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Detention of terror suspects, justice for Easter Sunday victims and arrest of web journalists on agenda    

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HRCSL Chairman Dr. Jagath Balasuriya addressing civil society representatives (pic courtesy HRCSL) 

 

HRCSL-civil society powwow 

 

By Shamindra Ferdinando 

A civil society group has raised the issue of the detention of persons arrested during the conflict and post-war period in terms of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) with the newly constituted Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL). Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009. 

Most of the suspects had fought for the LTTE and some had engaged in clandestine terror missions in the South, including political assassinations, former Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, MP said. During his tenure as the Justice Minister, he insisted that there were no political prisoners or secret detention camps in the country. SLPP MP Rajapakse yesterday (22) emphasised that the current situation in the country couldn’t be compared with what was under the yahapalana administration. The change of government in Nov 2019 had completely changed the situation, the MP said.

The discussion at the HRCSL office took place on June 8 on the invitation of Dr. Jagath Balasuriya, Chairperson, HRCSL.  

Appreciating an opportunity received by the civil society to make representations, Dr. Jehan Perera, Executive Director of the National Peace Council told The Island several issues, including the imprisonment of persons under the PTA and difficulties in obtaining bail for them, torture, the killing of persons in police custody, arrest of web journalists, the abuse of the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) Act, which provides for arrest without bail, surveillance of civil society groups and the exploitation of Free Trade Zone workers during the pandemic. The issue of arrests made in the wake of the Easter Sunday attacks was also raised.  

Dr. Perera underscored the importance of a dialogue between the civil society and the HRCSL though they might not be agreeing on many contentious issues.  

The first meeting between the HRCSL and the civil society took place after the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) questioned the rationale behind the appointment of former Cabinet Minister Balasuriya as the HRCSL Chairperson. Would Balasuriya, whose son Tharaka represented the SLPP in Parliament be able to genuinely address human rights issues, asked SJB lawmaker Mujibur Rahman. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in late Dec 2020, appointed the HRCSL comprising Jagath Balasuriya, Dr. M. H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara, Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan and H. K. Navaratne Weraduwa.  

Dr. Deepika Udagama served as the previous head of the HRCSL.  

Dr. Perera said that they had received an assurance from the HRCSL that the issues raised by the civil society had been taken up with the government. He quoted HRCSL members as having said that they expected a positive response from the government. 

Dr. Perera said that during the discussion, the HRCSL had referred to reforming of the PTA and the issues raised by families of missing persons and persons suffering from prolonged periods of detention without recourse to judicial processes. “They also explained how they had set about strengthening the administration of the HRCSL such as clearing the backlog of cases and empowering officials who had been given acting appointments and making them permanent,” Dr. Perera said. 

In his brief address to the gathering, Dr. Balasuriya assured that the HRCSL would act independently though being appointed by the President. Appealing to those present to trust the HRCSL, Dr. Balasuriya assured the civil society they would use their positions to protect and uphold human rights in the country.  

Pointing out that the civil society had a positive engagement with the HRCSL, Dr. Perera said that the recent Court of Appeal decision in the Shani Abeysekera case had given them confidence that the HRCSL would act in a similar spirit to uphold the truth, the rule of law and human rights for the good of the country and all its people. 

Dr. Perera said that the HRCSL intended to conduct separate meetings with small groups of activists due to the continuing threat posed by the raging Covid-19 epidemic. The second meeting scheduled for yesterday (22) was postponed.

The HRCSL has begun meeting civil society organisations. 

Nihal Chandrasiri, Director – Research & Monitoring (Actg.), HRCSL said that talks with national level groups had been initiated as they could not hold the planned two-day national workshop with the participation of the representatives of regional and national-level civil society organisations in May 2021. 

Those present at the June 8 meeting were Dr. Jehan Perera (National Peace Council), Attorney-at-law Lakshan Dias and Philip Dissanayake (Right to Life Human Rights Centre), Chamila Thushari (Dabindu Collective), Prabodha Rathnayake (Rights Now), Ms. Ranitha Gnanarajah (Centre for Human Rights & Development), and Rev. Fr. Mahendra Gunatilleke (Caritas Sri Lanka – SEDEC).  

The HRCSL was represented by Dr. Jagath Balasuriya, Commissioners Harsha Nawaratne, Anusuya Shanmuganathan, Nimal Karunasiri, Mrs. Hema Dharmawardena – Additional Secretary, HRCSL,  Nihal Chandrasiri, Director – Research & Monitoring (Actg.), Mrs. Menaka Herath – Director- Education & Special Programmes, HRCSL, and Ms. Sulari Liyanagama, Director – Inquiries & Investigations (Actg.).  

The Island could not clarify matters relating to the actual number of people held under PTA according to information available with the HRCSL as its spokesperson Nihal Chandrasiri did not answer his phone.  

Rev. Fr. Mahendra Gunatilleke, in his presentation, raised the issues pertaining to the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks. The Church representative pointed out the inordinate delay in bringing those responsible for heinous crimes before justice. The Rev Father expressed concerns over the situation against the backdrop of the Catholic Church pressuring the government to take punitive measures and implement the Presidential Commission of Inquiry report on the Easter Sunday carnage. 

