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UNHRC resolution against SL disappointing as no recommendation to refer to ICC for criminal accountability – Labor MP

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by Sujeewa Nivunhella in London

Labor MP Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) said the UNHRC resolution against Sri Lanka disappointingly falls short as there is no recommendation to pursue criminal accountability by referral to the International Criminal Court.

“I could barely believe my eyes reading the Government’s reasoning, citing “insufficient…Security Council support”. Who are we to cast the veto for China or Russia before they have done so themselves? Our role on the international stage must be to send the loudest message that impunity will not be tolerated, not to preempt the inaction of other nations”, she said during the House of Commons debate on UK’s commitment to Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka, on March 18.

“Why have we not applied sanctions against those credibly accused of gross human rights violations? The US has designated General Silva and his immediate family over his role in extrajudicial killing of Tamils. It is an immediate step that we could take and the Minister cannot point to a veto as an excuse for our inaction. We must ensure a coherent approach to aid, trade and diplomatic and military engagement with Sri Lanka, consistent with the international obligations to human rights. That is long overdue”, he said.

She further said that human rights are under attack in Sri Lanka again, with President Rajapaksa waging a campaign of war. Many of those who face serious wartime abuse allegations have been appointed to senior Government positions. Members of the Rajapaksa family hold nine ministerial roles, including seven Cabinet posts, and manage almost a quarter of the budget. It is total control. President Rajapaksa even pardoned one of the few members of the security forces to be convicted of human rights violations, Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake. That was unsurprising, given his stated determination to protect so-called war heroes during the presidential campaign.

McDonagh said this House notes with concern the reports of a systematic attack in Sri Lanka on democratic governance, the rule of law and human rights including renewed discrimination against the Tamil and Muslim communities; is profoundly concerned that the Sri Lankan Government has refused to investigate accusations of war crimes including by key members of the current government and has withdrawn from the UN Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1; welcomes the significant leadership role played by successive UK Governments at the Human Rights Council and urges the Government to provide clear policy direction and leadership to ensure a new substantive resolution is passed at the upcoming Council session in March 2021 that will enable continued monitoring by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and mandate a mechanism to gather, preserve and analyse evidence of violations for future investigations and prosecutions; and calls upon the Government to develop a consistent and coherent policy to assist the Sri Lankan people through its trade, investment and aid programs, and in its diplomatic and military relations.

The current Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, was President and his brother Gotabaya, the current President, was Defence Secretary. They are the present-day link to the atrocities of the past. The bombing of the Government-designated no-fire zone, where Tamil civilians took refuge, is as utterly horrifying today as it was 12 years ago, as are the findings of experts that Government forces even systematically shelled hospitals, she alleged.

The pursuit of justice must now move decisively forward with more sincerity from the international community. The Human Rights Council meeting happening now provides the perfect opportunity. Before turning to today’s resolution, it is important to consider the resolution that came before. Passed in 2015, with the consensus of Sri Lanka, it promised the establishment of a process of justice, accountability, reform and reconciliation, but six years on, Sri Lanka has made it clear that it has absolutely no intention of pursuing prosecutions or legal redress for war crimes. Its withdrawal from the process altogether could not have spelled this out more clearly, the MP noted.

The little progress made has been rolled right back. The ongoing Human Rights Council meeting is our chance to finally secure progress, making it clear that a country cannot fail to fulfill international commitments. To do so risks undermining the credibility of the council as a mechanism of accountability, she continued.

“This is not just about the human rights of Tamils: the Rajapaksa Government even insisted on the forced cremation of those who died from coronavirus, thereby disregarding the religious beliefs of the Christian and Muslim communities in the country. The ongoing attack on human rights is undeniable. As we are a penholder to the UN resolution, the world will watch closely the strength of our response”, he added.

Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con) [V] said the recent infringements on human rights have been on the rise. Those have included the forced cremations of covid-19 victims, regardless of their religious beliefs, causing grief and anguish to Sri Lankan Christians, Muslims and others. The police criminal investigation department has been repeatedly visiting members of advocacy groups on the island who are campaigning for justice following the disappearance of their family members during the war.

“We must act now, before the conclusion of the UNHRC session at the end of the month, to ensure that there is a true international accountability mechanism in place. Only then can we hope to bring about truth, justice, reconciliation and accountability for all in Sri Lanka, as well as for the Tamil diaspora—not just in Carshalton and Wallington, but across the world”, the MP said.

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con) [V) urged the Sri Lankan Government to engage in a process that has the confidence of all on the island. But it would be remiss to state that the current Sri Lankan Government have failed to act. The Office on Missing Persons and the Office for Reparations are to be retained and strengthened, so that communities may build trust. It will be good to see reform of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and progress on the release of political prisoners.

The Minister for Asia (Nigel Adams) said human rights in Sri Lanka are an important issue and a long-standing priority both for the UK Government and for many fellow Members. This debate is timely, coming during the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council, which began on 22 February. The human rights situation in Sri Lanka and the limited progress on reconciliation and accountability raised by many Members are deeply concerning, he said.

