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‘Muslim govts stood by Sri Lanka at UNHRC’’

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In spite of some members of the government attacking Muslims, Islamic governments didn’t abandon Sri Lanka at the UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council), a group of Muslim civil society activists said in a statement issued yesterday.

The following is the text of the statement issued by M M. Zuhair PC, former MP, Latheef Farook, Journalist and Author, Mass L Usuf, Attorney-at-Law and Advocacy Columnist and Mansoor Dahlan, Theology Scholar: “We as a country may not be happy about the outcome of the UN Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) resolution adopted on 23rd March 2021. Indeed the government must explain the serious implications of the ‘anti-Sri Lanka resolution’ to all Sri Lankans without attempting to save face on deceptive technicalities. We need to explain how and why the development and economic recovery of the nation will be adversely affected, unless the early warnings are heeded. The government must, as a necessary preliminary step, take the lead in encouraging all ethnic and religious groups to come under the umbrella of a united nation, eschewing all divisive rhetoric.

Neither the contents of the UNHRC resolution nor the detailed report of the High Commissioner that preceded it, has received the coverage they deserve, particularly in the country’s Sinhala media. On the other hand the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the 21/4 Easter Sunday attacks (COI) had however received ‘anti-Muslim coverage’ excessively in sections of the country’s mainstream Sinhala media over a continuous period of two years. This has regrettably created unwarranted new lines of hatred and divisions instead of unitedly overcoming the 21/4 tragedy. We appeal to the Sinhala media to give reasonable coverage to Muslim responses, which only sections amongst them have done.

 Primarily the COI report is faulty, ignores geo-politico-strategic implications and in addition Sinhala media coverage on the subject is mostly one sided. What is required today is a fair, balanced and robust public discussion on the UNHRC report and resolution, followed by remedial action on the issues, the UN-HCHR was tasked with on 23/3 by the UNHRC.  That will help avoid Sri Lanka’s economy plunging down any further.

 We need to make a passing reference to the deceptive technicalities. We have been told that the UNHRC resolution is illegal! But have we not signed UN treaties and covenants over the past several decades including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) of 23rd March 1976? Did we not sign the 2009 joint statement with the then UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon agreeing to many matters? Can the Sri Lankan State now argue that we are not bound by the UN treaties and joint statements that we had signed?

If we as a country behave inconsistently, can we blame the promoters of the resolution, arising from the resolution or otherwise, imposing at the minimum individual country level travel bans on Sri Lankans who in any capacity such as minister, parliamentarian, investigator, prosecutor, judge for having violated or aided, abetted or conspired in the violation of Sri Lankan human rights laws, international human rights and humanitarian laws? What prevents those countries from extending the damaging restrictions to the families of the alleged violators, as was done to the family of the present Army Commander though wrongfully? Commercial restrictions too can be later on imposed on Sri Lanka by countries using the resolution as a weapon.

Let us remember that in 2009 Sri Lanka received 29 votes in its favour at the UNHRC but dropped to 15 in 2012, 13 in 2013, 12 in 2014 and 11 in 2021. The trend is very clear. We should change gear! We requested at the highest level, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the OIC comprising 57 Muslim countries for support at the UNHRC. Not one Muslim country did vote against Sri Lanka, though four countries voted for Sri Lanka, notwithstanding utterances by sections in the government violative of the human rights of the Muslims. In 2012/14, Arabic conversant Muslim delegations visited Geneva and successfully canvassed for support for Sri Lanka from Muslim member states in the UNHRC. According to the evidence at the Easter Sunday Commission, at the same time BBS admittedly was in Norway, a prime supporter of several anti-Sri Lankan moves, getting brainwashed in Oslo against the Muslims of Sri Lanka! Muslim bashing need to stop but Easter attackers need to be punished or rehabilitated and not brainwashed.

The simple truth is that there was no need for Sri Lanka to plead with any country if it would honour its constitutional obligations, treat all its citizens particularly the minorities as equal citizens without discrimination and not abuse 21/4 to marginalize the Muslims or any other minority. There is an urgent need, from now onwards for the government to take the public into confidence and encourage free and transparent discussion as the first step.”



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COVID-19: Jaffna faces serious risk

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Top medical man in North threatens lockdown

Five villages isolated in Ganewatta DS area

20% of IDH patients need oxygen

By Dinasena Ratugamage and Rathindra Kuruwita

Tough restrictions would have to be imposed in Jaffna if religious leaders did not help health authorities, Northern Province Director General of Health Services, Dr. A. Kethiswaran said yesterday. Jaffna was facing a serious risk of COVID-19, he said.

Dr. Kethiswaran said so during a meeting with religious leaders at his office. He said that a large number of devotees were seen at various places of religious worship during the festive period.

“None of these people follow health guidelines. It is impossible to control the virus because of this. At this rate we will have to impose travel restrictions in the Jaffna District. We need everyone’s support, if we are to avoid this fate.”

He then urged religious leaders to inform devotees of the dangers of the virus and not to gather at places of worship in large numbers.

 

Dr. Kethiswaran also said that a large number of policemen in Jaffna had contracted COVID-19. About 258 PCR tests had been carried out on Wednesday after it was found that 13 policemen attached to the Jaffna Police station were infected. Altogether 788 PCR tests were done in the Jaffna District on Wednesday, Dr. Kethiswaran said.

