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Sri Lanka: After Gotabaya, the deluge?

Oppositional disarray was one of the logical reasons that made Mahinda Rajapaksa go for an early presidential election in 2014. The potential for a Rajapaksa defeat had been building up slowly, at least from 2011.

by Tisaranee Gunasekara

“Slip slidin’ away

Slip slidin’ away...” ~ Paul Simon 

No astrologer in Sri Lanka reached such dizzy heights as Sumanadasa Abeygunawardane. He predicted for the Rajapaksas the future they wanted and was rewarded with power and riches at public expense. 

When the ‘royal astrologer’ foretold that the next half century would belong to the Rajapaksas and that Mahinda Rajapaksa, after a fourth and perhaps even a fifth term, will be succeeded by a son or a brother, he was reinterpreting in cosmic terms the reality the Rajapaksas were creating on the ground. The prediction made soon after winning the Eelam War was the first hint of the coming of the 18th Amendment. 

The 2015 defeat derailed this dynastic project but didn’t destroy it. The journey resumed with renewed vigour with Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s spectacular victory at the 2019 presidential election. It seemed as if the Rajapaksa dynasty was here to stay for a long time, just as Sumanadasa Abeygunawardane had predicted.  

During the run up to the presidential election, Basil Rajapaksa, in semi-jocular vein, referred to older brother Gotabaya as a terminator (of corruption). Terminator seems the most fitting political sobriquet for President Gotabaya. A trail of ruins would be his presidential legacy. The most consequential amongst them may well be the Rajapaksa dynastic project. 

President Gotabaya seems to be occupying a Sri Lanka in a parallel universe, a land rapidly moving not towards economic bankruptcy, institutional dysfunction, and social collapse but prosperity and splendour. Brothers Mahinda and Basil would be more in touch with reality, more cognizant of how close to disaster the familial project is. If they have any consolation in these hard times, it would be the chaos in the oppositional space.

Oppositional disarray was one of the logical reasons that made Mahinda Rajapaksa go for an early presidential election in 2014. The potential for a Rajapaksa defeat had been building up slowly, at least from 2011. But it became a reality only after the fractious opposition gathered into a broad anti-Rajapaksa front. This oppositional coalescence provided the stage on which mounting economic woes and dissent within the governing coalition could develop into a massive electoral defeat for the Rajapaksas. 

Today Sri Lanka is facing an economic collapse unprecedented in her modern history. Cracks are forming within governing coalition from top to bottom. In the latest in a string of grassroots level defeats, the UNP ousted the SLPP to gain power in the Lahugala Pradesheeya Sabha. At the heights of their unpopularity in late 2014/early 2015, the Rajapaksas were objects of fear. Today they are objects of hate and ridicule.

The situation is propitious. Oppositional unity is the only missing ingredient. 

The of 2015-2019: the need for an honest assessment

Mahinda Rajapaksa, unlike brother Gotabaya, is believed to have the pulse of the people. That does not stop him from indulging his outrageous whims in a distastefully insensitive manner, as the recent trip to Tirupathi in a private jet demonstrates. 

Had this private jet incident happened during the previous Rajapaksa rule, the story would have had a stillbirth or succumbed to infanticide. Traditional media had been silenced and alternate spaces hemmed in with legal and illegal measures (such as the banning of several websites, including the Colombo Telegraph). The illegal (and thuggish) impeachment of the chief justice and subsequent cooption of the upper judiciary rendered any relief via courts a near impossibility. The Rajapaksas enjoyed total impunity. 

Perhaps Mahinda Rajapaksa too occupies a slightly different reality, not a parallel universe, but the past. Perhaps he thought he could junket in a private jet with total impunity because the story would never become public knowledge. But thanks to the vibrancy in the alternate media spaces, the story exploded, forcing the Rajapaksas to scramble for excuses and explanations. 

Most of the constitutional and institutional achievements of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration have been rolled back. But the psycho-political ones remain and have expanded. One example suffices. During the first Rajapaksa rule, no cartoonist dared to draw Gotabaya Rajapaksa. When a newspaper made a harmless quip about his wife, the editor was summoned to the CID and the subeditor responsible for the funny caption interdicted. While Defence Secretary Rajapaksa was a no-go zone for humorists, President Rajapaksa has become their daily fare. The Rajapaksa defeat and their years out of power freed minds and stiffened backs. The radical break between 2015 and 2019 is the reason for today’s vibrancy of alternate media, especially social media.

The Rajapaksas’ ham-handed attempts to silence critics are boomeranging. When villagers of Meemure complained to a You Tube channel about officials not implementing promises made by President Gotabaya during his Gama samaga pilisandara (Conversation with Village), the police were sent to question them. That attempt to cow the villagers into silence bloomed into another news story, this time about Rajapaksa intolerance and repression. According to the internet, there is to be a police inquiry about the ‘hooting- incident’ outside the milk powder outlet in Jubilee Post. If the inquiry is actually held, its sole achievement would be to confirm that irate customers queuing for the milk powder queue did hoot at the president. 

Most of this vocal expression of dissent, this derisive laughter would have been possible if the 2015-2019 democratic hiatus did not happen,

Recently, President Gotabaya complained that the opposition speaks as if it was never in government. He has a point. The attempt to create a Chinese wall between the opposition of today and the years of 2015-2019 is both unrealistic and unintelligent. Even at its very worst, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration was far better than the Gotabaya-Mahinda-Basil-Namal rule. It would make more sense to come up with an honest assessment of the previous administration, owning its successes, admitting its failures, and explaining what concrete measures would be taken to evade the errors and build on the achievements.

Currently, the Southern opposition is busy turning itself into a ‘circular firing squad’ (a phrase coined by Barack Obama). The reason is its obsession with a presidential election which will not be held until late 2024. No thought is being given to the possibility of using intervening non-national elections to weaken the Rajapaksas regime beyond the point of recovery. After all, the Rajapaksas’ not-so-stellar performance at PC polls provided one of the earliest hints about their growing electoral vulnerability. This was particularly evident in its squeaky victory at the Uva PC poll, thanks to an energetic campaign by Harin Fernando and the UNP. Today’s opposition has a far greater chance of giving the Rajapaksas a serious drubbing in a PC or LG poll, provided its various components can find some common ground. This is impossible so long as various leading figures of the Southern opposition remain obsessed with the presidential election.

