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Post 2019 prez poll ‘reporting, discussions and analysis by a range of sources’ prompt Sri Lanka bashing in Geneva

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BHC sidesteps query on Lord Naseby’s disclosure

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The British High Commission in Colombo has claimed stepped up harassment, intimidation and surveillance targeting civil society by the government since the change of government in Nov. 2019. A spokesperson for the BHC said so in response to several questions raised by The Island as regards a recent statement by the UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights, Rita French, at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council.

The BHC spokesperson has sent The Island the following response, on Sept 26: “The statement from the Core Group in Geneva, agreed among Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Montenegro and the UK, reflects recent reporting, discussions and analysis by a range of sources on the operating environment for civil society in Sri Lanka. Concerns have been publically raised and documented about increased harassment, intimidation and surveillance by the High Commissioner for Human Rights and several international NGOs. The UK has regular and wide-ranging conversations on these issues with civil society, as well as the Government of Sri Lanka”.

The UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights, Rita French, in a statement delivered in Geneva early this week on behalf of Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Montenegro and the UK alleged that civil society and human rights groups in Sri Lanka experienced an increasingly hostile operating environment.

The statement also quoted Ambassador French as having said: “Instances of intimidation, harassment and surveillance continue, including threats to families of disappeared persons. Individuals are detained indefinitely without appearance before court, such as lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah.”

The Island

submitted the following questions to the BHC on Sept 18 after Media Minister and cabinet spokesperson Keheliya Rambukwella on Thursday (Sept 17) made reference to the Core Group’s statement. The Island asked the BHC (1) Did the UK receive complaints from civil society as regards intimidation, harassment and surveillance and threats to the families of disappeared persons (2) Did Canadian and German embassies in Colombo inform BHC about complaints received by them from Sri Lanka civil society (3) Did BHC get complaints from lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah’s family or his lawyers (4) Did BHC take up these issues with Foreign Ministry before Geneva statement and finally (5) Did the UK examine Lord Naseby’s disclosure vis-a-vis 30/1 accountability resolution?

The BHC refrained from commenting on Lord Naseby’s Oct 2017 revelation that challenged the very basis of the Geneva Resolution.

Executive Director of the National Peace Council (NPC) Dr. Jehan Perera on Tuesday (29) told The Island that the group appreciated it was able to continue work without hindrance up to now and “the same is true of most other NGOs we partner but with a greater anxiety of being under surveillance”.

Dr. Perera said so in response to The Island query regarding the post-2019 presidential election working environment. Asked for a detailed response, Dr. Perera has sent us the following statement: “NGOs have been placed under the Defence Ministry which has got more active in the area of civilian administration with the government’s district secretariats also coming under its purview. Our staff reported being questioned by telephone, by unidentified men in civvies and by uniformed personnel including from the army. In our case the questioning has been limited. But in the case of other NGOs it has been more serious. This is the case especially with civil society groups in the north and east. Even in the case of our own programmes in the north and east, we have found that the participants have been questioned after the event. In one case, where we held a workshop on democracy, both a uniformed person and another in civvies had come to the venue to investigate. As the area Grama Niladari was present they had accepted his explanation and left. This type of incident creates a climate of intimidation in which those most vulnerable are the activists at the grassroots level who had been directly working for the wellbeing of their local communities.

There is also a significant increase in reporting requirements. We are expected to report our work in every location to the relevant district secretariat. This has meant that each and every activity we carry out in every part of the country has to be notified to the government officials at the district level to get their sign off. This is a cumbersome procedure as these district level officials ask for further information in an ad hoc way that differs from district to district. The information required should not be unnecessarily burdensome or intrusive as the Sri Lanka constitution guarantees the right to Freedom of Association, which is what civil society is about. Some of our partners have informed us that they have been summoned to Colombo to the police headquarters to be questioned. They have to bring with them their books and other records as they are not sure of what level of investigation they will be subjected to. It would be less intimidating and less effortful if they could be questioned in their own offices, if such questioning is deemed to be necessary. They need to be informed of the law under which they are being questioned.

