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War crimes allegations: SLAF Chief’s diplomatic appointment rejected again

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Govt. yet to take up the issue at hand, Parliament silent 

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The government is now planning to appoint retired SLAF Commander Air Marhal Sumangala Dias as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Malaysia.

Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Malaysia AM Kapila Jayampathy, who, too, served as the Commander of the SLAF previously, is likely to complete his term next December.

Having served the SLAF since 1984, Air Marshal Dias retired on Nov 02, 2020, as the SLAF’s 17th Commander. The Island learns that the government has been compelled to look for a new station in the wake of European Union member Italy’s refusal to accept Air Marshal Dias as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador there.

Authoritative sources said that retired senior members of the Sri Lankan military had been rejected on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes accusations. Some countries have declined to issue visas even for private visits, sources said. They cited Australia’s refusal to issue visa to General Chagie Gallage, before his retirement, and the US slapping a travel ban on General Shavendra Silva, who is also the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).

Earlier, the government sought to appoint the retired Air Marshal as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Canada, a member of Sri Lanka Core Group, in Geneva, spearheading accountability issues. Canada campaigned for the resolution adopted on March 23 at the UNHRC with 22 countries voting for, 11 against and 14 abstentions.

Authoritative sources said that there hadn’t been a single specific accusation against Dias.

The Canadian High Commission declined to comment on the matter. Asked for clarification regarding Sri Lanka’s request and Canadian denial, the HC said that ‘as it is subject to state-to-state confidentiality, we do not comment on the process.”

The Island

sought Canadian HC’s response in the wake of the Air Marshal, receiving parliamentary approval.

The Communications Department of the Parliament on April 23, 2021, quoted the Secretary General of Parliament, Dhammika Dasanayake, as having said that the Parliamentary High Posts Committee, chaired by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, had approved Air Marshal Dias and P.M. Amza as Sri Lanka’s envoys in Canada and Saudi Arabia, respectively. The Secretary General made no reference to those countries declining to accept previous nominations. Amza held the rank of Acting Additional Secretary, Foreign Ministry.

Due to Canada and Saudi Arabia refusing to accept retired Air Marshal Sumangala Dias and Ahmed A. Jawad, respectively, as heads of Sri Lankan missions, Parliament made the April 23 announcement.

The government announced the appointment of AM Dias, as well as Ahmed A. Jawad, in late Oct 2020. The HPC approved their appointments the following month. Sources said that Saudi Arabia rejected Jawad’s appointment as he served as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Riyadh at the time teenage Sri Lankan maid Rizana Nafeek was beheaded in early January 2013. The then Rajapaksa administration protested the Saudi execution by recalling Ahmed. Saudi Arabia, too, recalled its envoy. Sources said that HPC should have considered Nafeek’s incident before making the announcement.

The Island

 raised the issues at hand with the Public Diplomacy Division of the Foreign Ministry.

The Island:

What is the status of the move to appoint retired AM Dias as Ambassador in Rome?

FM:

Air Marshal Sumangala Dias has not been appointed as the Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Italy.

The Island:

On what grounds Ottawa declined to accept AM Dias as HC?

FM:

The Government of Canada has not declined the nomination of AM Dias as the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka.

The Island:

When will civil society activist Harsha Kumara Navaratne, who recently resigned from the Human Rights Commission, leave for Ottawa?

FM:

The new High Commissioner-Designate of Sri Lanka to Canada, Harsha Kumara Navaratne, is expected to take up duties at the Mission shortly.

The Island:

How many foreign missions do we have?

FM:

The Government has established a total number of 66 diplomatic missions, excluding the Embassy of Sri Lanka, in Kabul, Afghanistan, temporarily closed due to the current developments in that country. The network of Sri Lanka’s diplomatic missions comprises 36 Embassies, 13 High Commissions, 02 Permanent Missions to the United Nations, 01 Deputy High Commissioner’s Office, 13 Consulates-General, and 01 Representative Office abroad.

