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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 said.

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 be available.

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 country.
     
  • 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 5,630 children.
     
  • 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 Gampaha.

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.

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People’s sovereignty means universal franchise and liberty

Excerpts of the speech made by Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe at the ceremony to commemorate late Lalith Athulathmudali

Lalith 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 people.

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 government.

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 repression.

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 Committee.

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 the Constitution.

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.

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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.

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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 level.
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 said.

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 tomorrow (5).

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.

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