The Rajapaksas have lost the floating voter, but their base remains, attached to the ruling family by the glue of Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism and minority-hatred. While the floating voters have abandoned the Rajapaksas, they have not embraced any opposition party in sufficient numbers. A segment may back some oppositional candidate at the next presidential election. Many may abstain, driving down the turnout. A low poll may decide the election in Rajapaksa favour.  

Opportunities and dangers

The Gotabaya-Mahinda-Basil-Namal rule has almost unmoored the system. The unthinkable has become normal every day realities. The exceptionality of this regime-failure is creating unprecedented opportunities for transformative change. 

Take the presidential system, or rather its quasi-monarchical version that operates here. The disaster that is the Gotabaya presidency is the clearest possible warning of the danger of placing unlimited and untrammelled power in the hands of one individual. Lankan presidential system was created not to fulfil a national need but to satisfy the long held ambitions of one individual. JR Jayewardene’s boast about lacking the power only to effect a sex change was indicative of the hubristic infantilism that would drive him error to crime and back in an unending vicious cycle. 

Now is the time to renew the discussion about the presidential system, to initiate a rational dialogue about a system of governance that is suited to national needs rather than to the ambitions and vanities of individual politicians. 

Gotabaya Rajapaksa tries to blame all his failures on the pandemic. But the original sin of his regime was his disastrous tax policy. His tax cutting fiesta caused massive erosion in the tax base between 2019 and 2020. For example, replacement of the compulsory PAYE tax with a voluntary APIT system led to a 42.2% decrease in the direct tax base while increasing of the registration threshold for VAT caused a 71.8% decline in the indirect tax base (https://publicfinance.lk/en/topics/erosion-of-the-tax-base-a-33-5-decline-in-registered-taxpayers-from-2019-to-2020-1638797962). If the seminal role played by this tax policy in the subsequent disasters is not understood, the necessary corrective measures would not be instituted even by a post-Rajapaksa administration. 

Pulling Sri Lanka out of the economic morass of Rajapaksa creation would entail massive burdens, whether we go to the IMF or not. A critical question is how these burdens should be apportioned. Or to put it another way, who would be forced to gulp the bitter core of the pill and who would make off with the sweet coating. This would be determined to a large extent on where and how income increases and cost cutting happen. 

For example, how should a post-Rajapaksa administration rebuild the tax base denuded by the Rajapaksas? Should the easy way out be taken, by relying mostly on indirect taxes? Or should a future government address the difficult challenge of creating a more just tax regimen by lessening the extreme imbalance between direct and indirect taxes? In cost cutting where should the axe fall most? If the defence budget is left untouched or allowed to grow, if the mania for showy infrastructure projects (with their potential for huge kickbacks) continues, the cuts will have to come from areas such as education and health etc.  

If the already overtaxed low income owners are burdened still further, how will that impact on political stability? If critical social spending is slashed in order to keep the bloated military budget intact, how would that impact on educational and health prospects of future generations?   

Martin Luther King once warned about politicians who feed their constituents with “the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism” (https://www.vogue.com/article/roy-moore-martin-luther-king-this-week-washington). As a number of recent incidents (from holding the state Wesak festival in Kuragala to the tragicomic affair of the ‘church bomb – the police initially offered a ‘Muslim mastermind’ and are now blaming a retired physician of catholic faith) indicate, the Rajapaksas will rely on the race card to stay in power. 

The racist vote is not a canard. These are ordinary Sinhala-Buddhists who do not necessarily gain anything material from Rajapaksa rule. They still remain loyal to the Rajapaksas, because their true aim is a Sri Lanka where the minorities are kept down, literally. They are the Lankan equivalents of Make America Great Again crowd. This constituency is a global phenomenon. They hark back to an imaginary golden past, when the country was made in their own preferred image. This constituency is unhappy with democracy, prefers a strong leader, a king or a Hitler.

This constituency cannot be won over by pandering so Sinhala-Buddhist supremascism. As long as Mahinda Rajapaksa is living, it will stay with the Rajapaksas. Post-Mahinda, this constituency is likely to fracture. Some will stay with the remaining Rajapkasas. The more ideological others will seek extra-racist alternatives. It is from this segment the impulse and drive for coup solutions will emerge. 

Just as a post-Rajapaksa future (assuming that the opposition can cease drawing daggers against each other until the Rajapaksas are really gone) presents unprecedented opportunities it also contains equally unprecedented dangers. If the opposition fails to provide a viable alternative to the Rajapaksas before and after polls, it may open the flood gates to a truly elemental force that is more extremist and intolerant than even the Rajapaksas.

My Reading on President’s Policy Statement

The President's policy statement has nothing to show that he regrets the past. It has nothing to show he welcomes a reconciliatory future. He enumerates what he has done so far, which have not saved this Country from facing bankruptcy.

by Justice C.V.Wigneswaran M.P.

Much was expected by way of reconciliatory statements from the President vis- a- vis the Tamils. Only advice we got from him was "Forget your people! Come and join me to do development work".

2022 years ago a person who died on the cross said certain prophetic words- "Man does not live by bread alone" he said. The President wants us to leave our kith and kin, leave those who voted for us, leave those who are awaiting their freedom from Sinhala hegemony in the North and East, leave those who have lost their lands to Government Departments and the  Armed Forces and join him to take bread to our people! He thinks the 3000 years of culture and civilization of the Tamils of the North and East of Sri Lanka could be purchased by bread alone. He thinks if the Tamils are forced to live within an occupied territory, if they are deprived of even the existing feeble political rights, if they are sufficiently terrorized, if they are stifled and starved, the Tamils would sell their birthright to a pot of porridge! Maybe the lack of political experience is showing on His Excellency!

