By Shabna Cader
The Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS) will celebrate World Red
Cross and Red Crescent Day on May 8, to mark the birthday of the
founder of the
Red Cross, Henry Dunant, a Swiss national, with the enthusiastic
participation of thousands of volunteers in all 26 districts
under the theme ‘Together for Humanity.’ This has been the theme
for the past 4-5 years and continues to be so due to the
situation in Sri Lanka.
Merick Peiris at the SLRCS in Colombo explained that this year’s
work will be focused on the impacts of global climate change.
“This year we have already experienced many natural disasters
and the Red Cross is aiding those who have been involved. Our
aim is to reduce the impact of these disasters and be more
attentive towards disaster response in Sri Lanka. Our intention
is to also inform and allow our people to foresee what these
disasters can do and how to protect ourselves from them,” he
Peiris also mentioned, “The misuse of the emblem of the Red
Cross is indeed a punishable offence. In Sri Lanka, the emblem
is often misused due to the lack of knowledge and understanding
of its application but the emblems are protected under the
Geneva Conventions Act No. 4 of 2006.
When queried whether it is illegal to use the emblem of the Red
Cross to denote pharmacies, medical practices, and hospitals,
Peiris affirmed that it is. The internationally recognised
symbol for medical and pharmaceutical services is a green cross
on a white background, for a hospital is it a white ‘H’ on a
blue background and for first-aid it is a white cross on a green
background. The emblem signifies impartial neutrality, and is of
very importance. Our people need to know the difference and
we’re trying our best to impose this amongst them.”
Guided by the seven fundamental principles of humanity,
impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity
and universality, the SLRCS extends humanitarian assistance in
times of natural and man-made disaster by mobilising its
volunteers to serve without discriminations.
The Red Cross Society has over 97 million volunteers the
world-over, the majority consisting of youth. All humanitarian
activities are conducted at branch level by suitably trained and
skilled volunteers. Funds for some activities are given by
donors, both local and international. The core areas of the
SLRCS volunteer services, with the youth development and
volunteer mobilisation, are focused on healthcare and disaster
management. Membership is open to all citizens in the country
upon payment of the annual membership fee of Rs. 10.
With the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
focusing on the impacts of global climate change, the SLRCS has
been active in conducting various programmes on disaster
mitigation and empowering vulnerable communities. Setting up and
training of community based disaster response teams as well as
branch disaster response teams have proven successful and the
first aid service and training will benefit the communities in
emergencies. Volunteers trained in first aid have become a great
asset to communities where fast access to medical care may not
Ongoing activities of the SLRCS
- Humanitarian values – dissemination of the fundamental
principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and
humanitarian values is undertaken with a view to creating a
better understanding of the Red Cross and Red Crescent
Movement. The programme also focuses on the role and mandate
of the SLRCS in carrying out its humanitarian tasks in the
- Youth – in recognition of the crucial role of the youth
in the future of any society, the SLRCS is focused on giving
due prominence to the development of a Youth Chapter, which
held its first assembly in August last year. Nearly 250
Volunteer Youth Committee members participated at this
historical gathering which was held in accordance with the
rules and regulations of the Youth Constitution. The
President of the SLRCS represented the youth section at all
meetings of the Central Governing Board (CGB).
The Youth Division has established Junior Red Cross Circles
targeting mainly school children in the 12-17 year age
group. These circles presently have a membership of over
- Organisational development – the SLRCS has activated an
OD Dept. under an executive director, whose main task is to
ensure that the national society organisational systems,
structures, skills and capacities to improve the lives of
the most vulnerable in Sri Lanka, are developed. This year
the focus has been the SLRCS Strategic Development Process,
vision, mission statements being finalised and strategic
issues mapping the future direction of the national society
being worked out.
- Health services – through their network of braches, the
SLRCS has been focusing on a wide spectrum of health issues
to promote the health and well-being of the communities. The
SLRCS is developing and strengthening its community based
projects to reduce vulnerability to disease and injury by
empowering communities to achieve and maintain good health,
including health promotion, mother and child healthcare,
blood donor recruitment and HIV/AIDS awareness.
