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SLRFS contributed towards strengthening bilateral relations between Sri Lanka and Russia

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The Sri Lanka–Russia Friendship Society has a history that goes back to 1942 when it was established under the name Ceylon Friends of Soviet Union. During this period, the friendship society published a magazine named ‘Lankan–Soviet Magazine’.

The society was officially registered in 1959 as the Lanka-Soviet Friendship League, which has now evolved into what it is today, the Sri Lanka-Russia Friendship Society (SLRFS) after it was renamed in 1977. The SLRFS currently operates in Colombo with branches in Kandy, Galle and Nuwara Eliya.

With the assistance of Rossotrudnichestvo and the Association of Sri Lankan Graduates from Socialist Countries (ASLGSC), SLRFS publishes a Sinhala language quarterly magazine named ‘Rusiyawa’, which provides timely information on Russia to local readers.

Standing tall for many decades, the SLRFS has been a key contributor towards strengthening bilateral relations between Sri Lanka and Russia.

The All-Union Society for Cultural Relations (AUSCR) was created in April 1925. It was a difficult period for a newly emerged state that did not have international recognition and contacts with other countries. There was a need to tell the world about a completely new political system, to provide objective information that could dispel the myths that have arisen around the young Soviet power and provide support to foreign scientific and cultural intelligentsia.

The AUSCR aimed at “the establishment and development of scientific and cultural ties between institutions, NGOs and cultural figures of the USSR and abroad.”

Olga Kameneva, sister of Leo Trotsky and wife of the first head of the Soviet state Leo Kamenev, had become the chair of the organization. Prior to that, she led the Commission to Foreign Aid (CFA), which was created just over a year after the formation of the Soviet Union and became the prototype of the AUSCR.

Departments of science and technology, literature, studentship and language were represented in the new organization. Prominent figures such as poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, composers Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich, writer Mikhail Sholokhov, and director Sergei Einstein contributed towards the work of AUSCR in the field of development of foreign relations.

On the part of foreign countries, physicists Albert Einstein and Marie Curie, writers Romain Rolland, Theodore Dreiser and Herbert Wells advocated the establishment of friendly relations with the Soviet authorities.

At the invitation of AUSCR, various delegations of foreign companies, as well as notable figures of science and culture like the French physicist Paul Langvin and writer Romain Rolland, Indian composer and public figure Rabindranath Tagore, Danish writer Martin Andersen Nexco, and many others visited the USSR.

AUSCR sent delegations and representatives of Soviet science and culture to foreign countries to participate in congresses and conferences; theatre troupes, music and dance ensembles; organized exchanges of literature and museum exhibits, etc. It was the AUSCR that first initiated the trips of Soviet citizens abroad.

Even during the war, AUSCR continued to work actively with the friendship societies in different countries. These organizations participated in the resistance movement, which was established in German-occupied territories. All-Union Society sought to unite prominent figures of the world of culture in the fight against Nazism.

Together with foreign friendship societies AUSCR raised awareness by distributing materials which voiced the deeds of the Soviet people in the struggle against the invaders and atrocities of the Nazis in the occupied territories.

With the assistance of Rossotrudnichestvo and the Association of Sri Lankan Graduates from Socialist Countries (ASLGSC), SLRFS publishes a Sinhala language quarterly magazine named “Rusiyawa” which provides timely information about Russia to local readers. The Sri Lanka-Russia Friendship Society has been a key contributor that has strengthened the bilateral relationship between Sri Lanka and Russia, standing tall for many decades.

The beginning of the cold war, emergence of the new political objectives demanded a new format of the AUSCR. In 1958, it was transformed into the Union of Soviet Friendship Societies (USFS). Soviet social and political activist Nina Popova became the first chairman of the newly formed body.

Thus, the society of friendship with Bulgaria was headed by an academician, aircraft designer, Andrei Tupolev, Association for Friendship with Italy by famous Soviet film director Sergei Gerasimov, one with Cuba – by Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, with Vietnam – cosmonaut German Titov. Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin visited Ceylon on the invitation of then Prime Minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike on December 7, 1961. Around 5,000 people gathered to welcome to first man to go to space.

During the visit, he planted a sapling at the Peradeniya Botanical Garden which still stands even after 50 years plus. Further, the current president of the Russia Sri Lanka Friendship Society is the famous cosmonaut of the country, Vladimir Lyakov, who was a Commander on Soyuz 32, Soyuz T-9, and Soyuz TM-6, and spent 333 days, 7 hours, 47 minutes in space.

Friendship societies united 25,000 enterprises, collective and state farms, educational, scientific and cultural institutions. Over 50 million people participated in the activities of the USFS. Each year, republican society alone held about 25,000 events dedicated to foreign countries.

