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UN goes ahead with fresh probe, seeks funding for project

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‘We are having info and evidence repository of 120,000 items’

UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet yesterday (13) said that her Office was going ahead with a fresh investigation in respect of Sri Lanka accountability issues. The declaration was made at the 48th session of the UNHRC.

 In her oral update, Bachelet, the former Chilean President, urged the UN member states to provide funding required for the investigation.

 Having strongly criticised Sri Lanka over accountability issues, Bachelet said that her Office had begun to implement the accountability-related aspects of Resolution 46/1, pending recruitment of an investigation team.

She said: “We have developed an information and evidence repository with nearly 120,000 individual items already held by the UN, and we will initiate as much information-gathering as possible this year. I urge Member States to ensure the budget process provides the necessary support so that my Office can fully implement this work.

 “I encourage Council members to continue paying close attention to developments in Sri Lanka, and to seek credible progress in advancing reconciliation, accountability and human rights.”

The following is the text of her full statement:

 I am pleased to update the Human Rights Council on Sri Lanka and the trends and issues identified in my last report.  I acknowledge the inputs sent by the Government in preparation for this update, and I note the President’s statement in June that the Government is “committed to work with the UN to ensure accountability” and will implement “necessary institutional reforms.”

I look forward to seeing concrete actions to this effect – in line with the recommendations that have been made in our reports and by various human rights mechanisms – and my Office stands ready to engage.

I also encourage the swift and public release of the reports of the national Commission of Inquiry that was appointed in January 2021, which I understand will complete its mandate by the end of this year, so that its work and recommendations can be assessed.

The current social, economic and governance challenges faced by Sri Lanka indicate the corrosive impact that militarisation and the lack of accountability continue to have on fundamental rights, civic space, democratic institutions, social cohesion and sustainable development.

A new state of emergency was declared in Sri Lanka on 30 August, with the stated aim of ensuring food security and price controls, amid deepening recession. The emergency regulations are very broad and may further expand the role of the military in civilian functions. The Office will be closely monitoring their application.

I note with interest the President’s recent meeting with some civil society leaders, and I encourage broader dialogue and steps to open Sri Lanka’s civic space.

Regrettably, surveillance, intimidation and judicial harassment of human rights defenders, journalists and families of the disappeared has not only continued, but has broadened to a wider spectrum of students, academics, medical professionals and religious leaders critical of government policies. Several peaceful protests and commemorations have been met with excessive use of force and the arrest or detention of demonstrators in quarantine centres.

New regulations on civil society groups are being drafted, and it is widely feared that they will further tighten restrictions on fundamental freedoms. I urge that the draft be made public to allow the broadest possible discussion.

I am concerned by developments in judicial proceedings in a number of emblematic human rights cases.  They include the Attorney General’s decision not to proceed with charges against former Navy commander Wasantha Karannagoda in the case of the enforced disappearances of 11 men in 2008 and 2009.

Despite various inquiries, the victims of the Easter Sunday bombings in 2019 and religious leaders continue to call urgently for truth and justice, and a full account of the circumstances that permitted those attacks.

The President’s recent pardon of a former member of parliament, Duminda Silva, who was convicted for killing a politician in 2011, also risks eroding confidence in the rule of law and judicial process.

I am deeply concerned about further deaths in police custody, and in the context of police encounters with alleged drug criminal gangs, as well as continuing reports of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials.

In March, new “de-radicalization” regulations were issued that permit arbitrary administrative detention of individuals for up to two years without trial.  I note that the Supreme Court has issued an interim stay order on their enforcement while it considers fundamental rights petitions to challenge the decree. The Government has also prescribed or listed over 300 Tamil and Muslim groups and individuals for alleged links to terrorist groups.

In June, 16 prisoners who had been convicted under the problematic Prevention of Terrorism Act, and who were nearing the end of their sentences, were pardoned. An Advisory Board has been established to which detainees under the Act can apply for their cases to be reviewed, and I urge a speedy resolution to these long-standing cases.

The Government has reaffirmed its intention to revisit the Act and established a Cabinet sub-committee for this purpose. However, I am deeply concerned about the continued use of the Act to arrest and detain people.

Lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah has now been detained for 16 months under the Act without credible evidence presented before a court. Likewise, Ahnaf Jazeem, a teacher and poet, has been detained without charge since May 2020.  I urge an immediate moratorium on the use of the Act, and that a clear timeline be set for its comprehensive review or repeal.

A National Policy for Reparations was approved in August, and reparation payments and reconciliation programs have continued. The Office of Missing Persons has also continued to operate – with a sixth regional office opened in Kilinochchi – but it needs to inspire confidence among victims.  I stress again the importance of transparent, victim-centred and gender sensitive approaches, and that reparations programs must be accompanied by broader truth and justice measures.

