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Referring SL to ICC futile exercise, UK tells pro-LTTE groups

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UN Security Council support cannot be mustered for anti-SL move

Minister of State for South Asia and the Commonwealth Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbeldon has told the UK-based pro-LTTE groups that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has no jurisdiction to investigate Sri Lanka. The ICC could only do so if Sri Lanka accepted its jurisidiction, or if the UN Security Council adopts a resolution to refer Sri Lanka to the ICC.

The UK didn not think such a step would have sufficient support among Security Council members and it would not help accountability in Sri Lanka for an ICC referral to fail to win Security Council support or be vetoed, Lord Ahmad said.

Ahmad is also the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict.

The following is the full text of Lord Ahmad’s letter to the pro-LTTE groups:

“Thank you for your correspondence of 1 March and petition regarding the UK’s approach to Sri Lanka at the 46th UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), and for recommending amendments to the draft resolution.

“I recognise the points you have raised, and understand that achieving justice, peace and accountability is a priority for all Sri Lankans affected by the conflict. Please be assured that this is a long standing priority for the UK, and that we regularly raise the importance of justice and accountability with the government of Sri Lanka, both privately and publicly.

“We have highlighted our concerns about the lack of progress towards accountability and the wider human rights situation, including in our statements to the UNHRC in February, June and September 2020. As Minister of State for South Asia and Minister responsible for Human Rights, I set out our serious concerns about human rights in Sri Lanka in a statement at the UN Human Rights Council on 25 February.

“I have also raised the importance of accountability, justice and reconciliation on several occasions with the Sri Lankan High Commissioner and Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, most recently during calls on 12 February and 22 January respectively.

“We will continue to press for a strong role for the UNHRC to help deliver accountability and reconciliation and ensure the protection of human rights in Sri Lanka. The UK is working hard to build support for the new resolution on Sri Lanka. The resolution will provide a continued framework for international engagement on human rights in Sri Lanka, and will highlight our serious concerns about the situation, including those detailed in the recent report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

“It will call on the government of Sri Lanka to make progress on accountability and human rights, and will stress the importance of a comprehensive accountability process for all violations and abuses committed in Sri Lanka. It will keep Sri Lanka firmly on the UNHRC agenda and will request continued and enhanced OHCHR reporting on the human rights situation and on accountability. Importantly, it will also strengthen the capacity of OHCHR to consolidate, preserve and analyse information and evidence to support future accountability processes.

“I take note of your request to make amendments to the draft resolution. We believe the resolution the UK has presented to the UNHRC is an ambitious one that can pass in the face of challenging UNHRC dynamics. Voting members of the Council change every year, and current voting members are not the same as those who voted on previous resolutions.

“The 2021 composition is particularly challenging for consideration of country resolutions. The risk of losing a vote is very serious, and tabling an unwinnable resolution would likely result in the end of any accountability process and would be a crushing blow to the victims and all those who have fought for justice and accountability. A failed resolution would also see Sri Lanka removed from the agenda of the UNHRC, making it more difficult to draw international attention to the human rights concerns identified in the recent report by OHCHR. While we will continue to consider amendments to our resolution during the course of negotiations, we strongly believe that it is the best way of achieving accountability and justice for all those affected by the conflict.

“In your email, you ask that Sri Lanka is referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Sri Lanka is not a party to the Rome Statute which established the ICC. As a result, the ICC has no jurisdiction to investigate Sri Lanka. It could only do so if Sri Lanka accepts the jurisdiction of the ICC, or if the UN Security Council refers Sri Lanka to the ICC through a resolution. We do not judge that this step would have sufficient support among Security Council members. Moreover, it would not help accountability in Sri Lanka for an ICC referral to fail to win Security Council support or be vetoed.

“In regards to establishing an International Independent Investigative Mechanism, we agree on the importance of preserving information and evidence gathered so far. Our draft resolution therefore requests OHCHR to consolidate, analyse and preserve this information so it can be used in future accountability processes. This will build on the work of previous resolutions, including the 2014 resolution which mandated a comprehensive OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL).