Tsunami recovery programme
Minutes after the tsunami hit the Lankan shores in December
2004, the SLRCS was one of the first ‘on ground’ organisations
where over 5,000 trained volunteers brought emergency assistance
to the affected people in the Districts of Trincomalee,
Batticaloa, Galle, Matara, Ampara, Vavuniya, Hambantota, Jaffna,
Kalutara, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullaitivu, Colombo, Puttalam and
With the support of the IFRC, ICRC, and 23 National Red Cross
and Red Crescent Societies currently in Sri Lanka 300,000 have
benefited from NFRI distributions, 36,000 have been benefited
from first-aid services, 100,000 received emergency healthcare
through mobile clinics, 10,000 affected persons benefited from
psychological support activities and clean water distributed to
thousands in affected areas.
The SLRCS, supported by the federation has pledged to build up
to 15,000 houses for 75,000 people affected by the tsunami. Land
has been identified for over 7,500 houses on 57 sites.
Construction process is underway for 3,500 houses on 25 of these
sites and has already commenced in the south. The land allocated
by the Government of Sri Lanka, is in eight districts including
Ampara, Batticaloa, Colombo, Galle, Gampaha, Kalutara, Matara
and Trincomalee. Nearly 62 houses were constructed by the Malta
Red Cross and handed over to the affected families in Hambantota
District in July last year.
sovereignty means universal franchise and liberty
Excerpts of the speech made by Opposition
Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe at the ceremony to commemorate late
Athulathmudali and I were members of the United National Party (UNP)
government of 1977, which launched a revolution – a political,
economic and social revolution in this country. Yes, we made a
change. It thus gives me great pleasure to make this speech in
honour and in memory of Lalith.
Lalith Athulathmudali was a Sri Lankan who was firmly committed
to instituting the principles and practice of freedom and
democracy in the country. Whether as Minister of Trade, Shipping
and National Security, Agriculture, Education, or as Deputy
Minister of Defence, he never strayed from the principles that
he believed in. His loyalty to the people of Sri Lanka was
unwavering. Even in the face of political advantage, or personal
gain, Lalith did not compromise these principles. It is no
coincidence that many of the principles in which he believed are
enshrined in the Constitution of Sri Lanka.
Lalith understood the need to fight for the rights of the
people, but more importantly, he understood the need to
safeguard liberty and universal franchise which are the main
components of the people’s sovereignty.
Lalith and I both entered politics because we both believed that
this was the only way we could regain the lost rights of the
The massive victory of the UNP in 1977 gave us the opportunity
to take proactive measures to safeguard the rights of the people
by emphasising the core concept of people’s sovereignty. We thus
enshrined the principles of sovereignty in the Second Republican
Constitution. Both of us had the privilege of working with J.R.
Jayewardene in framing the Second Republican Constitution
popularly called the 1978 Constitution – the present day
Constitution. Lalith was also a member of the Select Committee
to draft the new Republican Constitution. As I said before, it
is no coincidence that many of the principles espoused by Lalith
to which he remained true throughout his life are reflected in
the Constitution. There, we envisaged sovereignty as being
essentially vested in the people and redefined the parameters of
this concept. The 1972 Constitution had restricted the
definition of sovereignty to the powers of government, which was
exercised by the National State Assembly and the cabinet. We
expanded that concept in Articles 3 and 4 of the new
Constitution, which is the foundation of people’s sovereignty.
Article 3 reads, “In the Republic of Sri Lanka sovereignty is in
the people and is inalienable. Sovereignty includes the powers
of government, fundamental rights and the franchise.” Article 4
further expanded the definition by including the right of
elections and the requirement of a referendum to change the core
articles of the Constitution.
It thus needs to be highlighted that the new concept of
sovereignty was not solely confined to the powers of government,
but includes unconditionally the fundamental rights and
franchise of the people of Sri Lanka. These rights are
inalienable, and cannot be amended without a two thirds majority
in Parliament and the approval of the people at a referendum.
