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Tuesday February 27th, 2024

Continued UNHRC scrutiny of Sri Lanka’s human rights record crucial: HRW

FILE PHOTO – United Nations Human Rights Council/UNHRC.org

ECONOMYNEXT –The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) should maintain its rigorous scrutiny of Sri Lanka’s worsening human rights situation and press for genuine improvements, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Friday (10) morning.

“No one should be in any doubt that Sri Lanka’s human rights situation is deeply alarming and getting worse,” HRW South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly was quoted as saying in a statement.

“UN member states should recognise that the government is sensitive to international pressure, and make the protection of human rights in Sri Lanka their priority,” she added.

HRW said that, at the Council’s upcoming session scheduled to begin next Monday (13), UN member countries should express their alarm about alleged abuses by the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the alleged weakening of independent governmental institutions, civilian governance, and the rule of law.

“These countries should demonstrate their willingness to press the Sri Lankan government to meet its international human rights obligations,” the statement said.

“Since Gotabaya Rajapaksa took office in 2019, the limited progress Sri Lanka had made in addressing past atrocities and ending abuses has been disastrously reversed,” the statement quoted Ganguly as saying.

“Continued international attention and pressure can help reduce the risks faced by minority communities, activists and journalists, who live in heightened fear of the authorities,” she said.

The HRW statement comes close on the heels of a statement by UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor who claimed on Tuesday (07) detained Sri Lankan lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah’s human rights work and legal practice may have been conflated with terrorism and his detention may be used to prevent him from further engaging in ongoing human rights cases.

Related: Detained Sri Lanka human rights lawyer’s work conflated with terrorism: UN special rapporteur

International pressure has been mounting on the island nation to address allegations of human rights abuses, particularly those alleged to have been committed during the final phase of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE). Criticism has also been levelled at President Rajapaksa’s administration for its own record of human rights.

A UK report on human rights and democracy said in July that the overall human rights situation in Sri Lanka continued to deteriorate in 2020.

Titled ‘Human Rights and Democracy: 2020 Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office report‘, the document noted an alleged increase in surveillance and intimidation of civil society, limited or no progress with regard to accountability, militarisation and other issues.

Related: Human rights situation in Sri Lanka further deteriorated in 2020: UK report

Faced with the prospect of losing access to Europe’s GSP+ trade concession, Sri Lanka has announced its intention to address some of the concerns highlighted by the international community.

Related: Under pressure, Sri Lanka takes baby steps to address international rights concerns

HRW, however, appears sceptical.

“Far from promoting reconciliation, the government has repeatedly adopted policies that alienate Sri Lanka’s beleaguered minority communities. Tamils and Muslims in the north and east have complained of a concerted government policy to seize land belonging to members of their communities on various pretexts, including by a presidential task force on archaeology composed of Buddhist monks and members of the security forces,” the statement said.

“Foreign governments should take firm and coordinated action to press the Sri Lankan government to reverse course,” it added.

HRW said the European Union should insist that Sri Lanka complies with its human rights obligations to maintain tariff free market access under GSP+, as should the United Kingdom under its similar programme. Donor governments and multilateral agencies, such as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, should immediately withhold support for Sri Lankan security forces until they take steps to halt and address violations, in compliance with UN due diligence standards, the international human rights watchdog said.

“Governments should also consider imposing targeted sanctions on senior figures implicated in grave abuses, and pursue prosecutions under universal jurisdiction, as recommended by the UN human rights chief, Michele Bachelet, earlier this year,” it added.

The organisation was also critical of a government move to pay compensation to families of victims.

“… the government’s approach has been to emphasise ‘compensation’ to victims over justice and accountability, as Justice Minister Ali Sabry said at an event organized by the Office of Missing Persons on August 31. The Foreign Ministry claims that these payments— about US$500 each in cases in which the victim died— will help bring ‘closure’ and ‘reconciliation’,” HRW said.

HRW also questioned the government’s commitment to reforming the Prevention of Terrorism ACT (PTA), a running theme in international pronouncements on Sri Lanka’s human rights record.

“These actions contradict the government’s claim to foreign diplomats that it was preparing to reform the PTA, which has been used to facilitate the arbitrary detention and torture of prisoners since its introduction in 1979.

“Under the PTA, a prisoner can be held for up to 18 months without being produced in court. A newly formed “advisory board” of three presidential appointees to review pre-trial detention orders under this law offers no credible legal protection against abuses,” HRW said.

The full statement can be accessed here. (Colombo/Sep10/2021)

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Sri Lanka establishes Children of Gaza Fund

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Cabinet of Ministers has approved the proposal by President Ranil Wickremesinghe to create a “Children of Gaza Fund” in aid of the victims of the violence inflicted on Gaza.

“All Ministries and Government Institutions directed to forego Ifthar celebrations and contribute to this fund,” a statement by the president’s media division said.

