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India’support sought in UNHRC

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by P. K. Balachandran

Sri Lanka is in discussion with India and other countries for support in the March session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva when Western nations bring an intrusive and punitive resolution against it for alleged war crimes.

A top source in the Lankan government said on Sunday (31) that the support of about 15 members of the 47-member UNHRC is being sought to counter the Core Group’s move to bring a resolution that is expected to call for targeted sanctions, asset freezes and travel bans among other intrusive measures. The High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has even recommended that the Lankan case be taken to the International Criminal Court.

The Core Group comprises Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Montenegro and the UK. The US, which is the prime factor in the anti-Sri Lankan move but is not a UNHRC member, is using the Core Group to push its anti-Lankan agenda. The Core Group is now working a “consensual resolution”. But given the radical difference between the stands of the Core Group and Sri Lanka, chances of a consensus emerging appear to be slim.

According to the government source, Sri Lanka approached India first and India had said that it would consider the Lankan request. China and Russia have already publicly stated that they would support Sri Lanka in international forums. Sri Lanka is also counting on African countries to support it, as in their case especially, the Black Lives Matter movement in America is of special significance.

Sri Lanka is bringing to the fore the fact that the US has much to account for in terms of human rights violations before it points an accusing finger at Sri Lanka. Recent incidents of gross violations of the basic rights of the Blacks and other minorities in the US, and the unbridled assaults and vandalism against established democratic institutions, will be highlighted.

The government also pointed out that the one-sided indictment of the High Commissioner of Human Rights will only exacerbate Sinhala-Buddhist majoritarianism.

It will also push Sri Lanka further into the arms of China, which the West has been trying hard to prevent.

Colombo is pointing out that the US and the Core Group are ignoring the political reality in Sri Lanka which is that the majority detests Resolution 30/1 of 2015 which had called for unconstitutional accountability mechanisms.

The source said that the Western nations must take into account that the co-author of the co-sponsored 2015 resolution, viz.,the previous government of Sri Lanka, lost face among the people and was voted out in the 2019 and 2020 elections.

The resolution’s prime movers lost their seats in parliament. Therefore, Colombo sees no logic in the US and Core Group’s current bid to bring in an even stronger resolution.

The Pathfinder Foundation (PF), a Lankan think tank close to the government, issued a statement on Saturday warning: “Sri Lankan and like-minded member States will be obliged to press such resolutions to a highly divisive vote in the Council. Even if the resolution is adopted by a slim majority, Sri Lanka is most likely to ignore it and pitch her bilateral ‘economic tents’ with countries that vote in its favor.”

The PF asked as to whether the Core-Group on Sri Lanka expects to get its job done by resorting to confrontation and browbeating a member state, instead of cooperating and engaging in consultation?

“If the answer is yes, then those countries representing the South in the HRC will think deeply before they cast their vote in support of another meaningless and intrusive resolution,” the PF said.

PF said that Resolution 30/1 of 2015 is probably “the first instance in the history of the HRC, a supposedly sovereign and independent country co-authored a UN Resolution containing an array of highly intrusive, unconstitutional and un-implementable demands directed at itself. It probably scores another first in that the self-authored Resolution touches upon a range of governance matters, which are generally considered the exclusive preserve of the domestic jurisdiction of the authoring member state itself viz, Sri Lanka.”

“The resolution of 2015 may be unique as well, for the reason that in no other democratic country a HRC resolution had been so instrumental in delivering so massive an electoral defeat to the incumbent government that cosponsored the resolution,” PF said.

“The HRC and the fellow internationals that generally get busy exploring how to ‘helpfully intervene’ in Sri Lanka about this time every year, must understand the reality that it is a function of the free franchise in one of the two oldest democracies in South Asia. There was a groundswell of opinion in this country against the resolution, which was initiated by a group of countries, who had only a limited understanding of Sri Lanka. It was seen as a blatant interference in a small sovereign nation, by virtually forcing it to ‘out-source’ the oversight of and judgment on many governance matters to a secretariat in distant Geneva,” the statement added.

It pointed out that the provisions of Resolution 30/1 were a ‘bad template’ for HRC to promote international cooperation on human right because that template had failed elsewhere (example the so-called Hybrid Courts in Cambodia).

Some of the recommendations were unconstitutional/un-implementable (example appointment of foreign judges). A watching brief on governance matters was to be conferred on a Secretariat based in Geneva and a dedicated UN office in Colombo was proposed for the oversight of these activities.

“That all these were at variance with the UN Charter, was of no concern to the ill-advised Core- Group on Sri Lanka,” PF pointed out. “Instead, the Council would have been well-advised to develop and propose robust and independent domestic accountability processes, supported where necessary, by international cooperation in technical assistance, advisory services, best practices etc.,” it added.

The Pathfinder Foundation said that it believes such an approach, which is “advisory”, rather than “retributive” in nature will: (1) work within normal national and international legal norms (2) serve as a model for other countries needing such services, to cooperate with the UN and (3) not function as a dis-incentive for countries that are willing to voluntarily cooperate.

The PF said that some of the HRC’s recommendations sound “bizarre” as they refer to now familiar Western parlance of ‘targeted measures, assets freeze’ and so on.

“These are counterproductive as far as addressing the real issues of cooperation were concerned, for no country will accept such invasive measures, pathfinder states. Such actions will face hugely divided votes in the UN General Assembly and definite vetoes in the Security Council,” it argued.

