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Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulation 2020: Some UK lawmakers want CBK, Sarath, Shavendra et al categorized

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The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils of the House of Commons, UK has requested the government to designate former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva et al in terms of the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulation 2020.

 The group consists of Elliot Colburn MP (Chair), Bob Blackman MP (Vice Chair), Feryal Clark MP(Vice Chair), Robert Halfon MP (Vice Chair), Kate Osamor MP (Vice Chair), Sam Tarry MP (Vice Chair) and John McDonnell MP.

 The following is the text of the letter sent by the group to Dominic Raab MP Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs: “We welcome the introduction of the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020 which reiterates the United Kingdom’s commitment to the rule of law. This new sanctions regime comes at a time when the world is seeking renewed leadership on human rights and justice and we believe that targeted sanctions have the power to promote and protect human rights in many countries that have been areas of priority for the UK.

“We are writing to you to kindly request you to consider applying the new regime in respect of Sri Lanka, in line with the UK’s longstanding commitment to accountability and reconciliation on the post-war island. Sri Lanka in many ways is a parallel situation to Myanmar where an ethnonationalist military dictates political direction and as evident in Myanmar, international accountability measures are the only way to advance transitional justice and prevent further atrocities.

“We feel that sanctions against certain individuals accused of atrocity crimes in Sri Lanka could, therefore, play a role similar to those that have been issued by the UK against two high-ranking military generals in Myanmar. In particular, we recommend the designation of two key military members who stand accused by the UN and rights organisations of heinous atrocity crimes that violate the right to life: Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva (Head of the Army) and Staff Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake.

“Sri Lanka emerged from a brutal 30-year armed conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) which culminated in genocidal attacks killing an estimated 70,000 Tamil civilians in 2009. The war was characterised by horrific atrocity crimes which were documented in a report by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Investigation on Sri Lanka (‘OISL’).

(ii) The OISL was the culmination of a series of UN Human Rights Council resolutions which the United Kingdom played a key role in co-sponsoring and supporting.

Following the OISL report, Sri Lanka alongside countries including the UK, co-sponsored UN Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1 in 2015 in which they pledged to undertake a meaningful transitional justice process, including setting up a hybrid court with international judges, security sector reform and a political settlement that would address the root causes of the ethnic conflict on the island.

(iii) However, despite co-sponsoring the resolution, Sri Lanka’s then government failed to make sufficient progress on the central issue of accountability, quickly reneging on international justice commitments and instead pledging to protect the military. (iv) In recognition of this, as early as 2017, the former UN Human Rights Chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called on member states to explore avenues to exercise universal jurisdiction to bring perpetrators of atrocity crimes in Sri Lanka to account.

 (v) In November 2019, Sri Lanka elected the former Secretary of Defence and alleged war criminal, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, as their President. During Rajapaksa’s tenure as Secretary of Defence, both during and after the armed conflict, he is alleged to have overseen the abduction, torture and disappearance of several primarily Tamil journalists and human rights defenders.

(vi) The new government under Rajapaksa announced in February of this year that they would no longer be supporting UN Resolution 30/1, turning their backs on the international community and firmly rejecting any prospects of justice for victim communities.

 (vii) Instead of pursuing a path towards sustainable peace, over the past few months Sri Lanka has descended rapidly back into an ethnocratic authoritarian state with targeting of human rights defenders, increasing militarisation of traditional Tamil homelands and the promotion of individuals accused of serious human rights violations.

 (viii) These concerning developments were all recognised already by the UK in the statement of the core group of supporters to Resolution 30/1 at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in June.

 (ix) These developments significantly increase the risk of a recurrence of atrocity crimes, particularly against Tamil communities, and also Muslim communities who have increasingly come under attack over the past decade.

“It is evident that without accountability for atrocity crimes, Sri Lanka will continue to be trapped in recurrent cycles of ethnonationalist violence. As a core supporter of transitional justice efforts in Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom has a unique responsibility to send a strong message to Sri Lanka, that atrocity crimes will not go unpunished and thereby prevent future atrocity crimes from occurring.

 “As a first step to doing this, we would urge you to designate former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva and Staff Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake under the new Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime for their role in perpetrating atrocity crimes that violate the right to life.

