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Sumanthiran, former HRCSL Commissioner, press for int’l intervention

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Jaffna District TNA lawmaker M.A. Sumanthiran, PC, has argued that Sri Lanka is incapable and unwilling to deliver justice through domestic mechanisms, and there has to be international pressure. The MP said so at a webinar with former top UN and US officials and Sri Lankan participants called for a strong UNHRC resolution at the 46th sessions scheduled to commence on Feb 22. All panelists warned UN failure on Sri Lanka could spur worldwide pandemic of impunity.

They emphasised the need to act on the UN High Commissioner’s recommendations

The webinar “Sri Lanka: Quest for Justice, Rule of Law and Democratic Rights”, co-hosted by the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice – New York University, Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice and the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC), held on February 12th attracted more than 3,000 live viewers.

Ambika Satkunanathan, a former Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, stressed that threats and intimidation to the civil society had escalated to the point of branding them terrorists and traitors. She argued that such a government was incapable of honestly addressing the past and the mothers of missing persons would not receive justice in their lifetime.

Charles Petrie, a former UN Assistant Secretary General, and the author of “the report of the Secretary-General’s Internal Review Panel on UN action in Sri Lanka”, referred to Sri Lanka as a country that never came to terms with its violent past and that only an enlightened leadership in Sri Lanka, which is seriously lacking now, can solve the fundamental problems of the state. He also argued that the UN system recognised its past failures and has good intentions and tools to be effective in promoting human rights and good governance in Sri Lanka. However, he cautioned that UN is lacking in courage and counting exclusively on it can lead to disappointment and hurt.

Pablo de Greiff, a former UN Special Rapporteur, recalled from his vast experience with Sri Lanka, and stressed that Sri Lanka’s problems are deeper than its 2009 failure, and by not complying with its international obligations, Sri Lanka was failing its own citizens.

Why some countries undergo repeated cycles of violence, he argued was well understood, and where Sri Lanka was heading was deeply troubling. He also called for all of the UN High Commissioner’s recommendations, including country-specific measures, to be given serious consideration.

Stephen Rapp, formerly US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice, argued that impunity was contagious citing the emblematic navy abductions where even without politics behind the killings Sri Lanka could not deliver justice. He described the new Commission of Inquiry set up by the government as an effort to obstruct justice and called for the creation of a dedicated capacity to collect and preserve evidence which would be essential when the conditions were right to deliver justice – both through the UN and by country specific initiatives.

Centre for Policy Alternative’s Bhavani Fonseka, author and activist, claimed to present compelling evidence of democratic backsliding and the erosion of rule of law in the context of the newly enacted 20th Amendment to the constitution. She claimed that the strong executive presidency was resorting to extra-legal measures, including militarised governance, and ruling through Presidential Task Forces.

Ameer Faaiz, Director of International Affairs of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, presented a picture of how anti-Muslim violence escalated in the last decade, argued that the denial of the burial rights of Muslims should be viewed in the context of rising anti-Muslim hatred, and called for increased attention from the UNHRC on religious freedoms of minorities.

Shreen Saroor, a peace and women’s rights activist, claimed how the Prevention of Terrorism Act continued to be used against Muslims, with more than 300 people in detention, and the coordinated efforts to cripple civil society organisations. However, she asserted that the extreme oppression and denial of justice had brought the minority communities together.

The presentations were followed by a lively Q & A session, moderated by Melissa Dring from the NGO Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice – which further illuminated critical challenges facing all Sri Lankans. Issues discussed included:

·Sri Lanka’s failures rooted in the nature of the state

·strengthening institutions with independent Judiciary and Attorney General Department

·the government narrative of no crimes committed during the war totally lacking in credibility

·ensuring accountability and justice for all parties to the conflict

·human rights and justice are neither zero sum propositions, nor the international community targeting Sri Lanka

·coordinated domestic and international effort as a means of crisis prevention

There was consensus among the presenters that Sri Lanka is entering a critical phase where the future for democracy, rule of law and good governance is bleak. The exclusionary and majoritarian thrust of the government will disproportionately affect the minority communities. On its own, Sri Lanka will not deliver on accountability or justice. This is the time for strong international involvement to prevent future violent conflict.

The OHCHR report was welcomed as capturing the failures of Sri Lanka in addressing the past and the emerging crisis situation. Participants called for a strong resolution in the upcoming UNHRC session, which should incorporate the High Commissioner’s recommendations including a strong reporting function for OHCHR on human rights, a dedicated facility to collect and preserve evidence and the application of universal jurisdiction, targeted sanctions, asset freezes and travel bans.