With the collapse of the USSR in the early 1990s, USFS among other organizations underwent a transformation. It was turned into a Russian Association for International Organization (RAIC) in April 1992. Also, a Russian Agency for International Cooperation and Development (RAICD) was created to strengthen informational, cultural and scientific relations among Russia and other states through the system of representative offices and centres of science and culture based in foreign states. Later, following the government decree of April 8, 1994, functions of the RAICD were transferred to the Russian Centre for International Scientific and Cultural Cooperation under the Government of the Russian Federation (RusInterCentre).

For the first time in the history of the system AUSCR – USFS – RAICD – RusInterCentre the organization entered the structure of state agencies. The Heroine of the Soviet Union cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova headed the newly created body.

Expansion of a structure that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union such as the CIS necessitated fresh approaches to building a new format of international relations, not only with foreign countries, but also with Russia’s closest neighbours. There was a need to create a special federal body, which would have full authority in the development of Russian cultural ties with foreign countries in general, CIS countries in particular.

The current head of Rossotrudnichestvo, Yevgeny Primakov was appointed Head of Rossotrudnichestvo by Decree of the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin under Act No. 416 of June 25, 2020.

Modern Russia has huge potential for expansion of humanitarian contacts as well as for promotion of its culture and rich historical heritage abroad. Today, as many years ago, the need of formulating an objective vision of our country, debunking the myths about it and further expanding the circle of friends on both diplomatic level and among ordinary citizens, remain highly significant.

 

Anastasia Khokhlova,

Director, Russian Centre Colombo.



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Govt. MP Wijeyadasa strikes discordant note on Port City Bill

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… alleges bid to turn Port City into Chinese territory

Over 12 petitioners move SC against proposed law

By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe PC, yesterday (15) alleged that the proposed Bill, titled ‘Colombo Port City Economic Commission,’ would transform the reclaimed land, adjacent to the Galle Face Green into a Chinese territory.

Addressing the media at the Abhayarama temple, under the auspices of Ven Muruththettuwe Ananda Thera, the former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), Rajapakshe, warned of dire consequences if the government went ahead with what he termed the despicable project.

Sixteen parties had filed action against the Bill. Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda thera was among the petitioners.

The ruling party had placed the Bill on the Order Paper on April 8, just 15 calendar days after the publication of the Bill in the Gazette. In terms of the Constitution a citizen intending to challenge the constitutionality of a Bill had to do so within one week from the Bill being placed in the Order Paper of Parliament, Dr. Rajapakse said.

Among those who moved the SC were the General-Secretary of the UNP and the Chairman of the UNP. The Attorney-General has been named a respondent in the petition. The BASL, too, moved SC against the Attorney General. Three civil society activists, Oshala Herath, Dr. Ajantha Perera and Jeran Jegatheesan also filed action.

Lawmaker Rajapakse explained how the proposed Bill, if enacted, could allow independent status to USD 1.4 bn Colombo Port City. Former Justice Minister alleged that the Colombo Port City project was far worse than the selling of the strategic Hambantota port to the Chinese by the previous administration.

The Colombo District MP said the Parliament wouldn’t have financial control over the Colombo Port City Project whereas its independent status would legally empower those managing the project to finalise agreements with external parties

Referring to the previous administration, the former UNPer alleged that China had bribed members of Parliament. MP Rajapakse questioned the rationale behind China providing computers to all members of Parliament and officials as well as jaunts to China.

Rajapakse said that Sri Lanka shouldn’t give in to Chinese strategies aimed at bringing Sri Lanka under its control. The former minister explained the threat posed by the growing Chinese presence including the Colombo Port City, a terminal in the Colombo harbour and at the Hambantota port.

 

 

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Sooka pushing UK for punitive action against Army Commander

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An outfit, led by Yasmin Sooka, a member of the UNSG Panel of Experts’ (PoE), has urged the UK to take punitive measures against the Commander of the Army, General Shavendra Silva, who is also the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).

The Army headquarters told The Island that the matter had been brought to the notice of the relevant authorities. It said that it was all part of the ongoing well-funded campaign against the Sri Lankan military.

Issuing a statement from Johannesburg, the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) said it had compiled a 50-page dossier which it has submitted to the Sanctions Department of the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on General Shavendra Silva. The Submission argues why Silva, who is Sri Lanka’s current Army Commander, should be designated under the United Kingdom’s Global Human Rights (GHR) Sanctions Regime established on 6 July 2020.

“We have an extensive archive of evidence on the final phase of the civil war in Sri Lanka, meticulously collected by international prosecutors and lawyers. The testimony of victims and witnesses – many now in the UK – was vital in informing this Submission, and making the linkages to Shavendra Silva and those under his command,” said the organisation’s executive director, Yasmin Sooka.

The ITJP Submission details Shavendra Silva’s role in the perpetration of alleged gross human rights violations including of the right to life when he was 58 Division Commander during the final phase of the civil war in 2009 in the north of Sri Lanka. It draws on searing eyewitness testimony from Tamils who survived the government shelling and bombing of hospitals and food queues in the so called No Fire Zones, many of whom now reside in the UK as refugees. The Submission also looks at Silva’s alleged involvement in torture and sexual violence, including rape, which is a priority area of the UK Government’s foreign policy.

