Online Safety & Broadcasting Regulatory Commission laws DO NOT meet international standards – UN

Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations have expressed concerns over the proposed Online Safety Act and Broadcasting Regulatory Commission Act.

UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, and Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, Ana Brian Nougrères, expressed their concerns via a statement to the Sri Lankan government.

They note that the Online Safety Act and Broadcasting Regulatory Commission Act do not meet the requirements of international law and standards.

They noted that there are potential violations of the rights to privacy, freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of peaceful assembly and of association as protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), acceded to by Sri Lanka.

In terms of the Online Safety Act, they said that many provisions appear vague and overly broad and may therefore fail to meet the requirements of the ICCPR.

The statement added that the proposed law may severely limit the scope of online expression and may pose major barriers and threats to any individuals, especially journalists, human rights defenders and civil society organisations who may be critical of the government.

They added that the bill seems to be directed at people living in Sri Lanka and at the diaspora, with severe adverse effects on the freedom of expression of a very wide range of individuals.

On the proposed Broadcasting Regulatory Commission Act , the Special Rapporteurs said that Commission’s appointment process, if implemented in its current form, may thus give the executive the ability to punish, and/or deny licenses to media outlets that do not have a favourable view of the Government.

They stressed that it is essential that the oversight mechanism be an autonomous body, independent from any pressure or political ties.

The statement added that to protect freedom of expression, international standards require States to respect the freedom of the media.

It added that States have an obligation to refrain from engaging in indirect forms of censorship, such as the abuse of controls over newsprint, radio frequencies or infrastructure used to disseminate media content and ensure the independence of bodies which exercise regulatory powers over the media.

The Special Rapporteurs encourage the withdrawal, public consultation and substantial review of key aspects of both the proposed Online Safety Act and the Broadcasting Regulatory Commission Act.

Presidential Election: EC looking at polls date from 16 Sep.-17 Oct.

The forthcoming Presidential Election is slated to take place on a day between 16 September and 17 October next year, as confirmed by Election Commission (EC) Chairman R.M.A.L. Rathnayake.

He told The Sunday Morning that the specific date for the election would be decided and officially announced in July (as per the two-month advance notice prior to the commencement of the stipulated election period).

Emphasising on adherence to constitutional and legal frameworks, Rathnayake highlighted that the selection of the election date would strictly follow the procedures outlined in both the Constitution and the Presidential Elections Act.

Accordingly, Section 2 of the Presidential Elections Act No.15 of 1981 states: “(1) Where the Commissioner of Elections is required by the Constitution to conduct the election of the President, he shall by Order published in the gazette (a) fix the date of nomination of candidates being a date not less than 16 days and not more than one month from the date of publication of such Order, and the place of nomination; and (b) fix the date on which the poll shall be taken, being a date not less than one month and not more than two months from the date of nomination.

“(2) The date fixed under paragraph (a) or paragraph (b) of subsection (1) shall be any day other than a full moon Poya day or any public holiday specified in the First Schedule to the Holidays Act No.29 of 1971; and if, after the publication of the Order under subsection (1), any day specified therein is declared to be a public holiday, such declaration shall in no way affect the validity of anything done on such day for the purposes of that subsection.”

Further, Chapter VII, Section 31(3) of the Constitution states: “The poll for the election of the President shall be taken not less than one month and not more than two months before the expiration of the term of office of the President in office.”

Explaining further, the EC Chairman said that essential measures had already been initiated to prepare for the upcoming Presidential Election, including the formation of the electoral registry.

He further disclosed that subsequent tasks, such as securing funds for activities like printing ballot papers and other documentation work, were scheduled to commence in the coming year.

When asked about the General Election, the EC Chairman clarified that the anticipated date was 2025. However, he pointed out the possibility for the newly-elected President to dissolve Parliament and expedite the General Election upon assuming office. This flexibility is contingent upon the preferences of the incoming president.

