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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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SJB: Excise, FM officials all out to pocket Rs 1 bn

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By Saman Indrajith

Matara District SJB MP Buddhika Pathirana yesterday told Parliament that the Finance Ministry and Excise Department officials had misled Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and State Minister Ajith Nivard Cabraal in order to obtain billion rupees, fraudulently.

The officials had got a contract for printing stickers or barcodes to be displayed on bottles of liquor awarded to an Indian company.

“The project would result in one-billion-rupee loss to the government coffers annually,” the MP said, adding that the money being taken from the public purse would end up in the pockets of corrupt officials.

Pathirana said that the Excise Department had commenced a project to paste stickers on bottles of liquor to differentiate them from the fake and counterfeit bottles in the market.

“As per this project’s requirements, 32 million stickers would be needed per month. The stickers are to be purchased from Madras Security Printers company of India. This method was proposed in 2016 but it failed and the officials thereafter decided to introduce a barcode system.

“The cost of a sticker at 25 cents and the new barcode system will cost of two rupees a piece. This is a dubious deal. It seems that the Finance Ministry officials and the Excise Department heads have ganged up to give the contract to the Indian company and get commissions. There are many unanswered questions. First, the contract of printing the barcode too has been given to the MSP company, which could not secure the first contract. I want to know whether the proper procurement process has been followed. The second question is whether the barcodes would be up to the standards listed in the tender. Third question is who had selected the MSP company which is black-listed in India after being found guilty of frauds with Indian liquor companies in providing stickers to them. MSP has been blacklisted in many other countries. The company has been banned in Sudan and Liberia for supplying the stickers to private companies. The last question is whether this fraud is being committed with the knowledge of ministers of this government.”

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Reserves fall to lowest since 2009, rupee strengthening to be short-lived: report

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by Sanath Nanayakkare

Sri Lanka’s Foreign reserves had dropped to USD 4.1bn in March 2021, the lowest since August 2009, on the back of over US$ 4bn outstanding debt payment during April-December 2021 period, a report issued by First Capital Research yesterday said.

According to the report, rupee appreciation is likely to be short-lived considering Sri Lanka’s depleting foreign reserve position, high foreign currency debt repayment requirement and limited funding sources available in the market are expected to further increase depreciation pressure on the currency during 2Q and 3Q.

“We maintain our exchange rate target for 1H2021 at Rs. 196-202 with 2021 year-end target at Rs. 205-215 as mentioned in our ‘Investment Strategy 2021 – January 2021,” the report recalls.

“Sri Lankan rupee appreciated 5% against the US dollar over the last 2 market days reversing the continuous accelerated depreciation witnessed in January-April 2021. On 12th April, Sri Lankan rupee recorded a historical low of Rs. 201:1 US$. Ministry of Finance (MoF) reported on the same day that the government of Sri Lanka entered into a loan agreement with the China Development Bank (CDB) for US$ 500mn and MoF expected the funds to be disbursed during the same week. Following the announcement, the market registered a steep appreciation with mid-rate recording at Rs. 190.9 on April 19,” it says.

The total foreign debt repayment (capital and interest) for 2021 is US$ 6 bn, according to the report.

Meanwhile FC Research believes that the temporary appreciation in USD-LKR, may adversely impact earnings of export companies such as Hayleys, Haycarb, Dipped Products, MGT Knitting Mills, Teejay Lanka, Expolanka Holdings etc. in the short term.

“However, considering the potential future currency pressure, we expect an overall depreciation of approximately 12% for the rupee providing a significant gain for companies with foreign currency revenue”, FC research predicts.

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Govt. asks Opposition not to propagate lies

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By Saman Indrajith

Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando yesterday accused the Opposition MPs of abusing parliamentary privileges to mislead the public by propagating lies about the Easter Sunday terror attacks. 

Addressing Parliament, Minister Fernando said: “The Opposition MPs level wild allegations in the House knowing that they have the cover of parliamentary privilege. If they have anything substantial or any knowledge of the perpetrators of the Easter attacks still not in custody they can go to the CID and lodge complaints so that such complaints could be investigated.”  

Fernando said so after SJB Galle District MP Manusha Nanayakkara had told the House that he possessed evidence of those who carried out the Easter Sunday terror attacks.

Nanayakkara also said that the facts that he had were not in the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday carnage.

“You are making various statements regarding the Easter Sunday terror attacks in the Chamber without any proof because you know that you have Parliamentary privilege. You even quoted some statements which are not included in the PCoI report. How did you obtain such information? Why didn’t you complain about this to the CID in the first place? Your action is aimed at misleading the public,” the Minister said. 

Minister Fernando said that the Opposition should stop insulting Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith by misinterpreting the latter’s statements. 

“When you are in the Government you never said that this is a Buddhist country. Now you are insulting the Cardinal too. You should not do that,” the Minister said. 

“The former Government should be responsible for the terror attack. Now we are trying to punish those who are responsible for it. We will take action against everyone who is responsible. You should support us, not try to obstruct the on-going investigations,” Minister Fernando said.

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