The Sri Lankan Government announced a domestic mechanism on accountability. As with previous domestic initiatives, however, meaningful progress has yet to be delivered. There have also been a number of setbacks on accountability, including the appointment into Government positions of military figures accused of war crimes.

As the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) pointed out, they also include the presidential pardon of former army sergeant, Sunil Ratnayake, one of the few perpetrators of war crime atrocities to have been convicted in Sri Lanka, the Minister noted.

Other worrying human rights developments include the continued harassment and surveillance of minorities and civil society groups, he added.

MPs Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con) [V], Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con),

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab), Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con) [V],

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con) Sam Tarry (Ilford South) (Lab),

Anthony Mangnall (Totnes) (Con) and Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab) also spoke during the hours-long debate.



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AG says no legal impediment to Bathiudeen attending Parliament

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Public Security Minister: Those detained under PTA shouldn’t be allowed in

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, says there is no legal impediment to Opposition MP Rishad Bathiudeen attending Parliament while being detained in terms of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

The CID arrested the leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) in the early hours of April 24 for aiding and abetting the 2019 Easter Sunday suicide bombers.

Multiple blasts in different locations killed 270 people and wounded about 500.

The AG set the record straight in the wake of the CID failing to arrange for MP Bathiudeen to attend Parliament on May 4 and 5.

The Island learns that Police Headquarters recently consulted the AG as regards the legality of the Vanni District SJB MP attending parliamentary sessions and the SJB, on his behalf, requested the Speaker to facilitate the arrangements.

The ACMC contested the last general election on the SJB ticket. Its parliamentary group comprises four, including Bathiudeen.

The police sought the AG’s advice after having received a missive from Serjeant at arms Narendra Fernando in that regard. The AG has advised the police that MP Bathiudeen could attend parliamentary sessions.

However, Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera has advised the police against the ACMC leader attending Parliament. The Minister has issued instructions in this regard having requested the Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to prevent those detained under the PTA from attending parliament.

MP Bathiudeen has been detained for a period of 90 days pending investigations. His brother Riyajj too has been detained under PTA for 90 days.

 Minister Weerasekera, in Parliament yesterday (5) defended his decision to prevent MP Bathiudeen from attending parliament. Dismissing concerns raised by SJB MP Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran about the ACMC leader being deprived of his right to attend parliament sessions, Minister Weerasekera emphasized that he was responsible for public security.

Minister Weerasekera reminded Speaker Abeywardena that he had requested him not to allow anyone detained under PTA to attend parliament pending conclusion of investigations.

Weerasekera said that the CID wouldn’t have detained the MP concerned without valid reasons.

Perhaps, Field Marshal Fonseka had no concerns for public security, the former Navy Chief of Staff said, emphasising that the government wouldn’t conduct investigations the way the former Army Commander and the TNA spokesman desired.

Bathiudeen earlier served in the Cabinets of President Mahinda Rajapaksa (2010-2014) and President Maithripala Sirisena (2015-2019). The ACMC switched its allegiance to SJB at the 2020 August parliamentary election after having backed Sajith Premadasa’s candidature at the 2019 presidential.

Bathiudeens’ lawyer Rushdhie Habeeb told The Island that the decision to prevent MP Bathiudeen from attending parliament was political. Habeeb said that the issue at hand would be raised vigorously, both here and abroad, and a media briefing would be called soon to explain the situation.

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MONLAR draws attention to ticking COVID time bomb in plantations

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A large number of estate workers had been diagnosed with COVID-19, and given the generally congested living environment and lack of health facilities on plantations, the entire estate sector was a ticking time bomb, Moderator of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) Chinthaka Rajapakshe said yesterday.

Rajapakshe told The Island  that the latest outbreak on the estates had occurred after the return of some persons from Colombo during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

“We had warned that this would happen. People kept on returning home although the preparedness of the plantation economy to face a COVID-19 outbreak was non-existent.”

 “If one person gets it, the entire line will get it, and therefore urgent steps should be taken to minimise COVID-19 spread,” Rajapakshe said, adding that such an eventuality would not only destroy lives but also cripple the plantation sector, causing an enormous loss to the state coffers.

 

 

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Clandestine dealings of fishers will precipitate spread of deadly Indian variant here – Expert

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

There was a risk of the deadly Indian COVID-19 variant spreading to Sri Lanka as well, Chief Epidemiologist of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Sudath Samaraweera told the media yesterday in Colombo.

Dr. Samaraweera said that Sri Lankan fishermen continued to interact with their Indian counterparts in mid-sea and therefore it was only a matter of time before the Indian variant entered Sri Lanka.

“We must be extremely vigilant. We have seen the devastation caused by this variant in India. These mid-sea interactions by the fishing community must be stopped.”

Dr. Samaraweera added that although the Dambulla Economic Centre

had been reopened for business yesterday morning, health officials had been compelled to close five shops as their owners violated the Covid-19 protocol.    

“This is a commercial hub where people from all parts of the country converge. So, if there are COVID-19 cases here, then it will spread across the country. Therefore, people have to act carefully and responsibly.”

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