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Easter Sunday probe: Former HR Chief sets the record straight

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…contradicts Sirisena’s claim of dead LTTE cadre’s family member on HRCSL staff

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) Dr. Deepika Udagama strongly refuted former President Maithriapala Sirisena’s claims that during her tenure as the HRCSL Chief a family member of a dead LTTE cadre was accommodated in the setup. Dr. Udagama emphasized that she had never heard of that particular allegation before. There was absolutely no basis for accusations or claims she had been summoned by the former President over the alleged inclusion of a member of the dead LTTE cadre’s family on the staff.

 The Island sought explanation to several issues in the wake of media reports pertaining to the recent P CoI proceedings. Former President Maithripala Sirisena, in response to P CoI queries, directed serious allegations in respect of the HRCSL conduct and also questioned the former Chairperson’s responsibilities as the then Chairperson.

The following are the questions

(Q)   The former President alleged that the inclusion of a family member of a dead LTTE cadre in the HRCSL caused serious problems. Did HRCSL accommodate any such person? If so, can you reveal the name of the dead LTTE cadre and the circumstances he/she died?

(A) First, I wish to point out that my responses are based on the assumption that the media reports you refer to have correctly reported the statement made by the former President as there has been no denial from the former President’s office.

I served as the Chairperson of HRCSL from the end October, 2015 – August, 2020. During that period I am not aware of any such person being recruited by the Commission. Where the staff was concerned, in fact, during the entire period of my tenure it was not possible to hire a single staff member due to administrative complications stemming from first, the absence of a Scheme of Recruitment (SOR) and secondly, the complicated procedural and other delays and difficulties in recruiting staff after approval was obtained by the relevant authorities for such a Scheme. Where the Commissioners are concerned, as I am sure that you are aware, the President appoints all Commissioners and the Chairperson on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council per provisions of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Again here, I am not aware of any Commissioner being the family member of a dead LTTE cadre.         

 (Q) Did the President summon you for a meeting/sought an explanation over the inclusion of a dead LTTE cadre’s relative?

(A) No. In fact, it would be very problematic if anyone in government ‘summoned’ a Chairperson or a member of an independent commission.  We were never summoned. However, we did receive invitations from the Office of the President on a couple of occasions for discussions with President Sirisena. On one such occasion, I recall it was in early 2017, the Chair and all Commissioners were invited for a meeting with the President. We were not informed in advance what the discussion was about.

At the meeting, President Sirisena expressed his displeasure about a report HRCSL had sent the UN Committee against Torture in October, 2016. We explained that the report was submitted at the request of the Committee when it was due to examine Sri Lanka’s periodic report under the UN Convention against Torture. As Sri Lanka had legally accepted the Convention, the State was legally bound to provide periodic reports to explain how it was meeting legal obligations undertaken to prevent and punish torture. We explained that it was standard practice of all UN human rights treaty bodies to invite the national human rights institution and also civil society to submit parallel reports. It was also pointed out that the statistics of torture indicated in the HRCSL report were of complaints of torture received annually by the Commission; just as much as police crime statistics are of complaints of crime recorded by the police and not of adjudicated cases of crime, the Commission too traced patterns of violation via the number of complaints it received.

HRCSL consistently pointed out that during the tenure of the previous government political freedom, freedom of expression, association and assembly vastly expanded and that serious forms of violations such as enforced disappearances were not reported. However, it was pointed out that custodial violations have been a problem for decades and it had to be seriously addressed.

(Q)   The former President accused the HRCSL of depriving SL military opportunity to serve under UN Command

(A) The Commission’s observation was that the UN welcomed the deployment of well-trained officers of the Tri Forces and police from Sri Lanka for its Peacekeeping operations. Pursuant to a resolution adopted by the General Assembly, all troops deployed for peacekeeping have to be subject to human rights vetting. The vetting process, undertaken by HRCSL at the invitation of the UN and the previous government, experienced initial difficulties until it was streamlined as it was an entirely novel process. Pursuant to the adoption of a Standard Operating Procedure in 2018 with the concurrence of the Tri Forces, police, HRCSL, UN and GOSL, vetting of officers has progressed well.  It is not possible to agree that the routine report submitted by HRCSL to the UN Committee against Torture diminished opportunities for our troops.

 In fact, the Sri Lanka Army affirmed that it has the ‘highest confidence in the HRCSL that it does its utmost to expedite this HR screening processes in a Statement issued on March 28th 2019 which was carried in all media. In fact, in that Statement, the Army said ‘the task of screening is not that easy since the HRCSL, apart from the duties it has to perform according to its prime mandate, have to scrutinize thousands of applications as all three services and the Police are engaged in UN peacekeeping,’ It was further said that, ‘Sri Lankans, should be proud that the UN selected the HRCSL, Sri Lanka’s own organization, to carry out the domestic mechanism in the HR screening process.’

 (Q)Would you volunteer/seek an opportunity from P CoI to respond to accusations directed at the HRCSL

(A) I do not see how the reported statement made by the former President before the PCoI is relevant to the matter under investigation.

(Q) Can you briefly explain the President’s role and that of the Constitutional Council in the appointment of HRCSL (members of Independent Commissions) and finally

(A) My response to your first question addressed this issue.

(Q) Do you think HRCSL contributed in any way leading to the political crisis that may have facilitated the Easter attacks?

 (A) If anyone makes that accusation against the HRCSL, it is hard to comprehend the logic behind it. How could protection of people’s rights lead to such a crisis? I thought the previous government was commended for establishing independent commissions and for the improved human rights situation. The answer is certainly not. 



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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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