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AI demands full implementation of UN HC’s recommendations

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In a report released on Feb 18, less than a week before the commencement of the 46th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the London headquartered Amnesty International said: “Members of the military leadership that were in command during the last phase of the war, when allegations of human rights and humanitarian law violations are widespread, were rewarded with promotions and positions of power under the new administration, including to civilian positions. This has had a chilling effect on victims demanding justice.”

The Sri Lankan Government has launched a renewed crackdown on dissent that is severely curtailing civil society freedom and obstructing efforts to deliver justice for conflict-era crimes under international law, the AI alleged.

The report, Old ghosts in new garb: Sri Lanka’s return to fear, claims that the Sri Lankan government has targeted human rights organisations, media, lawyers, political opponents, and law enforcement officers in a concerted bid to suppress opposing voices and hamper the transitional justice process for crimes committed during the country’s 30-year armed conflict.

“Over the past year, the Sri Lankan government has radically transformed the country’s civic space, which is now defined by an increasing hostility and intolerance towards dissenting voices,” said David Griffiths, Director of the Office of the Secretary General at Amnesty International.  

He claims: “People from all walks of life have been threatened, intimidated, harassed and jailed, simply for expressing views or doing their jobs in ways that displease the authorities. The Sri Lankan government must cease this campaign against dissent and respect its obligations under international law to protect freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, the right to personal security, and freedom from arbitrary detention.”

“Since withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council-driven justice and reconciliation process for conflict-era crimes in February 2020, the authorities have cracked down on those pursuing justice while deliberately hindering ongoing efforts to secure justice and accountability.

Amnesty International is calling on the UN Human Rights Council to implement the recommendations of a damning report on Sri Lanka published by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights last month, when it meets from 22 February to 23 March. This includes more robust monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation, and the collection and preservation of evidence for future prosecutions.

“The international community must not turn a blind eye to the deteriorating human rights situation in Sri Lanka, which is being abetted by the government’s regressive moves on justice and accountability. The Human Rights Council must take steps to end the cycle of impunity by holding the Sri Lankan government fully to account, and launching a new internationally agreed justice process,” said David Griffiths.

“Amnesty International’s findings reveal a pattern of targeting those who have played an active role in investigating, documenting, litigating, or reporting on human rights violations and abuses, and advocating on behalf of the victims, including at least six incidents where lawyers were targeted.

“The country’s draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act was used, among others, against Hejaaz Hizbullah, a prominent minority rights advocate and lawyer, who has been detained for 10 months, without a shred of evidence of wrongdoing produced before a court.

“Attorney Achala Senevirathne, who appeared on behalf of families of the disappeared in an enforced disappearance case, has been threatened with violence and sexualized abuse not only on social media but also by officials accused in the case.

“Criminal investigators who pursued justice for crimes under international law have also come under increased scrutiny. The former director of the Criminal Investigations Department was demoted and later arrested for allegedly fabricating evidence in a case. He remains in custody and believes he is being targeted in reprisal for leading investigations in cases of abuses allegedly committed by the armed forces.

“Members of the military leadership that were in command during the last phase of the war, when allegations of human rights and humanitarian law violations are widespread, were rewarded with promotions and positions of power under the new administration, including to civilian positions. This has had a chilling effect on victims demanding justice.

“The report also details how legislative amendments brought by government have undermined any credible avenues locally available for justice, and how President-appointed Commissions of Inquiry are attempting to reverse accountability for perpetrators of human rights violations.

“The Sri Lankan government did not waste any time in introducing new instruments and techniques to muzzle dissent.

“State actors have led smear campaigns against NGOs and human rights organisations, while journalists have received death threats and have been summoned for investigations and interrogations after exposing human rights abuses.

“Visits by state security officials to the offices of human rights NGOs have increased over the past fourteen months. Amnesty International recorded 18 such visits in that period, during which officials made enquiries about registration details, staff and donors’ bank details. Some staff members were even visited at their private residences.

“Laws are also being misused to stifle free speech, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act, which was used to arrest and detain Ramzy Razeek for more than five months without charge or proper access to a lawyer, for a Facebook post in which he criticised the forced cremation of COVID-19 victims and called for an ideological struggle using the pen and keyboard as weapons.”



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President Ranil Wickremasinghe calls upon chief prelates of Asgiriya and Malwatta chapters

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(pic courtsey Divaina)

President Ranil Wickremasinghe called upon the chief prelates of the Asgiriya and Malwatta chapters on Thursday (02) morning to seek their blessings ahead of the 75th Independence day celebrations.

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US secures deal on bases to complete arc around China

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US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (R) was in the Philippines to finalise the deal (picture BBC)

BBC reported that the United States has secured access to four additional military bases in the Philippines – a key bit of real estate which would offer a front seat to monitor the Chinese in the South China Sea and around Taiwan.

With this deal, Washington has stitched the gap in the arc of US alliances stretching from South Korea and Japan in the north to Australia in the south.

The missing link had been the Philippines, which borders two of the biggest potential flashpoints, Taiwan and the South China Sea, or the West Philippine Sea as Manila insists on calling it.

The US already had limited access to five sites under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) – the new additions and expanded access, according to a statement from Washington, will “allow more rapid support for humanitarian and climate-related disasters in the Philippines, and respond to other shared challenges”, likely a veiled reference to countering China in the region.

The statement came after Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin met Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr in Manila on Thursday.

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Nuland accuses China of failing to help SL with ‘credible and specific assurances’ acceptable to IMF

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Nuland addressing the media in Colombo (pic by Thushara Atapattu)

US hopes LG polls will be held in March

By Saman Indrajith

US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland, yesterday said China had not provided credible and specific assurances to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for Sri Lanka to overcome the current economic crisis.

Addressing the media in Colombo, Nuland said: “What China has offered so far is not enough. We need to see credible and specific assurances that they will meet the IMF standard of debt relief. We, the United States, are prepared to do our part. Our Paris Club partners are prepared to do their part. India has made strong commitments that it will provide the credible assurances the IMF is looking for.”

Nuland said that India and the Paris Club had given strong assurances to the IMF to help Sri Lanka to obtain a $2.9 billion bailout.

“We want to see an IMF program as quickly as possible. That is what Sri Lanka deserves; that is what Sri Lanka needs,” Nuland said.

Nuland said the US would give Sri Lanka an additional USD 30 million to provide 96,000 schoolchildren with food.

She said Sri Lankans had taken to the streets, last year, demanding cleaner, accountable and inclusive governance, with transparency, and the government was expected to hold the elections to enable people to enjoy their democratic rights.

Nuland said that the US was glad to see that consultation between the government and other parties towards reconciliation had commenced. She said that she had met with members of the Tamil political parties, earlier yesterday. “We hope that the dialogue will continue to achieve real results such as return of the lands to their rightful owners.”

Nuland said that the US hoped that local elections would be held in March, the dialogue commenced for reconciliation would continue, and the Prevention of Terrorism Act would be reformed to meet international standards.

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