The FM said that the Heads of Missions/Posts of Sri Lanka consists of a total number of 29 career officers appointed from the Sri Lanka Foreign Service, two career officers from the Department of Commerce, and 21 non-career personnel (excluding the Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Afghanistan whose tenure was concluded recently), serving as Heads of Mission/Post abroad.

Responding to another query, the FM said that 14 Sri Lanka Heads of Missions/Posts remained vacant excluding the Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Afghanistan. Accordingly, the Government of Sri Lanka was in the process of formalising appointments of new Heads of Missions/Posts to those vacant, posts as appropriate in collaboration with the receiving states, the FM said.

Ministerial sources said that Parliamentary High Posts Committee (HPC) chaired by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena should seriously consider the issue at hand. The rejection of diplomatic appointments and visas in respect of private visits on the basis of unproved war crimes accusations should be properly dealt with. War winning Army Commander Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, a current member of the HPC, too, remained blacklisted by the US.



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Prelates launch legal battle against New Fortress

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by A. J. A. Abeynayake

Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith and Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera yesterday filed a fundamental rights petition before the Supreme Court against the transfer of shares of the Yugadanavi LNG Power Plant in Kerawalapitiya to a US energy firm.

The petition seeks an order preventing the US firm New Fortress Inc. from obtaining the LNG supply contract.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, other members of the Cabinet, West Coast Power Limited, the owner of the 310 MW Yugadanavi Power Plant, the US-based company New Fortress Energy and the Attorney General are among the 54 respondents named in the FR petition.

The petition requests the court to issue an order to nullify the Cabinet decision on transferring state-owned shares of the Yugadanavi power plant to the US company.

The petition states that the decision taken by the Cabinet of Ministers to transfer 40% stake in the company owning the Yugadanavi Power Plant to the US firm in question was not justified. It also says the Cabinet failed to focus on issues such as the national economy and national security before taking the relevant decisions.

The petitioners have requested the Court to declare that their fundamental rights as well as the rights of the entire citizenry and their future generations guaranteed to them under Article 12(1) of the Constitution have been infringed and/or are continuing to be infringed and/or are in imminent danger of being infringed by the actions of the Respondents with regard to the Yugadanavi deal.

They have requested the Court to quash the decision of the Cabinet authorising the procurement of LNG from the 53rd respondent – the New Fortress Energy.

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Financial crisis so acute teachers’ demands cannot be met – SLPP Chairman

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300,000 entering schools for first time this year among those victimised

By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP Chairman and Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris yesterday (18) emphasised that the worsening financial crisis experienced by the country was so acute the government wasn’t in a position to grant the salary increase sought by school principals and teachers.

Prof. Peiris, who served as the Education Minister till August this year said that the public realised the government lacked the wherewithal to meet the striking teachers’ demands. The academic said so at the weekly SLPP media briefing at the party office in Battaramulla.

Responding to media queries, Prof. Peiris stressed that the government expected the striking teachers to facilitate re-opening of schools on a staggered basis beginning Oct 21 (Thursday). The Minister indicated that striking unions shouldn’t expect to settle the salary issue on their terms as the government lacked the means even if it wanted to do so.

Referring to the rapid deterioration of public finances in the wake of Covid-19 eruption in early 2020, Prof. Peiris said that Budget 2022 was presented amidst an extremely difficult time.

The top SLPP spokesperson reiterated the government’s commitment to grant strikers’ demand in two stages as announced by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa at a meeting with striking unions at Temple Trees. Premier Rajapaksa on Oct 12 told a delegation of striking unions that the government would pay one third of the increase through the Budget 2022 and the remaining two in the following year’s budget.

The Premier’s Office quoted him as having told the delegates that the sharp drop in government income deprived the administration of an opportunity to grant the increase. Striking unions want the government to settle the issues immediately in one go.

