The Foreign Ministry on Friday noted with concern the numerous misleading statements contained in the testimony of the Chairperson of the Neelan Tiruchelvam Trust Ambika Satkunanathan, during an exchange of views on the situation of human and labour rights in Sri Lanka at the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights on 27 January, 2022.
The Ministry in a release said: Ms. Satkunanathan’s testimony completely ignores the progress made by the government of Sri Lanka on many fronts and creates doubts about the government’s intents and sincerity, particularly at a time when it is engaged in a long-standing cooperation with the UN human rights mechanisms and the UN Human Rights Council and is delivering on its commitment to address accountability and reconciliation through domestic processes and institutions.
The Ministry is disappointed that among the recommendations made by Ms. Satkunanathan is that the EU uses its leverage on GSP plus facility to exert pressure on the government on human rights. If Sri Lanka loses the EU GSP plus facility, particularly at a time when livelihoods of millions of Sri Lankans belonging to all communities are already affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting losses would exacerbate poverty and income inequality. Some of the worst affected sectors will be fisheries and agriculture which are among the key industries in the North and the Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka.
The Ministry also notes that the unfounded allegations about discrimination of ethnic communities in her testimony are reminiscent of LTTE propaganda that once stoked hatred among communities. In a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country such as Sri Lanka, such allegations need to be refuted in the interest of social harmony and to prevent the spread of dangerous fallacies about Sri Lanka in the international community.
The Ministry refutes Ms. Satkunanathan’s claims on ‘a culture of impunity’. The Ministry wishes to point out that the government is engaged in a long-standing cooperation with the UN human rights mechanisms as well as with the UN Human Rights Council. Sri Lanka is delivering on its commitment to address accountability and reconciliation through domestic processes and institutions. The government has been actively engaging the international community including the UNHRC’s Universal Periodic Review and Special Procedures to address the various concerns that have been raised. This includes the allegations of systematic torture. The Government has made it clear that additional reforms will be undertaken to further strengthen rule of law, access to justice, and accountability. It remains open to a constructive discussion on suggestions and further steps to address shortcomings.
The Ministry notes that Ms. Satkunanathan makes references to ‘Sinhala Buddhist nationalism’ and ‘militarisation’ as driving the actions of the Government. She makes vague claims of racial profiling in the absence of any concrete evidence of discrimination against minorities. In reply, the Ministry wishes to point out that Sri Lanka is a secular country and all citizens, irrespective of their religion or ethnicity share the same fundamental rights under the Constitution. Furthermore, Sri Lanka ensures access to public services such as free education and free health facilities without any discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or religion. In fact, even during the military conflict when large areas of the Northern and the Eastern Provinces were under the control of the LTTE, the government continued with the provision of such public services to the areas so that the civilians, who were mainly ethnic Tamils and Muslims, would not be affected.
Ms. Satkunanathan points to the Presidential Task Force on Archaeology which she accuses of being a tool for land grabbing and changing the demographics of minority-heavy areas and the Presidential Task Force on “One-Country One Law” which she accuses of stoking ethnic hatred and violence. After the war, as displaced persons returned to the Northern and the Eastern Provinces, there has been an increase in unauthorized encroachment into forest areas inevitably leading to destruction of archaeological sites. So, there is an urgent need to take concrete measures in order to protect these sites. There is no truth in the claims that the Presidential Task Force on Archaeology is a pretext for land grabbing and introducing the Sinhalese to these areas. It may be noted that there is representation of all ethnic communities in this Task Force. With respect to the Presidential Task Force on “One Country One Law,” it should be noted that it is expected to play an advisory role only. The Task Force’s recommendations will be first studied by the Justice Ministry, then the Cabinet of Ministers and finally the Parliament following the democratic traditions.
With regard to her allegations that the Northern and Eastern Provinces are ‘occupied’ by the military, it should be pointed out that the the majority (more than 92%) of the private lands occupied by the military at the end of the conflict in year 2009 have already been released to legitimate land owned civilians. A mechanism is already in place to expedite the process of releasing remaining private lands.
