A long way still to go to retain GSP Plus
By Jehan Perera
In appointing the new Right to Information commissioners to five-year terms, the government has chosen persons with credibility within human rights organisations. Two, in particular, are worthy of mention. Kishali Pinto Jayawardena, who was part of the previous Commission, has been a foremost and fearless critic of corrupt and undemocratic governance that spans many governments, as a newspaper columnist and lawyer. Jagath Liyanaarachchi, also a lawyer, has been a source of strength to civil society as a political commentator and resource person at training programmes on issues of human rights, reconciliation and good governance. Their appointment to the Right to Information Commission will ensure that the positive role of the RTI Commission will continue.
In another less publicised development, the release on bail of 10 persons, who had been arrested and kept in detention for over seven months, was also an indication of a positive shift of approach. They had been arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) for having commemorate their loved ones who had died in the war on May 18, the anniversary of the end of the war. May 18 is the date that the Tamil people of the Northern and Eastern provinces consider a day of remembrance while May 19 is the day that the government celebrates as the day the war was won. The action for which they had been arrested was to have gathered on the beach by themselves, light a lamp and remember their loved ones in a context in which the police had obtained court orders against public commemoration under public nuisance and Covid-related crowding ban.
One of the 10 posted the video of their commemoration on their Facebook page which came to the attention of the security forces. The PTA permits the security forces to arrest persons and detain them if there is any suspicion. Human rights advocates have pointed out that the PTA does not contain a definition of terrorism and is a human rights deficient law that does not adhere to basic human rights standards enshrined in international conventions. Instead, the offences stipulated are those found in other laws, such as the Penal Code, to which the PTA makes reference. Hence, the decision as to whether the PTA would apply in a certain instance is a subjective decision that can be shaped by personal prejudice and bias, rather than objective standards.
Bringing the PTA into line with international standards is one of the EU Parliament’s requirements for a continuation of the GSP Plus tariff concession. The GSP Plus was withdrawn once before in 2010 on the grounds that Sri Lanka failed to meet its human rights commitments and this cost the country tremendously in terms of job losses, factory shutdowns and diminished foreign currency earnings. The GSP Plus was restored in 2017 following government pledges to meet its human rights obligations in terms of 26 international covenants that the country has signed, and with the reform of the PTA as one major promise. These pledges were incorporated into the UN Human Rights Council resolution of 2015 that the then Sri Lankan government also co-sponsored.
The government appears to be taking the possible loss of GSP Plus seriously and is in the process of revising the PTA. Last month a committee of senior government officials drawn from different ministries and the security forces and headed by Defense Secretary General Kamal Gunaratne handed over a confidential report on the PTA and the options for amending it to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. This report is being considered by a committee of government ministers headed by Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris. On November 27, this ministerial committee invited a group of civil society members to discuss the revisions to the PTA that the government hopes to bring.
They made the point that arbitrary arrests need to be ended and that all actions with regard to detention needed to be taken by the judiciary rather than by executive or administrative authorities. The example of the seven month long detention of the Batticaloa 10 was brought to the discussion as one of the civil society members present on the occasion was a lawyer who had appeared in their case.
The problem with laws that do not give to the judiciary the power to detain or not to detain (as decided by Justice Mark Fernando in the Supreme Court case of Pathmanathan) is that these laws can be abused by those who operate under political or administrative direction. Those who work on PTA cases have noted that there is a pattern to the arrests. If a person shows ability as a community leader, and can become a political rival to the ruling politicians or aspirants to political power, they are liable to be arrested under a shallow pretext and put into remand prison. This is especially the case in the North and East where the military is present in large numbers on the grounds that they need to be eternally vigilant to prevent another terrorist uprising. In some cases the detention order is served for clicking the “like” button on Facebook for a site that is seen as subversive.
Following the decision of the Attorney General’s Department to permit the bailing out of the Batticaloa detainees, there is optimism that other PTA detainees, who are incarcerated on suspicion but against whom there are no charges, will also be able to obtain bail and go back to their homes and loved ones. The lawyer who had appeared in the case said that relatives of other prisoners were calling him asking if they could expect their loved ones to be bailed out.
During the meeting with the government ministers, the civil society members were assured that the changes to the PTA that had been proposed were a result of consensus between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Justice and Defence and the Attorney General’s Department, and that these changes are not conceived as one-off ones, but as a part of a continuum, there being other changes contemplated that will be agreed on later.
