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HRW: UN Experts urge reform of Sri Lanka’s counterterrorism Law

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Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa carries little credibility when he tells foreign diplomats he will reform the country’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director of the Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a statement yesterday.

“After all, earlier this year, he acted to make the law, which permits long-term detention without trial, more repressive, not less. Amid growing domestic and international pressure, his administration set up a committee to propose amendments to the PTA, chaired by Defence Secretary Kamal Gunaratne, a retired general. The draft has not been released, but comments by the Justice Secretary seem to rule out meaningful civil society consultations,” she said.

Given below is the statement in full : “Sri Lankan activists have been scathing about the process, pointing out in a joint statement that reported revisions “already exist in law and do not address any of the shortcomings in the PTA that enable grave human rights violations.”

“Seven United Nations human rights experts, on December 9, published five benchmarks that are “necessary prerequisites” for making the law compliant with Sri Lanka’s international human rights obligations. Like Sri Lankan activists, they have also called for an immediate moratorium on the PTA’s use.

“The matter is all the more relevant as the European Union is conducting an assessment of Sri Lanka’s compliance with its human rights obligations. The country’s tariff-free access to the EU market depends on a trade scheme called GSP+. When Sri Lanka regained GSP+ in 2017, it pledged to repeal or reform the PTA, among many other rights commitments that remain unfulfilled.

“A European Parliament resolution in June and the GSP+ assessment have created unprecedented momentum for meaningful human rights reform in Sri Lanka. But the outcome will ultimately depend on the EU’s level of ambition and assertiveness. The EU should not allow itself to be hoodwinked by a sham PTA reform.

“As respect for human rights in Sri Lanka has been declining alarmingly, under President Rajapaksa, Brussels has an historic opportunity to help reverse this trend and press the government to meet its human rights obligations. The EU should also work with international partners – the United States this month sanctioned two more Sri Lankans linked to grave rights violations – and act to prevent further abuses in Sri Lanka.”



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Gymnastics Ireland ‘deeply sorry’ to Black girl ignored at medal ceremony

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US seven-time Olympic medallist Simone Biles said the video 'broke my heart' (pic Aljazeera)

Ireland’s gymnastics federation has apologised for the allegedly racist treatment of a young Black gymnast who was skipped by an official handing out medals to a row of girls last year.

Footage posted on social media last week of an event in Dublin in 2022 showed the official appearing to snub the girl, the only Black gymnast in the lineup, who looked bewildered.

“We would like to unreservedly apologise to the gymnast and her family for the upset that has been caused by the incident,”  Gymnastics Ireland (GI) said in a statement posted on its website on Monday.

“What happened on the day should not have happened and for that we are deeply sorry,” said the statement.  “We would like to make it absolutely clear that [GI] condemns any form of racism whatsoever,” it added.

The video posted on Friday soon went viral and drew widespread condemnation of the girl’s treatment, including from star United States gymnast Simone Biles, who said she sent the girl a private video message of support.

“It broke my heart to see the video. There is no room for racism in any sport or at all,” Biles, a seven-time Olympic medalist, said Saturday on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Biles’s US teammate Jordan Chiles described the incident as “beyond hurtful on so many levels”.

In an earlier statement, GI defended the official who it said had made an “honest error” but acknowledged it received a complaint from the parents of the girl alleging racist behaviour in March 2022.

GI said an independent mediation had led to a “resolution agreed by both parties in August 2023”, that the official had written an apology and that the girl had received her medal after the ceremony.

However, the Irish Independent on Sunday anonymously quoted the girl’s mother as saying GI had failed to publicly apologise and that she would take the issue to the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation in Switzerland.

(Aljazeera)

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SJB: State audit vindicates no-faith motion against Keheliya, remedial measures urgently required

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MP Harshana Rajakaruna

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Opposition MP Harshana Rajakaruna yesterday (25) said those who had defeated the no-confidence motion (NCM) against Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella should peruse the latest State audit report on the Health Ministry.

The Gampaha District SJB MP said the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) at a recent meeting chaired by State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna had strongly criticised the Health Ministry over the continuing waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement exposed by the National Audit Office (NAO). The Parliamentary Watchdog Committee emphasised that Health Ministry explanations/responses to the issues at hand were not acceptable.

