‘The tide is turning in our favour’
By Saman Indrajith
Foreign Relations Minister Dinesh Gunawardena expressed confidence that Sri Lanka will be able to win the support of many more countries at the ongoing United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions as the “tide is turning in our favour”.
More and more countries are now supportive of Sri Lanka, he asserted, while adding that “we are not alone because many nations have realized the truth behind the allegations leveled against us”.
“As a nation, we have nothing to hide,” the Minister said in an interview with The Sunday Island.
He said that 21 countries have so far spoken on behalf of Sri Lanka at the sessions. There are 193 independent member countries in the UN and of them, 47 member states are in the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“A considerable number of countries have read the country specific resolution and understood its veracity and expressed their solidarity with us because they know that today it is against Sri Lanka but in the future, any of them could also become victims of the same process” Gunawardena pointed out.
“There are rich and powerful nations, but their power or wealth does not permit them to dictate terms to other sovereign nations”, he stressed.
“Even some countries which have critical views against Sri Lanka have stated that some recommendations of the in the UNHRC report are not just and reasonable. They have suggested supporting an alternative investigation into allegations that we proposed to conduct locally. There are several more days to go but we are sure that we are not alone as many more countries are now speaking in favour of Sri Lanka”, the Minister noted.
Quoting an example, he said one of the charges against Sri Lanka is the failure to conduct the provincial council elections. The delay in calling for the election was because the former government, with the support of the TNA and the JVP, secured 152 votes in parliament to postpone the polls.
“They are pointing the finger at us. The elections could have been held by now if the then government had not scuttled the processes in parliament”, Minister Gunawardena explained.
He said that many countries that receive true accounts sent to them by their defence attaches and other diplomats posted here, know that most of the charges against Sri Lanka are fabricated. There’s no credible evidence. Some of the allegations have been shot down in the House of Lords by Lord Naseby.
“Another question being raised is our withdrawal from Resolution 30/1 cosponsored by the former government. The then government did not have a mandate to cosponsor a resolution against the country. A move on these lines causes enormous damage and is detrimental to the sovereignty of any country”, he noted.
“At the presidential election, we assured the people that we would withdraw from the resolution and we received a mandate to do so. Accordingly, I told the Human Rights Commission in February 2020 that we would withdraw from the resolution and appoint a commission headed by a Supreme Court judge to investigate the so-called allegations”, the Minister recalled.
He said that Sri Lanka continues to work with the UN and its other agencies without any change. The government is fully committed to achieve the sustainable development goals of the UN, which not only focus on poverty eradication, improving health and education, protecting the environment but also gives weight to democratic governance.
In addition, there are issues pertaining to the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), a piece of legislation that had existed for a long time, Gunawardena continued. “We have reviewed some of provisions of the PTA and taken initiatives through the new parliament to amend laws that may be in contradiction with the rights of the people”.
“We have begun the process as it is our top priority to protect the sovereign right of our people. Foreign countries could point their finger at us on various charges but whatever accusations should be based on justifiable issues. We cannot join them to condemn our own country because we have been given a mandate to do the opposite”, the Minister further said.
There are many areas in the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, which Sri Lanka would not agree with. This has been conveyed to the UNHRC. There were many similar reports previously where there was not a single word about the human rights violations committed by the LTTE, he said.
“Now, they have to admit that there were such (LTTE) violations, thanks to our continuous raising of the issues. Last year, after I announced that we were withdrawing from the co-sponsorship of the resolution against us, I had a meeting with the High Commissioner for Human Rights. She asked us to proceed with the work proposed as alternatives, and said that they like to see the progress we would make on the commitments”, Minister Gunawardena recounted.
The new report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has included many more issues – the victory of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and appointment of the new government, the 20th amendment to the constitution and new laws that have been introduced. Such issues are internal matters of a country. Many countries have already stated it is not just and reasonable for UNHRC to intervene in internal affairs of countries, he said.
Continuing further, the Minister said: “It is unfair for the High Commissioner for Human Rights to find fault with appointments made to various posts in Sri Lanka by the government. These are internal affairs. The UK makes various statements and takes different standpoints but it should keep in mind the judicial and parliamentary system we have here is what we inherited from them. In most instances, it is their criminal and civil laws that are still being practiced in the country.
“We have received a mandate to implement various tasks. One of them is to bring justice to the victims of the Easter Sunday carnage. Many people perished and there are a large number of people who survived with physical disabilities. The attacks happened during the former government. Today, those who were in that government are leveling various allegations against us.
