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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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Geneva HR vote:

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UK, Canada seek to influence member states against Lanka

The Sri Lanka Core group members, Canada and the UK, are campaigning hard to muster support for their resolution against Sri Lanka at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council. Sri Lanka Core group consists of Canada, Germany, the UK, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Malawi.

Canada High Commissioner David McKinnon met the Bangladesh High Commissioner Tareq Ariful Islam, at the Canada House, Colombo 07.

Sources said that meetings between diplomats of those countries were rare. Bangladesh is a member o the f UNHRC. The meeting at the Canada House took place close on the heels of the UK HC Sarah Hulton meeting South Korean Ambassador Woonjin Jeong. South Korea is also a member of the UNHRC.

The 47-member UNHRC is divided into five groups on regional basis. The Asia-Pacific Group consists of Bahrain, Bangladesh, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Marshall Islands, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea and Uzbekistan; Western Europe and Other States consists of Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and UK; Eastern European States consists of Armenia, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Russia and Ukraine; Latin American and Caribbean States group consists of Argentina, Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, Uruguay and Venezuela and African States group consists of Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Eritrea, Gabon, Libya, Malawi, Mauritania, Namibia, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan and Togo. (SF)

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CEB Chairman: Country would have been facing daily power cuts if not for MR’s initiative

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by Ifham Nizam

The country would have been facing a daily power cut of eight hours if not for the initiative taken by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, when he was the President, to commence the first coal fired power plant complex at Norochcholai, said Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) Chairman Engineer Vijitha Herath at yesterday’s inauguration of the first Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) power plant in Sri Lanka.

PM Rajapaksa was the Chief Guest at the event. The CEB head stressed that if not for the Norochchoali plant the country would have lost more than Rs. 100 billion annually.

Power Minister Dullas Alahaperuma said that since the construction of the Norochcholai power plant in 2013, no large scale power plant had been built.

“Today, we are paying for this. Only small hydro power plants and solar power plants have been added to the national grid,” Alahaperuma said.

The power minister said that the LNG plant was coming up at an important time and would bring great relief to the economy which was heavily dependent on fossil fuels.

“Let there be a power sector that is not dependent on fossil fuels. The new power plant has been constructed at Kerawalapitiya, Wattala. This has been designed in accordance with international standards with minimal environmental damage. This power plant will have the highest efficiency F class gas turbine installed. The Kerawalapitiya Power Plant is a dual cycle power plant and will be completed in two phases. The installation of the first phase, or gas turbine, will generate 220 MW, which will be completed within 21 months and added to the national grid.”

Alhaperuma said that the second phase would add another 130 megawatts to the national grid via a steam turbine, which was expected to be completed in 12 months. With a total capacity of 300 MW over the next three years, the plant was expected to meet the country’s growing electricity demand, he said.

Speaking at the event Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa stressed that the government wanted to provide electricity at affordable prices using the most advanced technology. There had been many delays in building power plants under the Yahapalana regime; but the current government would fast-track power projects, he added.

Minister Alahapperuma also said: “The LNG power plant will be a great relief to the economy. Renewable energy is the future. It was clearly mentioned in the President’s vision of prosperity as well as in the Mahinda Chinthana. Our goal is an economy fully armed with renewable energy.”

State Ministers Duminda Dissanayake, Susil Premajayantha, Nimal Lansa, Secretary to the Ministry of Power and Energy Wasantha Perera, LTL CEO of Lakdanavi Affiliates U.D. Jayawardena, and a large number of people’s representatives and government officials were present.

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US Secretary of State names Lankan for International Women of Courage (IWOC) award

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Lankan Human Rights Activist and Attorney-At-Law Ranitha Gnanarajah is among the recipients of this year’s International Women of Courage (IWOC) award presented by the United States Secretary of State.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will host the annual International Women of Courage (IWOC) Awards virtual ceremony to honour a group of extraordinary women from around the world on Monday, March 8, at 10:00 am, the U.S. State Department announced.

The First Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden will deliver remarks to recognize the courageous accomplishments of these women.

Now in its 15th year, the Secretary of State’s IWOC Award recognizes women from around the globe who have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment – often at great personal risk and sacrifice, the US State Department says.

According to the biographies of the finalists for the 2012 IWOC Awards, Sri Lanka’s Ranitha Gnanarajah, a lawyer, and Head of the Legal Department of the Center for Human Rights and Development (CHRD) Sri Lanka continues to fight for and defend the rights of the marginalized and vulnerable communities in the country, despite threats and challenges by the state.

“Ranitha has dedicated her career to accountability and justice for victims of enforced disappearances and prisoners detained often for years without charge under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act by providing free legal aid and related services. As an individual personally affected by the conflict and based on her extensive experience working with victims and their families, Ranitha has demonstrated tremendous passion and dedication to justice and accountability, especially for Sri Lanka’s most vulnerable populations.”

From the inception of this award in March 2007, the Department of State has recognized more than 155 awardees from over 75 countries.

U.S. diplomatic missions overseas nominate one woman of courage from their respective host countries, and finalists are selected and approved by senior Department officials.

Following the virtual IWOC ceremony, the awardees will participate in an International Visitor Leadership Programme (IVLP) virtual exchange and connect with their American counterparts.

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