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HRW urges US to ratchet up pressure on SL

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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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Weerawansa’s wife sentenced to RI

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Lawyers appearing for Shashi Weerawansa, MP Wimal Weerawansa’s wife, yesterday (27) appealed against a Colombo Magistrate’s Court decision to sentence their client to two years rigorous imprisonment.Colombo Chief Magistrate, Buddhika Sri Ragala found her guilty of submitting forged documents to obtain a diplomatic passport circa 2010. The Colombo Magistrate’s Court also imposed a fine of Rs. 100,000 on Mrs. Weerawansa. If the fine is not paid she will have to serve an extra six months.

Additional Magistrate Harshana Kekunawala announced that the appeal would be called for consideration on 30 May.The case against Mrs. Weerawansa was filed by the CID after a complaint was lodged on 23 January 2015 by Chaminda Perera, a resident of Battaramulla.

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Unions predict end of energy sovereignty

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A government decision to allow all privately-owned bunker fuel operators to import and distribute diesel and fuel oil to various industries was a rollback of the nationalisation of the country’s petroleum industry and another severe blow to energy sovereignty of the country, trade union activist of the SJB Ananda Palitha said yesterday.Earlier, Minister of Power and Energy, Kanchana Wijesekera Tweeted that ‘approval was given to all the Private Bunker Fuel Operators to Import and provide Diesel and Fuel Oil requirements of Industries to function their Generators and Machinery. This will ease the burden on CPC and Fuel Stations provided in bulk’.Commenting on the decision, Palitha said that according to the existing law those companies only had the power to import, store and distribute fuel for ships. Those companies did not have the authority to distribute fuel inside the country, Palitha said.

“Only the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and Lanka Indian Oil Corporation (LIOC) can distribute fuel inside the country. There is a controversy about the licence given to the LIOC as well. If the government wants other companies to import fuel, it needs to change the laws. The Minister does not have the power to make these decisions. A few months ago the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration used to rush Bills that adversely affected the country through Parliament. Now, since they don’t have a majority in parliament, they are using the Cabinet to make decisions that are detrimental to the country’s interests.”

Palitha said that the controversial government move would further weaken the CPC, and that the ultimate aim of the Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe government was to make the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) purchase fuel from private distributors. With a weakened CPC and a CEB under the mercy of private companies, the Sri Lankan state would have little control over the country’s energy sector, he warned.

“The CEB already can’t pay the CPC, and therefore how can it pay private companies? It will have to sell its assets. This is another step in the road to fully privatise the energy sector. When this happens no government will be able to control inflation or strategically drive production through fuel and energy tariffs. The people will be at the mercy of businessmen and the government will only be a bystander,” he said.

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Modi government moves to ‘solve’ Katchatheevu issue

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The Narendra Modi government is mulling restoring the traditional rights of Tamil Nadu fishermen in Katchatheevu, an uninhabited island of 285 acres, sandwiched between India and Sri Lanka in the Palk Bay, with the BJP hoping the move could lift its political fortunes in the southern state.The government will push Sri Lanka to implement “in letter and spirit” the 1974 agreement reached between Indira Gandhi and Sirimavo Bandaranaike, then prime ministers of India and Sri Lanka, on the island.This will have to be done by withdrawing the “Executive Instructions” issued in 1976 without questioning Sri Lanka’s “sovereignty” over Katchatheevu, sources aware of the internal discussions in the BJP told the Indian newspaper, Deccan Herald.

Sources added that the discussions were “ongoing” at “various levels” including reaching out to Tamil political parties in Sri Lanka. The recent visit of TN BJP chief K Annamalai to Sri Lanka is also part of the outreach. Many feel the instructions issued in 1976 “superseded the provisions of the legally valid” pact between India and Sri Lanka, thus making Katchatheevu a subject of dispute in the Palk Bay.While the 1974 agreement gave away Katchatheevu, which was part of the territory ruled by the Rajah of Ramanathapuram, to Sri Lanka, the 1976 pact drew the maritime boundary between India and Sri Lanka in the Gulf of Mannar and Bay of Bengal.

“We cannot disturb the agreement signed in 1974. We are now finding ways and means to implement the agreement in letter and spirit. All we plan is to ask Sri Lanka to invoke Article 6 of the Katchatheevu pact. If Sri Lanka agrees, the issue can be sorted through Exchange of Letters between foreign secretaries of both countries,” a source in the know said.Another source said the time is “ripe” to push forward on the issue. “With fast-changing geopolitical situation in the region, we believe Sri Lanka will slowly come around and accept the rights of our fishermen,” the source said.

“The opinion within the party is that time is ripe to push this cause, with Sri Lanka beginning to realise that India can always be relied upon, given PM Ranil (Wickremesinghe) is pro-India.”

Articles 5 and 6 of the 1974 agreement categorically assert the right to access of the Indian fishermen and pilgrims to Katchatheevu and state that the “vessels of Sri Lanka and India will enjoy in each other’s waters such rights as they have traditionally enjoyed therein”.

However, fishermen from India were prohibited from fishing in the Sri Lankan territorial waters around Katchatheevu in 1976 following the signing of an agreement on the maritime boundary. The battle for fish in the Palk Bay has often ended in Indian fishermen being attacked by Sri Lankan Navy for “transgressing” into their waters.The BJP, which is yet to make major inroads in Tamil Nadu, feels a “solution” to the long-standing issue will give the party the much-needed momentum ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and provide a chance to get into the Tamil psyche. Political analysts feel that it might also allow the BJP to needle the DMK and the Congress by pointing out that it has restored the rights “surrendered by them,” to Tamil fishermen

Senior journalist and Lanka expert R Bhagwan Singh said: “If BJP succeeds in its efforts, it will certainly help the saffron party in the coming elections.”

But a source said the move will “take time”. “We don’t want to rush and create an impression we are forcing Sri Lanka. We will take it slow. We will take every stakeholder into confidence and reach an amicable settlement with Sri Lanka. All we want to do is restore traditional rights of our fishermen,” the source said.CM Stalin also raised the issue at an event on Thursday, telling Modi that this is the “right time” to retrieve Katchatheevu.

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