The Sunday Leader

Hypocrisy At The University Of Colombo

By Vimukthi Yapa

Sunila Abeysekera

What happens when an institute of higher education, endowed with the responsibility to provide everything in its power towards improving the educational experience of its students, fails to do so? What happens when an esteemed institute of learning, renowned for its fame as one of the best universities in the region, gets pulled down by petty political interest and makes decisions contrary to the spirit of education and free expression?
Such an incident is what is alleged to have occurred in the University of Colombo on December 10, 2010. A panel discussion to be held at the Law Faculty to commemorate World Human Rights Day in conjunction with the UN resident coordinator’s office was cancelled without warning by direct order of the University Council chaired by Vice Chancellor Professor Kshanika Hirimburegama. The event was supposed to feature outspoken human rights activist Sunila Abeysekara in a student discussion forum. UN Resident Coordinator Neil Buhne, who was also billed to talk, reportedly cancelled the event after the directive issued by the University Council.
The matter was picked up by members of the Friday Forum, a group of academics and human rights activists. A letter drafted to the Vice Chancellor expressed the group’s “grave concern at the decision taken by the Council of the University of Colombo chaired by the Vice Chancellor to refuse permission for Ms. Sunila Abeysekera to speak,” at the above event.
It went on to express the writers’  concern “on the ground that this decision violates basic tenets of academic freedom, which forms the cornerstone of university education, and has been upheld by the University of Colombo through many decades. We note that the relevant academic authorities, the Senate and the Faculty of Law, were not consulted.”
The letter was signed by Jayantha Dhanapala, Sri Lanka’s one time candidate for the post of Secretary General of the UN, and was dated January 17, 2011. Speaking to The Sunday Leader Dhanapala said that no response had yet come from the Vice Chancellor or members of the University Council.
Executive Director, Center for Policy Alternatives, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu said that the notification, which was not given in writing but was informed verbally to the UN, was ‘absolutely scandalous, whatever one may think of the political views of the speakers, the freedom of speech must be celebrated.’ He added that a university must be open to exposing its students to viewpoints that may not fully agree with the status quo. He stressed that the council must take up and address this issue. Also adding that such restrictionist sentiment was probably coming from people who thought themselves ‘more Catholic than the Pope’.
Jezima Ismail, another signatory of the letter said that she fully agreed with the sentiments expressed in it and expressed the importance for a university to maintain its academic autonomy.
However, when The Sunday Leader contacted the Vice Chancellor she said that the council’s decision had nothing to do with the presence of Sunila Abeysekara at the event. “The council reviewed the event and found that it could not go ahead because the exact agenda was not submitted,” adding that all such events have to adhere to a particular process in order to get approved. When asked about the letter sent by the Forum she said “I received the letter and I think it is very wrong to say that we discussed any particular names. The issue was completely a procedural matter.” She also added that the council would respond to the letter after they review it, further saying that the University was “apolitical and open to views from all sides”.
The signatories of the letter consist of a plethora of well known academics and human rights activists such as Rt. Rev. Bishop de Chickera, Professor Savithri Gunasekera, J.C. Weliamuna,  Jezima Ismail and several others. The contention is that the university cancelled the event because of the specific presence of Sunila Abeysekara while the university insists that the reasons were strictly procedural.
The Friday Forum is a self described ‘group of concerned citizens’ which has also done some work on human rights issues in the North and East.

Sunila Abeysekera is a renowned human rights activist in Sri Lanka and has been recognised for her work within the region and internationally, receiving the UN Human Rights Prize in 1998. She currently serves as Co-Chair of the UNDP’s Global Civil Society Advisory Committee to the Administrator of the UNDP.
The Sunday Leader spoke to Sunila Abeysekara about the incident that took place at the University of Colombo.
‘There were two separate activities both organised by the Law Faculty, one in collaboration with the country office, other in collaboration with the UNFPA. The latter event was taken to a different location and I spoke there. But the first event at which I was supposed to talk to a group of students was completely cancelled.’
‘I thought it was a pity students missed the opportunity. The message was verbally conveyed by the Vice Chancellor to the dean of the Law Faculty’.
When asked about why she thinks she was prevented from speaking she said ‘I can only speculate. I have no idea.’
It is particularly ironic that a person such as Abeysekara who has worked a lot on media freedom and freedom of expression should be exempt from speaking in a forum dealing with human rights. ‘It is particularly ironic that I should be cancelled because this was basically an activity of silencing.’

