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Monday April 15th, 2024

Sri Lanka loses vote at UN Human Rights Council

FILE PHOTO – United Nations Human Rights Council/

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka lost a vote at the United Nations Human Rights Council today as the 47 members voted 22 to 11 to impose a resolution that will empower the UN to collect and store information that could lead to international criminal proceedings.

Fourteen members of the council, including India, Nepal and Japan abstained while China, Pakistan and Bangladesh supported Sri Lanka. The Resolution was introduced by the United Kingdom and among the proponents were Canada and the European Union states.

Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told reporters shortly after the vote that the session had been a “victory for Sri Lanka because 14 members had abstained so only 22 out of the 47 members supported the resolution.”

The resolution does not impose any sanctions on Sri Lanka as a country. The concrete result of the vote is that the UN will create an office with an annual budget of USD2.8 million to collect information about war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the country.

The Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu told EconomyNext that the loss was a “foreign policy fiasco when you consider those who voted in support of Sri Lanka.”

In a statement made shortly before the vote was taken Sri Lanka’s Ambassador C A Chandraprema said that the scope of the resolution violates the United Nations Charter and accused the proponents of the resolution of politicizing the issues.

China which also supported Sri Lanka said that there was “interference in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka” in the Council proposing this resolution and urged members to oppose it.

The Philippines, which was roundly criticized by a number of Human Rights organisations for alleged extra-judicial killings, supported Sri Lanka calling for dialogue rather than a hostile resolution.

But the 22 yes votes was what most observers had predicted would happen on the eve of the vote. The supporters of the resolution had hoped for a few more yes votes so that there would have been a clear majority of yea votes.

The Sri Lankan government conducted a flurry of diplomatic moves over the past few weeks with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa visiting Bangladesh and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa making phone calls to the Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to get Muslim countries to support it.

Proposing the resolution to the Council the High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet pointed out that 12 years after the separatist war ended “domestic initiatives have repeatedly failed to ensure justice for victims and promote reconciliation. Despite commitments made in 2015, the current Government, like its predecessor, has failed to pursue genuine truth-seeking or accountability processes,” she said.

Earlier Bachelet had released a damning report on Sri Lanka accusing the armed forces and the LTTE of grave Human Rights violations.

She said the “impact on thousands of survivors, from all communities, is devastating. Moreover, the systems, structures, policies and personnel that gave rise to such grave violations in the past remain – and have recently been reinforced.”

In her report, the High Commissioner had noted that the space for civil society and independent media, which had grown significantly, is now rapidly shrinking in Sri Lanka.

“The independence of the judiciary, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, the National Police Commission and other key bodies has been deeply eroded by the recently adopted 20th Constitutional Amendment,” she said.

“The growing militarization of key civilian functions is encroaching on democratic governance. The continued failure to implement comprehensive reforms – or to vet personnel – leaves in place security and military officers who have been implicated in alleged grave crimes and violations,” she said.

The government had continued with its policy of forced cremations of the remains of all Covid 19 dead, despite serious objections raised by the Muslim and some Christian communities. It also disregarded recommendations by a panel of experts appointed by the Health Ministry that burial, which is the preferred method for these religious groups, could be allowed.

However, when seeking the votes of the Muslim countries in Geneva the government reversed the policy and the OIC allowed its members to vote for Sri Lanka.

Bachelet said successive Government commissions have failed to credibly establish the truth and ensure accountability. “Indeed, the Government has obstructed investigations and judicial proceedings into emblematic human rights cases,” she said.

“By repeatedly failing to advance accountability for past human rights violations committed, and by withdrawing its support for the Council’s resolution 30/1 and related measures, the Government has largely closed the door on the possibility of genuine progress to end impunity through a national process,” she added. (Colombo, March 23, 2021)

Reported by Arjuna Ranawana

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Iran President to visit Sr Lanka on April 24 anid rising tension, inaugurate Omaoya power project

ECONOMYNEXT – Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will arrive in Sri Lanka on April 24 on a one-day official visit to inaugurate Tehran-assisted $529 million worth Uma Oya multipurpose development project with 120MW hydro power generation capacity, official sources said.

