British MPs to debate Sri Lanka human rights record

The highly controversial and draconian Law-Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) has come in for international focus and condemnation once again.

From the UN Human Rights Council to a US Congressman and British MPs along with International organizations and groups, human rights activists have called on the island nation to repeal the law and respect its Human Rights obligations.

Now, the British Parliament will debate on the Sri Lankan Tamils and Human Rights in the Westminster Hall. This debate comes in the backdrop of continuing arrests by the Sri Lankan state security agencies in particular the Counter Terrorism Investigation Department (CTID) dubbed the “Terror Police” in connection with events related to the “Maaveerar Naal” this year, when the Tamils mourn their war-dead every year on 27 November.

As many as 11 have been arrested this week. The event is scheduled for Tuesday (5), from 2.30-4.00 pm, which is 8:00 to 9:30 pm Sri Lanka time. MP’s cutting across parties are expected to participate in the debate.

The debate will be led by Martyn Day MP from the Scottish National Party. A detailed briefing note has been circulated to the MPs. Allegations of war crimes against the oversized army dominated by the majority Sinhalese find a mention in the background paper.

“Sri Lanka’s relationship with the rest of the world has been strongly shaped since then by allegations that the army committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the final phase of the civil war. A UN Panel of Experts reported in April 2011 that there were ‘credible allegations’ of those crimes by both government and Tamil Tiger forces”.

The Sri Lankan Government in power in the final phase of the war denied many of the accusations of crimes made against the military and civilian Government at the time, and argued Tamil forces had used civilians as “human shields”, says the note circulated to the British Members of Parliament.

Asserting Sri Lanka is one of their priority countries on Human Rights issues, it reminds the MPs of its annual report this year.

“Sri Lanka is one of the UK’s 32 ‘human rights priority countries’ as identified by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). The FCDO’s annual human rights and democracy report published in July 2023, looking back at 2022, highlights the treatment of Tamils and minority religious groups in Sri Lanka as a human rights concern”.

In its report for the current year, the FCDO has detailed the continued state oppression on various fronts and how even fundamental religious rights are being denied to minorities.

“Minority communities faced continued marginalization by state authorities. State-supported land appropriation, so-called ‘land grabs’, sparked concerns over their impact on demographics in the north and east and their impact on the freedom of belief of non-Buddhist denominations. Security forces continued to disrupt Tamil commemorative events for victims of Sri Lanka’s armed conflict, and arbitrarily accused Tamils of links to terrorist organizations”.

In the briefing note compiled by ‘Subject specialist’ John Curtis and circulated by the House of Commons Library, the woes of the families of missing persons and the President’s planned meeting with Tamil political parties.

“Activists and families of the disappeared in the north-east faced surveillance, harassment, and intimidation by security forces. President Wickremesinghe committed to pursue a political solution with Tamil parties in December. Eight proscribed Tamil Diaspora organizations were also delisted, although some Muslim welfare organizations and individuals, including poet Ahnaf Jazeem, remained listed”.

With reference to various news reports as well as reports from international Human Rights bodies including the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the UN, the background paper speaks about the draconian nature of the PTA and its brutal misuse.

“Amnesty International in its 2023 assessment of human rights in Sri Lanka, states that despite amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), Muslim and Tamil minorities remained disproportionately affected by the use of the PTA”.

The US State Department’s report on human rights in Sri Lanka published in 2023, and looking at the events of 2022, describing how Tamils in the country report systemic discrimination also forms part of the briefing to the MPs.

That report from the US State Department describes how the military monitors Tamil journalists, requesting “copies of photographs, lists of attendees at events, and names of sources for articles”, and intimidated to “refrain from reporting on sensitive events, such as Tamil war commemorations or land occupation protests, as well as on posting anything related to former LTTE leaders”, stating that they “feared repercussions if they did not cooperate”.

“Both local and Indian-origin Tamils maintained that they suffered longstanding, systematic discrimination in university education, government employment, housing, health services, language laws, and procedures for naturalization of noncitizens”, the US report further adds.

US Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, representing the 8th Congressional District of Illinois tweeted on Saturday (1) about the misuse of PTA in Sri Lanka. “I am deeply concerned by the recent arrest of Tamils in North-East Sri Lanka during their peaceful commemorations. These arrests under the PTA are the latest in a historical pattern of Sri Lankan Police attempting to prevent Tamil memorialization,” Congressman Krishnamoorthi said.

His comments were echoed by the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung. “It’s vital to ensure freedom of expression and humane treatment of those in custody” she commented on X.

Ambassadors of Canada and Switzerland too have called upon the government to repeal the PTA and ensure Human Rights are protected.

