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Foreign waste issue remains unsolved

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FM receives assurance from Kiev as regards agricultural waste

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka is still struggling to complete the re-exportation of 263 containers of hazardous waste, including body parts from mortuaries clandestinely imported during the previous administration from the UK. Amidst ongoing efforts to complete the process, Sri Lanka recently received a consignment of agricultural waste from Ukraine.

The Foreign Ministry Spokesperson said that the government was in the process of tackling both issues. She said so when The Island raised the issue of attempts being made to use Sri Lanka as an international trash dump.

The British garbage containers that had arrived at the Colombo Port between September 2017 and January 2018 were found in different locations during the previous administration. The process of reshipping them didn’t start until late Oct, 2020. As the yahapalana government with President Sirisena as the Environment Minister did not take action to send back the British waste, the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) petitioned the Court of Appeal.

The Island sought Foreign Ministry’s response to the following questions? “Did FM take up the UK garbage issue with BHC, Colombo or with relevant authorities in London through our HC there? If not, Why?

And finally, will FM take up Ukraine’s garbage issue with Kiev?”

The spokesperson said: “The Central Environment Authority (CEA), as the designated National Competent Authority for the implementation of the Basel Convention under Article 5, took necessary actions in this regard. Sri Lanka Customs facilitated re-exportation of the waste to the UK. The Foreign Ministry coordinated the communications between Government authorities in Sri Lanka and Government authorities in UK through its Mission in the UK and the British High Commission in Sri Lanka. The British High Commission also provided updates to the Foreign Ministry on the progress of the re-export and action being taken by the UK to expedite the process.

“Similarly, with regard to the Ukraine garbage issue, the Foreign Ministry has requested relevant Government authorities for details of the issue and the Ukraine Govt has also requested Sri Lanka for details to address the same.”

Hemantha Withanage, Executive Director, CEJ, told The Island that they had intervened as the then government had turned a blind eye to the foreign waste racket. Asked to mention the measures taken by the CEJ once the group realised the government wasn’t going to take tangible measures in this regard, Withanage said that initially the Court was moved against the Customs and the Central Environmental Authority (CEA). Subsequently, the Board of Investment (BoI), too, had been included in the case-the first of its kind undertaken, Withanage said, adding that during the proceedings it was revealed that the Ceylon Metal Processing Corporation (Pvt) Limited, freight forwarding company ETL Colombo (Pvt) Ltd and Hayleys Free Zone as those being involved in the operation.

Withanage said that at the time the CEJ moved the Court of Appeal, authorities had detected 130, 40 foot containers at one location and 112 at another before a third lot was found bringing the total number of UK garbage containers to 263. Withanage said that there was documentary proof that Vengaads Ltd, a foreign entity established in May 2017 arranged the shipment of garbage containers.

The environmentalist said that Sri Lanka should address the issue in such a manner so that no country would allow waste exports to Sri Lanka.

Responding to another query, the civil society activist said that the parliament should be concerned and proper measures should be adopted to prevent exploitation of Sri Lanka.

According to Withanage Sri Lanka so far sent back 133 containers, while the rest had been re-packed into 330, 20 foot containers and held under guard pending re-export.

Withanage emphasized a major effort was required to prevent Western countries from turning Sri Lanka into a trash dump. He stressed the importance of the government taking joint measures with other countries targeted for garbage exports and developing a mechanism to counter the threat.

The Gotabaya Rajapaksa government has appointed former JVP lawmaker Siripala Amarasinghe as the Chairman of the CEA.

Withanage warned of dire consequences unless an effective system was put in place to stop unscrupulous businessmen engaging in the lucrative garbage trade. The failure on the part of successive governments to take meaningful measures in that regard was worrying, he said.

 

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Foreign Secretary sounds ‘consensual resolution’ as pressure mounts in Geneva

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by Shamindra Ferdinando

Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage on Monday (25) night revealed that the government was having discussions with the UK-led Sri Lanka Core Group in a bid to explore the possibility of reaching a consensus on what he described as a ‘consensual resolution’ ahead of the 46th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) scheduled for Feb-March this year.