 Kumaratunga served as president of Sri Lanka and Commander-in-Chief of the military forces from 1994 to 2005. A period marked by human rights abuses and mass bombings, including the bombing of Navaly Church that resulted in 140 civilian deaths and Nagarkovil School that resulted in 71 civilian deaths including 25 school children. Despite the atrocity crimes she committed whilst in power, Kumaratunga regularly visits the United Kingdom. For many torture victims of her regime who sought asylum and currently reside in the United Kingdom, her visits instil fear and acts as reminder of the impunity Sri Lankan war criminals enjoy at home and abroad.

“Fonseka was the commander of the Sri Lankan Army from 2005 until the end of the armed conflict in May 2009. Sri Lankan forces under his command have been implicated in numerous instances of unlawful shelling of civilians and hospitals, rape and other sexual violence, and the summary execution of prisoners.

“Silva was head of the 58th Division of the Sri Lankan army during the last phase of the war, which is named in the OISL report as having committed the most egregious crimes. Instead of holding Silva accountable, the Sri Lankan government promoted Silva to Head of the Army in August 2019, demonstrating their unwillingness to hold those accused of even the most heinous atrocity crimes accountable.

 (x) In February 2020, the United States Secretary of State designated Silva under the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programmes Appropriations Act, banning him and his family from entering the country “due to credible information of his involvement, through command responsibility, in gross violations of human rights, namely extrajudicial killings, by the 58th Division of the Sri Lanka Army during the final phase of Sri Lanka’s Civil War in 2009.”

 (xi) The Foreign Office’s 2019 Human Rights and Democracy report also highlights Silva’s appointment as an area of concern, stating “this appointment called into question Sri Lanka’s commitments made to the HRC on justice and accountability. In response to the appointment, the UN Department of Peace Operations announced in September that it would suspend future deployments of Sri Lankan peacekeepers, except where suspension would expose UN operations to serious operational risk.”

(xii) Until earlier this year, Ratnayake was a rare example of accountability for atrocity crimes committed by the Sri Lankan forces. The soldier was convicted of murdering eight unarmed Tamil civilians including three children after a 13-year trial in 2000. The conviction was upheld and confirmed by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka in April 2019 and was a rare moment of accountability for atrocity crimes perpetrated during the war. However, in March 2020, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa issued a presidential pardon to Ratnayake, absolving him of all charges, reinforcing the government’s rejection of any attempt to hold the military accountable for human rights violations.

 (xiii) The UK as part of the core group of states co-sponsoring Resolution 30/1 has already criticised the pardon of Ratnayake.

 (xiv) Kumaratunga, Fonseka, Silva and Ratnayake are only four of a long list of individuals from the Sri Lankan military against whom there is credible evidence of grave human rights violations, including violating the right to life and the right to be free from torture, but their designation will have the symbolic effect of sending a strong message to the Sri Lankan government that the UK will not let go of the need for accountability for war crimes and thereby contribute towards preventing further atrocity crimes. Accordingly, we ask respectfully that you consider our request to designate Kumaratunga, Fonseka, Silva and Ratnayake under the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulation 2020.

 



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SJB alleges Prez under SLPP pressure to give up power to dissolve Parliament

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) lawmaker Nalin Bandara Jayamaha yesterday alleged that President Ranil Wickremesinghe was under tremendous pressure from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to give up power to dissolve Parliament, two and a half years after the parliamentary election.

Kurunegala District MP Jayamaha said that the SLPP wanted the provision, pertaining to dissolution of Parliament in the 19A, included in the 22nd Amendment, at the committee stage.

In terms of the 19th Amendment enacted in 2015, the President couldn’t dissolve Parliament until the completion of four and a half years of the term of a government. The last parliamentary poll was conducted in August 2020.

Having overwhelmingly voted for UNP leader Wickremesinghe at the Presidential contest on July 20 to complete the remainder of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s term, the SLPP was now seeking full control, lawmaker Bandara asserted.

The SJB official, however, acknowledged that their party, too, had been divided on the issue, with those who backed Dullas Alahapperuma, at the Presidential contest, opposing the move.

Wickremesinghe received 133 votes. Of the 145 SLPP votes, except for its rebel group, the rest voted for Wickremesinghe.

Responding to another question, the former UNPer said that some interested parties thwarted SLPP founder Basil Rajapaksa from leaving the country, soon after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa abandoned the President’s House. That appeared to have backfired, MP Bandara said, alleging Basil Rajapaksa seemed to be running the show.

