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Core Group ready to help Sri Lanka prosecute corrupt public officials

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The Core Group on Sri Lanka has, in a draft resolution that is to be presented to the 51st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), called upon the government of Sri Lanka to address the ongoing economic crisis and help ensure it does not happen again by investigating and prosecuting corruption including by public and former public officials. It has stated that it is ready to assist and support independent, impartial, and transparent efforts in this regard.

The Core Group consists of the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Canada, Malawi, North Macedonia and Montenegro.The Core Group has expressed concern about the human rights impact of the economic crisis such as increased food insecurity, severe shortages of fuel and essential medicines, and reductions in household incomes.The group has also stressed the need to promote and protect the rights of the most marginalised and disadvantaged individuals including daily wage earners,

children, older persons, and persons with disabilities. They also “express concern over other human rights developments, since April 2022, including violence against and arrests of peaceful protesters, as well as violence against Government supporters, resulting in deaths, injuries, destruction and damage to houses of members of Parliament and stresses the importance of independent investigations into all attacks and for those found responsible to be held to account.”

The Core Group also said that they are concerned about the militarization of civilian government functions, the erosion of the independence of the judiciary and key institutions responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights; lack of progress in addressing longstanding grievances and demands of Tamil and Muslim populations; surveillance, intimidation and harassment of journalists, human rights defenders, families of the disappeared and persons involved in memorialization initiatives, and sexual and gender-based violence.

Given below are excerpts from the draft: “Stresses the importance of a comprehensive accountability process for all violations and abuses of human rights committed in Sri Lanka by all parties, including those abuses by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam; (46/1 OP4)

“Notes the persistent lack of independence, impartiality, and transparency of domestic mechanisms, and that emblematic human rights cases have been undermined through delays and the granting of Presidential pardon to those accused or convicted of crimes relating to grave violations of human rights; (New)

“Recognizes the importance of preserving and analysing evidence relating to violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes in Sri Lanka with a view to advancing accountability, and decides to extend and reinforce the capacity of the Office of the High Commissioner to collect, consolidate, analyse and preserve information and evidence and to develop possible strategies for future accountability processes for gross violations of human rights or serious violations of international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka, to advocate for victims and survivors, and to support relevant judicial and other proceedings, including in Member States, with competent jurisdiction; (46/1 OP6, slightly revised)

“Also expresses concern that the initial response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic had an impact on freedom of religion or belief and exacerbated the prevailing marginalization of and discrimination against the Muslim community, while acknowledging that cremations for those deceased from COVID-19 are no longer compulsory, urges for Muslims and members of other religions to be able to continue to practice their own burial religious rites; (46/1 OP8 updated)

“Calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure the prompt, thorough and impartial investigation and, if warranted, prosecution of all alleged crimes relating to human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law, including for longstanding emblematic cases; (46/1 OP9)

“Calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to address the ongoing economic crisis and help ensure it does not happen again, including by investigating and, where warranted, prosecuting corruption, including by public and former public officials, and stands ready to assist and support independent, impartial, and transparent efforts in this regard; (New)

“Stresses the importance of re-energising the Office on Missing Persons and the Office for Reparations, while noting that the tangible results expected by victims and other stakeholders are yet to be achieved, including resolving the many cases of enforced disappearances so that the families of disappeared persons can know their fate and whereabouts, as well as the importance of the effective and independent functioning of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka; (46/1 OP3 and OP10 –modified)

“Further calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to protect civil society actors, including human rights defenders, to investigate any attacks and to ensure a safe and enabling environment in which civil society can operate free from hindrance, surveillance, insecurity and threat of reprisals; (46/1 OP11)

“Takes note of the introduction of amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism Act in March 2022, that detentions under this legislation continue to occur, and the Government’s expressed intention in this regard to introduce new legislation on combating terrorism, and encourages the Government to engage in consultations with civil society, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and relevant UN Special Procedure Mandate holders in the preparation of new legislation, in order to ensure that any legislation on combating terrorism complies fully with the State’s international human rights law and international humanitarian law obligations; (46/1 OP12, updated)