Dr. G. Wijesuriya, Deputy Director General (Medical Services 11) at the Health Ministry had cut a pathetic figure by trying to defend politicians and officials responsible for the sorry state of affairs in the health sector, MP Rajakaruna said, adding that Dr. Wijesuriya failed to explain how 97 doctors had been allowed to serve in the Health Ministry though the cadre was only 37.

The Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government acted as if the defeat of the NCM by a majority of 40 votes had been an endorsement of Health Minister Rambukwella’s actions, MP Rajakaruna said.

A total of 113 MPs voted against the NCM while 73 MPs voted in favour. Thirty-eight lawmakers skipped the vote taken on 08 September.

The NAO report should be examined against the backdrop of the dismissal of Opposition concerns over the continuing deterioration of the public health sector, the former UNPer said. That report was nothing but an indictment of a vital ministry, lawmaker Rajakaruna said, pointing out massive waste particularly at a time of unprecedented financial crisis was an unpardonable crime.

Minister Rambukwella, Health Secretary Janaka Sri Chandragupta and Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Asela Gunawardena owed an explanation how they allowed such waste and corruption as the government struggled to maintain basic and essential services. Referring to the damning NAO report, MP Rajakaruna said that Rs 349,025,664 worth medicine, equipment and other items had been discarded during 2022 due to low quality while all state hospitals experienced severe shortage of drugs. According to the report, the use of medicine, equipment and other items worth Rs 31,751,024 had been temporarily stopped due to concerns over quality but by the time the Health Ministry took a decision in this regard, such medicines were already issued to patients.

During COPA proceedings, SJB MP Hector Appuhamy questioned the Health Ministry top management why the State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) continued to make emergency purchases thereby wasting precious public funds.

COPA Chairman Alagiyawanna and Attorney General W.P.C. Wickremaratne, who is also the ex-officio Chairman of the Audit Service Commission (ASC), appointed after the change of government, censured the top management of the Health Ministry for its failures at all levels, MP Rajakaruna said.

The Opposition lawmaker said that the ACS should vigorously pursue this investigation. The ASC consists of W.P.C. Wickramaratne, retired Justice Nihal Sunil Rajapaksa, Mrs. Nandaseeli Godakanda, Gnananantharajah Thevagnanan and A M Dharmajith Nayanakantha.

MP Rajakaruna said that the Health Ministry also admitted before COPA that 957 doctors had left the country between the period of August 2022 and August 2023. Of them, 526 had taken long leave, 163 resigned and 197 vacated their posts, the lawmaker said, adding that instead of addressing the issues at hand taking tangible measures to reassure medical professionals, the government played politics with the developing crisis.

The SJB spokesperson recalled how Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, during the three-day debate on the NCM, stressed that the Opposition accusations directed at Minister Rambukwella were unsubstantiated. The Premier had no qualms in declaring that there was no basis for the NCM and the Opposition was making an effort to deceive the public, MP Rajakaruna said, urging MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardena to examine the NAO report. President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Premier Gunawardena should deal with the crisis in the health sector without further delay, the MP said, warning the failure to do so would result in a catastrophe.

MP Rajakaruna asked Premier Gunawardena to read his declarations during the debate. The NAO report has endorsed the NCM regardless of the outcome of the vote, MP Rajakaruna said.

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Bishop Valence Mendis accuses govt. of playing games

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Bishop Valence Mendis

By Norman Paliahawadane

Kandy Diocese Bishop and Chilaw Apostolic Administrator Rt. Rev. Dr. Valence Mendis says it is ludicrous that the government has chosen to appoint more committees to probe the Easter Sunday terror attacks instead of implementing the recommendations of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, which probed the carnage. Delivering his sermon at the Holy Mass offered at the Holy Cross, National Shrine, Marawila last week, Bishop Valence Mendis said the government authorities for the past four and half years had engaged in futile exercises wasting time and public funds in the name of probing the Easter Sunday attacks. Now, it was very clear that the government had no genuine desire to find the truth or deliver justice to the victims and their family members. Just another committee was the latest joke of a series of such gags. “If they are genuinely concerned about delivering justice then they should implement the recommendations of the PCoI. We are sure that authorities did nothing about more than 80 percent of recommendations of the PCoI to ensure justice,” the Bishop said.

Treasurer of the Kandy Diocese Rev. Fr. Nelson Samantha, Rev. Fr. Peter Charles, and Administrator of the Shrine Rev. Fr. Niranjan Dayalal were present.

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