Admiral Colombage acknowledged that an agreement on a consensual resolution was a politically challenging task. FS Colombage said so in conversation with Faraz Shauketaly on ‘News Line’ on TV 1.

Asked whether the government was under pressure to co-sponsor the new resolution or face a vote in case Sri Lanka rejected the UK-led move, the naval veteran said there was dialogue between the two parties in this regard. Talks have to be concluded today (27)

Prof. Colombage ruled out the possibility of Sri Lanka co-sponsoring the new resolution. The top Foreign Ministry official also dismissed the interviewer’s assertion the government was under pressure to accept the new resolution.

Admiral Colombage said they were also studying some suggestions made by the Core Group.

Asked whether the government would try to convince the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) led political grouping that had demanded an international war crimes investigation in addition to a range of punitive measures to reverse its decision, FS Colombage emphasized that Sri Lanka waged war against an internationally proscribed terrorist group.

The interviewer sought the Foreign Secretary’s assertion of retired justice C.V. Wigneswaran, MP, who signed Jan. 15 dated petition, in his capacity as the leader of Tamil Makkal Thesiya Kutani (TMTK). Altogether, 13 lawmakers represented the three political parties that called for external intervention.

Declaring that serious war crimes hadn’t been committed during the war, FS Colombage questioned the motives of those continuing to harp on unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. Referring to the failure on the part of the Northern Provincial Council to spend the funds allocated for the benefit of the public, FS Colombage asked whether an agenda detrimental to post-war national reconciliation was being pursued.

In the wake of Sri Lanka quitting in Feb 2020 Geneva Resolution co-sponsored by the previous government against one’s own country in Oct 2015, Geneva has warned Sri Lanka of serious consequences. In addition to freezing assets and travel bans slapped on those who had been ‘credibly accused of human rights violations,’ Geneva recommended the launch of criminal proceedings at the International Criminal Court and an international mechanism to gather evidence.

Referring to the US travel ban imposed on Army Commander Gen. Shavendra Silva in Feb 2020, the interviewer sought the Foreign Secretary’s opinion on the Geneva report. Refuting allegations, Admiral Colombage alleged serious shortcomings, including factual errors.

Asked whether the recent appointment of a three-member Commission of Inquiry (CoI) chaired by Supreme Court Judge Nawaz to examine previous CoI reports et al wasn’t too late as well as insufficient just ahead of the 46th sessions, Admiral Colombage explained how eruption of first Covid-19 wave that resulted in the postponement of general elections scheduled for April 2020 caused serious setback to government efforts.

Commenting on simmering controversy over the Sri Lanka-India agreement on the East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo harbour, Admiral Colombage expressed confidence the issue could be resolved soon. The former Navy Chief categorically denied India’s valuable support to Sri Lanka at Geneva et al would be linked with agreement on ECT.

Responding to criticism directed at India over a spate of issues, including the forced imposition of the 13th Amendment thereby creating the Provincial Council system, Admiral Colombage pointed out the Tamil Nadu factor. Admiral Colombage, having reiterated President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s foreign policy statement, assured Sri Lanka’s commitment to friendly ties with major powers.

FS Colombage emphasized that Sri Lanka’s bilateral relations wouldn’t be at the expense of another country.

Admiral Colombage regretted the recent mid-sea collision involving an SLN Fast Attack Craft and an Indian fishing trawler that resulted in the deaths of four fishermen. The FS emphasized that the incident happened well within Sri Lankan waters near Delft Island.

Navy headquarters last week alleged that the Indian vessel collided with FAC while trying to flee a naval cordon.

Admiral Colombage said that the SLN vessel would have suffered serious damage if the Indian trawler happened to be one with a steel hull.

Asked whether US, India, Japan and Australia would take a common stand vis a vis Sri Lanka in respect of accountability issues, Admiral Colombage asserted that wouldn’t be the case. “Sri Lanka is important to them” Admiral Colombage said, while describing them as the four pillars of the Quad-a security alliance.

