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Sri Lanka on alarming path towards recurrence of grave human rights violations – UN report

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GENEVA (27 January 2021) – A new UN report published on Wednesday warns that the failure of Sri Lanka to address past violations has significantly heightened the risk of human rights violations being repeated. It highlights what it calls worrying trends over the past year such as deepening impunity, increasing militarization of governmental functions, ethno-nationalist rhetoric, and intimidation of civil society.

Nearly 12 years after the armed conflict in Sri Lanka ended, impunity for grave human rights violations and abuses by all sides is more entrenched than ever, with the current Government proactively obstructing investigations and trials, and reversing the limited progress that had been previously made, states the report, mandated by UN Human Rights Council resolution 40/1.

The report urges enhanced monitoring and strong preventive action by the international community, warning that “Sri Lanka’s current trajectory sets the scene for the recurrence of the policies and practices that gave rise to grave human rights violations.”

Among the early warning signals the report highlights are: the accelerating militarization of civilian governmental functions, reversal of important constitutional safeguards, political obstruction of accountability, exclusionary rhetoric, intimidation of civil society, and the use of anti-terrorism laws.

Since 2020, the President has appointed at least 28 serving or former military and intelligence personnel to key administrative posts, the report states. Particularly troubling are appointments of senior military officials who were implicated in United Nations reports in alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity during the final years of the conflict. These include Shavendra Silva as Army Chief in August 2019 and Kamal Gunaratne as Secretary to the Ministry of Defence in November 2019.

The government has created parallel military task forces and commissions that encroach on civilian functions, and reversed important institutional checks and balances, threatening democratic gains, the independence of the judiciary and other key institutions, the report says.

The report also documents a pattern of intensified surveillance and harassment of civil society organisations, human rights defenders and victims, and a shrinking space for independent media. More than 40 civil society organizations have reported such harassment from a range of security services – including the Criminal Investigation Department, Terrorist Investigation Division and State Intelligence officials.

“The High Commissioner urges the authorities to immediately end all forms of surveillance, including intimidating visits by State agents and harassment against human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, social actors and victims of human rights violations and their families, and to refrain from imposing further restrictive legal measures on legitimate civil society activity,” the report states.

It warns that despite the Government’s stated commitment to the 2030 Agenda, Tamil and Muslim minorities are being increasingly marginalized and excluded in statements about the national vision and Government policy. Divisive and discriminatory rhetoric from the highest State officials risks generating further polarization and violence. Sri Lanka’s Muslim community is increasingly scapegoated, both in the context of COVID-19 and in the wake of the Easter Sunday attacks of April 2019.

The report notes that Sri Lanka’s armed conflict emerged against the backdrop of progressively deepening discrimination and marginalization of the country’s minorities, particularly the Tamils. Grave human rights violations and abuses committed by all parties have been documented in successive UN reports, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture and sexual violence affecting Sri Lankans from all communities.

Numerous commissions of inquiry appointed by successive governments have failed to credibly establish truth and ensure accountability for the violations, the report notes. The Government has now appointed a new commission of inquiry to review the findings of previous commissions, but its membership lacks diversity and independence, and its terms of reference do not inspire confidence it will produce any meaningful result.

A Presidential Commission of Inquiry to investigate alleged “political victimisation” of public officials, security forces and others has undermined police investigations and court proceedings related to several high profile human rights and corruption cases.

One former chief of the Criminal Investigation Division, who led investigations into several emblematic human rights cases, has been arrested while another inspector from the Division left Sri Lanka, fearing reprisals for his lead investigative role in several emblematic cases, and now faces criminal charges.

“While the criminal justice system in Sri Lanka has long been the subject of interference, the current Government has proactively obstructed or sought to stop ongoing investigations and criminal trials to prevent accountability for past crimes,” the report states.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet stressed that the failure to deal with the past continues to have devastating effects on tens of thousands of family members from all communities who persist in seeking justice, reparations – and the truth about the fate of their loved ones.

“I urge the international community to listen to the determined, courageous, persistent calls of victims and their families for justice, and heed the early warning signs of more violations to come,” Bachelet said, calling for resolute measures by UN Member States.

“Given the demonstrated inability and unwillingness of Government to advance accountability at the national level, it is time for international action to ensure justice for international crimes. States should also pursue investigations and prosecution in their national courts – under accepted principles of extraterritorial or universal jurisdiction – of international crimes committed by all parties in Sri Lanka,” Bachelet said.

“States can consider targeted sanctions, such as asset freezes and travel bans against credibly alleged perpetrators of grave human rights violations and abuses.” Sri Lanka’s contributions to UN peacekeeping operations must be kept under review, the High Commissioner added. Bachelet also urged the Council to support a dedicated capacity to collect and preserve evidence for future accountability processes.

The High Commissioner stressed that Sri Lanka will only achieve sustainable development and peace if it effectively addresses systemic impunity and ensures civic space.

“The failure to do so carries with it the seeds of repeated patterns of human rights violations and potential conflict in the future,” she said.

In preparing the report, the UN Human Rights Office sent detailed questions to the Government and received written responses, followed by a substantive virtual meeting with Government representatives on 7 January 2021. The Government also commented on the report.

The report will be formally presented to the Human Rights Council on 24 February, followed by an interactive dialogue.