Russia, India JV to operate Mattala Airport?

Sri Lanka has decided to hand over the operations of the Mattala International Airport to a private Russian, Indian joint venture.

Ports and Aviation Services Secretary K. D. S. Ruwanchandra speaking to News 1st said that discussions on the matter on Tuesday (5) were successful.

Accordingly, an agreement will be inked in the near future.

As per the agreement, all operations at the Mattala International Airport will be carried out by the Russian, Indian Private Joint Venture.

The secretary added that this company will also pay the salaries and wages of the airport staff.

He went on to note that a portion of the revenue generated by the private JV in operating the Mattala International Airport will be provided to the state.

The Sri Lankan government currently spends over Rs. 2 Billion to operate and maintain the Mattala International Airport, and with this latest move, such a massive cost can be saved.

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Sri Lanka to receive about $600mn ADB funding post-IMF approval

Sri Lanka will get about $600 million, on a staggered basis, from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) releases the second tranche of a $2.9 billion bailout for the crisis-hit country, an official said on Tuesday.

Sri Lanka is inching out of its worst financial crisis in decades, triggered by record-low foreign exchange reserves last year that saw its economy contract 7.8% in 2022.

The island’s economy has been gradually stabilising after locking down a four-year programme with the IMF in March. Its first review is expected to be approved by the global lender next week, which will release a second tranche of about $334 million in funding.

Alongside the IMF programme the Asian Development Bank is likely to provide total budget support of $2 billion over the next four years, said ADB, Sri Lanka Resident Mission, Country Director Takafumi Kadono.

“I would say $500 million to $600 million budget support is what is planned (for 2024) but, again, it is subject to attainment, satisfying the policy actions, so it’s not free money,” Kadono said in an interview with Reuters.

The bulk of the support will likely be extended next year in a combination of policy-based loans and project lending.

The first instalment of $200 million is tabled for ADB Board support on Dec. 8 but will only be given to Sri Lanka after the IMF approves its first review on Dec. 12.

Another $200 million for power sector reforms is expected in 2024, along with $100 million to the water sector and $50-$70 million for the tourism sector.

An additional $100 million is earmarked in ADB support to improve access to financing for small- and medium-sized enterprises, along with another $100 million to improve public finance and debt management.

Sri Lanka has to remain committed to pushing forward reforms pledged under the IMF programme, Kadono said, which include restructuring its loss-making state enterprises, reducing budget deficits and improving governance.

“These are not bandage measures. I think Sri Lanka has done a lot of that in the past so, I think it’s really time to fix the fundamentals of the economy and to address these latent weaknesses in the economy and the institutions,” Kadono said.

Source: Reuters

Plot to ‘accidentally’ bump off Shani?

The Attorney General (AG) informed the Court of Appeal (CA) on Monday (4) that intelligence agencies had uncovered information regarding an alleged conspiracy to assassinate the former Director of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), Senior Superintendent of Police Shani Abeysekara, by staging an accident while he was travelling.

Additional Solicitor General, President’s Counsel (PC) Rohantha Abeysuriya, who appeared on behalf of the AG, revealed this to the Court when the writ petition filed by Abeysekara – requesting the Court to issue a directive to respondents including the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to provide adequate protection for him due to threats to his life – was taken up for consideration. The writ was called before a bench of judges comprising CA President Justice Nissanka Bandula Karunaratne and Justice Vikum A. Kaluarachchi.

The Court had previously issued an order to the National Authority for the Protection of Victims of Crimes and Witnesses to submit a report on the nature of the threats against Abeysekara. When the petition was called before the Court on Monday, Abeysuriya stated that the Intelligence Division of the said Authority had sent a report detailing the nature of the threats against the petitioner.

Upul Jayasuriya PC, who appeared for Abeysekara, presented facts before the Court and said that they cannot be satisfied at all with the protection presently given to his client. Pointing out that only an old motorcycle and three police officers have been deployed for Abeysekara’s protection, he alleged that although the said Authority had issued a directive to the IGP to provide adequate protection to the petitioner, it had not been fulfilled thus far.

Speaking to The Daily Morning, Jayasuriya PC said that they had requested a court order for increased security protection and are presently awaiting the same.

After considering all facts presented, the Court ordered the petition to be taken up once again on 14 December to issue an appropriate order regarding the petition.

National Authority for the Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses Chairman Suhada Gamlath PC was not available for comment while Police Media Spokesperson, Senior Superintendent of Police and attorney Nihal Thalduwa said that he would have to contact the CID regarding the same.

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Parliament to be prorogued in January?

President Ranil Wickremesinghe is reported to be mulling prorogation of Parliament by the middle of January, next year.

