ECONOMYNEXT – The United States has imposed sanctions on another Sri Lankan military officer for alleged human rights abuses.
In a statement issued on Friday December 09 marking International Human Rights Day, the US State Department announced that sanctions would be imposed on Prabath Bulathwatte, former head of a clandestine Sri Lankan Army platoon known as the “Tripoli Platoon”.
“Pursuant to section 7031(c) the Department of State is designating Bulathwatte for his involvement in a gross violation of human rights, namely torture and/or cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of Sri Lankan journalist, Keith Noyahr in May 2008,” the statement said.
The State Department said the sanctions were imposed to promote accountability for corruption and human rights abuse around the world. The sanctions include financial sanctions and visa restrictions, and the Sri Lankan military official is a number of people around the world who face similar sanctions.
In 2021, the US State Department listed two Sri Lankan soldiers, Navy officer Chandana Hettiarachchi and Sri Lanka Army staff sergeant Sunil Ratnayake in a similar list of people facing sanctions. The previous year the State Department imposed sanctions on then Sri Lanka Army Commander and incumbent Chief of Defence Staff General Shavendra Silva.
Journalist Keith Noyahr was abducted and tortured in May 2008 when war was raging in the country’s north and east between government forces and the separatist Tamil Tigers. Nohayr was deputy editor and defence correspondent at the Nation weekly English newspaper.
Noyahr was abducted by a group of armed men in a white van, according to testimony provided by the journalist. The otherwise inconspicuous white van was a dreaded sight at the time in the streets of Sri Lanka, linked as it were to a number of abductions involving journalists and others.
The fresh US sanctions come at a time when the superpower has announced its intention to assist Sri Lanka through its prevailing currency crisis. In a meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Ali Sabry and US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung discussed ways in which the United States can continue to support Sri Lanka going forward.
Minister Sabry was recently in Washington D.C. where he US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
A foreign ministry statement said the two officials held productive discussions at the Department of State on December 02 on further elevating bilateral relations in diverse spheres, including the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations which will be marked in 2023.
Incidentally, Sri Lanka also celebrates the 75th anniversary of its independence from the British in 2023, and President Ranil Wickremesinghe has given himself and all parties that represent parliament a deadline to find a permanent solution to Sri Lanka’s decades-long ethnic issue.
The US has been vocal about Sri Lanka addressing concerns about its human rights record since the end of the civil war in 2009 and was a sponsor of the latest resolution on Sri Lanka passed by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Unlike previous resolutions, this year’s iteration makes specific reference to the country’s prevailing currency crisis and calls for investigations on corruption allegations.
In the lead up to the UNHRC sessions in Geneva, Minister Sabry Sri Lanka’s government under then new president Wickremesinghe does not want any confrontation with any international partner but will oppose any anti-constitutional move forced upon the country.
On the eve of the sessions on October 06, Sabry said countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, who led the UNHRC core group on Sri Lanka, are greatly influenced by domestic-level lobbying by pressure groups from the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora.
These pronouncements notwithstanding, the Wickremesnghe government has been making inroads to the West as well as India and Japan, eager to obtain their assistance in seeing Sri Lanka through the ongoing crisis.
The island nation has entered into a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for an extended fund facility of 2.9 billion dollars to be disbursed over a period of four years, subject to a successful debt restructure programme and structural reforms.
Much depends on whether or not China agrees to restructure Sri Lanka’s 7.4 billion dollar outstanding debt to the emerging superpower. Beijing’s apparent hesitance to go for a swift restructure prompted Tamil National Alliance MP Shanakiyan Rasamanickam to warn of possible “go home, China” protests in Colombo, similar to the wave of protests that forced the exit of former pro-China President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
The TNA will be a key player in upcoming talks with the Wickremesinghe government on a solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic issue. (Colombo/Dec10/2022)