Asked whether more members of the SJB would soon switch their allegiance to President Wickremesinghe, MP Bandara said that he couldn’t predict what the individual members were likely to do. However, the SJB, the second largest group in Parliament wouldn’t join the government, MP Bandara said.

Of the 54 elected and appointed SJB members, so far two – Manusha Nanayakkara and Harin Fernando – have accepted ministerial portfolios. SJB National List MP Diana Gamage, earlier pledged her support to the SLPP.

Lawmaker Bandara said that the SLPP seemed to be quite confident of regaining full political authority, regardless of the recent setbacks suffered. The former Law and Order Deputy Minister said that the SLPP was bent on pursuing its strategy, though the President, elected by the party, fled the country.

The SJB MP said that the move to create an environment, conducive for crossovers for the personal benefit of lawmakers, should be condemned. The provisions, pertaining to the appointment of the Cabinet-of-Ministers, under the proposed 22 Amendment, in case the party with the largest block of seats reached a consensus with other parties, were meant to appoint a jumbo sized Cabinet, the MP said. The SJB official questioned the rationale in giving Parliament the authority to decide on the number of Cabinet ministers and non-Cabinet members, in case of a National Government.

Lawmaker Bandara said that President Wickremesinghe and the SLPP were yet to come up with tangible action plan to address political or economic issues. The MP warned, what he called the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government, that the public here, and the international community, couldn’t be deceived by calling itself a National Government.

The SJB spokesperson said that they wouldn’t contribute, or facilitate, the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa ploy by accepting ministerial portfolios. “We won’t legitimize the government project. How can the SLPP still be acceptable, after the public rejected Gotabaya Rajapaksa, elected by them,” MP Bandara said, adding the SLPP seemed to have conveniently forgotten that the public rejected the ministers, along with their highly overrated President.

The outspoken MP said that it would be a grave mistake, on the SLPP’s part, if its leadership believed the unprecedented crisis, caused by them, could be resolved by getting rid of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

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22 A: Karu J, too, makes some suggestions

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Chairman of the National Movement for Social Justice, Karu Jayasuriya, said that fears expressed by members of Parliament, and others, over the provisions, pertaining to the appointment of Cabinet of Ministers, were not unfounded.

The former Speaker said that he was also concerned about allegations that the proposed 22 A could be abused and exploited to appoint a jumbo Cabinet.

Jayasuriya suggested that political parties, represented in Parliament, and other interested parties should address whatever concerns raised as regards the 22 Amendment.

The yahapalana Speaker said that the success of the whole process would depend on the readiness of all those involved in the new constitution making endeavor to address issues at hand. The accusation that a particular provision (47 [4]) could be used to violate the restriction of cabinet ministers to 30 and no-cabinet members to 40 couldn’t be ignored, Jayasuriya said.

Jayasuriya said that those who represented the parliament should inquire into criticism over the Speaker receiving an opportunity to nominate three civil society members to the 10-member Constitutional Council in consultation with the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader. The former Gampaha District MP recalled that in terms of the 19 Amendment, the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader used to nominate the civil society members. Jayasuriya said that whatever knotty issues could be tackled at the committee stage (SF)

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“Govt workers, too, were involved in fuel hoarding”

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It had become obvious that some government workers, too, were involved in hoarding fuel and selling it in the black market, D.V Shantha Silva, joint Secretary the Sri Lanka Petroleum Private Tanker Owners’ Association (SLPPTOA) said yesterday, addressing the media.

He said that the introduction of the national fuel pass system is successful and the majority of fuel stations followed the system.

“Some gas stations still try to manipulate the system but it won’t be easy,” he said.

There is no congestion in gas stations and SLPPTOA members are happy with the process, he said.

“However, there is a drop in orders from gas stations. In the last few months, before the QR system, one tanker load was only enough for a few hours. But now gas stations pump fuel for days with one shipment,” he said.

Silva said that many people tried to blame three-wheeler drivers for hoarding fuel. However, there were other actors involved in the racket, among them were government officials.

“Before the QR system we saw a large number of people at gas stations each morning accessing fuel using various passes. Now that doesn’t happen and there is no congestion,” he said. (RK)

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