The theory that whoever wins an election and comes to power can
amend the Constitution to restrict these rights went out of the
window. The liberty enjoyed by our people cannot be taken away.
People’s sovereignty means both liberty and universal franchise.
The 1978 Constitution first demarcated the space for individual
liberties and then allowed the powers of government to be
exercised without infringing that space. We must remember that
under the Constitution, people are the state. If a government
seeks to suppress these rights then the government loses its
legitimacy and loses its claim to domestic jurisdiction. The
1978 Constitution is based on this principle. Thus the
government cannot hide behind the notions of national
sovereignty or national security to repress its people. If it
does so then that government becomes a dictatorship.
Lalith who himself had to undergo arbitrary arrest was
determined that citizens should not be subject to repression
again. He was very emotional on this issue. He told me, “I say
Ranil, you have not suffered the way I have. I don’t want any of
you to go through that experience.”
Lalith understood the fundamental concept of the modern social
contract between state and citizen. He understood that there is
no state authority without the consent of the people. The people
will consent to a higher authority so long as that authority
protects their freedom and their sovereignty. Once such basic
rights are infringed, and the sovereignty of the people ceases,
the government loses its legitimacy and becomes a bastard
Subsequent to enacting the 1978 Constitution we took several
other steps to further enhance and strengthen our civil
liberties. On September 11, 1980, Sri Lanka signed the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
This was a vital step because in addition to introducing
constitutional safeguards, we also became a signatory – for the
first time – to an international treaty to ensure that the
people’s sovereignty was safeguarded within Sri Lanka. Lalith
was one of those who advocated this, because he wanted to ensure
that all safeguards were put in place to avoid another era of
The concept was further expanded in September 1991, when the
Government of Sri Lanka became a party to the Commonwealth
Declaration of Good Governance made at the Commonwealth Heads of
Government Meeting in Harare. Under the Harare Commonwealth
Declaration member governments reaffirmed the continuing
commitment to the liberty of individuals under the law, equal
rights for all citizens and the individual’s inalienable right
to participate in democratic processes in framing the society in
which he or she lives. The members pledged to the Commonwealth
to protect and promote the fundamental values of the
Commonwealth which included;
- Democracy, democratic processes and institutions which reflect
national circumstances, the rule of law and the independence of
the judiciary, just and honest government; (this is an alien
concept in Sri Lanka today).
- Fundamental human rights, including equal rights and
opportunities for all citizens regardless of race, colour, creed
or political belief.
In 1995, we also became a party to the Millbrook Commonwealth
Action Programme to implement the Harare Declaration. For the
first time, the members accepted the principle that the
Commonwealth had the right to respond to the violations of the
Harare principles by member governments. The Millbrook Action
Programme included a mechanism for implementing measures to deal
with violations. This initiative was welcomed by all parties –
including Sri Lanka – because it provided the means by which the
democratic rights of the people could be safeguarded if violated
by the government.
This trend was continued when the government signed the First
Optional Protocol to the ICCPR in 1997. This I think is the work
of one of Lalith’s colleagues, late Lakshman Kadirgamar. The
First Optional Protocol provided for individuals who claimed
that any of their rights enumerated in the Constitution has been
violated, to submit a written communication to the Human Rights
In 2005, Sri Lanka became a party to the UN Millennium
Declaration which included the concept that national governments
have a duty to protect their people and their rights. In other
words, governments cannot select the people whose rights they
want to protect and exclude the other.
Aside from these international commitments, Parliament of Sri
Lanka – in October 2001 – passed the important 17th Amendment to
While Lalith was at the forefront in instituting some of these
measures to protect the sovereignty of the people, others were
taken after Lalith’s death in 1993. I have no doubt that they
were in line with his thinking for the need to further reinforce
the liberties of our citizens. Though we parted company in 1991,
when Lalith left the UNP, he stayed committed to these central
values. After his brutal assassination, his wife late Srimani
Athulathmudali published a document he had drafted during the
latter part of 1992 setting out his political vision. In it
Lalith categorically stated, “We stand for a country where the
individual is guaranteed his/her fundamental human rights and
basic human freedoms where he/she can live in peace with
tolerance and understanding with his/her fellow citizens.