Prof. Peiris appealed to those who have been on strike for 100 days to resume teaching. The student community really suffered due to the Covid 19 eruption and further delay in resuming studies would be catastrophic, Prof. Peiris said, underscoring the importance of restoring normalcy as about 300,000 would go to schools for the first time in their life.

Prof. Peiris said that schools that conduct classes from Grade 1 to 5 and those with less than 200 students would be re-opened on Oct 21. According to the minister, approximately 3,800 schools would be re-opened as scheduled.

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Lankan authorities must end violence and discrimination against Muslims, says AI

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Kyle Ward, AI’s Deputy Secretary General

The Lankan Muslim community has suffered consistent discrimination, harassment and violence, since 2013, culminating in the adoption of government policies explicitly targeting the minority group, said Amnesty International, in a new report published yesterday.

The report titled From Burning Houses to Burning Bodies: Anti-Muslim Harassment, Discrimination and Violence in Sri Lanka, traces the development of anti-Muslim sentiment in Sri Lanka since 2013 amid surging Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism. This discrimination has evolved from a rising series of mob attacks committed with impunity, into government policies explicitly discriminating against Muslims, including the forced cremation of Muslim Covid-19 victims and current proposals to ban both the niqab (face veil) and madrasas (religious schools).

“While anti-Muslim sentiment in Sri Lanka is nothing new, the situation has regressed sharply in recent years. Incidents of violence against Muslims, committed with the tacit approval of the authorities, have occurred with alarming frequency. This has been accompanied by the adoption by the current government of rhetoric and policies that have been openly hostile to Muslims,” said Kyle Ward, Amnesty International’s Deputy Secretary General.

“The Sri Lankan authorities must break this alarming trend and uphold their duty to protect Muslims from further attacks, hold perpetrators accountable and end the use of government policies to target, harass and discriminate against the Muslim community.”

Incidents of violence towards Muslims have risen in frequency and intensity since 2013, with a series of flashpoints in which attackers and those responsible for hate speech have enjoyed impunity for their actions.

This escalating hostility began with the anti-halal campaign of that year, when Sinhala Buddhist nationalist groups successfully lobbied to end the halal certification of food, which demarks food permissible for consumption by Muslims, in accordance with Islamic scripture and customs. The campaign gave rise to a number of attacks on mosques and Muslim businesses, with the lack of accountability for those responsible acting as a signal to others that acts of violence against Muslims could be committed with impunity.

The following year, anti-Muslim riots in the southern coastal town of Aluthgama began after a Sinhala Buddhist nationalist group held a rally in the town. Here too, perpetrators of violence enjoyed impunity and authorities failed to deliver justice to victims.

Despite a new government in 2015, which promised justice and accountability for ethnic and religious minorities, attacks against Muslims continued to occur. Shortly after the election, anti-Muslim mob violence flared in the southern coastal town of Ginthota in 2017, while similar violence was seen in 2018 in Digana and Ampara, towns in the central and eastern provinces respectively. Not only did the perpetrators escape accountability, victims and witnesses alleged the police and armed forces did not offer sufficient protection or act to prevent the violence.

Hostility towards Muslims increased markedly after more than 250 people were killed in coordinated suicide attacks committed by a local Islamist group and claimed by the Islamic State on Easter Sunday 2019.

Following these attacks, on 13 May 2019, Muslims in several towns in the North-Western Province of Sri Lanka came under attack during Ramadan, one of the holiest months in the Muslim calendar. Mosques across the country were also attacked and a spate of ‘hate speech’ posts and anti-Muslim vitriol was seen on social media. Emergency regulations rushed through by the authorities were also used to arbitrarily arrest hundreds of Muslims in the wake of the attacks.

Since taking office, the current government has continued to target and scapegoat the Muslim population to distract from political and economic issues.

This was evident in the mandatory cremation policy on the disposal of the bodies of Covid-19 victims, which was implemented despite cremation being expressly forbidden in Islam, and a lack of scientific evidence to substantiate the claims that burying victims would further the spread of the disease.

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