 

 



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Pakistan’s ex-president, Pervez Musharraf dies aged 79

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(picture BBC)

BBC reported that Pakistan’s former president General Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999, has died aged 79.

The former leader – who was president between 2001 and 2008 – died after a long illness, a statement from the country’s army said.

He had survived numerous assassination attempts, and found himself on the front line of the struggle between militant Islamists and the West.

He supported the US “war on terror” after 9/11 despite domestic opposition.

In 2008 he suffered defeat in the polls and left the country six months later.

When he returned in 2013 to try to contest the election, he was arrested and barred from standing. He was charged with high treason and was sentenced to death in absentia only for the decision to be overturned less than a month later.

He left Pakistan for Dubai in 2016 to seek medical treatment and had been living in exile in the country ever since.

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The 75th Anniversary of National Independence celebrated under the patronage of President, PM

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(picture Presidents Media)

The 75th National Independence Day celebration was held under the theme “Namo Namo Mata – A Step towards the Century”, under the patronage of President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena on Saturday morning (04) at Galle Face Green.

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Lanka sovereign bond holders write to the IMF

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ECONOMYNEXT –Sri Lanka’s bondholders have written to the International Monetary Fund expressing their willingness to engage in debt re-structuring talks but also raising matters related to the domestic debt re-structuring and economic assumptions and forecasts.

The group, styling itself as the “Ad Hoc Group of Sri Lanka Bondholders (the Bondholder Group) has written last week to the IMF Managing Director from New York said inter alia that the Bondholder Group through its Steering Committee stands ready to engage quickly and effectively with the Sri Lankan authorities to design and implement restructuring terms that would help Sri Lanka restore debt sustainability and allow the country to re-gain access to the international capital markets during the IMF Programme period.

The letter concluded with the paragraph: Recognizing the important commitments made by India in the India Letter, the Sri Lankan authorities will apply the principle of comparable treatment in respect of the debt relief requested and obtained from all their remaining official bilateral creditors.

Following is the text of the letter:

NEW YORK, Feb. 3, 2023

Dear Managing Director Georgieva,The Ad Hoc Group of Sri Lanka Bondholders (the “Bondholder Group”) acknowledges the Sri Lankan authorities’ engagement with their official creditors towards a resolution of the current crisis and restoration of debt sustainability.

The Bondholder Group further acknowledges that such engagement has recently resulted in the Government of India (in its letter to the IMF, dated January 16, 2023 (the “India Letter”)) delivering letters of financing assurances, committing to support Sri Lanka and contribute to its efforts to restore debt sustainability by providing debt relief and financing consistent with the IMF Extended Fund Facility Arrangement (the “IMF Programme”) and the IMF Programme targets indicated in the India Letter.

Similarly, the Bondholder Group through its Steering Committee stands ready to engage quickly and effectively with the Sri Lankan authorities to design and implement restructuring terms that would help Sri Lanka restore debt sustainability and allow the country to re-gain access to the international capital markets during the IMF Programme period.

Based on the limited information available to us at this time, including information contained in the India Letter, we understand that the IMF Programme’s debt sustainability targets are identified as

(i) reducing the ratio of public debt to GDP to 95% by 2032,

(ii) limiting the central government’s annual gross financing needs to GDP ratio to 13% in the period between 2027 and 2032, and central government annual foreign currency debt service at 4.5% of GDP in every year between 2027 and 2032 and

(iii) closing of the external financing gap.

The Bondholder Group hereby confirms it is prepared to engage, through its Steering Committee, with the Sri Lankan authorities in restructuring negotiations consistent with the parameters of an IMF Programme and the targets specified therein (the “IMF Programme Targets”), which the Bondholder Group understands to be the targets identified in the India Letter; it being recognized that these negotiations will necessarily be further informed by the receipt of the forthcoming DSA.

We would note that the finalization of an agreement will also be subject to the satisfaction of the following conditions:

The central government’s domestic debt – defined as debt governed by local law – is reorganized in a manner that both ensures debt sustainability and safeguards financial stability.

Assuming that annual gross financing needs should not exceed 13% of GDP in the period between 2027 and 2032, whilst allowing for central government annual foreign currency debt service to reach 4.5% of GDP in every year between 2027 and 2032, domestic gross financing should therefore be limited at 8.5% of GDP for the period 2027-2032.

While we recognize that the determination of the economic assumptions underpinning the IMF Programme Targets is ultimately the responsibility of the IMF and that the overall design of the IMF Programme is one that is negotiated between the IMF and Sri Lanka, it is nevertheless important that the Bondholder Group has the opportunity to express its views on both the economic assumptions underpinning these IMF Programme Targets and the adequacy and feasibility of the adjustment efforts contemplated under the IMF Programme.

When considering any restructuring proposal that is made to the Bondholder Group, it is the Bondholder Group’s intention to take into consideration the extent to which the economic assumptions and the adjustment efforts are consistent with these views.

Recognizing the important commitments made by India in the India Letter, the Sri Lankan authorities will apply the principle of comparable treatment in respect of the debt relief requested and obtained from all their remaining official bilateral creditors.

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