Meanwhile, President Ranil Wickremesinghe asserted in Parliament last week that both the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections were scheduled to be held next year.

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North-East courts reject police requests to ban events to commemorate war dead

In the Northern and Eastern Provinces, several courts have turned down police requests seeking stay orders banning tomorrow’s commemorative events organised by the Tamil community to remember their war dead and those who were killed during the war period.

When the seven applications filed by Kilinochchi Division police stations came before the magistrate court on Friday, the court refused to grant an order under vague urgent public nuisance clauses while recognising the right of the people to remember their lost loved ones.

Police sought early stay orders from the magistrate under the Code of Criminal Procedure Section 106 (1), saying that these events were being organised to commemorate the terrorists who belonged to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a terrorist organisation banned in the country. The police argued that if allowed, it would cause enmity among communities and disrupt normalcy in the region.

Jaffna District Tamil National Alliance Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran, who appeared in the cases in the Kilinochchi Magistrate’s Court, submitted that attempts by police to prevent these events were in bad faith since similar events were conducted annually for the past thirteen years.

He told the Court that under Article 14, clauses (a), (b), and (c) of the Constitution, the right of association and freedom of religion are fundamental rights of the citizens. These ceremonies are organised to bring solace to the departed souls in line with their religious beliefs, and that fundamental right could not be curtailed, he said.

When the police told the court that if the temporary sheds collapsed, they could pose a danger to the people, the court directed the police to submit a technical report on such instances since the police acknowledged that some sheds were yet to be put up.

Similarly, in Jaffna, Mallakam, Point Pedro, Kokkadicholai, and Vavunathivu, the magistrates’ courts shot down police requests for a ban on commemorative events. However, at Sampur in Trincomalee, the magistrate court issued a stay order, but moves are underway to move a motion to urge the court to reconsider its decision on Monday.

The annual Martyrs’ Day, known as “Maveerar Day,” was introduced by the LTTE to commemorate its fallen cadres in its dedicated cemeteries on November 27 as a major public event.

Following the end of the war, many such cemeteries were either destroyed or new buildings were put up by security authorities. Currently, family members, relatives, and those who lost their loved ones during the war assemble near those cemeteries to mark the day to remember their war dead.

Meanwhile, Senior DIG (North) K.P.M. Gunaratne told the Sunday Times that if there were any violations against the laws or illegal activities such as commemorating terrorists, the police would deal with the situation according to the law.

The Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the Director of the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID), meanwhile, gave an undertaking to the Court of Appeal (CA) this week that they would take action under common law and the Code of Criminal Procedure against any attempt to commemorate the LTTE. The undertaking was given by Senior State Counsel Shamindra Wickrama, who appeared for the IGP.

The IGP and TID Director gave the undertaking when the CA took up a writ petition filed by Ananda Jayamanna, a retired military intelligence officer, requesting an order to enforce the law against any event being held to commemorate the LTTE and its late leader Velupilai Prabhakaran.

Sri Lanka refuses to bow down to Indian pressure on China

Sri Lanka has refused to bow down to Indian pressure on China and will continue to allow Chinese military ships to dock in the country.

In an interview with Firstpost’s Palki Sharma, President Ranil Wickremesinghe said that Sri Lanka will continue to allow Chinese military ships to dock in Sri Lankan ports.

He said that there was no evidence that Chinese “spy ships” had entered Sri Lankan waters.

The President said that a Chinese research vessel and another ship had arrived in Sri Lanka recently.

Wickremesinghe, however, noted that Sri Lanka will not be used to pose any threat to India’s national security.

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China asked to share copies of letter on Sri Lanka debt restructuring

China has been requested to share copies of a letter issued to Sri Lanka on debt restructuring, with other creditors, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

President Ranil Wickremesinghe said that China had given him a confidential letter on restructuring Sri Lanka’s debt.

In an interview with Firstpost’s Palki Sharma, the President said that he has requested China to share copies of the letter with other creditors.