His policy statement has nothing to show that he regrets the past. It has nothing to show he welcomes a reconciliatory future. He enumerates what he has done so far, which have not saved this Country from facing bankruptcy. He has not even a word of thanks for those who have come forward to help the Country at this critical hour. Maybe he felt a word of thanks to anyone other than those of Huaren descent might irk the latter. While the President and his ilk have been terrorizing the minorities in this Country he seems to be himself terrorized by thoughts of Huaren wrath!

Let me state here and now that the World acknowledges the fact and so too, many educated and concerned Sri Lankans among the Sinhalese, that Sri Lanka faces today the unprecedented state of affairs bordering on the brink of bankruptcy due to the unresolved ethnic problem. Nearly a fifth of the Country’s wealth is utilized even today for so-called security and to pamper the Military. The Thirty Years’ War was due to the reluctance on the part of our majoritarian leaders to resolve the ethnic problem. But the President refuses to accept that this Country faces an ethnic problem and identifies that the Tamils face an economic problem only. He is like the proverbial cat which closes its eyes and believes the World is in darkness! His inability or refusal to identify the existing ethnic contradictions signals the  fact  that peace and prosperity would be far-fetched dreams in this Country for many years to come. Even a College student would know that this Country suffers today due to the unresolved ethnic contradictions. But the President believes by giving some economic sops, the Tamil speaking people of the North and East would be satisfied.

If there is an existing political problem the most prudent, positive and scientific way would be to identify the problem, study it closely, find out why it cropped up and find an appropriate solution to it. Our beloved President refuses to identify an existing gigantic ethnic problem staring on his face and seeks a solution to a non- existing ethnic economic problem. In this Country the majority  community as well as the minority communities both suffer due to the wrong economic policies pursued by successive governments up to now. The Tamil speaking who are the majority in the North and East suffer as much or more as the Sinhalese and others economically.  But they are steadfastly eager for the resolution of their political problem which the President refuses to acknowledge. This does not augur well for the future of this Country.

There is no doubt that from the time of Independence the Tamil speaking People of this Country have been suffering. Land grabbing in the North and East from even before Independence, disenfranchisement of a segment of Tamils who contributed to the prosperity of this Country, foisting of the Sinhala language in areas which had a very miniscule presence of Sinhalese in 1956, militarization of the North when the Tamil speaking people agitated against discriminatory laws, standardization in higher education to prevent Tamils entering higher echelons of education, staging of successive pogroms which killed and maimed many a Tamil including infants brutally killed and women raped which sent their kith and kin abroad seeking better pastures, have all been transgressions committed by successive Sinhala majority governments in terms of the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESC).The genocide in Mullivaikal was a continuation of this process. 

Still such offences are being perpetrated in the North and East. Land grabbing by Government Departments with help from the Military without conforming to proper land acquisition procedures in terms of the Law, expropriation of Resources  of the North and East  through agents and hirelings, displacement of Tamils from their areas of traditional occupation and settlement of People from outside the North and East in those areas, depriving our fishermen from earning their livelihood in their traditional areas, holding over 65000  acres of State land in the Northern Province to house a massive Military in the area, are all contrary to the provisions of these two Covenants. Many such activities still continue. Not wanting to recognize all these activities, calling upon us the Representatives of the Tamils to join him in furthering economic activities only go to prove that these high handed activities are certainly going to continue in the North and East.  Maybe with renewed vigour and vitality.

I call upon the International Community including India to take note of this state of affairs. The President calling upon the elected representatives of the Tamils to sink their ideological differences to join him in economic activities, raises many suspicions. 

Our People have suffered greater economic difficulties in the past during and after the War. Yet none of us relegated our political aspirations a second place and promoted economic regeneration as our primary concern. Even during the past 12 years our People have elected a majority of representatives who stood for their political rights. But not recognizing the aspirations of our people the President has asked us to jettison our political claims and join him in economic activities. In other words he wants us to act contrary to the aspirations of our People.

We know the economic problems of our People. We know where this Country is heading economically due to the wrong economic policies of the past. We are already exhorting our People to work with self -reliance towards self -sufficiency in their needs. 

But if the Government genuinely cares for our People and introduces economic projects beneficial to them we would no doubt cooperate with the Government to help implement their projects beneficial to our People. But let not the President believe that any one of us would forget the political aspirations of our people and play ball with him to commit treachery upon our People.

Let me end by saying that the President cannot for long close his eyes with regard to the urgency to bring about reconciliation among the various communities in this Island.

If the President and his government are going to be serious in ushering in a period of peace and reconciliation, first and foremost they should 

1. Immediately halt all actions and activities that are being systematically 

undertaken by the Archaeological department, Forest department and Wild Life department and some other departments with the sole objective of destroying the ethnic and cultural character and demographic composition of the Northern and Eastern provinces and thereby prevaricate and re – write history. 

2. Abrogate the much abused Prevention of Terrorism Act.

3. Free all Tamil speaking political prisoners presently behind bars under the provisions of the draconian PTA.

These are the inescapable pre – requisites for any meaningful reconciliation programme that could precede any constitutional process to draw up a new federal constitution for our ‘Democratic Socialist Republic’.

Justice C.V.Wigneswaran, Member of Parliament, Jaffna District


The 5G Issue and Responsibility for Aviation Safety

Principles of State responsibility from a general context, and the various theories appurtenant thereto, which doubtless apply to the subject addressed in this article, have been addressed in some detail elsewhere

by Dr. Ruwantissa Abeyratne in Montreal

When in doubt, hold your altitude; nobody ever collided with the sky.

The Issue

On 19 January 2022 AT&T and Verizon started turning on their 5G service around the United States using newly acquired wireless spectrum in what's known as the C-band, thereby sparking a conflict of interest between the providers and the State. 5G is the next generation of wireless service, which is expected to increase network speeds and make them more responsive.