“On the question of appointing a Special Rapporteur, we do not believe this would prove beneficial in the current circumstances since, at present, the High Commissioner for Human Rights is herself at the forefront of the UN’s efforts. Our draft resolution will request enhanced reporting by OHCHR to ensure that both the UN and the Human Rights Council remain focused on the situation in Sri Lanka.

“On the question of a referendum to determine the aspirations of the Tamil people, we recognise your strength of feeling on this matter. The UK Government has long supported peace building and reconciliation in Sri Lanka, and called for the rights of all Sri Lankans to be respected. Through UK-funded programmes, we have supported a number of activities to benefit those in the north and east of the country, including demining, resettlement of internally displaced persons and interfaith dialogue. We continue to urge the Government of Sri Lanka to deliver on reconciliation and political inclusion for all Sri Lankans. However, we do not think it is realistic to include a reference to a referendum on Tamil self-determination in the draft UNHRC resolution. Please be assured that justice, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka will remain a priority for the UK government.”



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Govt. eases restrictions on foreigners as Covid-19 rips through country

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DGHS, IGP informed of SLTDA decision

By Shamindra Ferdinando

In what many thought was a shocking decision, the Tourism Ministry yesterday (16) declared that tourists would be able to travel across the country despite movement restrictions in force since last Thursday (14) to control the rapid spread of Covid-19.

 Tourism Ministry, in a statement issued yesterday afternoon (16) quoted Director General of Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) Dhammika Wijesinhe as having said that the foreigners in the country could travel in what she called a bio bubble. Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr Asela Gunawardena and IGP C.D. Wickremaratne had been informed of the arrangements, she said.

The announcement was made as the government struggled to cope with an alarming increase in the number of Covid-19 positive cases as well as deaths. It came close on the heels of Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga declaring that the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) wouldn’t be closed. When The Island sought an explanation from the Tourism Ministry how such a decision was taken regardless of tough quarantine laws and health guidelines in place to control the spread of rampaging Covid-19 epidemic, an authoritative official said that the Ministry issued a statement received from the SLTDA.

DG Wijesinghe said that those individuals and firms responsible for bringing in tourists had been instructed to strictly follow health guidelines or face the consequences.

Declaring that tourism has been categorized as an export industry, DG Wijesinghe said that the SLTDA stepped in the wake of complaints that foreigners experienced difficulties as a result of travel restrictions imposed in the wake of the latest Covid-19 eruption.

The Tourism Ministry further quoted the official as having stressed that arrangements were now in place to ensure tourists could travel in a bio bubble without hindrance.

Police headquarters said that after the lifting of ‘lockdown’ on Monday at 4 am, travel restrictions from 11 pm to 4 am on a daily basis during May would continue.

GMOF (Government Medical Officers’ Forum) spokesperson Dr. Rukshan Bellana said that the government seemed hell-bent on causing further chaos. Having allowed influential parties to bring in foreigners for quarantine in the country, the government caused the deterioration and now restrictions were done away at the risk of further intensification of the spread of the virus.

Dr. Bellana recalled how the government permitted the England cricket tour of Sri Lanka to go ahead in January this year at a time the UK was in a grave crisis over a new deadlier variant of Covid-19 spreading there and also allowed groups of Ukrainians in when Ukraine was in lockdown.

Responding to another query, Dr. Bellana pointed out that the shocking declaration that restrictions would not apply to foreigners meant that the government was yet to comprehend the gravity of the situation.

Dr. Bellana said that the government seemed to be blind to the fact that the death toll was on the verge of passing 1,000 and the cases nearing 150,000. If those at the helm of administration really believed tourists could move across the country safely in bio bubbles let them create the same for others, Dr. Bellana said.