“Urges the Government of Sri Lanka to foster freedom of religion or belief and pluralism by promoting the ability of all religious communities to manifest their religion, and to contribute openly and on an equal footing to society; (46/1 OP13)

“Encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to continue to cooperate with the special procedures of the Human Rights Council, including by responding formally to outstanding requests from them; (46/1 OP14)

“Encourages the Office of the High Commissioner and relevant special procedure mandate holders to provide, in consultation with and with the concurrence of the Government of Sri Lanka, advice and technical assistance on implementing the abovementioned steps; (46/1 OP15)

“Requests the Office of the High Commissioner to enhance its monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights in Sri Lanka, including on progress in reconciliation and accountability, and on the human rights impact of the economic crisis and corruption, and to present oral updates to the Human Rights Council at its fifty-third session and fifty-fifths sessions, and a written update at its fifty-fourth session and a comprehensive report that includes further options for advancing accountability at its fifty-seventh session, both to be discussed in the context of an interactive dialogue. (46/1 OP16)”



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State FM calls for report from IR, admits difficulty in punishing racketeers

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Sugar tax scam: National Audit Office estimates Rs 16.7 bn revenue loss

By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister of Finance, Economic Stabilisation and National Policies Ranjith Siyambalapitiya has asked for a report from the Inland revenue Department on the income tax returns of sugar importers who have allegedly benefited from an unprecedented reduction of duty on a kilo of sugar on 13 Oct., 2020.

The gazette pertaining to the duty reduction (Special Commodity Levy) from Rs 50 per kilo to 25 cents was issued by the Finance Ministry during the tenure of the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who also served as the Finance Minister. S. R. Attygalle served as the Finance Secretary at the time.

State Minister Siyambalapitiya revealed his decision to call for a report during a visit to the Inland Revenue head office on Thursday (22).The Ministry spokesperson quoted Minister Siyambalapitiya as having told Inland Revenue Department officials that losses caused by the duty reduction couldn’t be recovered by re-imposing the duty even if a fraud had been perpetrated in the process. The State Minister was further quoted as having said that it wouldn’t be an easy task to punish those responsible for

the duty reduction. Those responsible could claim that their intention was to bring down the price of sugar, the SLFPer has said.The State Minister has intervened in the sugar tax scam in the wake of the National Audit Office recommending the recovery of revenue losses from those sugar importers. The National Audit Office has conducted a special audit to examine whether consumers benefited at all as a result of the sharp reduction of sugar tax.

The special audit revealed that within four months of reducing the tax (14th October 2020 to 8th February 2021) the cash-strapped government was deprived of tax revenue of a whopping Rs. 16.763 Billion.The audit investigation named one of the main sugar importers recorded a massive profit of some 1,222%.

The report underscored that the tax reduction did not provide relief to the people, but greatly benefited the importers and traders.The former Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance SLPP MP Anura Priyadarshana Yapa declared that consumers didn’t benefit from the duty reduction.

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Combination of ill-timed decisions prevented Lanka recover from pandemic shock

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The country has lost several hundred thousand jobs to Covid-19. The impact of the agrochemical ban on agriculture, the mismanagement of the exchange rate, a highly accommodative monetary policy, and the use of foreign exchange reserves for debt repayment thwarted the country’s ability to recover from the initial shock of COVID-19, an ILO study titled, ‘The labour market implications of Sri Lanka’s multiple crises,‘ has revealed.

“These policy decisions generated multiple crises which impacted on businesses, workers, and their families, manifesting in shortages of essential consumer goods including food, fuel, power, raw materials, and capital equipment on the one hand, and the disruption of key public services, such as education and health, on the other. The fiscal bind and looming debt crisis have also left Sri Lanka very little room to manoeuvre. The economic crises have, in turn, generated political instability and further constrained timely decision-making about how to deal with the crisis,” the ILO report said.

The multiple crises have intensified long-standing worrisome features of the labour market: they have expanded unemployment, widened gender gaps in labour force participation, and given rise to job insecurity, uncertainty, and hardship, it said.