The President said that China has agreed to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt on its own terms.

He said China does not want to be part of the IMF facilitated process.

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HRW says Sri Lanka failed to meet obligations linked to GSP+ scheme

Sri Lanka has fallen well short of its obligations linked to the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+), Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.

Sri Lanka’s economy has contracted every year since 2019, but exports to the European Union have increased, providing vital income in desperate economic times.

This has largely been due to the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+), which grants Sri Lanka tariff-free access to the EU market so long as it complies with core human rights and labor rights treaties.

But, as the EU noted in a new report, the Sri Lankan Government is falling well short of the mark, HRW said.

The report identifies two bright spots for human rights in Sri Lanka: the “resilience” of civil society; and the 2022 Aragalaya (“struggle” in Sinhala) movement in which thousands protested for good governance “in the spirit of democracy and freedom of expression and assembly.”

Yet the report makes clear that civil society’s “resilience” is necessary in the face of government “harassment and intimidation.” Since President Ranil Wickremesinghe took office in July 2022, the government has adopted a “repressive response” to protests, arresting the movement’s leaders and employing “disproportionate use of force.”

This challenges the EU’s policy to assist Sri Lanka’s recovery from its economic, governance and human rights crises. As the report states, “The process of reform will be more sustainable and robust if Sri Lankan civil society is part of it and if the approach is truly inclusive.”

Notably, the Government has yet to repeal the abusive Prevention of Terrorism Act – a key commitment to the EU – and even broke a moratorium on its use. As the International Monetary Fund noted in September, civil society’s “oversight and monitoring” of government actions is “restricted … by broad application of counter-terrorism rules.”

Instead, the Government has proposed new counterterrorism legislation that does not meet rights standards, and an Online Safety Bill that the EU says “could lead to censorship.” Other rights concerns the EU highlighted include the “treatment of minorities … hate crimes … allegations of torture … decriminalising same sex relations … domestic violence and child abuse … [and] harassment and threats against human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists.”

These and other developments are incompatible with the GSP+ human rights requirements, and yet Sri Lanka’s government continues to benefit from the program, HRW said

For conditionality to be credible, the GSP regulation needs to be reformed to require clear, public, and timebound benchmarks for compliance. HRW says this is what EU lawmakers should focus on: making GSP more effective in fostering human rights progress in beneficiary countries.

Sri Lanka likely to approve Sinopec’s $4.5bn refinery proposal on Monday

Sri Lanka will likely approve on Monday a proposal from Chinese state refiner Sinopec to build a $4.5-billion-dollar refinery, the South Asian island nation’s energy minister said on Saturday.

“It’s on the agenda for Monday. Once the cabinet gives approval, we will invite them to sign the agreement,” Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera told Reuters.

Sri Lanka, trying to recover from its worst economic crisis in more than 70 years, is hungry for new investment and local fuel supplies.

Sinopec’s investment of at least $4.5 billion “will go up in value as and when they do additions, but they must first come and sign the agreement for us to give any more details,” Wijesekera said.

For Sinopec, the world’s top refinery by capacity and one of the largest petrochemical makers, the investment would mark a breakthrough in a long effort to expand beyond China’s borders. It owns refinery assets in Saudi Arabia and petrochemicals production in Russia.

The Sri Lanka investment follows state-run China Merchant Port Holdings’ 99-year lease at Hambantota port and a $392 million deal to build a logistics and storage hub in Colombo port, Chinese state media reported in April.

That fits into Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, billed as recreating the ancient Silk Road to boost global trade infrastructure, experts say.

Sinopec will start basic engineering design, including finalising the size of the refinery and technical configuration, after getting official approval, a senior company official told Reuters this month.

The investment will add to Sinopec’s recently started fuel retailing business, the third international company with a foothold in Sri Lanka, with a license to operates 150 petrol stations.

