

I am immeasurably sad about this, because I see us now as going through some of the absurdities the Jayewardene government went through in the mid-eighties, when it always yielded too little, too late, in the face of pressure. The irony is that this government is actually in many respects doing the right thing – which Jayewardene rarely did – but its incapacity to communicate means that we seem to be granting under pressure what we had decided to do anyway. Read the rest of this entry »

Undoubtedly the greatest challenge in Sri Lanka at present is the restoration of trust. On the one side there is fear that a separatist agenda has not been abandoned, on the other there is fear that unity will be enforced by subordination of minorities to a dominant centre.

Connected with this latter fear are fears about demographic change and militarization. Conversely, the other fears of the majority are in fact distinct from the fear of separatism. They relate to worries about domination by a minority through disproportionate influence on governance.

I will look first at the challenges represented by these last worries, since they are the easiest to assuage. They spring from two sources, the first being the high number of Tamils in positions of importance in government in the period leading up to and just beyond independence. This factor arose however simply because of the better educational facilities available in the North, as well as the commitment to education evinced by Northerners, in view of the paucity of other opportunities in the area.

Overcoming any imbalance caused by this is easy, since it only requires ensuring that good facilities are available islandwide, and that students all over the country are committed to education that will develop good administrators as well as entrepreneurs. At the same time it should be recognized that the earlier imbalance was based not on race but on geography, and that there are minority areas with appalling education systems, just as there are many majority areas that have good facilities. Reforms in the education system must be based on equity on a national basis, and the ideal outcome would be employment relating to governance that ensures equitable representation of all communities.

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Andrea Spalinger

Dear Sir

I was deeply shocked by the article on Sri Lanka by Andrea Spalinger that appeared in your columns last week. She listened in while I was giving an interview to another lady from Switzerland, and I fear she has misrepresented some of the things I said.

Innuendo, as with regard to the last sentence concerning me, and omission of relevant facts, as with my comments on housing, are bad enough. But while one has got used to that with all journalists, downright falsehood still continues to alarm, and especially in the columns of the Neue Zurcher Zeitung.

Most worrying is her claim that in the area of civil reconstruction very little has been undertaken. This is not only nonsense, it seems deliberate distortion in someone who must understand the value of the social services provided as well as support for housing and individual livelihoods. Since however there is no point playing snap with her in terms of statements as to what one has seen, I am sending you a few photographs of recently built schools as well as houses. One of the latter was through army support while the other was through Indian assistance, both of which programmes I mentioned during the interview. I have recently published photo essays of progress in these areas, as in that of commerce, which your readers might like to look at on www.peaceinsrilanka.org Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

June 2019
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