Once Parliament is prorogued, pending businesses before the House will lapse, and the new Parliament, once convened by the President, has to resume them afresh. The Speaker and the MPs will continue to function.

The President can prorogue Parliament for a maximum period of two months. In the proclamation announcing the prorogation, the new date for the convening of the House should be announced. At the end of a prorogation, a new Session begins and is ceremonially declared open by the President. He is empowered under the Constitution to make a statement of government Policy in terms of the provisions stipulated in Paragraph (2) of Article 33 of the Constitution.

Following prorogation, the committees including the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) cease to function.

An inside source said prorogation is meant to make way for the appointment of a new COPE chairman instead of current Chairman SLPP MP Prof. Ranjith Bandara who is facing allegations. Prof. Bandara was accused of acting with a conflict of interests with Sri Lanka Cricket as COPE chairman.

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa charged that Prof. Bandara was a consultant for SLC for a project called Kandy Cricket Campus. Controversy surrounds the presence of Prof. Bandara at the COPE sessions. The COPE later decided to discuss SLC matters with Prof. Bandara in the chair.

Also, the current sectorial oversight committees will be renewed once the new session begins after prorogation. The current Parliament constituted in 2020 has had three sessions so far.

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Jaffna civil society’s laudable attempt to unite Tamil political parties

Recently, a discussion was held at the Thanthai Selva Kalaiyarangam in Jaffna to foster unity among Tamil political parties. It was organized by a North-East civil society group called the People’s Petition Committee. Two political analysts and a journalist presented their views there.

The former Vice-Chancellor of Jaffna University. Prof. Pon. Balasundarampillai, presided over the discussion where most of the audience were politicians and political and social activists. Leaders of important North-Eastern Tamil parties also attended and listened to the speeches. The forum gave an opportunity to convey the need for unity.

In the last few days, political observers expressed opinions in the media. Some Tamil newspapers commented on it editorially. But most Tamil politicians didn’t seem to have cared much about it. There is no news that they have made any comment in public about the discussion at Jaffna.

There have been various criticisms about the background of the concept. Some media even claimed that some embassies encouraged the civil society group to organize the debate. Be that as it may, what is the need to find fault with the civil society’s concern for reunification among Tamil parties?

On the one hand, there is the question of how practical it is to bring Tamil parties together in the current situation, while on the other hand, there is the question as to how essential unity is, in a situation where political parties are badly divided and scattered.

Political analysts, journalists and even politicians often say and write that the path to move the struggle for the political rights of the Tamil people to the next level in the post-war period should be sanely and soberly followed by learning proper lessons from past experiences and applying them to the contemporary domestic and international situation.

But most of the time, no one, especially politicians, can claim to have learnt lessons from past experience and acted accordingly. In fact, as the German philosopher Hegel said, the only lesson we learn from history is that no one learns from history.

Although it is the wish of the Tamil people that the leaders of the Tamil parties should work together to find a solution to their problems, the reason why it cannot emerge as a popular demand at the present moment is because they have largely lost faith in Tamil politicians and their activities.

Following the rejection of the legitimate political aspirations of the Tamil people by the First Republican Constitution (the 1972 constitution) brought into being during the United Front Government led by Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike, the leaders of the Tamil parties of that day forgot their party political differences and formed the Tamil United Liberation Front to carry forward the struggle for Tamil rights.

Never before in the political history of Sri Lankan Tamils have the Tamils seen such a passionate urge for unity among the Tamil parties. After a half a century, there is now talk of unity, when a large section of Tamils is still struggling to return to normal lives after experiencing great destruction and loss of life in the three-decade long civil war. And yet, 15 years have passed since the end of the Civil War and Tamil political unity remains a mirage.

Immediately after the end of the war there was no cohesive polity among the Tamils of the North and East. The main reason for this was the suppression of the activities of the moderate political forces during the armed conflict.

During the armed struggle there were no moderate Tamil political leaders with courage and tact to prevent the armed movements from dominating all aspects of the Tamil liberation struggle.

There were also armed movements in the African National Congress, which spearheaded the black liberation struggle that ended White apartheid rule in South Africa. But those armed movements were never able to bring the entire freedom struggle under their total control.

It is unfortunate that there was no such situation in the struggle of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. The formation of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) was the result of realizing the importance of the activities of the moderate political forces to present the political justifications of the struggle of the Tamils to the world at large.

The end of the war saw the leadership of the Tamils coming automatically to the TNA which was formed by uniting many Tamil parties during the war. The TNA had the historic responsibility to fill the political void that existed among the Tamils. The Tamil people had no choice but to participate in democratic political processes. The North-East Tamils had no choice but to vote for the TNA in the elections. That situation has continued till date.

