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India backs UN-led initiative for ceasefire in Afghanistan: Jaishankar

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BY S VENKAT NARAYAN  

Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI,

March 30: India backs a regional process to be convened under the United Nations to achieve a political settlement and a comprehensive ceasefire in Afghanistan as the situation in the war-torn country continues to cause grave concern, External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said on Tuesday.

Jaishankar made the remarks in Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan in Central Asia, while speaking at the ministerial meeting of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process to find a lasting solution to the situation in Afghanistan. It is a regional initiative of 15 countries, including China, Russia, Iran and Central Asian states. This was the first reaction from the Indian side to the UN-led initiative proposed by United States President Joe Biden’s administration.

Addressing a gathering that included Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Jaishankar also said durable peace in Afghanistan requires a “genuine ‘double peace’” or “peace within Afghanistan and peace around Afghanistan”. “It requires harmonising the interests of all, both within and around that country,” he added.

India’s backing for a regional process on Afghanistan convened by the UN came against the backdrop of worries in New Delhi that the country has been kept out of other processes such as Russia’s “extended troika”. It was first suggested by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a letter sent to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in February.

Jaishankar said: “India welcomes any move towards a genuine political settlement and a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire in Afghanistan. We appreciate the international recognition of foundational principles that will determine their contours.”

“We support a regional process to be convened under the aegis of the United Nations. UN stewardship would help to take into account all relevant UN resolutions and improve the odds for a lasting outcome,” he added.

In his letter, Blinken had outlined four elements as part of a high-level diplomatic effort involving regional countries and the UN to move quickly toward a settlement in Afghanistan. One of these four elements is a meeting to be convened by the UN of foreign ministers and envoys from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India and the US to forge a unified approach on Afghanistan. The date for this meeting is yet to be finalised.

Jaishankar said the situation in Afghanistan continues to be a “cause for grave concern” as violence and bloodshed are “daily realities and the conflict itself has shown little sign of abatement, whatever may be the promises”.

Noting that the past few months have witnessed an escalation in targeted killings of civil society, he said that “2020 sadly marked a 45% increase in civilian casualties in Afghanistan over 2019”, while “2021 does not look very much better”.

“The continued involvement of foreign fighters in Afghanistan is particularly disturbing. Heart of Asia members and supporting countries should, therefore, make it a priority to press for an immediate reduction in violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire,” he said.

According to a UN report issued last year, some 6,500 Pakistani fighters, including members of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, were active in Afghanistan. Indian and Afghan officials have for long accused Pakistan’s military establishment with deep links with elements of the Taliban, especially the Haqqani Network.

Jaishankar said that ensuring Afghanistan is free of terrorism, violent extremism and drug and criminal syndicates is a “collective imperative”. He added: “A stable, sovereign and peaceful Afghanistan is truly the basis for peace and progress in our region.”

India has supported all efforts to accelerate dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban, including intra-Afghan negotiations, and attended the inaugural virtual session of the Doha talks in Qatar last year. “If the peace process is to be successful, then it is necessary to ensure that the negotiating parties continue to engage in good faith, with a serious commitment towards reaching a political solution,” he said.

At the same time, Jaishankar reiterated India’s interest in preserving the gains made over the past two decades in Afghanistan, including the democratic framework under which elections are held through universal suffrage, sovereignty in domestic and foreign policy and protection of the rights of women, children and minorities.

India is also committed to the development partnership with Afghanistan, which involves pledges of $3 billion, including more than 550 community development projects covering all 34 provinces, in order to ensure a self-sustaining nation.

As the lead country on trade, commerce and investment confidence-building measures under the Heart of Asia process, India will continue to work on improving Afghanistan’s connectivity through projects such as Chabahar port in Iran and dedicated air freight corridors between Indian and Afghan cities, Jaishankar said.

A lot of speculation regarding Jaishankar’s visit to Dushanbe has focused on whether he will hold a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Qureshi. However, there was no official word from the Indian or Pakistani side about such a meeting.

Ahead of the ministerial meeting of the Heart of Asia process, Jaishankar held talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Monday night and shared India’s perspectives on the peace process. He also met his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif and discussed bilateral cooperation, including for Chabahar port.

Jaishankar held a separate meeting with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu and discussed “Afghanistan-related developments and our bilateral relations”, he said in a tweet.