The think tank recalled that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said that Sri Lanka will not rule out the possibility of walking out of any entity that does not respect the accepted principles of sovereignty and independence of countries. But he did affirm that his government is fully committed to international cooperation including with the UN on SDGs, which of course include human rights, peace and justice related matters. The PF pointed out that Sri Lanka has continued to work effectively with various Special Procedure Mandates or Rapporteurs of the UNHRC.

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Massive revenue loss: Eyebrows raised over delay in responding to House query

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SLPP members say sugar deal black mark on govt.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Many an eyebrow has been raised over the delay on the part of the Finance Ministry to respond to a Finance Committee (FC) request for a comprehensive report on an alleged fraud in the controversial sugar tax revision.

Chairman of the Finance Commission Anura Priyadarshana Yapa on January 5 issued instructions to the Finance Ministry in this regard when the FC considered several special gazette notifications pertaining to the Ministry of Finance issued since October 2020.

According to the Communication Department of Parliament, MP Yapa on Feb 25 told the FC that the report called by him hadn’t been received yet. Yapa said so when State Minister Vidura Wickramanayaka and SLPP MP Nalin Fernando alleged the revision of taxes pertaining to the import of sugar hadn’t benefitted the consumers at all and only caused loss of revenue to the State. Severe criticism of the revision of sugar taxes was nothing but a black mark on the government.

Asked whether the report had been received since the issue at hand was taken up on Feb 25, the former Minister said that the FC answered in the negative.

Yapa told the last FC meeting that the Department of Import Control should be able to submit analytical comments with data on the relevant gazette amendments. Having approved the regulations issued on that day in respect of the issuance of licenses for the import of brown sugar, the FC recommended that a full explanation be given on March 09 with the participation of all relevant Ministries and Institutions.

Parliament is scheduled to meet on March 9.

Yapa is on record as having told the FC on January 5 though the tax on imported sugar was revised downwards to 25 cents from Rs. 50.00 per kilogram through the Gazette Notification No. 2197/12 issued by the Ministry of Finance on 13th October 2020, the move did not benefit the consumers at all.

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake lambasted the government over what he called a massive sugar scam that caused losses amounting to Rs 10 bn. In addition to the JVP, the SJB and UNP flayed the government over the corrupt deal. Dissanayake questioned the rationale in increasing the tax on sugar from Rs 33 to Rs 50 on May 23, 2020 and then bringing it down steeply to 25 cents on Oct 13, 2020. Dissanayake said that at that time the tax was brought down to 25 cents, there had been 90,000 metric tonnes of imported sugar in the country. Having reduced the sugar tax to 25 cents, the government directed that a kilo of sugar be sold at Rs 85, MP Dissanayake said.

The JVPer alleged that subsequently, when the government wanted to increase the sugar tax by Rs 40, Commerce Minister Bandula Gunawardena said that once imposed tax couldn’t be altered for a month, hence the decision to continue with 25 cents tax till Nov 13, 2020.

MP Dissanayake on Dec 12, 2020 named all those involved in the sugar scam.

Lawmaker Dissanayake said that the country suffered massive losses due to corrupt sugar deals. Those who suspended imports claiming the country faced severe foreign exchange crisis allowed massive corruption at the expense of the national economy.

Dissanayake said that last year alone at least 73,000 metric tonnes were imported at 25 cents tax.

He pointed out that the Treasury was responsible for facilitating sweet deals at the expense of the national economy. The revenue which should have been received by the government ended up with racketeers, Dissanayake lambasted the government for allowing its cronies to flourish.

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JVP expresses solidarity with Black Sunday campaign

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The JVP-led NPP yesterday expressed solidarity with the Black Sunday campaign seeking justice for the Easter Sunday carnage victims.

A statement issued by the party said that the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday carnage had released its report but the general consensus was that the inquiry had failed to bring justice. The PCoI report had only made the matter complex by creating some more puzzles instead of identifying the masterminds of the terror strikes.

The JVP has said Sri Lankans will never forget the Easter Sunday terror attacks of 2019 where nearly 300 perished and more than 500 others were wounded and became disabled for the rest of their lives. It is no secret that it was the failure on the part of the previous government to prevent the attacks that led to the destruction of lives and properties. The appointment of the commissions to investigate the incident was the only response of the former and incumbent governments. It is now clear that the commission has failed to identify the masterminds, owing to political reasons. Demanding justice is a human right. The Catholic Church has called on people to mark the coming Sunday as a day of agitation, demanding justice. We, of the NPP, extend our fullest support for the campaign and urge the law enforcing agencies to take action without further delay to bring about the masterminds and offenders of the crime, the statement has said.

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Iranaitivu islanders protest against burying of coronavirus victims there

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Residents of Iranaitivu Island yesterday forcibly filled up the burial sites prepared for those who had died from COVID-19 and held a demonstration against burying coronavirus victims on the island.

The protesters claimed that the media had reported those who died from COVID-19 would be buried on the island and that some group had already prepared a burial site. However, the residents of the island had not been consulted, they said.

They claimed that even during the war they had fought for the right to live on the island and they were opposed to the decision taken by the government to bury COVID-19 victims on the island.

 The protesters claimed that it was a cunning plan by the government to drive in a wedge between Christians and Muslims in the area. The government should have earmarked a deserted island for that purpose, they said. The protest was led by Christian religious leaders and local politicians. 

Iranaitivu is situated 10 km from Mannar and can only be accessed by boat. Cabinet Spokesman, Minister Keheliya Rambukwelle said that it was not a political decision and that health experts had taken it after careful consideration. He added that a vehicle especially made for this would be used to transport bodies to the island. This vehicle would include a freezer and the driver would be isolated from the bodies. Two family members would also be allowed to attend the funeral.

 

 

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