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Violence: HRW urges world to pressure Sri Lanka to respect fundamental freedoms

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The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged foreign governments and international institutions, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, which are offering assistance, to address Sri Lanka’s economic crisis, to insist that the government respect fundamental freedoms.

The following is the text of a New York date-lined statement issued by HRW on May 10: Clashes broke out in Sri Lanka on May 9, 2022 after government supporters attacked peaceful anti-government protest sites in Colombo, the capital, and elsewhere. The government should uphold the right to peaceful protest, ensure that the security force response to public disorder is proportionate and rejects excessive force, and promptly investigate and appropriately prosecute acts of violence.

Several hundred people, identifying themselves as supporters of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, arrived by bus, in Colombo, on May 9, and advanced to the Galle Face Green, where protesters, calling for the resignation of the government, have been peacefully camped for several weeks. Witness accounts and video footage show government supporters attacking the protesters with clubs and other weapons and setting fire to tents. Hours later, Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned as Prime Minister.

“The attack on peaceful protesters by Sri Lankan government supporters has sparked a dangerous escalation, increasing the risk of further deadly violence and other abuses,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. “It is vitally important for the security forces to fully respect the right to peaceful assembly, and for those responsible for violence to be held to account.”

Kasumi Ranasinghe Arachchige, a protester who was at Galle Face Green, when the attack occurred, said that police forces at the scene, which included a water cannon truck, “retreated” when government supporters attacked protesters with knives and sticks. “They [government supporters] started destroying everything,” she said, describing damage to tents and other facilities, including temporary showers and a small library. “It seemed as if they knew what and who to look for.”

Over 150 people have been reported injured and at least five dead in different incidents, including the attack on Galle Face Green, and the government has imposed a nationwide curfew. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and the Bar Association, as well as foreign diplomats, condemned the attack on protesters and called for an impartial investigation.

In recent months, Sri Lanka’s economic crisis has provoked widespread protests calling for political reform and for the resignation of the President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and his brother Mahinda, the Prime Minister. On April 1, President Rajapaksa imposed a State of Emergency, lifting it five days later. The government reimposed a State of Emergency on May 6 after police fired teargas and arrested students protesting near Parliament, which was adjourned until May 17. Although the protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful, the police fatally shot a protester on April 19, and on several occasions have used teargas and water cannon against protesters. The authorities have made numerous arrests and repeatedly imposed curfews.

Following the attack on the protesters’ camp at the Galle Face Green, there were numerous violent incidents in Colombo and elsewhere in the country, including clashes between government supporters and anti-government protesters, and attacks on the property of ruling party politicians. In Nittambuwa, 50 kilometers from Colombo, police said that Amarakeerthi Athukorala, a government member of Parliament, opened fire on protesters blocking his car, wounding one and killing another, then fatally shot himself.

Concerned governments and international institutions, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, which are offering assistance to address the country’s economic crisis, should insist that the government respect fundamental freedoms, Human Rights Watch said.

The latest State of Emergency was imposed on May 6, but the government did not immediately publish the emergency regulations laying out the special powers assumed. Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Sri Lanka is a party, certain rights may be derogated, or restricted, under a State of Emergency, while other rights, including the right to life and prohibition of torture, may not under any circumstances be limited. Any derogation must be limited and proportionate. Foreign governments, including the United States and Canada, as well as the European Union, have questioned President Rajapaksa’s decision to assume emergency powers.

Sri Lanka has a poor record under successive administrations of investigating and prosecuting countless grave violations of human rights. During a previous government between 2005 and 2010, Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Mahinda Rajapaksa, as well as other senior figures in the current administration, were implicated in the killing and enforced disappearance of journalists and political activists and in numerous war crimes during the civil war that ended in May 2009.

“In recent weeks, thousands of Sri Lankans have peacefully protested against corruption and called for accountable governance and respect for human rights,” Ganguly said. “Pro-government supporters have responded to those calls with violence, which those in authority need to stop.”