Not only those who are detained under the PTA, but civil society organisations and their members continue to complain that they live under tension as they are being constantly questioned by the security forces and asked to provide them with their reports. While the problem of surveillance is severe in the North and East, there is also an unpredictable element in civil society activities in other parts of the country. Sometimes there is a crackdown which is inexplicable and shows the potential for the use of arbitrary power. On December 10, which is International Human Rights Day, the Human Rights Organisation of Kandy, headed by Fr Nandana Manatunga was issued a court order obtained by the police to prevent him from conducting an event to celebrate International Human Rights Day.
Fr Manatunga has won international awards for the work he has done, especially for prisoners over many decades. On this occasion the theme of the event his organisation was planning was “Ensure the Prisoners their Dignity and Rights to Human Conditions.”
One part of the programme was to give tokens of appreciation to family members of prisoners, from different ethnic and religious groups and from different parts of the country, who had seen their loved ones incarcerated for long periods and having to fend for themselves. However, due to the court order, this event could not be held. The order obtained by the police prohibited the event on the grounds it may cause disunity amongst different ethnic groups. This is an indication of how even the regular law can be used to stifle the freedom of association and freedom of expression, which are basic human rights. As an example, commemoration was defined by different courts differently in the North this year some allowing with conditions and others with refusal.
The Human Rights Organisation of Kandy reports that surveillance and harassment became more intense in 2021, when two staff members were summoned for questioning in Colombo by the Counter Terrorist Investigation Department (CTID) on two separate occasions. The government’s efforts to show commitment towards human rights needs to become more institutionalised and less ad hoc or dependent on personal goodwill. This will improve the prospects to retain GSP Plus.
ICC arrest warrant; a setback for authoritarian rule
As should be expected, the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Russian President Vladimir Putin on war crimes allegations has given rise to a widespread debate on how effective it would be as an instrument of justice. What compounds the issue is the fact that Russia is not obliged to cooperate with the ICC, given that it is not a signatory to the Rome Statute which outlaws the crimes in question and envisages punitive action for signatory state representatives who act in violation of its provisions.
Predictably, the Russian side has rubbished the ICC allegations and its arrest warrant on the basis that they are totally irrelevant to Russia, considering that it does not recognize the ICC or its rulings. However, the fact remains that important sections of the international community would be viewing Putin and his regime as war criminals who should be shunned and outlawed.
The possibility is great of the Putin regime steadily alienating itself from enlightened opinion the world over from now on. In other words, Putin and his cohorts have incurred a heavy moral defeat as a consequence of the ICC’s arrest warrant and its strictures.
Morality may not count much for the Putin regime and its supporters, locally and internationally, but the long term consequences growing out of this dismissive stance on moral standards could be grave. They would need to take their minds back to the white supremacist regimes of South Africa of decades past which were relentlessly outlawed by the world community, incurring in the process wide-ranging sanctions that steadily weakened apartheid South Africa and forced it to negotiate with its opponents. Moreover, the ICC measures against Putin are bound to strengthen his opponents and critics at home, thereby boosting Russia’s pro-democracy movement.
However, the Putin administration could earn for itself some ‘breathing space’ at present by proving the ICC’s allegations wrong. That is, it would need to establish beyond doubt that it is not guilty of the crime of deporting Ukrainian children to Russia and other war-linked offences. It could liaise with UNICEF and other relevant UN agencies for this purpose since it does not recognize the ICC.
A wise course of action for President Putin would be to pick up this gauntlet rather than ignore the grave allegations levelled against him, in view of the long term consequences of such evasive behavior.
Besides, the Russian President would need to restrict his movements from now on. For, he is liable to be arrested and produced before the ICC by those governmental authorities who are signatories to the Rome Statute in the event of Putin entering their countries. That is, Putin’s head is likely to be increasingly restless as time goes by.
However, the gravest consequence flowing from Putin and his regime ignoring the ICC and its strictures is that later, if not sooner, they could find themselves being hauled up before the ICC. There is ample evidence from recent history that this could be so. All the alleged offenders need to do is take their minds back to the convulsive and bloody Balkan wars of the nineties to see for themselves how the ICC process, though slow and laborious, finally delivered justice to the victims of war crimes in that tempestuous theatre.
All those war criminals who have lulled themselves into believing that it is possible to escape being brought to justice before the world’s tribunals, need to recollect how former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevik and his partners in crime Rodovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic were brought before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the early years of this century and required to pay the price for their criminality. So confident were they initially that they would never be brought to justice that they agreed, tongue-in-cheek, to fully cooperate with the ICTY.
It is pertinent to also remember that the criminals mentioned were notorious for their ‘ethnic cleansing’ operations and other war-time excesses. Accordingly, those accused of war crimes the world over would be only indulging in wishful thinking if they consider themselves above the law and safe from being held accountable for their offences. Justice would catch-up with them; if not sooner, then later. This is the singular lesson from Bosnia.
Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping has considered it timely to call on President Putin in Russia. He did so close on the heels of being elected President for a third straight term recently. This is a clear message to the world that Russia could always depend on China to be a close and trusted ally. It is a question of two of the biggest authoritarian states uniting. And the world they see as big enough for both of them.
Interestingly, China is having the world believe that it has a peace plan for Ukraine. While in Russia, though, XI did not spell out in any detail how the crisis in Ukraine would be resolved with China’s assistance. However, China has drafted what is termed its ‘Position on the Ukraine Crisis’. It contains 12 points which are more in the nature of a set of principles.
Seen against the backdrop of the developments in Ukraine, some of these principles merit close scrutiny. For instance, the first principle lays out that the sovereignty of all countries must be respected. Besides, International Law must be universally recognized, including the ‘purposes and principles of the UN Charter’. However, ‘double standards’ must be rejected. Hopefully, the West got the hint.
Principle 4 has it that ‘Dialogue and negotiations are the only viable solution to the Ukraine crisis.’ Principle 8 points out that, ‘Nuclear weapons must not be used and nuclear wars must not be fought’.
Needless to say, all the above principles are acceptable to the international community. What is required of China is to evolve a peace plan for Ukraine, based on these principles, if it is in earnest when it speaks of being a peace maker. The onus is on China to prove its credibility.
However, China could be said to be characteristically pragmatic in making these moves. While further cementing its alliance with Russia, China is placing the latter on notice, though in a subtle way, that its war in Ukraine is proving highly counter-productive and costly, both for the states concerned and the world. The costly economic consequences for the world from the war speak for themselves. Accordingly, nudging Russia in the direction of a negotiated settlement is the wisest course in the circumstances.
In the limelight again…Miss Super Model Globe 2020
Those who are familiar with the fashion and beauty pageant setup, in Sri Lanka, would certainly remember Shashi Kaluarachchi.
Three years ago, she was crowned Miss Super Model Globe Sri Lanka 2020 and then represented Sri Lanka at the Miss Super Model Globe International, held in India.
Shashi won two titles at this big event; she was placed second in the finals (1st Runner-up) and took the title of Best National Costume.
Very active in the modelling scene, in the not too distant past, Shashi went silent, after dazzling the audience at the Super Model Globe contest.
Obviously, those who are aware of her talents were kept guessing, and many were wondering whether she had prematurely quit the fashion scene!
Not quite so…and I had a surprise call from Shashi to say that she is ready to do it again.
The silence is due to the fact that she is now employed in Dubai and is concentrating on her office work.
“When I came to Dubai, I was new to this scene but now I do have some free time, coming my way, and I want to get back to what I love doing the most – modelling, fashion and beauty pageants,” she said.
Shashi indicated that she plans to participate in an upcoming beauty pageant, to be held in Dubai, and also do some fashion shoots, and modelling assignments.
“Dubai is now buzzing with excitement and I want to be a part of that scene, as well,” said Shashi, who had her early beginnings, as a model, at the Walk with Brian Kerkoven modelling academy.
“I owe my success to Brian. He made me what I’m today – a top model.”
Shashi, who 5’7″ tall, says she loves wearing the sari for all important occasions.
“The sari is so elegant, so graceful, and, I believe, my height, and figure, does justice to a sari,”
Shashi has plans to visit Sri Lanka, in April, for a short vacation, adding that if the opportunity comes her way, she would love to do some photo shoots, and a walk on the ramp, as well.
* Shorter Showers
If you have dry skin, do not take long showers, or baths. Staying in the water for a longer time can dry it out more. You should also use warm, instead of hot, water, when you wash. Hot water can strip your skin of the fatty substances that give it hydration. As soon as you finish cleansing yourself, apply a body lotion, all over your body, to moisturize. Don’t wash yourself more than once a day
Applying a daily moisturizer can do wonders for dry skin, and there are products in your kitchen you can use which are natural and effective. Try coconut oil, olive oil, almond oil, or sunflower seed oil
Olive oil and brown sugar have amazing properties for the skin. Both of these substances deeply hydrate. Olive oil is also a known wound-healer, while sugar contains glycolic acid, which allows it to have anti-aging. You can make a natural scrub, using these ingredients which can be as good as the best anti-wrinkle creams.
* Mix one tablespoon of brown sugar with a teaspoon of olive oil.
* Blend them, and spread the mixture on your face, and neck, using a circular motion, for a few minutes.
* Then leave it to sit for another couple of minutes, and wash it off with warm water.
You can do this twice a week for amazing results
Taking care of your lips is important. Lips can also get dry and chapped, which is why you need to keep them hydrated, daily. If you’re looking for a natural balm, try sugar and lemon, or honey, sugar, and butter.
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