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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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GL follows up Udaya’s initiative, negotiates concessionary crude oil supplies with UAE

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Balance-of-payment crisis continues to stagger govt.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The United Arab Emirates (UAD) has agreed to discuss a possible arrangement to provide Sri Lanka crude oil on concessionary terms in the face of the country experiencing a severe balance-of-payments crisis, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris took up the matter with UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, on the sidelines of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. Prof. Peiris is on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s delegation to the UNGA.

In late August, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila sought the intervention of the Acting Head of the UAE Embassy in Sri Lanka, Saif Alanofy. Minister Gammanpila also met the Iranian Ambassador in Colombo in a bid to explore the possibility of obtaining oil from Iran on concessionary arrangements.

The Foreign Ministry statement on Prof. Peiris meeting with the UAE Minister dealt with the financial crisis experienced by the country. “Foreign Minister Peiris explained the challenges Sri Lanka is experiencing in respect of its external budget, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prof. Peiris focused in particular on the country’s requirement for oil and requested concessionary arrangements from the UAE.”

The Foreign Ministry quoted Minister Al Jaber as having said that the UAE would be happy to assist and proposed the establishment of a strategic framework to take the process forward.”

The ministry stressed that both sides agreed to follow-up rapidly.

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila earlier told The Island that concessionary arrangements were required to procure oil as part of an overall strategy to overcome the developing crisis.

Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and Attorney-at-law Gammanpila said that increase in fuel prices in the second week of June this year was only a part of the government’s response to heavy pressure on foreign reserves. Minister Gammanpila said that the decision was taken close on the heels of dire warning from the Central Bank.

Minister Gammanpila said that in spite of foreign currency crisis, the government ensured an uninterrupted supply of fuel. According to him, Sri Lanka spent as much as USD 3.5 to 5 bn annually on oil imports depending on the world market prices.

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President attends 9/11 commemoration in NY

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday attended the special commemorative event near the Manhattan Memorial in the United States to mark the 20th anniversary of terrorist attacks in Washington and New York.

The terrorist attacks took place on September 11, 2001, targeting the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defence.

Coinciding with the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism and the 9/11 Memorial Museum jointly organised the event. Other Heads of State and government representatives, who were in New York to attend the UN General Assembly, were also present at the event to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in those attacks.

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FSP calls on govt. allies not to pretend to oppose adverse deal with US firm

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By Anuradha Hiripitiyage

Due to the secret agreement signed with US firm New Fortress Energy, Sri Lanka would soon face a situation akin to the one already faced by Ukraine, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) predicted yesterday.

“Sri Lanka is trying to reduce its dependency on coal and switch over to LNG. With this in mind, several coal and diesel power plants are to be converted into LNG in the coming decade. Now, we will entirely depend on the US to provide us with LNG to power these plants. Given that the US intends to control the seas in which Sri Lanka is placed strategically, they will not let us off the hook once they establish their foothold here. We are in deep trouble,” FSP Propaganda Secretary, Duminda Nagamuwa said.

Nagamuwa said that some constituents of the government were pretending that they opposed the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant to New Fortress Energy. “But this is not the time for theatrics but for concrete action”, he said.

Nagamuwa said that the agreement between the government and US Company New Fortress Energy to construct a new offshore liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving, storage and regasification terminal at Kerawalapitiya as well as the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant had to be scrapped.

“Even government ministers agree that the agreement was not discussed with them. Several affiliates of the government are trying to convince the people that they are fighting this decision from inside. However, past experience has shown that when push comes to shove they will stay with the government. They must show the leaders of the government that they are not puppets,” he said.

Nagamuwa said that if those affiliated to the government were serious in their opposition to undermining Sri Lanka’s energy security they should show their commitment by doing something concrete.

The Yugadanavi Power Station at Kerawalapitiya already produced 300 MWs of energy and there was a plan to build another 350 MW plant there. The US Company had now been allowed to build an offshore LNG receiving, storage, and regasification terminal and to provide LNG to the existing Power Station and the new 350 MW power plant to be built, he said.

“Now we are under the power of the US. We will soon be facing the plight of Ukraine,” he said.

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