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Govt. MP Wijeyadasa strikes discordant note on Port City Bill

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… alleges bid to turn Port City into Chinese territory

Over 12 petitioners move SC against proposed law

By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe PC, yesterday (15) alleged that the proposed Bill, titled ‘Colombo Port City Economic Commission,’ would transform the reclaimed land, adjacent to the Galle Face Green into a Chinese territory.

Addressing the media at the Abhayarama temple, under the auspices of Ven Muruththettuwe Ananda Thera, the former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), Rajapakshe, warned of dire consequences if the government went ahead with what he termed the despicable project.

Sixteen parties had filed action against the Bill. Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda thera was among the petitioners.

The ruling party had placed the Bill on the Order Paper on April 8, just 15 calendar days after the publication of the Bill in the Gazette. In terms of the Constitution a citizen intending to challenge the constitutionality of a Bill had to do so within one week from the Bill being placed in the Order Paper of Parliament, Dr. Rajapakse said.

Among those who moved the SC were the General-Secretary of the UNP and the Chairman of the UNP. The Attorney-General has been named a respondent in the petition. The BASL, too, moved SC against the Attorney General. Three civil society activists, Oshala Herath, Dr. Ajantha Perera and Jeran Jegatheesan also filed action.

Lawmaker Rajapakse explained how the proposed Bill, if enacted, could allow independent status to USD 1.4 bn Colombo Port City. Former Justice Minister alleged that the Colombo Port City project was far worse than the selling of the strategic Hambantota port to the Chinese by the previous administration.

The Colombo District MP said the Parliament wouldn’t have financial control over the Colombo Port City Project whereas its independent status would legally empower those managing the project to finalise agreements with external parties

Referring to the previous administration, the former UNPer alleged that China had bribed members of Parliament. MP Rajapakse questioned the rationale behind China providing computers to all members of Parliament and officials as well as jaunts to China.

Rajapakse said that Sri Lanka shouldn’t give in to Chinese strategies aimed at bringing Sri Lanka under its control. The former minister explained the threat posed by the growing Chinese presence including the Colombo Port City, a terminal in the Colombo harbour and at the Hambantota port.

 

 

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Sooka pushing UK for punitive action against Army Commander

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An outfit, led by Yasmin Sooka, a member of the UNSG Panel of Experts’ (PoE), has urged the UK to take punitive measures against the Commander of the Army, General Shavendra Silva, who is also the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).

The Army headquarters told The Island that the matter had been brought to the notice of the relevant authorities. It said that it was all part of the ongoing well-funded campaign against the Sri Lankan military.

Issuing a statement from Johannesburg, the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) said it had compiled a 50-page dossier which it has submitted to the Sanctions Department of the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on General Shavendra Silva. The Submission argues why Silva, who is Sri Lanka’s current Army Commander, should be designated under the United Kingdom’s Global Human Rights (GHR) Sanctions Regime established on 6 July 2020.

“We have an extensive archive of evidence on the final phase of the civil war in Sri Lanka, meticulously collected by international prosecutors and lawyers. The testimony of victims and witnesses – many now in the UK – was vital in informing this Submission, and making the linkages to Shavendra Silva and those under his command,” said the organisation’s executive director, Yasmin Sooka.

The ITJP Submission details Shavendra Silva’s role in the perpetration of alleged gross human rights violations including of the right to life when he was 58 Division Commander during the final phase of the civil war in 2009 in the north of Sri Lanka. It draws on searing eyewitness testimony from Tamils who survived the government shelling and bombing of hospitals and food queues in the so called No Fire Zones, many of whom now reside in the UK as refugees. The Submission also looks at Silva’s alleged involvement in torture and sexual violence, including rape, which is a priority area of the UK Government’s foreign policy.

“The US State Department designated Shavendra Silva in 2020 for his alleged role in the violations at the end of the war but the remit of the UK sanctions regime works is broader and includes his role in the shelling of hospitals and other protected civilian sites during the military offensive. This is important in terms of recognising the full extent of the violations, as well as supporting the US action,” commented Ms. Sooka. “UK designation would be another significant step forward in terms of accountability and would be in line with the recent UN Human Rights Council Resolution passed in Geneva for which Britain was the penholder,” she added.