It is particularly disappointing to see Ms. Satkunanathan’s allegations that ‘civic space’ is shrinking and that informal and extra-legal processes are used to curtail the activities of civil society organizations. The Ministry asserts that government views NGOs as partners and not as adversaries. The government acknowledges the constructive contributions made by civil Society organisations in the work of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) and Sustainable Development Council of Sri Lanka. It has also introduced certain policy changes to facilitate the work of NGOs such as bringing the NGO Secretariat under the Foreign Ministry. It must be reiterated that apart from operating routine security networks in the interest of national security, particularly after the devastating Easter Sunday terrorist attacks, the Security Forces and intelligence agencies are not engaged in monitoring or targeting any specific group of people in the country.
The Ministry refutes Ms. Satkunanathan’s claims of extra-judicial killings and arrests under the pretext of a “war and drugs.” With regard to the PTA, it should be noted that the government is in the process of amending the Act, which is now at the final stage and the international community is being briefed on that process.
Ms. Satkunanathan also alleges that the government is exploiting its friendship with China to “undermine the efforts of states that call for accountability for human rights violations” in Sri Lanka. On the contrary, mindful of strategic competition that is increasing in the Indo-Pacific region, our main foreign policy directive is to maintain neutrality, in line with the non-aligned foreign policy we have adopted since Independence. The Ministry wishes to point out that apart from China, Sri Lanka has entered into partnerships with several countries such as India and Japan to fill gaps in national infrastructure development. Such partnerships have no bearing on Sri Lanka’s commitment to address accountability and reconciliation through domestic processes and institutions.
PM blames ‘last administration’ for country’s current crisis
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Sky News that “the last administration is to blame” for the country’s current crisis.Protesters have clashed with police in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, as people demanded the resignation of the President and new Prime Minister.Demonstrations in the capital have been ongoing for the last two months as the public blames the country’s leadership for corruption and mishandling the economy.The Prime Minister said that the last administration “ran down the economy”.
“We have come to a point where we are bankrupt – which has never happened to Sri Lanka before,” he said in an interview with Sky News following his controversial appointment last week.
“We have no dollars, we have no rupees.”
On whether the President should resign, the veteran politician said it’s a “controversy” as the country is of split opinion.He added: “I suggested that after Sri Lanka passes the 21st amendment, the country should restore the original 19th amendment strengthening parliament – strengthening the powers of the prime minister.
“Then, all party leaders and the president should have a discussion and come to some arrangement on the future.”
Meanwhile, the recent unrest across the country has been sparked amid the country’s worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948, which has been blamed on a combination of COVID, rising oil prices and populist tax cuts by the president and his brother, until recently the prime minister.
“I can understand the anguish of the protesters – the young and the old,” Mr Wickremesinghe said.
“The young who see their future being taken away, and the old, who are suffering, the middle class, who see their lifestyle collapsing… farmers without fertiliser.
“There are many demonstrations outside police stations, petrol stations and other places. And it shows the anger, the despair, and the hopelessness that the people feel.”
He said that people, at the moment, “can’t bear the burden any longer”.
“We are certainly not in a very stable position,” he said.
Police have now arrested more than 800 people nationwide who are accused of ransacking property, looting and setting fire to MPs’ houses on 9 May.But human rights lawyers say in some cases police are jailing people who were out on the streets watching what was happening, rather than actively taking part in violence.The prime minister went on to say that the country faces a possibility of a food crisis due to the lack of fertiliser.Sri Lanka is near bankruptcy after announcing it had suspended up to $7bn (£5.6bn) in foreign loans due to be repaid this year because of a foreign currency crisis.It has led to limited imports with no gas in petrol stations. Other fuel, cooking gas, medicine and foods are in short supply forcing people to stay in long lines to buy the limited stocks.
“We are feeling the rise in the price of fuel – and we know it will go higher,” he said.
“Our main concern also is that we have not had fertiliser for cultivation, and this coming season, the rice cultivation season will not have the full production.
“Therefore from about August onwards, there is a possibility of a food crisis in Sri Lanka. That’s about the time when the global food crisis will also take place, and we will see how we will survive until about March next year.” – Sky News
SJB, FSP agree on common agenda
Focus on abolition of Executive Presidency
BY SHMAINDRA FERNANDO
SJB MP Kabir Hashim, MP, says the main Opposition party and the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) have recently agreed on the abolition of the Executive Presidency.Hashim yesterday (20) told The Island that they agreed on empowering Parliament at the expense of the Executive President.The SJB and FSP delegations met at the Opposition Leader’s Office at , Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha this week. The SJB delegation consisted of lawmakers, General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Kabir Hashim, Eran Wickremaratne and Mujubur Rahuman whereas the FSP was represented by Central Committee members, Pubudu Jagoda and Duminda Nagamuwa.The SJB, offshoot of the UNP, secured the recognition of the Election Commission in Feb 2020 while the FSP is yet to be registered as a political party.
