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Foreign Ministry refutes claims made by Ambika Satkunanathan to the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights

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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.



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Pakistan Navy ship arrives in Colombo

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Pakistan Navy Ship (PNS) Taimur arrived, at the port of Colombo, on a formal visit, yesterday morning (12). The visiting ship was welcomed by the Sri Lanka Navy, in compliance with naval traditions.The 134m-long ship is commanded by Captain M. Yasir Tahir and it is manned by 169 as the ship’s complement.

The Commanding Officer of PNS Taimur is scheduled to call on Commander Western Naval Area, at the Western Naval Command Headquarters, today. The ship is expected to remain in the island, until 15th August, and the crew of the ship will take part in several programmes, organized by the Sri Lanka Navy, to promote cooperation and goodwill between the two navies.

PNS Taimur is also expected to conduct a naval exercise with the Sri Lanka Navy in western seas on its departure on 15th August.

Meanwhile, PNS Tughril, an identical warship belonging to the Pakistan Navy, arrived in Sri Lanka on an official visit on 13th December 2021 and conducted a successful naval exercise with SLNS Sindurala off the western coast on 16th December. Naval exercises of this nature with regional navies will enable each partner to overcome common maritime challenges in the future, through enhanced cooperation.

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Stalin reads riot act to govt. over proposal to allow schoolchildren to work part time

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Alliance of Trade Unions and Mass Organisations yesterday warned that the government’s decision to allow schoolchildren, between the ages of 16 and 20, to work part time, would have disastrous consequences.Addressing the media on 11 Aug., General Secretary of the Ceylon Teachers’ Union, Joseph Stalin, said that the government was planning to amend laws, allowing schoolchildren to work in the private sector for 20 hours a week.

“Now, this may look like a progressive idea. A lot of families are

struggling and if another family member can chip in, it would be a great help. I am sure a lot of children feel the same way. It is also true that there may be children who will find great jobs and horn their skills,” he said.However, these proposals have come at a time when education is in crisis and the schools are on the verge of collapse.

“During the last two and a half years, most children have learnt nothing. But children who go to elite schools are doing better. These schools have systems in place, but most others don’t. Children who do not go to tier one schools have suffered and most children who do not go to such elite schools will not find part time work that will prepare them for the jobs of the future,” he said. “It’s not easy to balance school work with vocation training, especially physically intensive work. Most people will drop out and social mobility will further stagnate. Fix the education system first and create a more level playing field,” Stalin said.

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Harsha: Will RW use Emergency to steamroller his economic reforms?

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By Saman Indrajith

SJB MP Harsha de Silva yesterday asked President Ranil Wickremesinghe whether the latter was planning to use Emergency powers to suppress the people who might oppose his economic reform agenda.

“It is being asked why the government wants to continue the State of Emergency. The anti-government protesters have gone home. There is no unrest. There are those who say that the President wants to keep the Emergency laws to carry out economic reforms. Does that mean the President will use these laws to scare people into submission if they do not accept his economic reforms? I don’t think people can be intimidated. I want the President to answer this question,” he said.

MP de Silva said that the government did not have public support and that it was obvious that the spectre of the Rajapaksas was haunting the government.

“I agree that Wickremesinghe was appointed constitutionally. We have to work within the Constitution. However, the 134 votes he received on 20 July were not realistic. They have managed to manipulate the Constitution, but the government doesn’t have the support of the people. The problem is can the government win the support of the people,” he said.The SJB lawmaker added that Sri Lanka needed to restructure its debt. However, the country had not even started the process.

“One of the consultants we hired, Lazard, says that we have to start with China because it is new to debt restructuring. But we have not done so. Not only that, we have in fact started a diplomatic issue with China. What’s the front page news today? Can this government solve this sensitive international issue? Can it carry out the necessary economic reforms?” he asked.

MP de Silva said that the government had to work with the people and that it had to be honest with them. The government needed to present a common programme on which an all party government could be established.

“In 2020, we said that the government was on the wrong path and that we needed to seek IMF assistance. The government didn’t listen. We need an all-party programme to go before the IMF and get a decent deal. Today, I present to Parliament an economic recovery plan we have prepared. When we decided to throw our weight behind SLPP MP Dullas Alahapperuma, I was entrusted with the task of making an economic plan. We have run it through experts too. I ask the MPs to look at this and suggest improvements.”

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