On the one hand the providers were interested in activating the 5G high-speed networks for their customers as the two telecom giants had reportedly spent $67 billion (collectively)  on C-Band licenses and had planned to launch new 5G service in early January  in many U.S. cities.  On the other hand, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) – the United States regulator - warned that signals from telecom towers could interfere with key equipment in airplanes: “Because the proposed 5G deployment involves a new combination of power levels, frequencies, proximity to flight operations, and other factors, the FAA will need to impose restrictions on flight operations using certain types of radar altimeter equipment close to antennas in 5G networks”.

One media report stated: “At issue has been the possibility of interference with aircraft radio altimeters, which operate on the high end of the C-Band frequency. The altimeters measure the distance between a plane and the ground and are crucial for landing in low-visibility conditions like heavy fog, snow and rain and at airports near physical hazards like mountains or bodies of water”. A radio altimeter, or radar altimeter, is used to measure the distance from the aircraft to the terrain directly beneath it. It is used primarily during instrument approach and low level or night flight below 2500 feet. The radio altimeter supplies the primary altitude information for landing decision height. It incorporates an adjustable altitude bug that creates a visual or aural warning to the pilot when the aircraft reaches that altitude. Typically, the pilot will abort a landing if the decision height is reached and the runway is not visible.

Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, writing in Forbes says: “on December 30, Airlines for America, a trade group representing the airline industry, filed an emergency petition asking regulators to temporarily block the deployment. The petition cited an airworthiness directive issued earlier this month by the FAA, which deemed it unsafe to rely on cockpit safety systems in the presence of 5G transmitters in the C-Band. The agency warned that the 5G rollout would cause major inconveniences for the flying public. “These limitations could prevent dispatch of flights to certain locations with low visibility and could also result in flight diversions.”

It was reported that there was significant concern on the part of airlines operating into the United States: “the signals could disrupt aircraft altimeters used for landing in poor visibility, major international airlines, including Emirates, Japan Airlines and ANA, started canceling flights involving Boeing-made planes to several major US airports”.  This action would have resulted in more than 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers being subjected to cancellations, diversions, or delays.

CNN reported that in 2020 the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations (IFALPA) had warned: "[A]ny failures or interruptions of [radar altimeters] can ... lead to incidents with catastrophic outcome, potentially resulting in multiple fatalities." The airlines affected claimed that Europe had successfully obviated the problem of interference to aircraft equipment caused by 5G installations and that this approach could have easily been replicated in the United States. AT&T, with Verizon concurring, said: “We are frustrated by the FAA's inability to do what nearly 40 countries have done, which is to safely deploy 5G technology without disrupting aviation services, and we urge it to do so in a timely manner." The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) – responsible for the safety of aviation in 31 European countries - had said : “The technical data received from EU manufacturers offers no conclusive evidence for immediate safety concerns at this time. At this time, EASA is not aware of any in-service incidents caused by 5G interference."

The matter stabilized somewhat, when on 20 January FAA approved 78% of the U.S. commercial aircraft fleet to perform low-visibility landings at airports where wireless companies deployed 5G in the C-band. “The 13 cleared altimeters are found on a variety of commercial aircraft, including eight Boeing and eight Airbus models, as well as some Embraer 170 and 190 regional jets”.

The Responsibility

One has to begin with international treaty.  Article 28 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention) devolves responsibility on the State to provide inter alia in its territory, airports, radio services, meteorological services, and other air navigation facilities to facilitate international air navigation, as well as to adopt and put into operation the appropriate standard systems of communications procedure, codes, markings, signals, lighting and other operational practices and rules. Annex 15 to the Chicago Convention (Aeronautical Information) provides that  each State has to provide an Aeronautical Information Service (AIS) which will ensure that aeronautical data and aeronautical information necessary for the safety, regularity or efficiency of air navigation are made available in a form suitable for the operational requirements of the air traffic management (ATM) community, including: those involved in flight operations, including flight crews, flight planning and flight simulators; and the air traffic services unit responsible for flight information service and the services responsible for pre-flight information.

Annex 10 to the Chicago Convention (Aeronautical Telecommunications) in Volume I, provides an international Standard on the ground and flight testing of radio navigation aids.

 The Annex divides aeronautical telecommunication services into four areas: aeronautical fixed service; aeronautical mobile service; aeronautical radio navigation service; and aeronautical broadcasting service . Standard 2.6 of the Annex is on interference and provides that before authorizing tests and experiments in any station, each administration, in order to avoid harmful interference, is required to prescribe the taking of all possible precautions, such as the choice of frequency and of time, and the reduction or, if possible, the suppression of radiation. Any harmful interference resulting from tests and experiments are required to be eliminated as soon as possible.  Standard 5.4 of the Annex stipulates that the station addressed by an aircraft being subjected to an act of interference (of whatever nature), or first station acknowledging a call from such aircraft, are obligated to render all possible assistance, including notification of appropriate air traffic services units as well as any other station, agency, or person able to facilitate the flight.

Principles of State responsibility from a general context, and the various theories appurtenant thereto, which doubtless apply to the subject addressed in this article, have been addressed in some detail elsewhere (for instance, in the author’s article on exogenous interference with air navigation appearing in Air & Space Law). Article 28 of the Chicago Convention and the two Annexes discussed above) places responsibility squarely on the State to provide air navigation services, including radio and meteorological services.  Therefore, safety of air transport must remain the ultimate responsibility of the State concerned and should not be compromised by political or other considerations.

Morocco Drives a War in Western Sahara for Its Phosphates

 By the end of November 2021, the government of Morocco announced that it had earned $6.45 billion from the export of phosphate from the kingdom and from the occupied territory of Western Sahara.

by Vijay Prashad

In November 2020, the Moroccan government sent its military to the Guerguerat area, a buffer zone between the territory claimed by the Kingdom of Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). The Guerguerat border post is at the very southern edge of Western Sahara along the road that goes to Mauritania. The presence of Moroccan troops “in the Buffer Strip in the Guerguerat area” violated the 1991 ceasefire agreed upon by the Moroccan monarchy and the Polisario Front of the Sahrawi. That ceasefire deal was crafted with the assumption that the United Nations would hold a referendum in Western Sahara to decide on its fate; no such referendum has been held, and the region has existed in stasis for three decades now.