32 Comments for “Hypocrisy At The University Of Colombo”

  1. Ruwan Ferdinandez

    I didn’t miss anything by the cancellation of the event, rather, I mayb have wasted some time by attending it had it taken place. More than who, what is Sunila? She speaks to people like you when you put yours words in her mouth. What other HR work has she done? Dhanapala is a coward, who gained a fake publicity at our expense, by taking part in UNSG race, spending millions or our money, without taking into account our opinion, which was that the UNSG is a political position for international players. What else has he done? Saravanamutthu is a known LTTE sympathiser and so is everybpdy else mentioned in the article, except perhaps for Savithri Gunasekera, who surprises me by being a signatory to this comic letter. Only man missing in the list is Prabhakaran’s twin seperated at birth, now known as Wickramabahu Karunarathne. We must have a law to get the money that we spend on educating and subsequently employing these spineless nutcases in respectable positions back.

    • Martin Thomas

      Our country ia still suffering because peopel like you are still there to support what the current goverment has been doing to it’s poeple and but ofcourse they would continue to violet the human rights and suppress the fredom of speach and writing as long as people like you there to show your support to all the wrongs that are done in the country- What a shame after 50 years of suffering your have not changed you mindset yet.

      • Ruwan Ferdinandez

        The country will suffer not because of me but because of people like you who always speak with a political agenda. You can talk about the freedom of speech because the country has been liberated from ruthless terrorism. Journalists were killed in the past and innocent people like Vijaya Kumarathunge were jailed those days as well. The situation is not as bleak as you potray. That’s for you, but anyway I don’t have to support this government’s actions, I’ll leave it to people who are up for that. The action had nothing to do with the government, the meeting if took place, would have only proven the prostitution of media freedom by people with ulterior motives, who can’t bear the fact that the freedom has at last reached us!

        The country is sufferring but not as much as it has been for the last 30 years. The evels who pretend to be HR campaigners like Wickramabahu K, Sunila, Paikya, Sunanda, Chikera and a few others never supported the government in their war against terrorism. Now their friends are no more, they still are not giving up. Shame in deed!

        • Rosh

          Well said brother…..The miillion dollor question is…”when & where “does this so call “Media Freedom” ends? Who is setting the boundaries & rules?

          Surely we can’t allow these “holier than thou” media people to become a “law onto themselves” can we??

          If the “media institution” to become the 4th pillar of democracy, they better start behaving responsibly!

      • Justitia omnibus

        Mr Thomas:
        Don’t waste your time and energy on people like Ruwan Ferdinandez.

  2. Mahinda Rajapakse

    The people like Sunila Abeysekera and Sunanda Deshapriya who sold human rights issues to make a living would be out of business soon. Please go and look for some other jobs.

  3. R.P Perera

    Universities will in future become labor camps as under Mao Tse Tung’s cultural revolution. Such spineless people who run these universities are a standing disgrace. A university that doesn’t support freedom of expression can hardly be called a university. We need a better term like a degree factory.

  4. Justitia omnibus

    And this is the same Sunila Abeysekera who insisted that Tariq Ali, Noam Chomsky et al were wrong in endorsing a call to boycott the Galle Literary Festival because of the lack of freedom of expression in this country?!

  5. Dr C P Thiagarajah

    This is really a confrontation of a group that work to preserve justice and fair play in a multi-ethnic country and the extremist communalists now in control of the government . See what happened to Lasantha Wikrematunga. Unfortunately it is the order of the day and stalwarts of justice has no place in such a society till something from heaven intervenes.

  6. LankaLiar

    This is how our country operates so what?

  7. Karu

    In this country people are not allowed to talk about human rights Such people are branded as LTTE sympathiser by goons and educated fools.

    • Brian

      No one knows what is human rights, these 2 words are just rubbish, invented by imperialists and war mongers; the only fellows making a big noise of it are SOME media fellows like Ranil, Jayalath J’wardene and the like, just to push their personal gains..

