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Biden administration throws its weight behind new Geneva resolution

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by Shamindra Ferdinando

Ahead of the 46th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) scheduled to begin later this month, newly elected US President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party has raised Sri Lanka accountability issues in a recently submitted Resolution, with the focus on appointment of military officials, including that of Gen. Shavendra Silva as the Commander of the Army.

The UNHRC consists of 47 countries divided into five groups. The UK took over Sri Lanka matter in the wake of the US quitting the UNHRC in June 2018. It now heads the Sri Lanka’s Core Group.

Silva, the first General Officer Commanding (GoC) of the celebrated 58 Division was named the Commander of the Army by President Maithripala Sirisena.

Sirisena’s successor, Gotabaya Rajapaka, appointed Silva the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and subsequently promoted him to the rank of General.

Democratic Party Congressman Brad Sherman, a ‘very’ close associate of professional activists within the Global Tamil Diaspora has tabled a Resolution in the U.S. Congress charging President Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration of engaging in harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and enforced disappearances, and protecting war criminals, Daya Gamage, former political specialist of the US State Department said.

Bradley James Sherman is the US Congressman representing California’s 30th congressional district since 2013.

The author of Tamil Tigers’ debt to America Gamage explained how the change in US administration had started to bring in ‘initial bearing’ on Sri Lanka with Congressman Sherman making a move. Gamage said that the US stand on the accountability issues should be examined against the backdrop of a statement attributed to Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage that the political change wouldn’t have any bearing on Sri Lanka.

Gamage said that in spite of the US not being a member of the UNHRC, it would throw its full weight behind the push for a new Resolution to be moved at the forthcoming sessions.

Here are four areas the Congressional Resolution on Sri Lanka has touched:

Whereas the Government of Sri Lanka has promoted high ranking military officials suspected of forcibly disappearing persons and bearing responsibility for war crimes, including Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva, and has failed to hold accountable other current military officials accused of war crimes.

Whereas, during the 26-year civil war ending in 2009 between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, tens of thousands of Tamils were forcibly disappeared by the police, military, and paramilitary operatives

Whereas, according to a 2020 United Nations Special Rapporteur’s report, “no observable progress has been made on pending cases, including habeas corpus applications into the disappearance of Tamil Tigers and members of their families who surrendered during the final days of the war”.

Whereas lawyers, human rights defenders, and victims involved in cases of enforced disappearances face intimidation, harassment, and violence, particularly since Rajapaksa became President.

The Island learns that since the initial government reaction to the US slapping travel ban on Gen. Shavendra Silva and his immediate family members an year ago, the government hadn’t made representations to the US or UNHRC. The government ignored an opportunity to take up the Army Commander’s issue in the wake of the recent declaration made by the then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo regarding the Army Commander’s matter. When the media raised the US travel ban on the Army Commander at a joint media conference given by Pompeo and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, the one-time CIA Chief said “All right. Thank you. I think there were three questions there. The last one, look, it’s a legal process in the United States. We’ll always continue to review it. We want to make sure we get it technically, factually, and legally right. We’ll continue to do that.”

Well informed sources said that the UK spearheading the moves for a new Resolution at the UNHRC had told the Sri Lankan government in no uncertain terms that it was determined to go ahead with the project. Sources said that Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and the Minister for South Asia Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon explained their stand to Minister Gunawardena and the Sri Lankan High Commission in London.

Tamil political sources said that they had the required support to secure a new Resolution at the forthcoming session. Sources said that a petition forwarded by three Tamil political parties represented in parliament to UNHRC members as well as the HR Commissioner received approval from those who mattered. Sources pointed out that the HR Commissioner’s latest report on Sri Lanka took the Tamil parties’ petition into consideration.



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Easter Sunday: “Accept guilt with contrite hearts,” says Kurunegala Bishop

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by Norman Palihawadane

If those responsible for the Easter Sunday terror attacks do not accept their guilt with contrite hearts, then nature will follow suit, says President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka and the Bishop of Kurunegala Catholic Diocese, Rt Rev Dr Harold Anthony Perera.

While delivering his homily at the Holy Mass offered on behalf of the children who received Sacrament of Confirmation at the Church dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes at Yakadapatha, Bishop Perera said that justice has not yet been meted out to the Easter Sunday victims.

“Nature will surely stand against those responsible. Nature will ruthlessly follow them at every step they take and their conscience will not keep them at rest. This is what I believe,” he said.

