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NGOs fire heavy salvo against govt., coinciding with 48th Geneva sessions

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A civil society grouping in a statement issued yesterday (13) strongly criticised the government over its human rights record. The statement was issued by over two dozens activists hours after the 48th sessions of the Geneva- based UNHRC commenced.

Identifying themselves as the Civil Society Platform (CSP), the group launched a scathing attack over accountability issues and post-war issues, including what they claimed was continuing harassment of the civil society.

Sri Lankan Collective for Consensus (SLCC), comprising representatives of several civil society groups, earlier held talks with the government. Among the government representatives were President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris.

The CSP said that while the group acknowledged the efforts made by the government to meet the Covid-19 challenge, its action and inaction since has only exacerbated the challenges faced by the people. At the same time, increasing authoritarianism and militarisation, including the COVID-19 “response and the culture of impunity have eroded civic space and undermined the protection of human rights. The re-imposition of a state of emergency on the pretext of addressing food distribution is an additional concern. Resorting to promulgation of Emergency Regulations in an arbitrary manner further concentrates unrestrained power in the hands of the executive and is not conducive to democratic, inclusive and transparent decision making regarding the public good. It creates an environment in which the human rights of citizens can be further curtailed and even violated.

The group raised the government allegedly depriving the civil society the freedom to operate.

“In recent months we have witnessed an alarming shrinking of civic space in Sri Lanka. This is in a context of heightened surveillance and threats to, and harassment of human rights defenders, survivors and families of victims, such as the families of the disappeared, who advocate for protection of human rights and truth and justice. The government and its affiliates have also demonized the work of non-governmental organisations through multiple means and presented them as potential threats to national security.

“This is against the backdrop of the National Secretariat for Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO Secretariat), being brought once again within the purview of the Ministry of Defence in December 2019, and steps being taken to draft legislation to reportedly curb the activities of civil society organisations. In addition, since December 2019 state officials at the district and divisional level have brought into effect cumbersome informal and arbitrary rules by which civil society organisations have to abide to obtain approval and implement their projects.  Furthermore, during meetings with NGOs at the district level, officers of the NGO Secretariat have been abusive and used disrespectful language when addressing personnel from civil society organisations. Cabinet ministers continue to use the term NGOs in a hostile manner, perpetuating the anti-NGO culture reminiscent of the repressive era when NGOs faced intimidation and threats both from the State and unidentified entities.

We note with concern the cabinet decision to replace the Voluntary Social Service Organizations (Registration and Supervision) Act No. 31 of 1980 as amended (VSSO Act). Civil society concerns in this regard which the NGO coalition working on this issue shared with the NGO Secretariat have gone unaddressed. The government’s engagement with civil society on the proposed law should not be cosmetic but meaningful and take into account the legitimate concerns of civil society. Furthermore, any new law must not restrict the rights of civil society organisations to work freely on issues of human rights and transitional justice or place undue impediments to their functioning.

The group raised the following issues in its statement:PTA, Freedom of Expression, Transitional Justice, Enforced Disappearances and Missing Persons, Arbitrary Use of Quarantine Regulations, failure on the part of the government to build confidence among the minorities and independent commissions. The group demanded an acceptable solution to the ethnic conflict, condemn the inordinate delay in investigating 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, delay in introducing reforms to the Muslim marriage and Divorce Act and burial rights for Covid-19 victims.

The following endorsed the statement:

1. Families of the Disappeared

2. Centre for Policy Alternatives

3. IMADR- Asia Committee

4. Right to Life Human Rights Centre

5. Women and Media Collective

6. Rights Now for Collective Democracy

7. Centre for Society and Religion

8. Women’s Action Network

9. Mothers and Daughters of Lanka

10. Centre for Women and Development – Jaffna

11. Law and Society Trust

12. AHAM Humanitarian Resource Center(AHRC), Trincomalee

13 Rural Development Foundation

14. Institute for Social Development

15. Janawabodha Kendraya

16. Web Journalist Association of Sri Lanka

17. Eastern Social Development Foundation

18. Human Elevation Organisation

19. National Fisheries Solidarity Movement

20. National Fisher Women’s Federation

21. Mannar Women’s Development Federation

22. Malarum Mottukal Women’s Collective

23. Alliance for Minorities

24. Rule of Law Forum

25. Food First Information and Action Network – Sri Lanka

26. International Centre for Ethnic Studies

27. Mannar Social and Economic Development Organization

28. Citizens Committee Human Rights Centre –Gampaha

29. Sri Vimukthi Fisher Women Organization

30. Centre for Human Rights and Development

Individuals

1. Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

2. Dr. Gehan Gunatilleke

3. Dr Nimalka Fernando

4. Dr Mario Gomez

5. Dr Sakunthala Kadirgamar

6. Rev Rohan De SIlva

7. Mr Britto Fernando

8. Ms Shreen Saroor

9. Ms Ambika Sathkunanathan

10. Mr Philip Dissanayake

11. Ms Kumudhini Samuel

12. Mr. Godfrey Yogarajah

13. Mr Prabodha Ratnayake

14. Mr Ameer Faaiz

15. Mr. Thilak Kariyawasam

16. Ms Saroja Sivachandran

17. Mr Aruna Shantha Nonis

18. Ms Bhavani Fonseka

19. Mr Ruki Fernando

20. Mr Periyasami.Muthulingam

21. Mr Gowthaman Balachandran

22. Mr Sudarshana Gunawardana

23. Mr Freddy Gamage

24. Mr Abdul Ramees

25. Ms Sumika Perera

26. Ms Marreen Srinika Nilasini

27. Mr Asanka Abeyrathna.

28. Ms Mahaluxmy Kurushanthan

29. Mr Herman Kumara

30. Mr Jehan Jegatheesan

31. Mr.Yartan Figurado

32 Mr Shantha Pathirana

33Ms A.D. Rajani

34 Ms M.Kusum Silva

35 Mr Vinoth Anthony



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Two-year reconciliation project spurns Lord Naseby’s disclosure