      • perumal

        Exactly! Sri Lanka’s inhabitants (say voters) must first be given their rights. Thereafter, we can proceed, if they deserve any further rights.

  8. Ananda Silva

    I am surprised to read this news and to what low level our vice chancellors have goneinto. One sent a young university couple(the girl) for verginity test to Kalubowila Hospital. Now this lady is scared of students and other civil society members discussing human rights with in the Unuiversity premises. What type of a boot licker this VC happened to be. May God save our Universities/

  9. Gunarathne Banda

    Sunila Abeysekera is a genuine traitor of the nation, Sri Lanka. Her late father Charlie Abeysekera did the same with the likes of Bradmon Weerakoon, Anura Weerarathe etc

    • Mr. Gunarathne Bnda,
      I know late Mr. charls Abeysekera as a great Civil servent and a very simple
      man during his servce to the Ministry of Industries in Sri lanka made a great revolution in sri lanka history steel copperation,Tyre coparation and
      NIBM es-cetra. Mr Banda, I feel sorry for you YOU MAY REPENT ABOUT
      Cyril Wimalasena (Cologne Germany)

  10. sri

    Is Sri Lanka not a signatory to the UN Charter and international rights associated with human rights? Has one to stoop low to conquer?

  11. Max

    Justina Omnibus-
    Did you know that Tariq Ali is on the Payroll of the LTTE?

    • LankaLiar

      Typical Lanka Talk Keep it up. Even some govt ministers Karuna Pillaiyan KP ….

  12. Srima

    I know U of C when my son was a student there – with grades for a first he was not given any class by those in the physics dept – Thank you guys – for doing that ‘cos my son is a highly recognized international scientist now – this is what you did to so many brilliant students – Students do not GET classes on their performances at U of C – they are GIVEN classes even firsts to mediocrities who curry favour with the tutors and half baked lecturers. LOL .

  13. Mikey

    Why are people surprised? Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Sri Lanka, but I hate Sri Lankans, my own people. The most disloyal, backstabbing group of people on this planet who wouldn’t think twice about making an extra buck over the expense of someone else.’ It’s no secret that the best and brightest of Sri Lankans live abroad, and that’s because they realized this early on and got the hell out, and wants to stay out.
    The only thing this government has done is ending the war, that’s also a ploy to keep to support while those who are in power drain all country’s resources and sell anything and everything to foreign governments. C’mon, they have sold patents to native plants…!!! Medicinal plants that are not found anywhere else in the world!!! While those of you idiots protesting over some music video, the government is pulling the rug underneath you. One day, you are going to wake up, and you won’t own the house you live in…..

  14. gona

    Sunila Abesekara must be kicked her out of the country.

  15. Shehan Mendis

    This woman Sunila is a traitor to the Nation.

  16. Jegan Srinath

    We tamils love Sunila

  17. Kiri Gamarala

    VC of UoC is a Hirimburegama and the name is synonimous with Hirimbura, a municipal ward in Galle. May be her husband is a Hirimburegama a relative of late Hirimburegama Ralahamy a person who discharged his official duties without fear or favour.

    Whether Sunila, Dhanapala, and Park saravanamuththuIt are bogus HR activists or not the event should have been allowed because the universities are supposed to be centres for expression of independent opinion. It is sad to note an in-law of a fearless village headman holding a prestigious post in a autonomous body like UoC, bowing down to the presure of politicians, raising serious doubts as to whether she has ever had a university education.

  18. pathum

    She is a human rights “enterprenuer” like others who profits from trading human rights! But the problem is its the rights of terrorists they see but not the victims, nor the people in countries like Iraq, Afganistan who suffered immensely due to invation of their masters that is US and Briton!

  19. anna

    What a bunch, most of you are busy using this forum to display your bigoted views. Just the way, Ms Abeyseekra and the other strong conscientious are attacked is exactly how and what the Sri Lankan mind-set/society has become. A tail without a head. Brain in the gutter but the mouth ever ready to defend chauvinistic, nationalist space wasters. With a bunch like most of you who are attacking the conscientious and strong, who needs out side forces to harm the county. Just destroy from within. Led by grRrreat leaders!

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