“The US State Department designated Shavendra Silva in 2020 for his alleged role in the violations at the end of the war but the remit of the UK sanctions regime works is broader and includes his role in the shelling of hospitals and other protected civilian sites during the military offensive. This is important in terms of recognising the full extent of the violations, as well as supporting the US action,” commented Ms. Sooka. “UK designation would be another significant step forward in terms of accountability and would be in line with the recent UN Human Rights Council Resolution passed in Geneva for which Britain was the penholder,” she added.

Political will in applying the UK’s new sanctions regime to Sri Lanka was apparent in a recent parliamentary debate which saw 11 British parliamentarians ask why the UK government had not applied sanctions against Sri Lankan military figures, including Shavendra Silva, who was named six times in this context.”

 

 

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‘UNHRC missive exposes UK duplicity in grave accountability matters’

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Wartime Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama says that the leader of Sri Lanka Core Group at the Geneva–based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) the United Kingdom’s policy of double standards has been challenged by no less a person than UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

Bogollagama said that the Bachelet warning couldn’t have been issued at a better time as the UK stepped up pressure on Sri Lanka over accountability issues. The former FM was responding to Bachelet’s declaration on April 12 that the proposed new Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, in its current form, would undermine key human rights obligations that the UK has committed itself to respect.

The UK is a member of the UNHRC. Bogollagama pointed out that Bachelet had called for amendments to the proposed Bill to ensure that it didn’t protect British personnel deployed overseas for acts of torture and other serious international crimes.

The Bill is now reaching its final stages in the legislative process, and will shortly be debated again by the House of Lords, the UK’s upper chamber, where amendments may still be made.

In the run-up to the Geneva vote on a resolution spearheaded by the UK on March 23, SLPP Chairman and former External Affairs Minister Prof G.L. Peiris questioned the rationale in British actions. Prof Peiris asked how the UK sought protection for its armed forces deployed outside their territory whereas it sought punitive measures against Sri Lanka for fighting terrorism in its own land.

Bogollagama said that British double standards should be examined taking into consideration the UK’s current membership in the UNHRC as well its role as the leader of Sri Lanka Core Group. The Core Group members include Germany and Canada.

Bogollagama who served as the Foreign Minister during the fourth phase of the war (2007-2010) alleged that the UK adopted an extremely hostile position primarily because of domestic political reasons. Wikileaks disclosed the true extent of Tamil Diaspora influence on the British political establishment, Bogollagama said. So much so, the UK allowed the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) to announce its formation in the House of Commons in early 2010, the former Minister said. Would the UK accept Geneva advice as regards the proposed Bill, Bogollagama asked, those who voted for the resolution moved against Sri Lanka and abstained to realise that the UK’s stand in respect of Colombo was political.

The UK succeeded the US as Sri Lanka Core Chair in 2018 after the latter quit the Geneva body in a huff calling it a cesspool of political bias.

The purpose of the controversial British Bill is stated as being “to provide greater certainty for Service personnel and veterans in relation to claims and potential prosecution for historical events that occurred in the complex environment of armed conflict overseas.” British Forces played significant roles in the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. The Bill seeks to achieve this, in particular, by introducing new preconditions for the prosecution of alleged offences covered by the Bill.

“As currently drafted, the Bill would make it substantially less likely that UK service members on overseas operations would be held accountable for serious human rights violations amounting to international crimes,” the UNHRC statement dated April 12 quoted Bachelet as having said.

It stated that in its present form, the proposed legislation raises substantial questions about the UK’s future compliance with its international obligations, particularly under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), as well as the 1949 Geneva Conventions. These include obligations to prevent, investigate and prosecute acts such as torture and unlawful killing, and make no distinction as to when the offences were committed.

Responding to another query, Bogollagama said that Bachelet’s statement exposed the British hypocrisy. While demanding accountability on the part of Sri Lankan military on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes accusations, the British deprived Geneva of wartime dispatches (January-May 2009) from its High Commission in Colombo in a bid to facilitate the campaign against Sri Lanka, former minister Bogollagama said.

The British exposed their hostile intentions when London turned down Sri Lanka’s request to hand over those dispatches to Geneva, the ex-lawmaker said, urging the government to continuously highlight the need for examination of all available evidence by the proposed new Geneva inquiry unit appointed at a cost of USD 2.8 mn.

Bachelet’s request to the UK was interesting, Bogollagama said. The former minister was referring to Bachelet’s appeal: “I urge UK legislators in both Houses of Parliament, and the Government, to take these concerns fully into account when reviewing the Bill, and to ensure that the law of the United Kingdom remains entirely unambiguous with regard to accountability for international crimes perpetrated by individuals, no matter when, where or by whom they are committed.”

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