In mid-January 2022, the United Nations sent its Personal Envoy for Western Sahara Staffan de Mistura to Morocco, Algeria, and Mauritania to begin a new dialogue “toward a constructive resumption of the political process on Western Sahara.” De Mistura was previously deputed to solve the crises of U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria; none of his missions have ended well and have mostly been lost causes. The UN has appointed five personal envoys for Western Sahara so far—including Mistura—beginning with former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker III, who served from 1997 to 2004. De Mistura, meanwhile, succeeded former German President Horst Köhler, who resigned in 2019. Köhler’s main achievement was to bring the four main parties—Morocco, the Polisario Front, Algeria, and Mauritania—to a first roundtable discussion in Geneva in December 2018: this roundtable process resulted in a few gains, where all participants agreed on “cooperation and regional integration,” but no further progress seems to have been made to resolve the issues in the region since then. When the UN initially put forward De Mistura’s nomination to this post, Morocco had initially resisted his appointment, but under pressure from the West, Morocco finally accepted his appointment in October 2021, with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita welcoming him to Rabat on January 14. De Mistura also met the Polisario Front representative to the UN in New York on November 6, 2021, before meeting other representatives in Tindouf, Algeria, at Sahrawi refugee camps in January. There is very little expectation that these meetings will result in any productive solution in the region.

Abraham Accords

In August 2020, the United States government engineered a major diplomatic feat called the Abraham Accords. The U.S. secured a deal with Morocco and the United Arab Emirates to agree to a rapprochement with Israel in return for the U.S. making arms sales to these countries as well as for the United States legitimizing Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara. The arms deals were of considerable amounts—$23 billion worth of weapons to the UAE and $1 billion worth of drones and munitions to Morocco. For Morocco, the main prize was that the United States—breaking decades of precedent—decided to back its claim to the vast territory of Western Sahara. The United States is now the only Western country to recognize Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over Western Sahara.

When President Joe Biden took office in January 2021, it was expected that he might review parts of the Abraham Accords. However, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made it clear during his meeting with Bourita in November 2021 that the U.S. government would continue to maintain the position taken by the previous Trump administration that Morocco has sovereignty over Western Sahara. The U.S., meanwhile, has continued with its arms sales to Morocco but has suspended weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates.

Phosphates

By the end of November 2021, the government of Morocco announced that it had earned $6.45 billion from the export of phosphate from the kingdom and from the occupied territory of Western Sahara. If you add up the phosphate reserves in this entire region, it amounts to 72 percent of the entire phosphate reserves in the world (the second-highest percentage of these reserves is in China, which has around 6 percent). Phosphate, along with nitrogen, makes synthetic fertilizer, a key element in modern food production. While nitrogen is recoverable from the air, phosphates, found in the soil, are a finite reserve. This gives Morocco a tight grip over world food production. There is no doubt that the occupation of Western Sahara is not merely about national pride, but it is largely about the presence of a vast number of resources—especially phosphates—that can be found in the territory.

In 1975, a UN delegation that visited Western Sahara noted that “eventually the territory will be among the largest exporters of phosphate in the world.” While Western Sahara’s phosphate reserves are less than those of Morocco, the Moroccan state-owned firm OCP SA has been mining the phosphate in Western Sahara and manufacturing phosphate fertilizer for great profit. The most spectacular mine in Western Sahara is in Bou Craa, from which 10 percent of OCP SA’s profits come; Bou Craa, which is known as “the world’s longest conveyor belt system,” carries the phosphate rock more than 60 miles to the port at El Aaiún. In 2002, the UN’s Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs at that time, Hans Corell, noted in a letter to the president of the UN Security Council that “if further exploration and exploitation activities were to proceed in disregard of the interests and wishes of the people of Western Sahara, they would be in violation of the principles of international law applicable to mineral resource activities in Non-Self-Governing Territories.” An international campaign to prevent the extraction of the “conflict phosphate from Western Sahara by Morocco has led many firms around the world to stop buying phosphate from OCP SA. Nutrien, the largest fertilizer manufacturer in the United States that used Moroccan phosphates, decided to stop imports from Morocco in 2018. That same year, the South African court challenged the right of ships carrying phosphate from the region to dock in their ports, ruling that “the Moroccan shippers of the product had no legal right to it.”

Only three known companies continue to buy conflict phosphate mined in Western Sahara: two from New Zealand (Ballance Agri-Nutrients Limited and Ravensdown) and one from India (Paradeep Phosphates Limited).

Human Rights

After the 1991 ceasefire, the UN set up a Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). This is the only UN peacekeeping force that does not have a mandate to report on human rights. The UN made this concession to appease the Kingdom of Morocco. The Moroccan government has tried to intervene several times when the UN team in Western Sahara attempted to make the slightest noise about the human rights violations in the region. In March 2016, the kingdom expelled MINURSO staff because the then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon referred to the Moroccan presence in Western Sahara as an “occupation.”

Pressure from the United States is going to ensure that the only realistic outcome of negotiations is for continued Moroccan control of Western Sahara. All parties involved in the conflict are readying for battle. Far from peace, the Abraham Accords are going to accelerate a return to war in this part of Africa.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.

Sri Lanka: Lady Leaders and Their Deeds

It was during Chandrika’s rule that the corrupt system that enabled the MPs to change parties and join the ruling party without losing their parliament seats despite the fact that they were not allowed do so according to the Constitution, was established with the connivance of the judiciary. 

by Victor Ivan

Publication of a biography by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga as a self-expression was important news for me as one who had written a book about her. Further, the news that the keynote address at the book launch was to be delivered by Shirani Bandaranayake, a former Chief Justice, was another reason that aroused my interest. I did not get an opportunity to read the book yet, but I listened to the speech made by her at the book launch. I feel it was a speech not befitting a person who had held such high office as the Chief Justice of the country.