“Sri Lanka lost more than 200,000 jobs to the pandemic between the fourth quarter 2019 and the second quarter 2021. The employment share of the informal sector increased because formal sector employment contracted more sharply. Although there was some recovery, during the second half of 2021, extensive job losse, among employers, augured ill for the vigorous regeneration of jobs,” the study reveals.

The report added that the pandemic also impacted the skills development sector. Efforts to provide education and training online were constrained, mainly due to problems of infrastructure access, particularly outside of the Western Province. Enrolment and completion of TVET courses in 2020, relative to 2019, declined by 50 and 57 percent respectively. However, the imposition of power cuts, in 2022, are likely to have disrupted even these limited measures.

“The pandemic also saw the emergence of the new poor — those who fell into poverty because of the pandemic – among the more educated and employed in industry and service sectors, particularly in urban areas and Western Province, the latter which accounted for the largest share of the new poor. These negative developments would have worsened in 2022 as the economic crises intensified,” it said.

Sri Lanka is currently in a full-blown debt and balance-of-payments crisis, leading to massive shortages of essentials and severe disruption to economic activity. As the crisis continues to deteriorate and is likely to lead to a deep impact on the labour market, which will require careful monitoring and analysis over the months to come, the ILO said. The severity of the crisis means that policy-makers need to grasp the nettle of structural reforms needed for recovery and job-rich growth, which will require carefully balancing macroeconomic stabilization with longer-term goals of creating decent, sustainable, and productive employment. The report suggests eight areas of policy intervention for the short, medium and long term.

They are; addressing current macroeconomic crisis through fiscal consolidation and debt restructuring, plus improved fiscal space, restoring investor confidence, reformulating investment, industry, and trade policies to support export-led growth, technological transformation, productive efficiency and job creation, especially for SMEs, increasing R&D and infrastructure investments with a clear focus on 3IR and 4IR technologies, promoting demand-driven skills development and adjustment to a post-COVID-19 economy, including remedial education/training, creating a social dialogue and legislative reform to support flexible arrangements while protecting workers, promoting policies that foster women’s entry into the labour market and support other hard-hit groups, and expanding access to adequate social protection to workers and families (including institutional reforms).

The report also said that Sri Lanka needs to work on improving learning outcomes. Even the TVET sector performs no better than the general education system, the ILO said. According to a 2018 ADB study, a sizable proportion of TVET graduates leave training programmes, without the skills that employers require. Tracer studies on the employability of TVET graduates reveal a high rate of unemployment among TVET graduates who had been trained for employment in even the fast-growing ICT, construction, tourism, and light engineering subsectors.

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Royal Park murder convict barred from leaving country

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The Supreme Court, yesterday, directed the Controller General of Immigration and Emigration to prevent Don Shamantha Jude Anthony Jayamaha, who was convicted for the murder of a person at Royal Park Apartment Complex, in 2005, from leaving the country, without Court permission.The Court made this decision when taking a case filed by Women and Media Collective seeking the suspension of the Presidential Pardon, granted by former President Maithripala Sirisena to Jayamaha.

The Court also granted leave to proceed with this petition for violating Article 12(1) of the constitution.A three-judge-bench comprising Justices Priyantha Jayawardena, Shiran Goonaratne and Mahinda Samayawardena fixed the petition for argument on 30 March 2023. Previously the Court allowed the petitioners to add former President Maithripala Sirisena as a respondent since he no longer has presidential immunity.

Women and Media Collective had named Attorney General, Jude Anthony Jayamaha, Commissioner General of Prisons, Controller General of Immigration and Emigration, Inspector General of Police, Justice Minister, President of Bar Association of Sri Lanka, as respondents. The petitioners also want the Court to issue guidelines governing the process of granting Presidential pardons.

Jayamaha was indicted at the High Court by Attorney-General for committing the murder of Yvonne Jonsson, on or about 01 July 2005. On 28 July, 2006, the High Court sentenced Jayamaha for 12 years of rigorous imprisonment, and a fine of Rs. 300,000. The Attorney General then filed a case in the Court of Appeal stating that the punishment was inadequate. The Court of Appeal sentenced Jayamaha to death. On 9 November, 2019, Jayamaha was granted a presidential pardon by Maithripala Sirisena during his last week in office.

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