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.”
Govt. will implement PCoI recommendations, but won’t ban BBS
By Shamindra Ferdinando
SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris yesterday (8) ruled out the possibility of proscribing the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) as recommended by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) that probed the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks.
Addressing the regular weekly SLPP briefing at the Waters Edge, Prof. Peiris, who is also the minister of education, emphasized that the particular recommendation wasn’t acceptable to the government. He described it as a difficult recommendation.
Declaring that the proscription of the BBS wouldn’t do any good, Prof. Peiris said implementation of PCoI recommendations would be the prerogative of the government.
Prof. Peiris assured that the government would implement the remaining recommendations.
Chairman of the PCoI, Supreme Court judge Janak de Silva handed over its report to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Feb 1, 2021. Other members of the PCoI were Court of Appeal judge Nissanka Bandula Karunaratne, retired Supreme Court judges Nihal Sunil Rajapaksha and A. L. Bandula Kumara Atapattu and former Secretary to the Ministry of Justice W.M.M.R. Adhikari. H. M. P. Buwaneka Herath functioned as Secretary to the PCoI.
Prof. Peiris said that the Opposition could raise any issue related to the Easter Sunday carnage during the three-day debate scheduled to commence tomorrow (10).
Minister Peiris that the incumbent government would ensure a no holds barred investigation into suicide bombing spree that claimed the lives of 270 and wounded 500 others.
Alleging that the majority of those who had been severely critical of the PCoI hadn’t perused it, Prof. Peiris said that a careful examination of the dossier revealed some critically important factors pertaining to the attacks blamed on the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ).
Prof. Peiris said that many inquired about the alleged involvement of a foreign hand in the NTJ terror project. Against the backdrop of the release of PCoI report many condemned the report claiming it didn’t address contentious issues such as possible foreign hand in the Easter Sunday carnage, Prof. Peiris said.
The SLPP Chairman said that the PCoI had made a revelation about a certain foreign organization. He declined to name the organization.
However, inquiries made by The Island revealed that FETO (Fetullah Terrorist Organization) aka the Gulen Movement
had been named by the PCoI. During PCoI proceedings, it transpired how the previous yahapalana administration had received specific information from Turkey but it chose to ignore the dire warnings. Turkey blamed July 2016 coup attempt on FETO and its US based leader Gulen.
Referring to January 2019 explosives recovery at Wanathavilluwa, Prof. Peiris said that the PCoI emphasized the need to further investigate that particular detection. The PCoI also pointed out how further interrogation of three persons already in custody in connection with the Easter Sunday carnage could help investigators to establish the truth.
Dismissing accusations that the PCoI hadn’t served any useful purpose, Prof. Peiris pointed out that some persons arrested in Qatar were now in Australia. Prof. Peiris said that the attention of the Australian authorities were on them. The Education Minister refrained from going to further details.
Quoting the PCoI, Prof. Peiris also referred to a person, whom he called a leader of an extremist organization responsible for making an alleged attempt to cause massive death and destruction in the wake of the Easter Sunday attacks. Prof. Peiris said that the PCoI had recommended punitive measures against this person in terms of the relevant law.
Commenting on specific recommendations issued in respect of the Easter Sunday carnage, Prof. Peiris said that the police, CID, TID, AG and CIABOC had received those instructions. The PCoI had created a solid framework for relevant authorities to take tangible measures.
Prof. Peiris declined to comment on queries based on various assumptions meant to divert public attention. He emphasized that whatever the breakaway UNP faction, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) said the public however was aware they were all part of that utterly pathetic government that failed to thwart the NTJ in spite of having advanced intelligence.
Prof. Peiris called Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa’s vow to hang all those responsible as nothing but a joke.
Responding to another query, Prof. Peiris said that the previous regime caused mayhem by lifting restrictions in place to prevent undesirable persons entering the country. During Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s tenure as Secretary Defence visas were denied to the majority of those who sought opportunity to address religious issues. The yahapalana lot simply did away with restrictions and essentially failed to take precautions fearing what Prof. Peiris called political repercussions.
Only reason for vesting Muthurajawela under the UDA
By Ifham Nizam
The government had decided to conserve the Muthurajawela wetland under the Urban Development Authority as the Wildlife Ministry and Department could not afford to pay for the immediate acquisition of some of the land, Urban Development State Minister Nalaka Godahewa said.
Godahewa said that his Ministry had both institutions with the relevant technology and capability to conserve the ecosystem.
He said Muthurajawela would be handed over to the Ministry of Wildlife after being conserved as a Ramsar wetland.
He said so participating at the Inter-ministerial discussion on sustainable environment development. Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera was also present.
Muthurajawela, which encompassed 3,064 hectares in 1990, had now shrunk to 1,200 hectares due to encroachment, the Minister said.
Minister Godahewa added that although a private company had acquired part of the wetland for some projects, steps would be taken to acquire the entire extent and make it part of the Muthurajawela Wetland Zone.
Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said that although the private company had planned to set up golf courses, hotels and even a helicopter yard, none of them would be allowed.
The company posed a danger to the Muthurajawela wetland, the Minister said, adding that the 700 acres acquired by it would be taken back. Therefore, no new constructions would be allowed to be carried out in the Muthurajawela wetland and it was the position of the government to conserve what remained of the eco-sensitive region and pass it on to the next generation, he said.
The Ministers emphasised that the city of Colombo was named as the first Ramsar Wetland City in the world due to the measures taken by the President during his tenure as the Defence Secretary to develop the city of Colombo under a green city concept.
The inter-ministerial coordination programme was launched last week at the Ministry of Environment to address the issues related to the environment.
A Cabinet memorandum submitted by the Minister of Environment Amaraweera to establish an Inter-Ministerial Committee on monitoring environmental issues in January was approved by the Cabinet.
The inter-ministerial coordination programme involves the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Wildlife and Forest Conservation, the Ministry of Water Supply, Wildlife Conservation, the construction of elephant fences and ditches. Relevant Ministers Mahinda Amaraweera, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Wimalaweera Dissanayake, Secretaries to the Ministries Dr. Anil Jasinghe and Bandula Harischandra also participated. Among the issues discussed at the meeting were the recent media reports of deforestation, especially the Muthurajawela Wetland Conservation Programme.
Ranil predicts worst economic shocks by year end
UNP leader and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that the government was printing money like printing newspapers.
Speaking at a meeting held at Borella on Sunday with the youth of the Green Blood organisation, affiliated to the party, Wickremesinghe said that managing the economy was not an easy task and it would take a decade for the Sri Lankan economy to bounce back.
The former PM said that the present government had printed three times the amount of money printed during the past 10 years during the tenure of President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2010 and of UNP rule in 2015.
Wickremesinghe said that the government had slashed taxes and reduced the country’s income by giving concessions to companies and big businesses; the general public did not get the benefit of such tax cuts. “The country’s revenue had decreased even before the arrival of Covid,” he said.
“The government prints money like printing newspapers because it has no revenue. We saved $ 7.5 billion as reserves. Now, it is down to $ 4.5 billion. We built the economy despite criticism. We allocated money for health.
They opposed when we planned to give tabs to students. If tabs had been given, children would have benefited during the pandemic,” the UNP leader said.
The former Prime Minister said that no development was taking place and investors were leaving the country. He added that the government had requested a loan of US $ 2 billion from India and China but it would be disappointed.
Govt. will implement PCoI recommendations, but won’t ban BBS
Sohan…adapting to the ‘new normal’
Only reason for vesting Muthurajawela under the UDA
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