Raising Chandrika to exemplary heights:

There is nothing wrong with Shirani Bandaranayakehaving a sense of deep gratitude for former President Chandrika and expressing it. But, the manner in which it was pronounced by her as a former Chief Justice, and the essence of her speech do not befit the dignity of the high office held by her. According to her, Chandrika is an ideal character of hers; she has not only attached the highest importance to the independence of the judiciary but also made many sacrifices to safeguard the independence of the judiciary. This statement about President Chandrika has been made not by an ordinary party member, but a former Chief Justice. 

The impression it creates is not beneficial to the judiciary either. Chandrika is an ideal heroine for her. The most infamous election fraud in Sri Lanka took place during her tenure. It was also during her regime that the parliamentarians of the ruling party were allowed to become tavern owners. The plunder and the rapacious nature of the state administration assumed the character of an unceasing flow during her regime.

Beddagana Sanjeewa, a trusted colleague of Chandrika’s security team, can be considered as a pet criminal brought up in the lap of Temple Trees. He ruled the underworld from Temple Trees. He implemented programs that oppressed and persecuted individuals at the behest of Chandrika or her close associates. 

The case of Rookanatha Goonetileke and Chandra Leka, a couple of veteran singers is one such example. Setting fire on the house of actress Anoja Weerasinghe, the attack on the house of Lasantha Wickrematunga are two other examples. The shadow of Beddagana Sanjeewa had fallen over the assassination of Rohana Kumara, the editor of the Satana, a controversial tabloid and the murder of Kumar Ponnambalam, father of MP Gajan Ponnambalam. 

Moratuwa Saman, who was responsible for the assassination of Kumar Ponnambalam, had revealed this to Daya Perera, a reputed criminal lawyer. It was after that, that Moratuwa Saman was killed. These incidents demonstrate that the worst things that happened during the Rajapaksa regime and the previous UNP regime had also happened during the regime of Chandrika as well.

About the independence of judiciary

The most ironic part of the former Chief Justice’s speech is the reference she has made in regard to the sacrifices Chandrika has made to safeguard the independence of judiciary. If the judiciary had some element of independence, it was Chandrika who destroyed it. It was Chandrika, who broke the backbone of judiciary which did not cow down before any other authority, even in the face of horrific attacks made by President Jayewardene who commanded a five-sixths majority in Parliament. 

Chandrika ruined the stature of judiciary by appointing a corrupt friend of hers to the post of Chief Justice (Sarath Silva who held the post of Attorney General) who was trapped in an extremely desperate situation. At the time, the judiciary was at the throes of a cataclysmic cancer rotting the inner portals of it. H.L. de Silva, who was considered to be one of the most respected lawyers in the country at the time, described this situation as follows: “Due to the curtailment of independence and lack of moral integrity, the entire judicial process might diminish to a level of a clown of a meaningless theatre. I am here to express my frustration even at the risk of becoming somewhat unpopular for not coming forward to express our sensitivity vigorously in the face of the catastrophe looming before our eyes or at least not demanding for a strong step to be taken to prevent it happening.”

H.L. de Silva made this statement at a time when an important phase of the struggle I made against the horrific cancer that overwhelmed the judiciary had been successfully completed and the waves of the news of success were floating in the air. I had filed a case against three selected persons of the judiciary, namely Magistrate Lenin Ratnayake, District Judge Upali Abeyratne and Attorney General Sarath Silva. 

As a result of the voice raised against the first two, the Judicial Service Commission appointed two tri-party committees composed of the Chief Justice and Justices of the Court of Appeal to examine the allegations made against the two judges. The two committees found the two judges guilty of the charges. With that, the first phase of my struggle came to an end; the second or the foremost phase of the battle began with the filing of a complaint against Attorney General Sarath Silva. The Supreme Court decided to hear both the complaints against the Attorney General (filed by myself and Chemical Engineer Jayasekara respectively) and assigned the responsibility of conducting the preliminary investigation of my complaint to Judge Shirani Bandaranayake. 

Judge Amir Ismail was assigned the responsibility of conducting investigation of the complaint made by Jayasekara. Judge Marak Fernando was assigned to oversee both cases. Sarath Silva, who at the time had become one of the close confidants of President Chandrika, was in a terrible state of strangulation, being trapped in this case.

Judiciary turned upside down 

Chief Justice G.P.S. de Silva went on retirement when the Supreme Court was investigating the allegations of corruption against the Attorney General. The exemplary heroine of Shirani Bandaranayake taking the advantage of the opportunity, appointed infamous Sarath Silva, her friend, as the Chief Justice, rescuing him from the trap he was in, in expectation of manipulating him to take control of the Supreme Court in an informal and indirect way. This she did despite instructions from her three legal advisers (H.L. de Silva, R.K.W. Gunsekera and E.D. Wickramanayaka) not to do so. 

Dato Param Kumaraswamy, UN Special Rapporteur on the subject of judiciary, condemned the President’s move and told the BBC that it was a serious act of misdemeanour. He further added, “This appointment has a direct bearing on the independence of the judiciary. And both petitions should have been heard and finalised before the appointment was made.” 

Traditionally, the inauguration ceremony of a new Chief Justice used to be organised by the Bar Association. But the inauguration ceremony of Sarath N. Silva as the new Chief Justice was organised by the Presidential Secretariat. The extramarital wife of the Chief Justice also attended the inauguration ceremony. 

The next most important thing was the attendance of the District Judge Upali Abeyratne also in the ceremony, who was convicted by a three-judge panel on charges of illegal and oppressive hearing of the divorce case filed by chemical engineer Jayasekara against his wife, the 1st respondent and making Sarath Silva (who had an extramarital relationship with the 1st respondent) a co-respondent of the case. 

I am not going to reiterate the enormous damage done to the judiciary following the appointment of Sarath Silva as the Chief Justice. What happened afterwards is well-known. Justice Shirani Bandaranayake also ganged up with the corrupt Chief Justice for a long time and followed a policy of supporting the latter in the destructive process pursued by him. She was the judicial officer in charge of the investigation of my complaint; I have the right to know what has happened to my complaint and I believe that she should have at least clarified to me what has happened to it. 

