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Tuesday May 30th, 2023

Sri Lanka panel recommends granting permission to relatives to commemorate war dead

ECONOMYNEXT – Permitting Sri Lankans in the North and East to commemorate their kith and kin killed in the country’s 26-year war in private was among the proposals by a presidential commission appointed look into alleged human rights violations.

“Terrorists are not allowed to be commemorated but the commission has recommended to grant the right to commemorate the death of a relative [that] occurred during the war, in private,” the President’s Media Division (PMD) said after the commission handed over its second interim report to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Friday (18).

The 107-page report included appraisal of the previous commissions’ findings and a way forward. It was handed over to the president by Supreme Court Judge A H M D Nawaz, the head of the commission.

On January 21 last year, President Rajapaksa appointed a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to investigate, inquire into and report or take necessary actions on findings of preceding commissions or committees appointed to investigate human rights violations, serious violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and other such offences.

The first report of the commission was submitted to the President on July 21, 2021, ahead of the last year’s United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session. The second report has been handed over just days before the 49th UNHRC session scheduled for next week.

The latest report has also recommended the immediate investigation of the findings of the Paranagama Commission appointed in 2015 and to file a court case or provide compensation accordingly.

The Paranagama Commission investigated the complaints regarding missing persons, alleged abductions and disappearances in the North and East of Sri Lanka during the period June 10, 1990 to May 19, 2009 in order to identify persons responsible and initiate legal proceedings against them.

By June 2015, the Paranagama Commission had received more than 21,000 complaints.

The Paranagama Commission’s mandate was expanded to address the facts and circumstances surrounding civilian loss of life and the question of responsibility for violations of international law during the conflict that ended in May 2009.

Commission Chairman Nawaz said that the final report can be submitted to the President by next June.
Sri Lanka is likely to face fresh scrutiny on the current government’s probe into the 2019 Easter Sunday attack and alleged suppression of religious freedom in Sri Lanka at the upcoming UNHRC session in addition to alleged war crimes, diplomats told EconomyNext.

The 107-page second interim report has taken testimonies from 75 residents in the former northern war zone of Jaffna and Kilinochchi districts into account .

Human rights activists say debt-ridden Sri Lanka has been gearing up to appease the UNHRC and the European Union. The activists that spoke to EconomyNext are concerned about the timing of the latest presidential commission report.

The government recently expressed its willingness to amend the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), as the island is at risk of losing the annual GSP Plus trade concession worth over 500 million USD from the European Union. The concessions were a valuable asset that has helped uplift the country’s fisheries and garments industries.

Complicating the country’s delicate standing in the international sphere, Colombo Archbishop Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith recently said that the Sri Lankan Catholic church will be working closely with the Vatican to provide justice to the victims of the Easter Sunday bombings, claiming that the government has failed in its investigations.

With the 49th UNHRC session scheduled to commence next week. Sri Lanka is seeking allies and ways to appease the international community, as the country’s allegedly spotty human rights record is set to be put under the microscope once again. (Colombo/Feb22/2022)

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Sri Lanka food producers on countdown; 6-months to reduce trans fat content

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lankan food manufacturers only have another six months to reduce the amount of trans fat in food items as the government plans to ban high trans-fat food from January 2024 onwards, an official said.

“A six-month grace period has been given to existing manufacturers, sellers and distributors whose products contain trans-fat,” an official of the Ministry of Health told EconomyNext requesting anonymity.

According to a Ministry of Health gazette issued on… a person shall not sell, offer for sale, expose or keep for sale or advertise for sale, any packaged food product containing trans-fat unless the total amount of trans-fat of such food product per 100 grams or 100 milliliters of the food product is declared on the label of such packaged food product.

However, these regulations will not be applicable for export oriented food products.

Trans-fat is a type of fat that has certain chemical properties and is usually found in processed foods such as baked goods, snack foods, fried foods, shortening, margarine, and certain vegetable oils.

Eating trans-fat increases blood cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has praised Sri Lanka for enacting a legislation on trans-fat to protect health and prevent premature deaths from coronary heart disease, a statement from the WHO said.

“Eliminating trans-fats from food supplies is a cost-effective measure with enormous health benefits,” the statement quoting Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia said.

“By enacting legislation on trans-fat, Sri Lanka has once again demonstrated its resolve to protect and promote the health of its people”.

The regulations are coming into effect as Sri Lanka is struggling with food insecurity as the country recovers from its worst economic crisis.

However, an improvement in food security across all provinces has been recorded, according to an assessment by a Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM) of two UN agencies. (Colombo/ May 30/2023)

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India extends under utilized $1 bln credit facility to Sri Lanka by one year 

ECONOMYNEXT – India has extended a $1 billion credit facility to Sri Lanka by another year after the loan that was given to help the crisis-hit island nation to continue import of essentials was not fully utilized in the 12 month period originally agreed, officials said.

Sri Lanka faced with a looming sovereign default signed the credit facility in March 2022 for one year through March 2024. However, the full $1 billion had not been utilized yet.

The Facility has been used for urgent procurement of fuel, medicines, food items and industrial raw materials, as per the requirements and priorities of Sri Lanka.

“The initial agreement was signed in 2022 March and out of the 1000 million US dollars allocated materials were imported for $576.75 mil,” Shehan Semasinghe, State Finance Minister said in his official twitter platform.

“The agreement is extended for the remaining $423.25 mil. We will prioritize the import of essential medicines till March 2024.”

Indian High Commission in Colombo said the State Bank of India (SBI) has extended the tenure of the $1 billion Credit Facility provided to Sri Lanka in response to a request from the Government of Sri Lanka.  (Colombo/May 30/2023)

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Sri Lanka President cleared to discuss cancelled LRT after soured Japan relations

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Cabinet of Ministers approved a proposal by President Ranil Wickremesinghe discuss resuming a Japan funded. Light Rail Transit (LRT) project cabinet spokesman said, as the island nation is in the process of mending ties with Tokyo.

However, any such deals are likely to take place after the debt restructuring and Sri Lanka starts to repay its foreign loans to come out of default, analysts say.

Former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa unilaterally cancelled the 1.5 billion US dollar LRT and East Container Terminal (ECT) projects in 2021. Japan agreed to fund the LRT project while it was one of the tripartite members of the ECT project along with India and Sri Lanka.

The abrupt cancellation hit the diplomatic ties between the two countries and Sri Lankan government officials have said Japan had given the project to Sri Lanka at a very lower financing cost.

President Wickremesinghe returned from Japan late last week after having met top officials of the Japanese government including its prime minister.

“In recent history, due to the stopping of several agreements and proposals suddenly, President Wickremesinghe went to Japan after creating the background to clear some of the worries we have,” Cabinet Spokesman Bandula Gunawardena told the weekly media briefing.

“Before he went, he got the approval from the cabinet to resume the discussion on the light railway project. He got the approval from the cabinet to get parliament approval for bilateral agreements signed or any other investments project. Any change or cancellation of a project could be done only with the approval of the parliament.”

Japan has backed Sri Lanka under Wickremesinghe’s presidency after the island nation declared sovereign debt default. (Colombo/May 30/2023)

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