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EU, Germany funded scheme costs Rs. 8 mn

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The National Peace Council (NPC) says war-related matters hadn’t been discussed at the nearly two-year-long reconciliation project that brought together students from Eastern, Jaffna, Ruhuna and Sabaragamuwa Universities.

More than 160 students have participated in the project that culminated with a conference on the theme of ‘Plural Sri Lanka: Paths to reconciliation.’ Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris delivered the closing address and responded to questions from the audience.

Pointing out that post-war reconciliation efforts had been badly hampered by allegations that the Sri Lankan military killed over 40,000 civilians on the Vanni east front, The Island sought clarification as regards measures taken by the NPC to improve relations among the communities, and the following questions were raised:

The Island:

During your two-year long project did participants discuss specific war crimes allegations and disclosure made in the House of Lords in Oct 2017 that contradicted unsubstantiated accusations pertaining to 40,000 civilian deaths.

Executive Director NPC Dr. Jehan Perera:

“No, we did not discuss these war-related matters. The project was titled “Creative Youth Engagement for Pluralism” and it focused on the nature of Sri Lanka as a plural society and the value framework that should guide it.  The research papers highlighted the diversity within Sri Lankan society that goes beyond ethnicity and religion.  They included topics such as “Attitudes of Society on Education and Transsexuality: A Comparative Study on the Ideologies of a Community with Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Education,” and “Pluralism and University Subculture: An Ethnological Study on Young Behavior towards Social Cohesion,” and “An Investigative Study of the Challenges Posed by the Changes in the Aboriginal Society.”

The Island:

What is the total cost of the project?

The NPC

: Rs 8 million was spent to train and mentor the writers of the 30 research publications in four universities, translate, review and publish their findings in book form and for the conference which brought the students to Colombo.

Question 3:

What is the GoSL’s contribution?

The NPC:

There was no direct financial support by the government. Four state universities supported through their faculty members and students.

The Island: What is the NPC’s stand on accountability resolution and announcement made in Geneva that the Sri Lankan military would be subjected to a fresh inquiry?

The NPC:

In order to get out of these allegations, there is a need for a credible and independent investigation. Our preference is for a national mechanism that is acceptable to all sides.  Accountability will need to be a part of the reconciliation process.  NPC favours the restorative justice approach which focuses on ensuring justice to victims. This includes an acknowledgement of wrongs done and reparations and institutional reform to ensure that there is non-recurrence. 

 The Island: Are you also engaged in post-war reconciliation projects funded by Norway?

The NPC:

NPC hasn’t obtained funds from Norway for the past five years.

The recently concluded project has been funded by a project called Strengthening Reconciliation Process here jointly funded by the European Union and the German Federal Foreign Office and implemented by Deutsche Gesellsschaft Fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and the British Council in partnership with the Sri Lankan Government.

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Speaker promises to appoint bi-partisan committee to look into incidents in Parliament

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Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena announced in Parliament yesterday (06) that a committee consisting of senior members from the Government and Opposition would be appointed within the week to look into the incidents that took place in Parliament last Friday and Saturday and submit a report.

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High Court Trial-at-Bar orders release of several accused from 11 charges in CB bond auction case

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By AJA Abeynayake

Colombo High Court Trial-at-Bar yesterday ordered the release of several accused, including former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayke and former Central Bank former Governor Arjuna Mahendra, from 11 charges out of 22 in connection with the Central Bank bond auction held on 31 March, 2016.

Colombo High Court Trial-at-Bar held that public property charges against the accused could not be maintained. Indictments had been filed against Perpetual Treasuries Private Ltd (PTL), former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayke, CBSL former Governor Arjuna Mahendran, Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) beneficiary owner Arjun Aloysius, PTL Chief dealer Kasun Palisena, Chairman of PTL Jeffrey Joseph Aloysius, Chitta Ranjan Hulugalle, Muthuraja Surendran, Ajahn Gardiye Punchihewa and Badugoda Hewa Indika Saman Kumara in connection with bond auction held on March 31, 2016.

The case against seventh accused Ranjan Hulugalle was dismissed on preliminary objections raised.

President’s Counsel Anil Silva, Counsel Asela Serasinghe, Hafeel Farisz, Sahan Kulatunga and Vishwaka Peiris appeared for the seventh accused.

The Attorney General’s stance regarding the future cause of action to be informed on 26 Jan. 2022.

The Attorney General had alleged that the PTL had been using the Central Bank’s important undisclosed information to alter the final outcome of the Treasury bond auction and it had a huge impact on the overall national economy as a result of the subtle; the systematic conduct of the offences related to the fraud and had caused injustice to other primary sellers in the bond market, and the PTL had acted cunningly and made a huge profit and conspired to cause a huge loss to the government.

The case was postponed until 26 Jan. 2022.

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