According to the GMOF, the government was pulling in different directions in the absence of a cohesive strategy to meet the daunting Covid-19 challenge. The failure to understand the need to apply the same set of quarantine laws and health guidelines to all was one of the primary reasons for the deterioration of the problem.  Dr. Bellana asked how the government did away with restrictions while the doctors reported the detection of at least six Covid-19 variants.

Dr. Bellana said that he expected experts would oppose the government’s short-sighted policies.

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Gaza conflict: Parliament calls for truce; govt. silent yet

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP National List MP Dr. Suren Raghavan, on behalf of the Sri Lanka-Palestinian Parliament Friendship Association has urged the government and the Opposition to join the international community in calling for an immediate cessation of violence in the latest conflict involving Israel and Hamas.

The recently formed Association in a statement issued on May 13 called for cessation of hostilities in Gaza, West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Association represents both government and the Opposition.

Citing international media reports, the Association expressed concerns over suffering of civilians on both sides due to military action during the month of Ramazan. Dr. Raghavan, the only SLFPer accommodated on the SLPP National List made reference to indiscriminate rocket attacks carried out by Hamas and Israeli air strikes.

The Foreign Ministry yesterday (16) acknowledged the government was yet to issue a statement on the situation in Gaza.

According to international media reports, an Israeli airstrike on Saturday destroyed a high-rise building that housed The Associated Press offices in the Gaza Strip. The airstrike came about an hour after the Israeli military ordered people to leave the building. The building houses the Associated Press, Al Jazeera and a number of offices and apartments.

Meanwhile, Israel Solidarity Movement (ISM) strongly condemned Hamas for attacking civilian targets in Israel. Calling Hamas a terrorist organization, the ISM pointed out that terrorists used Palestinians as a human shield while attacking Israeli civilians.  Pointing out that Hamas actions had placed the Palestinian community in peril, the IMS recalled how Sri Lanka suffered during the war against the LTTE. Making reference to sufferings caused by 2019 Easter Sunday attacks, the ISM stood solidly with those who backed whatever Israeli action taken to neutralize the Hamas challenge.

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Central Bank: No immediate threat of inflation rise from monetary expansion

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By Sanath Nanayakkare

Sri Lanka was currently experiencing high monetary expansion, but the Central Bank did not expect an acceleration of inflation in the near future, Economic Research Director at the Central Bank Dr. Chandranath Amarasekara told The Island yesterday.

Answering a query on the broad money growth and its wider implications, Dr. Amarasekera said, “At the end of 2020, broad money expanded by 23.4% compared to the end 2019. The extraordinary circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic required increased credit to the government from Sri Lanka’s banking system, and the historically low interest rate structure also resulted in a pickup in the growth of credit to the private sector in the second half of the year. This policy driven expansion in broad money supply was essential for the country to dampen the effects of the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.”

“As the Sri Lankan economy is operating below its potential, we do not project a demand-driven acceleration in inflation in the near term. Even the relatively high economic growth projected for 2021 will be partly driven by the low base in the previous year, and therefore, it is unlikely that there will be an overheating of the economy in 2021 as well, although we envisage a monetary expansion of 21%.”

“However, as the authority responsible for the money stock of the country, the Central Bank remains cautious about any excessive expansion in money growth. Nevertheless, the close relationship between money and inflation that we used to see in the past is no longer in existence. For example, during the most part of a period of single digit inflation that Sri Lanka experienced since 2009, broad money growth has remained above 15%. The breakdown of the close relationship between money growth and inflation is also one reason for the Central Bank to move away from a monetary targeting framework towards a flexible inflation targeting framework to conduct monetary policy. Anchoring of inflation expectations has also helped curb the inflationary effects of exchange rate movements as well. Many other countries have also experienced similar situations.”

“When the economy recovers and demand conditions improve, the Central Bank will take appropriate action to make necessary policy adjustments to ensure the continuation of inflation at the desirable levels of mid-single digits without disrupting the growth process,” Dr. Amarasekara said.

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