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Dinesh confident of SL winning support of more countries at UNHRC sessions

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‘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”.

 

 



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Facilities for infected pregnant women inadequate – SLCOG

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The distribution and availability of high-flow oxygen machines to treat Covid-19 infected pregnant women were not adequate, President of the Sri Lanka College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (SLCOG,) Dr. Pradeep de Silva said yesterday.

Dr. de Silva said that while they had not yet faced any lack of oxygen in treating Covid-19 infected pregnant mothers, things could change rapidly given the limited availability of equipment. “Having an adequate supply of oxygen alone is not enough. You need high flow oxygen machines, and 50 litres of oxygen per minute is needed to operate a high flow oxygen machine. I do not know how many machines we have in this country but where I work, Castle Street Maternity Hospital has about four. We need to estimate the number of these machines we require and how much oxygen we want. From my understanding, the distribution and availability of high flow oxygen machines to treat Covid-19 infected pregnant mothers is not adequate.”

Dr de Silva said that Sri Lanka needed about 50–200 high-dependency unit (HDU) beds per district, based on the population, 10–50 high flow oxygen machines per district, four for ten ICU beds and two dedicated Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machines.

“If we get this, we will be able to deal with pregnant women who develop complications from COVID-19 for the next four to five years,” he said.

Dr de Silva said that currently one pregnant woman who has been infected with COVID-19 is receiving ECMO treatment. There is also a shortage of beds at the Mulleriyawa Base Hospital, which has the largest ward dedicated to COVID-19 infected pregnant women. On Thursday, Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, Dr Mayuramana Dewolage, who heads the ward that treats COVID-19 infected pregnant women at the Mulleriyawa Base Hospital, said that they only had 37 beds were dedicated to pregnant women with COVID-19. They didn’t have any HDU or ICU beds dedicated for their use, he said.

“We share HDU and ICU beds with other patients at Mulleriyawa Base Hospital,” Dr Dewolage said.

The President of the SLCOG also urged all hospitals to find a separate space for pregnant women who were receiving treatment at their institutions. When COVID-19 pandemic started, the Health Ministry instructed all hospitals to do so but it was now obvious that those instructions had not been followed, he said.

“When the second wave started people got ready but later, they just stopped getting ready and now we are unprepared to meet the challenges of the third wave. We need to find a way to manage this. If the Ministry of Health has not prepared a plan, we are ready to help formulate one,” the President of the SLCOG said.

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Those who had AstraZeneca first jab, should take Sputnik V with adenovirus 26 – Specialist

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

If those who have taken the first dose of AstraZeneca are to receive a second jab of Sputnik V, they should take the first Sputnik V vaccine with adenovirus 26 (Ad26), Consultant Immunologist and head of the department of Immunology-MRI, Dr Nihan Rajiva de Silva says.

Dr. de Silva said that the first dose of Sputnik had Ad 26 and the second had adenovirus-5. “Adenovirus-5 is common. We may have been exposed to that and we may have developed antibodies. Adenovirus-26 is rarer and we will better respond to that. That is why the vaccine-maker has used adenovirus-26 in the first vaccine. So, if you had a first jab of AstraZeneca and you are to get the second dose from Sputnik-V remember to get the first jab,” Dr. de Silva said.

He added that any vaccine has the chance of reducing the severity of the virus and that the general public should get vaccinated when the opportunity is available.

Dr. de Silva said that there was a shortage of AstraZeneca vaccines because the Serum Institute of India could not deliver shipments as promised.

“However, we are now getting Sputnik V vaccines and we are looking at mixing them. There is a study in Russia about the efficiency of mixing Sputnik V with AstraZeneca and the results should be out soon. I can say that theoretically mixing the two vaccines should work,” he said.

Dr. de Silva added that the AstraZeneca vaccine should work against the new variant spreading in the country.

Consultant Cardiologist at the National Hospital of Sri Lanka, Dr. Gotabaya Ranasinghe said that those with heart issues, non-communicable diseases and were obese must get vaccinated to minimise the complications of Covid-19.

Dr. Ranasinghe said that those in the above-mentioned categories were at risk of contracting, getting complications and dying of COVID-19 and research had proven that vaccination would reduce the chance of such eventualities.

“If you worry about getting vaccinated, talk to your doctor. Don’t seek advice from friends and family,” he said.

Dr. Ranasinghe added that they had limited the number of heart surgeries they do due to COVID-19. ICU beds used for heart patients too were being now allocated for COVID-19 patients. “We only do the most pressing cases. But this means that the waiting list keeps on growing. Now, the waiting list is over eight months. If we limit the surgeries more and keep taking away ICU beds available for those who have had heart surgeries, the waiting list will grow further,” he said.

The Consultant Cardiologist also advised the public to eat healthy food and engage in moderate exercises, at least five days a week. This will reduce the mental stress as well as boost the immune system. ‘We recommend moderate exercises like jogging and brisk walking, for 30 minutes, five days a week. Being healthy is as important as wearing masks or adhering to physical distancing,” he said.

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STF raids narcotics distribution centre close to Bloemendhal police station

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Acting on information received from the Organised Crime Fighting Unit of the elite Special Task Force (STF), police commandos, on Thursday (6), arrested a person running a narcotic distributing network, 1.5 km away from the Bloemendhal police station.

The STF identified the suspect as Thawasidevan Pradeep Kumar, 21, a key associate of one Suresh with links to a criminal outfit run by Kimbulaele Guna, now absconding in India.

DIG (Legal) Ajith Rohana said that the raiding party had recovered 2 kg, 22 g and 88mg of ‘ICE,’ with a street value of Rs 25 mn in addition to 4kg, 2 g and 527 mg of substance known as ‘hash,’ as well as Rs 400,000 in cash and a mobile phone.

Kimbulaele Guna is believed to have sought refuge following an LTTE attempt to assassinate President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga at the final PA presidential election rally at the Town Hall in December 1999.

DIG Rohana said that Guna’s brother Suresh was a major heroin distributor in Colombo. The STF later handed over the suspect, along with contraband and locally made ‘hash,’ and his phone to the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB). The raid on the heroin distribution centre situated in Aluth Mawatha, Colombo 15, followed specific information received as regards the ‘operation’ conducted with impunity (SF)

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