In August Sinopec and commodities trader Vitol were shortlisted by the Sri Lankan government to bid for the refinery. Vitol subsequently dropped out, the Sinopec official said.

The refinery may target markets beyond Sri Lanka, where local fuel consumption is low, and use its partnership with China Merchants Port to expand bunker fuel supply at Hambantota, a deep-sea port near busy shipping lanes between Europe and Asia, analysts say.

Sinopec’s fuel oil division, which runs the retail business there, began in 2019 supplying marine bunker fuel at Hambantota, another Sinopec official said.

Sri Lanka’s refinery at Sapugaskanda, commissioned in 1969, can process 38,000 barrels of oil a day.

Source: Reuters

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Northern Tamils Are Not For Sale To China By P. Soma Palan

I refer to the Article under the heading “Can China win over the Northern Tamils” by M.S.M. Ayub in the Daily Mirror of 18th November 2023. My response to his query is an affirmative “No”. I say this not as a northern Tamil, but as an independent, free and objective thinker. In today’s International politics, the phrase “Geo-politics” is a commonplace expression. It means an inter-play of power and spheres of influence between militarized Nations. Geo-politics has been accepted by all countries as an axiom that rules and dominate international relations. But, in my view, Geopolitics is a dirty word, an obnoxious anathema in International politics, which has divided the world into two or more formations based on the power of the gun. One formation countervailing the other to maintain a precarious balance of terror between the military might of the Eastern block of Super-powers, Russia and China, poised with Western block of U.S.A and Europe. Small and militarily powerless countries are caught between the two explosive formations. A slight spark could ignite and reduce the whole world into rubble.

The China’s forays into the Northern Sri Lankan Tamils is part of this geo-politics game to counter the sub-continental power India, with whom it had border wars in the Himalayan region. Thus, China’s Belt and Road Initiative to gain strategic footholds in the Indian Ocean is an open secret. China is making concentrated efforts to gain access to India’s southern front. This is demonstrated manifestly in its massive Investment loans to Sri Lanka and Projects like Hambantota Port and Colombo Port City etc.

The recent diplomatic overtures to woo the Northern Tamils by offering relief aid of 500 Dry Rations parcels to needy families, worth Rs. 7500/- each can be considered more a bribe than an act of altruism. It amounts to trading, food in return for some space in the northern region to China. But, the Northern Tamils are more astute and has an ingrained conservatism and cannot be hoodwinked by free goodies of China. So, the Northern Tamils are not for sale and cannot be “won over” by China. Moreover, Northern Tamils and China are two worlds apart. Besides, there is not an iota of an element that connects Northern Tamils and China. On the contrary, the Northern Tamils have an inseparable binding with their ancestral forebears of Southern India, biologically, ethnically, linguistically, and culturally. These links with India cannot be broken and bartered away for free material aid or financial inducements; On the other hand, there is only a marginal connection between China and the majority Sinhala Buddhists of the South West Sri Lanka.

The only common factor that connects Sri Lanka to China is Buddhism. But then, China is Buddhist only in name. Even if China can be labeled as a Buddhist country, it is not Theravada Buddhism but Mahayana Buddhism. Moreover, China’s religion is Communism and not Buddhism. The latest report is that China has proposed to build the largest Statue of the Buddha in Sri Lanka to cater to latter’s Buddhist emotion and sentiments and buy its allegiance to China. A symbol of ties between Sri Lanka and China- vide DM report of 21/11/2023. In the final analysis, Buddhism originated in India, and both Sri Lanka and China are mere recipients of Buddhism. The aforesaid multiple factors binds Sri Lanka organically more to India than to China.

