Welcome response from Holmes

Accustomed as we are to being lectured on human rights by western nations and assorted international institutions, it was a refreshing change this week when United Nations Under Secretary General of Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes declared that he was ‘happy’ at the ‘new’ progress seen in resettling the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) in the North, after being ‘frustrated for several months.’

Holmes is on his fourth visit to the island in the post-war era and had earned a reputation for being biased against the Sri Lankan authorities. We can only guess as to whether he had suddenly turned a new leaf, or whether there was in fact a faster scheme to rehabilitate the IDPs in operation. Perhaps it was a bit of both.

Whatever the reasons, it is welcome news. Just as much as the government in Colombo did not flinch in the face of relentless pressure from the international community, during the final stages of the Eelam War, it has not blinked when confronted with such pressures in the aftermath of the battle, steadfastly refusing to subscribe to dictated agendas in resettling the displaced.

This led to some unsavoury confrontation between the government and certain western nations and international organisations. If the comments made by John Holmes are a yardstick, it appears that the world at large is finally coming to terms with the fact that it serves to work with the Sri Lankan authorities, rather than being constantly at loggerheads with it.

The reality is that Sri Lanka has won its own war on terror against, arguably, the most ruthless terrorist organisation in the world. Unpalatable though that may sound to some countries - especially those nations whose sympathies were with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the cause that they espoused - this is now a fact.

If the objective of these western nations and other organisations is to ultimately better the lot of the IDPs, then there is no better way to do it than to work with Sri Lanka, with criticism that is constructive, and not by constantly resorting to censure and condemnation, reproach and retaliation.

Sri Lanka, it must be realised, is still fighting a battle to win the hearts and minds of the IDPs, even though Velupillai Prabhakaran is dead and the LTTE virtually decimated. Certainly, we agree that more needs to be done, and that too, done as quickly as possible. Yet, there are limitations on the ground and miracles cannot be worked overnight.

If Colombo is encouraged in this task, with financial support and fruitful engagement, instead of hostile homilies being dished out every other day by one official or another, we are certain more can be done to improve the conditions that the IDPs find themselves in, and that, this would eventually lead to a faster re-settlement process.

John Holmes’ statements, we hope, are no flash in the pan. Just as much the Sri Lankan authorities should make every effort to meet their own deadlines, the international community, we earnestly hope, will applaud and approve that certainly is the way forward.

When will they ever learn?
The authorities of the Central Provincial Council (CPC) on Thursday announced that schools in the province will be closed from tomorrow, because of the possibility of a swine flu epidemic affecting school children.
A day later, the Education Ministry in Colombo was to say that it was ‘unaware’ of the CPC decision. That, in itself, may be ridiculous, but coming from a Ministry which cannot print question papers properly or distribute text books on time, is hardly surprising.

What is even more hilarious is the decision of the CPC. The Council announces on Thursday, that there is a threat of a swine flu epidemic-and orders the closure of schools from Monday!
Even the incompetent officials at the Ministry of Health are aware that swine flu is a rapidly spreading disease. As such, if there is indeed a credible threat of an epidemic of this illness, the closure of the schools should have been immediate.

In fact, such a situation arose in the North Western Province and the provincial authorities there were smart enough to close schools immediately, until the threat of an epidemic waned.
What the powers that be in the CPC have done, however, is to allow the virus a ‘window period’ of a few days, so that the potential epidemic can flourish; thereafter, the schools will be closed from Monday!

Both the Health sector and the Education sector in this country have witnessed a plethora of tragi-comical incidents in the past few months. This decision of the CPC will surely be added to that list- and rank high among them.
What we are not certain though is whether we should laugh or cry. We certainly should laugh at the absurdity of it all- if not for the fact that the lives of students are at risk.