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Current wave of COVID-19:

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AG asks police to probe alleged negligence of Brandix, others

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, has called for an immediate investigation into circumstances that led to the coronavirus eruption at the Brandix apparel manufacturing facility at Minuwangoda early this month.

AG’s Coordinating Officer State Counsel Nishara Jayaratne told The Island that a progress report had been called  by or before Nov 13.

The AG stepped in amidst Opposition political parties, both in and outside Parliament questioning the failure on the part of health authorities to establish how the eruption had taken place.

Instructions were issued yesterday (27) when the AG summoned DIG Ajith Rohana, a senior officer in charge of the police Legal Division. The State Counsel said that the AG wanted the Brandix management, its agents and government servants probed as regards their negligence and carelessness.

Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera recently told The Island that they were yet to ascertain the cause of the current wave. Health Secretary retired Maj. Gen. Sujeewa Munasinghe said they had probed several leads and were now close to bringing the inquiry into successful conclusion.

Both Dr. Samaraweera and Head of the National COVID-19 Task Force Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva have said the 39-year-old Brandix employee who was the first to be tested positive is not the patient zero as regards the garment cluster.

The AG intervened in the absence of a police investigation into various accusations regarding the second wave with the number of positive cases rapidly nearing 9,000.

Brandix, in response to The Island queries, has assured that it followed health guidelines when 341 workers attached to its facility in India and their families were repatriated in three batches. The company said that it would fully cooperate with government authorities inquiring into the outbreak.

The Opposition lambasted the government for the deteriorating situation during last Friday’s debate on the epidemic now threatening to overwhelm the health facilities.

JHU spokesman Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe yesterday said that a comprehensive inquiry was needed to establish the truth. (SF)

 

 

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An Open Letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: 

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Don’t try to sign agreements in secret

Issued by the Sri Lanka
Study Circle 

We, the members of the Sri Lanka Study Circle in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, a founding member of the Non Aligned Movement – the largest organised grouping of Nations after the UN – that initiated a UN General Assembly Resolution in 1971 which was unanimously adopted by the entire World to make forever the Indian Ocean a zone of peace within which area no Nuclear weapons whatsoever would be permitted are a bit confused about the status of your visit to Sri Lanka due to a lack of transparency. 

Initially, your embassy in Colombo, when questioned about rumours of a possible visit by you to our country, denied those rumours. Several days later, the embassy made an announcement that you would be visiting our country for a day. 

We surmise therefore that you are visiting our country, not at our invitation but at your request, at a time when the ugly head of COVID is raising its head once again due to, what appears to be, the criminal negligence of a Company funded and mentored by your Government. 

We must express our dismay and protest that the forerunners to your visit have dampened the spirit and purpose of your visit by flagrantly violating the basic health guidelines, required to be followed by all entering our country, to bring under control the pandemic which has caused thus far the deaths of 218000 people in your country. 

 We trust that you and your entourage would subject yourself to the mandatory health checks, especially travelling from India which ranks number two, next to your country, in the number of COVID related deaths. 

We note that your visit has been preceded by many communiques appearing in the media.  

To comment on some of them: You seem to harbour an illusion that your country and ours has a common vision. No, we do not have a common vision; your country is a Capitalist country where the engine of growth is the private sector. Ours, Mr. Pompeo, as per our Constitution and the thinking of our people, is a Socialist State where, in perfect harmony with Buddhist principles, public interest prevails over private interest.  

The factors of production like Land are held by the State and not private individuals. That is why MCC goes against the very grain of Sri Lankan thinking, Buddhism and culture and does not have the people’s mandate. 

You have ‘advised’ our Government to take necessary and difficult decisions to secure her economic independence. Mr. Chairman MCC, we request you to keep your unsolicited advice to yourself. We are indeed sorry if some members of our country had portrayed themselves to you, as imbeciles. The majority of them are not capable of sagacious and independent thought.   

You seem to suggest that some of our donors’ conditions are not transparent and our discriminatory. In fact this is the very criticism the people have levelled against the MCC ; it is very discriminatory and the least transparent. The people of this country have yet to see the draft MCC document in the language they understand, Sinhala and Tamil. 