What remains among the Tamils today is a fragmented polity. The leaders of the constituent parties have failed to build the TNA into a powerful political movement. They have failed to fulfil the responsibility that history cast on them.

Even Rajavarothayam Sampanthan, who has more than six decades of political experience, could not handle the role that Tamils expected him to play. Having the acceptance of all the member parties, he should have embraced everyone beyond party political machinations and protected the TNA as a stable political movement. But he has failed to do so.

Although it was nominally an alliance, TNA’s leaders always thought in terms of the interests of their individual parties and personal interests in parliamentary politics but did not think and act with the vision to build a movement that could guide the Tamil people on the right path in the difficult period after the war.

All these parties, including the Ilankai Thamizh Arasu Kadchi ( ITAK ) historically known as the Federal Party hoped to test its individual influence among the Tamil people in the local government elections. But there was no chance for that as local elections were postponed indefinitely.

All the Tamil parties are seeking a political solution to the ethnic problem based on the Federal system. Other than the Tamil National People Front (TNPF) led by Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam MP, all Tamil parties are demanding that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution be fully implemented and Provincial Council elections be held as an interim measure. A key strategy for these parties is to seek the support of the international community for this goal.

Apart from that goal, there are many issues agitating the Tamils such as land grabbing and Buddhistization of the Tamil areas spearheaded by Sinhalese Buddhist chauvinist forces with the support of the government and the army . The aim is to change the demographic pattern of the Northern and Eastern provinces.

It is painful to see that the Sinhalese polity, despite its enormous contradictions, is together on what should not be given to Tamils, while the Tamil polity is unable to unite and demand what the Tamil people need.

Finally, it is imperative for Tamil political leaders to take into consideration the fact that the Tamil society of today in the North-East does not have characteristics that a society that has undergone unimaginable suffering for three decades of the liberation struggle should have.

What the Tamil people need today is a new vision for the future, not just approaches or activities that keep them emotionally tied to the past.

China delivers two Harbin Y-12 planes to SLAF

The Sri Lanka Air Force received two Harbin Y-12-IV twin-engine turboprop utility aircraft, that were ordered from China.

Sri Lanka Air Force said that these two aircraft will be officially handed over to them at a ceremony at the Ratmalana Airport.

Harbin Y-12 or Yunshuji-12 is a twin engine light multi role aircraft designed and developed by Harbin Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation (HAMC) of China. It was derived from its predecessor the Harbin Y-11.

The Y-12 is principally used for both passenger and cargo transportation. The maiden flight of the aircraft was completed in July 1982.

The Y-12s have been in operation with the Sri Lanka Air Force since 1986.

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Sri Lanka opposition leader vows to punish those responsible for financial crisis

Sri Lanka opposition leader Sajith Premadasa has vowed to take legal action against people that “robbed” the country.

Speaking at a public rally in Minuwangoda on Sunday December 03, Premadasa said government MPs who harassed him in parliament will not be able to undo his resolve to bring to book those that brought Sri Lanka to financial ruin.

“As you must have seen, when the court verdict on these people who violated human rights of this country was being discussed in parliament, those inside parliament that supported the family rule and also raised their hand for the incumbent president came forward to challenge me,” said Premadasa.

The leader of the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) was alluding to an incident involving government MP Sanath Nishantha who along with a number of his colleagues had surrounded Premadasa when he was raising a question pertaining to a recent Supreme Court verdict holding members of the Rajapaksa family responsible for the financial crisis.

“They even grabbed the question I had in my hand,” said Premadasa, referring to his documents being forcibly taken away by one MP.

MP Nishantha, who represents the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) led by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, was suspended from parliament for two weeks following the incident.

“They may grab my documents. They may manage to take everything I own. They may even take my life. But no matter what they take from me, no one will be able to take away my determination to bring the rogue family that robbed this country to book,” said Premadasa.

Former president Rajapaksa has said he does not accept the apex court’s verdict holding him, two of his brothers and officials affiliated with their administration responsible for the 2022 currency crisis.

I do not accept it. I must state that clearly. There will be an opportunity to make a statement in defence. We will answer it then,” he said on November 15, asked by reporters in Kandy for his thoughts on the verdict.

Prez undermining EC ahead of elections: SLPP rebel group

The rebel SLPP group yesterday (04) accused President Ranil Wickremesinghe of trying to bring the legislature under his control ahead of presidential and parliamentary polls scheduled for 2024 and 2025.

Addressing the weekly media briefing at Nawala, top Opposition spokesperson and former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris alleged that Wickremesinghe’s recent threat to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to ascertain the status of the Constitutional Council (CC) was in line with his strategy to keep the legislature under his thumb.