One hundred and forty eight new COVID-19 cases had been detected in several villages in the Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area, Divisional Secretary Niranjala Karunaratne said yesterday.

On Wednesday alone 733 PCR tests had been done there, she said, adding that about 175 individuals had tested positive for COVID-19 there.

Given these developments, Tittawelgala, Hunupola, Siradunna, Aluthgama and Hettigama Grama Niladari divisions at Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area have been isolated.

Travel restrictions were imposed on Kuliyapitiya Town, Thunmodara, Dhandagamuwa – West, Kanadulla and Pahala Weerambuwa as COVID-19 cases were increasing there.

PHI in charge of Divulapitiya said that 84 new COVID-19 cases had been reported from the area during the last 48 hours. However, no decision had been taken to impose travel restrictions in the area, PHI, S.A.U.T Kularatne said.

“Twenty-eight of these patients were among people who attended a sports event organised for the New Year in Aswennawatta Grama Niladari area. Forty-four people who went on a trip at Mellawagedara have also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. If people are not careful, things might rapidly deteriorate,” he warned.

Deputy Director of IDH said that over 130 COVID-19 patients were undergoing treatment there although the hospital could accommodate only 120 patients.

All eight ICU beds at the IDH are occupied and 20% of the patients there need oxygen. The number of people admitted to hospital had increased after the Sinhala and Hindu New year, health ministry sources said.

Director General of Health Services – Western Province Dr. Dhammika Jayalath urged people to refrain from travelling to Colombo unless it was very urgent.

Director General of Health Services, Dr. Asela Gunawardane said that the coming three weeks would crucial.

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Covid figures: Govt. accused of misleading the country

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) yesterday claimed that State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals, Prof. Channa Jayasumana was making statements on new strains of SARS-CoV-2 without any scientific proof.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Prof. Jayasumana said that there had been an increase in the spread of Covid virus in the country, especially among the young people and that was due to a new strain of the virus.

President of the CMLS, Ravi Kumudesh said: “The Minister claimed they were doing a research on this. As far as we know, neither the Ministry nor the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has done any research to identify this new strain. The Ministry of Health stopped identifying new variants a long time ago.”

The Ministry of Health could neither plan for new variants of COVID-19 nor determine what vaccine was effective as it simply didn’t have the equipment to identify new strains, Kumudesh said, adding that identifying COVID-19 variants across the country had been outsourced to the University of Sri Jayawardenepura.

“I have repeatedly said that the Health Ministry officials can’t make science and evidence-based decisions or statements on new strains. Institutions under the Health Ministry do not have the ability to identify new strains of the coronavirus; only the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has a gene sequencing machine. We said this was having a disastrous impact on the country’s pandemic response and here we are,.”

Kumudesh said that identifying various strains of COVID-19 was essential to respond to the pandemic as everything from PCR testing to selecting a vaccine, depended on that.

“There are a number of strains of the virus in the world now and we now know that the new variant that led to a lockdown in the UK is here. We have to be ready to identify what strains are coming.”

Kumudesh said that since the country had opened its airports people from various countries would arrive, carrying new strains. He added that there might also be a new strain that originated here without “our knowledge because we don’t do adequate gene sequencing.

“To identify new variants, we must sequence the genes of viruses detected through PCR testing. We need many gene sequencing machines because one cannot identify new strains through a PCR test. However, the Ministry of Health has not provided a single gene sequencing machine to labs under its purview.”

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CEA accused of turning blind eye to cardamom cultivators raping Knuckles Forest

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A government decision to allow cardamom plantations inside the Knuckles Forest Reserve, which came under the Forest Conservation Department,it was already having a negative impact on the ecosystem, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR) said.

Chamikara said that Knuckles Forest Reserve was not only a unique ecosystem but also an important catchment area for rivers such as Mahaweli and Kalu.

“Illegal Cardamom planters had been operating in the forest area for many decades and there had been many attempts to get rid of them,” Chamikara said

About six years ago, there was an attempt to remove illegal Cardamom planters from the Knuckles Forest Reserve. When the Forest Conservation Department tried to remove these encroachers, based on a court order, several politicians and officials intervened on their behalf, the environmentalist said. Due to those interventions, illegal Cardamom planters could not be removed from the Knuckles Forest Reserve, he added.

“In many areas of the Dumbara mountain range, forest undergrowth has been cleared to make way for cardamom plantations. This has drastically increased soil erosion and the soil that is swept away by rains have been deposited in many reservoirs after being taken downstream to the Mahaweli Ganga. Moreover, many trees have been cut to use as firewood to dry cardamom. There are many structures used to dry the cardamom dotting the Knuckles mountain range and these activities cause significant damages to the ecosystem.”

Chamikara said it was illegal to cut trees, cultivate and clear land in a Conservation Forest. The offences carried jail terms or fines or both. Moreover, the court could estimate the damage done to the forest and make the guilty pay that amount. Under the law, even people who encouraged such violations could be prosecuted.

“The CEA has the power to act against those who carry out such illegal activities. According to Section 23 (a.) (a.) of the National Environmental Act, when a project is carried out without obtaining approval, the CEA can present such people before a magistrate’s court. If found guilty a person can be fined up to Rs. 15,000 or imprisoned up to two years or subjected to both. Unfortunately the authorities concerned are turning a blind eye.”

 

 

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