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GTF questions credibility of Sri Lankan commissions, pushes for Geneva solution

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The Global Tamil Forum (GTF) spokesperson Suren Surendiran said that the Tamil community did not believe in commissions appointed by the government of Sri Lanka to address post-war reconciliation issues. In an interview with the BBC Sinhala service, Surendiran said that the Tamil community expected the UNHRC to address their grievances.

(BBC) Sri Lanka is facing a new UN resolution calling on it to hold human rights abusers to account and deliver justice to victims of its 26-year civil war. Britain and others have circulated a draft of the resolution among UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) member states. It is expected to be adopted at the end of the four-week UNHRC spring session in Geneva.

Is this a progressive step?

(GTF) There have been seven resolutions passed since the end of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka. The last three of the seven were passed as consensus resolutions, which the Sri Lankan State co-sponsored, meaning, willingly accepted and agreed to take corrective measures. All these resolutions (not just the last 3) highlighted human rights failings, discriminatory practices, laws that are incompatible with international standards and best practices, weakening of democracy and governance and above all alleged breaches of international laws including war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Whether there are resolutions passed or not, unless these are fixed and/or willingness to fix is shown and progress has been shown in fixing, (1) victims and victim communities will continue to suffer, (2) achieving political stability becomes a near impossibility as if you don’t serve justice to victims, the conflict will continue (3) internationally, Sri Lanka will continue to be isolated (4) foreign and even local investors will be reluctant to invest (5) economy will suffer (6) will result in shortages of goods and services, price hikes and unemployment.

If the Government of Sri Lanka agrees to fix these identified issues, for the sake of all people of Sri Lanka, the UN and the international community will help to get these fixed and most of the above listed repercussions will be by and large eliminated or the impact reduced.

Instead of dealing with these issues like any mature progressive country will and should, the government of Sri Lanka creates a false narrative that these resolutions are undermining the sovereignty of Sri Lanka and that the international community, especially the powerful western countries are undermining Sri Lanka and her people and their war heroes. Government of Sri Lanka falsely claims that these resolutions are against Sri Lanka and her people.

United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is a body created by all countries who are members of the United Nations, including Sri Lanka for the purpose of creating a peaceful and harmless world where human rights of all people will be respected.

(BBC)

Lord Ahmad said the resolution was a vital step towards reconciliation and peaceful relations among all of Sri Lanka’s diverse communities and faith groups. Do you agree?

(GTF)

Indeed!

(BBC)

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has also set up a three-member commission to look into this matter. Why can’t they bring the justice through an internal process?

(GTF)

There have been at least 3 separate commissions set up internally since the end of the war. This is another one which is being set up literally four weeks before the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights submitted her findings and recommendations at the 46th session of the UNHRC. This “Commission” is set up to review recommendations made by the previous commissions without a mandate to address the key issues identified in the resolutions passed by the UNHRC. When such farcical and sham “commissions” are set up, which reasonable thinking body of countries will accept?

I do not envy the current President’s and Prime Minister’s positions as they held command responsibility for some of the alleged heinous crimes, war crimes and crimes against humanity that were committed, how can they be expected to set up a just mechanism to serve justice to the victims?

(BBC)

The war ended nearly 12 years ago. Communities seem to have grown even a far apart. What is your suggestion for reconciliation?

(GTF)

All people of Sri Lanka should be told the truth of the past with evidence. Majority of the Sri Lankans are reasonable people and if a transparent process was set up to explain for all people to understand how dealing with the past, introducing permanent solutions will enable creating a peaceful and mutually respectful society and that in turn will create a peaceful and prosperous country, I believe permanent reconciliation between communities can be achieved for all to live as equals.

(BBC)

Does the GTF do economic and social related programs? Is the GTF involved in political organizing, both from civil society and political parties, in the North and the East of Sri Lanka?

(GTF)

GTF doesn’t directly involve in politics in Sri Lanka. We work very closely with the elected members of our community and others. We engage with civil society organisations and representatives from a cross section of all communities in Sri Lanka and reflect the ground reality in Sri Lanka to overseas stakeholders. On social programs, Canadian Tamil Congress, one of our member organisations, recently delivered food parcels and essential items to Covid-19 affected communities. In July 2017 GTF sent several medical professionals to the South of Sri Lanka including Galle and Matara where we served floods affected Sinhala communities in partnership with Sarvodaya Movement. The then Yahapalanaya government welcomed this effort as an initial step of trust building between communities.



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Govt. eases restrictions on foreigners as Covid-19 rips through country

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DGHS, IGP informed of SLTDA decision

By Shamindra Ferdinando

In what many thought was a shocking decision, the Tourism Ministry yesterday (16) declared that tourists would be able to travel across the country despite movement restrictions in force since last Thursday (14) to control the rapid spread of Covid-19.

 Tourism Ministry, in a statement issued yesterday afternoon (16) quoted Director General of Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) Dhammika Wijesinhe as having said that the foreigners in the country could travel in what she called a bio bubble. Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr Asela Gunawardena and IGP C.D. Wickremaratne had been informed of the arrangements, she said.

The announcement was made as the government struggled to cope with an alarming increase in the number of Covid-19 positive cases as well as deaths. It came close on the heels of Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga declaring that the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) wouldn’t be closed. When The Island sought an explanation from the Tourism Ministry how such a decision was taken regardless of tough quarantine laws and health guidelines in place to control the spread of rampaging Covid-19 epidemic, an authoritative official said that the Ministry issued a statement received from the SLTDA.