Lawmaker Hashim said that the SJB was keen to discuss the current situation with all political parties represented in Parliament and out as part of the overall efforts to reach agreement on a common programme.Referring to the proposals made by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) to resolve the political crisis that would be a prerequisite for addressing the economic downturn, lawmaker Hashim said that the SJB and the FSP agreed on the need for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to agree on a timeline for him to step-down.Responding to The Island queries, one-time UNP Chairman said that the SJB could work together with the FSP on both political and economic issues. The talks took place amidst the FSP, the breakaway faction of the JVP, was consolidating its position as the spearhead of the ongoing protest campaign meant to force President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to step down.
MP Hashim said that they agreed to prepare a document meant for future cooperation. Asked whether they have scheduled another meeting with the FSP, the Kegalle District MP said that they were keen to prepare a working document before they next meet for talks.The top SJB spokesperson said that in spite of swearing in UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister, the President was on a difficult wicket.Lawmaker Hashim said the SJB was also engaged in talks with the JVP though the deliberations weren’t at official level. “We are proceeding with efforts to finalize a common agenda meant to restore normalcy. We had talks with the BASL, industry leaders as well as civil society,” MP Hashim said.Asked whether the SJB had met Premier Wickremesinghe or sought a meeting with him, MP Hashim said that when Dr. Harsha de Silva raised a spate of issues at hand, especially the recent hard default, the Premier assured the Parliament that party leaders would be fully briefed pertaining to the current situation.Lawmaker Hashim was referring to the first occasion Sri Lanka experienced a hard default as the grace period for the International Sovereign Bonds (ISB) Coupon payment lapsed on May 18. Last month Sri Lanka announced a pre-emptive negotiated default ofall outstanding debt as at April 12.On April 18 the ISB Coupon worth $ 78 million fell due and those had 30 days to obtain “Consent Solicitation” from all ISB holders for payment suspension by May 18.
FSP spokesperson Pubudu Jagoda told The Island that the party discussed the developing situation with some political parties, including the SJB and ’43 Brigade’ led by SJB MP Patali Champika Ranawaka. The FSP delegation comprised Central Committee members, Pubudu Jagoda, Duminda Nagamuwa and Sanjeewa Bandara. MP Patali Champika Ranawaka and Attorney-at-Law Shiral Lakthilake represented the ‘43 Brigade.’Jagoda said that the ’43 Brigade’ was of the view the executive presidential system should be retained with necessary amendments.According to Jagoda, the Eksath Samajawadi Pakshaya and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) agreed that the executive presidency should be abolished. FSP leader Kumar Gunaratnam and Pubudu Jagoda had represented the party whereas Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran, PC, and Shanakiyan Rasamanickam represented the TNA.
Jagoda said that the current environment was conducive for building a common agenda that could accommodate the vast majority of political parties represented in Parliament and other groups bent on abolishing the executive presidency.He emphasized the pivotal importance of a common response to what Jagoda termed the government crackdown in Colombo, its suburbs and the provinces where over 1,000 persons had been arrested by the police in connection with the ongoing investigations into mob assaults ignited following unprovoked attacks on those demanding the resignation of the President and the Premier.
SJB, SLFP decry members switching sides as nine ministers are sworn in
question all-party tag, allege moves to bribe lawmakers
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Two Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) lawmakers, Harin Fernando and Manusha Nanayakkara are among nine new Cabinet ministers sworn in yesterday (20).The swearing in ceremony took place at the President’s House as protests continued in front of the Presidential Secretariat demanding the resignation of President Rajapaksa.Two of the strongest critics of President Rajapaksa’s handling of investigations into the 2019 Easter Sunday massacre, the former UNP lawmakers joined the government following talks with UNP leader and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. UNP Leader and its National List member Wickremesinghe received the premiership on 12 May.