Commenting on the disclosures made by Lord Naseby in the House of Lords in Oct 2017, Admiral Colombage appreciated the British politician’s efforts to set the record straight as regards war crimes accusations. The Foreign Secretary said that the revelations were made on the basis of genuine and accurate sources.

The British Lord used classified wartime British HC cables (Jan – May 2009) obtained following a legal battle to counter Geneva accusations. Sri Lanka is yet to officially request Geneva to revisit the 2015 resolution on the basis of Lord Naseby’s revelations.

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UK takes up forced cremation of Covid-19 victims

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The UK has raised human rights concerns with Sri Lanka including forced cremation of COVID-19 victims.

High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Sarah Hulton OBE said in Tweeter message that the UN report in this regard is to be published next week and she would inform the approach to UN Human Rights Council.

“UK raising human rights concerns with Sri Lanka, including forced cremation of COVID19 victims. UN report to be published next week, will inform the approach to @UN_HRC,” she tweeted.

 

 

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Electors unaware of electoral register revision process – CMEV

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Text and pictures by PRIYAN DE SILVA 

National Coordinator of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) Manjula Gajanayaka, who visited the polling districts of Puttlam and Vanni, last week, to look into allegation that more than 7,000 voters in the  polling division of Mannar were to be struck off the electoral register, said that electors were unaware of the electoral register revision process. He called upon the Election Commission of Sri Lanka to take immediate steps to educate the public on what actually is taking place; he urged the political parties not to capitalise on the situation. 

 Additional Commissioner of Elections Rasika Pieris said that electoral registers had been revised annually in accordance with the Registration of Electors Act 44 of 1980 to make voting more convenient to the electors by assigning them to the polling stations closest to residences.

 Pieris added that in addition to convenience there were many more advantages to be registered as an elector in the district one resides in.

 Retired Irrigation Engineer A. L. Burhanudhdheen is a chief occupant that has received the Revision of Electoral Register Notice sent by the Assistant Election Commissioner, Mannar. 

Burhanudhdeen had been a resident of Akaththimurippu, Mannar until being driven out by the LTTE in 1990. After being displaced he took refuge in Puttalam and at present lives in a modest house at Nagavillu, Puttlam.

 Burhanudhdeen said that he visited his property in Mannar whenever it was possible, but was unable to construct a new house there due to financial constraints. He also said that whenever possible he and his family had exercised their right to vote in the polling district of Mannar up to the 2020 Parliamentary election. At the last presidential election they had been provided with transport while the Election Commission arranged for a cluster voting facility in Puttlam for the last Parliamentary election, he said.

 Voicing his fears Burhanudhdeen said that he and his family might be struck off the electoral register in Mannar if their appeal was not accepted and added that they had not registered as voters of the Electoral District of Puttalam even though they were resident there.

Assistant Commissioner of Elections Mannar J. Jeniton said that taking action based on reports submitted by Grama Seva Niladharis nearly 10,000 revisions of election register notices had been sent by registered post to electors in the Mannar polling division. 

Jeniton said that the majority of them were known to be persons who were forced to flee from their homes in 1990 due to the conflict. It had been found that they were not resident in that area, he added.

 Jeniton said that about 700 persons had been requested to attend the inquiries and bring with them documents to prove their residence, but only 15 persons had been present.

 Chairman of the Musalee Pradeshiya Sabha A.G.H. Subeeham said that 3,542 constituents in Musalee had been served with Revision of Electoral Register notices requesting them to explain why their names should not be struck off the electoral register. Subeeham said that he did not understand the basis on which the list had been compiled as even persons who had been resident in Musalee for the past 10 years had received such notices. He appealed to the authorities to give the IDPs a grace period of two years to resettle.

The polling districts of Mannar, Mulaitivu and Vavuniya make up the Vanni Electoral District and six Members of Parliament represent the District.

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