DG Wijesinghe said that those individuals and firms responsible for bringing in tourists had been instructed to strictly follow health guidelines or face the consequences.

Declaring that tourism has been categorized as an export industry, DG Wijesinghe said that the SLTDA stepped in the wake of complaints that foreigners experienced difficulties as a result of travel restrictions imposed in the wake of the latest Covid-19 eruption.

The Tourism Ministry further quoted the official as having stressed that arrangements were now in place to ensure tourists could travel in a bio bubble without hindrance.

Police headquarters said that after the lifting of ‘lockdown’ on Monday at 4 am, travel restrictions from 11 pm to 4 am on a daily basis during May would continue.

GMOF (Government Medical Officers’ Forum) spokesperson Dr. Rukshan Bellana said that the government seemed hell-bent on causing further chaos. Having allowed influential parties to bring in foreigners for quarantine in the country, the government caused the deterioration and now restrictions were done away at the risk of further intensification of the spread of the virus.

Dr. Bellana recalled how the government permitted the England cricket tour of Sri Lanka to go ahead in January this year at a time the UK was in a grave crisis over a new deadlier variant of Covid-19 spreading there and also allowed groups of Ukrainians in when Ukraine was in lockdown.

Responding to another query, Dr. Bellana pointed out that the shocking declaration that restrictions would not apply to foreigners meant that the government was yet to comprehend the gravity of the situation.

Dr. Bellana said that the government seemed to be blind to the fact that the death toll was on the verge of passing 1,000 and the cases nearing 150,000. If those at the helm of administration really believed tourists could move across the country safely in bio bubbles let them create the same for others, Dr. Bellana said.

According to the GMOF, the government was pulling in different directions in the absence of a cohesive strategy to meet the daunting Covid-19 challenge. The failure to understand the need to apply the same set of quarantine laws and health guidelines to all was one of the primary reasons for the deterioration of the problem.  Dr. Bellana asked how the government did away with restrictions while the doctors reported the detection of at least six Covid-19 variants.

Dr. Bellana said that he expected experts would oppose the government’s short-sighted policies.

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Gaza conflict: Parliament calls for truce; govt. silent yet

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP National List MP Dr. Suren Raghavan, on behalf of the Sri Lanka-Palestinian Parliament Friendship Association has urged the government and the Opposition to join the international community in calling for an immediate cessation of violence in the latest conflict involving Israel and Hamas.

The recently formed Association in a statement issued on May 13 called for cessation of hostilities in Gaza, West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Association represents both government and the Opposition.

Citing international media reports, the Association expressed concerns over suffering of civilians on both sides due to military action during the month of Ramazan. Dr. Raghavan, the only SLFPer accommodated on the SLPP National List made reference to indiscriminate rocket attacks carried out by Hamas and Israeli air strikes.

The Foreign Ministry yesterday (16) acknowledged the government was yet to issue a statement on the situation in Gaza.

According to international media reports, an Israeli airstrike on Saturday destroyed a high-rise building that housed The Associated Press offices in the Gaza Strip. The airstrike came about an hour after the Israeli military ordered people to leave the building. The building houses the Associated Press, Al Jazeera and a number of offices and apartments.

Meanwhile, Israel Solidarity Movement (ISM) strongly condemned Hamas for attacking civilian targets in Israel. Calling Hamas a terrorist organization, the ISM pointed out that terrorists used Palestinians as a human shield while attacking Israeli civilians.  Pointing out that Hamas actions had placed the Palestinian community in peril, the IMS recalled how Sri Lanka suffered during the war against the LTTE. Making reference to sufferings caused by 2019 Easter Sunday attacks, the ISM stood solidly with those who backed whatever Israeli action taken to neutralize the Hamas challenge.

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Central Bank: No immediate threat of inflation rise from monetary expansion

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By Sanath Nanayakkare

Sri Lanka was currently experiencing high monetary expansion, but the Central Bank did not expect an acceleration of inflation in the near future, Economic Research Director at the Central Bank Dr. Chandranath Amarasekara told The Island yesterday.

Answering a query on the broad money growth and its wider implications, Dr. Amarasekera said, “At the end of 2020, broad money expanded by 23.4% compared to the end 2019. The extraordinary circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic required increased credit to the government from Sri Lanka’s banking system, and the historically low interest rate structure also resulted in a pickup in the growth of credit to the private sector in the second half of the year. This policy driven expansion in broad money supply was essential for the country to dampen the effects of the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.”

“As the Sri Lankan economy is operating below its potential, we do not project a demand-driven acceleration in inflation in the near term. Even the relatively high economic growth projected for 2021 will be partly driven by the low base in the previous year, and therefore, it is unlikely that there will be an overheating of the economy in 2021 as well, although we envisage a monetary expansion of 21%.”

“However, as the authority responsible for the money stock of the country, the Central Bank remains cautious about any excessive expansion in money growth. Nevertheless, the close relationship between money and inflation that we used to see in the past is no longer in existence. For example, during the most part of a period of single digit inflation that Sri Lanka experienced since 2009, broad money growth has remained above 15%. The breakdown of the close relationship between money growth and inflation is also one reason for the Central Bank to move away from a monetary targeting framework towards a flexible inflation targeting framework to conduct monetary policy. Anchoring of inflation expectations has also helped curb the inflationary effects of exchange rate movements as well. Many other countries have also experienced similar situations.”

“When the economy recovers and demand conditions improve, the Central Bank will take appropriate action to make necessary policy adjustments to ensure the continuation of inflation at the desirable levels of mid-single digits without disrupting the growth process,” Dr. Amarasekara said.

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