“The Government’s donation of US $1 million will be distributed through official UN agencies to aid affected children with citizen contributions encouraged.” (Colombo/Feb27/2024)

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Top US official calls for inclusive reforms, deeper defence ties with Sri Lanka

ECONOMYNEXT — United States Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Richard Verma in discussions with Sri Lanka officials had called for inclusive reforms and stronger human rights and also discussed deeper defence and maritime cooperation.

The United States remains committed to the economic growth and prosperity of Sri Lanka, statement from the US Embassy in Colombo quoted the official as telling government, civil society and economic leaders during his February 23-24 visit to Sri Lanka.

“Verma met with President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Foreign Minister Ali Sabry to discuss progress on Sri Lanka’s IMF program, including inclusive economic and governance reforms aimed at keeping Sri Lanka on the path to sustainable economic growth.  Deputy Secretary Verma stressed the vital need to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression. They also explored opportunities to deepen defence and maritime cooperation between the United States and Sri Lanka, including strengthening the Sri Lanka Navy’s capabilities to safeguard national security and promote a more stable Indo-Pacific region,” the statement said.

 On February 23, aboard the SLNS Vijayabahu, one of three former U.S. Coast Guard cutters transferred by the United States to Sri Lanka, Deputy Secretary Verma said: “I am pleased to announce that the Department of State has notified Congress of our intent to transfer a fourth medium endurance cutter to Sri Lanka.  The Department obligated $9 million in Foreign Military Financing to support this effort.  We look forward to offering the cutter, pending the completion of Congress’ notification period.  If completed, this transfer would further strengthen defense cooperation between the United States and Sri Lanka.  The ship would increase Sri Lanka’s ability to patrol its Exclusive Economic Zone, monitor its search and rescue area, and provide additional security for ships from all nations that transit the busy sea lanes of the Indian Ocean.” 

 Participating in the announcement at Colombo Port were Sri Lanka State Minister of Defense Premitha Bandara Tennakoon, Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy Vice Admiral Priyantha Perera, and U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung, who remarked, according to the statement: “The United States has previously transferred three cutters to the Sri Lankan Navy, which deploys these ships for maritime operations and law enforcement missions, countering human trafficking and drug trafficking, while supporting humanitarian assistance and disaster response efforts. The eventual transfer of a fourth vessel would be just one more point in a long history of cooperation between Sri Lanka and the United States in preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific region.” 

Verma also visited the site of the West Container Terminal (WCT), a deepwater shipping container terminal in the Port of Colombo. The WCT, currently being constructed by Colombo West International Terminal (CWIT) Private Limited with 553 million US dollars in financing from the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, will provide critical infrastructure for the South Asian region, the embassy said.

“Operating near capacity since 2021, the Port of Colombo’s new addition will be the port’s deepest terminal and aims to boost Colombo’s shipping capacity, expanding its role as a premiere logistics hub connecting major routes and markets, boosting prosperity for Sri Lanka without adding to its sovereign debt,” it said. (Colombo/Feb27/2024)

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Sri Lanka police chief appointment against constitution: Opposition Leader

Samagi Jana Balavegaya leader Sajith Premadasa addresses the rally

ECONOMYNEXT – The appointment of Sri Lanka’s new police chief Deshbandu Tennakoon is against the constitution as the decision lacked required votes at the Constitutional Council, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Monday (26) appointed Deshbandu Tennakoon as the 36th Inspector General of Police (IGP) of the country after the Constitutional Council (CC) cleared the official who along with three other police officers were asked by the Supreme Court to compensate 2 million rupees in a fundamental rights case last year.

“CC didn’t approve IGP’s appointment. Votes: 4 for; 2 against; 2 abstentions. At least 5 votes are required for a decision,” Premadasa said in his X (Twitter) platform.

“Speaker has a casting vote only in case of a tie. 4/2 is not a tie! Constitution is being blatantly violated for the second time. Shame on you speaker!”

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena was not reachable for a comment on the Opposition Leader’s claim.

The President Media Division (PMD) said the President appointed Tennakoon “as the IGP in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution”.

The island nation’s Supreme Court on December 14 ordered Tennakoon when he was the Acting IGP and three other officials to pay a compensation of 500,000 rupees each for the violation of the fundamental rights of an individual.

The Supreme Court also instructed the Police Commission to take disciplinary action against the said Police officers including Tennakoon after it considered the petition filed by W. Ranjith Sumangala who had accused the Police officers of violating his fundamental rights during his detention at Mirihana Police Station in 2011.

The Supreme Court held that the four police officers violated the fundamental rights of the petitioner by his illegal arrest, detention and subjection to torture at the Mirihana Police Station, which was under the supervision of Tennakoon at the time of the arrest. (Colombo/Feb 27/2024)

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