Political will in applying the UK’s new sanctions regime to Sri Lanka was apparent in a recent parliamentary debate which saw 11 British parliamentarians ask why the UK government had not applied sanctions against Sri Lankan military figures, including Shavendra Silva, who was named six times in this context.”

 

 

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‘UNHRC missive exposes UK duplicity in grave accountability matters’

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Wartime Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama says that the leader of Sri Lanka Core Group at the Geneva–based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) the United Kingdom’s policy of double standards has been challenged by no less a person than UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

Bogollagama said that the Bachelet warning couldn’t have been issued at a better time as the UK stepped up pressure on Sri Lanka over accountability issues. The former FM was responding to Bachelet’s declaration on April 12 that the proposed new Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, in its current form, would undermine key human rights obligations that the UK has committed itself to respect.

The UK is a member of the UNHRC. Bogollagama pointed out that Bachelet had called for amendments to the proposed Bill to ensure that it didn’t protect British personnel deployed overseas for acts of torture and other serious international crimes.

The Bill is now reaching its final stages in the legislative process, and will shortly be debated again by the House of Lords, the UK’s upper chamber, where amendments may still be made.

In the run-up to the Geneva vote on a resolution spearheaded by the UK on March 23, SLPP Chairman and former External Affairs Minister Prof G.L. Peiris questioned the rationale in British actions. Prof Peiris asked how the UK sought protection for its armed forces deployed outside their territory whereas it sought punitive measures against Sri Lanka for fighting terrorism in its own land.

Bogollagama said that British double standards should be examined taking into consideration the UK’s current membership in the UNHRC as well its role as the leader of Sri Lanka Core Group. The Core Group members include Germany and Canada.

Bogollagama who served as the Foreign Minister during the fourth phase of the war (2007-2010) alleged that the UK adopted an extremely hostile position primarily because of domestic political reasons. Wikileaks disclosed the true extent of Tamil Diaspora influence on the British political establishment, Bogollagama said. So much so, the UK allowed the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) to announce its formation in the House of Commons in early 2010, the former Minister said. Would the UK accept Geneva advice as regards the proposed Bill, Bogollagama asked, those who voted for the resolution moved against Sri Lanka and abstained to realise that the UK’s stand in respect of Colombo was political.

The UK succeeded the US as Sri Lanka Core Chair in 2018 after the latter quit the Geneva body in a huff calling it a cesspool of political bias.

The purpose of the controversial British Bill is stated as being “to provide greater certainty for Service personnel and veterans in relation to claims and potential prosecution for historical events that occurred in the complex environment of armed conflict overseas.” British Forces played significant roles in the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. The Bill seeks to achieve this, in particular, by introducing new preconditions for the prosecution of alleged offences covered by the Bill.

“As currently drafted, the Bill would make it substantially less likely that UK service members on overseas operations would be held accountable for serious human rights violations amounting to international crimes,” the UNHRC statement dated April 12 quoted Bachelet as having said.

It stated that in its present form, the proposed legislation raises substantial questions about the UK’s future compliance with its international obligations, particularly under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), as well as the 1949 Geneva Conventions. These include obligations to prevent, investigate and prosecute acts such as torture and unlawful killing, and make no distinction as to when the offences were committed.

Responding to another query, Bogollagama said that Bachelet’s statement exposed the British hypocrisy. While demanding accountability on the part of Sri Lankan military on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes accusations, the British deprived Geneva of wartime dispatches (January-May 2009) from its High Commission in Colombo in a bid to facilitate the campaign against Sri Lanka, former minister Bogollagama said.

The British exposed their hostile intentions when London turned down Sri Lanka’s request to hand over those dispatches to Geneva, the ex-lawmaker said, urging the government to continuously highlight the need for examination of all available evidence by the proposed new Geneva inquiry unit appointed at a cost of USD 2.8 mn.

Bachelet’s request to the UK was interesting, Bogollagama said. The former minister was referring to Bachelet’s appeal: “I urge UK legislators in both Houses of Parliament, and the Government, to take these concerns fully into account when reviewing the Bill, and to ensure that the law of the United Kingdom remains entirely unambiguous with regard to accountability for international crimes perpetrated by individuals, no matter when, where or by whom they are committed.”

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