I note also that last month, the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions decided to initiate a special review of the national Human Rights Commission to determine its compliance with the Paris Principles, indicating its concerns about the appointment process of the Commission and its effectiveness in discharging its human rights mandate.



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Central Bank looking at proposal to permit dollar-paid vehicle imports

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Duty too must be paid in hard currency

The central bank is looking at a proposal to allow persons who can pay in foreign exchange to import vehicles and pay taxes in hard currency, Central Bank Governor Nivard Cabraal said last week.

He said that this was a proposal made by certain parties whom he did not identify making clear it was at a proposal stage with no decision taken. But it was under examination.

Asked whether Non-Resident Foreign Currency (NRFC) account holders – now called Personal Foreign Currency Accounts – would be permitted to use their resources to import a vehicle provided they would pay the applicable duty in hard currency, he said that he did not see why not.

“If the vehicle is paid for in hard currency and not converted rupees, and the duty also accrues to the government in hard currency, I don’t see any harm, in fact it would be good,” he said.

It would also mean that there’s are new vehicles coming into the country not paid for by rupees converted into hard currency plus a hard currency duty stream, an analyst said.

Banning vehicle imports on account of the present foreign exchange crunch has cost the government an immense revenue stream.

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Forex pressure eases – CB

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By Shyam Nuwan Ganewatte

The Central Bank says that pressure caused by shortage of foreign exchange is easing gradually towards better.

“Earnings from exports marked a notable improvement and recorded over US dollars 1 billion for the third consecutive month in August 2021. Expenditure on imports has also increased, partly reflecting the surge in global commodity prices, resulting in an expansion in the trade deficit during the eight months ending August 2021, over the corresponding period of last year. Outlook for tourism improved with the easing of travel restrictions globally and the successful vaccination drive domestically. Despite the moderation of workers’ remittances observed in recent months, a rebound is expected in the period ahead with the improved growth outlook for major foreign employment source countries and greater stability in the domestic foreign exchange market. The realisation of foreign investments in the real sector and the timely adoption of remedial measures by the Central Bank as enunciated in ‘The Six-month Road Map for Ensuring Macroeconomic and Financial System Stability’ are gradually easing pressures in the domestic foreign exchange market,” the Central Bank says.

The CBSL said that it continued to intervene in the foreign exchange market to provide liquidity for essential imports, including fuel. The depreciation of the Sri Lankan rupee against the US dollar is recorded at 6.8 per cent thus far in 2021.

It said that the gross official reserves were estimated at US dollars 2.6 billion by end September 2021. This, however, does not include the bilateral currency swap facility with the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) of CNY 10 billion (equivalent to approximately US dollars 1.5 billion). Gross official reserves are expected to improve with the measures that are being pursued by the Government and the Central Bank to attract fresh foreign exchange inflows, as outlined in the Six-month Road Map, thereby reinforcing the stability of the external sector in the period ahead.

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Samarasinha to promote ‘Commercial Diplomacy” among German states

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Nihal S. Samarasinha has been appointed as Honorary Consul of Sri Lanka for three Federal States in Germany, which includes Hessen, Rheinland Palatinate and Saarland.

He would be mainly promoting commecial diplomacy in the three states.

He presented his credentials to State Minister Axel Wintermeyer along with 18 other Consuls General and Honorary Consuls at the official State Residence Villa of the Minister President of Hessen.

Samarasinha, born in Sri Lanka and migrated to Germany in 1972 is the Chairman and Managing Director of Millennium Hospitality Advisory Company providing advisory services and managing and operating hotels of several international hotel brands based in Frankfurt am Main. He is an alumni of St. Joseph’s College, Colombo, and graduated from the Heidelberg Hotel School, Germany, American Hotel and Motel Association, Michigan USA; Holiday Inn University, Atlanta USA and from the Ramada International University, New York.

His focus in Finance throughout his career made him a proven financial expert with vast analytical skills.

 Samarasinha has held senior management positions in organisations such as Holiday Inn WorldWide (Europe) as Director of Finance; Canadian Pacific Hotels – Europe, Middle East, Africa (EMEA) as Regional Comptroller and Ramada International Hotels and Resorts as Vice-President of Finance and Internal Audit for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), India and Sri Lanka. He has been engaged in the hospitality industry since 1972 with remarkable success.

Over the years Samarasinha has developed strong bonds with Sri Lankans in all parts of Germany and had assisted them in numerous ways long before he was first appointed Honorary Consul for the Federal state of Rheinland Palatinate in 2010.

He is a co-founder of the Diplomatic Council in Frankfurt along with the former Sri Lanka’s Consul General in Frankfurt Buddhi Athauda, The Diplomatic Council acted as a springboard to promote Sri Lanka Tourism, Trade and Culture in an environment of commercial diplomacy.

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