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Friday June 14th, 2024

UN Report urges global justice, sanctions for Sri Lanka’s disappeared victims

ECONOMYNEXT – A new report from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has recommended targeted sanctions on officials responsible for disappearances in Sri Lanka since 1970 and has called for justice outside the country for the families of victims.

Released last week, just before the 15th anniversary of the war’s end and four months ahead of the next UN human rights session where Sri Lanka is likely to face a new resolution, the report has sparked significant attention from rights groups.

The report, titled “Accountability for Enforced Disappearances in Sri Lanka,” urged justice for all Sri Lankan ethnic groups, including Sinhalese and Muslims, during the war and other insurrections, rather than focusing solely on ethnic minority Tamils as in the past.

Sri Lanka ended a 26-year civil war in 2009 with the state military defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who fought for an independent state in the island nation’s North and East. The civil war was rooted in 35 years of discrimination against ethnic minority Tamils by the majority Sinhalese.

Tamil families have been waiting for justice and accountability from successive governments since 2009 to find their relatives disappeared during the final weeks of the conflict, amid failures from global rights bodies, including the UN.

On Saturday (May 18), the island nation witnessed two commemorations: Victory Day, mostly in the southern part of the country, and Remembrance Day for the Tamils in Sri Lanka’s North.

London-based rights group Amnesty International has estimated the number of disappeared victims in Sri Lanka between 60,000 and 100,000, although the Sri Lankan government has repeatedly disputed these figures. There is no credible numbers recorded by the government.

“Impunity remains entrenched,” the OHCHR said in its report, expressing dissatisfaction with the Sri Lankan government’s measures over the last 15 years.

“Notwithstanding steps such as the criminalization of enforced disappearances and the establishment of the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) and the Office for Reparations, these have not translated into concrete results that would satisfy victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence.”

UN investigations have found credible evidence of crimes under international law and other violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed by both sides of the conflict.

The government has strongly and repeatedly rejected such allegations, and there has been little to no independent or impartial national inquiry into these serious crimes.

The OHCHR said the latest report was prepared with “a series of consultations with victims exploring the impacts of enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka and their perspectives on accountability.”

It held bilateral interviews with 39 victims and convened focus groups involving 43 victims, with a higher ratio of women to compile the report.

TARGETED SANCTIONS

A limited number of Western nations have already imposed targeted sanctions, including travel bans for some Sri Lankan political and military leaders, after finding credible information about human rights violations, the OHCHR said.

The United States has imposed a travel ban on former Army Chief Shavendra Silva and his immediate family members, Navy intelligence officer Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi, Army Staff Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake, army officer Prabath Bulathwatta, and former Navy chief Wasantha Karannagoda, citing human rights violations, the report said.

Canada last year imposed financial sanctions to freeze the assets of former Sri Lankan presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, along with Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi and Sunil Ratnayake, citing rights abuses.

Human rights analysts say some Sri Lankan political and military leaders are still unaware that they have been blacklisted by Western nations for rights abuses and will only become aware of such measures when they request visas from these countries.

“Consider further targeted sanctions, consistent with international law, against those who are credibly alleged to have been responsible for enforced disappearances and other gross violations and abuses of international human rights law or serious violations of international humanitarian law,” the OHCHR said.

The Rajapaksas and military leaders have denied any wrongdoing, though successive governments have rejected an independent international investigation into alleged human rights violations, citing infringement on the country’s sovereignty.

Alan Keenan, London-based International Crisis Group’s Sri Lanka Senior Analyst, said the latest report broadens the time horizon to include the disappearances of Sinhala youth during the insurrections led by Marxist group Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) as well.

“It’s an issue that all Sri Lankans have been affected by, which goes to the core of the legal system and the failure of multiple governments, basically every government since the 1970s, to deal with,” Keenan told EconomyNext.

“So I think this report is important in that it reminds everybody in the international community and in Sri Lanka of the depth of the problem that Sri Lanka faces in terms of its lack of effective institutions of the rule of law and the many decades of impunity for the most serious violations of international human rights law and, during the war, international humanitarian law.”

“What’s also positive is that the range of recommendations in the report potentially benefits all communities—Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims, men, and women, rich and poor.”

He noted that human rights issues are often presented by the government in the media as being anti-Sri Lankan and anti-Sinhala majority, favoring only Tamils, Muslims, Christians, or other minority groups.

“This report shows that acting on accountability, holding people accountable, setting up new institutions to make that possible, bringing out the truth, and reforming and strengthening the institutions of justice and the rule of law is everybody’s issue. It should benefit all communities. That’s what’s most interesting and important about this report.”

INTERNATIONAL JURISDICTION

The OHCHR has urged the international community to engage with Sri Lanka due to an “accountability gap at the domestic level,” with victims urging prosecution in a third State due to “widespread impunity in Sri Lanka.”

Citing examples of some Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) filing legal actions against former Sri Lankan military leaders in Brazil, Australia, Germany, and Switzerland, the OHCHR noted that no state has yet issued an arrest warrant or prosecuted any Sri Lankans suspected of involvement in an enforced disappearance.