It was argued that international pressure, including economic leverage selectively applied, could be effective.  Panellists also spoke of the power of targeted populations coming together to reassert their lost rights in recent weeks. It was proposed that both enlightened local leadership and strong international involvement were crucial to change the trajectory of Sri Lanka from repeated political violence and entrenched impunity.

 

 



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Delisting of Tamil Diaspora groups irks some; explanation sought

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Decision based on GoSL assurance given in Geneva last June

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera yesterday (14) said President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government should explain the rationale behind delisting several Tamil Diaspora groups and individuals.

“The timing of the government announcement really worries us,” Dr. Amarasekera said on behalf of the Federation of National Organizations (FNO). He said such moves couldn’t be simply justified on the basis of the forthcoming sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council. The next UNHRC sessions are scheduled for September.

Recalling that he too strongly backed the stand taken by President Wickremesinghe with regard to US Ambassador Julie Chung’s opposition to measures the government adopted to counter violent protests, Dr. Amarasekera emphasised national security couldn’t be jeopardised by politically-motivated decisions.  The Defence and Foreign Ministries owed the public an explanation as regards the procedure adopted in delisting some Tamil diaspora groups and individuals.

The UK-based Global Tamil Forum (GTF), the British Tamil Forum (BTF) and the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) had been among those delisted, through an Extraordinary Gazette issued by the Ministry of Defence.National Freedom Front (NFF) spokesperson Mohammed Muzammil, MP, too, echoed Dr. Amarasekera’s concerns. Addressing a hastily arranged media briefing at NFF’s Pita Kotte party office, lawmaker Muzammil asked whether the government had received an undertaking from those delisted groups, and individuals, whether they would abandon the separatist agenda. Lawmaker Muzammil said President Wickremesinghe, who holds the defence portfolio, should address the concerns of those who felt betrayed by the disputed de-listing of those who propagated separatist ideology though the armed forces eradicated the LTTE in 2009.

Both Dr. Amarasekera and MP Muzammil pointed out that Tamil Makkal Theshiya Kutani leader C.V. Vignewaran, following a recent meeting with President Wickremesinghe, had declared that he received an assurance with regard to several of their demands.  They asked whether the de-listing of these organizations, and individuals, had been part of the agreement between Tamil political parties and President Wickremesinghe.

The Island

sought the views of Suren Surendiran of the GTF, who is among those delisted. The UK-based GTF spokesperson alleged that the entire process of designation of groups and individuals was arbitrary, irrational, and an outright abuse of the United Nations Regulations – aimed at suppressing freedom of speech and dissent, not just within Sri Lanka but also across the borders.

 “GTF and I were listed in 2014, delisted in 2015, re-listed in 2021 and re-delisted in 2022,” Surendiran said, declaring they remained committed to their original ideals meant to achieve justifiable aspirations of the Tamil-speaking people, and implementation of the 2015 accountability resolution.

Surendiran has sent us the following response:   “Every time when a resolution is passed at the UNHRC, calling for Accountability and Reconciliation, the Rajapaksas, be it Mahinda or Gotabaya, will proscribe us as an angry reaction and then realise that no other government or international institution, including progressive Sri Lankans of all communities, and the wider media, recognise these proscriptions and just before another UNHRC session, the sitting government will de-proscribe us. This has been the case since 2014.”

“GTF is grateful that the international community and many Sri Lankan stakeholders (including the media) ignored this listing for what it truly was.

“We did an estimation on the loss of foreign currency inward flow into Sri Lanka directly related to these proscriptions of 2014 and 2021, at least per annum the loss has been USD 300 mn to   half a billion dollars.

Former Presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Secretary of Defence Kamal Gunaratne, Former Foreign Minister G L Peiris and the notorious so called “terrorism expert” Rohan Gunaratna must explain these losses to the Sri Lankan people and held accountable for their arbitrary decisions and explain what benefits these proscriptions achieved.”

Authoritative sources said that contrary to concerns expressed by various iparties as regards the delisting of organizations and certain individuals, the decision to do so was announced by the former Foreign Affairs Minister Prof GL Peiris in mid-June this year at the 50th Geneva sessions. The Foreign Ministry quoted Prof. Peiris as having said: “The list of designated individuals, groups and entities under the United Nations Regulation No. 1 of 2012 is being reviewed. As of now 318 individuals and 04 entitles are proposed to be delisted. This is a continuing exercise.”

Sources said that it wouldn’t be fair to seek explanation from the incumbent government for a decision taken by the previous administration.

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Govt. trying to impress UNHRC – Vigneswaran

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Tamil Peoples’ National Alliance (TPNA) leader MP C. V. Vigneswaran says President Ranil Wickremesinghe is in a hurry to rope in Tamil MPs w,ith an eye to the upcoming UNHRC session.