He said that Colombo Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith had stated that those responsible for the terror attacks on Easter Sunday must come forward and accept their guilt. “If those who masterminded this crime fail to do so, I strongly believe that Nature will follow suit,” Bishop Perera said.

“Perusing the pages of history we know well that kings and state rulers had been elevated to positions of power by many means. Also we know for certain that none of them ruled for eternity. None will rule forever.”

He said that if the present day rulers while hiding the truth of the Easter Sunday bomb attacks, do nothing to mete justice to the victims and their families, they will suffer immensely.

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TNA accepts president’s overture, MP suggests party ready to talk federal

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ECONOMYNEXT —Tamil National Alliance (TNA) will engage constructively in sincere attempts at resolving the ethnic issue, legislator M A Sumanthiran said responding to President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s overtures to the opposition, while also suggesting that the TNA was open to a federal solution.

“We will engage constructively in every sincere attempt as we have always done but will not allow any farcical process,” Sumanthiran tweeted Thursday November 24 afternoon.In a speech made in parliament the previous day, the Jaffna district MP said there can be no reconciliation by sweeping the truth under the carpet.

“It is only by the ascertainment of the truth that there can be true reconciliation,” he said.

“Your actions must be louder than words. All we have are words, words and words. As I speak, more lands are being acquired,” he added, highlighting an example that prompted a response from President Wickremesinghe that he would look into the matter.

Wickremesinghe on Wednesday re-extended an open invitation to opposition parties to a discussion on a permanent solution to Sri Lanka’s decades-long ethnic problem. Talks would begin after December 11, he said, with a view to agreeing on a solution by February 04 2023 when the island nation celebrates 75 years of independence from the British.

“We welcome the president’s initiative. He said everyone must agree on the solution. We want all the people of this country to be content and be satisfied and feel secure that this is their country,” said Sumanthiran.The MP said there is broad consensus already on the issue and that only a few things need to be ironed out.

“That can be done in a day’s sitting. You don’t require three months,” he said.

President Wickremesinghe agreed in his speech that there is nothing new left to talk about.If the president is looking at the South African example, said Sumanthiran, it must be noted that that country underwent a political transformation “before they could look at accountability issues”.

“That fundamental change must happen and must precede other measures,” he said.

Among the issues that Sri Lanka is confronted with with regard to reconciliation between communities is the matter of alleged human rights abuses, particularly during the final phase of the 26-year armed conflict. Missing persons, militarisation and alleged land grabs have also figured prominently in various international fora where Sri Lanka’s human rights record has come up for discussion.

“Of course you need to do many confidence-building exercises because there is a serious lack of trust because of the long history and what happened,” said Sumanthiran.

The MP said it is crucial that the core, root issues are settled first before considering issues of justice and accountability, which he said would provide the people a different outlook on resolving those issues.He also paid what has lately been a rare compliment to President Wickremesinghe from the TNA.

“We recognise that perhaps you are the only person in this House today — although you’re not a member of this house — who’s had the longest experience in this matter. You were part of the government negotiation team that negotiated with the TULF from the middle to the end of 1986, which ended with the Indo-Lanka accord, and the 13th amendment which we did not accept as a meaningful scheme of devolution,” he said.

The 13th amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution emerged out of the controversial Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 as a purported solution to the worsening ethnic conflict. Provincial councils came in the wake of this amendment, but land and police powers have yet to be devolved to the provinces as originally envisioned. Both Sinhalese and Tamil nationalists have opposed the 13th amendment, the former claiming it devolved too much, the latter complaining it didn’t devolve enough.

Wickremesinghe knows “everything that is to know about the resolution of this”, said Sumanthiran. He also acknowledged the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) appointed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

“Though we did not participate in the APRC, that’s a good report. Many members in the front row today in the government were members of the cabinet in August 2000 when President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga brought a constitution bill to parliament. The UNP at that time led by President Wickremesinghe opposed it only because of a transitional provision with regard to executive presidency, not because of the devolution arrangements in that,” he said.

The UNP government notoriously burnt the draft bill in parliament when the Kumaratunga government presented it. Analysts have revisited that event as a possible misstep in Sri Lanka’s path to a lasting peace, though others disagree.Sumanthiran said consensus is already there and all that is required is for decisions to be made.

“That is what has been entrusted to the president now,” he said.

The president’s call for a permanent resolution by the 75th Independence Day celebrations is a good ideal to work towards, but there isn’t much time, the MP warned.