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Pakistan Navy ship arrives in Colombo

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Pakistan Navy Ship (PNS) Taimur arrived, at the port of Colombo, on a formal visit, yesterday morning (12). The visiting ship was welcomed by the Sri Lanka Navy, in compliance with naval traditions.The 134m-long ship is commanded by Captain M. Yasir Tahir and it is manned by 169 as the ship’s complement.

The Commanding Officer of PNS Taimur is scheduled to call on Commander Western Naval Area, at the Western Naval Command Headquarters, today. The ship is expected to remain in the island, until 15th August, and the crew of the ship will take part in several programmes, organized by the Sri Lanka Navy, to promote cooperation and goodwill between the two navies.

PNS Taimur is also expected to conduct a naval exercise with the Sri Lanka Navy in western seas on its departure on 15th August.

Meanwhile, PNS Tughril, an identical warship belonging to the Pakistan Navy, arrived in Sri Lanka on an official visit on 13th December 2021 and conducted a successful naval exercise with SLNS Sindurala off the western coast on 16th December. Naval exercises of this nature with regional navies will enable each partner to overcome common maritime challenges in the future, through enhanced cooperation.

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Stalin reads riot act to govt. over proposal to allow schoolchildren to work part time

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Alliance of Trade Unions and Mass Organisations yesterday warned that the government’s decision to allow schoolchildren, between the ages of 16 and 20, to work part time, would have disastrous consequences.Addressing the media on 11 Aug., General Secretary of the Ceylon Teachers’ Union, Joseph Stalin, said that the government was planning to amend laws, allowing schoolchildren to work in the private sector for 20 hours a week.

“Now, this may look like a progressive idea. A lot of families are

struggling and if another family member can chip in, it would be a great help. I am sure a lot of children feel the same way. It is also true that there may be children who will find great jobs and horn their skills,” he said.However, these proposals have come at a time when education is in crisis and the schools are on the verge of collapse.

“During the last two and a half years, most children have learnt nothing. But children who go to elite schools are doing better. These schools have systems in place, but most others don’t. Children who do not go to tier one schools have suffered and most children who do not go to such elite schools will not find part time work that will prepare them for the jobs of the future,” he said. “It’s not easy to balance school work with vocation training, especially physically intensive work. Most people will drop out and social mobility will further stagnate. Fix the education system first and create a more level playing field,” Stalin said.

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Harsha: Will RW use Emergency to steamroller his economic reforms?

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By Saman Indrajith

SJB MP Harsha de Silva yesterday asked President Ranil Wickremesinghe whether the latter was planning to use Emergency powers to suppress the people who might oppose his economic reform agenda.

“It is being asked why the government wants to continue the State of Emergency. The anti-government protesters have gone home. There is no unrest. There are those who say that the President wants to keep the Emergency laws to carry out economic reforms. Does that mean the President will use these laws to scare people into submission if they do not accept his economic reforms? I don’t think people can be intimidated. I want the President to answer this question,” he said.

MP de Silva said that the government did not have public support and that it was obvious that the spectre of the Rajapaksas was haunting the government.

“I agree that Wickremesinghe was appointed constitutionally. We have to work within the Constitution. However, the 134 votes he received on 20 July were not realistic. They have managed to manipulate the Constitution, but the government doesn’t have the support of the people. The problem is can the government win the support of the people,” he said.The SJB lawmaker added that Sri Lanka needed to restructure its debt. However, the country had not even started the process.

“One of the consultants we hired, Lazard, says that we have to start with China because it is new to debt restructuring. But we have not done so. Not only that, we have in fact started a diplomatic issue with China. What’s the front page news today? Can this government solve this sensitive international issue? Can it carry out the necessary economic reforms?” he asked.

MP de Silva said that the government had to work with the people and that it had to be honest with them. The government needed to present a common programme on which an all party government could be established.

“In 2020, we said that the government was on the wrong path and that we needed to seek IMF assistance. The government didn’t listen. We need an all-party programme to go before the IMF and get a decent deal. Today, I present to Parliament an economic recovery plan we have prepared. When we decided to throw our weight behind SLPP MP Dullas Alahapperuma, I was entrusted with the task of making an economic plan. We have run it through experts too. I ask the MPs to look at this and suggest improvements.”

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