Subsequently she too, got into altercations with the Chief Justice. After that she resigned from the Judicial Service Commission, accusing the Chief Justice of insulting her in foul language. Subsequently when she was appointed the Chief Justice, she did nothing to reverse the decline set in the judiciary. In the impeachment motion against her, I opposed it because of the narrowness of the government’s aspirations and the frantic nature of the attempt to remove her from office, denying her a fair investigation. The third reason was that it tended to strengthen the government’s interventions over the judiciary. 

However, the manner in which she had acquired a valuable plot of land of 17.95 perches from Model Farm Road, Narahenpita, refusing the land offered her from Beddagana when she joined the Supreme Court on recommendation of Professor G.L. Peiris is also problematic. Even, the story behind the charge number 01 in the impeachment against her raises reasonable suspicion about the Chief Justice. The Chief Justice of the country should not have been involved in whatever manner in the purchase of property related to a case being heard before her. Also, the fact that the Chief Justice’s husband held a position that can be considered a major political appointment does not comply with the esteem of the office of Chief Justice as well as the dignity of the judiciary. 

It was during Chandrika’s rule that the corrupt system that enabled the MPs to change parties and join the ruling party without losing their parliament seats despite the fact that they were not allowed do so according to the Constitution, was established with the connivance of the judiciary. 

Sri Lanka: Patriotic Surgeon who treated me in Battle field

There is an unique difference in fighting out at sea. There are no covers. Whoever fire effectively first will win the sea battle. Sea battles are very short and decisive. 

by Admiral Ravindra C Wijegunaratne 

In 1991,(more  than 30 years ago) I was selected to one of the prestigious sea appointments in Sri Lanka Navy. After short familiarisation course, I was appointed to P 467 (old pennant numbers) , Fast Attack Craft (FAC) Super Dovra Mk ll, one of the fastest FAC of the Navy at that time. Built in Israel at cost of US $ 30 million, the vanguard of our Navy through out our conflict with LTTE Sea Tiger terrorists.Dovra (or Dobra) in Hebrew language means “lady Bee”.

P467 was commanded by LT Cdr Ariyadasa, an officer senior to me, who has captured highest number of smuggling boats in SLN in Western Naval Command. So, my sole intention was to work hard and capture more smuggling boats than LT Cdr Ariyadasa.

Sadly, two days after taking over, my FAC was attached to Eastern Naval Command to patrol in Northern waters. Someone in Naval Headquarters do not want to see my face in Colombo?

It was not smugglers, but LTTE terrorist Sea Tigers operating in Northern waters at that time. LTTE had some camps in Southern Indian Thamilnadu coast, which was their main logistics route to Northern peninsula. They had boats moving at excess of 30 knots (30 nautical miles per hour - approx 40mph ) and our FAC had slight speed advantage over terrorist speed boats.

The distance between India and Sri Lanka is approximately 24 nautical miles. Indo- Sri Lanka International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) marked at equidistance, approximately 12 nautical miles. So, terrorist boat moving at 30 knots can cross our waters in 24 minutes ! That’s the time given to us in the Navy to detect, chase and to destroy enemy boats. If you go too close to land, which was held my enemy at that time, you will be fired upon with enemy’s shore gun batteries. FAC will become a “sitting duck” if you have not moved away from land fast. Enemy always keep their tractors with the trailers in water ready for their boat arrivals. 

As soon as their boat hit shore, they were loaded in to trailers and towed with help of a tractors to safe area, away from beach to unload the boats.

Similarly launching enemy. boats also done by bringing boats to shore from inland and launching done in few minutes. It was more difficult for us to detect these boat launching pads as they were done at night under the cover of darkness. However those days (1991), when LTTE sea tigers saw an  Israeli built Dovra, they used to run away at maximum speed. Most of our chases of sea tiger boats ends up in “Stern chase” and with slight speed advantage, we destroyed the enemy boat with 20mm Oerlicon cannon gun we had as main weapon. FAC had a crew of two officers and 12 sailors at that time. It was a very close “family“. My Second-In-Command was LT SHU Dushmantha, fearless and an  excellent officer. He was an Outstanding Tennis player, old Anandian and from KDU Intake 4. Sadly, he died in action out at sea on 30/10/1998. He was a recipient of three gallantry medals for his bravery and valour out at sea namely, Weera Wickrama Vibushanaya (WWV), Rana Wickrama Paddakkama (RWP) and Rana Soora Paddakkama (RSP). I had Leading Seaman Newton as my coxswain ( later rose to Master Chief Petty Officer rank and excellent photographer) and Leading Marine Engineering Mechanic  Premaratne (also rose to MCPO rank later and excellent cook) looked after the engines. Our FAC in her first patrol to Northern Naval Area was able to destroy a enemy boat, which was a great achievement to me personally and to  my crew.

CDR SHU Dushmantha

KIA / MIA 30.10.1998

P498 at Sea off Mullaitivu

FAC was a time tested craft in SLN.  Time to time, we upgraded our weapons and sensors on board FAC. When we were onboard FAC, we had only radar to detect enemy boats at night. Later we went in to MSIS (Multi Sensor Integrated Systems)  and better forward main gun, such as US made 30mm Bush master chain gun, but the platform, the FAC hull remained same.

When we fought with sea tigers, there were no suicide boats. The enemy used ran away at their maximum speed when they saw a FAC, Then enemy developed their suicide carders and speed boats later loaded with explosives and they started to steer towards us at fast speed on suicidal missions.

We had to rewrite and develop our fighting tactics and manoeuvres against this new threat. We lost some of our best FAC Commanders and crews due to these deadly attacks. My salute to and  to all who worked tirelessly during this time, special thanks to our gunners, electrical/ electronic engineers and marine engineers for keeping FAC operational and battle-prepared. 

There is an unique difference in fighting out at sea. There are no covers. Whoever fire effectively first will win the sea battle. Sea battles are very short and decisive. 

There is special bond between your shipmates (FAC mates), whether you are an officer or sailor. You go to battle together in FAC and come home victorious or perish at sea together. OIC take decisions and he has to be brave and knowledgeable.

