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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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Massive revenue loss: Eyebrows raised over delay in responding to House query

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SLPP members say sugar deal black mark on govt.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Many an eyebrow has been raised over the delay on the part of the Finance Ministry to respond to a Finance Committee (FC) request for a comprehensive report on an alleged fraud in the controversial sugar tax revision.

Chairman of the Finance Commission Anura Priyadarshana Yapa on January 5 issued instructions to the Finance Ministry in this regard when the FC considered several special gazette notifications pertaining to the Ministry of Finance issued since October 2020.

According to the Communication Department of Parliament, MP Yapa on Feb 25 told the FC that the report called by him hadn’t been received yet. Yapa said so when State Minister Vidura Wickramanayaka and SLPP MP Nalin Fernando alleged the revision of taxes pertaining to the import of sugar hadn’t benefitted the consumers at all and only caused loss of revenue to the State. Severe criticism of the revision of sugar taxes was nothing but a black mark on the government.

Asked whether the report had been received since the issue at hand was taken up on Feb 25, the former Minister said that the FC answered in the negative.

Yapa told the last FC meeting that the Department of Import Control should be able to submit analytical comments with data on the relevant gazette amendments. Having approved the regulations issued on that day in respect of the issuance of licenses for the import of brown sugar, the FC recommended that a full explanation be given on March 09 with the participation of all relevant Ministries and Institutions.

Parliament is scheduled to meet on March 9.

Yapa is on record as having told the FC on January 5 though the tax on imported sugar was revised downwards to 25 cents from Rs. 50.00 per kilogram through the Gazette Notification No. 2197/12 issued by the Ministry of Finance on 13th October 2020, the move did not benefit the consumers at all.

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake lambasted the government over what he called a massive sugar scam that caused losses amounting to Rs 10 bn. In addition to the JVP, the SJB and UNP flayed the government over the corrupt deal. Dissanayake questioned the rationale in increasing the tax on sugar from Rs 33 to Rs 50 on May 23, 2020 and then bringing it down steeply to 25 cents on Oct 13, 2020. Dissanayake said that at that time the tax was brought down to 25 cents, there had been 90,000 metric tonnes of imported sugar in the country. Having reduced the sugar tax to 25 cents, the government directed that a kilo of sugar be sold at Rs 85, MP Dissanayake said.

The JVPer alleged that subsequently, when the government wanted to increase the sugar tax by Rs 40, Commerce Minister Bandula Gunawardena said that once imposed tax couldn’t be altered for a month, hence the decision to continue with 25 cents tax till Nov 13, 2020.

MP Dissanayake on Dec 12, 2020 named all those involved in the sugar scam.

Lawmaker Dissanayake said that the country suffered massive losses due to corrupt sugar deals. Those who suspended imports claiming the country faced severe foreign exchange crisis allowed massive corruption at the expense of the national economy.

Dissanayake said that last year alone at least 73,000 metric tonnes were imported at 25 cents tax.

He pointed out that the Treasury was responsible for facilitating sweet deals at the expense of the national economy. The revenue which should have been received by the government ended up with racketeers, Dissanayake lambasted the government for allowing its cronies to flourish.

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JVP expresses solidarity with Black Sunday campaign

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The JVP-led NPP yesterday expressed solidarity with the Black Sunday campaign seeking justice for the Easter Sunday carnage victims.

A statement issued by the party said that the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday carnage had released its report but the general consensus was that the inquiry had failed to bring justice. The PCoI report had only made the matter complex by creating some more puzzles instead of identifying the masterminds of the terror strikes.

The JVP has said Sri Lankans will never forget the Easter Sunday terror attacks of 2019 where nearly 300 perished and more than 500 others were wounded and became disabled for the rest of their lives. It is no secret that it was the failure on the part of the previous government to prevent the attacks that led to the destruction of lives and properties. The appointment of the commissions to investigate the incident was the only response of the former and incumbent governments. It is now clear that the commission has failed to identify the masterminds, owing to political reasons. Demanding justice is a human right. The Catholic Church has called on people to mark the coming Sunday as a day of agitation, demanding justice. We, of the NPP, extend our fullest support for the campaign and urge the law enforcing agencies to take action without further delay to bring about the masterminds and offenders of the crime, the statement has said.

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Iranaitivu islanders protest against burying of coronavirus victims there

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Residents of Iranaitivu Island yesterday forcibly filled up the burial sites prepared for those who had died from COVID-19 and held a demonstration against burying coronavirus victims on the island.

The protesters claimed that the media had reported those who died from COVID-19 would be buried on the island and that some group had already prepared a burial site. However, the residents of the island had not been consulted, they said.

They claimed that even during the war they had fought for the right to live on the island and they were opposed to the decision taken by the government to bury COVID-19 victims on the island.

 The protesters claimed that it was a cunning plan by the government to drive in a wedge between Christians and Muslims in the area. The government should have earmarked a deserted island for that purpose, they said. The protest was led by Christian religious leaders and local politicians. 

Iranaitivu is situated 10 km from Mannar and can only be accessed by boat. Cabinet Spokesman, Minister Keheliya Rambukwelle said that it was not a political decision and that health experts had taken it after careful consideration. He added that a vehicle especially made for this would be used to transport bodies to the island. This vehicle would include a freezer and the driver would be isolated from the bodies. Two family members would also be allowed to attend the funeral.

 

 

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