“We have presented to parliament reports of several commissions including those appointed by the former government, which could not deal with them because of the power struggles within their own ranks. The then government could not even sack the IGP because there were no proper laws. As a result, there was chaos and the people voted for us to rectify the shortcomings.
“I feel sorry about the Opposition when they refuse to accept a presidential commission of inquiry headed by a judge of the Supreme Court. Only the Supreme Court has powers to interpret the constitution. People of this country have the right to come forward and move the Supreme Court against any violation of their rights.
“We have informed the UNHRC that the presidential commissions of inquiry have powers to investigate allegations of human rights violations. The work is in progress. In such a context, it is unfair for some members of the international community to continue to harass our country. They seem to be driven by political motives and their dislike of the resounding electoral victories of the President and our government.
“How could they allege that we are not committed because the local processes towards reconciliation including the work of the Office on Missing Persons tasked with bringing closure to suffering victims and their relatives by determining the status of all missing persons are in progress? Anyone who travels from the Dondra Head to Point Pedro can see for themselves that the government is working towards improving the livelihoods betterment of the people.
“As I said, we have the British legal system, and we have acted according to the laws that have been passed by parliament. It is not acceptable when outsiders dictate terms to us on how we should manage our internal affairs. The UNHRC is not there to bring about country specific resolutions to harass selected countries. This has been pointed out by many countries including Sri Lanka”.
Cardinal: Was there any link between passage of 20A and Easter Sunday probe outcome?
… stands by his claim of foreign involvement
By Norman Palihawadana
Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith yesterday said that there could be a connection between the outcome of the probe into the Easter Sunday attacks and the enlisting of Muslim MPs’ support for the passage of the 20th Amendment.
The Cardinal said: “The leader of a Muslim political party voted against the 2Oth Amendment. But his MPs voted for it. The brother of Rishad Bathiudeen too was released around the same time. These are questionable developments. These events could be part of a deal.”
The Cardinal reiterated that international forces were behind the Easter Sunday attacks and that he did not believe that there had been any local political group directly involved in the Easter attacks.
Addressing the media yesterday, the Cardinal said that the remarks he made on Sunday had been misunderstood. He stood by his claim that international forces had been behind the attacks, he said.
“However, some people claim that I said a local political group was behind the attack. I have always maintained that there are international forces that use religious and ethnic extremists such as Wahabists to create conflicts. I was referring to such groups.”
The Cardinal added that only a small group of Muslims was involved in extremism.
The Archbishop also said that former President Maithripala Sirisena believed that taking action against extremists like NTJ leader Zahran Hashim would create unnecessary issues.
“Something along these lines is also in the PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks. The report also implies that the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was lenient in dealing with growing extremism in Sri Lanka.”
The Cardinal urged the government to protect the country and ensure that there would be no repeats of incidents like the Easter Sunday attacks.
The Archbishop of Colombo requested all religious leaders to work on rebuilding trust among all communities.
AG appeals to Supreme Court against granting of bail to Ravi, others
The Attorney General yesterday appealed to the Supreme Court against bail for former Minister Ravi Karunanayake and seven others indicted in the bond case by the Colombo Special High Court Trial-at-Bar.
The eight accused were arrested and remanded over the bond scams. Later, they were released on bail.
The court warned that if the accused attempted to exert influence on the witnesses, by any means, bail would be revoked and they would be placed on remand until the end of the trial.
26 more coronavirus cases detected in Jaffna Tirunelveli market area
Another 26 COVID-19 cases had been detected on Sunday, from the Tirunelveli Market in Jaffna, which was the epicentre of the recent outbreak in the town, Dr. A. Kethiswaran, Regional Director Health Services told the media yesterday.
The market and its surroundings had been reopened on April 11 following a 19-day lockdown. However, 378 PCR tests were conducted after the Sinhala and Tamil New Year and 26 of them proved positive.
Dr. Kethiswaran warned last week that there might be a spike in COVID-19 cases in Jaffna after the New Year celebrations.
A large number of COVID-19 cases had been reported in Jaffna in the past few weeks. Thus, the people should adhere to health guidelines. If people did not follow the guidelines, there would be a spike in cases and then some places would have to be lockdown, he warned.
“It’s too early to say whether we have to close the area down. We are monitoring the situation,” DR. Kethiswaran said.
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