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DG Information ignorant of basic election laws and regulations: ECSL

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by PRIYAN DE SILVA

The Election Commission (EC) has expressed its disappointment at controversial statements made by some public officials about elections. It says some top government official, including the Director General of Government Information, are not familiar with the basic election laws and regulations laid down in the Constitution.

The EC says it may be due to his ignorance that the Director General of Government Information has issued the Special News Release, on 29 January, claiming that ‘the gazette notification, with the signatures of the Chairman, and other members of the Election Commission, required for the commencement of the Local Government Election process, has not yet been sent to the Government Press for printing’. The EC has said such notices have to be signed and sent by the relevant Returning Officers in accordance with section 38 of the Local Authorities Election (Amendment Act) No 16 of 2017, and not by the members of the EC.

The EC has confirmed that the notices from the Returning Officers were sent to the Government Press on Monday (30).

The EC’s Media release also points out that the DGI may be unaware that Article 104GG of the Constitution states that if any public official refuses or fails without a reasonable cause to comply with the Commission he or she has committed an offence.

Article 104GG of the Constitution says: (1) Any public officer, any employee of any public corporation, business or other undertaking vested in the Government under any other written law and any company registered or deemed to be registered under the Companies Act, No. 7 of 2007, in which the Government or any public corporation or local authority holds fifty percent or more of the shares of that company, who – (a) refuses or fails without a reasonable cause to cooperate with the Commission, to secure the enforcement of any law relating to the holding of an election or the conduct of a Referendum; or (b) fails without a reasonable cause to comply with any directions or guidelines issued by the Commission under sub-paragraph (a) of paragraph (4) or sub-paragraph (a) of paragraph (5), respectively, of Article 104B, shall be guilty of an offense and shall on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding one hundred thousand rupees or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to both such fine and imprisonment.”

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AKD says no improvement at Sapugaskanda oil refinery since it went into production in 1969

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The capacity of the Sapugaskanda Oil Refinery (SOR) has not increased since it was established in 1969, National People’s Power (NPP) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake says.

Speaking at a public rally recently he that in 1969, the SOR used the most advanced technology available at the time.

“CPC started construction in 1968 and SOR started operations, refining oil, on August 5th, 1969. During that time, the CPC could refine 50,000 MT of crude oil. 55 years later, the capacity remains the same. In 1969, the CPC started with the most advanced technology available at the time. Technology has improved now. We are still refining oil with 1969 technology,” he said.

Dissanayake said that Sri Lanka built a fertiliser factory to use the byproducts of the refinery and, in 1982, a newspaper reported that 5000 MT of urea, produced by that factory, was exported to Pakistan. Today, that factory is closed.

“The CPC also had a nylon factory, as a subsidiary. We built our own nylon thread fish nets. By-products of the refinery were used as pesticides and insecticides for our pineapple and flower production. Those factories were closed, too. We had a candle industry from the by-products, we produced lubricant oil. It was sold to American Caltex. Refinery produced fuel for airplanes. It has the capacity to sell USD 1.4 million worth airplane fuel per day. We can buy crude oil, refine, and sell to ships. These are opportunities we must use to earn foreign currency. Recently this section of the CPC was privatized,” he said.

The ruling class has failed to secure even the most important assets, he said. Agriculture, land, gems, ilmenite, our natural resources, so will these rulers protect what is left, he asked.

“They have absolutely no plan to build this country. Selling our resources, closing down factories and selling valuable machinery is what they know. Every government has taken part in the destruction of the refinery. This is why we need a change in the economy. We need to transform our economy. Only NPP can do that,” he said.

The NPP leader said that the existing constitution concentrates too much power in the hands of the executive president. Sri Lanka has had this executive presidential system for 40 years and executive power was used against the people, repressing them.

“Our economy was destroyed. It has done no good to this country. One man cannot develop the country. Individuals have capacities and limitations. We need to unite our capabilities to govern this country. It’s a collective effort and the NPP is the only party to undertake it. That’s the point of difference. There are talented people from all fields like history, economy, mathematics, law and so on. There are lawyers, university academics and professionals. The government has to unite these capacities and talents to bring optimum results for the country. NPP will do that. For that we have to abolish executive presidency and rewrite the constitution vesting more powers in the Parliament. We will bring about this change,” he said.

Dissanayake said an NPP administration will limit the number of Ministers to 18. He added that crossovers have distorted the democratic system and corrupted the political culture.

“People vote for them in one party but for money and positions they change political allegiance. This has become a public nuisance. Some MPs demand ransom to stay in the party. We will add a provision to the Constitution to ban crossing over,” he said.

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JVP: Where are President’s influential foreign friends?

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By Rathindra Kuruwita 

President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who assumed duties, claiming that he had very influential friends overseas, now claims he can hardly afford to pay government servants, National People’s Power (NPP) MP Vijitha Herath says.

“If anything, things are worse than before. The government is afraid of the people and is trying to postpone elections,” Herath said, adding that the March 09 local council election would mark the beginning of the end for the Ranil-Rajapaksa administration.

Herath said so addressing an NPP election rally recently.

 “They will no longer be able to pretend that the people are with them. Not that they have any legitimacy, locally or internationally, but the level of their unpopularity will be seen on 10 March,, when the poll results are announced” he said.

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