My FAC command period was eventful and enjoyable. I was married and my wife Yamuna was expecting our first (and only) child. We lived in married quarters at Naval Base Trincomalee. Those Royal Navy time officers quarters are specious and beautiful.

Our patrols to Northern waters were for seven days. If everything goes well, you get seven days break for maintenance, repairs and. to get ready for next patrol. Before my patrol to North, I will leave my wife with my brother officer’s family living in Naval Base Trincomalee, where she will stay until my arrival. She preferred to be with LCdr (L) Sarath Silva’s house. Sarath is from my junior batch and his wife Chandrani looked after Yamuna so well ( In her own words “ not allowing even me to prepare a cup of tea - all done by her”). They were very close friends also. That was the camaraderie among Naval families ! 

P467

When your FAC is non operational, you have to take some others Operational FAC on patrol. This is not an good arrangement as you are going out to sea with unknown crew. However in September 1991, I had to take P468 (my batchmate Shirantha’s FAC) as my one was under repairs on slipway. Further, my 2IC, Dushmamtha was also on leave. I decided to go to sea on board P468 without a 2IC, on six-day patrol to Northern waters.

FAC have very powerful two inboard engines. They required large amount of low sulphur diesel (LSD. One engine consume approximately 100 litres of LSD per hour. Two engines running, its 200 litres per hour. It takes four hours for us to go from Trincomalee to KKS. 800 litres consumed per one run to Northern waters from Trincomalee. If Rs 100/- a litre of LSD, FAC consumes approximately Rs 80,000/- worth LSD per one run. Then we do seven days patrolling and returning back to Trincomalee. Navy has 36 FACs . So you can imagine the fuel cost of running them. 

That why Ship and craft called ‘SHE’. We always refer ship as a lady. Why? Like a lady, it’s not the initial cost of purchase (to marrying her), but the maintenance that kills you !

Navies are very expensive!

So, two days of my patrol onboard P468 was uneventful. On 13th June 1991,  around 10AM, were returning to KKS for rest and refuelling from Mulativu sea area. Sea was calm and I was keeping about two nautical miles from land and moving North at approximately 20 knots speed. I was on the flying bridge and enjoying bright sunlight and very clear weather. My lookout sentry on Port side (land side) reported two open jeeps moving on Manakkadiu road, one fitted with a gun. The area was held by enemy . I sounded action stations and told the  crew that I will turn towards jeeps and increase speed . When I am turning again away from land  to engage the targets with our 20mm cannon. The depth in this area is sufficient FAC to go up to 400m from land. Forward gunner was very good his third shot hit a jeep and it  started burning. Other jeep took cover of a sand dune. We saw some movements on beach with enemy cadres getting into boats on land. When we were breaking away from targets and headed towards deep sea, our boat was hit by enemy fire from boats. Crack and thump of 50 caliber machine gun fire was very clearly heard.

Do you know how to identify some one is firing at you? You hear two noises ( in military terminology know as Crack and Thump) every shot fire at you- two noises for one shot.  As bullet velocity is faster than sound speed, you first hear sound “tuck’ ( or crack) when bullet goes through air closer to you. Then you hear sound “Dum” ( or thump) after some time. That is the sound made when bullet left gun barrel. Well trained Special Forces person will able to say approximate distance of firer by time between crack and thump.

Enemy gun fire rained the FAC, but we were almost over at enemy’s effective gun range. Suddenly one enemy gun shot hit  the guard rail of the FAC. It’s splinters hit my left shoulder and upper arm . A sailor who was standing next to me at Open bridge also hit on his leg. Blood soaked my left arm and multiple injuries  were visible.  I knew I was hit badly. Sailors onboard were panicked. I steered the FAC to safe distance from land and informed my colleague Rohan who was on another FAC on patrol of the incident happened and steered towards KKS. 

After bleeding was controlled by sailor trained on Combat medicine, I found no major damage to bones. I felt bit dizzy, but able walk into waiting ambulance at KKS harbour to transfer to Army hospital at Palali for immediate medical treatments.

On arrival Palal Army Hospital, I saw a tall figure in Surgical gown waiting for me. He was non other than Dr Maiya Gunasekara, consultant Surgeon. Dr Maiya took few hours to remove whatever shrapnels he can remove. He said others will remain inside bones as they pose no harm. They are still in side my left shoulders and upper arm.

I consider them as gifts from LTTE which deny me go through any Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan due to metal particles in upper body.

Dr Maiya

I invited Dr Maiya on board my FAC that evening and took him to sea and showed him Point Pedro and VVT ( home town of LTTE leader Prabhakaran) from sea. 

Dr Maiya was a patriot and his volunteer services as a Surgeon at battle front saved number of officers and men who got severely injured. 

Dr Indrajith Maithri  (‘Maiya’) De Zoysa Gunasekara, FRCS, FICS, Consultant Surgeon was born on 22nd August 1951 and educated at Royal College, Colombo 7. He was a College colours man on Basketball and Rugby Football and represent College in Athletics also. He played for Royal Rugby team for number of years and entered Medical Faculty of Colombo University.. He was the recipient of Leslie  Handunge trophy for best sportsman in both Colombo and Peradeniya Universities in 1974. Outstanding person both in Studies and sports, graduated from both Royal College of Surgeons of England and Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and Captained Rugby for CR and FC and played number of years in National Rugby team and National Rugby sevens team. He was President of Sri Lanka Rugby FootballUnion and Chairmanof National Sports Council. Now he is the Consultant Surgeon atNawaloka Hospital, Colombo. He will sit at his Consultation Room (Room 55) at Navaloka Hospital every day. 

However his dedicated service to Nation in treating our Armed Forces personnel at Battle front in Palali Army hospital was not known by many. 

Former South African President Nelson Mandela once said “ There will be no greater gift than that of giving one’s time and energy to help others without expecting anything in return”

Thank you Dr Maiya - we salute you !

(The writer Retired from Sri Lanka Navy and served as Chief of Defence Staff )