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HRW urges US to ratchet up pressure on SL



Sri Lanka’s current economic crisis, and presumably growing anxieties about China’s dominance over its affairs are opportunities for Japan, the European Union, and United Kingdom to offer Sri Lanka renewed support and communicate if human rights improvements occur, Asia Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch John Sifton told the Hearing of United States House of Representatives Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights

Sifton said that in recent months, amid a worsening economic situation, the Rajapaksa government had begun reacting to international pressure over human rights by offering vague promises of reform to foreign diplomats, especially from the European Union, which is conducting a periodic review of rights-linked trading preferences enjoyed by Sri Lanka, known as GSP plus.

“This rhetoric is belied by the government’s actions. In particular, the Rajapaksa administration has issued vague promises to reform the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which it continues to use to target Tamils and Muslims, perceived opponents of the government, and members of civil society groups, with prolonged arbitrary detention,” he said.

Given below are his recommendations for the US government on Sri Lanka: “First, US government officials, including members of Congress, should continue pressing the Sri Lankan government on the importance of repealing or substantially amending the Prevention of Terrorism Act and ending the harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and other critics of the government. US government officials should be urging the government of Sri Lanka to scrap recommendations from the commission on “political victimization.” And the United States should maintain its renewed engagement on Sri Lanka resolutions at the UN Human Rights Council.

“The United States should engage with allies to implement a coordinated and concerted strategy to protect human rights and civil society space in Sri Lanka. The Rajapaksa government has turned to China for various reasons, including providing diplomatic cover for its abusive laws and policies, but Sri Lanka’s most important economic relationships are with the United States, European Union, and India.

“Congress should also communicate clearly – to both the Biden administration and the government of Sri Lanka – that failure to address Sri Lanka’s human rights situation will imperil current and future military-to-military engagements and better economic relations. The US should also be harnessing other allies – in particular the European Union – to keep pressure on the Rajapaksa government.

“The country’s current economic crisis, and presumably growing anxieties about China’s dominance over its affairs, are opportunities for concerned democratic countries – Japan, the European Union, and United Kingdom – to offer Sri Lanka renewed support and communicate that more can be provided if human rights improvements occur.

“At the same time, the US should make clear that it cannot engage with security officials credibly implicated in gross human rights abuses. The US government has no choice but to engage with President Rajapaksa himself, the country’s head of government, with whom the US must engage as a matter of necessity and diplomatic protocol. But State Department and Pentagon officials and officers should continue to make clear that engagement is impossible with persons and units credibly implicated in human rights, and that Sri Lanka must take steps to hold such persons and units responsible for abuses. In the absence of accountability, the US has no choice but to consider imposing targeted sanctions on those persons and units, under the US Global Magnitsky Act.

“The United States has already imposed a travel ban on chief of defense staff Gen. Silva, for his alleged responsibility for war crimes. The US should also impose targeted sanctions on others in the government credibly linked to serious human rights abuses; and the US government should communicate that these sanctions will remain in place until human rights improvements are seen.

“The United States should ensure that members of the Sri Lankan security forces deployed on UN peacekeeping missions are subjected to independent vetting. Vetting has until now been conducted by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, which lacks independence following the adoption of the 20th amendment to the constitution.

“Lastly, given the inconclusive results so far of Sri Lankan investigations into the 2019 Easter Bombings, the United States should push for a prompt, impartial, and credible conclusion. The United States and other governments should also examine evidence of transnational corruption and money laundering in cases where the presidential commission on “political victimization” has sought to block domestic investigations.”

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Overtime gravy train for public sector back



Govt. MPs make contradictory statements on state of economy

By Shamindra Ferdinando

UNP National List MP Wajira Abeywardena on Sunday (26) disclosed the issuance of a circular by the Finance Ministry to restore overtime and other payments in the public sector.

The declaration was made in Galle soon after Transport and Media Minister Bandula Gunawardane lamented that the government was short of billions of rupees to pay public sector salaries, pensions, Samurdhi payments and meet recurrent expenditure.

Minister Gunawardena and UNP National List MP Abeywardena addressed the local media after the handing over of several buses to the Galle SLTB depot.

Cabinet Spokesman Gunawardena said that the government needed as much as Rs 196 bn before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year and its projected revenue was Rs 173 bn. In addition to that Rs 500 mn was required to settle what Minister Gunawardena called bilateral debt.

Minister Gunawardane said that a part of the first tranche of USD 333 mn from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would be utilised to pay public sector salaries.

Of the USD 333 mn received so far, USD 121 had been used to pay the first installment of USD 1 bn credit line secured from India early last year, according to State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya.

Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera in the second week of August last year revealed as much as Rs 3 bn had been paid as overtime to Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) workers for several months. This disclosure was made in response to a query raised by Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella.

One of the major demands of the public sector trade unions on the warpath over the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government’s new tax formula is the restoration of overtime.

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Now, Opposition wants Finance Secy. hauled up before Privileges Committee



Prof G L Peris

Prof. G. L. Peiris yesterday (27) urged Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to act speedily on the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) request to summon Finance Secretary Mahinda Siriwardena before the parliamentary Committee on Ethics and Privileges.

Addressing the media on behalf of the Freedom People’s Alliance, the former External Affairs Minister said that the Treasury Secretary had challenged the parliament by withholding funds allocated in the budget 2023 to the Election Commission thereby sabotaging the election.

Prof. Peiris said that there couldn’t be a far worse violation of parliamentary privileges than a government official undermining Parliament.

Instead of appreciating the intervention made by the Supreme Court to facilitate the delayed Local Government polls, the ruling party had sought to challenge the apex court, Prof. Peiris said, urging Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to fulfill his obligations.

Prof. Pieris said that if the government lacked funds, just one percent of USS 333 mn received from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was sufficient to conduct the election.

The ex-minister said that the IMF wouldn’t oppose the utilisation of a fraction of the first tranche of USD 2.9 bn loan facility provided over a period of four years to guarantee the constitutional rights of the Sri Lankan electorate. (SF)

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Cabinet nod for fuel distribution by three foreign companies



By Rathindra Kuruwita

Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekera announced yesterday that the Cabinet of Ministers has granted approval for allowing China’s Sinopec, Australia’s United Petroleum and RM Parks of the USA, in collaboration with multinational Oil and Gas Company – Shell plc, to enter the fuel retail market in Sri Lanka.

The minister said that each of the three companies would be given 150 dealer operated fuel stations, which are currently operated by Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC). A further 50 fuel stations at new locations will be established by each selected company, he said.

They will be granted licences to operate for 20 years to import, store, distribute and sell petroleum products in Sri Lanka, the minister tweeted.

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