“A key stumbling block has been the immunities afforded to persons who remain in high office or have subsequently been appointed to diplomatic posts,” it said.

“Use all potential forms of jurisdiction, including under accepted principles of extraterritorial and universal jurisdiction, to investigate and prosecute crimes under international law committed in Sri Lanka, strengthen coordination in relation to ongoing investigations, and consider support for other avenues of international justice.”

International Crisis Group’s Keenan explained that cases targeting alleged perpetrators in Sri Lanka could also be pursued in other countries.

Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard, who witnessed the Remembrance Day by the Tamils in the final battlefield of Mullivaikkal, said the Sri Lankan government is best placed to provide answers to the victims, though past “domestic mechanisms to establish accountability in the last 15 years have been mere window dressing.”

“UNWARRANTED, PREPOSTEROUS” REPORT

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry dismissed the UN report, stating that no member country had given a mandate to the OHCHR to compile such a report at a time when Sri Lanka was commemorating the 15th anniversary of the war’s end.

“This is unwarranted,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman told EconomyNext.

“The timing of the release is politically motivated and seems to be targeting the 15th anniversary of the end of the war. The content is unsubstantiated, not credible, and unfounded. It has just interviewed a few victims and targeted our senior officials and military personnel.”

He accused the United Nations Human Rights body of deliberately targeting a small country like Sri Lanka to “draw attention away from human rights violations elsewhere in the world.”

“It has asked to probe disappearances from 1970–2009. This is almost 40 years, covering a substantial period of post-independent Sri Lanka. This is totally preposterous.”

Sri Lanka will respond to the UN Human Rights High Commissioner on the content of the report through its Geneva envoy, he said.

Sri Lanka has admitted to some human rights violations but has strongly rejected any foreign probes into the allegations. Despite the island nation’s protest, the UN rights body has passed two resolutions to conduct an independent investigation with its own officials. (Colombo/May 21/2024)

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Sri Lanka opposition leader proposes Grama Rajya system in addition to 13A

Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa (r) – File photo

ECONOMYNEXT — Sri Lanka opposition leader Sajith Premadasa has proposed devolving power to the village level through a Grama Rajya system in addition to implementing the 13th amendment to the constitution.

Speaking at an event in Jaffna on on Wednesday June 12, Premadasa said all provinces will benefit from the 13th amendment.

“Whatever one’s ethnicity, religion, status or region, this country has citizens of equal level. They’re all Sri Lankan citizens.

“There is no division or grouping.  As we give you and every other province what you should be given through the 13th amendment, we must implement a Grama Rajya system,” Premadasa said, addressing a crowd of school children and other attendees.

Premadasa’s assurance of implementing the 13th amendment has already drawn some protest in the south.

A collective of civil society organisations held a protest outside the office of the leader of the opposition in Colombo on Thursday June 12.

Calling itself the ‘Coalition Against Partition of Sri Lanka’, the group carrying national flags marched up to the opposition leader’s office Thursday June 13 morning and demonstrated against the full implementation of the 13th amendment.

“We arrived here today to hand over a missive against devolving police powers, land powers and judicial powers. If Mr Premadasa is inside, come outside,” Jamuni Kamantha Thushara, Chairman of the Citizen’s Movement Against Fraud, Corruption, and Waste, was seen declaring at the site.

“First of all, tell us what we stand to achieve by dividing and giving away the north and east,” said another protestor, warning against bringing the 13th amendment “anywhere here (paththa palaathe)”.

A police officer at the scene the protestors that a secretary to the opposition leader was ready to accept their letter.

“In Kilonochchi, he says the 13th amendment will be implemented. The votes in the north are going to be decisive this election. To win those votes, President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sajith and Anura Kumara Dissanayake all say they will implement the 13th. We will not allow this country to be divided into nine pieces,” said Thushara.

Ven Balangoda Kassapa Thero, who was arrested on June 06 during a protest against the new Electricity Act, was also seen at Thursday’s protest. The Buddhist monk requested for a debate with Premadasa on the matter of the 13th amendment. (Colombo/Jun12/2024)

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Sri Lanka rupee closes flat at 303.85/95 to US dollar

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s rupee closed broadly flat at 303.85/95 to the US dollar on Thursday, from 303.80/304.00 to the dollar the previous day, dealers said. Bond yields were down.

A bond maturing on 15.12.2026 closed at 10.00/30 percent, down from 10.20/40 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.10.2027 closed at 10.60/75 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2028 closed at 11.00/15 percent, down from 11.15/40 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.09.2029 closed at 11.80/85 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2030 closed at 11.85/12.05 percent, down from 11.90/12.05 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.10.2032 closed stable at 11.95/12.15 percent. (Colombo/Jun13/2024)

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Sri Lanka sells Rs295bn in 2027 to 2031 bonds

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has sold 295 billion rupees in 2027, 2029 and 2031 bonds, data from the state debt office showed.

The debt office sold an offered 60 billion rupees of 15 October 2027 at an average yield of 10.30 percent.

All offered 125 billion rupees of 15 September 2029 bonds were sold at 11.00 percent.

All 110 billion rupees offered of 01 December 2031 bonds were sold at 12.00 percent. (Colombo/May13/2024)

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