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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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COPA questions lion’s share of fines going to Customs

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Irregularities, lapses, corruption erode public finance

By Shamindra Ferdinando

 The Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) has summoned the Inland Revenue Department tomorrow (23) for an inquiry regarding the inordinate delay in collecting taxes amounting to billions of rupees and extraordinary payments made to the officers of the Customs Department out of fines imposed on both public and private sector enterprises.

Besides, a COPA sub-committee is inquiring into revenue losses suffered over the years as a result of releasing vehicles imported for special purposes as dual-purpose vehicles. 

SLPP MP Prof. Tissa Vitharana heads the all-party watchdog committee. 

Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dasanayake in a statement issued on April 19 through the Communication Department of the Parliament said that Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and COPA summoned four enterprises. COPE called the Sri Lanka Football Federation and the National Film Corporation on April 22 and 23, respectively. The COPA summoned the Wildlife Conservation Department and the Inland Revenue on April 21 and April 23, respectively, Dasanayake said.

COPA has fixed the meeting in the wake of disclosure of major shortcomings in the overall revenue collection process. Following COPA meeting Inland Revenue Chief H.M.C. Bandara on March 10, the watchdog committee called for accelerated measures to recover dues. The COPA pointed out that out of Rs 107 bn due to the government, only Rs 224 mn had been recovered so far, immediate measures were required to collect taxes and fines.

At the same meeting, the COPA, having questioned the correctness of a list containing tax defaulters furnished by the Inland Revenue Department, emphasized the pivotal importance of rectifying the shortcomings. The COPA also raised the practicability in recovering taxes in terms of the data provided by ‘Legacy’ and ‘RAMIS’ computer systems. 

The Inland Revenue Commissioner General lamented before COPA how inordinate delay in legal proceedings thwarted their efforts to recover taxes. The COPA assured that the Justice Ministry and the Finance Ministry would be summoned for a meeting along with the Inland Revenue Department to explore ways and means of overcoming the issue at hand.

At a subsequent COPA meeting held late March, it was revealed that in addition to their failure to recover taxes amounting to Rs 2,670 mn due from casinos, the Inland Revenue received 6,878 dishonored cheques to the tune of Rs 2,451,465,383. COPA members present on this occasion included Dayasiri Jayasekera, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle, Tissa Attanayake, Mohamed Muzammil, Niroshan Perera, Dr. Upul Galapatti, Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, Cader Mastan, S. Sritharan and Weerasumana Weerasinha.

That particular meeting was also told that the amount of collectable taxes in terms of the ‘Default Taxes (Special Provisions) Act No 16 of 2010 (certified on Dec 07, 2010) amounted to a staggering Rs 144.5 bn. 

COPA and the Consultative Committee on Ports and Shipping had also taken up on March 9 and 24 the highly contentious issue of the Customs officers taking a big share of fines imposed on tax defaulters, both public and private sector. COPA pointed out that the Customs took advantage of the provision that 50 per cent of the fines imposed on defaulters were shared among those involved in a particular detection. COPA has discussed two specific issues in this regard. COPA pointed out that the allocation of 50 per cent of a fine received from the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) for defaulting in respect of gantry cranes to Customs officers was a major problem. COPA focused on taking necessary measures in this regard after having discussed the matter with relevant authorities, including the Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle.

COPA pointed out how out of Rs 205 mn fine imposed on Lanka Coal Company (Pvt) Limited for defrauding taxes, Rs 102.5 mn (50 per cent of the total amount) had been distributed among Customs officers as rewards and Rs 41 mn for their welfare (20 per cent) thereby leaving the government with only Rs 61.5 mn. COPA has directed Treasury Secretary Attygalle to conduct a fresh inquiry into this and take tangible measures to prevent similar malpractices in the future.

COPA investigations have also revealed massive racket in the registration of ‘dual purpose’ vehicles. It revealed that as a result of corrupt elements since 2013 registering vehicles imported for special purposes as ‘dual purpose’ vehicles the Treasury lost taxes amounting to Rs 220 mn.

In addition to that the Treasury had been also deprived of taxes amounting to Rs 1.300 mn by not imposing Rs 3 mn each on 443 special vans brought to the country during 2010-2019 period.

COPA also stated that the Customs perpetrated another massive fraud by allowing the import of 10 vans and 414 lorries as special purpose vehicles during 2010-2014.

COPA reported the Customs imposing Rs 1.5 mn tax on a super luxury car instead of legitimate Rs 56 mn.

It revealed the loss of revenue to the tune of Rs 6.1 bn during 2013-2016 period due to the Customs adopting wrong procedure in respect of large quantities of palm oil imports by two enterprises. The watchdog committee has instructed the Customs to expedite measures to recover the dues from those companies.

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India reiterates commitment to Sri Lanka’s security

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India has reiterated her support for Sri Lanka’s fight against terrorism. The assurance was made on the second anniversary of 2019 Easter Sunday attacks. The following is the text of statement issued by the Indian High Commission yesterday: “High Commissioner Gopal Baglay attended the solemn ceremony at St. Anthony’s Church on 21 April 2021 to mark the second anniversary of the dastardly Easter Sunday attacks. He lit a candle in memory of the victims of the attack and prayed for the recovery of those who are still suffering from its aftermath.

“It may be recalled that the High Commissioner had paid homage to the victims at the Church also on 23 May 2020, the first day after the completion of the mandatory 14-day quarantine period, subsequent to his arrival to Sri Lanka on 8 May 2020 on a special flight carrying a gift consignment of essential medical supplies from India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also paid his respects at the Church during the solidarity visit to Sri Lanka in June 2019.

“St. Anthony’s Church was one of the multiple targets of the Easter Sunday attacks, which also took away the lives of 10 Indians. These Indian victims fell prey to the perpetrators at Shangri-la, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand Hotels.  

India and Sri Lanka cooperate closely in all aspects across the security spectrum. India stands firmly with the people and Government of Sri Lanka in the fight against terrorism and also collaborate on curbing various other illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, narcotics, etc. “

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Explosive cargo: Ship carrying compound used for enrichment of uranium asked to leave H’tota port

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A ship that made an emergency call at the Hambantota International Port on Tuesday night (20) carrying Uranium hexafluoridea–a compound used in the process of enriching uranium, which produces fuel for nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons–has been asked to leave.

Chandula Rambukwella, Senior Manager, Commercial & Marketing, Hambantota International Port, issued the following statement yesterday: “M.V. BBC Naples sailing under the flag of “Antigua & Barbados” entered the port of Hambantota on 20th April at 2100 hrs, while en route from Rotterdam to China. The ship made an emergency call at the port for some urgent repairs. Agents for the vessel in Sri Lanka, Ms. Barwil Meridian Navigation, had not declared to the port authorities that there was dangerous cargo on board, prior to the vessel entering the port.

It was later found that they were carrying a cargo of Uranium Hexafluoride via investigations made by the Sri Lanka Navy and the Port Authority. The vessel was required to leave the port no sooner the facts were verified.

The SLPA, Navy, and Customs officials had approved all the necessary documentation prior to berthing of the vessel, based on the declaration made by the agent. The Navy and Customs were present at all times to ensure that there wasn’t any cargo unloaded onto the Hambantota International Port premises.”

 

 

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