Prof. Peiris said the executive posed a threat to the legislature as well as the judiciary against the backdrop of the moves to introduce a new Act to govern Parliament, undermine CC and clip the wings of Cabinet ministers. He cited the recent sacking of Sports Minister Roshan Ranasinghe (SLPP Polonnaruwa District) as a case in point.

Referring to the proposed parliamentary Act, the former minister pointed out that the President with just one UNP National List MP in the current Parliament, was bent on bringing the whole administrative structure, at every level, under his direct control. Prof. Peiris asserted that the President seemed determined to push ahead with his contentious strategy, regardless of consequences.

The former top law academic said that the way President Wickremesinghe responded to the CC’s refusal to endorse multiple extensions to former IGP C.D. Wickremeratne revealed the UNP leader had absolutely no regard for the 21st Amendment enacted on Oct 21, 2022 with an overwhelming 2/3 majority. The academic acknowledged that the President was pursuing an agenda inimical to parliamentary democracy in spite of clear opposition to such undemocratic behaviour both in and outside Parliament.

The ex-Minister alleged that President Wickremesinghe conveniently failed to fill a longtime existing vacancy in the vital Election Commission (EC). Recalling how the President moved against the previous EC after having failed to force the independent commission to put off Local Government polls on its own, Prof. Peiris expressed fears the delay seemed to be deliberate. The one time internationally recognized law academic accused President Wickremesinghe of planning to sabotage the EC in the run-up to the presidential polls late next year.

“We are quite concerned about Wickremesinghe’s motive in continuing with one vacancy in the five-member EC,” Prof. Peiris said, pointing out that P.S.M. Charles, one-time member of EC, received appointment as Governor of the Northern Province on May 17, 2023. Prof. Peiris said that President Wickremesinghe posed quite a threat to the parliamentary system.

Responding to The Island queries, Prof. Peiris emphasized that the SLPP should be held accountable for the developing crisis. Having invited Wickremesinghe to accept premiership on May 12, 2022 at the height of the public protest campaign, the SLPP accommodated the UNP leader as Finance Minister on May 25, 2022 before electing him the President in late July, of the same year, Prof. Peiris said.

The former law professor added that the President operated on the premise that regardless of the SLPP’s stand, the majority of members, including the entire Cabinet, would abide by his stand on any contentious issue. This was proved when President Wickrememesinghe sacked Sports Minister Ranasinghe who had the guts to stand up to Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC).

The former minister urged the genuine Opposition to sink whatever differences to meet the President’s challenge. The President has repeatedly shown that he didn’t care about the Constitution and intended to consolidate his position in preparation for the next presidential poll.

Prof. Peiris warned that Wickremesinghe would go all out against the media, both print and electronic, as he stepped up pressure on the Opposition.

Plantation workers to get postal addresses

In a historic development, the Attorney General yesterday (4) informed the Supreme Court that steps have been taken for the first time in 200 years, to assign postal addresses for the plantation worker community residing in the ‘Muwan Kanda’ rubber estate, in Mawathagama, Kurunegala. This marks a significant milestone as it is the first instance of providing postal addresses to plantation workers in the country.

This was informed to the Supreme Court, by Deputy Solicitor General Kanishka de Silva, representing the Attorney General during the hearing of the Fundamental Rights (FR) petition filed by Jeevaratnam Suresh Kumar, a resident of the ‘Muwan Kanda’ estate in Mawathagama, requesting the Supreme Court to issue a directive to the State to provide postal addresses to the plantation workers.

The petition was heard before the three-Judge Supreme Court Bench comprising Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, A.H.M.D. Nawaz, and Arjuna Obeysekera.

The petitioner’s lawyer, Lakshan Dias, explained that the petition aimed to provide postal addresses to the entire estate workers’ community across the island. He acknowledged the time required for such an extensive task and appreciated the government’s efforts to address the long-standing issue faced by the plantation workers.

Deputy Solicitor General Kanishka de Silva emphasised that providing postal addresses for the entire plantation community nationwide is a time-consuming programme. He mentioned that government officials are diligently working to gather information for this task, requiring additional time.

Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya noted that this initiative marks a historic moment for the plantation workers, spanning over 200 years and expressed satisfaction over addressing their need for postal addresses.

The Chief Justice informed the petitioner’s lawyer that, considering the fulfillment of the relief sought, the hearing of the petition would be adjourned. However, he mentioned that if the petitioner wishes to inquire about the progress after six or nine months, they have the option to bring the petition back to Court and seek an update on the activities’ progress.

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