The SJB won 54 seats, including seven National Lists seats at the last general election.The SJB lawmakers visited Geneva in early March, 2022 at the beginning of the 49th session of the UNHRC, where Sri Lanka’s human rights record was strongly criticised. They had been also at the forefront of the SJB’s efforts to secure presidential pardon for ex-MP Ranjan Ramanayake, sentenced for contempt of court by the Supreme Court during the yahapalana administration.The other newly-appointed Cabinet ministers are Nimal Siripala de Silva (Ports, Shipping and Aviation), Susil Premjayantha (Education), Keheliya Rambukwella (Health), Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapkse, PC (Justice, Prisons, and Constitutional Reforms), Dr. Ramesh Pathirana (Plantations), Tiran Alles (Public Security) and Nalin Fernando (Trade, Commerce and Food Security). Except Tiran Alles who entered Parliament through the SLPP National List, others contested on the SLPP ticket.With the appointments made yesterday, the number of Cabinet ministers increased to 13. President Rajapaksa on May 14 swore in Prof. G.L. Peiris (Foreign Affairs), Dinesh Gunawardena (Home Affairs, Provincial Councils and Local Government), Kanchana Wijesekera (Power and Energy), and Prasanna Ranatunga (Urban Development and Housing). Except for MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardena, the rest are SLPP members. But, Gunawardena, too, contested the last general election on the SLPP ticket while his son, Yadamini was accommodated on the SLPP National List.
SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara and SLFP Senior President Prof. Rohana Lakshman yesterday told The Island that their parties were strongly opposed to their members accepting ministerial posts.Both said that they had assured President Rajapaksa and Premier Wickremesinghe of their support for government economic recovery efforts while being in the Opposition. Prof. Lakshman insisted that Nimal Siripala de Silva taking up ministerial portfolio was contrary to the understanding reached with the current dispensation.The SLFP won 14 seats, including one National List seat at the last general election.Of the 13 lawmakers sworn in as ministers, Tiran Alles and Nalin Fernando representing the SLPP entered the Cabinet for the first time.
Among those accommodated in the Cabinet was Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, who was overlooked by the SLPP when the appointment of the original 30-member cabinet in terms of the 19th Amendment took place. Since then Rajapakse has been campaigning for the abolition of the executive presidency and on more than one occasion flayed President Rajapaksa. The lawmaker, in January this year shot off a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping urging him to stop Chinese economic invasion of Sri Lanka. In a 45-point letter to the Chinese leader, the lawmaker alleged that most of the Chinese funded projects had been wasteful and large commissions paid to the corrupt politicians and officials to secure such projects.After the 2020 general election which the SLFP won comfortably securing a 2/3rd majority in Parliament, MP Rajapakse refused to accept the State Ministry for Education. Susil Premjayantha, who accepted that ministry was sacked last early January this year within 24 hours after he criticised the government’s handling of the economy.
SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem on Thursday (19) accused the government of bribing Opposition lawmakers in a bid to secure their support. MP Hakeem questioned the government strategy while alleging that the original plan was to swear in a Cabinet of 15. Subsequently, the government planned a Cabinet of 18 and then they increased it to 22 ministers.PM Wickremesinghe assured Parliament on Thursday that members of the new Cabinet would not be entitled to minsterial salaries and perks.The Finance Minister has not been appointed. Ali Sabry, PC, served as the Finance Minister briefly after the removal of Basil Rajapaksa. Government efforts to persuade SJB’s Dr. Harsha de Silva, who is an economist to accept the finance portfolio have failed.
PM blames ‘last administration’ for country’s current crisis
SJB, FSP agree on common agenda
SJB, SLFP decry members switching sides as nine ministers are sworn in
‘Dates have the highest sugar content to fight Coronavirus’
U.S. Congress to probe assets fleecing by US citizens of Sri Lankan origin
Sunday Island 27 December – Headlines
News5 days ago
BASL reiterates call for abolition of Executive Presidency
Features6 days ago
Whose saviour is Ranil? Sri Lanka’s or the President’s
Features5 days ago
Sri Lanka: Debt crisis, neocolonialism and geopolitical rivalry
News1 day ago
Canadian declaration of ‘Tamil genocide’ may influence European parliaments, EU – Maj. Gen. (retd.) Gallage
News6 days ago
Political horse trading in full swing alleges JVP
News4 days ago
Unprovoked attacks: AG asked to consider taking legal action against MR, others under ICCPR
News5 days ago
Canadian HC: SL sets gold standard for political humour
Features6 days ago
The River that Sajith Premadasa Did Not Cross