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.
About Rs 3 bn paid as OT during past few months
Overtime gravy train for CPC refinery workers:
By Saman Indrajith
About Rs. 3,000 million had been paid as overtime for the employees of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation oil refinery, during the past few months, Parliament was told yesterday.
Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said that he had asked for a detailed report as to whom and on what grounds the overtime payments had been made and it would be submitted to Parliament.
Fielding a question asked by Chief Opposition Whip, Kandy District SJB MP Lakshman Kiriella, Minister Wijesekera said instructions had been issued to regulate overtime.
MP Kiriella demanded to know why overtime had been paid to employees of an institution that had been shut down. “There are reports that over Rs 4,000 million has been paid as overtime to the workers of the refinery that was not functioning owing to the non-availability of crude oil. This is a crime,” Kiriella said.
Minister Wijesekera: “I made inquiries after I saw newspaper reports on payment of overtime to refinery workers. I inquired from the Finance Manager of the CPC. I was told that a sum between Rs 2.5 billion to Rs 3 billion had been paid as overtime. The refinery was not closed during the months of March and April. It was closed only during the last month. They had issued refined fuel on all seven days of the week continuously. When an institution operates full time in such a manner the employees would have to be paid for their overtime work. However, I admit that could have been done with some level of management in the payment process,” the Minister said.
Wigneswaran claims RW accepted all his demands
Head of the Thamil Makkal Thesiya Kuttani (TMTK), C. V. Wigneswaran told the media recently that President Ranil Wickremesinghe had agreed to all demands he had made, including the release of Tamil ‘political prisoners’, to secure his vote during last month’s Parliament election, to elect a President.
He made this statement following a meeting with the President in Colombo to discuss the establishment of an all-party government.
“We have made several requests and if the President is ready to comply with them, we will consider taking part in the all party government,” he said.
“We met him when he was Prime Minister. Before the parliamentary vote to elect the President, I made these demands and he agreed to them. That is why I voted for him. Now, it is for him to keep his promises. I am here to remind him of this,” Wigenswaran said.
Wickremesinghe, as the Prime Minister in the yahapalana government, vehemently denied that there were Tamil ‘political prisoners’ in the country. (RK)
MPs are not immune from country’s laws – SJB
By Saman Indrajith
Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa told Parliament yesterday that the MPs were not immune from the Penal Code despite the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act.
Premadasa said Cabinet Spokesman Minister Bandula Gunawardane had claimed that incidents in Parliament could not be dealt with under the regular law.
“This claim sends the wrong message to people. Aren’t the provisions of the Penal Code or the Offences against Public Property Act applicable to the MPs? There were incidents in this Chamber during the 52-day coup conspiracy; some MPs damaged public property. There were investigations by the CID and also by Parliament.
The Secretary General announced the cost of the damage. When the process was on to prosecute those MPs responsible for the damage, political influence was exerted on the CID not to file cases against the culprits. It is against this background that Minister Gunawardane, in his position as the Cabinet spokesman, makes this false claim. His statement is sending a message saying that there is one law inside the Parliament and another outside it.
“He also claims that the Speaker decides whether these laws are applicable to Parliament or not,” Premadasa said.
Colombo District SJB MP Mujibur Rahuman said that people were already against the MPs and this new wrong message would further exacerbate their anger against elected members. “The Cabinet Spokesman says that the MPs have a different set of laws while the people are dealt with by the country’s laws. That is wrong. We are also liable for criminal offences that we commit,” Rahuman said.
“The CID conducted an investigation and was prepared to file cases, but that was prevented through political influence. The Cabinet Spokesman’s statement is fueling public hatred towards the MPs. Please, request the Cabinet Spokesman to refrain from making such statements,” he said.
Minister Gunawardane said that he was only responding to a question raised by a journalist and the question was about fairness of cracking down on protesters for destroying public property, during anti-government protests, when MPs, who damaged Parliament, property under the former government, are yet to be apprehended.
Minister Gunawardane said as a public representative in Parliament for the last 33 years he had only explained that the law would be implemented against those engaged in violent activities during peaceful protests.
“I said MPs had Parliament privileges and the Parliament law. I also explained that MPs attending Parliament cannot be arrested as they are engaged in legislative activities,” he said.
Chief Opposition Whip, Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella, said that the MPs had no such legal immunity. and Parliament privileges only cover MPs from being arrested while they are on their way to attend and when they leave Parliament. “Therefore, there is no law that says they are exempt from other laws of the country,” Kiriella said.
Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, agreeing with Chief Opposition Whip Kiriella, said that all other laws in the country applied to the MPs.
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