However, there is one common political factor that draws China and Sri Lanka to each other. That is, Sri Lanka’s imaginary apprehension about its close neighbor India, and China and India rivalry in the Himalayan border, which escalated into two wars between them. Therefore, China is seeking access to India’s southern front, while Sri Lanka is seeking China as a bulwark against India .Chinese Diplomat in Sri Lanka proclaimed that China is a “protector of Sri Lanka’s Independence, Sovereignty and territorial Integrity”. Therefore, China is asserting tangible presence in the Indian Ocean to protect itself and Sri Lanka. Hence the common needs of China and Sri Lanka, makes the latter to tilt towards China in its foreign policy, which is detrimental to Sri Lanka. This makes China and Sri Lanka strange bedfellows.

Logistically, India is our next door neighbor. Reliance on our neighbor is far greater than reliance on a distant China, thousands of miles away. Moreover, Sri Lanka has greater affinity to India than China. Besides, India has since antiquity never coveted or conquered others’ territories. On the contrary, India has only ceded territories to others. India was larger than what it is today. For example Afghanistan, Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh were part of India. India was and is absolutely a country of peace. It was other marauders, the Mongols, Persians, Moghuls, the Portuguese and the British that brought War into India. India’s culture is strongly and irrevocably embedded in its Sanatana Dharma since several millennia, and not in militarism. China winning over the Northern Tamils will be a pipe dream, while China winning over the Southern Sinhalese would be a disaster. Already the economic disaster had manifested by China’s overloaded Project Loans with corruption attached that brought the country to financial bankruptcy. The disaster of Geopolitics is a pending one, in the short or long term, when Sri Lanka would get caught up with embroilment in Big Power confrontation in the Indian Ocean ruining the whole country, including the Northern Tamils.

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka eyes $200 mln yearly from foreign ships

Sri Lanka is eying to earn $200 million annual income from foreign ships traversing in its water by developing Electronic Navigation Charts (ENCs), the State Defence Minister said as the island nation is in the process of coming out of an unprecedented economic crisis.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is also the Defence Minister, has already issued a gazette for navy to start the creation of ENCs, State Defence Minister Premitha Bandara Tennakoon said.

“Sea of Sri Lanka is located in a very strategic location. This is the route where all ships travel. We have ignored the charts of these ships for decades. We have realized that through such charts, Sri Lanka can earn $200 million,” Tennakoon told reporters in Colombo at a media briefing.

He said out of 122 ENCs, only six have been created.

“We lose significant revenue because we don’t have ENCs. It’s a huge task. Within two years we should be able to chart all,” he said.

“Priority will be given for places where we can earn revenue,” he said, referring to yachts using charts when they travel for leisure purposes.

“We can even think of yacht hubs. Each should use at least two ENCs and one chart (ENC) could earn a revenue of $25.”

He said the move could be used to earn revenue from 350000-45000 ships traveling the main sea route near Sri Lanka.

“It is important for the economy, tourism, and national security.”

The existing nautical charts are managed by the British Hydrographic Office according to an agreement with the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA) Institute.

At present, the NARA Institute has entered into an agreement with the British Hydrographical Office for the creation of nautical maps covering the ocean region belonging to Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka in process of rightsizing military; tri forces to be 150,000 by 2030 – State Minister

Sri Lanka has already started “right sizing” its strong military gradually to 150,000 by 2030 without any impact on national security while strengthening them with modern technology, State Defence Minister Minister Premitha Bandara Tennakoon said.

He said the government is in the process of reducing the army to 100,000, navy to 30,000, and air force to 20,000 by 2030 from the current numbers, which he did not mention.

“This will be done without removing anybody from the military. The numbers are based on natural reduction,” Tennakoon said, referring to the reduction due to retirements.

“While doing the right sizing of the military, we will be acquiring modern technology. We will do this gradually and carefully with no impact on national security. It will be done responsibly and in a scientific way.”

Sri Lanka’s 2024 defence budget of 423 billion rupees has been already approved by the parliament and it has been reduced to 6.5 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2024 compared to this year’s 7.5 percent, he said.

Soon after the end of a 26-year war against separatist Tamil Tiger rebels, the defence budget was 13.5 percent of the GDP in 2010.

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