‘US officials warned the Sri Lankan Government who they team up with for their economic partnership’. Mr. Pompeo, if that is a threat you can go to Mars; you could spend your time more profitably over there. We are aware that you were refused an audience with the Pope and we are acutely aware that you have endorsed the torture going on in Guantanamo Bay and that you hold a view that the hell-hole you forcibly occupy there should not be shut down. 

It is laughable that you allude to debt diplomacy of some other countries. Does it not make you laugh that the US offers a gift horse – as your acolytes would say- worth 480 Million USD when the US has a sovereign debt of 26 Trillion USD. Amidst this debt from where did you get this pottage and why not use this amount to reduce your own debt? 

 ‘Secretary Pompeo will travel to Colombo to underscore the commitment of the United States to a partnership with a strong, sovereign Sri Lanka and to advance our common goals for a free and open Indo-Pacific region.’ 

Hitherto, your military reach in the Pacific was limited to the South-east Asian Countries because the Pacific ended there. The Indian Ocean was untouched and the littoral states in the Indian Ocean declared the Indian Ocean, a Zone of Peace.  

What you are now attempting to do is extend the Pacific Ocean to include the Indian Ocean.  

As a first step, you have artificially made two Oceans one, by calling it the Indo-Pacific Ocean. And the second step is to extend the militarisation of the Pacific Ocean to cover the ‘Indian Ocean’ portion of the Indo -Pacific Ocean.  

This is where the MCC, the ACSA, the SOFA and the QUAD fit in. This is how, in our opinion, the US would militarily ‘Pivot-to-Asia’ 

You have the gumption to say ‘free and open’ Indo Pacific Ocean when in the seas around the American Continents you restrict naval activity by applying unilaterally a doctrine, the Monroe doctrine. 

Make no bones about it, the Indian Ocean, Mr. Secretary, is a nuclear Free Ocean, and an Ocean of Peace. Sri Lanka is a committed Non-Aligned State and not a Neutral state. Some novices are confused about this. 

 If you wish to speak with Sri Lanka come in Peace and we shall talk. We shall talk openly and transparently. Do not attempt to sign Agreements in Secret because they do not have the mandate of the People.     

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CEJ warns of danger to health from lead in paints

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By Ifham Nizam

The Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) yesterday urged the public to be vigilant about the lead content in consumer items. Dilena Pathragoda, CEJ Managing Director said that most old buildings still had old paint with high lead levels.

Addressing the media at an event to mark the International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action he said that some Sri Lankan companies dump lead contaminated liquid waste into our water ways without following the proper procedures.

CEJ Executive Director Hemantha Withanage said: “In Sri Lanka, lead concentration in paint has been limited by the Consumer Affairs Authority as a result of a case filed by the CEJ in 2011. Accordingly, enamel and floor paints can have only 600ppm of lead while the limit is 90 ppm for emulsion and paints used on children’s products. This law came into effect from January 1, 2013. It is also mandatory to declare on the label if the paint is lead safe.”

Withanage added that it was the consumer’s duty to check for the lead level before purchasing paint. He added that many countries in the region had now reduced the maximum permissible lead level to 90 ppm in all types of paints. It was time to introduce more stringent standards for Sri Lankan paints, he said.

Lead is a toxic heavy metal that can cause permanent and irreversible brain damage in children, resulting in reduced Intelligence quotient (IQ), reduced attention span, impaired learning ability and increased risk of behavioral problems.

In adults it can affect reproduction, endocrine or the hormone system and the cardiovascular system. Research shows that the main source of lead poisoning is paint. The oil-based paints that are commonly known as enamel paint, floor paint, anti corrosive and lacquer contain high lead levels. These paints are commonly found on walls of preschools and childcare facilities, children play areas, furniture, baby cots and some toys.

In addition, researchers have revealed that lead is found in some imported plastic and rubber toys, stationery, paints on porcelain, cosmetics and artificial jewelry. People working in; e-waste recycling plants, lead-acid battery/ car battery recycling plants, metal smelting, construction and demolition work are highly vulnerable to lead exposure.

 

 

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