“So we are willing to work with you constructively to achieve the objective you have enunciated. We’re willing to achieve the reasonable and legitimate aspirations of our people and indeed all the people that live in this country,” he said.In his speech, Sumanthiran was emphatic that his party does not wish to do anything behind the back of the majority.

“Everyone must feel secure. That is our desire as well. That the majority of this country must accept it.”

The MP then said that more than 40 percent of the world’s population live in federal countries. (There are 25 countries with a federal form of government).

“Those are the strongest countries in the world,” the MP claimed.

“You have others who are quasi federal, who sometimes call themselves unitary, like Great Britain, where the extent of devolution is far more than even in a federal form of government.

“We don’t ask for something that is not found anywhere in the world. We’re asking for something that is reasonable and is practised all around the globe. That will ensure that all our people will live with dignity and self respect in this country. We want the majority people to accept and understand that. You are, after all, a preponderant majority. No one can shift that. It was Prime Minister S W R D Bandaranaike who in 1926  introduced the idea of federalism to this country, not the Tamil leaders,” he said.Sumanthiran recalled that it was in fact the Kandyan chiefs who had asked for a federal form of government on two separate occasions in the early 20th century.

“So it can’t be bad for the Sinhala people, it was the Sinhala people who asked for it,” he said, noting that over time wrong messages have been communicated to the country.

“There are suspicions those must be allayed. We must resolve this in a just way, so that we can all can then stand up as the president envisages by Feb 04 2023 as the children of one mother,” Sumanthiran said.

Federalism has been a highly controversial and politically inflammable idea in Sri Lanka over the years, with many nationalist or even some moderate parties in the south vehemently opposing the very suggestion of it. It is unclear whether this stance has softened over the 13 years since the end of the war, but to date no Sinhalese-dominated party has come out in support for it.

Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) MP Gevindu Kumaratunga who now sits in the opposition responding to Wickremesinghe’s invitation on Wednesday cautioned that they can only support a proposal that will honour Sri Lanka’s unitary character.

“If you’re asking for a consensus within a unitary Sri Lanka, we’ll agree. Outside of that, I don’t think a majority of people will agree. There is a ground reality here. Our soldiers laid down their lives to protect the unitary state,” said Kumaratunga.

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Women MPs to wear orange on Dec 1 to protest gender based violence

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Women MPs will attend parliament on Dec. 1 in line with slogan ‘Let’s unite to end gender based violence’ of the UN-led global campaign – 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV).Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus (WPC) Chairperson, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle said that a wristband with the message “Let’s Unite to end Gender Based Violence” will also be worn as a solidarity measure with the global campaign against GBV.

She said: “The global theme of the campaign 2022 is ‘UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls.’ It emphasizes that without unity, GBV cannot be fought. It calls on governments, development partners, youth, media and all other stakeholders to come together to fight against GBV.

“Therefore, the 16 days of activism against GBV is an important advocacy period for our goal to advocate for and ensure equal grounds for women in Sri Lanka,” Fernandopulle said.

She said that a recent survey on Women’s Well-being by the Department of Census and Statistics had reported that during their lifetime, 20 percent of the ever-partnered women have faced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner and that 25 percent of women have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner or a non-partner after 15 years of age.

Eighteen percent expressed that they were subjected to economic abuse by a partner in their lifetime while 21 percent of the women who experienced violence by a partner had never expressed it to anyone before the interviews.

WPC’s Deputy Chairperson, Matale District MP Rohini Kaviratne said that GBV was nothing new to women in Sri Lanka. “We as women have had to face it always. As women parliamentarians we always face verbal abuse based on our gender,” she said.

Kaviratne said that during elections, and whenever someone needs to disgrace the female candidates, the most common weapon used is their gender roles. “The stereotypical thinking stigmatizes our roles in the public sphere and stepping out of the house to be a leader in politics as a female parliamentarian. We should fight this. We should fight any form of GBV.”

JVP-led NPP MP Dr Harini Amarasuriya said that the WPC was in the process of supporting the drafting of a Women’s Bill to be presented to parliament.  “However, we are conscious that laws alone do not effect change. There is a lot of work that needs to be done both institutionally and politically to ensure that the Bill when passed will make a meaningful difference in the lives of Lankan women.”

Tourism State Minister Diana Gamage said: We urge all Lankans to have zero tolerance for any kind of violence or sexual harassment committed against any human being. We should act, not be silent and passive observers.”

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