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‘Govt. destroying 500,000 hectares of forests’ – Harsha De Silva

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SJB Parliamentarian Dr. Harsha De Silva charged that the government has begun destroying 500,000 hectares of forests when the focus is on Covid-19. The government has now placed 500,000 hectares of valuable forests in the country under the control of Government Agents and Divisional Secretaries for agricultural purposes.

These forests are known as remnant forests, but they range from tens of thousands of acres of rich biodiversity forests to small ecosystems.

These include rivers, canals, streams, reserves as well as historical and archeological sites, he said.

Allowing such massive deforestation to take place with state sponsorship, when there are enough cultivable lands in the country would be the greatest devastation to our environment in recent history, he warned.

Although the government says that these forest lands will be used to give lands to farmers, this will never happen, and these lands will be in the hands of large-scale businessmen in the future, the MP asserted.

“The government will inevitably hand over other forests also to big time entrepreneurs if we don’t oppose this massive environmental destruction”, he continued.

“I am well aware of the importance of business development and strongly condemn the foolish act of formulating a strategy for such environmental damage. These remnant forests, which have been growing for nearly 50 years, are rich in biodiversity, and even black leopards that have recently died, have lived in these forests,” he said.

“A country cannot be developed by the construction of concrete buildings and highways alone and the preservation of a healthy and precious ecosystem is essential for balanced development. Let us rally against this great environmental catastrophe, regardless of party affiliation, the parliamentarian stressed.



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Two Lankan films recognized at Rotterdam Intl Film Festival

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Two films, produced by Sri Lankans, have been recognized at the 2023 International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), foreign media reports said.The movie ‘Munnel’ by Visakesa Chandrasekaram, from Sri Lanka, has been awarded the Special Jury Award at the IFFR 2023.

The Special Jury Award was presented, describing the movie as “a great simple story about a young man caught between revolution and authoritarianism.”The IFFR announced the competition winners for its 52nd edition, during its Awards Ceremony held in Rotterdam, Netherlands, last Friday (03).

The festival revealed its main competition winners in the Tiger and Big Screen competitions, as well as the winners of the FIPRESCI, NETPAC, and KNF Awards.The festival’s platform for emerging film talent and IFFR’s flagship Tiger Competition presented a selection of 16 titles for the 2023 edition.

The jury granted three prizes: the Tiger Award, worth €40,000, and two Special Jury Awards, worth €10,000 each.The Tiger Competition Jury consisted of Sabrina Baracetti, Lav Diaz, Anisia Uzeyman, Christine Vachon and Alonso Díaz de la Vega.

Meanwhile, The NETPAC Award has been awarded to the best Asian feature film by a jury from the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema.

‘Whispering Mountains,’

by Jagath Manuwarna, from Sri Lanka, wins the NETPAC Award 2023.The jury was Roger Garcia, Bradley Lieuw and Italo Spinelli. 

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Weight of political and economic pressure in Lanka hard to bear, destabilising, isolating, and frightening – Commonwealth Secretary General

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Commonwealth Secretary General, Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, has pledged the Commonwealth Secretariat’s full support to Sri Lanka as the country navigates difficult challenges.Speaking at an event in Colombo, on Friday, the Commonwealth Secretary General said she arrived in Sri Lanka to let every Sri Lankan know that they are not alone while the island nation continues to feel the weight of political and economic pressure.

“I know that Sri Lanka continues to feel the weight of political and economic pressure. The pressure can be hard to bear. It can be destabilizing, isolating, and frightening, and I am here because I want every Sri Lankan to know that you are not alone in the nature of the challenges you face. You are part of this special precious Commonwealth family,” Scotland said, addressing the Inaugural Lecture for Geopolitical Cartographers.

The Secretary General, Scotland, is in Sri Lanka at the invitation of the government to attend the celebration events for the 75th Independence Day, in Colombo, marking the significant anniversary.

The Secretary General gave a lecture at ocean think-tank, the Geopolitical Cartographer, on the Commonwealth’s role in facing ‘Polycrisis’ – the term given to the current set of linked factors causing global instability.The Geopolitical Cartographer was held under the patronage of President Ranil Wickremesinghe at the Colombo City Centre.

Speaking further, the Secretary General said Sri Lanka was not alone in facing the fallout from a host of interconnected global pressures, like spiraling costs, energy shortages and the effects of climate change.Nevertheless, the Commonwealth, as a collective of 56 countries, is working together to lend support and help member states work towards a more prosperous, sustainable and secure future for all, she said.