In a statement after meeting President Wickremesinghe the MP says: “He appeared to be in a hurry to rope in Jaffna MPs to be part of the Government, I suppose to showcase to Geneva! I don’t blame him. The Government has so far ignored its obligations to the UN as per Resolution 46/1. Although the President assured us that he will take action to implement our requests and invited us to join the Government, we felt the impending Geneva meeting was more important to him than solving the Tamils’ Problems.”

Full text of Wigneswaran’s statement: At the invitation of the President, I met his Excellency, along with our Party senior member Mr. S. Selvendra, at 4.30 PM, on 10th August 2022 at the Presidential Secretariat. The Prime Minister was also present.

The President explained to us at length his plan of governance which included a Parliamentary governance committee giving a greater role for the Provincial Governors. His idea was that all MPs from the Provinces must govern the respective Provinces under the Chairmanship of the Governors in terms of a National Agenda. He referred to Austria as an example. (His example was inappropriate. Austria is a Federal Country).

Further discussing grabbing of lands in Provinces by Central Government Ministries he agreed that there should be no forestry land that should be grabbed by Ministries and that we should focus on preserving the environment in each Province. He said, if need be a maximum of 2 acres could be taken over by the Government. I said no land should be appropriated by the Central Government in the Provinces except with the consent and concurrence of the respective Provincial Government. There was no response from His Excellency.

Regarding National Schools, he said 50 National Schools were enough for the Country not 1000 National Schools. I pointed out that no Provincial Schools could be taken over by the State and that our Alliance has already filed action in this regard.He appeared to be in a hurry to rope in Jaffna MPs to be part of the Government, I suppose to showcase to Geneva! I don’t blame him. The Government has so far ignored its obligations to the UN as per Resolution 46/1.

He wanted me to share a document which outlines the proposal on how money could be channeled into the Country from the Diaspora.It became apparent to us while discussing with him that his plan was to strengthen the central administrative control of the entire country, totally ignoring the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

I pointed out to the President that the Tamil people in this country expect the government to take speedy action to attend to their requests, submitted by all Tamil National party leaders which included the release of political prisoners; action to trace the missing persons; stop the activities of various government departments to grab Tamil lands and stop persons trying to build Buddhist temples in Tamil homeland with the help of the Military and so on.

It was also pointed out that in order to enable the Tamils to give political leadership and governance over their Provinces, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution should be implemented in full as a temporary measure until satisfactory constitutional reforms are made. We told the President that until this process is started in earnest satisfying the Tamil people, we will support the Government from the Opposition. There was no question of our becoming a part of the Government.

Although the President assured us that he will take action to implement our requests and invited us to join the Government, we felt the impending Geneva meeting was more important to him than solving the Tamils’ Problems.Nevertheless, we promised to forward the document he called for and took our leave to depart.

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 Arms, drug seizure from Lankan boat: Accused raised funds to revive LTTE, says NIA

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KOCHI: In a major revelation in a case pertaining to the seizure of a huge quantity of narcotic drugs along with five AK-47 rifles and 9mm ammunition numbering 1,000 from Sri Lankan fishing boats, the NIA has stated that an accused had been involved in activities of proscribed terrorist organisation LTTE within India and abroad.

The accused had also plotted to procure prohibited arms and ammunition, besides contraband articles. The NIA filed the report in the Kerala High Court in response to the bail plea filed by Ramesh, a Sri Lankan native and eighth accused in the case.

The Coast Guard intercepted the boat, ‘Ravihansi’, near Minicoy Island, Lakshadweep, on March 18, 2021. There were no proper documents and six Sri Lankan nationals found on board were arrested by the Kochi sub zone of Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) on their arrival at Vizhinjam port in Thiruvananthapuram.The Central government directed the NIA to take over the probe and later the seventh and his brother and eighth accused were taken into custody, allegedly for being members of the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Ramesh revealed that he had stayed in India without a visa violating the provisions of the Foreigners Act.

According to NIA, Ramesh and the other accused, including his brother being a core cadre of the LTTE, held secret meetings and conspired to carry out illegal activities of trafficking in drugs and also arms and ammunition with the intention of raising funds to revive and further the activities of the LTTE, both in India and Sri Lanka, They formed a terrorist gang and transferred money through hawala channels for the procurement of drugs, arms and ammunition.

A witness in the case also spoke of the drug and hawala business carried out by the brothers and specifically referred to Ramesh having collected hawala money from a person named Faseel Bhai. While dismissing Ramesh’s bail plea, the court noted that the statements of the witnesses show not only his inextricable connection with the illegal activities but also his definite link with LTTE, with full knowledge and complicity in the attempt to smuggle heroin, arms and ammunition in the boat, intercepted before its entry into the port.

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