The announcement on President Raisi’s visit comes two days after Iran launched explosive drones and fired missiles at Israel in its first direct attack on Israeli territory, a retaliatory strike that raised the threat of a wider regional conflict.

“The President is visiting to inaugurate the Omaoya project. He will be on a one-day visit,” an official at Iran embassy in Colombo told EconomyNext.

A Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry official confirmed the move.

This is the first time an Iranian President coming to Sri Lanka Iranian after then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit in April 2008.

The Omaoya project was originally scheduled to be completed in 2015, but had been delayed several times due to unexpected issued faced during the project cycle and funding issue after the United States imposed economic sanctions on Iran and economic crisis in Sri Lanka.

The project was started in 2010 and the funding was to be received as loan grant from the Iranian government. However, Iran was able to provide $50 million before the sanctions. Sri Lanka has to bear the cost after the sanctions.

The project includes storing water in two reservoirs with dams before being brought through a 23 km tunnel to two turbines located underground and generating hydro power with a capacity of 120 megawatts and added to the national grid.

After power generation, the water is expected to be brought to three reservoirs while supplying water to 20,000 acres of old and new paddy fields in both the Yala and Maha cultivating seasons.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the construction was signed between the two countries in 2007 while Sri Lanka’s Cabinet approved the execution of the contract agreement between the Executing Agency, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Irrigation and Water Management (MOIWM) of the GOSL and Iran’s FARAB Energy and Water Projects (FC).

When commencing the project on March 15, 2010, the scheduled date of completion of the project was on March 15, 2015. But the schedule completion date was extended to December 31, 2020 due to the unexpected water ingress into the head race tunnel and followed by social impacts.

The trade between the both countries suffered after the US sanctions. However, Sri Lanka inked a deal in December 2021 with Iran to set off export of tea to Iran against a legacy oil credit owed by state-run Ceylon Petroleum Corporation to the National Iranian Oil Company.

Sri Lanka owes $251 million for crude imported before the US imposed sanctions on Iran. (Colombo/April 15/2024)

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Sri Lanka to discuss two contentious points with bondholders: report

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka and sovereign bondholders are to discuss two matters in the near future which the two sides failed to reach agreement at March talks in London, a media report quoting a top aide to President Wickremesinghe as saying.

Sri Lanka and bondholders had discussed four matters on restructuring international sovereign bonds in late March and agreement had been reached on two, President’s Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayake was quoted as saying on state-run ITN television.

A restructuring proposal by bondholders was not in line with IMF requirements, and Sri Lanka had sent a counter proposal, he said.

The matters will be discussed at round of talks in the near future.

Sri Lanka was optimistic of reaching an agreement with the bondholders before June, officials have said.

According to matters already in the public domain, sovereign bond holders are keen to get a bond tied to dollar gross domestic product, as they feel IMF growth projections are too low.

In past re-structuring so-called value recovery instruments, a type of warrant, gave their owners extra payments if a country did better than expected and were tied to items like oil prices.

Bondholders had initially proposed bond which would have a lower hair cut initially, and it will have additional hair cuts if growth is low (about 3.1 percent) as projected in an IMF debt sustainability analysis. (Colombo/Apr15/2024)

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BIMSTEC Secretary General visits Sri Lanka, discusses regional cooperation

ECONOMYNEXT – The Secretary General of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), discussed measures to enhance regional cooperation, during his visit to the island last week.

Ambassador Indra Mani Pandey, Secretary General of BIMSTEC visited Sri Lanka from 07 – 12 April 2024, following his assumption of office as Secretary General of BIMSTEC in January this year.

The Secretary General “met with senior officials of relevant Ministries/Agencies to discuss measures to enhance regional cooperation under various BIMSTEC initiatives,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Several BIMSTEC countries have bilateral trade agreements, such as Sri Lanka and India, Thailand and Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand, but no collective regional agreement to enable intra-regional leverage.

During the visit, Secretary General Pandey held discussions with Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials and paid courtesy calls on the President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Secretary General Pandey participated at an event on “Regional Cooperation through BIMSTEC” organized by the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute (LKI) on 9 April. (Colombo/April15/2024)

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