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CEJ Executive Director Withanage elected chair of Friends of the Earth International

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By Ifham Nizam

Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) Executive Director Hemantha Withanage has been elected the chair of Friends of the Earth International.

Withanage is the first South Asian to clinch the top post of the Netherlands based institution which has a membership of 75 countries.

The Lankan Environmental Scientist succeeds Karin Nansen of Uruguay, whose two terms as chair ended in June 2021.

Speaking to journalists, Withanage said, “I am honoured to be elected as the chair of the world’s largest grassroots environmental justice organisation which, for 50 years, has been leading the fight against polluters and natural resource exploiters for a just and equitable future.

My priority for the next two years is to strengthen the member groups and Friends of the Earth International’s work with communities around the world fighting for a just society in line with our vision and mission.”

He said the current global governance and patriarchal power systems hindered a move towards such a society. As the world continued to exceed sustainable levels of production and consumption, many were failing to match the urgency and level of commitment required. The global Covid-19 pandemic had further exposed the current systemic environmental, social-economic and gender injustices.

“Corporations are hijacking our food systems and natural resource governance, as well as pushing for false solutions and exacerbating the climate and biodiversity crises,” he stressed.

Greater meaningful effort was needed from global governance bodies and national governments. It won’t happen without a system change, he said.

Withanage added: “We will continue to work alongside the peoples and communities who are leading the way with solutions. We will continue to build our Internationalist Solidarity System partnership with allied movements and struggles.”

Withanage, a science graduate from the University of Kelaniya, joined the environmental justice movement in 1990 as an environmental officer for the Environmental Foundation Ltd. In 2004, he co-founded the CEJ.

From 2005-2008, he was Executive Director of the Philippines based NG0- a network of civil society organisations monitoring the Asian Development Bank – for which he has also been the elected International Convenor a number of times. Hemantha has held leadership positions in a number of other regional and international networks and is a leading environmental activist in the Asia Pacific region. Hemantha was an elected member of Friends of the Earth International’s Executive Committee from 2010-2018.



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Full implementation of 13A: NFF vows to torpedo Ranil’s move, asks Dinesh, Mahinda to disclose their stance

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

The National Freedom Front (NFF), a constituent member of Nidahas Janatha Sandhanaya (NJS), has declared that it would oppose President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s bid to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The patriotic people were ready to defeat such plans, even at the expense of their lives, the party has vowed.

The breakaway JVP faction consists of six MPs, including former minister Wimal Weerawansa. The NJS is contesting the Local Government polls, scheduled for March 09, under the ‘Helicopter’ symbol.

NFF spokesperson, MP Jayantha Samaraweera, on Monday (30), told the media that his party was ready to lead a campaign against the UNP leader’s move to do away with constitutional safeguards meant to ensure Sri Lanka’s unitary status. The Lawmaker addressed the media at the NFF main office, at Pitakotte.

Having declared his intention to fully implement the controversial constitutional amendment at the Thai Pongal celebrations, in Jaffna, on January 15, President Wickremesinghe reiterated his commitment to the Eelam project during the party leaders’ meeting at the Presidential Secretariat, the former State Minister said.

Lawmaker Samaraweera asked Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, and twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had flanked President Wickremesinghe, at the party leaders’ meeting, to disclose their stand on 13th Amendment.

The Nidahas Janatha Sandhanaya, consisting of NFF, Democratic Left Front, Communist Party, Lanka Samasamaja Pakshaya, Pivuthuru Hela Urumaya, Vijayadharani Jathika Sabhawa, Yuthukama, Sri Lanka Freedom Party, Nidahasa Janatha Sabhawa, Jana Jaya Peramuna, Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya and Nidahas Janatha Peramuna, has yet to disclose its position on this issue.

MP Samaraweera attacked the President, close on the heels of NFF leader Wimal Weerawansa, who is also the Chairman of the Uththara Lanka Sabhagaya (ULS), questioning the legitimacy of the move. Lawmaker Weerawansa addressed this issue at a meeting held at the BMICH, on January 26, to discuss ways and means to thwart the move to privatize the CEB.

The ULS consisting of seven political parties, and groups, is aligned with the NJS.

Referring to the circumstances UNP leader Wickremesinghe re-entered Parliament, through the National List, nearly a year after the last General Election, former Minister Weerawansa emphasized the President didn’t have a mandate to fully implement the 13th Amendment. How could the UNP leader abolish Sri Lanka’s unitary status, having received an opportunity to complete Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s remainder of five-year term, won at the Nov. 2019 Presidential Election.

The MP challenged their erstwhile comrades, in the JVP, to state their position on the 13th Amendment. Alleging that the JVP had been conveniently silent on the issue at hand, MP Samaraweera asked whether the current leadership would take up Wickremesinghe’s challenge.

In addition to Weerawansa and Samaraweera, Yuthukama leader Gevindu Cumaratunga, MP, has declared opposition to the President’s move, at the party leaders’ meeting.

Of the SLPP parliamentary group, retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera is the only MP to publicly oppose Wickremesinghe’s proposal.

Political sources said that the NJS, as a group contesting the forthcoming LG polls, was yet to deliberate this issue and take a stand. They said that consensus was required without further delay as the President’s proposal would be a major issue at the forthcoming election.

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PHU, too, opposes land, police powers to PCs

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A lawyers’ group, aligned with Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU), yesterday (31) said that President Ranil Wickremesinghe couldn’t unilaterally decide on the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

Attorneys-at-Law Pasan Gunasekera and Bhupathi Kahathuduwa, in a statement issued, explained why police and land powers, in terms of the controversial amendment, shouldn’t be granted to Provincial Councils. Abolition of current constitutional safeguard would undermine Sri Lanka’s unitary status thereby paved the way for a new conflict.

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Bangladesh FM to deliver LK memorial lecture

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Bangladesh Foreign Minister, Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen, will deliver the Lakshman Kadirgamar memorial lecture at Block 3, Jasmine Hall, BMICH, on February 03, at 6 pm.

The LTTE assassinated the then Foreign Minister, Kadirgamar, on Aug. 12, 2005.

FM Momen will deliver the annual lecture on the invitation of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies.

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