“Our principles bear on the goals of good government, its
responsibilities and obligations to the people in whose name it
governs, the ideals of democratic, political institutions the
relation between the citizen and government, the scope of
justice in a democracy.” In this statement he highlighted again
that the government was a trustee for the people.
Our long drawn struggle to institute the democratic rights of
our people have to be viewed as a response to the breaches and
violations that took place in the 1970s.
Currently, the government exerts continual pressure on
independent media institutions by accusing them of treason and
intimidating them with death threats to prevent them from
criticising the government. Journalists in the south are
temporarily imprisoned; some unfortunately practice
self-censorship, while others seek refuge abroad. Abductions,
disappearances, beating and killing of reporters and journalists
have become increasingly more common, resulting in a pervasive
fear among the nation’s media personnel.
Speaking at Sir John Kotalawela Memorial Lecture Lalith said,
“Civil rights are considered the inalienable rights of an
individual in a democratic state. This is a lesson that history
has taught and is a treasure fiercely guarded by citizens of
every democratic state. For after all, these are rights often
won by bloodshed and struggle – by revolts and revolutions in
various parts of the world.”
It is our duty to ensure that the principles which were very
dear to Lalith Athulathmudali and to many of us do not fade into
the sands of time, despite the fact that the challenges we face
today are far graver and more decisive than then. And I have no
doubt that if Lalith was amongst the living he would have been
with us in this critical struggle.
New SC Judge
Senior most Additional Solicitor General P.A.
Ratnayake P.C. is seen taking oaths as Supreme Court Judge
before President Mahinda Rajapaksa at Temple Trees on Wednesday.
Ratnayake, who also acted as Solicitor General, was appointed to
the highest court following the recommendation of Attorney
General C.R. De Silva, P.C.
New parish hall for Emmanuel Church
By Aisha Edris
The Emmanuel Memorial Church in Maradana, one of the oldest
churches in Sri Lanka, has built a new Parish Hall. The Hall
will be declared open by the Anglican Bishop of Colombo Rt. Rev.
Duleep de Chickera tomorrow (5).
Emmanuel Memorial Church in Maradana is one of the oldest
churches in the area. It was established in 1912 by Reverend W.E.
Rowlands. He came to Sri Lanka as a CMS missionary and worked
with the Tamils in the area.
According to Media Coordinator of the Church J. Rajkumar
Siromani, the Church was built by the Tamil community in the
area, who were brought in to the country by the British to work
in their stables.
Today, the Church has around 300 to 400 members and conducts
many workshops for its members such as, teaching children about
religion at the Sunday school, Youth Fellowship Programmes for
teens and young adults, men’s fellowship for adult men and
mothers’ union for mothers who are members of the Church.
They also conduct a series of Christian studies and devotional
programmes. The Church also conducts medical and educational
programmes for the residents in the area, who live below poverty
According to Siromani, the members of the Church conduct special
programmes for the needy on a monthly basis.
The new hall
The Church, having felt the need for expansion due to the steady
growth of its membership, has built an additional hall with all
modern facilities for functions and other programmes. The hall
has been built with the funds provided by late A.Y.S Gnanam, a
leading and committed member of the Church.
According to Siromani, the Church did not have sufficient room
to house more than 300 members and therefore, it had been late
Gnanam’s vision to have an additional building to cater to the
present demand. “And with the money allocated for this project
by late Gnanam, we have built this beautiful building,” she
Gnanam had been a member of the Church since the age of 10 and
had remained an active member of the Church till his demise. He
had done his utmost endeavour to preserve this 97-year-old
Church even after his death last year, his family had been
helping Church to build the new hall, which will be opened
The new hall that would be opened by the Colombo Bishop with the
funds provided by late Gnanam will also house the vicarage.
This hall has been built in memory of late Gnanam.