“As a family we have responsibility for one another. A duty to each other, a shared love and a shared journey and you are not alone, like the challenges you face.”

She added: “Where we can face the challenges of the world as a family, we build proud, connected nations: each with the confidence to stand tall, but each with the perspective to know that we are at our best when we work together.

“Sri Lanka is not simply part of this work, you are central to it.

“I travel all around the commonwealth and the wider world and whilst every country and its direct experience and circumstances are different, they are similar challenges everywhere and you may feel that you are living in a country under pressure, but the reality is that we are all living in a world under pressure. All of us are tightly bound by a tangled knot of crisis-spanning global systems. A world living with the social political and economic consequences of COVID-19,” she said.

Speaking at the session President Ranil Wickremesinghe said, the first person to be invited and to come here for Independence Day celebrations is none other than the Secretary General of the Commonwealth.

“She has been a good friend of Sri Lanka, a good friend of Asia, and Africa and she represents our thinking. But there’s also another reason for her, the Commonwealth to be here. When we got independence, we first joined the Commonwealth. Our entry to the UN was blocked. It was only in 1955 that we became a member of the United Nations. But, from the beginning, we have been with the Commonwealth. It was only correct that the Secretary General of the Commonwealth should be here on our 75th Anniversary of Independence. You were there when we got independence and you are here now. So it is to mark that occasion as she was invited here by the government to take part in the 75th Anniversary of our Independence,” the President noted.

Sri Lanka is a founding member of the Commonwealth, who has been heavily involved in the Commonwealth Secretariat’s work on climate. It is a lead member and champion of the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Group on Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihood, and is also a member of the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Groups on Marine Protected Areas, Ocean Acidification, Ocean and Climate Change, Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance, Ocean Observation and Sustainable Coastal Fisheries.

Sri Lanka was involved in the first pilot of the Coastal Risk Rapid Assessments – a project which measures a nation’s climate and ocean-based risk level to help inform policy and decisive action.

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UK, US urge Lanka to repeal PTA, decriminalise same-sex conduct

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The United Kingdom and the United States have urged Sri Lanka to repeal the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and decriminalise same-sex conduct.The UK and US representatives made this appeal at the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group when Sri Lanka’s human rights record were examined for the fourth time on Feb. 01.

Sri Lanka is one of the countries reviewed by the UPR Working Group during its 42nd session in Geneva.Sri Lanka’s first, second and third UPR reviews took place in May 2008, October 2012 and November 2017, respectively.

The 4th Cycle of the UPR commenced in November 2022 and Sri Lanka’s 4th UPR was taken up for consideration today. Argentina, Benin, Czechia, Gabon, Ghana, Guatemala, Japan, Paksitan, Peru, Republic of Korea, Switzerland and Zambia are among the countries reviewed from January 23 to February 03, under the UPR’s 4th cycle at the ongoing session.

Sri Lanka’s National Report under the 4th Cycle of the UPR was submitted on 22 December 2022 and provides a self-assessment on the steps taken since the last UPR in November 2017, to fulfill our voluntarily undertaken human rights obligations.

The process of preparation of the National Report was undertaken under the guidance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Broad consultations were held with stakeholders from government and non-governmental organizations as well as the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.

This year’s Review is taking place in a hybrid format. Due to the 75th Anniversary of Independence Day celebrations falling during the same period, Sri Lanka’s delegation to the Review is led by Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Sabry by means of a pre-recorded video statement.

The in-person delegation, led by Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Himalee Arunatilaka, comprises senior officials from the Presidential Secretariat, the Attorney-General’s Department, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the UN in Geneva.

The UPR was established by the General Assembly of the United Nations (UNGA) in 2006, as a State-driven voluntary peer-review process which provides the opportunity for each State to declare the steps taken at the national level to improve the human rights situation in that State and to fulfill their human rights obligations.

At the UPR, all 193 Member States of the UN are reviewed without any selectivity or discrimination. It is periodic and is repeated every four-and half years. Three sessions are held each year and 14 countries are reviewed in one session. As such, each Member State of the UN is reviewed every 4 years.All UN member States, including Sri Lanka, have participated in 3 cycles of the UPR namely, in 2008 (first), 2012 (second) and 2017 (third).

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